It’s All Good, Man
Tripwire continues its list of its Top 30 Crime and Police shows, selected by its editor-in-chief and senior editor. Counting down to its first choice at the end, here’s its 7th entry, AMC’s Better Call Saul…
7. Better Call Saul
Creators: Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould
Stars: Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn, Jonathan Banks, Michael Mando, Patrick Fabian, Giancarlo Esposito
Breaking Bad’s prequel has proven to be an equal of the main series by fandom, detailing as it does the origin of lead character Jimmy McGill’s alter ego Saul Goodman, and his journey from serial grifting to defending murderous cartels. It’s a show that demands patience, the continual extension of its run slowing events and timelines down, but that in its own way has made it less of an addendum to BB, and far more its own entity, with plenty of enhanced backstory and new characters. It nevertheless scores heavily as, despite the fact that we know how matters will converge, the show succeeds in making it somewhat difficult to figure out how we end up at the beginning of BB, with each season inexorably drawing the viewer closer to the graphic realism and marked weirdness of the original. There are clues in each series’ opener, featuring a brief, cryptic vignette of the hapless present day Jimmy, but as is the case with this show, we’re not told a great deal.
In Breaking Bad, Saul was a cookie-cutter huckster lawyer, but this series has brought considerable nuance to the character, conferring a kind of enigmatic quality – initially, as a down at heel public defender, he wants to stick it to the hidebound culture of corporate law firms, but then attempts to fit in, despite being undermined by his vengeful and contemptuous brother Chuck (Mike McKean). Odenkirk produces a fascinating and layered portrayal of a man of immense resource and talent who can’t help but self-sabotage, his intersection with the world of meth magnate Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), his henchman Nacho Varga (Michael Mando) and the psychotic Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton) an inevitability and one he at first finds terrifying. Equally impressive is Rhea Seehorn’s subtle, understated turn as Jim’s partner / love interest Kim Wexler, a rock of efficiency, tirelessness and sanity who is both enabler and saviour of Saul. We are never quite sure what she wants – Jim, or his Saul persona, who adds a frisson to her buttoned up career. We also know that she isn’t in BB, and with one series to go we are no closer to learning what splits the pair.
Jim’s move towards Gus Fring and Tuco Salamanca’s grim orbit is a slow burn, especially in the first two series, which barely hint at what lies in store for him (it takes until series three before we meet series antagonist Gus). Nevertheless what we do have is a superbly delineated study of a flawed yet vastly more sympathetic man than Walter White, who makes similar decisions to him, aided by a pitch-perfect ensemble cast. The languid, at times almost noir direction and reliably economical, acerbically witty script mean that although you won’t be bulldozed into submission like you were with its illustrious predecessor, what you witness is another high quality outing, which is sparing on the high octane, at least until Jim and colleague Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks, another superbly truculent effort) are both co-opted by Mr. Fring.
In many ways, the glacial pace of the earlier series, as well as the grittier latter ones, foreshadows the effect of the yet to appear Walter White, and how that character’s collision with Slippin’ Jimmy and the cartel proves far more kinetic and destabilizing. However with the arrival of new menace Lalo, series 6 will feel far more like BB – and with so many subplots to wrap up, and Heisenberg possibly waiting in the wings, it should be a conclusion to savour.
Better Call Saul is on Netflix in the UK and on AMC in the US now