Better Call Saul: Season 1 (Review)

A glorious homecoming or an ill-conceived second chance?

It's hard to go back sometimes.  When you return to something you once enjoyed, a revisit rarely recaptures that same magic. A first job. A hometown. A lost love. Any of these on the second go around rarely live up to the image they hold in your mind. On a return, you are older, more aware, and maybe wiser.

See the episode-by-episode reviews at the bottom.

Better Call Saul is a lot like returning to your hometown after having been away for many years. You recognize the places, but there are subtle differences. The new faces far out number the ones you know. The city, itself, is still status quo, but you are different, you are new, you have changed.

In its first season, Better Call Saul returns viewers to the world of Breaking Bad through the eyes of one of Bad's secondary characters, shady lawyer Saul Goodman, although, we haven't actually met Saul just yet. Huh? When the series opens up Bob Odenkirk's Saul Goodman is living a self-fulfilled post-Breaking Bad prophesy as a manager of a Cinnabon with a new identity.

Better Call Saul
Created by
Vince Gilligan & Peter Gould
Cast
Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn, Patrick Fabian
First Aired
8 February 2015
Brian's Grade: B+

He lives a life of paranoid fear, waiting for the moment when the sins of his past finally catch up to him.  Flashback to the early 2000s and we meet Jimmy McGill, the same man before he was Saul Goodman, but sometime after he was Slippin' Jimmy, con artist. That's right, in the first episode, we learn that Saul Goodman has had four different identities.

As Jimmy McGill, he is a lawyer, struggling both financially and morally.  Jimmy is a public defender barely scraping out a professional existence. He struggles between serving as a public servant and a con man who will bend and break the law to make a buck.

Early in the series, Jimmy/Saul struggles with this moral dilemma.  However, as a viewer, we ultimately know that Jimmy will become Saul a man who breaks bad for greed and (or so it seems) nothing more.

Therein lies one of the potential flaws of the series -- how likable can Saul Goodman ultimately be? Walter White constantly struggled between the devil and angels on his shoulder.  It doesn't seem like Jimmy/Saul will have that same struggle.

Inevitably, he will choose a path -- the greater of evils.  And, even more inevitable -- the viewer already knows the outcome.  Will the series be filled with dramatic irony or contrived storytelling? The first few episodes present the former but predict the latter.

Within the first hour of the new series, it is clear that Vince Gilligan will not be creating a new world for Saul Goodman, but rather, expanding on the Breaking Bad universe already in existence. Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) is introduced quickly as a stubborn courthouse parking attendant regularly bickering with Jimmy/Saul over parking stickers and validation. It appears that Saul and Mike will take their journey into darkness together.

  • Barsuglia Photography

By episode two, Saul has been given a full dose of Breaking Bad-guy Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz). This seems to be setting the stage for Saul's baptism into the criminal underworld. It will only be a matter of time before characters such as Gus Fring make appearances and likely become major players.

While I look forward to learning more about the backstory of the characters, I wonder if it will be spoiled by knowing the outcome. Will I feel it necessary to keep up and watch?  On Breaking Bad, Saul Goodman was perfect in small doses. How will a show perform, when he is the show? On the outset, just fine, but it will interesting to see if Better Call Saul can maintain even an iota of the week-to-week tension and anticipation viewers experienced with BB.

Initially, the series starts strong, but will it take hold on its own is the big question? Or will it ultimately prove to be a companion piece, an "extra" into the world of Walter White and Breaking Bad.

Putting it in Trekkie terms, will this be The Next Generation to the original Start Trek or will it simply be Deep Space Nine?

SEASON ONE - EPISODE GRADES

Episode 1: B   It's a nice introduction to the world and life of Saul Goodman, but it readily let's us know that this is also the world of Breaking Bad introducing the characters of Mike and Tuco as well.

Episode 2: B+   A strong follow up, but already relying heavily on the conventions of Breaking Bad as Tuco appears to be a major player early on.

Episode 3: B+   Still, very good, but not great. The series continues to piece together the world of Saul that will eventually lead to his meeting Walter White. Relationships with Tuco's crew and Mike begin to gestate.

Episode 4: A-   The strongest episode, yet.  We see Jimmy becoming Saul Goodman (a play on "It's all good, man). He crosses the moral/ethical lines with clear precision and begins to create the persona of Saul Goodman.  He breaks free of his role as public defender and begins to build his private practice.

Episode 5: B-   This episode is all exposition.  There's a storyline between Jimmy and his brother that seems to be just waiting for an inevitable outcome that will eventually turn Jimmy into Saul.  And there's the slow burn of Mike Ehrmantraut.  The viewer is slowly getting pulled into his mysterious life.  Once a cop, now a parking attendant, eventually a criminal.  Will his journey be compelling or unnessary. It is difficult to tell as of yet.

Episode 6: A-   The story and character of Mike Ehrmantraut are on display as the viewer gets insight into the inner workings of this tough guy, former cop, turned bad guy extreme.  Already a likable character, Mike seems to have more of that Walter White-type conflict than Jimmy/Saul.  Mike and Walter suppress the good to let their darker sides out in short spurts whereas Jimmy just seems to be suppressing the darkness for as long as he can.

Episode 7: B   Jimmy continues to struggle between right and wrong.  For now, at least, the good seems to take the lead.  This seems to be primarily driven by his desire to please big brother, Chuck (Michael McKean).

Episode 8: A- The relationship between Jimmy and Chuck finds a nice Lenny and Squiggy-kind of flow (you'll understand this reference if you are a Michael McKean fan) as the two work on bringing down a large company who responsible for elder care.  At this point, we can guess that Jimmy's ultimate change into Saul Goodman must take place near the season's climax with something happening to Chuck.

by Brian Barsuglia

Want more? Check out the article Life After Breaking Bad.

Episode 6 Trailer - Five-O

3 Week Diet
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