Better Call Saul just finished its second satisfying season. The sort of prequel to Breaking Bad it features two of the subsidiary characters from that series, Saul Goodman, originally Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) and Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks). Since we already know the ultimate disposition of both, Better Call Saul is about how they got to be the characters we met in Breaking Bad. As it turns out, Better Call Saul is good enough to stand on its own and has now introduced us to new and interesting characters.
In an article in Slate, Julia Turner makes the case that, as the title says Better Call Saul Is Better Than Breaking Bad. While THC will not yet go that far, she makes some interesting observations (no spoilers regarding either show):
Better Call Saul takes the style that made Breaking Bad distinctive—the astonishing cinematography, dark comedy, and brashly confident pacing—and elevates it by applying it with more beauty, subtlety, and moral sophistication.If you haven't watched it, check it out.
Perversely, Better Call Saul aims higher than its progenitor by lowering the stakes. Through its first two seasons, the show has concerned itself not with murderers and kingpins but with the mundane dilemmas of Jimmy McGill, a silver-tongued man with a gift for conning people who is trying not to use it. The show’s emotional core lies in his relationship with his older brother, Chuck, a brilliant lawyer who doesn’t believe that no-good Jimmy can play it straight for long. Jimmy aspires to please Chuck and go legit even though his talents offer tempting shortcuts.
This is clear in Saul’s understated, methodical, and deliberate plotting, and the suspense the show creates with each subtle turn. Why is Mike Ehrmantraut, the beloved Breaking Bad heavy, drilling holes in a garden hose with his granddaughter? Why does Nacho, a savvy drug-world apparatchik, pause to check out the leather seats in that Hummer? Why does Kim Wexler (Jimmy’s friend, colleague, advocate, and love) rip a business card with his name on it in half? Every modest moment in the show builds to a fascinating payoff. It’s also notable that the characters the show has introduced—including meticulous Nacho (Michael Mando), loyal and ambitious Kim (Rhea Seehorn), and conniving Chuck (Michael McKean, who like Odenkirk is a comic actor giving an authoritative dramatic turn)—are as compelling as the two we’ve watched for years.
(Spoilers included below)