Film, Reviews

Notes on Better Call Saul: Season 1, Episode 9

The story arc for the first season of Better Call Saul is not too different from its predecessor. Take an average, down-on-his-luck protagonist and watch as he tries to change his fate. But whereas Walter White is a dynamic character, going from Ned Flanders to Scarface; Jimmy McGill is static, a victim of circumstance. However, his descent does not seem inevitable until the penultimate episode of this first season. So what was the deciding factor in establishing this narrative? Were we supposed to hold on to a glimmer of hope that Jimmy McGill could be a decent and honest lawyer? It only takes nine episodes until we are given a definitive answer. Earlier in the season, we are given a glimpse of this realization. As with Breaking Bad, the characters in Better Call Saul are not scrutinized through the traditional lens of good or bad. Their actions can belong to either side, but the rest is open to interpretation. Jimmy McGill can only get so far through legitimate means. Here’s a quick overview: he doesn’t get the girl; he doesn’t make any money; and he doesn’t even get to work the biggest case of his career. To make things worse, his older brother rejects him.

The only advantage that Better Call Saul has as a developing narrative is that despite these setbacks, we know Jimmy does take control of his destiny. Maybe at this point you start to ask yourself questions like when does he start working with Tuco and Tuco’s cousin? When does he change his name? But unlike Breaking Bad, the shift in character will be much more definitive. There is no gray area for Saul Goodman. His alter ego does not exist to deflect the consequences of his actions like Heisenberg protected Walter White. Saul Goodman is what survives after Jimmy McGill has been torn down by constant rejection and disappointment. Everything that is revealed through this prequel is already in the process of being erased. Jimmy does not exist. As we have already seen, years into the future, there is no redemption for Jimmy. Better Call Saul is the apocryphal text to Breaking Bad, the story of a character that has no past in the latter. His descent into becoming a criminal lawyer requires one last glimpse at decency. The morality of his character is defined by this decency going forward. What we see is a character caught in a cycle of erasing his past and when unable to do so, must find alternative methods. Mike, for his part, mirrors this narrative with his own. However, there is less of a chip on his shoulder and more of a trauma at the heart of his story. Mike is a soldier. There are no questions worth answering. His character is static. This creates counterpoint between him and Jimmy. Better Call Saul, in its penultimate episode of the first season, reaches its turning point. It gives us a lasting hope for what Jimmy might have been while asserting the potential of what he will become. Either way, we bear witness to this descent in the season finale, a somewhat disappointing and obvious fracturing of the narrative.