Six years before Saul Goodman met Walter White, Albuquerque was a different place.
Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) was working as a parking lot attendant; Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) was still at at school; and Saul Goodman was known as Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk).
Creator Vince Gilligan has delivered fans a gift in the hotly anticipated series Better Call Saul, taking us first forward in black and white to see Saul Goodman in his (ominously forecast) new life as the manager of a Cinnabon store upstate somewhere after he vanished in the final episodes of Breaking Bad, and then back to the start where we meet the hustling two-bit ambulance chaser McGill. He’s eking out an existence through court-appointed jobs (the first case we see him represent throws you head first into the calibre of criminal he’s handling) and not really making ends meet.
Jimmy’s brother Chuck (Michael McKean) is “working from home” after a breakdown where he rejects electricity in all its forms (even down to making visitors place their cell phones in the mailbox and earthing themselves before they enter the house) and Jimmy has taken on the responsibility of caring for his brother, including fighting the parters at Hamlin Hamlin & McGill who Jimmy sees as culpable in his brother’s breakdown and should be paying far more than the token wage they mail him each week (after all, his brother built the business while Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) was “working on his short game at the golf course”). Jimmy’s also keen on Kim Wexler (Reeha Seehorn), a junior at HH&M, though she isn’t willing to offer him much time.
It’s a hard knock life for the man fans know as the flashy, answer-for-every-situation Goodman.
Two episodes into the ten episode first series and Gilligan and co-show runner Peter Gould present us with a half-hearted lawyer at the end of his rope. His credit card is maxed out and he just wants to land a big fish so he can eek out a better existence. In fact it’s the start of his transformation that only happens by accident when two teenagers attempt to hustle him for money after one skates in front of his car and is hit by McGill. Jimmy sees it as a chance to help land his catch (a local couple who the husband is accused of embezzling $1.5 million from his workplace) and so enlists the teens to corner the wife with the same scheme, allowing Jimmy to swoop in and save the day.
It doesn’t work – and that’s why it’s perfect.
The failed scam introduces Jimmy to people that provide him with the opportunity to shape his future, but not before a lot of fast-talking from Jimmy where we see flashes of the Saul to come.
There was mountains of expectation on Gilligan and co when Better Call Saul was announced, and more excitement when AMC (the network airing it in the US) ordered a longer second season after seeing the rushes while the first was still in production. What has been delivered in just these first two episodes is an insight into a man of reasonable decency – a man we saw flashes of in Breaking Bad when Saul was under real pressure – and the early decisions that will lead him down the path that transforms him into the man that puts the “criminal” in “criminal attorney”.
Odenkirk is well-measured as the struggling Goodman, showing us the sparks of why we loved Saul Goodman. His transformation will be much flashier than it was for Walter White though we know where it will end and that pacing will be key for Gilligan and Gould. If the first eps are anything to go by it’s clear they’ve a plan and it’ll be our weekly pleasure to tune in and enjoy each twisted step down McGill’s transformative path (there’s already speculation that Gilligan has the ending already planned/written… given it’s a known point it’d be delightful to hook it into Breaking Bad).
Better Call Saul is supremely addictive escapist TV, with enough dark edges to satisfy and intrigue all. Fans will lap up each episode as the next clue in the search for millions while newcomers to the series will very quickly become as involved and likely want to catch up on Jimmy/Saul’s exploits in Breaking Bad as soon as possible (the complete five seasons are available right now on Stan). DO. NOT. MISS. an episode of Better Call Saul.
(Stan is a subscription video on demand service launched in Feb 2015 in Australia. It’s available for $10/month after a free 30 day trial with no lock-in contract.)
Better Call Saul (S01 10 eps) – Tuesdays 5pm AEST, Stan.