A quick disclaimer: My analysis of Better Call Saul after only 3 episodes is admittedly way too early to provide any sort of real insight into what kind of show it will end up being. However after three hours with Saul back in the familiar-but-different southwest I have gotten a feel for where I think we are headed and how I feel about it.
One thing at this point is very clear; its a good show. I’d say its in the 90th percentile of cable television shows, bearing in mind that a majority of cable TV shows are really just informative murder porn.
The real question is: Is Better Call Saul as good a show as Breaking Bad? This will always be the question surrounding this show for however long it stays on the air, whether that is fair or not, because that is what happens when you decide to make a prequel to the most beloved TV series ever.
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is no. But what is especially frustrating about that answer is that it was never meant to be better than Breaking Bad. The show, by design, CANNOT be better than Breaking Bad. Here’s why.
Consider the first 5 minutes of the show. The black and white opening sequence where we reunite with Saul (or Jimmy McGill, whatever), the best criminal defense money can buy, reduced to a balding manager at a mall Cinnabun in Omaha, Nebraska. This whole sequence is excellent. I felt giddy to be back in Vince Gilligan’s world, where camera angles fly out of the most unexpected places and ironic music makes mundane tasks interesting.
But once that feeling of homecoming subsided, I realized that the whole opening sequence is a direct nod to the last time we see Saul in Breaking Bad.
Hey he got his best case scenario!
I’m sure this was thrilling for die hard Breaking Bad fans, but for me it was troubling. Acknowledging how Saul ends up and everything he goes though during Breaking Bad means that there is only one place for Better Call Saul to end: the moment Saul meets Walter White for the first time and embarks on the events of Breaking Bad.
Think about it. Better Call Saul cannot continue into the events of Breaking Bad from Saul’s point of view, because why the hell would Vince Gilligan do that? It could pick up with Saul in Omaha after the events of Breaking Bad, but this would also require the show runners to acknowledge all of the events of Breaking Bad, making Better Call Saul more of a Breaking Bad epilogue and why the hell would Vince Gilligan do that? Breaking Bad is perfect as is.
Therefore we more or less know exactly how Saul progresses throughout Better Call Saul to end up where we meet him at the beginning of Breaking Bad. His morals become compromised due to his desire to build a legal practice and he gets mixed up with bad people like Tuco and maybe (hopefully) Gus Fring. He makes his jokes and slithers his way out of trouble, and then he opens up his law office in a mall plaza and launches a tacky marketing campaign. One day, eventually, Walter White will walk into his office looking for a way to launder money.
Sure, along the way we will find out about Saul’s brother Chuck, how he and Mike got to know each other, some details about Saul’s past, and probably some other great storylines that hopefully don’t all hinge on Breaking Bad. But what could possibly happen to Saul throughout this show that can compare to what we already know happens to him? I mean, he helps build a meth empire and then has to change his identity to save his life! How do you top that when you already know that Saul won’t die and he won’t go anywhere because he is already in Albuquerque. The holyshitwhatthefuck moment has already happened, so what can Vince Gilligan show us on Better Call Saul that will amaze us more than what we already saw on Breaking Bad?
I can’t think of anything, but I also don’t get paid millions of dollars to produce TV shows.
Now, I admit this is an unfair way to judge Better Call Saul. Assuming that nothing I see on this show could impress me as much as Breaking Bad is kind of obnoxious. But thats missing the point. I already said it is in the 90th percentile of cable TV shows simply because of how good Vince Gilligan is. It already has the awesome cinematography and acting and it may also provide some interesting character development and an incredible story arc. I enjoy the show, but when I already know how it all eventually ends, it cheapens the effect to an extent.
I understand that Better Call Saul should be judged on its own merits and not as a companion to Breaking Bad. But like I said before, this is what happens when you make a prequel to the most beloved TV series ever.
I was pumped when I first heard about Better Call Saul because, like the rest of the country, I was still recovering from a Breaking Bad hangover. I think you would of been hard pressed to find anybody who was sad about a Breaking Bad prequel being made because we all loved the show so much. So Vince Gilligan capitalized on that and landed himself a new show where he could explore similar source material.
But shouldn’t somebody as talented as Vince Gilligan turn his interests towards a new story, rather than just going back to the well? I’ve already seen how Vince Gilligan brings the southwest United States to life with a group of interesting characters. Why do I want to see him with a similar core of characters in the same place in a slightly different context? He is too good for that. David Simon hasn’t been back to Baltimore in nearly a decade and he is still finding new ways to tell the stories that interest him. And although David Chase still tells us about mobsters and gang life, at least he tried going back 90 years the second time.
Why is Vince Gilligan still hanging around the margins of Breaking Bad when he could be using his talents to create something totally authentic and maybe even better? He’s not squandering his talent, but I don’t think he is using it to its full potential either.
But like I said in the beginning. It is way too early to tell what kind of show Better Call Saul will be. It could diverge in a totally new and original direction next week and become something completely different. But given the canvas that he has already prepared to paint this picture on, I just don’t see how that is possible.
I hope I’m wrong.