Better Call Saul is a prequel spin-off of the wildly successful and critically lauded Breaking Bad that to many had eclipsed the show it was based on. As it returns to Netflix for its final season here is a summary of the show and its main characters.
What’s Going On?
Jimmy McGill is a struggling lawyer whose office is based in a backroom of a nail salon, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Despite being open to playing with the truth and pulling a few tricks Jimmy is essentially an honest lawyer. Jimmy’s brother is also a lawyer but one held in high regard for his ability, intelligence and integrity. Jimmy’s close friend is Kim Wexler, another lawyer who works for the prestigious firm of Jimmy’s brother. Then there is Mike Ehrmantraut, a retired cop who moves to the area to be near his daughter-in-law and granddaughter. Two of these people are major characters in Breaking Bad: Jimmy has reinvented himself as Saul Goodman who is publicly a dodgy lawyer and privately launders money for drug cartels. Mike works for one of the major Albuquerque drug kingpins and is extremely effective and reliable. Kim does not feature in Breaking Bad in any way. Better Call Saul follows the course of their lives and how they change, how Mike’s desire to provide for his granddaughter erodes his principles, how Jimmy’s misfortunes and encounters push him further away from honesty and how Kim’s connection to Jimmy shows her other possibilities.
One of the defining storylines of the show is Jimmy’s relationship with his brother Chuck. The elder brother is a hugely successful lawyer and has his own law firm – HHM – and a lot of his life has been spent bailing Jimmy out of trouble. However, at this point, Chuck cannot work as he has been self-diagnosed with electromagnetic hypersensitivity, where being around any electromagnetic field causes intense pain. Chuck rarely leaves his house which is entirely devoid of electrical devices. Jimmy goes to enormous lengths to keep Chuck supplied with food, ice, fuel and other essentials. This condition is not recognised by the medical establishment and is presumed by most people in the show to be more a psychological problem. Their relationship is in a constant state of flux of hate and love, contempt and respect and who has the more power.
It is odd in a way that for a show named after one of the characters perhaps the most interesting character is not Jimmy but Mike. The exceptionally competent, unflappable Mike who takes on jobs for criminals is already brilliant but the emotional depths that are explored are extraordinary. Mike is motivated solely to help his family, namely his daughter-in-law, Stacey, and granddaughter. Two scenes involving Mike are worth highlighting – the first, when Mike reveals some of the secrets around his son’s death to his Stacey it is gut-wrenching and completely unexpected. The second is when Stacey convinces him to go to a grief support group and an exchange between him and another group member is unforgettable. On the surface, Mike is tightly wound and unemotional but there is much going on deeper down.
There have been actual threats of rioting should Kim Wexler die in the upcoming season of Better Call Saul. Many fans believe Kim’s death is coming and this is what finally pushes Jimmy into full Saul Goodman criminality. Kim is not in or even mentioned in Breaking Bad, presumably because the character did not exist at that time and the Better Call Saul prequel has to resolve why this is – and it’s not unreasonable to think a tragic death for Kim could be the explanation. At first, Kim is utterly averse to the shenanigans Jimmy gets up to and makes sure she is always at a safe distance from them. Eventually, Kim becomes more and more involved essentially becoming a partner in Jimmy’s schemes, or rather Jimmy and Kim’s schemes. Even when Jimmy’s involvement with drug cartels is revealed Kim stays by his side. Where Jimmy is sneaky and manipulative, Kim is fiercely intelligent and determined. Through sheer force of will Kim succeeds.
Saul Goodman, Slippin’ Jimmy and Charlie Hustle
Jimmy McGill’s story in Better Call Saul takes in betrayal, ambition, crime, revenge, love, hate and more. It is a show which is as engaging as when dealing with drug cartels and legal problems with overcharging retirement homes. Jimmy’s ingenuity, creativity and eccentricities are as endearing as they are destructive and even self-destructive. To Jimmy lying is like an automatic reflex, it’s not that he can’t succeed in doing things the proper way but to him, everyone can do that.
Jimmy has earned three nicknames in his life. He earned the first name, Slippin’ Jimmy, for his skill of slipping on pavement and claiming compensation. The second, Charlie Hustle, he got from working in the mailroom at HHM as he never stopped working, always had ideas, he got things done. The final “nickname” is Saul Goodman, how we know him in Breaking Bad and this maps Jimmy’s life quite well – small-time crook, enterprising schemer and outright criminal.
This article has barely touched on the genius of this show and the wonderful array of characters featured in it: Don Hector, Gus Fring, Nacho Varga, Howard Hamlin, all I can say is watch it, it’s one of the greatest shows in television history.
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