The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Smoke on the water, a fire in the sky

"I’ve known good criminals and bad cops, bad priests, honorable thieves. You can be on one side of the law or the other. But if you make a deal with somebody, you keep your word. You can go home today with your money and never do this again. But you took something that wasn’t yours, and you sold it for a profit. You’re now a criminal. Good one, bad one, that’s up to you."

And that quote, from the great Mike Ehrmantraut, defines how, not only the world created by Vince Gilligan works, but perhaps how our real world works as well.

As I have mentioned previously, I looked forward to this show with a lot of trepidation. Lightning seldom strikes twice in the world of pop culture. Sequels and spin-offs are a dime a dozen, but good sequels and spin-offs are a rare jewel. "Better Call Saul" is something even rarer, not just a good prequel, but a great prequel. I hope George Lucas is paying attention, because this is how it's done.

I've heard some criticize this first season by saying that it didn't really know what it wanted to be. Was it a crime show? Was it a lawyer show? What was this show? Why did it take so long to find its footing? Unlike many other shows which struggle in their first season, I have to believe this was deliberate. It wasn't the show that didn't know what it wanted to be, it was Jimmy McGill who didn't really know what he wanted to be. Did he want to be the respectable attorney, James M. McGill, Esq for himself, or because he wanted his brother, Chuck to be proud of him? Or was Slippin' Jimmy really who he wanted to be? Exactly who is Jimmy McGill? I don't think he honestly knew, until he stood in that parking lot, James M. McGill, Esq in front of him, Slippin' Jimmy behind him, and thought about his respectable blood brother, Chuck, who would always see him as a scumbag, and his brother from another mother, Marco, who did love and respect him. The choice was as clear as day, and Bob Odenkirk deserves an Emmy nomination, although I suspect he will lose to Jon Hamm this fall.

Michael McKean, who plays Chuck McGill, summed up Jimmy's new outlook appropriately when, in an interview with Salon when he called it "the American escape hatch", and he said the following: "If everything else goes off in your face, if your family can’t stand the sight of you, if you can’t hold a job, if you can’t stay away from drugs and booze, well, at least you can make a lot of money and have all this f-you money stacked up." And it all becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, as Chuck did say that "Slippin' Jimmy with a law degree is like a chimp with a machine gun," and the grand tragedy being that it didn't have to be this way. Had Chuck given Jimmy a chance, just a small chance, Jimmy would never have become Saul Goodman, criminal lawyer. But now, his path is just beginning, a path to Walter White and, maybe ultimately, maybe not, a Cinnabon in Omaha, Nebraska. I just hope that Chuck gets over his mental condition in time to see the first Saul Goodman commercial.

Jonathan Banks' return to this world as Mike Ehrmentraut was more than welcome... suck it, "Community" fans, Jonathan Banks is our's MWA HA HA! But hey, you guys have Keith David now, I think that's a fair trade. Anyway, Mike's return is more than welcome and, as a good prequel should do, makes his death during "Breaking Bad" all the more tragic. We knew he was motivated to provide for his granddaughter, but we didn't know exactly why. Banks himself, when they were filming "Breaking Bad" contributed the idea that would later become the key to his arc in this prequel, that Kaylee's mother wasn't Mike's daughter. And since we never saw a sign of Kaylee's father in "Breaking Bad", that meant one of two things, which eventually culminated in one of this season's highlights, the episode "Five-O" where we learn that Mike blames himself, in part, for his son's death in a performance that should earn Jonathan Banks an Emmy. Jimmy and Mike, although not allied yet, will make a great duo. This one man who doesn't quite know who he is, and another who knows exactly who he is.

If there is one hope I have for the second season, I hope Kim Wexler, played by Rhea Seehorn, has more to do. I am confident she will, because her own history with Jimmy is still pretty nebulous, and probably by design. Are they just friends? Were they more than friends? It's clear that Jimmy has stronger feelings for her than friendship, and she probably does as well. As the season closed, she practically handed Jimmy the chance to be James M. McGill, Esq. A chance he didn't take as he chose the path that will lead to Saul Goodman, if he isn't Saul Goodman in all but name already. Will there be fall out? Why do I ask? This is Vince Gilligan's universe, a universe very much like our own, of course there will be.

The writing is as sharp as anything else on television and, just like "Breaking Bad" before it, the cinematography is second to none on television. As a film school graduate, I cannot think of a set I would rather work on than this one. It's the most beautifully shot show on television, and every shot is calculated to mean just as much to the narrative as any line of dialogue. This is why audio-visual technology was invented in the first place. The best show on television? Easily.

Not bad for a show that started out as a joke in the writer's room. My overall grade for this season? I give it a Saul, because it's all good, man.


  1. I chose not to watch any Breaking Bad reruns (or my DVDs) while Better Call Saul was still airing episodes, just so that I could properly enjoy the episodes with at least a little less bias and expectation.

    It wasn't until last night that I popped in the season two episode "Better Call Saul" -- and boy, while I remember Saul's various quirks (like making move references) in Breaking Bad, I had forgot he was doing that right from the get-go. This guy was fully characterized from the beginning, lol.

    Besides my vague thought on liking to see Jimmy work with ol' Jimmy In-'N-Out again (or rather, for what could be the first time) -- and, of course, those commercials -- it's just fun to anticipate what's next in store for McGill . . . cause the journey from convincing Tuco to only give 'six-month' sentences to suggesting to Walt & Jesse that they just kill Badger still sounds like a few seasons :)

  2. You forgot to mention how this show gave us "Team Kettleman" and their answering machine message of nightmares.