Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Better Call Saul

I finished watching the first season of the American television drama series Better Call Saul. Better Call Saul is a spin-off from the popular television series Breaking Bad. I really enjoyed watching the Breaking Bad series, and was quite keen about the spin-off when I first heard about it being in the making. It features Saul Goodman as the protagonist. Saul was the infamous lawyer in Breaking Bad who aided the main characters there, Walter White and Jesse Pinkman in their drug-related business. The name of the show takes after the iconic line used by the titular character, Saul Goodman, in his outlandish advertisements promoting his service as a lawyer. The show is a prequel to the Breaking Bad series, and portrays Saul Goodman in his early career life. Back then, he was known by his real name, Jimmy McGill. Before continuing, I must warn readers of spoilers in my write-up.

Prior to being a lawyer, Jimmy was a professional conman, who together with his friend and partner-in-crime, pulled numerous scams over greedy and unsuspecting victims. He was given the nickname Slippin’ Jimmy for his unctuous ways. When he got into trouble with the law later on for some misdemeanor against an influential person who used his connections to get the public prosecutor to press harsh charges against him, Jimmy promised his older brother Chuck, who was a well-respected lawyer, to give up his illicit ways if Chuck would defend him from those charges. Subsequently, after being acquitted by having those charges dropped, he started working in the mailroom in the big law firm which his older brother was a named partner in. He subsequently got a law degree through an online course, and proceeded to his career as a lawyer.

The purpose of the series is supposedly to show how Jimmy McGill began from the ‘little fish’ he was to become the ‘big shark’ Saul Goodman he was in the Breaking Bad Series. From my impression of Jimmy McGill so far in season one, he seems to be a pretty likable person as a deeply flawed man who retains within him some level of conscience. Even though he succumbed to the temptations of choosing the wrong ways at times, he would recant of his wrong actions subsequently and speak about ‘doing the right thing’. He even exhibited virtues at times such as courage and magnanimity when trying to obtain a lighter punishment for his accomplices who had ratted on him to the hot-headed gang boss Tuco Salamanca. And when he ventured to elder law later on in the show, he was a pretty nice guy towards the old folks in the elderly institution and was soft on them when they couldn’t afford his lawyer fees. I was thus wondering while watching the show as to how such a character could transform into Saul Goodman.

I guess the writers of the show must have struggled with trying to write a script which presents Jimmy McGill as a flawed but likable character, with his relatively more unscrupulous and nefarious persona as Saul Goodman. If the trajectory of the show had continued the way it was up to nearing the end of the season’s episode, and without the need to reconcile with the backdrop of his future facade as Saul Goodman, it might very well have made for a heart-warming ‘flawed but good-hearted man with an insidious past changes for the better to help the weak and oppressed’ kind of show. It wouldn’t have dawned on anyone who is unfamiliar with Breaking Bad that Jimmy McGill would go on to become the lawyer that actively helps drug lords get away with their crimes.

I am unsure whether this portrayal of Jimmy McGill makes for a huge gap in his characterization with that of Saul Goodman. I guess there was an attempt towards the ending of the season’s episode to try to bridge this gap by introducing a precursor to why Jimmy would go back to his shady Slippin’ Jimmy ways. This precursor was when Jimmy’s brother Chuck revealed to Jimmy that he was the one who had opposed Jimmy’s employment as a lawyer in his law firm because he thought Jimmy was not fit to be a lawyer given his innately shady character. And Jimmy, instead of trying to prove his brother wrong, decides to go back to his Slippin’ Jimmy ways and vows that he would not allow himself to be held back by his conscience to do the right thing in the future. I wonder whether this a little bit of a stretch to try to converge the character of Jimmy McGill with Saul Goodman. The show could very well have started Jimmy off along a different footing as not being such a nice guy in the first place, with the sort of unethical, hard-nosed traits that one might come across in other lawyer shows like Suits. That said, I actually appreciate a lawyer show where the main lawyer character comes off as humane and nice, rather than a show where the main lawyer character is an alpha-male top dog who comes up top when it comes to an ego fight. It is one reason why I didn’t like Suits even though a lot of my peers like it because the protagonist Harvey Spector seems almost like a human cyborg who goes about bamboozling his opposition without breaking a sweat or a shred of respect for them. Compared to Harvey Spector, Jimmy McGill is more of an underdog, who faces tougher and meaner opponents than him, and that makes Jimmy more likable and relatable as a character for me

Perhaps the moral of the show can be taken as being about how a person trying to change for the better can relapse into his shady ways because of wrong decisions, and also because of the lack of faith or support in him by those who could have had the ability to help him change for the better.

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