(Spoilers ahead. You were warned.)
HOW DID SAUL GOODMAN end up in a position where he was working with psychotic, slimebag druglords like Tuco Salamanca and Walter White?
You get a sense of how Saul found himself where he found himself in Breaking Bad. Saul’s got that greed, to be sure, but he’s also an opportunist with an adrenaline addiction. He clearly likes to be on the edge, only to get a serious case of the nerves when he gets there. But while Saul is a scene-stealing character on that show, he’s not a primary character, one whose background gets much thought because it’s not really pertinent to that particular story. Sure, it would be fun to know what’s made Saul the man he is, but with all of Walt’s and Jesse’s death-defying hijinks, that wasn’t something Breaking Bad could or should have explored.
But Better Call Saul can and does mine that rich vein of Saul’s past. We get to me the real Saul, Slippin’ Jimmy, a low-rent con artist from Cicero, Ill., who ends up in jail because he takes a dump in the sunroof of a luxury car owned by the guy who was sleeping with his wife … only to find out, too late, that the cheating dick’s son and a fellow Cub scout were sitting in the back seat of the car when the felonious deuce was dropped. Jimmy gets out by promising his brother, Chuck (Michael McKean), that he’ll leave the Chicagoland area and go with Chuck to Albuquerque to start over fresh.
When we meet Saul, it’s years later. He’s a lawyer now, hustling small-time cases and scraping together a living. Chuck, a partner in a big-time law firm, can’t leave his house because of a unique form of agoraphobia. Saul is serving all of Chuck’s needs while trying to scrape by a living mostly with public defender cases. Then, Slippin’ Jimmy gets lucky. A multi-million dollar, class-action lawsuit falls in his lap, and now Saul has leverage to get his foot in the door with Chuck’s firm, HHM. The firm agrees to take on the case, and although he is going to receive a hefty payday, he won’t get a job with the firm, and he won’t be allowed to work the case.
Saul is furious. He believes that, once again, Chuck’s partner Howard has kept him on the outside looking in. He won’t allow HHM to have the case, ranting and flailing, unsure of what to do next.
Then the truth reveals itself. Howard has never been against Saul. Turns out, Chuck has refused to allow HHM to hire Saul has anything more than a mailroom clerk. Chuck says Saul’s not a “real lawyer,” and that he is what he’s always been: Slippin’ Jimmy.
That moment, that seminal moment, combined with the death of a close friend from his Slippin’ Jimmy days, seals it. Saul was inspired by his brother to go legit, to cease walking, running down the path that would surely lead to prison or an early grave. But as viewers could see from Breaking Bad, that path less traveled never quite worked for him. That other path, the path of deceit, scheming and double-dealing, well, that’s the path that suits Saul best. And now, finally, he understands who he is, and he embraces it.
BUT WHAT REALLY PUTS Better Call Saul over the top isn’t Saul diving head first into the Slippin’ Jimmy, attorney at law, persona. It’s Mike Ehrmantraut. Because not only do we see the moment were Saul chooses the dark side, we get to see that same moment with Mike. He’d done dark things before he arrived in Albuquerque, but that was behind him. The future of his granddaughter and daughter-in-law, all he has left after the death of his son, now depends on him. And Mike will do whatever it takes – whatever it takes – to make their lives better. Where Saul is wishy-washy, taking years to find satori, Mike knows who he is and knows what matters to him. To him, there is no decision to be made. It is only time to set a course of action to make need or want become reality fulfilled. And so he does just that.
SO I GUESS YOU COULD SAY I’m really looking forward to Season 2. And, hopefully, more Tuco.