During season one of Better Call Saul, we were introduced to the man behind Saul Goodman. With a smile as wide as the Grand Canyon, Breaking Bad’s Saul could sell you lies as the truth (while finding ways to help drug dealers handle their more serious problems). Before he was Saul though, he was Jimmy McGill, a man of much simpler means who was practically the yang to Walter White’s yin: instead of the descent of a “good guy” into evil, this was a (con) man with a troubled past who had a genuinely good heart and wanted to do good for once in his life. The first season wove a tale that not only showcased the life of “Slippin’ Jimmy" McGill, a.k.a. the con man who lived day-to-day by the seat of his pants and the strength of his lies, but showed how Jimmy tried to go straight—for his brother, for a woman who may be the love of his life, and for his own sanity.
Something to ponder: if we could somehow have shown Better Call Saul to Walter White at the beginning of Breaking Bad, would he have even made the fateful decision to go full-Heisenberg?
One of the keys to Breaking Bad was the idea that Walter’s descent started early, and as the seasons wore on while the body count rose, it got harder to justify the pain that Walter was inflicting on his family and his community. Mr. White's actions were initially easy to reconcile and root for, but he quickly became downright evil. On the flipside, Better Call Saul is taking things a bit slower. Season one teased glimpses of the Goodman that we know, but it was balanced out with Jimmy doing a number of good deeds, whether it was handling the affairs of the elderly, or managing the care of his seasoned lawyer of an older brother. If the good skills paid the bills, there’s no question that Jimmy would have left the darker side of life alone. The problem is, he has a bit of a rebellious streak, and never hesitates to prove to you how much he isn’t on your side. He pulled away from everything in his life at a dark moment and realized that, no matter what, he wouldn’t be leaving money on the table anymore.
It’s an interesting dance—think about how far you’d have to be pushed until you reach your breaking point. Many of us are only a paycheck or two away from being homeless; Jimmy McGill was working (and living) out of the back of a nail salon (that cucumber water, though). He’s STILL trying to do the right thing as we head into season two, or at least find ways to smooth over the times where he messes up.
It’s commendable, but it also sets up an interesting question—not WHEN will Jimmy become Saul, but HOW. Neither the betrayal of his family nor the sense of being alone has made him fully break bad, so what (or who) will he have to lose to force his hand and make him become that guy?
That's why Better Call Saul is that it's a marathon, not a sprint.
Everyone wasn't up on AMC's Breaking Bad from the jump. Most people caught on some time during season two (or before season three) and had to run through the episodes just to catch up. The art of the binge has not only revitalized how TV is being watched, but it's also shook up how TV's being made. It's almost similar to how comic books are made; you might know that the fix is coming in with a particular character, but it's all about fleshing out a proper story for a certain number of issues/episodes, giving the consumer a reason to become invested. To his credit, creator of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul Vince Gilligan knows how to properly pace a story, and is already turning Better Call Saul into some of the best small screen foreplay out there.
While it's understandable that fans of Breaking Bad are itching for the return of Walter White or Gus Fring or any of the old gang in Better Call Saul, Gilligan's proving that a story that crawls at a tortoise's pace is what will truly win the race. And there's no real way to do it otherwise. Instead of using Better Call Saul as a "this is what leads up to everything you liked from this show you loved," we're saying hello from the other side, and while season one ended on the note of Jimmy finally looking to get his, breaking bad doesn't (and shouldn't) just happen overnight.
Ultimately, Better Call Saul pumping the breaks and letting the story develop naturally should be looked at as a gift. It'd be so easy to throw Bryan Cranston in a car wash into Better Call Saul, but cheap tricks aren't what we're here for. Gilligan's diving deeper, sussing out the human experience and what it means to be "bad," revealing that nothing is ever as black and white as it's made to be. This is something we know, but Better Call Saul (and to a more grandiose extent, Breaking Bad) does a magnificent job at highlighting just how far people can—and will—go to do "right."