Better Call Saul Premiere (Part 1) Plot Summary:
Set in 2002 (seven years before Breaking Bad) the series focuses small-time, down-on-his-luck lawyer Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) who would eventually become Saul Goodman.
How do you follow up a masterpiece?
When Breaking Bad ended in 2013, many fans and critics had that same question. How would creator Vince Gilligan follow up his modern crime classic? It came as a surprise to many when the idea of a spin-off featuring Saul Goodman, Walt and Jesse’s ‘criminal’ lawyer was in development. For one thing spin-offs are incredibly risky. The obvious positive is you intrigued the audience of the original show and almost guarantee the network that at least the first season will score big numbers from curiosity alone. The negative is that the show never lives up to the original because for every spin-off like Frasier there’s about ten like Joey.
Regardless of how great Breaking Bad was or how made for the role Bob Odenkirk is; Better Call Saul isn’t a sure thing. Luckily, the show has a lot going for it. Gilligan and Peter Gould (the writer who came up with the idea of Saul Goodman) wrote the entire first season together. AMC has already picked up the show for another season. But the most important thing is that Bob Odenkirk was made to play Saul Goodman. When he appeared on Breaking Bad he stole every scene he was in. Obviously AMC wants to make more money from their colossal hit, but thankfully we aren’t seeing The Adventures of Badger and Skinny Pete (although I would watch that in a heartbeat), Gilligan, Gould, and Odenkirk are delivering a brand new show set in the same universe, while focusing on one of the most interesting characters that was never given a proper back story. Better Call Saul isn’t about what did Saul do before he met Walt and Jesse; it’s about how Jimmy McGill became Saul Goodman.
The black and white opening scene takes place in a Cinnabon, the audience doesn’t know why until we see the manager of the store. It’s a miserable balding version of what use to be Saul Goodman. Who knew when Saul offhandedly said, “In a month from now, best-case scenario, I’m managing a Cinnabon in Omaha,” in the penultimate episode of Breaking Bad that he actually was going to Omaha to work at a Cinnabon. Now Saul is alone, miserable, and still scared that someone is going to recognize him as the lawyer who helped the now infamous Walter White cover up his crimes and hide his money. When he gets home from another terrible day at work he sits back on his lazy-boy, has a drink, and watches a VHS copy of all of his TV commercials. Saul misses the life he created for himself. It’s a perfect way to remind the audience of what happened to Saul post-Breaking Bad, while providing the context for why they are exploring how he became Saul. The audience is now in the prospective of Saul reminiscing about how he became the fast-talking criminal layer.
Jimmy isn’t doing well. He is a public defender representing the guilty and making $700 a defendant. He’s working out of a small room in a nail salon. He is also struggling to find big clients to help start his own legitimate law practice. When he isn’t loosing a big client, he is trying to get ripped off by two skateboarders looking to score cash to prevent a lawsuit. Unfortunately for them Jimmy is much smarter than he appears, and it’s easy to see that Jimmy has always been Saul, he just didn’t have the office, the flashy commercials, or any notoriety whatsoever.
The episode introduced an array of new characters, without feeling too overcrowded. There’s Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian), a charming yet seedy lawyer who is partners with Chuck McGill (Michael McKean), Jimmy’s older brother who was once a gifted and successful lawyer, but has had to leave his firm because of an illness that has yet to be mentioned. Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), a litigator at Chuck’s firm and could also be a former/potential love interest for Jimmy. Then there’s the smiling face of Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), the future fixer for Saul, is currently a tool booth worker for the government.
The ending is what really sold the idea of a Breaking Bad spin-off. When trying to scam a client into working for him, Jimmy hires the two skateboarders that attempted to rip him off earlier in the episode. He tells them to do what he did to him and pretend to get hit by her while she’s driving. This doesn’t go as planned as the women drives off from the scene of the crime. The two skateboarders follow her and it turns out it wasn’t the client, but actually an old Mexican woman. They ask her for money so she tells them to come inside. When Jimmy finally arrives to the house he is greeted by Tuco (Raymond Cruz), the crazy drug and murder-obsessed villain from the first season of Breaking Bad. It was a twist that no one saw coming, which is exactly what you want in a follow up to Breaking Bad.
Overall, ‘Uno’ was a perfect introduction to the world of Jimmy McGill. The lack of score and bright aesthetic that Gilligan made famous in Breaking Bad, works perfectly in the prequel. The focus was centered on Jimmy, but other characters like Chuck and Kim seem very interesting and could both cause trouble for Jimmy later in the season. I’m excited to see how Tuco will come into play since we already know his fate is decided in Breaking Bad, but I’m even more excited to see the continuing adventures of Jimmy McGill.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Part Two of the Better Call Saul Premiere airs tonight on AMC.
Al Mannarino is the managing editor for Pop-Break. He is also host of the News Over Brews Podcast, Loot Care Unboxed, Backstage Break, and the producer of Behind the Brews. He graduated Rowan University with a degree in Radio/TV/Film & History and is currently a Promotions Assistant for Clear Channel Media + Entertainment. When he isn’t writing he is either trying to build his own TARDIS or taking a nap. Follow him on Twitter: @almannarino