Max Dominguez ’22 reviews AMC’s “Breaking Bad” prequel-spinoff in light of today’s events
Everybody knows “Breaking Bad.” For five seasons, 62 episodes, and one movie, Vince Gilligan’s drama followed the exploits of Walter White, a chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin. The show is heralded as one of the 21st century’s best, receiving critical acclaim for its brilliant writing, direction and performances. Many recognize the show for its role in beginning television’s new “Golden Age,” giving credence to cable networks’ desire to lean into the prestige programming formerly dominated by HBO. Although Walter White’s story ended in 2013, the “Breaking Bad” universe lives on in the prequel-spinoff “Better Call Saul.” The show follows Jimmy McGill, also known as Saul Goodman, in his tragic journey from showy but well-meaning attorney to legal counsel for the Albuquerque underworld. You’ve heard of criminal lawyers, now get ready for a criminal lawyer.
In the words of Bill Hader’s “Stefon,” this show has everything. Crime! Legal debates! Fifty moral shades of grey! Lengthy arguments about emotional repression! Local commercial parodies! Sketch comedian Bob Odenkirk in a nuanced leading role! A heartbreaking representation of a relationship’s extended breakdown due to irreconcilable differences in the partners’ moral fiber! Rhea Seehorn, objectively the best performer on television! Multiple old men who could absolutely kick my ass! A neon-soaked opening credits sequence set to an electric guitar riff!
I’ll stop yelling. In all seriousness, this show has been one of the major reasons I haven’t lost my mind during quarantine. It’s one of the few programs in my recent memory to balance playfulness with dramatic tension in a way that creates a wholly unique tone. Jimmy McGill alternates from crafting petty revenge plots to improvising life-saving legal arguments, and Odenkirk’s award-worthy performance makes you empathize with him in every scene. Rhea Seehorn plays Kim Wexler, Jimmy’s romantic and professional partner who is simultaneously intrigued and repulsed by his approach to the law. The chemistry between the two actors helps craft one of the most realistic relationships on television and a fantastic model for how to coexist in quarantine.
“Better Call Saul” depicts Kim and Jimmy equally content in conversation as they are in silence. They have a naturally witty rapport, and their snappy dialogue often serves as a microcosm of the tension amidst the attraction. Yet, for a show with such quality writing, Kim and Jimmy are often shown silently together at home. They watch movies over dinner, brush their teeth with an acute knowledge of each other’s routine, drink beers together on their apartment balcony and wordlessly throw the empty bottles onto the parking lot below.
Kim and Jimmy each understand their partner. They know when to draw them close, and they know when to give them space. That intuitive knowledge is something I’ve been trying to emulate amidst this time of social distance. It’s not exactly ideal to be cooped up indoors for months with other people. Human nature almost certainly dictates that we’ll end up hating our roommates by the time this whole ordeal is over, but “Better Call Saul” lends a blueprint for how to stall that feeling. Be willing to be silent and let the pauses linger, and then the conversation will be more meaningful and less forced.
Alright, enough sentimentality — “Better Call Saul” absolutely slaps even outside of the Kim-Jimmy relationship. The show manages to make shootouts and heists feel just as interesting as trials and consultations, and it merges the criminal and legal worlds effortlessly. Every performance is nuanced and compelling, in no small part because even the minor characters could be the basis of their own show. An aging hitman reluctantly working to provide for his granddaughter, a cartel enforcer working as a double agent for his bosses’ rival, a vindictive lawyer fighting an allergy to electricity — these side players clash and combine to make endlessly enjoyable storylines over the course of the show’s five seasons.
I really can’t praise this show enough. If you’re looking for a new distraction while locked indoors, “Better Call Saul” is about as narratively and emotionally satisfying as television gets. Seasons 1-4 are currently available on Netflix, and Season 5 is airing on AMC.