Even though AMC’s Better Call Saul is a TV spinoff, its parent series, Breaking Bad, was the most cinematic show on television in its day. Indeed, with the advent of Netflix, which series creator Vince Gilligan credits with saving Bad from cancellation on cable by gaining an online following for the show, the Breaking Bad universe is best experienced as a serialized film narrative (which probably explains why it’s so addictive), with Better Call Saul as its prequel. And, so, that is why a discussion of Saul is relevant to this film blog.
This week’s episode, “Five-O,” aired last night. It took a significant risk: it shifted the focus from protagonist Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), the man who will one day become the delightfully crooked lawyer Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad, to Bad supporting character Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks). It was a gamble because we expect to see more of Saul in a series where he’s the title character, but also because the beauty of Mike’s character has always been that he’s a legitimate badass in a cast full of wannabe badasses; he’s never been one for vulnerability, and exploring his past renders him very vulnerable indeed.
But the risk paid off, enormously.
His choked-up closing monologue to his daughter-in-law at the end of the episode had me on the verge of tears. I never cry during movies or TV shows. Breaking Bad elicited a similarly visceral response from me during “Ozymandias,” when Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) family comes undone under the weight of the meth empire he built for them.
If Jonathan Banks doesn’t win an Emmy for this episode, I’m rioting.
For those of you who are still wondering whether or not Better Call Saul is as good as Breaking Bad, it is. It most assuredly is. It’s good because it doesn’t try to be another Breaking Bad – it merely complements it; Breaking Bad is a tragedy with comedic overtones, and Better Call Saul is a comedy with dramatic overtones.
And “Five-O” works because Mike’s character is at times both intimidating and lovable. He’s a ruthless criminal, but he’s also a loving grandfather. “Five-O” expands on that softer side that makes Mike so accessible, and it turned him into one of my favorite characters in Breaking Bad.
I’ll admit, I was skeptical at first about Better Call Saul, too, but Vince Gilligan and his team of writers are geniuses. I feel sorry for ever doubting them, and I so love having a show to look forward to again every week. It makes me laugh, too, and I’m not one to laugh at movies or television, not when I’m watching something by myself.
Just like Saul, Gilligan is a miracle worker.