BETTER CALL SAUL:
A Collision Of Two Worlds
When Breaking Bad appeared on television it became a peak moment in the history of the medium.
The world may be fucked up but television has never been better. If you use your remote with discernment, you will find incredible things to watch through your three hundred channel cable box. In its seventy year reign over the American psyche, there has never been more or better television. Nor has the human race been closer to mass tragedy. The importance of television expands as we get quarantined in our homes. TV’s always been important. Now it’s running a close second to Survival itself. I’m not sure we wouldn’t go insane as we wait for the stay-at-home orders to lift. We need TV. Desperately.
The Arts often flourish in times of decadence and turmoil. When a civilization becomes ill, a host of artists arise to attempt its healing. When Breaking Bad ascended to the pinnacle of great art, it created a new space for the production of yet more great TV.
I refer to the spin-off of Breaking Bad, the superb series, Better Call Saul.
We first met Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad. He turned up as the criminal defense attorney for Walter White and his confederates. His character was somewhat clownish. I made the unconscious surmise that series creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould did not take Saul Goodman seriously.
I was wrong. When Breaking Bad was seen and done I grieved because there was nothing as great to continue watching. Then Better Call Saul appeared and once again I was taken into the wry, dark, ironic world of Gilligan and Gould.
Better Call Saul has just completed its fifth season and may be ramping up for the sixth. Saul Goodman is the sly pseudonym taken by attorney Jimmy McGill. “It’s all good, man.” Jimmy himself explains the pun of his name. He’s a bit of a wild man, an outsider in his profession. Some would call him a shyster or ambulance chaser. He gives himself to the lost souls of the streets. He represents clients who are too dirty to be touched by more principled attorneys. For “principled” read snobbish. Saul doesn’t mind getting grubby.
The story arc of Better Call Saul is one that exposes the inner workings of two distinct worlds. One is the world of the drug cartel. The other is the world of middle class America. It is Saul Goodman who provides the bridge between these two worlds. In Breaking Bad it was Walter White who played the fulcrum character who bridged those worlds. Walter was a high school chemistry teacher who, when diagnosed with terminal cancer, turned to the manufacture of methamphetamine to provide for his family when he’s gone.
Saul is pressured into representing a Cartel lieutenant, a terrifying character named Lalo Salamanca. It is the Salamanca Cartel that is at war with other cartels for control of the drug trade in the Southwest. The series takes place in Albuquerque and the scenery is full of vast desert tracts. Out there, in the desert, dead bodies routinely disappear.
Albuquerque is a pleasant city, but its location makes it a prime route for drugs smuggled through Mexico. It’s home to the drug barons who maintain operations on both sides of the border. Jimmy McGill, aka Saul Goodman, is drawn inexorably into the cartel’s workings. In the first few seasons the conflict centers around Jimmy’s relationship with his brother, Charles “Chuck” McGill. Chuck is a famous and powerful corporate lawyer who is afflicted with a bizarre form of OCD. He’s allergic to electricity.
Jimmy takes care of Chuck when his allergies render him completely helpless. Jimmy wants to emulate his big brother. He’s put himself through law school and waits to pass the Bar Exam. Chuck does everything to sabotage Jimmy. From Chuck’s lofty position in the world of the courts there is no place for a clown like Jimmy McGill. Chuck’s brother is an embarrassment. Jimmy is hurt and bewildered by Chuck’s hatred and malice.
Lucky for Jimmy, he forms a relationship with attorney Kim Wexler. It’s Kim who keeps Jimmy grounded. Without her steadying influence he might spin off into some outer limits of legal brinksmanship. It is in fact Jimmy’s “edge” that attracts Kim. Behind her business suit and neatly wrapped pony tail is a wild child who savors the antidote to boredom that Jimmy provides.
Like Jimmy, the relationship itself often flirts with disaster. In spite of Jimmy’s ‘danse macabre’ the couple survives with their love intact. This love, this loyalty and unconditional regard, is the glue of the series. As long as Jimmy and Kim love each other, things will be all right.
Things will work out.
Tune in to Part Two of my review of Better Call Saul on the last Friday in May.
A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography. In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders. The timing was not good. His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression. He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy. It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience. He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Come visit his blogs and photo sites. www.artrosch.com and http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv.
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