Better Call Saul Continues Strong Early Run

Bob Odenkirk stars as James McGill in Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul.
Bob Odenkirk stars as James McGill in Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul.

As Breaking Bad was ending its acclaimed historic run, AMC announced a spin-off focused around sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman, which led to many questions, most notably: "Why?"

While nothing could tarnish the sterling reputation of Breaking Bad, squeezing more life out of the series seemed opportunistic and poorly conceived. At least at first. As it turned out, Better Call Saul was exceptionally good. Migrating a number of writers and directors from its big brother, Saul established itself as a brilliant companion piece to Breaking Bad while standing on its own in a rookie season that rivaled that of its counterpart.

Played by comedic actor Bob Odenkirk, Goodman embodies the stereotype of the sleazeball lawyer. Part of what made Saul's first season so spectacular is that Goodman isn't the man we see in Breaking Bad. He doesn't even share the same name. Instead, we see James McGill, a struggling young lawyer hustling to find clients. Of course, McGill has another side. As an alter ego of sorts, "Slippin' Jimmy," is more like the familiar Goodman: a slick, manipulative con-man. Through flashbacks, we see "Slippin' Jimmy" in his heyday, with McGill occasionally channeling him to help wrangle business in present. These scenes were among the best that season, showing spot-on dark humor and strong writing.

Also included is fan favorite Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks). While Ehrmantraut is familiarly and hilariously unimpressed, he's also in a different place: in a dead-end job and emotionally broken after the loss of his son. McGill and Ehrmantraut slowly united, setting the table for the events of Breaking Bad while establishing a complex and often hilarious relationship. This also breeds stellar raw performances, with both Odenkirk and Banks getting to display their chops, leading to Emmy nominations for the duo.

Throughout the course of the first season, McGill is disillusioned with the struggles of becoming a big-shot lawyer. His moral compass wavering throughout the season; the finale showed McGill vowing to never let anything stop him from a good, dirty deal. Season two of Saul picks up immediately after these events, with McGill giving up being a lawyer. Early on, he slides back into "Slippin' Jimmy" with an unexpected accomplice. In these scenes, Odenkirk expertly portrays someone entirely in their element, coming to terms with their true identity. As he lets someone witness this side of him, their reaction has varying results, both of which are responded to superbly by Odenkirk.

As season two begins, Saul continues the beautiful cinematic aesthetics under the glorious backdrop of Albuquerque, New Mexico. The strength of the writing also shines through with darkly comedic scripts, which are chock-full of well-conceived scams and complex character conflict.

But perhaps the most interesting bits of the early season are those with Ehrmantraut. Banks is at his absolute best showing his stoic demeanor in the face of loose cannons. His plotline is reminiscent of how he would deal with the early days of Walter White, heightened by Banks' pitch-perfect grip on the character.

If there's connective tissue between the two series beyond sharing characters, it is the theme of transformation. While McGill may not go through the metamorphosis that White did, we know that he is a different person six years in the future. With Saul, we begin to slowly see that transformation and season two continues this theme. "Slippin' Jimmy" is in McGill's DNA and through these episodes, he begins to accept it completely. As these events set the table, Better Call Saul is well on its way to avoiding the sophomore slump by continuing its engaging and thought-provoking character study, exploring how yet another character breaks bad.

Season two of Better Call Saul premieres on AMC Monday, February 15 and will stream on Netflix the day following each episode.

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