Words: Andrea Zanin
Illustration: Fleur Beech

Walter White needed a lawyer. The floor boards, air vents and mattress springs were taking strain under the meth-tainted millions that the science teacher was bringing in under the ruthless eye of alter-ego Heisenberg. A better hiding place was in order and Walt, distracted by oh-just-cancer, wasn’t going to find one without some help. So he hired Saul Goodman – with his orange shirt, strip-mall presence and expert knowledge of the ever-effusive legal loophole. And the rest is history except for a sneaky little spin-off by Breaking Bad mastermind Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould (also a Breaking Bad vet) that dishes the very dirty dirt on exactly what Saul Goodman did to become the type of lawyer that only guilty people hire.

Better Call Saul happens six years before the advent of Walter White, way back when Saul Goodman was Jimmy McGill, a public defender who will do anything it takes to stay out of a court of law including hashing out settlements over a urinal, penis in one hand case notes in another, and who operates a sort-of practice from a dingy boiler room at the back of a beauty parlour. Jimmy tries to entrepreneur his way into better-paying business but is the recipient of what seems to be a Shakespearean dose of fate. With the stars aligned our not-yet-nefarious lawyer’s shenanigans cannot withstand the hand of destiny; no matter how hard Jimmy tries to make good on poor choices, life slowly but surely propels him along a path that ultimately ends in a great deal of plenty – pesos and pain.

After the ‘Walter White affair’, Saul ends up working flour at a bakery in a random mall somewhere – a stark reminder that whilst the ride is wild and money is rife, there is a cost… family, friends, identity, simplicity etcetera. And yet, in spite of an end we know is bitter, we will Jimmy to just take the bad business because we know he’ll be great at it. Saul Goodman: shark, ambulance chaser, shyster, pettifogger and con artist, who shields the dregs of society from their just desserts; an aider and abetter of those who molest the rare but sometimes present peace and platitude of modern living. Why haven’t we kicked him to the kerb?

Better Call Saul, much like Breaking Bad, is a character study tinged with a shade of dark

Is it the intrigue, the melodrama, the genius story-telling that manipulates the gawk on our face? Gilligan is crack at his job. Or could it be Saul’s unashamed assertion of himself on the world? He offers no excuses. He is no hypocrite (just watch his advert). He works hard, gets results and fights for the underdog. In some weird way, could we want to be Saul, maybe just a little? Or at least replicate his chutzpah? So he has tacky taste and never remembers his damn parking sticker but he is smart; he figures out that the Kettlemans (would be clients) have faked their own kidnapping and sticks to his guns even when no one else believes him (Episode 3, Nacho), he also manages to orchestrate himself onto every prime time news segment in Albuquerque under the guise of ‘hero’ (Episode 4, Hero) and he has a way with criminals (a ‘criminal whisperer’ if you will) – managing to talk Tuco into breaking ‘a leg each’ of the scamming skateboarders who insulted his abolita, rather than skinning them like javelinas, gouging their eyes out, cutting out their tongues and inflicting a ‘Columbian necktie’ by slashing their throats and pulling their tongues through the gash to be displayed over their necks as if wearing a very short necktie (Episode 2, Mijo). He has a gift. And really, he makes full use of it once he realises its great potential. Isn’t that admirable – articulating a skill and using it to become rich?

If only life was that simple. It’s not, which is why Better Call Saul, much like Breaking Bad, is a character study tinged with a shade of dark. Sure, Saul is a funny, fun guy who does crazy things and makes harrowing escapes with cockroach-like indomitability but his apparent lack of moral conscience is somewhat disturbing. And yet he plays dodgy with such zeal, it’s hard not to appreciate his efforts. Pitching to the Kettlemans, Saul says:

“I know that HHM is shiny and slick and chock full of lawyers and compared to them I’m a like a kiddy lemonade stand trying to compete with Walmart but here’s the thing; what are you gonna get from me that you’re not gonna get from those other guys? Passion, commitment. Ask yourself this? Who found you? I don’t see Howard Hamlin ruining his $300 Gucci loafers out here. If you’re with me, you’re my number one client; morning, noon and night. You call me, I’m there; I will be singularly devoted to you.” (Episode 4, Hero)

We got it wrong; Saul doesn’t defend the underdog, he is the underdog. Even Better Call Saul, the very thing that has given a supporting star the title of protagonist, is the underdog, pitted against the extreme success of its big brother Breaking Bad. But who doesn’t champion the underdog? There’s something in us that wants the loser-guy to be a winner because if he can do it, so can we. We want to believe, we want to hope, we want to know that in the end s’all good man. That’s why we will make the call.

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