Television’s greatest lawyer (no, not Jack McCoy) returns this Monday in Better Call Saul. In order to get you ready for one of the greatest shows available today, we here at Fandom have put together a nice little primer for those who are just jumping into the program. FYI, the first season is on Netflix and we strongly recommend you give it a binge-watch. If you don’t have enough time on your hands, here’s a little something to help get you up to speed. SPOILERS will happen.
What is Better Call Saul?
Better Call Saul is a spinoff of the immensely popular drama Breaking Bad. In that show, chemistry teacher turned drug lord Walter White employed the services of a shady lawyer named Saul Goodman. Known for being a “criminal” lawyer, Saul had more in common with a sleazy used car salesman than he did a servant of the court. By the end of Breaking Bad, Saul was forced to leave his practice and go live in obscurity thanks to the machinations of Walter White. When Better Call Saul starts, we see Saul (now going by the name Gene) as the manager of a Cinnabon in Omaha, Nebraska. Obviously miserable, he returns home and watches a videotape of one of his old television advertisements as Saul Goodman. And that leads us into the show proper…
Meet Jimmy McGill
Before he was Saul Goodman, he was Jimmy McGill. We learn that Jimmy has a history as a con-artist, scamming people by faking injuries earning him the nickname “Slippin’ Jimmy.” After being bailed out by his older brother, Chuck, Jimmy decides to move out of Illinois to Albuquerque and get a job in the mail room of Chuck’s law firm. Determined to become a lawyer himself, Jimmy eventually gets a law degree from the University of American Samoa, passes the state bar exam, and asks for a real job. Chuck’s partner, Howard Hamlin, denies Jimmy a position with the firm. So, Jimmy ends up establishing his own public defense firm which operates out of the back of a Vietnamese nail salon. Needless to say, Jimmy is not doing so well.
Jimmy’s First Big Case
Jimmy gets a break when he gets in touch with Craig and Betsy Kettleman. Craig is a former treasurer accused of embezzling $1.6 million, though he and his wife swear that Craig is innocent — but it’s abundantly clear that he isn’t. Jimmy does his best to convince the Kettlemans to hire him, but they eventually go with Howard Hamlin’s firm, Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill (HHM). Frustrated at his dismissal, Jimmy decides to stage an accident in order to gain Betsy’s trust, but the plan goes awry and the two-bit lawyer runs afoul of vicious drug dealer Tuco Salamanca. Thanks to some quick negotiating and the advice of Tuco’s right hand man, Nacho, Jimmy is spared. Nacho recruits an unwilling Jimmy to help him rob the Kettlemans of their money. Now Jimmy begins to really experience what living on the other side of the law is like.
Enter Mike Ehrmantraut
Better Call Saul isn’t just about Jimmy McGill. Another Breaking Bad character has his origins explored as well; Mike Ehrmantraut will one day become Saul Goodman’s muscle, but in Better Call Saul he is a lowly parking attendant. An ex-cop who left the force after the tragic death of his son (also an officer), Mike frequently spars with Jimmy over his parking fees while visiting the courthouse. When Jimmy tries to anonymously warn the Kettlemans about Nacho’s plan to rob and probably murder them, the Kettlemans disappear. Mike suggests that they haven’t fled the state but are probably camped out somewhere close by. Thanks to this advice, Jimmy discovers the Kettlemans hiding in the woods behind their house with a duffel bag containing the $1.6 million dollars. Betsy bribes Jimmy to keep their secret, and Jimmy finds he now has the money he needs to start a real law firm.
Over the course of the show, we see that Jimmy takes care of Chuck, who has now become a recluse. Believing he has electromagnetic hypersensitivity, Chuck has excused himself from the law firm he helped build. Jimmy continually tries to get Hamlin to buy out Chuck’s partnership, but Howard believes that Chuck will eventually return to his job. Jimmy hates Hamlin because he believes Hamlin is the one who prevented him from getting a job at HHM. By the end of the first season, it’s revealed that it was Chuck who refused to hire Jimmy. Unable to see Jimmy as anything other than a con man who takes the easy route, Chuck never believed Jimmy was a “true” lawyer. Hurt and infuriated, Jimmy leaves Chuck in order to make his own way.
Do the Right Thing
Meanwhile, Jimmy’s friend Kim over at HHM has taken on the Kettlemans’ case. Seeing as how they are blatantly guilty, Kim tries to get the Kettlemans to accept a plea bargain, but Betsy refuses to admit their guilt. They return to Jimmy and threaten to expose the bribe he took unless he ensures Craig’s complete exoneration. Jimmy decides to steal the Kettlemans’ money — with the assistance of Mike, who Jimmy helped during an investigation into the murder of two police officers connected with the death of Mike’s son — but instead of keeping it for himself, he hands it over to the authorities, including the bribe he was given to start his own business. This ensures that the Kettlemans can’t blackmail Jimmy without admitting their own guilt. Jimmy convinces Craig to take Kim’s plea bargain, and in doing so makes his attempt at forging his own path that much harder.
No More Mr. Nice Guy
Jimmy goes into elder law in order to make a steady business out of his fledgling operation, and in doing so discovers that a retirement community is charging its residents hidden fees and committing fraud. The case blows up and Jimmy takes it to HHM, thinking it will be the case that gets him hired. He’s shot down but is told he can receive a significant finder’s fee. He refuses and visits his old con artist friend Marco in Illinois. The two run a bunch of con games and feel great doing them. When Marco asks Jimmy to stay, Jimmy can’t due to his commitment to his elder clients and a potential job offer at another firm. Jimmy and Marco run one last con, but Marco dies from a heart attack during their endeavor. He tells Jimmy he’s okay with dying because he died doing what he loved. When Jimmy returns to Albuquerque, he declines the job offer and sets off on his own, determined to do what he’s best at, the moral repercussions be damned.
Heart, Humor, and A Focus on Character
Better Call Saul certainly owes a lot to its predecessor, Breaking Bad, but it’s also a completely different beast. Unlike the more action-oriented, gritty crime drama Breaking Bad became known as, Better Call Saul is much more down-to-earth and small. That’s not a bad thing at all; the scaled down story allows for a sharp focus on character, and the players involved do some of the best work of their careers. Seeing as how Saul Goodman was often a comedic character in Breaking Bad, Bob Odenkirk brings plenty of wit to the scummy lawyer, but he also displays tremendous heart and gravitas. This is no one-note character. The same goes for the entire ensemble, including a mesmerizing turn from This is Spinal Tap alum Michael McKean as Chuck. Though Breaking Bad was often fueled by the excitement and danger of its plot — filled with admittedly fantastic characters — Better Call Saul feels completely driven by its characters.
The Birth of Saul Goodman
Season one ended with Jimmy accepting himself for the man he is, and season two will build upon his emerging strength and confidence. Will season two give us the actual birth of Saul Goodman? It’s established that Jimmy has used the name before back in his con man days (“It’s all good, man.”), and that he took the name because he believes clients are more apt to hire a lawyer with a Jewish last name. Is he already prepared to commit to his new life? And what shady dealings will he get involved with this time around? Will we see him collecting more of his entourage from Breaking Bad? How about Huell and Kuby? Will they make an appearance? Season two will surely be on its way to giving us the Saul Goodman we know and love.
It’s a great time for serialized adult dramas on television, and none of them are as engaging, hilarious, and moving as Better Call Saul. Tighten your ties and practice your smiles for this Monday. Better Call Saul airs at 10/9c on AMC.