After five seasons of TV entertainment at its prime since heavyweights of the crime drama genre such as The Wire and The Sopranos graced telly screens across continents, Vince Gilligan’s meth-addled baby, Breaking Bad, has left an indelible print in TV history. Carving characters from the stinking mould of human aberration and debasement, TV geeks have come to revere the megalomaniacal cancer-stricken family man slash methamphetamine virtuoso, Walter White, and adore his partner impaired with a chronic case of verbal abuse, Jesse Pinkman.
This is a show which functions primarily on the self-invented paradoxical rule of thumb ‘the worse the better’ as far as characterization and the Heisenberg-and-his-sidekick-just-cannot-catch-a-break script and has showcased a stellar bunch of morally compromised supporting characters, from the unknowing victim of a wife turned accomplice in an illegal money-laundering business, Skyler White, to Walter White’s swanky lawyer with dwindling scruples, Saul Goodman. While the acclaimed series is long concluded leaving TV junkies in soul-crushing despair, the much anticipated Breaking Bad-spin off created by Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, Better Call Saul, is finally here! Can I get a ‘hallelujah’?!
Rewind six years before Walter White and Jesse Pinkman decided to team up and run for the crystal meth Olympics of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Bob Odenkirk reprises the titular role formerly known by the name Jimmy McGill, a struggling lawyer working out of the boiler room of a Vietnamese beauty salon and encumbered with numerous overdue bills, he is our everyman. Well, until eight minutes into the pilot we find him representing three teenagers in court charged with “criminal trespass” which, in this context, refers to decapitating a cadaver to have sex with the head. Yup, that’s right. Needless to say, his pathetic excuse for a defence― “boys being boys”― didn’t quite stick.
The pilot paints a picture of the broke and troubled lawyer from trying and failing to score clients to impersonating Ned Beatty from Network in an indignant fit (“You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Hamlin, and I won’t have it”) evoking both hilarity and sympathy.
While Jimmy McGill may seem like a far cry from the persuasive imposter of justice and principal attorney of Saul Goodman & Associates; selling his services with a theatrical charisma and flashy self-promotion advertisements, there are echoes of Goodman in his character. Though temporally dislocated, it’s obvious that the acerbic wit and sardonic humour tempered with equal proportions passive aggression is not actually Saul Goodman’s but Jimmy McGill’s. Lending professional advice to a potential client who thinks that hiring a lawyer would make him look guilty, McGill lays it down for him as he understands it – “Actually it’s getting arrested that makes people look guilty, even the innocent ones, and innocent people get arrested every day.”
In another instance, two hustling skateboarders (who, interestingly, look like leprechauns who were run over by a bus) implicate McGill for a staged accident and demanding a compensation of $500. Like his better known alias, known for his self-deprecatingly exasperated delivery of one-liners, McGill bawls out pointing at his yellow clunker Suzuki – “Does this steaming pile of crap scream pay day to you? The only way that entire car is worth 500 bucks is if there is a 300-dollar hooker sitting in it!”
The comic high-point of the episode is McGill’s misfired attempt involving the leprechaun twins repeating the gimmick to procure a potential client. He is loathing and desperate, wrestling against the forces of hard luck, then perhaps, he is our everyman. Saddled with a selective conscience, the introduction of his older brother, Chuck, who is occupationally impeded by a vaguely implied mental affliction, allows our anti-hero a semblance of integrity and humanity (loosely speaking). Better Call Saul could just be veering in the direction of a solid, focussed character study. Bob Odenkirk’s reprisal of his portrayal of Breaking Bad’s Saul Goodman―the equivocator, the middle-man of drug king-pins, senile assassins and over-ambitious entrepreneurs―rooted in conviction and consistency, has given him enough credibility to lead his own story as he began it in the land of Albuquerque. Breaking Bad fans will love this tale of a suited-up swindler coping with his own personal brand of comic misery.
By Mahima Verma