The return of “Better Call Saul” on Monday has seen me reacquainting myself with the show’s first season. Anybody who has been a fan of “Breaking Bad” and “Saul” will understand that most episodes warrant multiple viewings; the narratives are layered, the characters complex, and the writers go to great lengths to embed interesting symbols – easter eggs, if you will – into each episode.
It is always fun watching genre-bound comics break through with powerful dramatic performances. With a great script, rubber-faced slapstick goof-ball comedians often turn in remarkable performances. One may never have believed Jim Carrey could play a dramatic role, but “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” turned a lot of heads. Bill Burr, albeit a secondary character, was given an interesting opportunity as one of Saul’s fixers in “Breaking Bad.” Bob Odenkirk, who plays the titular character in “Better Call Saul” has himself spun some incredible magic bringing his character’s internal struggle and moral complexity to life.
There’s little doubt that “Saul” is a strong show, replete with powerful performances, but season one ended with a whimper. The writers have taken great care to make Jimmy McGill relatable, sympathetic, and three-dimensional. This is necessary if we’re to care at all as we watch his gradual descent into corruption and moral ambiguity. Nevertheless, the phenomenal performances and fascinating back-stories haven’t led to any concrete gasp-worthy moments, which is what we have been preparing for. I think this has a lot to do with the rhythms set up by “Breaking Bad,” but “Better Call Saul” has proven to be a different kind of program. The ten-episode set-up of season one didn’t lead to a satisfying catharsis, car chase, murder, or any other kind of earth-shaking revelation.
Season one of “Saul” is a sentence without punctuation. It’s a beautiful sentence, yes, but we are left without knowing quite how to feel. We know the ultimate fate of Mike Ehrmantraut. We know that Saul Goodman flees Albuquerque under an assumed identity, relegated to the life a low-rent fast food manager, always looking over his shoulder. What we don’t know is where he came from, not entirely. We’ve been provided with some interesting details, but the picture is still undeniably incomplete. What we’re still waiting for is a solid explanation: when, exactly, did Jimmy McGill ditch his birth name and become Saul Goodman? When did he lose his soul? How did he lose it? And why?
Hopefully, season two will satisfy some of these questions.