S’all good, man. A review of “Better Call Saul” Season 1

“Breaking Bad” was of course a seismic tv event that spoke eloquently and dramatically over 5 seasons on the power of consequences and moral choices.

Bob Odenkirk’s ‘Saul Goodman’ was a fan favourite, appearing in season 2 with his brand of fast talking ‘ass out of fire’ recovery, through a capacity for moral flexibility and a compendium like knowledge of law by loophole.

Here, in this spin off origin story, we begin to chart how struggling newly qualified lawyer Jimmy McGill balances trying to eke a living out of pro-Bono work and looking out for his brother Chuck McGill (Michael McKean), who appears to have suffered a break-down that has left him convinced that he is vulnerable to electrical waves, and so he sits in a powerless house lit by candles, shrouded in a foil blanket and having to to have his ice cooler topped up with fresh food.  Chuck is on an extended leave of absence from the law firm of which he is one half of the partnership of ‘Hamlin McGill.’ The other, Howard, Jimmy suspects of trying to buy his brother off cheaply.

Meanwhile, another BB fan favourite Mike Ehmantraut (Jonathan Banks) also has his prologue told in parallel.  We find out, in a powerful episode, how his career in the Police force came to an explosive and tragic end.  We see him struggling to support his daughter and granddaughter, and find his way to do this when the best he can do by way of work is as a car park attendant, watching the gate as Cerebrus guards Hell.  It’s here that Jimmy meets him, parking his ‘seen better days’ vehicle to visit the offices of Hamlin McGill.

Their stories converge when Jimmy is assigned to help the Kettlemans, middle class suburbanites and career embezzlers.

Jimmy’s quest is to build his practice, so that he can move out of a rented closet and stop pretending to be his secretary whenever someone calls, redeem and re-establish his brother in his partnership, and redeem his own past, which has seen him landed in jail for con related pranks gone wrong.  Odendirk’s performance is magnetic, and although we know the end of his ultimate trajectory, there is still incredible humanity and pathos in this struggling Everyman, doing his pro-Bono work, trying to heed his brother’s lectures in moral probity and professional ethics.  With his rapid quick talking wit and accompanying rapid hand gestures, all nervous energy and frantic pin balling intelligence, we root for him and warm to him.  He’s grounded and helped in the series by one of the warmer and more consistent characters by way of integrity and salt of the earth charm, Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn).  She’s a solicitor who is vulnerable to Howard Hamlin’s ruthless machinations and must work doubly hard not to be relegated to the basement.

Sub plots burn on, creating swerves and obstacles for our quick thinking lawyer.  For example, BB’s Drug-Lord Tuco has a messy and violent encounter with Jimmy and 2 skateboarding slackers who tried to embroil him in a road-accident scam.  Jimmy must use all his fast talking persuasive skills to influence Tuco away from the murder of said slackers if not himself.  This adventure embroils his path with Tuco apprentice Nacho, and it’s here we see real shadows of the world of Saul Goodman.

The narrative leads to a betrayal that is truly Shakespearean in its scope and effect on Jimmy’s destiny.  It combines the drama of boardroom and family, and it is compelling, powerful, unforgettable stuff.  As the season finale closes we feel that Jimmy is now well and truly starting to walk in the shoes of Saul Goodman.