As much as myself, and most likely, those involved with production of Better Call Saul want to steer the conversation away from Breaking Bad, in these first few outings, its inevitable that comparisons will arise often. That’s not to say that the show only has merit because of its connection to its predecessor, because again in this third episode of Better Call Saul we are treated to a well-crafted hour of television that survives on its own merits. But for those of us that have come to Jimmy McGill’s story only by proxy, comparing and contrasting is part of the enjoyment factor.
The places feel the same and some of the faces actually are, shot with the same attention to detail and Hollywood caliber camerawork, but though the tone dips and careens in the same waters of dark and light, something about Better Call Saul’s story feels inherently different, and that’s because of Jimmy. Unlike Walt, Jimmy isn’t falling from any sort of decency into a world of criminal mischief, Jimmy is trying not to fall back into that world, struggling not to return to its orbit.
In the episode’s cold open, we get to travel even further back and see a Jimmy McGill that’s hit rock bottom, accused of assault, property damage, and being a sex offender, crying in a holding cell until he can beg his mother to send his hot-shot lawyer brother to bail him out. Walt was literally sick on Breaking Bad, on Better Call Saul Jimmy’s only called that by society’s standards and his brother’s disappointed gaze. Jimmy is trying for a redemptive arc, not some blaze of glory.
Another chief difference about the two protagonists is that Jimmy seems to be more empathetic of others, right from the get go. Even in the early seasons of Breaking Bad, Walt had a tendency of letting bad things happen to people who crossed his path, on Better Call Saul, Jimmy jumps through hoops trying to get people like the twins, Nacho and the Kettleman’s out of his way. Jimmy McGill really wants to do good in the world, even if he has to do some unsavory things to do so. Jimmy can’t function at the thought of someone getting hurt because of him, and that conscious makes him more appealing than Walter White right off the bat.
Our other Breaking Bad refugee, Mike Ehrmantraut, finally gets some meaningful business other than serving parking bureaucracy-based kicks to Jimmy while he’s down. Jimmy is coming to the courthouse back and forth frantically because Nacho is imprisoned in relation to the disappearance of the Kettlemans. Nacho didn’t commit the crime, but if the cops keep investigating, they’ll find out about his business, and if that happens, he’ll have Jimmy hurt. Nacho demands Jimmy get him released by the end of the day if he knows what’s good for him, so Jimmy has to convince the police that the Kettleman’s kidnapped themselves, making off with the money they stole. Mike gets involved once Jimmy disrespects him for the final time during his busy trips in and out of the parking lot, revealing his penchant for ass kicking, and afterward, his wealth of knowledge on special crimes. The fight and brief team-up hint at just how fun these two opposites can be in close quarters.
Jimmy has another little helper in Kim, until this point only known as the shadowy blonde who’s quite brief with our boy Jimmy. Kim and Jimmy’s relationship mirrors a lot of Jimmy’s relationships: she’s annoyed by him, however, she remains concerned about his state when he’s in danger and the two share a vibrant rapport. It’s nice that the show is giving us someone that Jimmy can spill all of his misdoings to, someone who can act with equal parts disgust and distress. Jimmy needs as many people looking out for his best interest as possible.
The Kettleman case wraps up with a funny little discovery scene of Jimmy finding them hidden in the woods. In this moment, and many others throughout the episode, Bob Odenkirk proves that no one can do desperate, exhausted bartering quite like him. Better Call Saul has me laughing more than any other hour-long program on television, and it’s not even a straight comedy. If the show keeps doing all of these things right, I think the name Breaking Bad will quit popping up in these reviews in no time.