This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
This feature contains spoilers for Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul seasons 1-4.
“It’s all good, man.”
Better Call Saul is mostly a lighter series than Breaking Bad, but from the very beginning, there’s been the inescapable sense that things are going to get much darker before it reaches its end. That might be because the end of Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s prequel series will probably leave off right where the parent show begins, joining up the two series in one big New Mexico crime saga.
If the arc of Breaking Bad was to take Walter White from “Mr. Chips to Scarface,” Better Call Saul has the much more literal transition of Bob Odenkirk’s character from unscrupulous but essentially well-meaning defence attorney Jimmy McGill into criminal lawyer Saul Goodman, who plays a crucial role in the Heisenberg affair.
Thus far, we’ve seen how Jimmy first became a lawyer after a misspent youth pulling cons, and how that history informs his difficult relationship with his elder brother Chuck (Michael McKean), and his personal and professional partnerships with Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn). Elsewhere, we’ve followed Jonathan Banks’ retired cop turned fixer Mike Ehrmantraut through a feud with Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis) and his first meeting with meth mogul and chicken restauranteur Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito).
Four seasons in, the show is getting tantalizingly close to the beginning of Breaking Bad. Although nothing has been announced, we’d guess that the forthcoming fifth season will be the last. Maybe this season will be extended and split over two years, equalling the earlier show’s run, but either way, we think they’re coming up to the endgame.
“I would stick with it. We are talking about roughly the same number of episodes as Breaking Bad,” Gould told the Independent when asked about how much longer the show would run.
“Though I have to tell you, if at the beginning of this you had told me we were going to do this many episodes about Walter White’s comedy sidekick lawyer I would have said you were crazy! The show has turned into a very different animal from frankly what I ever would have pictured when we got started.”
For certain characters, the end has already been written. Mike will always die pointlessly in his getaway car, telling Walter White to shut the fuck up telling him about it. Gus and Hector will always explode together, to the consternation of both men. And if we’re lucky, light-fingered Huell Babineaux will always be waiting for ASAC Schrader to come back, sitting on that safehouse sofa, like the beautiful giant baby prince he is.
But what of the characters whose fates are as yet unseen? Whether new or existing characters, the writers have started moving characters forward. Before the show ends, it will have to connect up to Saul’s entrance in Breaking Bad season 2, and perhaps even go beyond his final appearance in the penultimate episode, which saw Saul being relocated to Omaha. And before then, we count five major Better Call Saul characters whose endings are coming sooner or later.
Even for a prequel series, Better Call Saul can pull off some truly intense sequences without resorting to dramatic irony. Look at the scene in season 3’s “Slip,” where in order to save his upstanding dad from being compromised by the psychopathic Hector, Nacho (Michael Mando) hatches a plot to swap the Salamanca patriarch’s medication with ibuprofen tablets.
We know that by the time Walt and Jesse encounter him, Hector is going to wind up in a wheelchair, using a hotel welcome bell to communicate. But we have no idea what’s going to happen to Nacho and the breathless scene in which he slips a new bottle of pills into the don’s pocket is a reliable measure of how attached we’ve become to this character.
Introduced in the show’s second episode, “Mijo,” Ignacio “Nacho” Varga has developed into more than just an enforcer for the Salamancas. Working as a lieutenant to Tuco in the first season, he later drafts Mike into an attempt to make his boss “go away.” Mike dispatches him in his own way, getting him locked up in prison, but making the way for Hector to take over running things.
Nacho’s plot to kill Hector comes out of the don’s plan to use his dad’s upholstery shop as a front for cartel business. This ultimately puts him in control of the Salamancas’ turf in Albuquerque, but also brings him under the yoke of Gus, who’s privately furious with him for almost stealing his chance at revenge.
While Nacho clearly has a distaste for the way the Salamancas run things, his efforts to gain control have thus far only put him under more pressure from bigger, badder bosses. In this way, his story has evolved into one of the most complex ongoing parts of the show. Going forward, his on-off working relationship with Mike is likely to come into play again, especially they’re both Gus’ men. While his interactions with Jimmy have been limited, Saul mentions an Ignacio by name in his very first episode.
“No, it wasn’t me,” Saul blurts, when Walt and Jesse kidnap him and take him out into the desert. “It was Ignacio. He’s the one.”
It’s Nacho’s presence right from the beginning of the spin-off that makes us think the reference is intended and they’ve been teeing the character up for a large role in the show’s climax. Given how he’s not around in Breaking Bad, it’s fair to guess that his time as a double agent will come to a head in a typically violent fashion. With matters escalating, it can only be so long before he gets found out by the Salamancas.
In that same Breaking Bad scene, Saul goes onto witter about someone called “Lalo”, before realising that his kidnappers don’t actually have anything to do with the cartel. We finally get to meet Hector’s grandson in the latter half of season four, when he threateningly, er… cooks a meal for Nacho.
Sent by the cartel to look into how Nacho has been running their business, Lalo takes an interest in Gus’ rival operation and shows quite a bit more guile than we’ve seen in the rest of his family. The Salamancas are a bunch of cruel maniacs, but Lalo is the most composed one we’ve met thus far. He’s definitely just as mad though, as seen when he happily reminisces about massacring people with his grandfather and even gives him his iconic bell as a keepsake.
Judging by the timing of his entrance, Lalo will be a perfectly suitable Big Bad. Although Jimmy/Saul hasn’t met him yet, there’s that connection from Breaking Bad tethering him to Mike’s first interactions with him in the season 4 finale. Mike outwits him in Winner, but once Lalo finds out about Werner, the man who’s building a vast underground laboratory for Gus, the gregarious German architect’s fate is sealed.
For Mike, who found another way when Nacho wanted him to nix Tuco, murdering Werner on Gus’ orders is a major tipping point. That beautiful, terrible scene in the New Mexico desert is just one more inconsequential tragedy in the whole sorry saga, but it sets up a strong reason for Mike and Lalo to dislike one another, which will clearly loom large in the next season.
While Mike and Jimmy’s storylines have largely diverged since season one, Lalo is a character whose presence will likely make them collide again, bringing Nacho too. As to his eventual fate, we don’t see how he wouldn’t have shown up in Breaking Bad if he were still around, but whatever happens, it’s going to be enough to keep Saul scared that he’ll come back.
Operating exclusively on the Jimmy side of the story, Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) is an interesting one. As a partner and the son of Chuck’s co-founder in Hamlin Hamlin & McGill, his role in the early seasons is apparently to antagonise Jimmy. This carries on right up until season three’s “Chicanery,” in which Chuck’s attempt to have Jimmy disbarred for committing felony charges ends in public embarrassment for HHM.
For the rest of the season, Howard and Chuck become embroiled in a bitter parting of the ways, with the latter suing the former and trying to bankrupt their firm. This ends in Howard cutting a check using his own personal savings and loans from friends, just to get rid of him. The season culminates with Chuck’s suicide, but after the end of that plotline, what is Howard’s continuing role?
In season four, his guilt about Chuck’s death leaves him in something of a crisis. He actually seems to be way more cut up about it than Jimmy does, making him a direct counterpoint to our protagonist. All three of the major scenes between the pair inform Jimmy’s arc. While Kim urges him to seek therapy, he continually doubles down on fronting it out as he sees Howard become more depressed.
The key moment comes when Jimmy has accepted he might need help but changes his mind after an encounter with an anxious Howard in the men’s room at the courthouse. The next time they see one another, he tells the lawyer to man up and save his firm instead of rolling over and giving up. Then, in the finale, as Jimmy aims to curry favor with Albuquerque’s legal community by donating a scholarship in memory of his brother, Howard is present at a pivotal moment.
When he and the other scholarship committee members refuse to award the scholarship to Jimmy’s choice of candidate, a young woman who wants to turn her life around after being charged with shoplifting, something breaks. Jimmy leaves the meeting and rages in his car, before effectively stating that there’s no point trying to get better.
Some have even compared this to Walt’s crawl space breakdown in Breaking Bad’s fourth season. Though this part is not quite as horrifying, it’s the nearest thing to the emotional death of a character we knew and the emergence of someone worse. By the end of the episode, he has shed his old identity and changed his name to Saul Goodman.
Throughout the season, the writers flirt with the idea that Jimmy McGill’s transformation into Saul Goodman might have been averted if he had sought help with his grief and other emotional problems, but Howard, however unwittingly, is instrumental in foiling that. If you’re wondering why he’s still around as a regular, it’s just possible that he may still have a far more important part to play before that transformation is complete.
If they send Kim to Belize, we riot. In contrast to Howard, she’s one of the show’s most actively compelling characters and most fans share our dread that she might be put out of the picture before Saul finishes its run. Even while hitting all of the prequel show bases, Kim Wexler is the key to the show’s growth beyond backstory.
In a show where we know how most of the characters will end up, she’s always felt like the character who will have the most to lose from Jimmy’s moral descent. In deciding to partner with Jimmy and then go independent, her fate becomes entangled in his, and even in knowing where he’s going, we root for Kim to be alright in the end.
More than just her often-misplaced faith in Jimmy, her workaholic tendencies have got her in trouble. Her overachieving ways push to the point of exhaustion in season three, which culminates in a car accident on her way to a meeting for her sole client, Mesa Verde Bank and Trust. With her arm in a cast, she spends much of season four taking on even more work, taking on public defender work and starting a new division with another major firm.
She plays things by the book until she realizes she can get even more done by coloring outside the lines a bit. Gradually, the writers are turning her work ethic, ostensibly her greatest asset, into her greatest flaw. This begins in earnest when she helps Jimmy to free Huell, who has been charged with assaulting a plain-clothes police officer with a bag of sandwiches.
Jimmy wants to drag the cop’s name through the mud, but Kim’s idea, a falsified write-in campaign from his fictional fellow parishioners in small-town Arizona, is a stroke of genius. It’s such a good idea on the writers’ part that it leaves you wondering why the entire show hasn’t just been a series of legal con tricks by Kim and Jimmy.
Entertaining as it is in the short term, you can already see how this will spell trouble along the way. As good as they are together, the look on Kim’s face during and after Jimmy being reinstated by the bar hearing tells us that their relationship isn’t going to last much longer, especially as he reinvents himself as Saul.
It’s to be expected that the show will become more violent and dangerous once Saul’s career as a criminal lawyer begins in earnest, but the resulting distance might be enough to save Kim from the gruesome fate that some have anticipated. Disbarment seems a more likely fate, especially if anyone ever finds out about the blueprint switcheroo that Kim and Jimmy pull on the Wyoming planning office.
Ultimately, while Kim is important to this show and important to Jimmy, she’s not so important to the story that follows. She’s got no reason to stick around in Albuquerque if the two of them grow apart and there’s nothing in Breaking Bad that precludes her survival. Of all the new characters, she’s the one we most want to make it out alive, all of which brings us to Omaha…
Saul Goodman is dead. Long live Gene Takovic, who works at Cinnabon. The crucial thing about spinning off Saul is that his story in Breaking Bad is open at both ends. In the very first episode, “Uno,” the series immediately set out its stall with a surprising cold open that picked up with a moustachioed Saul working at a fast food outlet in a mall.
Every season to date has opened with a similar scene, setting out the kind of haunted life that the lawyer formerly known as James Morgan McGill is now living. Advancing the sequel story in increments, these black-and-white scenes show “Gene” in fear of being noticed, breaking his facade only to offer legal advice when he witnesses the arrest of a shoplifting teen.
The resultant stress causes him to collapse and wind up in hospital, where his fake ID is subject to further scrutiny. When we left him in season four’s flash-forward, he was being tailed to his home by someone with an Albuquerque licence plate. While no other recognizable characters have shown up yet, we’d expect that to change very soon.
As the series draws ever closer to the point where we found Saul, Mike, and Gus in Breaking Bad, the show will eventually have to focus more on the sequel aspect to some extent. If they keep the monochrome approach going, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if we get at least one episode that is fully black-and-white before it’s all over. With this week’s news that Gilligan has been working on a movie set after the events of Breaking Bad, we know that this is something the writers are interested in exploring.
In the meantime, there’s still lots to learn about Jimmy in the prequel timeline. More than just making cheesy TV ads, supplying burner phones, and changing his name, we’ve yet to see how he becomes the character who helps to poison a child at Walt’s bidding. His tendency to fake emotional displays while repressing his real feelings will only desensitise him further, while also expanding our perception of the “comedy sidekick lawyer” we know.
There’s so much to get through, we’re not sure if we’ll ever see Jimmy’s second wife (the one after the sunroof incident) cheat on him with his step-dad, a passing reference in Breaking Bad that Gilligan really wishes they hadn’t included. More pressingly, it remains to be seen whether his future will entail some kind of redemption or a belated sticky end.
Even while Walt gets people killed with impunity throughout Breaking Bad, Saul is rebuked numerous times for suggesting it. Most memorably, he uses “send them to Belize” as a euphemism for whacking Walt’s brother-in-law, Hank. With Better Call Saul, certain characters are headed there, while others might just make it to Omaha, where we expect the ultimate resolution of the show will take place.
Back in Albuquerque, the next season of the show should see the legal aspect crossover with the criminal side in much more dramatic ways. While not as dark or epic as Breaking Bad, the show has lived up to our expectations of an arcing story within that world, and it’s only getting closer.
Happily, the backstory isn’t of the hollow, fan-serving “so that’s how they got there” variety seen in movies like Solo or Prometheus. In playing on the unknown fate of the title character, as well as creating and developing a wide variety of new characters whose stories have yet to be fully told, Better Call Saul has proven a damn sight more compelling than most prequel shows.
With all the talent behind it, they were hardly going to make Young Sheldon, but as the writers go deeper into this world, it could even be argued that it’s become better than the original series. We feel encouraged to theorise and speculate by our knowledge of the future, but we fully accept that there are going to be a few more surprises in store before all the dots are joined up.