Not so fast, Saul. Like Heisenberg himself, Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan and collaborator Peter Gould are far from finished with Walter White’s lawyer — and it appears that even Mr. White himself continues to haunt the artist formerly known as Saul Goodman.
In its opening minutes, Bad spinoff Better Call Saul shows that there is life after White, and whew! What a life it is!
As Saul predicted in his final showdown with the legendary crystal meth cook, the best-case scenario has panned out: He is indeed the manager of a Cinnabon in Omaha. Except he’s no longer Saul. He’s Gene, now, and he sports a mustache-and-glasses combo that would be reminiscent of a Groucho Marx disguise if he looked so much like a certain deceased drug kingpin.
Saul’s lawyer life and self-created pseudonym are long gone, but not forgotten. Never forgotten. He oversees the careful application of frosting on cinnamon-infused pastries by day, looking over his shoulder for any signs of lingering One Who Knocks danger. But by night, he’s drinking heavy drinks, alone, glimpsing through a television mirror into the past at his former self. Where did it all go wrong?
That’s the question at the heart of Better Call Saul, and the answer lies in the past, about five or so years before the name Heisenberg ever blipped on Saul Goodman’s radar — or even the name Saul Goodman, for that matter. Once upon a time, long before he was the king of strip mall lawyers, he was Jimmy McGill, defender of indefensible defendants, unable to secure enough clients (see: none) to strike out on his own. His accomplishments as an attorney pale in comparison to those of his brother Chuck, even if their current lots in life are similarly miserable. While Jimmy can barely hold down a job due to his own bad luck, Chuck is out of work due to a vague, mysterious illness, one that’s left him with an eccentric electricity aversion.
Chuck, unable or at least unwilling to leave his home, swears he’ll return to the firm he co-founded one day. Jimmy knows better; his brother’s glory days are behind him. But the firm stands by Chuck, if only because keeping him on the payroll with a modest salary prevents them from having to properly compensate the man who helped found the company. Even though Jimmy and Chuck are both dead broke, Jimmy wants more than what Howard Hamlin, Chuck’s sharp-dressed “partner,” offers up as sick leave compensation. Jimmy wants something closer to the tune of millions.
Any of this sounding familiar? In Jimmy, we have a down-and-out man, unlucky in his personal and professional life, desperate for money not just for his own needs, but for his family’s; a man who rejects a decent sum of money over the faint, faraway glimmer of a much bigger payday somewhere down the line. Even before he became a Nebraskan pastry franchise manager with sad glasses and a sadder ‘stache, “Saul” sure looked an awful lot like Walter White.
And the similarities don’t end there; Jimmy McGill’s luck is just as rotten as Walt’s, too. When Jimmy finally gets the bright idea to win over a high-end client and score a big pay day, he reverts back to his old ways as Slippin’ Jimmy, a nickname he earned when he was a younger man in Illinois, slipping on ice and conning the kind-hearted for thousands of dollars at a time. Jimmy enlists two similar scammers, a pair of red-headed skateboarding brothers, to fake a car accident with the wife of the wealthy county treasurer, so that Jimmy can swoop in at the eleventh hour and become the woman’s white knight in a tense situation. She’ll owe him, and that elusive first client he’s looking for will finally be his.
Great plan, right? Wrong. The skateboarding siblings do their part, but the driver speeds off after colliding into one of the brothers. They follow the car back to its house, and Jimmy follows suit. But when he steps up to the door, he’s greeted by a gun to the face — a gun that belongs to none other than Tuco Salamanca, future nemesis of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman.
What happens next remains unknown, but what is known, from the very first episode of Better Call Saul, is this: From ghosts of deadly drug dealers past to ghosts of deadly drug dealers future, Jimmy McGill’s journey toward Saul Goodman has much more in common with Walter White’s transformation into Heisenberg than we ever could have known. Grab a Cinnabon, slip in with Jimmy, and enjoy the ride.