Better Call Saul v/s Breaking Bad
Breaking Bad is one of the most watched and highly rated television series of recent times (maybe one of the top 5 series of all times, I don’t have the verified data points). For a variety of reasons, people loved this story of an underdog common man, who walks down the dark road and then conquers everything while turning into an anti-hero. The slowly brewing and intense series was much loved for its genre also. Decades after decades, performing arts viewing audience has loved the gangsters/drugs world. Probably because, somewhere deep inside, we all have a hint of grey in all of us. Walter White and Jesse Pinkman became the hottest characters of the last decade and rightly so. Unlike many other famous series/stories, the creators of Breaking Bad didn’t want to stop after Breaking Bad. They wanted to live it for a few more years and that is when Better Call Saul originated. A prequel and spin off of the legendary series with a character lead who was quite a hit in the original series, not so much for his depth but for his shenanigans. Although Peter Gould, one of the co creators of Breaking Bad, credits Vince Gilligan for spearheading the idea of this spin off, it was Peter Gould who did the heavy lifting on this series as Gilligan was off, directing a sequel movie to Breaking Bad for nearly 2.5 seasons (I might not be accurate in terms of timeline here) which wasn’t well received by the audience (as per IMDB ratings). I personally think that Peter’s lead on this made it worthy of the discussion, “Is Better Call Saul better than Breaking Bad”? IMDB ratings may not warranty this sort of discussion but many like me tend to think otherwise. This show is not about the “a common man can do anything” story, it’s actually more real (atleast for me).
I, for when I started watching Better Call Saul, couldn’t have remotely guessed that Jimmy McGill (Actual name of Saul Goodman, the lead of the series) could have such depth in his character. This series develops Saul Goodman. It doesn’t put him in a spot and then makes him flip overnight to the dark side. It slowly brews, through n number of incidents, to show how any man would change himself. It has to do with family, with his successes and failures, with the society around him and most importantly, (and I have seen it many times) a person with vested interests. It takes 4 seasons for this guy next door, simple living, notorious, entrepreneurial and low ambitions guy to finally realise that he has had enough and he doesn’t belong in the civil world around him. He can’t impress many with his behaviour, his intentions, his actions as his baggage of the past will always pull him down. Somehow the class divide makes it really difficult for anyone to cross the bridge to success and social recognition in any society, anywhere in the world (even today). This series doesn’t focus on this guy doing superhuman things, (things, that one can only imagine in his/her wildest dreams) rather it focuses on all the relationships around him and how he struggles to cope up with each one of them because of the varying dimensions and expectations. His relationship with his girlfriend is so unique, so natural and so weirdly unexplainable that there is nothing cool about it (except the fact that many think he is not in her league) yet it is so mesmerising because it is as real as it gets. If anyone ever tries to dissect why humans don’t behave rationally and why many theories fail when it comes to practical implementation of the same, one should study Kim Wexler (Jimmy’s girlfriend) as a case in point. The second most interesting relationship is of Jimmy and Chuck (Jimmy’s elder brother and a well known lawyer), it is so unique, real and deep that you forget that this story is also about a parallel universe of gangsters and drugs. Chuck is in fact the central character who shapes Jimmy into Saul. One more character which is given so much screen time and plays the perfect partner to Jimmy (metaphorically) is Mike. This is his story too and his silences are the most mature direction that I have seen in my limited experience. This sort of depth was not visible in the characters of Breaking Bad. I was also not so much vested (after season 3) in the show as I couldn’t relate to the turn of events of that series. This show doesn’t give me the chance for that. I didn’t empathise with central characters of BB. Here, I am always hoping that it doesn’t end bad for Jimmy, Kim and Mike (which I know it would). It builds such a deep rooted structure for the four main characters (Jimmy, Kim, Mike and Chuck) that as the seasons progress, you can understand their changing behaviours and actions. I also admire it more than BB because it’s not a cool series. It doesn’t focus more on the gangster storyline than the civilian storyline and in the civilian life, it’s about emotional warfare and tension rather than the actual war. The characters of Nacho Varga, Hector Salamanca, Lalo Salamanca and Gustavo Fring take the responsibility of running with a parallel storyline but I don’t find it that interesting and keep waiting for Jimmy, Mike, Kim or Chuck to come back on screen. This is also one of the reasons that I somehow didn’t enjoy Season 5 (as much as other other seasons) because the civilian world of Better Call Saul has more or less ended and almost all the characters that now remain in the series, have crossed over to the dark side. Probably that is why my best parts of Season 5 were the individual, focussed parts of Jimmy, Mike and Kim and to some extent of Mike and Nacho Varga too. The desert sequence involving Jimmy and Mike or Kim’s takedown of Lalo with her brilliant words were masterpieces. In the end, I think anyone who liked Better Call Saul more than Breaking Bad probably is more of a realist (for the lack of a better world) who thinks that anything in life takes its own sweet time and life in large parts is a boring, mundane and repetitive story that you live out every day.