Better Watch Saul

 

saul

Monday will be the finale of the first season of Better Call Saul, and I’m really unhappy to see it end because it’s been a quality viewing experience. I think it may have the best writing of any show currently on air.

Just in case you don’t already know, Better Call Saul is a spin-off of the wildly popular and excellent Breaking Bad. It’s also a prequel, beginning before attorney Saul Goodman’s association with Walter White. Like Breaking Bad, it’s can’t-look-away storytelling that will have you watching the clock on Monday night just salivating to find out what happens next.

Bob Odenkirk is tremendous reprising his Breaking Bad character, a slick, ingenious, but shady lawyer who runs lots of TV ads. But the dynamic is a little different this time, because when Better Call Saul begins, he’s a struggling attorney recently graduated from law school.

mikeAnd there’s another old friend from Breaking Bad, Mike the ex-cop (Jonathan Banks) and his character’s role is expanded to include some compelling backstory elements. Better Call Saul introduces some new characters. Michael McKean portrays Saul’s older brother, a successfulmckean attorney and a partner in a big, powerful law firm, but also a crackpot. Saul has a friend, attorney Kim Wexler, played by Rhea Seehorn who you might remember from a brief stint on the unfairly better-call-saul-season-1-character-portrait-kim-seehorn-590canceled sitcom Whitney.

If you liked Breaking Bad, I can’t imagine you wouldn’t be drawn in to Better Call Saul. It has similar story elements, compelling characters, great acting, and the intense blue skies of Albuquerque. AMC deserves congratulations for coming up with another winner in its string of quality dramas. Some of the finest drama being created now is on television, and Bettter Call Saul is an example of this.

You can catch the final hour of this great new series Monday, April 6 at 9 p.m. central time on AMC. Old episodes from the first season are available at amctv.com.

Breaking Down Breaking Bad

The conflict between Walt and Jesse seems forced as the popular series heads for a conclusion.

The conflict between Walt and Jesse seems forced as the popular series heads for a conclusion.

Breaking Down Breaking Bad

As of last night, the rabid fans of AMC’s Breaking Bad  are halfway through the last eight episodes of the final half season. Repeatedly, leading up to the highly anticipated conclusion of the series, fans were told they would not be disappointed. And given the high quality of the writing in the first four and a half seasons, I thought these last episodes would hold up.

But I was wrong, and I am disappointed as the plot flaws pile up and the actions of the characters seem forced and illogical. There have been some brilliant moments, but unfortunately there have also been some stretches in the story line that go too far.

The biggest problem is that Jesse seems to have gone around the bend and lost all reasoning ability. He has turned on his mentor, Walter White, and is now assisting DEA Agent Hank with the goal of burning Walter down. What has precipitated this radical change of attitude? Jesse is convinced  that Walter was involved in the ricin poisoning of an 8-year-old boy.

But the way he arrived at that conclusion, and the conclusion itself seem to be a reach. When the boy almost died, Jesse suspected ricin poisoning and suggested it to the boy’s doctors. They conducted a toxicology test and found no ricin. In addition, the doctors concluded the boy was probably ill because of exposure to a poisonous plant, Lily of the Valley.

So given the fact that Jesse knows all this, why is he so certain that the boy was administered ricin by Walter? Another unanswered question which you would think Jesse would surely ask himself is what did Walter have to gain from the boy’s poisoning? That question also has not been addressed.

Also very shaky are the events that led to Jesse’s dubious epiphany. Saul Goodman, Jesse’s slick but corrupt lawyer, had arranged for Jesse to disappear and be given a new identity by a mysterious fixer. When Saul found out Jesse would be taking a bag of weed with him to the rendezvous with the provider of his new identity, he instructed his employee Huel to steal it from Jesse’s pocket, which he did.

Jesse realized his weed had been lifted and this led to a further revelation, that Saul had been the one to steal a ricin-laced cigarette from him earlier. All of which prompted Jesse to go to Saul’s office and proceed to beat and kick him bloody and jump to the conclusion that Saul had been the one to poison the boy. To stop the beating, Saul admitted to stealing the ricin, but said he did so on the instruction of Walt. Jesse then concluded Walt had been the one who had poisoned the boy and this set off his rampage to get Walt.

There are real problems with this  whole scenario. Saul is crooked, but he’s also super smart. Why would be so finicky about Jesse having a bag of weed with him? This mysterious identity-changer person must not exactly be a choirboy himself, given that his customers would be miscreant criminals and fugitives, so the minor infraction of Jesse having a little pot in his pocket is just not enough justification for Saul’s actions. Also, even though Saul did steal the pot and the ricin, Jesse’s leap to believe they tried to kill the boy is a plot bridge too far.

It’s also hard to believe that Jesse, given the long exploration of his character, would be so quick to jump into bed with the DEA on such a flimsy premise. Jesse has been a lot of things in the series, a small time criminal, a drug addict, a party animal, a deadly boyfriend, a big time criminal and even a killer, but one thing he has never been is a snitch. We’ve never seen any hint that he would be the type of person to cooperate with law enforcement. If he wants revenge on Walt, why would he not just exact it himself, instead of allying himself with Hank, a man who put a beatdown on him that sent Jesse to the hospital.

It may seem that I am being hypercritical of the writing, but when you have some critics saying you’re the best drama ever aired, the bar has been set pretty high. Viewers have a right to think that these final few episodes would have the same high quality writing they’ve come to expect. So I’m hoping that the last four installments will not continue to stretch reality to the breaking point and get back to the sensational storytelling that made Breaking Bad the huge hit it is.