Better Call Saul Withheld Saul Goodman – And It Worked

Even before "Breaking Bad" ended its highly acclaimed run, there were talks about a spin-off series. Many different angles for the spin-off show were considered, with "Better Call Saul" at one point being thought of as a half-hour comedy centered around Goodman being visited by a different goofy character with legal problems every week. There even was a version of the show where Saul Goodman was "sort of a Jerry Maguire for criminals," assembling teams for jobs and getting in trouble.

But when "Better Call Saul" finally made it to air, it was a very different show than anyone could have expected. The show pulled many magic tricks, starting with the way the writers made audiences fall in love with Jimmy, to making Kim Wexler one of the best TV characters of the past decade, to successfully marrying the world of law and Jimmy to the criminal world of Mike and Gus, to resolving outstanding cliffhangers from "Breaking Bad."

Now, six seasons and seven years later, it's become clear what the biggest magic trick "Better Call Saul" pulled really was: very rarely showing the Saul Goodman we knew from "Breaking Bad." 

Slippin' Jimmy

Even in the first season, it became clear that Jimmy McGill was far from the man Saul Goodman would one day become. Like "Breaking Bad," this was a story of how someone goes from being a decent guy to a total monster, but the main difference is that Saul was never really like Walter White. Sure, he had darker moments in his past, and sure, he had the capacity to do awful things, but Jimmy always had what he thought were good intentions in mind. His slip-ups and cons tended to be targeted against selfish or greedy people, and even when he did bad things, he tried to help others along the way — like when he conned Irene to try and get an early settlement for the Sandpiper deal for his own good, but which would have still helped the seniors.

Even as Jimmy changed his name to Saul Goodman, even as he changed his clientele to shadier groups, and even as he got involved with the cartel, he mostly remained Jimmy McGill. It's not until Kim leaves him that we understand Jimmy is truly dead and gone, and Saul Goodman is in charge. But rather than focus on the immediate aftermath and give us some Saul Goodman misadventures with his shady clients, we skip ahead in time and jump straight to Gene Takavic living in Nebraska after the events of "Breaking Bad."

This makes the whole of "Better Call Saul" a show with a title referring to a character we barely ever see, and best of all is that it makes perfect sense for what the story Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould are telling.

Better call Gene

As Vince Gilligan told Rolling Stone

"We know what Saul Goodman looks like. You saw him on a great many episodes of 'Breaking Bad.'" 

Sure, it would have been funny to see Bob Odenkirk pull the Saul act in all its glory again, but it would be redundant as we've already seen the most significant events in the professional life of Saul Goodman. The only stories the show could have told had to be small-scale side stories, and this late in the season they'd have been devoided of impact.

By mostly skipping Saul and going straight into Gene, "Better Call Saul" keeps up the suspense. We're finally seeing the protagonist devoid of any plot armor since there is nothing preventing the writers from giving Saul his comeuppance. This also allows Gene to slip back into Jimmy, if only for a moment, when he lets Carol Burnett's Marion live. Perhaps this will lead to a last-minute change of heart and a shot at redemption for Gene. If that is the plan, it would have been very uncharacteristic and out of place to do with Saul, the man who suggested murder rather as an easy and convenient alternative to legal action the first time we meet him.

In a show full of surprises, skipping the character audiences wanted to see when "Better Call Saul" was first announced is the most shocking twist imaginable. Those who want to see what happens to Jimmy before he becomes Gene can still just watch the show with the chemistry teacher that brings down a whole drug empire.