by Jack Long
Compared to its predecessor, Better Call Saul is a quaint show. There have yet to be any of the explosive wheelchairs, airline catastrophes, or machine gun turrets that stole the spotlight on Breaking Bad while its fatherly hero descends into a mad druglord; instead, Saul draws in excited audiences with advertising disputes, fake allergies, and elder law, all tied together by a protagonist whose unique arc sees him transform from a guilty fraud to a guiltier fraud. Besides overlap in the supporting cast, there is really only one desire that Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul both satisfy: the need for final justice.
Both shows were created by Vince Gilligan, a lapsed Catholic, who became agnostic about God’s existence later in life, but retained a key interest in the idea of providence. In interviews with both NPR and the New York Times, Gilligan expressed that he wanted to believe that there was a single, objective good in the world which ethically binds us all and which the universe imposes by some form of karma. Gilligan clarified that he did not think you could prove such a thing was true, but he maintained that people want to believe in this kind of cosmic retribution. In both interviews, he puts this mindset in the words of his long-time girlfriend: “She says I can stand the thought that there's no heaven. But I don't know that I can't stand the thought that there's no hell[.]”
The appeal of Breaking Bad was not seeing a cool bad guy make drugs and shoot people; the appeal was seeing someone do hideous and grotesque things have to face the consequences of those actions and face ultimate destruction not because of some arbitrary external force, but because the evils that he had done were inherently self-destructive.
Better Call Saul continues to satisfy the public’s desire to see justice done, but in conflicts on a scale far less visceral than drug-wars. Justice is done in courtrooms in Saul, from which injustice also springs, as Saul Goodman’s greatest evils all come out of the mouth. His willingness to lie to get what he wants culminates in the third season’s finale, where he has to destroyed a character’s reputation that they are reduced to tearing their house apart trying to fix a flaw that seemingly has no solution. Saul has convinced this character that their mind is slipping, that their lover hated them, and has turned all those who respected said character against them. Now, even the comfort of their own home is denied them, prompting them to burn it down. The fire has more consequences than they could imagine, and Saul has to live with knowing that it was his fault that he brought hell into the lives of those around them.
Whereas Walter White killed the body and so suffered in the body via his increasingly terminal cancer, Saul Goodman did far worse. He made men lose their souls and their minds by twisting his own against all of them. In an age where lies abound without consequence and evil is declared the most intriguing thing in art, Vince Gilligan continues to show that evil is only of interest to the extent it gives way to the good of justice. Gilligan is not turning anyone into a new Christ, but at least he is helping his audience understand that all sinners are like the biblical Saul: suicides.