Confession time – I have never seen minute one of Breaking Bad. Not out of any critical motive, mind you. It just slipped past me until it was one of those “catch up with it on Netflix” someday things. On the other hand, when the prequel/spinoff featuring Walter White’s trusted attorney, Saul Goodman, premiered, I was on top of it. Aside from the glowing early reviews it’s a lawyer show, which I have a hard time ignoring. Thankfully, the early reviews proved accurate.
“Better Call Saul,” as I understand it, was the tagline in the TV ads Saul Goodman used to drum up business in Breaking Bad. But as this series starts, there is no Saul Goodman (except in a brief flash forward), only Jimmy McGill, struggling lawyer. Jimmy has a con artist past (when he was known as Slippin’ Jimmy) and brother, Chuck, who’s a partner in a big law firm. However, Chuck is now confined to his home by a psychosomatic illness involving an aversion to electrical devices. Nonetheless, Chuck is who Jimmy aspires to be, although without the mental issues.
Thus the first season is basically the tale of Jimmy trying to find his legal niche. He as some connection to Chuck’s law firm, but it’s unclear what that was until several episodes in. On his own, Jimmy resorts to some old trick to drum up business (a staged rescue in which he’s the hero). It works, somewhat, and he stumbles into the field of elder law and even appears to genuinely care about his elderly clients.
But things go wrong when a big case falls into his lap. He enlists Chuck who, quite rightly, argues to bring in his old firm because they have the resources to handle it. Jimmy agrees, assuming that this is his ticket into the firm legitimately – as a rainmaker. Only he learns that not only will he not be welcomed into the firm it’s because his brother has been blocking him at every turn.
This leads to the key scene of the season and the one most interesting to me as a lawyer. Chuck, basically stands up for the standards of the profession. Jimmy, who got his degree from an off shore diploma mill and has a criminal past, doesn’t make the cut. Law is a sacred trust, Chuck argues, ones that doesn’t have any place in it for people like Jimmy. Lawyers bear a particular responsibility, not just to their clients, but to society at large. Being a lawyer, as Chuck tells it, is just as we real world lawyers want it to be.
But the joke’s on us, because for the rest of the population, we look an awfully lot more like Jimmy. It’s perhaps no surprise that when Jimmy becomes Saul he manages to drop in social standing, from not-quite-reformed con man to criminal defense attorney. After all, what kind of person defends murdering drug dealers for a living? At least that’s what people think (and sometimes tell you!).
By the end of the season, Jimmy’s had one more chance at being “respectable” and turns it down. Does it mean that he’s completely turned the corner into the criminal shyster he becomes in Breaking Bad (so I’m told)? Who knows. Maybe he just decided that his idea of respectable and Chuck’s are far apart and the legal profession has room for the both.