Better Call Saul: A Southwestern Epic, and Maybe the Best Show on TV

“Nature dominates. Human life is small, fragile, and finite. And yet, still, beautiful.” – Penny Wolfson in Moonrise, on the American Southwest

by Kolby Solinsky

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The appeal of Better Call Saul is obvious. Intentional and immediate.

It’s a prequel to one of the most beloved, critically acclaimed TV dramas of all-time, Breaking Bad, a rare and gripping, deep thriller that accidentally became the show that launched a new dawn of Netflix.

Sure, binge-watching existed before Bad, but it was snacking. Walter White turned it into a health concern. Didn’t matter if you were in a focused-on-the-screen coma on the couch with a pile of potato chip debris on your lap – when Bryan Cranston said lines like “I am the danger” and “Say my name,” you weren’t turning the thing off.

So yeah, Saul was going to be successful. It was going to be loved, because it’s not like Vince Gilligan was going to go all Michael Cimino and torch his career after the greatest success of his life.

But what Better Call Saul has become is something so much more. Not ‘better’ than Breaking Bad, of course, but perhaps more impressive. Bob Odenkirk gives a performance so perfect and potent, you can’t say there’s an actor doing better work right now – TV, movies, or anywhere. Saul is a legit legal drama – certainly with a different tone than Law & Order or The Practice, but maybe more authentic. With camera angles and opera music, it turns crappy, vending machine coffees into chardonnay. It makes the hustle of a thankless, often near-payless job look like it’s worth all it isn’t – it turns Jimmy McGill’s slimy character into James Bond without parking validation.

And of course, just like Gilligan’s last show, it makes the American Southwest look like the most beautiful place on earth. Which it may very well be, if you have the tastes of Ansel Adams.

By turning the ordinary into something extraordinary, by shining a light on stuff you might mistake as boring or ugly or normal, Vince Gilligan has created an Western epic.

And because we know Jimmy will eventually become Saul, this one’s also about the man with no name.

In fact, Clint Eastwood’s quote to Eli Wallach at the end of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly could just as easily have been told to Jimmy, who’s all work and tempered play:

You see in this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend. Those with loaded guns, and those who dig. You dig.”