Better Call Saul Reinvigorated by Tragedy
The show’s soulful fourth season uses death to springboard to Breaking Bad levels of emotion.
Better Call Saul was always a show whose premise—the relatively nice guy Jimmy McGill breaks bad before Breaking Bad, becoming the sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman—carried tragic dimensions. But now, more than three years in, there’s an actual tragedy in the story. At the end of the third season, after losing his prestigious job and relapsing into his mental illness, Jimmy’s brother Chuck set fire to his own home and—I’d put a spoiler alert here if ads for the latest batch of episodes were bothering to hide it—died. Grim as it is to say, the show is better without him.
When it premiered, Saul pleased Breaking Bad fans by reviving the feel, setting, and themes of the AMC drama that reshaped television. It even promised a similar narrative arc: the transformation of a normal person into a criminal. The distinctive vision of the co-creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould created moments of odd beauty, and the cast’s excellence meant you really could imagine the characters living their relatably mundane lives at the stucco condo complex down the block. But propulsive drama and gripping emotion only came in spurts. For parts of Seasons 2 and 3, Saul’s fastidious depiction of office renovations and insurance disputes almost felt like a parody of highbrow TV’s disregard for conventional thrills.