Throughout its epic six-season series, Better Call Saul shows how Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) transforms into Saul Goodman, the acclaimed dodgy lawyer from Breaking Bad. But Better Call Saul really works best as a series when it reveals more about the characters’ lives outside the Breaking Bad world. The drug cartel stories essentially repeat or are too similar to narratives and tropes that happened in Breaking Bad. This can be a bit draining and repetitive for audience members. When we find out more about the characters and in particular Jimmy and how they are in scenarios outside the cartel the writing is fresh and interesting, and it’s genuinely revealing. We will make the case by looking at examples such as the relationship between Jimmy and his brother Chuck (Michael McKean), Jimmy and Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), and Jimmy and Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian).
Jimmy and Chuck
The most important relationship in the entire series is inarguably the relationship between Jimmy and his brother, Chuck McGill. Chuck is a partner in the firm Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill (HHM). When Better Call Saul began, we saw how Jimmy was a con man and hustler engaged in small-time scams and rackets. But when one particular scam goes wrong and his partner dies, Jimmy gets arrested and has no one to call except Chuck. Chuck is reluctant to help Jimmy. It’s clear Chuck has helped him out of spots before, but for Chuck, this is the last straw. As an esteemed legal professional Chuck feels humiliated and ashamed of Jimmy’s reckless criminal behavior. He helps Jimmy but with the caveat that he leaves the city and changes his life.
Jimmy rises to the occasion and takes a clerical position at HHM. It’s This sibling relationship that plays the most formative role in the development of Jimmy. Jimmy has a profound admiration and love for Chuck, he wants Chuck’s love and respect. Jimmy is so enamored by his brother that he secretly trains as a lawyer and surprises Chuck with the news, but Chuck disowns him. Chuck disapproves of the second-rate institution which certified him as a lawyer. Chuck can’t conceal his jealousy and resentment of Jimmy’s accomplishment and half-heartedly feigns any approval. Chuck doesn’t hold any regard for Jimmy and has no respect for him. Chuck needs to see himself as better than Jimmy and is incapable of seeing Jimmy as an equal. The fear of any similarity between them is what presumably fuels Chuck’s animosity. Of course, the ultimate tragedy is that Jimmy wants nothing more than to be accepted by his older brother. But Chuck’s effective vendetta to destroy Jimmy makes this impossible. Chuck’s disapproval of Jimmy impacts Chuck’s mental and physical health, and ultimately results in the loss of his life by suicide.
Over the course of the first three seasons in particular, their relationship radically deteriorates. Chuck’s disdain and resentment ultimately drive him to try to destroy Jimmy’s legal career. This causes Jimmy a deep emotional pain that he does not even know how to express, and it pushes him toward embracing the hustling part of his nature. An example of this is when Jimmy has been disbarred, and he has to take a job in a phone store, but the monotony of the job really gets to him. So Jimmy being the enterprising hustler that he is starting selling phones as burner phones on the street to a motley crew of customers such as former clients, small-time criminals, drug dealers, prostitutes, and ex-cons – basically anyone. Jimmy’s attitude is not ethical or moral, but it is effective. The burner phone trope really shows Jimmy’s push toward becoming Saul Goodman in a way that’s bold, energetic, and exciting.
Jimmy and Kim
In the earlier part of the series, Jimmy and Kim Wexler seemed like such an odd couple, with an unlikely future as their goals and ambitions seemed so collectively different. Kim is a real go-getter and a bit of a legal eagle, everything she does initially is very by the book. It’s clear she has a real passion for justice and the law and due process. But over the course of her relationship with Jimmy, with her frustrations with the bureaucracy of justice, and her insecurity around Jimmy, she gradually begins to change. Jimmy’s influence on Kim could be either liberating or corrupting, depending on how you choose to look at it.
Kim secures a partner position at a respected law firm and walks away from it to pursue pro bono work that is more personal and helps people. But even still she is haunted by the Mesa Verde account, which is one of the big jobs she had been working on.
In Season 6, Kim really reignites her misgivings about Mesa Verde and encourages Jimmy / Saul to help her in corporate sabotage. Saul is initially reluctant but agrees out loyalty to Kim. In order to accomplish this, they strategically work together to discredit Howard Hamlin and destroy his reputation.
Jimmy and Howard
Howard and Jimmy really have a well-established dislike for each other. This dislike has developed over the course of their relationship. For example, when Jimmy was working in HHM before he was even a lawyer, Howard did not approve of Jimmy’s sense of humor or his lack of professional etiquette. Howard’s opinion was certainly shaped by his affection for Chuck, who Howard regards as one of the greatest legal minds that ever lived. It’s clear Howard views Chuck as an older brother-type figure. In a sense, Jimmy’s resentment of Howard is underpinned by Chuck’s approval of Howard and the dismal of himself. Over the course of the series, Howard grows to see Jimmy through a similar lens to Chuck, Jimmy the eternal conman and grifter who can not be saved from his own depraved vices.
The first half of Season 6 sees Jimmy plant cocaine on Howard. Part of Jimmy and Kim’s sabotage of Howard involves Jimmy disguising himself as Howard and staging a scene with a prostitute being kicked out of a car for Howard’s legal colleague to witness. The extent of dodgy behavior Jimmy is prepared to engage in shows how far he has become invested in his Saul Goodman persona.
The relationship between Jimmy and Howard really gives the viewers insight into a world and relationship that fresh and unexplored. The type of legal and fraternal rivalry between these men is tirelessly entertaining. But the interactions between Jimmy, Kim, and Howard tragically result in Howard crossing the path of Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton), who point-blank murders him as the epic climax to Season 6, Part 1. Of course, what exactly is going to go down in the second part of Season 6 is anyone’s guess. One thing is for sure though it’s not going to be good and the actions of Jimmy / Saul are finally going to catch up with him and those around him. Fans will, unfortunately, have to wait for the release of the series conclusion in August.
Ultimately though, it is the relationships Jimmy has that really give the series a powerful sense of detail, and provides emotional depth to Jimmy as a character that really justifies his descent into the Saul Goodman persona. Saul in reality does not appear so often in Breaking Badand the context of his life outside that world is the greatest resource of Better Call Saul. When the show succeeds it seems to be when it really leans into this and veers away from the established Breaking Bad cartel world.