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Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad is a drama about Walter White, a chemistry professor who is diagnosed with lung cancer. He enlists the help of his former student Jesse Pinkman to manufacture and sell methamphetamine. AMC 2008-???

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Episode 8 - Better Call Saul

6 February 2013

Credit AMC

Synopsis: Badger is arrested for selling meth. He calls Saul Goodman to represent him, a local lawyer known for his cheap looking commercials. Hank returns to work in Albuquerque after a pep talk from Walt and is quickly on Badger’s case. Walt plays the part of Badger’s uncle and tries to bribe Saul when he fears that Badger will talk to the DEA. Saul refuses and so Walt and Jesse kidnap him. He outwits them, offers to represent them and finds someone else to take the fall for Badger. 

The Good: The expansion of Jesse and Walt’s operation was always going to expose them to greater risk. The writers decide to embrace that completely by having Badger fall victim to a sting and then send Hank hot on the trail of the blue meth. The only person who could have access to Badger was therefore his lawyer and so enters Saul Goodman.

It was a very good performance from Saul. He was well cast and dressed to convey that he was very much the sleazy shyster while also being intelligent and ruthless. His dialogue was solid throughout as he took every development in his stride and used colourful allusions and jokes to never appear fazed by anything. The moment when you knew we could take him seriously was when Hank put him down with typical bawdy joy (“I’ve seen better acting at an epileptic whorehouse”) and Saul grinned back a reply of equal grace (“Is that like the one your mum works at?”). Saul is no fool and uses the DEA interest in Badger to help his client cut a good deal. As venal as he appears Saul is smart enough not to take Walt’s bribe and then quickly outwits Walt and Jesse when they kidnap him. Walt’s coughing was a natural trick to allow Saul to realise who he was dealing with and it was a terrific moment when he manages to get his kidnappers to actually pay him for his time. The coup de grace comes when Saul saunters into Walt’s school and tells him that if he can find him in a few hours, the police won’t be far behind.

Walt and Jesse were faced with a dilemma that they clearly hadn’t given much thought to. Perhaps their simple bribery tactics would have worked if the blue meth weren’t such a hot topic. Interestingly Walt didn’t seem to dismiss the idea of murdering Badger with the same vigour that Jesse did. Considering Walt’s plans for expansion it seems likely that the costs of doing business are going to mount rapidly.

Jesse and Jane’s relationship remained very cute as she owned up to her sobriety and he looked thrilled that she still wanted to come back to test his new furniture. Skyler certainly seems to be dressing well for work, I wonder why?

The Bad: I wouldn’t say anything was bad but something about this episode didn’t feel as satisfying as most have this season.

The Unknown: The episode was framed by two intentionally comedic sting operations. In the opening scene Badger is very suspicious of DJ Quall’s character but sells him meth anyway, only to be instantly arrested. There was something so overt about the comedy, almost Simpsons-esque, which made it feel a bit manipulative. I think DJ Quall was part of the problem. He is the Hollywood go-to guy for looking weedy and pathetic and so it was almost too on the nose that he would suck Badger in to believing that he wasn’t police.

Then there is the real issue of entrapment. I won’t wade into the legal questions but it would have been nice if the script had explained why Badger couldn’t argue that as at least part of his defence.

I think what felt most disconcerting about the episode was that Saul was so utterly dominant. He was featured more heavily than all of our regular characters and made Jesse and Walt look so woefully unprepared. They clearly were and so the story makes sense but it didn’t feel like I was watching Breaking Bad at times. Suddenly the majority of the plot was hinging on a brand new character, one who had all the answers that our characters couldn’t provide.

There was something tonally off-putting about Saul’s role. Too much was played for comedy that it was hard to feel the level of threat which Badger’s incarceration clearly represented. When Saul came into Walt’s school I couldn’t access any feelings for how surprised and disarmed Walt would have felt. Instead I kind of shrugged and thought ‘I guess Saul has the answer to everything.’

The fact that James Kilkelly was bald and the right age to play Heisenberg felt convenient and rushed. The final scene was once again trying too hard to be funny to actually make me laugh. It was perfectly entertaining but again I didn’t feel there had been adequate build up to find the situation, which was pretty desperate, either tense or funny. Instead I ended the episode feeling like the writers had worked out that they needed a lawyer character for the sake of the story and went all out to throw him in the mix quickly. I think the results were mixed.

Best Moment: There were several Saul moments which were excellent including the kidnapping he turned around to his advantage. However I preferred the emotions in the earlier scene where Marie called on Walt to help get Hank out of bed. Hank does a great job of conveying the brave face he puts on for everyone but her. I particularly liked hearing from him that he thought if an agent in his position went to a psychiatrist you could “kiss your career goodbye.” Whether that’s true or not it gave us a glimpse of the kind of considerations going on inside his head. This isn’t just about his macho persona, it’s about survival on various levels. Walt draws from his own rebirth to inspire Hank to see that the fear is the only thing holding him back. In typical Breaking Bad fashion Walt’s moment of superiority sends Hank back on the trail of Heisenberg.

The Bottom Line: I feel similarly though less passionately about “Better Call Saul” as I did about “Crazy Handful of Nothin'.” The writers chose a way to get us from A to C which I didn’t enjoy as much as I was meant to and the story felt rushed. What made this episode different though was the way the focus shifted to Saul. It temporarily felt like it was no longer Walt and Jesse’s show. If Saul is going to become an integral part of their operation then perhaps this thorough introduction was necessary. For now though this felt like a minor misstep.

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  • I am posting on my phons at work. So I am having problems seeing what I have posted and repeatedly being called away to do work. So I apolagise for my posts being truncated in an incomplete manner.

    My wife is suppossed to post something to you soon but she didnot make it this time.

    Another item that comes to mind here. Walt was characterized as being cocky and even condesending in dealing w Gretchen when she posited "the soul" as an explaination for t missing weight. IMO if there is one reason to be cocky when explaining something it is when a theist explains any materialist phenomena w some form of supernatural spiritualist woo woo.

    Explainations of that kind deserve no more respect or consideration than t loss of mass in nuclear fussion beibg explained by "Santa Clause did it by magic" Walt being a scientist would know this. And I have to believe he would think just this way.

    Anyway, that is all I have for now.

    Thanks/Babrock

    Posted by babrock, 05/02/2013 2:03pm (7 years ago)

  • Another fine cast that my wife and I both enjoyed.

    I apolagise for taking advantage of your good nature dragging you into a tangential discussion on drug use. Your point was simply that Jessie felt reponsible. So that is that really regardless of how much he actually was. It is an issue that I feel strongly about and a big reason I enjoy BB. And I want to clarify that I was not argueing drug use should be ok on any moral relativism basis. I believe it is everyones right so long as they dont make anyone else incur any of their costs.

    Anyway my wife and I both enjoyed better call Saul. My favorite bit was how Walt and Jessie extricated themselves from t situation they were in when Badger was trying to make t deal w t wrong fake Heisenberge.

    Commonly in dramas t conclict is will A kill B. If B is a major charactor this is a false conflict as it is almost certain that B will not be killed . Often tho BB excells in putting its charactors into other dilemas that initially anyway seem impossible to get out of. I am thinking of Walt and Jessie being traped in t crystal ship w Hank impatiently

    Viewer score: 70 / 100

    Posted by babrock, 05/02/2013 1:40pm (7 years ago)

  • I think Saul is a cliche (finally know how to spell it), over the top, and very much used as a plot device. But I still love Saul.

    So naturally his introduction into the world of Breaking Bad was great.

    The ending shot of Hank pondering the arrest of "Heisenberg" was one that has stuck with me ever since, and it's a real shame we never had any real follow up to Hank's suspicions on Walt except for many in "Bullet Points".

    Otherwise, I'd really liked the "comedic" bookending scenes, such strong comedic overtones I think can be polarizing given the serious nature of BB in general.

    I understand where you are coming from with your issues with this episode, but this episode was more about giving the Duo more credibility to their operation for future episodes.

    Viewer score: 70 / 100

    Posted by Ben F., 04/02/2013 12:45am (7 years ago)

  • I agree with James that the lighter tone of ‘Better Call Saul’ was a nice relief from the darker episodes preceding it and the main storyline served as a fitting introduction to the Saul Goodman character. I’d call it a solid episode of Breaking Bad and (for me) even this show’s middling episodes are very well written and filled of memorable moments.

    I wanted to chime in on the discussion from last podcast on whether Walt had always been a monster deep down. In this episode, there’s Walt’s speech about spending his entire life scared and how his cancer diagnosis freed him from fear. It could be argued that it was fear rather than morality that prevented Heisenberg from emerging sooner. But personally, I agree with Cranston that Walt really was a good person for fifty years before a set of circumstances propelled him to become a bad person. A good person may still feel quietly embittered about their life’s disappointments, but that is no reason to demonize them or condemn them. I think Breaking Bad is a far more tragic story if we believe that Walter White really was a decent human being for most of his life and that his former innocent self has been destroyed along with all the other innocent lives he’s destroyed.

    I also wanted to clarify my views on Jesse agreeing to Walt’s plan to expand their territory. I don’t think Jesse was totally deluded into thinking Walt’s plan was safe. I just think Jesse was willing to take the risk because he feeds off Walt’s encouragement. There’s a funny little beat in this episode where Jesse yells at one of his dealer friends on the phone and then nods at Walt; demonstrating that he is capable of playing the badass boss like Walt wanted. Jesse still feels the need for a teacher or parental figure and Walt is currently the only person occupying that role. So Jesse craves Walt’s approval even when Walt brings so much danger and devastation to Jesse’s life. Which may sound illogical but then Jesse is like so many people who’ll return to an abusive relationship simply because their partner starts being nicer to them and convinces them that things will be better this time around. At this stage Jesse still depends on Walt to be the smart one in their partnership despite how Jesse often shows more caution and common sense.

    Viewer score: 72 / 100

    Posted by Kelly, 03/02/2013 3:50pm (7 years ago)

  • I loved this episode. Partly because I once worked for some "ambulance chasers" myself and because the actor obviously relishes his role which made the character feel so genuine.

    My affection may be colored by the role Saul plays in the story in future episodes, but I love Breaking Bad best when there is major abusrdity of our culture highlighted. Advertsing Lawyers are a travesty of real justice. And displayed here to great comedic relief.

    Thanks for doing this review to help us all prepare for the final 8.

    ps. I agree that I am beginning to more fully appreciate your rating system, too.

    Viewer score: 68 / 100

    Posted by Yogabon, 01/02/2013 1:07am (7 years ago)

  • Hi Robin,

    I really enjoy your podcasts. I've been listening for a few months but this is my first comment. I know you get some flak for your rating system but I wanted to say I really like it and have actually started using it in my head for things other than TV shows. So know that at least one person out there is really grateful.

    I was curious to see if you'd find the tone of the Saul episode off putting. I think like the previous episode's music video, whether or not it’s distracting really depends on the viewer. Although I felt the tone shift, I enjoyed it and was welcome to it because of the heaviness of Peekaboo. And I think Saul becomes a main character – really a third partner to Jesse and Walt so I don’t mind the time spent on him.

    Again great podcast.

    Thank you,
    James

    Viewer score: 65 / 100

    Posted by James, 31/01/2013 9:47pm (7 years ago)

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