Hardly anyone thought it would get to this point but, with its finale aired on August 15, a significant number of people consider “Better Call Saul” to be better than its parent show “Breaking Bad”. I am one of those people, and I am hoping by the end of this article you will join my side. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to spend time comparing the two because they are both legendary TV shows that feed each other. Many memorable moments of “Better Call Saul” (like the reveal of the laundromat lab or the introduction of Gustavo Fring) are memorable because of “Breaking Bad”, but, as a prequel, “Better Call Saul” achieves the impossible and manages to engage us in a story that we already know the ending of.
“Better Call Saul” tells the story of Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) and outlines the events that turned him into the corrupt criminal lawyer Saul Goodman we know from Breaking Bad. Just like “Breaking Bad”, “Better Call Saul” takes its time to build solid character arcs for all its main characters and still manages to create engaging plotlines. While the show provides some background information on important plot points from “Breaking Bad”, like the origins of Hector Salamanca’s brain injury or the rise of Gus Fring within the cartel, it is a story mainly about Jimmy McGill and his journey to becoming one of the biggest con-artists TV history has ever seen.
That is the first reason I find “Better Call Saul” better than “Breaking Bad”. Even though “Breaking Bad” is a character-driven show at its core, it still has the criminal world plot elements to keep the viewers engaged. “Better Call Saul” doesn’t have any of that until the midpoint of the show and the cartel plotlines added later on are only prefaces to what will happen in “Breaking Bad’. While I admit the later seasons sometimes overused the cartel storyline to keep the viewers engaged, the show made the distinction between Jimmy’s story and the cartel story very clear and it never lost its focus on Jimmy’s arc. Apart from small intersections needed to push the story forward, the two worlds moved on like two different stories that were being told by the show.
However, that all changed in season six (the final season). Viewers knew the ending of “Better Call Saul” would also mark the beginning of “Breaking Bad” within the universe’s timeline, so the final season had the tough job of resolving all the storylines they had set up in the past and establishing the status quo for the beginning of the “Breaking Bad” timeline. Doing that would mean answering long-lasting questions like the whereabouts of Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), Nacho Varga (Michael Mando), Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton) and Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) during “Breaking Bad” while still delivering an entertaining season. The final season did all that better than anyone could have expected and revealed Saul/Jimmy’s ultimate fate by giving us glimpses of his post-“Breaking Bad” life.
Knowing which characters were alive during “Breaking Bad” was a major challenge for the writers because when the viewers know a character is going to survive it is a challenge to raise the stakes in a show like this. The final season featured several face-offs of the Salamanca family versus Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) and Nacho Varga; even though we knew Gustavo and the Salamancas (except for Lalo) would survive, the writers still managed to deliver very iconic scenes. Situations like this are the primary reason some critics find the prequel genre to be doomed in general, but “Better Call Saul” created an engaging story independent from its predecessor and reminded us there are still things we don’t know about Saul by showing us his post-“Breaking Bad” life as well.
Breaking down prejudices about the prequel genre is a big achievement for the creative team behind the show, but managing to do that in the era of binge-watching is an even bigger one. All six seasons of “Better Call Saul” were aired weekly on AMC over the course of seven years. Managing to keep the viewers coming back every week for seven years and becoming one of the most influential shows of the decade in a time where series are consumed at full speed is truly a great accomplishment. Even though “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” are very close quality-wise, the prequel deserves more praise due to the environment it succeeded in.
After all, the final season of “Better Call Saul” almost definitely ended the “Breaking Bad” saga that started in 2008. With two TV shows and one movie (El Camino), the creators, Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, have told a story that will be remembered for a long time in 14 years. Because of their interconnected nature, it is almost pointless to compare the two shows. Even though they still gain high critical acclaim as standalone shows, the way they feed and enrich each other is the reason the Breaking Bad universe will be remembered as a legend of TV history for long years.