I don’t know if Vince GIlligan knew just what he had unleashed upon the world when Breaking Bad first premiered in January 2008. In a single stroke he created a world of drama and drug cartel intrigue expansive enough to eventually spawn an entirely new franchise in Better Call Saul. While BCS hasn’t reached the same magnanimous heights of its sister series, it’s been held up by critics and cult fans alike as an unprecedented display of prowess and word building from the house of Gilligan. Revealing another layer of depth to an universe that many at first thought to be impossible or even contrived. Where Breaking Bad made it’s bones with the action and intrigue of meth empires and run-ins with the cartel, Better Call Saul also reignited these themes alongside the presence of methodical almost clerical storytelling revolving around the drama of legal paperwork, court snafus, and the slow churning wheels of justice, all riveting material.
Which show is better? I’m not really interested in answering that too much but what I am interested in is analyzing what makes Jimmy uniquely well, Jimmy, as a paragon for cunning protagonists with a shaky relationship to the law, not too dissimilar from the infamous Walter White. Both are complex deeply motivated characters, both have a keen sense of getting out of sticky situations but where Walt uses his science and growing internal aggression, Jimmy uses his gravitas, his intangibles, his chicanery. (Both act in self preservation)
[“Chinanery, thats what this is!” - chuck]
Jimmy Mcgill, is a master of the scheme. Of winning one over on other people for the betterment of himself. A Master of concocting hustles and ventures of the most ludicrous and idiosyncratic origins. Whether it’s hatching a plan to copy Howard's car keys, or forging court documents to make his brother lose a client, there’s isn’t many lengths Jimmy wont go in order to make ends meet. He’s rugged and tough in this regard and one skill he’s essentially perfected is utilizing his profound powers of underestimation.
Walt reveled in the power he began to gain over the course of the series, and it was this pride in his power that was ultimately his downfall, if you can call it that. He needed people to know it was him, that the guy who could elude police and DEA agents, and become solely responsible for the profits of a company so profitable it could be listed on the nasdaq was him. For all of Jimmy’s faults, he was able to avoid having this negative quality about him. In fact so much of his schemes bank on others around him not noticing him at all, he maintains a certain level of distance from his work, whether it be by employing the services of one Huell Babineaux or hiding in plain sight while her nefarious schemes go underway, he often puts himself in positions to craft scenarios and plans that are so unlikely, so profound, that to rank outsiders not familiar with his brand of subterfuge these moments feel divine or purely coincidental. I mean he’ll dumpster dive into trash for God’s sake, spend hours reorganizing shredded paper into whole documents again. At a certain point you can’t even call these clever schemes, they require grueling tasking grunt work, something Jimmy no doubt became all too familiar with working his the mailroom of his brother’s firm. The advantages Jimmy makes for himself aren’t always slick or stylish but above all else he’s willing to do the dirty work, even if it’s just to gain victory on the margins.
It makes sense. All Jimmy has ever known has been the dirty work. [I was clearing paper jams] From the mailroom to passing the bar and his own private practice, he’s always had to exist under the large looming shadow of his brother Chuck. A brother that would always be more successful, more revered, more respected, this made him the.perfect juxtaposition for Jimmy’s attitude and approach to life. In fact it was his overbearing persona that in part fueled and created Jimmy’s own. Even when Jimmy had followed the rules, done things the right way like passing the bar, his brother Chuck stood as a barrier, someone who, infused into his conception of Jimmy everything he knew about him from growing up. To him Slippin Jimmy wasn’t a phase but who he always would be. Chuck never took him seriously or gave him the opportunities that he deserved. And it’s through this relationship that Jimmy realized he’d never be respected by taking the right route. This idea cuts at the center of so much of better call saul and breaking bad as stories. Men at their wit’s end. Unlocking a power within them to do great evil. Jimmy learned that doing the “right” thing is up to interpretation. When he tells the truth he pays the price for it but when he lies he wins, and in the end the winner takes it all
The Breaking Bad universe has always had an obsession with dual personalities. The persona you portray that changes based on the situation, based on your willingness to embrace the dark side. Walt and Heisenberg. Jimmy and Saul. They both tapped into a version of their internal self, both unlocked a part that was already there but laid dormant due to failing careers and lives spent in mediocrity. Jimmy’s Saulness was born of several building choices and experiences that stemmed out his childhood and relationship to chuck. He slipped and slipped and slipped again and that slipping eventually broke something in him. The tragedy of Saul is that we know how the story ends. We know that a bubbling character rich in emotion and love and sadness and complexity turned into someone so stripped of his own humanity and empathy that he had no choice but to become a caricature, a shallow version of himself motivated entirely by the pursuit of money whilst harboring pain on the inside, no matter how much comedy he relies on to suppress it. Who knows what will happen to Gene in Nebraska but if Vince Gilligan’s other works are any indication, happily ever after can be extremely hard to come by…..but it’s not impossible
Mind Theater is a solo effort produced and written by me, Ayo Akingbade. For updates on the show as well as my other content follow mindtheaterpod on twitter, IG, and tiktok. If you wanna show monetary support, the ko-fi link is in the shownotes. Thanks for listening, Ill catch ya next time.