It's clear now that season 1 was really just about the birth of Saul. It was a little plodding, meandered at times and left you scratching your head about where it was going. There have been plenty of series that take a season or two to ramp to something interesting, Better Call Saul is one that seems to fall into that category.
Looking back, the dots connect to form the arc of the evolution of a bright guy with a lot of misguided energy trying to step out of the shadow of a successful older brother. When you were in it, things were adding up, but slowly and never really all that clearly. For me, it's really only in the last two episodes that the work of the previous eight come into focus.
Mike's arc, though its progression was not nearly as long and drawn out, paints an interesting picture of a disciplined, almost principled, no nonsense good cop gone bad. We now understand his genesis, we know his demise, it will be interesting to see what goes in between.
While I think the approach the writers took was an interesting one, something about it felt a little self indulgent on the part of the writers and creators. I think this all could have been condensed into the first half or two thirds of the season pretty easily and left plenty of room for more interesting story lines to develop.
That said, the writing, acting and all of the things you've come to love about the crew associated with Breaking Bad keeps it all together, and keeps you watching.. The big question is, will our patence and loyalty truly be rewarded in season 2?
I think I now get what the writers were trying to accomplish in the first season. As I'd noted in previous thoughts, a lot of the first season so far has felt like establishing work; how does Jimmy make the transition to Saul, and how Mike makes the transition from what appears to be a quiet retirement as a parking lot attendant to bad ass cleaner for criminal masterminds.
As I've maintained throughout this stream, I think that the writing, performances and production qualities are brilliant, but Saul, at least this first season, has forced the viewer to think a bit more about the purpose of the characters rather than handing it to them on a silver platter and just asking you to belt up and enjoy the ride.
Episode nine, I think starts to tighten things up. This is the episode where prior episodes reveal their purpose. At the risk of revealing some spoilers, I will say that the purpose of what I've referred to as a meandering season becomes clear in this episode. This meandering seems to reflect Jimmy's life - and how he felt about it before Saul. He wasn't entirely sure what his direction would be, but it's clear that he wanted to try and please his big brother Chuck, a successful yet eccentric partner in a major law firm and prove that he was no longer "Slippin' Jimmy". This quest for approval makes Jimmy a very sympathetic character. When Chuck rejects Jimmy as a "real lawyer" Jimmy is crushed and you get the sense that season one was really just about the birth of Saul.
Mike follows his own transitional path to a darker side which also becomes more apparent in E9. He's a conflicted guy with a once honorable career as a police officer. He's a bit of a vigilante, exacting a violent revenge for his son. He's a man who knows how criminals and the police work, and decides, almost Walter White style, to employ his skills and knowledge in the support his daughter in-law and grand daughter.
There's still one episode left, and they could still fuck it up, but I have to say at this point that a mild disappointment has turned to recognition of the brilliance in the approach.
The production team is what's making me stay with Saul. I just love the style. I keep trying to figure out why it's not grabbing me the way that Breaking Bad did - yet at least. Not that I expect it or want it to be Breaking Bad. I guess it's felt for most of the season as if there's just been a lot of establishing stuff. The appearance of Tuco Salamanca early on really made me feel as though things were going to take off. It was a fun couple of episodes, but it didn't really go anywhere. It did leave me curious to know if we'll see him again at all during the series. When Tuco first appeared, I was thinking there was a solid reason for him to be there but in the end it felt like nothing more than a fun cameo for BB fans.
I don't think the season is over yet. I think I'm at least one episode behind. I did start to feel better about it once Mike got out of his booth in the parking lot.
I have to say that I was a little disappointed to see Saul meander a bit in terms of story from episode to episode. With Breaking Bad, it felt like every story element had such purpose.
I don't want to give any spoilers away here, but I'll say that while it felt as though it took a while to get moving, I'm really loving Better Call Saul so far. There are elements of the Breaking Bad story telling that are wearing a bit on me. Montages that seem to go on for too long is one of them. I get why you occasionally need them, and that they do help advance the story, but there are times when it feels as though the writers are really just killing time, and it feels like a crutch.
This team has the art of the montage down though, and while I like what they do with them, I hope to see them used sparingly and their length kept short. Other than that, there's been lots of great little nuggets laid out in the first two episodes that leave you wondering how they will all stitch together. The style echoes of BB but not so much it feels like a continuation of BB stylistically. They've switched things up just enough to make you feel as though you've entered a slightly different world, but one that's familiar enough where you almost feel a comfort when you see some of the dead characters from BB appear in this pre Heisenberg world.
Hats off to AMC, Vince Gilligan and crew, they may well have another winner here.