On Monday, 11 July, AMC will begin releasing the last six episodes of the sixth and final season of Better Call Saul (BCS), the highly successful prequel to AMC’s hit series, Breaking Bad. Better Call Saul tells the back story of one of the central characters of Breaking Bad, attorney Saul Goodman. His real name is James McGill, but he changed it to Saul Goodman as a pun of “It’s all good, man”. The pun is, in part, a way of assuring his shady clients that he will take care of their legal problems. But as we see in BCS, it is also used as a tool in McGill’s own attempt at self-deception. It is an effort to take control of his self and identity on his own terms for his own purposes. Like any attempt at self-deception, however, the name becomes a symbol of McGill/Goodman’s delusion of self-control. In fact, BCS has become less the story of Goodman being in control and more of his being controlled. And the person who controls him has become the central character of BCS, Goodman’s wife, Kim Wexler.
In the early seasons of BCS, Goodman is a happy-go-lucky, hand-to-mouth, small-time chiseller, living on the edge of ethical legal practice, but always looking for an angle or loophole. Never quite able to make it in the legitimate world of corporate attorneys, he develops a career rescuing (and sometimes abetting) his petty criminal clients. But along the way, he develops a relationship with up-and-coming attorney, Kim Wexler, whose career trajectory is opposite Goodman’s. Wexler is a neurotic, workaholic attorney, who quickly becomes partner at a major firm through her hard work and creative solutions for her clients. But she also has what initially appears to be a harmless mischievous side, which coincides with Goodman’s own taste for small-scale scams and grifts. For example, they enjoy working together to induce some gullible person to write them a large cheque to invest in a non-existent business enterprise; or to entertain them with top-shelf liquor while they pose to be high-income investors at a time they were both broke. But it’s all “good fun”. They don’t cash the cheque, and do no more harm than leaving a large bar tab.
But as BCS develops, Wexler descends from playful grifter to a deeply complex character, whose mischievousness plunges through deviousness and into wickedness. Season six of BCS (among other plot lines) is the story of Wexler and Goodman’s pursuit of a complicated and expensive fraud. But the stakes are real in this grift; and the development of Wexler’s character is dark. She becomes as relentless in her pursuit of the central scam of season six of BCS as she was in representing corporate clients in legitimate disputes and business deals in earlier seasons. But her taste is clearly for the con. And she brings Goodman along with her.
Unlike Wexler, Goodman is content to throw back the big fish and move on to the next hole. His grifts are harmless and his skirting of legal processes are more in the line of misdemeanours than felonies. But Better Call Saul turns out not to be about Goodman’s self-direction, but rather about his thorough corruption by Wexler’s control. Goodman is always hesitant and uncertain about the scam. But he reluctantly follows along as Wexler ruthlessly and relentlessly pursues it. And it leads to a shocking result that neither could have predicted.
Because of his central role in Breaking Bad, we basically know how Goodman will emerge from the second half of season six of BCS. But Wexler never appears in Breaking Bad, so her character will come to some termination. Whatever her disposition, we have already seen how the power of darkness and corruption can overcome one person while leading another along with her. And we also see how Goodman’s self-deception leaves him ill-equipped to deal with authentic evil when it comes his way. Unschooled in the virtues that defend against vice, Goodman’s own character becomes vicious at least by association with the vicious Wexler. We know from Breaking Bad that Goodman eventually pays for his descent to a full-scale criminal-lawyer. The last episodes of Better Call Saul will tell us the fate of Wexler’s dark dive into inveterate sinfulness.
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