During our introduction to Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) way back in season 2 of "Breaking Bad", we quickly learned he had more layers than you would guess at first glance. As he offhandedly mentions to Walter White, "Saul Goodman" is just his professional pseudonym and his real name is "McGill." That line didn't get any follow-up in "Breaking Bad," where Saul remained a sleazy, hilarious criminal lawyer, but it was the bedrock of the prequel series, "Better Call Saul."

Contrary to its title, "Better Call Saul" actually didn't feature the character who'd charmed fans that much. Instead, as we've covered before, the show was much more interested in the man behind the name: James Morgan McGill. A former con man trying to make it as an honest lawyer, the comedy and pathos of "Better Call Saul" comes from Jimmy's inability to escape his old ways. Still, it takes him time to run away from himself.

He only begins practicing law as "Saul Goodman" in the season 4 finale, "Winner," and it takes until the season 6 episode "Fun and Games" when the persona absorbs him. However, by that point, the show transitioned to a full-on sequel, where Odenkirk's character was now "Gene Takovic," an anonymous Nebraskan Cinnabon manager. A few flashbacks were all the show offered of Saul as audiences knew him in "Breaking Bad." Why did "Better Call Saul" skimp on its main attraction? Because Jimmy McGill was too good of a character to write out.

Bob Odenkirk And Vince Gilligan's Thoughts

The February 2023 issue of Empire magazine includes a feature where Bob Odenkirk reflected on his time playing Saul/Jimmy/Gene. Also quoted is Vince Gilligan, creator of "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul." When asked if he was "surprised" by how little Saul there was in "Better Call Saul," Odenkirk felt the show spent enough time with the character for him:

"Oh, that was a perfect amount for me. There's not a lot to Saul. Saul is actually one of the easiest iterations of the character to play. Life is kind of simple for him."

Jimmy McGill is a man of conflicting desires. He wants to go legitimate, but he's not willing to change himself to get there. He wants the respect of elite lawyers, like his brother Chuck (Michael McKean) or Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian), but resents them for looking down on him in the first place. Gene Takovic, meanwhile, is a husk of a man, always keeping his head down and looking over his shoulder for the heat around the corner.

Saul Goodman, on the other hand, has three modes: greed, self-preservation, and smart-ass. As we see in "Better Call Saul," he's also developed no attachments since his relationship with Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) failed. Saul probably sounds fun to play (and he definitely always has the best lines in any given scene), but I can see why Odenkirk would regard the persona as "less challenging" than Jimmy or Gene.

Low Tolerance For Scumbags

Speaking to Vince Gilligan, the Empire interviewer postulated that the writers "fell in love with Jimmy" and "didn't want to spend any more time with Saul Goodman than was absolutely necessary." Gilligan agreed with the sentiment and added the following:

"I think your psychoanalysis is right on the money. There are so many despicable people, real-life people in the world now, on a news feed every day. So five, six, seven years ago I could have stood Saul Goodman more. We could maybe have had a season of just Saul Goodman. But there are so many sh*theels in the world right now, succeeding and excelling and taking up all our attention. My capacity to stomach yet another one, fictional though he may be, probably lessened."

Gilligan's comments, and his lessened stomach for evil, also help explain the difference between "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul." The former shows a man succeeding at being evil, the latter is about a man failing to be good. Some of Walter White's (Bryan Cranston) early criminal actions are framed as badass, particularly his debut as Heisenberg when he blows up a drug den with fulminated mercury in "Crazy Handful Of Nothin." Nothing about Saul Goodman's existence ever looks enviable, though, especially when we see what Jimmy lost and where being "Saul" will lead him to.

An Evolution In Perception

During a 2018 interview with Chris Hardwick, Vince Gilligan was asked the question many "Breaking Bad" fans have considered themselves: was Walter White a good man turned evil, or was Heisenberg always his true self? Gilligan admitted that his own answer to this conundrum changed the more he spent with Walt:

"When I wrote the Pilot, I thought Walter White really was a great guy and he truly needed to do what he needed to do to leave money for his family […] I figured this good man would become, by virtue of the act of immersing himself in this swamp of criminality, he would therefore become bad, […] what I came to realize, which I didn't at the beginning, it's like that old saying about Hollywood, 'Success […] it's not so much that it changes you, but that it reveals your true self.' And I think, in my opinion, that's what happened to Walter White."

While in "Breaking Bad," you realize that Walt is a less complicated man than you first assume, you learn the opposite about Jimmy McGill. He's a flawed man, but not an evil one, so you don't want him to become Saul. The show chronicles the descent of Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) in the same fashion. Even drug kingpin Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) denies himself a less violent path when he brushes off flirting from a sommelier (Reed Diamond) in "Fun & Games."

Gilligan's comment about how one's true nature is revealed through success reflects the finale of "Better Call Saul," — Jimmy throws away a sweetheart plea deal to atone for his sins via confession. Therein lies the final trick of Gilligan's world: the two-bit con man was at heart a better person than a once-upstanding chemistry teacher was.

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The post Why Better Call Saul Showed So Little Of Bob Odenkirk As Saul Goodman appeared first on /Film.