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“It’s From a Movie”: A Guide to Better Call Saul

“It’s From a Movie”: A Guide to Better Call Saul

With the premiere of AMC’s Better Call Saul, the spin-off/prequel/whatever-you-call-it to Breaking Bad, we have finally filled the hole that was left by its predecessor. AND WE’RE SO HAPPY ABOUT IT.

Any time you expand a known universe, it’s always a little scary. Whether its sequels, reboots, or spin-offs, there’s a good chance it’s going to be not as good as the original or *gasp* even suck. After four episodes, Better Call Saul has already delivered the same quality as Breaking Bad. In fact, I would even argue that Better Call Saul is miles ahead in all aspects than Breaking Bad was in their fourth episode. The wonderful thing about it is that it takes a secondary character used for comic relief and has made him the focal point of his own intricate and complex narrative. Breaking Bad was the story of Walter White turning into Heisenberg by his own accord and choices. Better Call Saul is the story of James McGill turning to Saul Goodman because he had to in order to survive.

Like with anything involving Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, there are many layers. This isn’t just a TV show, this is an experience filled with little golden trinkets that enhance the way you consume it. In each episode thus far, a movie has been referenced by Jimmy directly. In any other show, it would just be a random pop culture reference. In Better Call Saul, it’s another insight to the character development of Jimmy McGill and possibly a foreshadowing into his transition into good ol’ Saul.

Warning: here lies spoilers!

“Uno” – Network (1976)

Upon arriving to his brother’s old law firm, Jimmy enters a meeting and dumps a torn up check onto the table. He begins to argue that the firm would be nothing without Chuck and that $26,000 doesn’t even begin to cover it. He continues to eloquently make a speech about how they should do right by him and cash him out. Chuck’s partners are dismissive stating that they believe Chuck will get better and return to work and everything will be back to normal. Jimmy continues to be combative and upon his exit quotes Network. AND YOU WILL ATONE. “It’s Ned Beatty from Network. For Christ’s sake, guys.” Ugh, how dare they not get that reference!!! Network centers around Howard Beale, a news anchor that is being forced off the air due to low ratings and then announces he will commit suicide on live television. Ironically because of this stunt, Howard becomes of the most tuned in personalities on television because people are just waiting to see what angry outburst will come out of him. People start listening to his rage-filled sermons…until they stop…again. One of the most brutal and honest looks at the industries of media and journalism, the story of Howard Beale foreshadows what Jimmy is about to become but from the other side. The Saul we meet in Breaking Bad isn’t Howard Beale. He’s the media that is using Howard Beale to get his ratings up. He’s opportunistic and deceiving and really only in it for himself. And it’s all about $$$. In this first episode, we’re already starting to see hints of the future.

 

 

 

“Mijo” – All That Jazz (1979)

 

“It’s showtime, folks!” Jimmy’s routine is revealed. Grabbing his coffee, defending clients, collecting his check, and his ongoing battle with the parking attendant (Miiiiiiiike <3). Wash, rinse, repeat. This reference to All That Jazz represents Jimmy’s performance as a lawyer. All That Jazz is about a director and choreographer trying to balance out his work and well, everything else. The use of the particular line “It’s showtime, folks!” emphasizes the concept that Jimmy really does view this as a performance…and he probably does it 8 times a week like any old Broadway professional. There’s the usual cast of characters: the other lawyers, the woman he negotiates his checks with, and of course, the lovable attendant who plays by the rules and won’t let him pass without the correct amount of stickers.

 

All That Jazz is about a man who is driven by his talent only to come completely undone because of it. This is the start of Saul Goodman: The Showman. Jimmy McGill has a moral compass but his talents to talk his way (and others) out of unfavorable situations starts to shine through. What he does is an art form, really.

“Nacho” – The Shining (1980)

 

This episode starts with a flashback. We all know how much Gilligan loves his flashbacks. Jimmy’s older brother, Chuck, visits him and jail and the first thing out of his mouth? “Hereeeee’s Johnny!” The reference is made again by Jimmy at the end perfectly bookending the episode.

A tip of the hat to The Shining and Jack Torrence’s descent into madness, the placement of the quote is used when Jimmy is in jail and when he finds the Kettlemans hiding out in a tent in the woods near their home. In The Shining, Jack (who is a recovering alcoholic) retreats into an isolated hotel with his wife and son. Ultimately, Jack is taken over by the supernatural presence that encompasses the hotel and tries to murder his wife and son. Now that last part doesn’t apply to Jimmy (but then again who knows….why was his jail anyway?) but the both times The Shining is referenced was in a setting of isolation. Throughout the episode, Jimmy is trying to do the right thing; from warning the Kettlemans about the incoming danger to getting his defendant a fair sentence to even trying to help out Nacho. However, no good deed goes unpunished. By his many attempts to save people, he keeps putting himself into dire situations. Every time Jimmy is successful in getting himself out of something, he is one step closer to becoming Saul Goodman. He’s that much closer to madness.

“Hero” – Spartacus (1960)

 

After taking the bribe from the Kettlemans, Jimmy uses the money to advertise his own law firm…using the exact some branding as Hamlin, Hamlin, and McGill, Chuck’s old firm. When he’s prepping for his snazzy billboard, Jimmy requests for his hair to be curly like “Tony Curtis in Spartacus”. In 1960’s Spartacus, Curtis played the part of Antonius, a slave entertainer that Spartacus meets after his sentencing and becomes very close with through the course of their served time. Spartacus himself is an undefeated gladiator who brings concern to the Roman Senate because of his strength and an inability to be cooperative. Whatever obstacle Jimmy has been up against so far, he’s been able to conquer it. Whether it’s saving the twin skateboarders, springing Nacho from jail, or his own rewards… if Jimmy wants it, Jimmy gets it. While this might seem freeing, in some ways he is a slave to something that he can’t seem to control. In the beginning, it seemed like he was put into these situations because of circumstance. As we move forward into Saul Goodman but also look back what got him to this position, we peel back the layers and start realizing that maybe this his own doing. As for his direct connection to Antonius…maybe he’s human and just agrees that Tony Curtis is like the cutest.

We’re not even halfway through the first season of Better Call Saul and it is already rich with characters and storylines that are just waiting to be overanalyzed and theorized. It’ll be interesting to see how many more films Jimmy will continue to reference in the upcoming episodes and how they reflect his development. Or maybe we’re really over thinking this and he just really likes movies. If that’s the case then we just have one question: has Saul even seen a movie released after 1980?

Want to talk more about Better Call Saul? Follow us on Twitter for a #GeekChat on Wednesday, February 25!

April Salud is the Editor-In-Chief of geekandsundry.com and the-radical.com. Follow her on Twitter!

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