I’ve never really been a big fan of prequels.
Actually, make that: I never really bothered with prequels, so maybe I’d actually warm up to at least some of them if I have them the chance. But it’s always been a case of ‘what’s the point?’ for me: why invest in a story you already know the ending of?
True, some stories are just so profoundly popular/entertaining/nostalgia-evoking that you just can’t get enough. I’m sure every Star Wars fan felt one or more of the above when they stood in line for Episodes I through III, only to be disappointed. I felt the same way about the Hobbit trilogy. Even if Jackson had put as much effort into that story as he did with the amazing LOTR movies – actually, even if that short Tolkien story had enough material for three freaking movies – all we’d have ended up with would be a 12-hour movie-thon we already knew was going to end with Bilbo and The Ring back in the Shire, a few decades before Frodo’s big adventure. (And don’t get me started on Fear The Walking Dead. What should have been a fool-proof project ended up being a colossal dud, and I still don’t get how they managed to royally screw that one up).
There’s one very notable exception, however, that turned me around on the concept of prequels – and yes, I consider this a prequel and not a straight up spin-off, even though it’s centered around a different main character, merely because the plot takes place years before the events of the original show.
That show is, of course, Better Call Saul. It’s the first time I’ve felt that the spin-off show wasn’t created because the network wanted to milk the success of the original, but because there was a big chunk of story begging to be told. And it’s being told rather brilliantly.
More importantly, we actually care about Saul/Jimmy’s back story. We know enough about Walt and Jesse to figure out what shaped them into the men we followed for five seasons on Breaking Bad – and, honestly, they only became interesting around the time we caught up with them. No one wanted to see a vanilla Chemistry teacher go about his day, or a junkie dealer cooking bad batches of his signature Chili P meth.
What we do care about, is what the more enigmatic characters of Breaking Bad were up to before Heisenberg entered the scene. What made Saul the skeevy, loud suit wearing lawyer we’ve come to know and love? Who was grumpy ol’ grandpa Mike before becoming Gus’s “head of security”? How did their paths cross with Gus Fring as he was climbing the cartel ladder to eventually operate the biggest drug distribution ring in the southwest?
Focusing on Saul, Mike and, more recently, Gus Fring, doesn’t just make perfect sense… it’s what every BB fan has been looking forward to since the spectacular Season 5 finale. And, although it’s been a rather slow burn, it’s been fascinating. The fact that we already know not just the mddle part of Jimmy’s story but also the final chapter (minus a few last paragraphs told in black & white flash-forwards) makes Vince Gilligan even more of a genius – to say nothing of Odenkirk’s phenomenal performance: there’s not a lot you can do with a character whose final story arc was previously laid out: there can be no death scares or huge plot twists, because we know Jimmy eventually turns into Saul. We know how Mike dies, we know how Gus gets half his face blown off. And yet the show still manages to make the (presumably less interesting) part of this story truly fascinating.
Saul always walked a fine line between lovable doofus and resourceful rascal, but now we get to witness what molded him into the loophole-savvy genius we met on BB, and, what’s more, we get to see his transformation. In addition, we see the BB universe expanded or further explored: we get a ton of back story for Mike, we see Gus’s slow rise to the top of the meth trade, we even see how peripheral characters like Huell and Francesca came to work for our favorite lawyer. We have an unlikely but excellent villain in Chuck, and their complex relationship is unfolded so masterfully, I actually find myself forgetting the big picture (the culmination of Jimmy’s story as it is told on BB) and letting myself be taken on Jimmy’s journey.
Furthermore, Better Call Saul lacks none of the elements that made BB so great. The writing is top notch, the acting is superb, we still get plenty of the camera-mounted-on-random-objects signature shots, the cinematography is brilliant. Although slightly deviating in tone from BB, it’s no less powerful a story, and I’m definitely excited to see how it wraps up its best season so far.