While watching the fantastic second season premiere of Better Call Saul, it’s important to remember where this character is going, not just as Gene in Omaha in a post-Breaking Bad future, but as Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad. Ultimately, this is a show about the transformation of a man from Slippin’ Jimmy to Jimmy McGill to Saul Goodman and about what, exactly, provokes that transformation.
To understand that, we also need to understand what kind of character Saul Goodman is. He’s a facade. He’s an emotional suit of armor. He’s someone who has built a personae to prevent himself from getting hurt anymore. What is it that hurt Jimmy so badly that it would force him into becoming Saul? The first season answered part of that question. In spite of all of his efforts to be the man that his brother, Chuck, wanted him to be, Chuck still rejected him. Jimmy realized there was nothing he could ever do to win his brother’s favor, and in a way, that was liberating because it meant that Jimmy could stop trying to impress Chuck by becoming a lawyer and “doing the right thing.” Jimmy was free to be himself, to be Slippin’ Jimmy, the con man.
But here’s the rub. There is one more person he cares about as much as Chuck. He’s in love with Kim. This second season will see Jimmy try to be the man that she wants him to be. After briefly dabbling in the life of Slippin’ Jimmy again — and even introducing Kim to that part of himself — Jimmy realized that it wasn’t good enough for Kim. That he needed to be a successful lawyer at a place like Davis & Main to maintain Kim’s affection, which is why he returned to the job offer at the end of the season two premiere.
We don’t know what will happen next, but we know how it will ultimately end: Jimmy becomes Saul. He gets hurt again. Kim rejects him, in spite of his best efforts to be the man she wants him to be. And so he builds up those emotional walls, and he transforms himself until he’s no longer capable of being hurt.
For all the bluster and success of Saul Goodman, we know that Better Call Saul at its heart is a tragedy, because Saul Goodman is the product of pain and rejection from the people he loves the most. He’s a profoundly sad man trying to fill his emotional void with money, and he no longer cares about “doing the right thing” because he never benefited from doing so. Doing the right thing has only made him miserable.
It’s heartbreaking to consider that Saul Goodman — the captivating weasel with all the right angles in Breaking Bad — is deep down a profoundly sad man. Once Saul is taken away from him, he’s nothing but a husk of a man, a shell of his former self. A timid, nothing of a person who has lost the people who have meant the most to him — Kim and Chuck — as well as the emotional suit of armor that protected him from that pain.
A decade after the events of Better Call Saul, this is what’s left of Jimmy McGill.