‘An Origin Story for the Origin Story’
The silence is agonising; broken only by the ticking of the courtroom clock, the shuffling of papers, and the impatient click of a pen. It’s easy to tell they’re waiting for someone, by the time over a minute has passed, you feel like you’ve been waiting just as long as they have. An officer of the court finally leaves the courtroom to collect the mysterious ‘someone’, it is only now that a voice breaks the silence saying this:
“Think back…your brain…it’s just not all there yet. Uhh…if we were all held responsible when we were nineteen- I remember what it was like to be a kid. Think back.” – James ‘Jimmy’ McGill
As with the both introductions of James ‘Jimmy’ McGill/Saul Goodman at the beginning of this pilot episode of Better Call Saul (2015), the first thing you become familiar with in terms of his character is his voice. The first, through the unseen ‘Better Call Saul’ commercials which introduce a character with a very big presence, a stark contrast to that of the Saul we see on screen. The second, is paired with the shadow of the speaker, Jimmy McGill on the wall of the bathroom, arms outstretched in an almost exuberant gesture. From those two quite similar introductions you get to see both the Jimmy McGill of the present, and the future embodiment of that same man, Saul Goodman. This choice in scene sequence for the first ten minutes of the show not only sets up the bold character for this series but also instils curiosity within the viewer. Leaving them with a sense of wanting to know more about how this character manages to end up in such a state that his old work advertisements would bring him to tears.
As a pilot episode, ‘Uno’ sets up a trajectory which both the plot, and main character will follow for the remainder of the series. It sets up the tone, theme and motive of both major and minor characters for the rest of the series with ease while not completely giving away the main plot. As events seemingly go from bad to worse, climaxing at the end of the episode as Jimmy has a gun held to his face and is steered inside a stranger’s house, you can easily tell just how this show simply won’t be just another criminal law show, whether you know the origins of this show or not. It isn’t just Jimmy as a main character though who makes this pilot episode so rich in terms of storytelling. The choices made by writer and director Vince Gilligan in terms of the overall design of the episode, take a much more ‘show rather than tell’ technique which, interestingly, is quite far apart from the direct storytelling methods used by our criminal lawyer protagonist in his day to day life. This not only enables for small scenes to tell a much larger story than that which could be said in words, but also in this way highlights both the benefits and constrictions narrative can have on the message one is trying to get across. In terms of Better Call Saul (2015), as a criminal defence lawyer Jimmy becomes a story teller, trying to convince the jury of his clients’ innocence or even in the act of trying to pick up more clients.
It is here that it is easy to see the importance of the connection between the introduction of Jimmy first in voice then in face, and that of his profession as a criminal defence lawyer. It is all in the story which Jimmy tells each time he takes on a client which determines his livelihood. As the episode progresses and you see just how much his work means to him versus how much he is actually getting back from it, you begin to sympathise with this character. So, whether you get caught up in the strong, and almost cliff hanger styled ending or the carefully compiled humour in the show, it will always come back to the complexity and strength of character of Jimmy McGill to keep you interested. This is a clever technique as Jimmy originated as a well-loved minor character in Breaking Bad (2008), the show which Better Call Saul (2015) is the spinoff of. As without Jimmy, there would be no Better Call Saul (2015) at all.