The timelines are colliding. Sometime, probably sooner than later, the front end of Better Call Saul will smash into the back of Breaking Bad, like a distracted driver rear-ending another car at an intersection. It’s inevitable. We’re all on the sidewalk watching it happen, too. “Yo,” we’re saying, probably more matter-of-fact than the seriousness of the situation warrants, “Better Call Saul should slow down soon or else…” Thwap. Dented fenders, steam rising from engines, cussing. So much cussing. Nothing we can do, though. Not at this point. Just watch.
And the thing is, like watching that car crash, there’s a perverse excitement about it all. I’m as guilty as anyone. I’ll see a montage that features Jimmy looking at a rack of Saul Goodman’s patented neon rainbow dress shirts and I’ll let out an audible “Oooo.” I’ll peer around corners while watching Saul, freezing the action here and there, looking for clues that foreshadow a particular this or that. I’ll see links to stories about the showrunners discussing an overlap of the timelines, or the possibility (or lack thereof) of cameos by Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, and I will click. I will click on everything. Click click click. Like I am singlehandedly responsible for the health of digital media as an industry.
But make no mistake: This is all going to suck, tremendously. Not the quality — that I’m very confident will remain excellent, if only because Bob Odenkirk and Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have yet to steer us wrong in that department. I’m talking about the emotional toll this is going to take on all of us. When this show started, three full seasons ago (about to be four), the single overarching question was “When will Jimmy turn into Saul?” Now the question I find myself asking is “Am I really ready for Jimmy to turn into Saul?”
I know he has to. Clearly. That’s how prequels work. Throwing a left turn now — veering to avoid the rear-end collision — is not an option. It would be almost like if The Americans decided to end the Cold War with Gorbachev and Reagan going to Disney World together and hashing it out there. (To the extent you can compare real historical events with the fictional events of Breaking Bad, which you can, apparently, because I just did.) Better Call Saul makes no bones about this. Every season gives us a glimpse of Jimmy’s miserable black-and-white future in a Cinnabon, the one where he’s always looking over his shoulder and terrified and just hopelessly depressed. The show isn’t hiding that from us. There’s no trickery here, building us up to rip the rug out from under our naive little feet. The reminder comes every season. That’s where this is all headed. We should prepare for that. We should make ourselves ready if we’re not quite there yet. It’s coming, either way.
It’s the show’s fault for making Jimmy so likable, really. I didn’t sign up for that. I never expected to care about the man who becomes Saul Goodman. I didn’t know I was going on that journey. Saul is likable, too, but in a different way, like how you can’t help but have respect for a cockroach that survives a Vegas casino implosion. Jimmy… Jimmy is a sweetheart. Plays fast and loose, sure, what with your squat cobblers and Chicago Sunroofs and such. He’s just a rascal, though. Everyone loves a rascal. And our experience with him so far has been hopeful. He’s… trying, you know? He’s trying to do the right thing. Sometimes. Most of the time. He’s trying to try to do the right thing. If this was a standalone series and not a prequel, we’d still have that little optimistic voice in our heads saying “Maybe this guy figures it out. Maybe he and Kim make it work and they have two or three little rugrats and buy a nice house in the suburbs somewhere. Maybe this all works out.” But nope. He won’t and they won’t and it won’t. The Cinnabon is coming.
(The Kim thing is another can of worms, one that we discussed last season. The short version looks like this: Kim Wexler is never mentioned during Breaking Bad. Not even once. The takeaway there, Occam’s Razor, is that something bad happens to or with her between now and then. Best case is a bad breakup. Worst case is… well, Chuck wasn’t mentioned once in Breaking Bad either and now look at him. We should be worried about Kim all the time, even between seasons.)
This doesn’t end real peachy for Mike, either, by the way. But that snowball already started down that hill and is picking up speed. Mike is now with Gus and that will lead him to Walt and Jesse and then he’ll end up bleeding out on a log. It’s not particularly ideal. It’s weird, though, because even though I love Mike — love Mike — I’m not as troubled by his fate. Mike made his deal with the devil a while ago, and Mike has his code, and he always seems to be in control of the situation he’s in. He sees the angles. He plans. Mike has that quiet confidence that makes you think he’ll be fine, even when you know he’s not going to be fine. We don’t have to worry about Mike. He’s got his eyes open. He knows what this is and probably knows how it ends. Mike is a realist.
But Jimmy… man. Jimmy McGill is a dreamer. He’s always one idea away, one move, one break. He looks at his future and he sees it all. If he could just… and then this guy does that… and the seal barks loud enough to distract the mayor… boom. Easy street.
That’s why the path from Jimmy to Saul — and, as we know, to poor Gene, eventually — is going to be such a bummer. Exciting and spellbinding and masterful, we can assume based on previous evidence, but just a colossal bummer, because it means we’re going to sit there and watch that one little glimmer of light in his soul get extinguished. We’re going to see potential outs, potential escapes, and watch him blow right by them. And then we’re going to see him make that turn and then he won’t be a rascal anymore. He’ll be a criminal, one who helps launder millions in meth money and then flees to the heartland and grows a mustache to avoid many, many federal charges. He’ll be conflicted about it at times because he never becomes a full-fledged monster, but he’ll do it. It’s not that he ever stops being a dreamer. It’s just that once he becomes Saul, and we get to thinking about the Cinnabon, the reality will be shoved in our face that the dream has been a nightmare all along.
So, again, and I’m sorry to be such a downer with the next assuredly great season set to begin… are you really ready for Better Call Saul to crash into Breaking Bad — thwap — and for Jimmy McGill to become Saul Goodman?
I’m not sure I am.