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.