'Breaking Bad' Character Study: An Ode To Saul Goodman

Breaking Bad would still work without Saul Goodman. The show’s central theme, a man rapidly transforming from a typical suburban dad into a ruthless meth kingpin, could be communicated with almost any kind of stock television lawyer assisting him. Walter White could have hired a high-priced shark who works for a large firm with an office on the top floor of a fancy New Mexico office building and provides cover for his underworld clients with a legitimate corporate front. Or he could have hired a small-town, folksy lawyer who is all “Yes, sirs” and “No, ma’ams” until the dramatic reveal that he’s more cutthroat than the mob-affiliated clients he represents. But he didn’t. He hired Saul Goodman, one of the greatest lawyers in the history of television. And thank God he did.

Allow me to explain. Here are some of my favorite things about Saul Goodman:

He’s a life preserver. Breaking Bad is a heavy, dense show. Watching it one episode at a time, week by week, gives you some time to deal with that — to unpack everything that transpired and get to a place emotionally where you can jump back into Walt’s downward spiral. But if you try to binge-watch a huge chunk of episodes in a short period of time, as I did between the third and fourth seasons, it can almost be too much sometimes. In that way, Saul is kind of like a tiny flotation device that some merciful soul tosses you as you’re trying to swim across the English Channel. Just a little levity in choppy waters — a fast-talking, scheming breather, if you will.

His whole deal. Saul Goodman is a sleazy, corrupt, morally bankrupt attorney whose cover for his criminal activity is basically a slightly less sleazy, corrupt, morally bankrupt attorney. It’s like he’s saying to the authorities, “Come on. Would anyone really be stupid enough to launder money for drug dealers and connect people to hit men and mysterious fixers while plastering their face on every bus and park bench in town to drum up shaky personal injury cases?” It’s really quite brilliant. It would be like finding out that Rand Spear: The Accident Lawyer had been secretly helping Los Zetas smuggle machine guns across the border.

He’s evading the IRS with a holding company called Ice Station Zebra Associates. It’s his loan out. It’s totally legit. It’s done just for tax purposes.

Bob Odenkirk’s description of him. From a recent interview with The New Republic:

How do you imagine Saul’s backstory? What was he doing before he became a criminal lawyer?

He probably went through college very fast. I feel like he got his degree in three years, he passed his bar on the second try, and he worked really hard to just barely get over the hurdles. He was like, let’s get this done fast. And as many shortcuts as I can take, I will take them. And I will be an official lawyer, as official as any lawyer coming out of Harvard or any other big place.

It seems incredibly fitting to be discussing Saul Goodman on the same day thousands of recent law school graduates are taking the bar exam.

… and speaking of Bob Odenkirk. Prior to Breaking Bad, Odenkirk was best known for being one half of the comedic duo behind the legendary sketch show, Mr. Show, and to some degree, he brings an element of sketch comedy to each of his scenes. He comes in, he hits his beats, bing-bang-boom, three minutes later we’re back in the lab cooking meth. I give Vince Gilligan all the credit in the world for casting him, because I know I wouldn’t have put that together, and it’s worked out spectacularly. Also, it makes it super fun to go back and watch old Mr. Show clips, but pretend every character Odenkirk plays is actually a younger version of Saul. Case in point:

His hair. Between Saul’s first appearance in Season 2 and where the show left us mid-Season 5, his hair seemed to take on a life of its own, speaking volumes about the mental state of the man moseying around underneath it. When we first met him he was in charge, telling Walter and Jesse how things worked and setting up meetings with Gus Fring, and his hair represented that: neatly combed, slicked back, possibly held in place with a product that he purchased in bulk before it was taken off the market due to health concerns. Now that he’s scared of Walt and feeling a little in over his head, his hair has gotten more stringy and unkempt, somehow looking like the most obvious combover in history despite the fact that he has a full head of hair. I expect him to go full Donald Trump by the series finale.

Trying to describe him. I had the luxury of space to do it here, but if you’re pressed for time and someone asks you what Saul Goodman is like, you end up saying things like “Tom Hagen from The Godfather crossed with a used car salesman” and “Lionel Hutz from The Simpsons if he were at all competent.” It’s really a lot of fun for everyone involved.

In summation, Saul Goodman is an American treasure. Please let the spinoff happen. I need as much of him in my life as possible.