As Better Call Saul heads toward the end of its fourth season, the debate about whether it’s a better show than its parent series, Breaking Bad, has begun to resurface again, as it seems to do every year. In past years, I didn’t put as much stock in these comparisons because Saul was a much younger show, so it wouldn’t have been fair to pit the two against each other. But that gap is narrowing now. There were only five Breaking Bad seasons, while Better Call Saul is about to finish its fourth, which would give it only 22 episodes less than the original series (BB seasons were longer).
I think asking that question is fair game now, and at least according to Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro, Better Call Saul is the better series.
I actually do not disagree with del Toro, but I’ll go a step further in explaining why the character tension is better in Saul. In Breaking Bad, we saw in Walter White — an anti-hero — break bad, and we were rooting for him to succeed. He was a guy we wanted to win, so we took huge satisfaction in the fact that he vanquished his enemies, killed Gus Fring, and took out Jack, Todd, and Lydia. Even though we found his death a fitting end, we nevertheless rooted against characters who stood in his way, including Hank and, most detrimentally, Skylar White.
Better Call Saul is completely different. We know that Jimmy is going to break bad, but we’re actually rooting against that certainty. We don’t want Jimmy to become Saul, and every step he makes toward the inevitable breaks our hearts a little. The reason that Kim is the key is we are rooting for her to save Jimmy or, at the very least, avoid becoming collateral damage in his downfall. The big surprise through four seasons, however, is how successfully Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan have been able to create tension where we already know the outcome, at least for Jimmy, Gus, and Mike. But we don’t know how things will turn out for Kim, so she in effect becomes our hero.
Breaking Bad is a genius show and arguably one of the two or three best shows in the history of television, but Saul is the more emotionally complicated series, and watching it from week to week, it’s hard not to think that Gilligan, Gould, and the writers and directors on this series have only gotten better over the years, and in doing so, created a stronger, more layered, and more emotionally compelling series in Saul.