To talk about Breaking Bad's greatness, you have to talk about Walter White. You have to talk about showrunner Vince Gilligan’s now-famous vow to turn “Mr. Chips into Scarface”; you have to talk about tightie-whities giving way to rubber lab coats, about high-school chemistry lessons leading to a machine gun laying waste to a Nazi meth gang. Bryan Cranston's character's five-season transformation from zero to antihero had no precedent on TV, and made for tense, morally challenging viewing.
Take out Walter and his journey, though, and do you still have a masterpiece? Better Call Saul, the new spinoff whose premiere and second episode air Sunday and Monday respectively, suggests that the answer might have been “yes.” Gilligan and co-creator Peter Gould have improbably constructed something that feels like a continuation of its predecessor but not a retread, telling a new tale with their old show's trademark meticulousness, gravity, humor, and, beauty.
“Beauty” isn't an attribute anyone would necessarily expect from Saul, based on its subject matter. Breaking Bad fans know the title character, Saul Goodman, as the seedy, fast-talking lawyer who enabled Walter White’s misdeeds and then, finally, fled Albuquerque. Better Call Saul tells his origin story, though not just that; the pilot opens with a dialogue-free, black-and-white vision of Saul’s life after the events of Breaking Bad, when his prophecy that he’d be running a Cinnabon in Omaha has come true.