We’re now about halfway through the third season of AMC’s “Better Call Saul,” the prequel series to “Breaking Bad.” And now, finally and for the first time, the title character has made an appearance.
That’s not to say that star Bob Odenkirk has been absent this whole time, but his character hasn’t been using the name Saul Goodman for the past two-and-a-half years. Odenkirk has been playing lawyer Jimmy McGill, whose recent law license suspension has forced him to adopt the Saul Goodman alias to get out of a series of prepaid television commercials. True, he’s not using the Saul persona in his legal practice yet, but it’s only a matter of time.
That, of course, is the problem with every prequel, which is that we all know precisely where these characters are going to end up. In this last episode, fans were excited to see the reappearance of Lydia Rodarte-Quayle (played by Laura Fraser), a character who was a thorn in the side of “Breaking Bad’s” Walter White (Bryan Cranston), which prompted Walter to poison one of Lydia’s stevia packets with ricin in the final episode.
Lydia isn’t the only doomed character to make an appearance in the prequel. The show spends as much time following Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) as Jimmy/Saul, even though Mike is destined to end up as one of Walter's victims. Same goes for Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis) and his nephew Tuco (Raymond Cruz), all of whom have figured prominently in “Better Call Saul,” and all of whom await grisly and inevitable deaths in “Breaking Bad.” Every time one of these fan favorites pops up on screen, online discussion groups start buzzing about how exciting it is to see them again. But for my part, I’m starting to get a little bored with all the familiar faces.
It’s not that these aren’t interesting characters, or that the actors playing them aren’t compelling. Indeed, Esposito’s Gus may well be the most chilling villain in television history. It’s that I already know what’s going to happen to him, so I know he’s not really in any danger of being thwarted or killed off before the show is over. This, of course, is the central problem of every prequel, which is why prequels, as a rule, stink.
Yet “Better Call Saul” has been able to avoid much of that prequel stench by introducing characters whose fates remain uncertain. It helps immensely that “Better Call Saul” has shown us a taste of Jimmy/Saul’s post-“Breaking Bad” career as a Cinnabon manager named Gene, which opens the possibility of some of the people who weren’t bumped off in “Breaking Bad” may re-enter Jimmy/Saul/Gene’s life in the present. Although I realize I may be a bit optimistic in thinking that Saul has a post-“Breaking Bad” future, especially since the last time we saw the present-day Saul, he had collapsed in a heap on the Cinnabon floor.
Still, we don’t yet know, for instance, what happens to Jimmy’s brother Chuck McGill, who has been the show’s primary antagonist. Actor Michael McKean, who plays Chuck, has told viewers “not to get too attached,” so we can probably assume that he’s not long for this world. But what about Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), Jimmy’s law partner and sometime love interest? Is it possible she was still around behind the scenes in “Breaking Bad”? Or perhaps she and Jimmy became estranged, but perhaps they can reconcile after Walter White is a memory. Kim’s fate is one of the primary reasons I’m still watching.
She’s not the only reason. Even as a pure prequel, “Better Call Saul” is spectacular television that is better written and better executed than just about anything else on the air. I just think it’s always more fun to watch something when you don't know how it ends. I also don't think it’s wise to take three seasons to introduce your title character.