What Role Does Family Play on the Construct of “Better Call Saul’s” Main Characters?


Better Call Saul (2015) introduced us to two very different versions of Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks’ characters, and spent the bulk of the season crafting the series of events that gave birth to the versions we knew from Breaking Bad. We find out that Saul Goodman’s real name is Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk). We learn he has a famous lawyer brother named Chuck (Michael McKean), has ties to a hugely successful law firm, a sort-of girlfriend who also works for that firm, and that his past – not surprisingly – involved petty crime that earned him the nickname “Slippin’ Jimmy.” We also find out that Mike (Jonathan Banks), formerly a Philadelphia police officer, murdered two dirty cops who were responsible for the death of Mike’s own policeman son, and fled to Albuquerque to hide from the past.

But more importantly, we learned what drives these two characters to become the people we knew in Breaking Bad. We learned what catalysts turned Mike the toll booth worker into Mike the fixer, and transformed Jimmy McGill, the hard-working, trust-earning, dedicated and kind elder law attorney into Saul Goodman. The answer: Family.

By the end of the season, we learn everything that has held Jimmy back from success was family. His brother Chuck was puppeteering his lawyer buddies to keep Jimmy out of the firm, and even tried to prevent him from using his own name in law practice. Chuck spent his life using Jimmy while pretending to support him. Chuck finally goes so far as to look Jimmy in the face and tell him he’s not a real lawyer – the main catalyst that coupled hard-working lawyer Jimmy McGill with former criminal Slippin’ Jimmy, and giving birth to criminal lawyer Saul Goodman.

As for Mike? At the same time Jimmy is finding out his brother has been the cause of all his misfortune, Mike leaves the comfort of his toll booth and throws out his cautious, incognito life to take a protection job for an illegal drug handoff. He walks away from an existence that provides him stability and anonymity to become a criminal. And he does it so that he can earn money to help support his granddaughter and widowed daughter-in-law, something we already know his character carries as motivation all the way through his demise in Breaking Bad.