Why We Better Call Saul

The series “Better Call Saul” wraps this week on AMC. Over the last 6 seasons “Better Call Saul”—with its tale of Jimmy McGill turned con-man lawyer Saul Goodman—took on a life of its own. It was more than a spin off of the original “Breaking Bad”.

It steps out from the shadow of Walter White to deliver its own message worth considering in our post-truth moment.

“Better Call Saul” dares to ask: can we really forget what we so desperately want to forget?

Without spoiling anything, the show presents a compelling argument that, in the end, there’s freedom in confronting the elephant in the room.

The story of Jimmy McGill-turned-Saul Goodman along with Kim Wexler is one which helps us resolve what many of us refuse to admit: that we’d rather numb our regrets than name them.

There’s no shortage of distractions in America’s cultural and political crisis. We can scroll our way away from the truth. Algorithms show us a picture of reality. In it all, we really do have a failure to tell the truth these days. “Better Call Saul” negotiates what can happen when we opt to run from the truth…and run…and eventually run out.

In a post-truth world, “Better Call Saul” is a reflection on the (less than linear) process of becoming.

What’s in a name? If “Better Call Saul” is anything, it is a simply but profound reflection on the power and peril of a name.

Before he was Saul Goodman, he was Jimmy McGill. The journey from one to the other—like much of life—is not a linear timeline. Sure, the show has 6 seasons, but there’s no “voila” moment—nothing forced, no dramatic reveal to announce HERE he is!

It’s brilliant. And it leaves the viewer reflecting on how imperceptible change happens. But paradoxically, it shows how one decision can sometimes determine another—less by intention and more by momentum—like a snowball down a hill.

With so many people reaching for conspiracy theories— quick & easy explanations in the cultural & political chaos, “Better Call Saul” offers a more complex, irreducible take on the nature of reality.

The journey from McGill to Goodman isn’t reducible to a simplistic set of mutually exclusive variables: his friends, family, etc. Just like the current cultural or political crisis in America or my own religious tradition of evangelicalism can’t be neatly autopsied on the scholarly dissection table.

What the show does best perhaps is offer up a tangled mess of people, events, and coincidences as a microcosm to show us just how difficult it is to judge the truth of our lives for ourselves, by ourselves—which is saying something for a show that is basically all about lawyers.

The question of the show is summed up best in a line from Charles McGill, Jimmy’s brother, who was his idol in life and law: “there is no shame in changing the path of your life”. Whether either believed that is what the show sets out to explore.

In the end, “Better Call Saul” leaves us to reflect on who we are becoming, who we are going along with, and—yes—judgment.

Above all, “Better Call Saul” reminds us that naming is truth telling; it is a moral act that invites judgment.

Naming is an exercise of power, which is also why misnaming can be a abuse of power. James Baldwin knew this when he reflected on negotiating the white American stereotypes (a way of naming) regarding blackness: “in order to survive this, you have to really dig down into yourself and re-create yourself, really, according to no image which yet exists in America…” Resisting misnaming is an act of courage. Participating in misnaming is misrepresenting reality.

Theologically, it means something that God gave humanity the task of naming creation in Genesis. It was a power tied to dependence on our Creator. Jettison that tie to God, and humanity is left with the independent exercise of naming, of truth telling. It’s also why it’s significant to be “named” in Christ, to share in his name (Acts 4) is to share in his victory.

Left to our own, how could telling the truth be anything but relative—restricted by our own limited point of view, our own morality, our ideology, tailored to our own situation or apprehension of reality.

Humanity is left looking through a keyhole at the world, yes. But we also look longingly out beyond ourselves—asking for some final word about right & wrong, good & evil. Jimmy could always go to Kim for that judgment; she is the show’s transcendence.

In the end, viewers of “Better Call Saul” may just need to reflect on a simple question: in the courtroom of our collective existence, who gets to be the judge?

Published by Jared Stacy

Jared is an American Pastor, writer, and PhD Candidate in Practical Theology at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

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