IF YOU HAVEN’T been watching Better Call Saul then, you know, you should really get on that. With Season 3 it seems Netflix have finally taken heed of what I’m always saying in idle conversation, which is that rather than release new seasons of their shows in giant, intimidating chunks, they ought to release them one episode per week: all the flexibility and convenience of streaming, without losing the water-cooler “What did you think of this week’s? What’ll happen next week?” that comes with traditionally broadcast television.
But if you haven’t already watched Breaking Bad then you might miss out a little bit with Better Call Saul; that said, who hasn’t watched Breaking Bad, right? Well, I hadn’t until last year, which I’m sure would shock many on the Internet but, look, there’s just too much good TV, OK? Rather edgily of me, I didn’t find Breaking Bad to be the very greatest TV show ever made; more of a very tight soap opera for people who would turn up their nose at soap opera. Far from the devastating, multilayered understanding of socioeconomic forces at every level demonstrated by The Wire, Breaking Bad rather lazily concludes that Albequerque’s drug problem is the result of a handful of bad eggs and a comic-book supervillain.
Of late plenty of shows have existed in the middle of the Venn diagram between the superhero-movie boom and the gritty drama boom: Heroes, Arrow, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Gotham, Daredevil, Agent Carter, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage et cetera, all take the opposite approach to their larger-than-life big-screen counterparts and seemingly do their damnedest to convince us we’re not really watching a show about superheroes (or supervillains) at all. And Breaking Bad does it so successfully that you’re more likely to see it compared to The Sopranos and The Wire than any of those superhero shows.
But really, when you break it down, here’s what you have: a character named Walter White who is, by day, a mild-mannered chemistry teacher but, following a freak diagnosis of lung cancer – likely caused by exposure to deadly lab chemicals – he becomes a supervillain by night, using his exaggerated scientific supergenius to craft elaborately implausible plans that nevertheless almost always go off without a hitch. For this second life, he adopts a new persona, taking on the thematically-appropriate name “Heisenberg” and assuming a (rather lazy) supervillain costume for the purpose. He has a younger, comic-relief sidekick in Jesse who, lacking book-smarts, is forever being scolded and lectured by Walter like they’re Pinky and the Brain. All this while, by the way, “Heisenberg” is being tracked by the closest thing Breaking Bad has to a superhero: the DEA’s Hank Schrader who is, unbeknownst to him, Heisenberg’s brother-in-law.
Later on, Heisenberg will even get to have his own evil lair in the form of a super-sophisticated meth lab hidden under an industrial laundromat. It’s granted to him by another villain, one who is even higher up the Sorting Algorithm of Evil. However, just like the frequent Enemy Civil Wars among Batman’s Rogues Gallery, Heisenberg can’t take being No. 2 in town for long and hatches a plan to blow that other supervillain up, which coincidentally leaves him looking exactly like Two-Face, albeit only for moments before he dies.
And, after clearing a few initial moral hurdles, Heisenberg has a great time ruling Albequerque (another point about comic-book supervillains – their ambitions rarely stretch outside of their home turf, be it Gotham City, Metropolis, Hell’s Kitchen or, in this case, ABQ) but, whether the bad guy gets to rule for five minutes, two weeks, or a thousand years, they’re always defeated in the end, and so it is with Heisenberg, defeated by that humblest of all God’s creations, the common cancer. Thus ended his reign of terror…until we find out he was using Lazarus Pits, or was a Doombot all along, or something.