Few characters have been as spin-off worthy as Breaking Bad’s standout, slimy-yet-brilliant lawyer, Saul Goodman. The layered lawman, played to perfection by Bob Odenkirk, walks one of televisions tiniest tightropes, somehow managing to be amoral and moral at the same time. Saul is loud and obnoxious, and dresses the part (Odenkirk once compared his character to a puffer fish), but he’s also incredibly complex. He has cleaned up more dirt and nastiness than Jesse Pinkman’s Roomba and survived situations many others haven’t, relying on instinct, intellect, and unconventional methods.
Perhaps one of the many reasons Saul stood out on Breaking Bad was because he provided some much-needed comic relief in an otherwise hyper-intense show full of terrifying people. Breaking Bad made us love him, and now Better Call Saul is helping us understand how and why Jimmy McGill became Saul Goodman. When Better Call Saul returns for season 3, we’re sure to learn more, but until then, we’ve compiled what we believe are the 15 Most Crucial Episodes to Understand Saul Goodman:
15. Breaking Bad – “Better Call Saul” (2X08)
Saul’s debut episode was the perfect introduction to his fast-talking, criminal-who-defends-other-criminals attorney. He represents Badger after the hapless dealer sold blue meth to a cop, and we get treated to his hilariously over-the-top TV ads (“I fight for YOU, Albuquerque,” he says to the camera, nearly pointing the camera man’s eye out). After learning the police are after Badger’s supplier, the infamous Heisenberg, Saul plans to tell Badger to save himself by ratting out the man who cooked the meth, completely unaware that it was the same 50-something bald guy who hired him and had a coughing fit in his office.
Walt and Jesse then kidnap Saul and drive him out to the middle of nowhere, where they sit him down by a pre-dug grave and rattle off threats before Walt has another coughing fit, giving himself away. Saul’s response? Instead of freaking out, he asks for a dollar from each, and becomes their attorney.
14. Better Call Saul – “Hero” (4X01)
This episode features one of Jimmy’s best — and riskiest — scams. First, he baits Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill by designing and displaying a billboard meant solely to goad the law firm — specifically Howard Hamlin. Jimmy’s photo on the billboard features his hair cut and dyed like Howard’s, and he blatantly rips off their logo. His antagonism works, and they take him to court, where he is ordered to take the billboard down.
While the billboard is being taken down, Jimmy pays a freelance videographer to film his objections as it happens. When the man paid to take it down slips and hangs from the rafters and Jimmy immediately runs to his rescue, the ultimate purpose of his con is revealed: it was all a set up from the beginning, designed to make Jimmy look like a hero. It works, as the stunt results in several phone calls and business inquiries to his office.
13. Better Call Saul – “Nacho” (1X03)
The episode opens with Chuck visiting a younger Jimmy, who is in jail, further earning his “slippin’ Jimmy” moniker. We don’t know exactly why Jimmy is behind bars, other than he may be facing possible sex offender status, which seems like a stretch even for a smarmy guy like Jimmy/Saul, but the situation is too vague for any certainty. We’re used to seeing Jimmy caring for housebound Chuck, but this flashback reveals the opposite — Chuck is saving Jimmy, apparently at the request of their mother, which Chuck seems to resent.
We don’t learn much more about what happened when Jimmy was jailed, but Jimmy’s savvy and cunning are on full display later in the episode, especially when he outsmarts everyone around him, including the group at HHM by finding the missing Kettleman family, who, as he so cleverly deduced, had kidnapped themselves by camping out in the acres of forest behind their house. Not only does Jimmy warn them initially that they may be in danger (Nacho was parked outside of their house, staking it out), he figures out where they went before anyone else does, And, naturally, he finds a way to make the situation work to his advantage.
12. Breaking Bad – “Full Measure” (3X13)
Saul did Jesse a major solid in this one. When Mike, acting on Gus’s orders, comes into his office demanding Jesse’s address, Saul refuses, citing attorney-client privilege. Mike responds with the threat of physical violence, so Saul gives Mike a peek at Jesse’s address. Turns out, it’s a bogus address, and we see that Saul later warns both Walt and Pinkman that their time is running out where Mike is concerned.
Saul is guilty of many things, but he generally puts his clients first, and that rings true here. Despite being a coward, he also seems to sense that Mike probably won’t kill him for giving false information, but just in case, he has a backup plan ready that involves a guy who can help people disappear. Saul tends to think of options A through Z, which is largely why he has a tendency to extricate himself from several situations many others don’t.
11. Better Call Saul – “Cobbler” (2X02)
This episode showcases the fact that Jimmy’s imagination is as colorful as his wardrobe. Helping an acquaintance of Mike’s out of a jam, Jimmy fabricates evidence, which in this case involves creating a video of a man with a supposed pie-sitting fetish. It was a move designed to throw off the police, and because the cops found the pie-sitting story so bizarre, they believe it.
This episode is also a crystalline example of how it’s the little things that seem to bring Jimmy down a few pegs just after he has attained confidence. For example, he gets a company car with his new job, so he takes the car to the shoddy nail salon that used to house his office to flaunt it. When Kim gets him a World’s 2nd Best Lawyer coffee mug, he’s annoyed that it won’t fit in his new company car.
Later, when he excitedly recalled his pastry-centric dupe to Kim, it appalls her and she wonders aloud how he could be so cavalier about his career, and we start to see deeply rooted moral-based fissures in their relationship.
10. Better Call Saul – “Inflatable” (2X07)
Flashbacks to the early 1970s partially reveal Jimmy’s relationship with his dad, who ran a small convenience store. When a grifter with a sad story about a broken-down car walks in asking for $5, Jimmy spots the con immediately, while his father remains clueless. “His story is baloney,” Jimmy tells his dad. “He probably doesn’t have a son.”
When his father goes outside to fix the man’s vehicle with a spark plug from his store, Jimmy learns his instincts were correct. The con man pulls out a wad of cash and orders two cartons of Kools, telling Jimmy that there are two kinds of people in the world: wolves and sheep. Seeing how easily duped his dad was, young Jimmy pockets the money from the Kools before his father comes back inside.
This episode also provides some delicious glimpses of the man soon-to-become Saul Goodman. Jimmy decides he no longer wants to work at Davis & Main, so he goes to great lengths to get fired, from playing bagpipes in the office to refusing to flush the toilet to incorporating suits almost as loud as Willy Wonka’s.
Later, when he proposes partnership with Kim, we see just how significant his threads are to him, and to the evolution of Jimmy into Saul. “Are you gonna play it straight? Or are you gonna be colorful?” Kim asks him. Guess we know how that turned out.
9. Breaking Bad – “Granite State” (5X15)
In the penultimate episode of the series, Saul’s moments in this episode were sparse, yet memorable – and hugely significant for his character. As Saul and Walt await new lives and identities courtesy of “the disappearer,” (Robert Foster), they have what ends up being their final conversation. Once again displaying a smooth combination of legal knowledge and an urge to do the right thing, Saul tells Walt that if he leaves Skylar, she will likely become a target for police, breaking down how this will all affect her and their children.
Walt acknowledges this, and the two discuss their unknown futures, with Saul displaying a great deal of foresight: he notes that, best-case scenario, he’s managing a Cinnabon in Nebraska in a month. “From here on out, I’m Mr. Low-Profile,” Saul says, prompting Walt to try one last time to bully him with the whole I’ll-tell-you-when-you’re-done line, but this time, it doesn’t work. “It’s over,” Saul says, almost sadly, before walking away.
8. Better Call Saul – “Uno” (1X01)
The present day, shot in black and white, shows that Saul is now named Gene, and is, in fact, hiding out while managing a Cinnabon in Nebraska. We see that he’s constantly on edge in public and paranoid about being recognized, but when he returns to his modest apartment, he pulls out VHS copies of his old TV ads, which he keeps hidden in a shoebox inside his walls. It’s a very revealing moment, one that shows us just how much Saul/Jimmy got a thrill out of scamming and his former larger-than-life persona. It’s clear how deeply he misses the thrill of it all.
The majority of the series tells Saul’s story in flashbacks, and in Saul’s introductory episode, we learn that his real name is Jimmy McGill, and that he has a brother named Chuck, who has a debilitating aversion to all things electric. Seeing the artist formerly known as Saul in the role of doting caretaker is only jarring for a second, because we see immediately how deeply Jimmy cares for his brother. Still, it was a side to Saul/Jimmy we had never known existed.
7. Better Call Saul -“Switch” (2X01)
Present day Jimmy/Saul/Gene accidentally locks himself in the janitor’s room of the strip mall he works at, but he can’t activate the alarm for fear of notifying the police. He scrawls “SG Was Here” on the walls before the janitor eventually rescues him, again establishing how much he misses the good old days of crookery and cookery that Saul Goodman was a part of.
In the flashback segments, Jimmy runs a small, relatively harmless con while having drinks with Kim. They pretend to be Viktor and Gisele, siblings who have inherited a large sum of money. Jimmy approaches a frothing, obnoxious wealth manager (who is literally named Ken Wins) at the bar, and asks for his advice on how to invest. He and Kim run up a gigantic bar tab and ditch, getting the clueless Ken to pay for it.
6. Better Call Saul – “RICO” (1X08)
The brotherly dynamic between Chuck and Jimmy is taken to a new level in “RICO.” In the cold open, we see mail clerk Jimmy, who learns he passed the bar after two previous tries, and we see that it’s Kim who provided the only inspiration and encouragement he got throughout the process. We also learn that, despite his recent success, he likely has an uphill climb, because everyone else, including his own brother, does not consider him to be a legitimate attorney.
He has a reputation for being cavalier, but this conflicts with what we know about Jimmy, which is that he might as well be called Johnny Hustle for how hard he works for his clients. We see this in great detail when he retrieves shredded financial documents out of a dumpster in his quest to defend the elderly denizens of Sandpiper Crossing. While Chuck resists this move at first, he ends up working together with Jimmy to reassemble the damning paperwork, which shows yet again how good Jimmy’s instincts are. His methods are often unconventional, but always entertaining.
5. Breaking Bad – “Crawl Space” (4X11)
In a rare move, Skylar turns to Saul for help, and everyone involved ends up regretting that decision. When her ex-lover Ted has some major financial difficulties, she writes a check, gives it to Saul, and has him try to sell Ted on a faux-inheritance from a fictional German aunt named Brigid. When Ted learns the money was Skylar’s, he no longer wants it. So instead of leaving it alone, she calls Saul again, and he puts his “A Team” on it. Saul’s luck in life might be represented in what comes next.
When Huell and Kuby get to Ted’s, they explain that he must sign the check, put it in the mail, and wait for it to clear before they leave. It’ll be a few days. Well, this was all too sudden and scary for Ted, who takes off running and trips over his own area rug. The results of the fall, an “act of God,” according to Huell and Kuby, leave Ted paralyzed from the neck down and everyone involved horrified. It’s moments like this that reveal how Saul’s luck is very often tied not just to his own questionable decisions, but to the bizarre, random acts that happen to us all.
4. Breaking Bad – “Live Free or Die” (5X01)
This episode is alternately known as the “you’re done when I say you’re done” episode. When Saul finds out Walt poisoned Brock with the ricin cigarette he had Huell lift off of Jesse, he tries to get out, telling Walt that he’s “done.” But he learns quickly that he might have gotten stuck too deep in the muck when Walt gets in his face and tells him he will inform the lawyer when it’s time to sever ties.
It is here where we learn that Saul, like Jesse, is a criminal with a conscience — poisoning a kid crosses a few lines with Saul, whereas several characters on the show had tendencies to overlook such atrocities.
It’s moments like this that can also partially explain why Saul survived his encounters with Walter White when more powerful or brave people (Gus, Mike, Hank) did not. Saul’s instinct isn’t to challenge Walt further, but to cower and acquiesce — he knows when he’s beaten and when he’s not. “I can’t afford to butter the wrong bread here,” Saul later tells Jesse, asking him to put in a good word with Gus should tragedy befall Walt. It’s delicate balancing acts like this that kept Saul alive through all the chaos.
3. Better Call Saul – “Mijo” (1X02)
After his idiot accomplices pick the wrong mark for their scam (they accidentally involve Tuco’s grandmother instead of their original target, Mrs. Kettleman), Jimmy and his skateboarding cohorts end up at Tuco’s mercy in the desert, and it’s up to Jimmy to talk his — and their — way out of it, if possible. “Wow. You got a mouth on you,” Tuco tells Jimmy, whose fast and rambling speech patterns make him sound like an extra on the set of Gilmore Girls. “Thank you,” Jimmy says, half seriously.
In a moment of sheer brilliance, Jimmy plays Tuco, making the terrifying criminal think he was in charge the entire time when, in fact, Jimmy was working him – always negotiating, always talking, always thinking ahead of everyone else. In the end, Jimmy saves himself while also negotiating broken legs instead of certain death for his skateboarding accomplices. He also pays the medical bills for the skateboarders, despite being flat broke, showing us a sense of morality and responsibility we only got glimpses of in Saul.
2. Better Call Saul – “Klick” (2X10)
A flashback reveals Jimmy and Chuck at the hospital with their terminally ill mother. When Jimmy goes to get Chuck food (always his brother’s caretaker), his mother wakes and asks for Jimmy. She dies shortly after, and when Jimmy returns and asks if she said anything, Chuck tells him she was silent. It’s a very telling moment, because we see just how jealous Chuck is of Jimmy, and how deeply rooted that jealousy lies.
We also see that Jimmy cares more for his brother than his brother cares for him. When Jimmy hears that Chuck has quit HHM as a result of his recent tactics (we’ll get to that in a minute), he is full of guilt. Upon seeing that his brother has tin-foiled his entire house to the point of making it looking like a huge package of Jiffy Pop, Jimmy confesses his sins, hoping to ease his brother’s troubled mind. Unbeknownst to Jimmy, Chuck records the entire confession, and we have yet to see the fallout from it, but it doesn’t look good.
1. Better Call Saul – “Fifi” (2X08)
When Jimmy and Kim quit their respective jobs and agree to share expenses and start two new separate law firms, Kim manages to secure a huge client, Mesa Verde, from her former boss, HHM. That is, until Chuck learns she and Jimmy are working together. Chuck manages to suppress his aversion to electricity just long enough to convince Mesa Verde they should stay with HHM, just so he can stick it to his brother. Jimmy’s response to Chuck’s efforts is very telling.
With Chuck incapacitated from his public outing of stealing Mesa Verde from Kim, Jimmy spends the wee hours falsifying addresses on Chuck’s Mesa Verde documents while Chuck sleeps, effectively making HHM — and Chuck specifically — look incompetent.
More than anything, “Fifi” displays the staggering lengths these two brothers will go to one-up each other, but it’s more complicated than that. Jimmy was also defending Kim, and his actions also reveal how deeply he cares for her (Chuck later calls the move a “twisted romantic gesture”). In doctoring those documents, Jimmy broke a half a dozen laws, but seeing how little Chuck has always respected him, we couldn’t help but admire his audacity when he did it.
Which Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul Episodes do you think help us best understand Saul Goodman/Jimmy McGill?
Better Call Saul season 3 premieres on Monday, April 10 @ 10PM on AMC.