Spring Break 2020 — IV

img_9456Spring break shouldn’t be all about getting sun, relaxing, reading, and soaking up flavorful tropical beverages.  In my view, it’s also important to explore some of the native culture in your spring break locale and broaden your horizons.

Fortunately, our spring break destination this year has many intriguing cultural artifacts that can serve to stimulate the imagination.  Today we took a guided tour of some of the curious items left behind by past civilizations.  From our review of the two items pictured above, it appears that the early humans in this location worshipped frogs, among other creatures in the pantheon of their gods.  Archaeologists theorize that the two frogs represent male and female deities, and some kind of ancient fertility ritual, and that the dish balancing on their heads might be an altar where small animals were sacrificed as part of ancient religious rites designed to bring about more bountiful  harvests.

The carefully crafted sculpture of the dog, on the other hand, has puzzled historians.  Some theorize that the dog is part of the ancient civilization’s creation myth, in which a gigantic dog god unearthed the first humans from underground.  Others maintain that the close proximity and juxtaposition of the dog figure and the frog figures indicate a linkage between those gods and their function in the ancient culture — and perhaps that after creatures are sacrificed on the altar, the dog buries them as part of the death rituals celebrated by local shamans.

It’s great to get some culture on spring break!  With exposure to artifacts like these, I feel like I will return from this sojourn more worldly, and wiser, than when I left.

Better Call Saul

Normally I will not watch TV shows or read books about lawyers.  I hated L.A. Law, for example, and the few John Grisham books that I tried.  The problem for me is that I just can’t get past the implausibility of most of the plot lines and that unrealistic (in my experience, at least) depictions of lawyers and legal scenarios.  My inner groaning at the dubious fictional reality always made it impossible for me to enjoy the book or the show.

Then Kish and I started watching Better Call Saul, and I finally got beyond my fictional lawyer mental block — and in the process found a really great TV show.

better-call-saul-recapBetter Call Saul is a prequel to Breaking Bad.  When we first meet Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad, he’s a classic lawyer caricature — crooked, conniving, duplicitous, and seemingly designed purely to provide some comic relief.  I groaned when Saul Goodman was introduced, because he was everything I disliked in a fictional lawyer character.  But Breaking Bad was such an excellent show that I watched despite my initial dislike of Saul Goodman — and as the show progressed the character grew on me a little, and I found that I could accept Saul.

Still, when Breaking Bad  ended and I heard that a new prequel was being filmed that would focus on the Saul Goodman character, I was skeptical that I would like it.  It only took a few episodes for me to get hooked on Better Call Saul, and only a few episodes more for me to get to the point where I think you can make a reasonable argument that Better Call Saul is, arguably, a more groundbreaking show than Breaking Bad.

Better Call Saul takes us back to when Saul was known by his given name, Jimmy McGill.  We meet a bunch of new characters — including Jimmy’s lawyer brother, Chuck, and Jimmy’s love interest and stalwart, dependable friend, Kim — as we go back to several years before Breaking Bad begins.  Jimmy’s got a sketchy history back in Illinois, but after a close brush with the law he’s come out to Albuquerque, where Chuck is a prominent lawyers, he’s met Kim, and he’s tried to pull himself up by his bootstraps.  Jimmy McGill has some endearing qualities — he’s a natural charmer, and loyal, and he goes to great lengths to help his brother, Chuck, deal with a very odd condition, for example — and he’s even gone to a correspondence law school in secret and passed the New Mexico bar.  From time to time, at least, it’s not hard to see why go-getter Kim finds Jimmy attractive.

But life and the fates seem to conspire against him, and — here’s the lawyer part — whenever he is confronted with an ethical issue he makes the wrong decision.  In fact, Jimmy’s ethical instincts are so unfailingly misguided that law professors could have their students in an ethics class watch the show and follow the rule of thumb that if Jimmy is doing it, it’s violating every ethical rule known to the organized bar.  And there’s a tragic element to that, because Jimmy actually would be a pretty darned good lawyer if he could just avoid the ethical snares that trip him up.  He’s hardworking, and creative, and has a good eye for legal problems and potential claims — but the ethical issues are his Achilles heel.

Jimmy McGill’s story would be enough to make Better Call Saul an enjoyable show, but what really makes it must-see TV is the whole narrative arc that comes from being a prequel.  In short, we know how this narrative must end.  In addition to Jimmy/Saul, many other Breaking Bad characters are prominently featured, and it’s both jarring, and unnerving, to know what’s ultimately going to happen to them.  But that’s only part of the “prequel” effect.  We know that other characters who are new to Better Call Saul don’t have a role in Breaking Bad — and we wonder why not, and what happens to them between now and then.  It really puts the viewer on pins and needles, and it’s why you really need to watch all of Breaking Bad before you try Better Call Saul.  I think this whole “prequel effect” makes Better Call Saul a truly groundbreaking show.

This is a remarkable, exceptionally well-acted show, featuring Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy/Saul, Jonathan Banks reprising his role as Mike from Breaking Bad, and Kish’s and my favorite character, Rhea Seehorn as the hardworking, supportive Kim, a great lawyer with a heart of gold but also a nagging desire to visit the dark side now and then.  But all of the actors are good, all of the characters are compelling, key characters from Breaking Bad are starting to show up, and we’ve reached the point in the narrative where things are about ready to spiral downhill and out of control.  We’re just holding our breath and waiting to hear the first mention of “Heisenberg.”

Whether you’re a lawyer or not, Better Call Saul  is well worth watching.