Breaking Bad tells the story of a morally ambiguous chemistry teacher who started cooking meth so that his family would have money after his inevitable death. Many people think Saul Goodman and Walter White are cut from the same cloth, but show creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have showed us nothing is further from the truth.
In Better Call Saul, we learn how different Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman is from Walter White/Heisenberg.
Saul Goodman in ‘Breaking Bad’
When we first meet Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) described him as a “criminal lawyer.” Saul is depicted as a total scumbag — one who would do just about anything in order to get ahead in life.
In the beginning of Breaking Bad, Saul served as the comic relief character existing on the outskirts of Walter White’s journey to becoming Heisenberg. Later in the series, Saul became an integral part of Heisenberg’s operation.
Saul Goodman plays by the rules
It became clear early on in Better Call Saul that Jimmy McGill was quite the opposite of Walter White. Even as scam-artist Slippin’ Jimmy, he always strived to do right by others and when he didn’t, he showed remorse. After he evolves into Saul Goodman, Jimmy is still rooted in his play-by-the-rules attitude.
When Walter and Jesse first hire Saul Goodman to be their lawyer, Saul urges them to put a dollar in his pocket to serve as his retainer. Despite being knelt in front of a shallow grave, Saul followed the rulebook of being a lawyer. Every move he makes in Breaking Bad is rooted in his desire to do the right thing, even if it means bending the rules a bit.
Walter White is a victim of circumstance
After Walter White was diagnosed with cancer, he instantly took on the role of a victim of circumstance. Unable to afford care with his dead-end job salary, Walter began cooking meth and selling it with the help of Jesse Pinkman. As their drug empire continued to evolve, so did Walter’s need for notoriety. This, and his blaming the world for his position as drug kingpin, are what makes Walter vastly different from Saul Goodman.
Throughout Breaking Bad, Walter is presented with several opportunities wherein he could have stopped cooking meth. Even when his wealthy former business partner offers to pay for his cancer treatments, Walter’s pride gets in the way and instead, he finds every excuse to continue on his path of self-destruction.
Heisenberg is an anti-hero — Saul Goodman is a survivor
Anti-heroes allow the audience to feel sympathetic toward them, regardless of how cruel or evil they truly are.
Walter White is the perfect example of this. He only started cooking meth after he found out he had cancer. Knowing how much his chemotherapy was going to cost and the menial amount of money he and wife Skylar were already bringing in, Walter decided to become part of the drug trade so that his family would have money after he died.
Even through his evolution into Heisenberg, fans rallied behind Walter because his driving factor was earning money for his family. It was more difficult to root for Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad because he seemed like an indecent human being. In Better Call Saul, we learn that’s not the case — Saul’s motives are based solely on his survival.
Saul Goodman is not an anti-hero, and that, my friends, is the key difference in Better Call Saul. Instead of continuously wanting more, Saul only wanted to survive and avoid being captured or killed at all costs.
Sure, Saul Goodman and Heisenberg both have a questionable code of ethics. Instead of resorting to violence, Jimmy/Saul uses his charm as a defense mechanism. Ironically, the lawyer will go to great lengths to avoid confrontation. In contrast, Heisenberg became more power-hungry with every conflict that he triumphed.
Where Heisenberg becomes the anti-hero in Breaking Bad, Saul Goodman is just fine with the life that he chose as a criminal lawyer. Perhaps that’s because he’s lost too much already, or maybe it’s because he sees that Heisenberg’s story can only end in death.
Breaking Bad concludes with the death of Walter White, who expressed, “I liked it, I was good at it, and I was really — I was alive.” We still have yet to find out what happens to Saul Goodman as Gene in Omaha, but with a sixth and final season of Better Call Saul confirmed, fans will know soon enough.