Once the cheering is over – great, brilliant, spectacular, perfect, “Better than breaking bad”–, one of the adjectives that usually accompany the opinions of people who do not like Better call Saul is “boring”. A quick google is enough to verify it: a forum here, a handful of tweets there, a podcast here, an article there. It’s not a majority opinion, of course, but it has reared its head again and again throughout the show’s six seasons.
And it is not difficult to understand why. Even the great defenders of Better call Saul have cited the leisurely pace as one of the features that make the series remarkable: slow combustion It is one of the most repeated adjectives in Anglo-Saxon criticism. Better call Saul long sequences are allowed in which the characters do so little or do so slowly that they might appear to be doing nothing, or moments that seem suspended in time in which, say, an ice cream sundae is slowly colonized by a army of ants
This may be more or less exasperating for some viewers: in a text published on The reasonthe writer Carlos Velázquez affirms that the last season was “a sum of bad moments and fissures of all kinds”; that “too much time was spent on a completely inconsequential character” and that one of his main villains died “in the most boring way”.
Another—more sophisticated—version of this argument was published in the atlanticwhere Spencer Kornhaber calls the series “tedious”: “Tedious of the kind that shows frequent tooth-brushing scenes; tedious of the kind that sets up a multi-season arc about settlement of a retirement home litigation; tedious of the type contains slow and repetitive comments about the human condition”. Later on, however, Kornhaber weighs up the series’ virtues in a rather laudatory conclusion save for the disastrous observation that future watchers of the series shouldn’t hesitate to speed it up when they feel the need.
An apparent paradox begins to appear in front of us. Here is a series cleave to be exact, a cleave of one of the series constantly mentioned when talking about the best television of the century, a cleave that it lasted one season longer than its predecessor and that it reaped critical, audience and award success that very few programs manage to achieve; a series that basically made a star of an actor and comedian of almost 60 years and that although excellent never seemed destined to star in an action blockbuster! like the one he now stars in; a series, in short, that is also constantly mentioned when talking about the best television of the century. At the same time, this series has been called, by both enthusiasts and detractors, “slow.” How do you explain the permanence of the boring Better call Saul at a time when the television offer has multiplied like mushrooms in the rainy season and, like mushrooms, has an equally ephemeral life?
The answer to the problem, as it usually is, is in the problem itself. is the slowness of Better call Saul what has made it successful; even more, this slowness is the key to what we could call “artistic success”. But let me explain.
First, the slow Better call Saul It goes completely against the prevailing trend. If television itself is a means of instant gratification, the transmissionwhich has intensified the dispersion of the viewer, has resulted in series planned in such a way that tastes are perhaps too calculated. Because television has that: it is responsible for providing instant and relatively easy gratification, but the process to achieve that effect is far from instant or easy. The formulaic is also boring; The comfort of the viewer is necessary only in the right amounts: those that keep them glued to the seat from the beginning until the end of the episode and guarantee that they have their finger ready to press play. In that sense, comfort is always —or usually— charged with a certain dose of tension; this tension can be prolonged or shortened, but it can never disappear. And in the case of Better call Saulthis tension is always taken to the maximum.
Because what is usually called “boring” of Better call Saul it is seldom insignificant. Let me an example. The eighth episode of the sixth season, “Point and shoot”, opens with a calm overhead shot of a beach where the waves come to break. The swaying of the sea suddenly deposits a shoe on the sand: it is for dress and it is fine; the camera pans across the beach to reveal that the other shoe is lying on a dune, just in front of a Jaguar with a yellow license plate that reads “Namaste” in red letters: the famous license plate of Howard Hamlin, the successful lawyer who died in the previous episode shot in the head by Lalo Salamanca after going to the house of Jimmy McGill and Kim Wexler.
The sequence is almost two minutes long and gives us some valuable and intriguing information: Howard Hamlin’s car has somehow made its way from Jimmy McGill’s house to an anonymous beach; the shoes would seem to indicate that Howard himself accompanied him to his car. (In a way, the piece of music playing in the car, Leslie Howard’s “Mazurka in the style of Chopin,” is another clue that will only make sense later: the car is at the beach because Mike Ehrmantraut staged a scene from suicide for Howard.)
Beyond the information it gives us, which is not little, the scene works to establish a tone. something that distinguishes Better call Saul is its tone, bittersweet like few series, hopelessly tense. And this unusual tone can only be acquired through form, through the intelligent use of audiovisual language. When Better call Saul it takes a literal five to six minutes to show Mike completely disassembling a car in search of a tracker only to find it, after nearly giving up, in the gas cap (“Mabel,” the first episode of season three) , the series is not only intelligently dispensing its information, developing characters – what else could Mike have happened than that car wrecking? – or lengthening the tension and expectation to the point of inexpressibility, but it is also doing all of that Clever.
What happens when you throw the damn epithet “boring” at Better call Saul it is that it is done from a vision that is at best limited and at worst myopic of the scope of a fiction. It is said “boring” as if it were the worst thing that could be said to an audiovisual work, let alone a fiction. What this argument reveals is that television is conceived –and perhaps by extension cinema, or fiction, or narrative in its entirety, what do I know– as something whose ultimate goal is to entertain, and that fails miserably when it is not. reaching at all times.
Worse still, it seems that it is said “boring” as if that feeling could only be the product of error, carelessness or incompetence, never of deliberation. But this is a painfully wrong assumption; entertainment is just one of the experiences that fictions can provide us with. Perhaps I am clear about it because I am an inalienable fan of horror, but the pleasure of a fiction can emanate from different places, many of them not even pleasant or entertaining by themselves; Anyone who has read a classic nineteenth-century soap opera will understand that not everything valuable is a priori entertaining. Examples abound on television: there it is The wirethat it takes more or less ten episodes to get good but that once she gets up all she does is keep moving forward. The first season of The office It is a disaster, but it is worth staying for what comes next. The second season of twin peaks It’s insufferable at times, but there it is The return to justify it. Good things come to those who wait (sometimes, and if they wait in the right places).
In the case of Better call SaulI believe that those supposedly boring moments contain, in themselves, an enormous richness that continues the tradition of breaking bad – a series that nobody seems to want to remember that first warned us of a plane crash a whole season in advance, through ominous shots of a charred teddy bear floating in a pool – while also expressing the possibility of a slightly but significantly different narrative.
Why Better call Saul it is not a lynchian oddity either; It is a series that follows the basic norms of television –at times proudly bordering on melodrama– crossed by a slightly more patient writing. This meticulous interest in the sensations that are sought to provoke in the viewer is paradoxically refreshing in the fast-paced contemporary scene.
It’s true: the series doesn’t give its viewers what they want to see, or not only that. It is not (or not only) a thriller of narco violence or a series of difficult men. On the contrary: it is the story of a much more vulnerable guy, much more pathetic, much more like us. And since he is more similar to us, his existence is crossed by tedium, by laboriousness –you have to see Jimmy face a paperwork, a payment, filling out false or authentic documents–. Also for the other, of course, for the shootings and the mexican clashes and the memorable villains: Gus, Lalo, and endearing antiheroes: Mike, Nacho, Kim, and even Howard, poor Howard, a character who needed six seasons of development for his death to crush the hearts of the audience and set her against Kim and Jimmy (or Saul, or Gene).
The end of Better call Saul It is the late culmination of the era of the difficult menof charming Tony Soprano- or Vic Mackey-type sociopaths. Saul Goodman is probably the last of those difficult men that populated the screen for more than a decade, and its history is a kind of review of that stereotype that already feels from another era. His permanence, however, is a reminder of the possibilities of a medium –and an audience– that at times seems perhaps too limited by the anxiety of entertainment.