In Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, the smartest character on both shows is arguably Jimmy McGill, AKA, Saul Goodman. He’s intelligent, educated, and cunning all in one, and knows how to play the game of criminality without becoming the target at any point (for long).
However, the moral code between Jimmy in Better Call Saul and Saul in Breaking Bad draws a major contrast between how he applies that know-how of the law and its loopholes. Here’s a comparison of Jimmy’s best deeds and of Saul’s worst deeds, to highlight the chara cter’s transformation into the sleaziest lawyer in Albuquerque (at least until the final season of Better Call Saul airs).
Heroic: Hiring Film Students
Whereas hiring film students isn’t “heroic” so much as courteous, Jimmy does treat the film students with a great deal of respect and never gets them involved in the particularly heinous illegal schemes so much as the slightly less clear cut crimes.
What makes this action admirable is his ability to see diamonds in the rough and give opportunities to people who might not have the full-on credibility yet, but are adept enough at what they do. This is something that Jimmy never was given in his life; respect for a person’s skills despite their inexperience, and giving them respect despite being amateurs.
Sleazy: Profiting Off The Wayfarer 515 Tragedy
Profiting off any tragedy is pretty scuzzy, so it’s not shocking than an ambulance chaser like Saul would take advantage of tragic events of any magnitude. The bigger they are, the more profit they’d reap.
After the aircraft accident, in which two airplanes collided and killed all passengers onboard, Saul immediately adapted to the situation. He stuck a blue ribbon on his suits in solidarity, made tacky ads to let his clients know there was money to be made, and was even seen coaching a few “victims” hoping to earn compensation.
Heroic: Undoing The Damage He Did To Irene
In the early seasons of Better Call Saul, Jimmy decided to try practical legal work and defended many elderly clients after he discovered they were being overcharged by a retirement home chain, Sandpiper Crossing. Sandpiper offered a settlement, which would leave Jimmy with a few million dollars. Desperate to cash in immediately rather than wait for a years-long resolution to the case, he manipulated and pressured Irene. In doing so, he ostracized her from her friends, who saw her as the most benefiting (and selfish) party.
Jimmy did a very cruel thing, but the minute he realized it, he decided to undo it, and with no regard for his own reputation or standing. He openly stated he had pressured and lied to his clients and even insulted them, all while speaking into a microphone. Of course, it was completely orchestrated, but Jimmy’s sacrifice of his good standing and his big payout gave Irene back her social status and happiness.
Sleazy: Tricking Hank
Hank came close to catching Walt and Jesse many times in Breaking Bad, but the closest instance was when he tracked down Jesse and Walt to the meth lab RV in a junkyard. He was aware of Jesse’s presence and had him trapped, and was simply awaiting backup and a warrant. Had Walt not been there, Hank would have had Jesse dead to rights.
Walt called Saul and needed an out, and of course, Saul had one. Using information from Walt, Saul’s office called Hank with his wife’s phone number and said she was mortally wounded in an accident. Hank immediately dropped his guard and drove off in a mad dash to say goodbye to his (not) dying wife.
Heroic: Backing Up Huell
After Huell unwittingly hit a non-uniformed cop who he thought was a street person harassing Jimmy, Huell found himself in dire straits for assaulting an officer. Jimmy didn’t necessarily have an obligation to protect Huell, but he did, and he pulled every string possible in order to do so. He handwrote hundreds of letters and marking them from Huell’s hometown, and actually traveled across the country to mail them.
All of the letters went to the prosecutors, feigning outrage over a beloved citizen, and Saul even made fake phone numbers and impersonated the people on the line if the prosecution called any of them.
Sleazy: Allowing Walt To Poison A Child
Whether or not Saul was primarily Jesse or Walt’s lawyer isn’t up for debate; he usually leaned towards ensuring Walt’s interests, as Walt was more reasonable/intelligent, and Walt was the cook who was making Saul so much money.
So even when Walt poisoned a child (Brock) in order to manipulate Jesse into coming on his side for a conflict against Gus, Saul stood by Walt’s side and said nothing. In fact, Saul was the one to have Huell pickpocket the ricin cigarette used to poison Brock in the first place.
Heroic: His Relationship With Kim
Jimmy is surprisingly romantic, and not just through symbolic means. Jimmy tries his best to protect Kim despite his urges to indulge in illegal actions, and will put himself on the chopping block to defend her. Kim is very receptive to illegal activities herself (hence their chemistry), and when she follows a similar illegal path like Jimmy here and there, Jimmy never wants her to end up like himself.
They both motivate each other and function well off of each other, and serve as a contrast to the somewhat codependent or toxic relationship Walt and Skyler developed.
Sleazy: Enabling And Encouraging Criminals
If there was no Saul Goodman, there would not have been a Heisenberg. Or at least, Heisenberg would not have been a kingpin and enacted so much destruction. And that goes for many other people.
Saul constantly provides the means for criminals to rise up in crime, to escape justice, or to be effective in dodging the law altogether, and has, over the years, really earned the change from “criminal lawyer” to a criminal lawyer. Worst of all, he doesn’t just defend criminals, he actively encourages them at every turn, all in order to make a buck.
Heroic: Defending And Taking Care Of Chuck
In a world with villains like the powerful Gus Fring, the sociopathic Todd, and the unpredictable and violent Salamanca family, Charles “Chuck” McGill still managed to remain the most mean-spirited antagonist in the Breaking Bad universe. Chuck held a petty disdain for his younger brother, a resentment that he would hold over the undeserving Jimmy for his entire life.
And despite that, Jimmy did nothing but go out of his way for Chuck. Jimmy took care of Chuck when he had a mental breakdown, defended Chuck, and did not speak ill of him. Despite Chuck’s condescending nature, his constant need to steal the spotlight, and his eccentricity, Jimmy still tried to be brotherly for years.
Sleazy: Proposing Murder
The leap from Jimmy avoiding getting people killed to Saul casually outright suggesting to kill off problematic people is astonishing but believable. When he thinks his life is in danger regarding Badger, he tries to shift his would-be murders’ wrath towards his own client. When Hank, understandably a thorn in the side of the Heisenberg operation, threatened the business, Saul suggested killing him off.
And of course, he suggesting killing Jesse, another one of his own clients, as he was like a rabid dog, akin to “Old Yeller,” and had to be put down. Not to mention that Saul was rather blasé upon receiving the news of the death of his cleaner and longtime acquaintance, Mike.