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Better Call Saul is a workplace drama

Do you watch Better Call Saul? It’s quite satisfying; to watch the current season (4), you log onto Netflix, click on ‘search’ and enter the letter ‘B’. The latest episode then appears.

Anyway, some people are saying that this excellent programme is less about drugs and is, instead, more of workplace drama. Let’s have a look.

It is true that pretty much every character in Better Call Saul is defined by their career, and how they feel about it   

Jimmy is essentially a great salesman and he put this to the test in the photocopier job interview, but even this was not as impressive as Gus Fring’s hunt for a secret meth lab designer in the episode called, ‘Quite A Ride’.

After enduring a long flight, a car journey, and then an epic, hooded van ride in sweltering heat (all without the benefit of a toilet break), two very different structural engineers were invited by Mike to pitch for the chance to build the hidden drugs facility.

One was nonchalant, cocky, swift and almost dismissive in his measurements; boasting about previous projects and foreseeing no hiccups. The other was cautious, careful, thoughtful and rather pessimistic about the whole thing – honestly stating it would be no easy task. It was no surprise who Gus gave the job. Gus is quite the discerning employer.

In an episode that held so many terrific moments and surprises, it says something that the vetting of contractors should provide its most memorable aspect. But then again, ‘Quite A Ride’ hammered home Better Call Saul’s central focus all round.

This show has become the ultimate workplace drama. Better Call Saul may not revolve around a company and its employees like Mad Men, but every character in Better Call Saul is defined and embodied by what they do for money, and how they feel about it.

Kim’s internal struggle with her career is forming an increasingly intense focus. She’s an incredible lawyer, but her car crash towards the end of season three – brought about by a catastrophic bout of over-work to attend to her Mesa Verde responsibilities – triggered obvious second thoughts from her. Is this really what she wants from life?

Seeing the grand plans afoot by the bank, all those little model developments on show, only intensified her feelings of unease. At the endless paperwork. The countless night-time hours ahead. Kim and Jimmy burned the midnight oil again in the name of work.

By turning to public defender work, abruptly neglecting her main client in the process, there’s a sense she may have found a new, more fulfilling calling. Or is at least attempting to. The horrors of middle-management.

Even with the more criminal side of the show’s equation, there are work-based concepts we can latch onto. Nacho could be held up as an extreme example of the horrors of lower middle-management; caught between the cold, unwavering orders of his superiors and the dirty, murky grunt-work he’s forced to undertake.

The man may not have written reports to contend with, but the scene where he was forced to stomp Crazy 8 by Hector, and the harrowing staged car attack demanded by Gus, are the end-of-the-scale epitome of someone loaded with all the career responsibility, with none of the actual power.

Only in Nacho’s line of business, violence is part and parcel of the working week. That said, don’t think the bosses get off lightly. Even in an office-based industry. Seeing Howard a broken man in the latest instalment was horrifying. With shades of Ted in Breaking Bad, we have witnessed a previously charming, confident and well-heeled business owner descending into a hollow-faced nervous wreck.

That interaction in the courthouse bathroom stunned Jimmy as much as us. Howard’s insomnia and anxiety, likely brought about by the extreme guilt and renewed career burdens he feels over the death of his former law firm partner, has rendered him a shadow of his former self within weeks.

That Howard could be so stressed out over just a simple, bread-and-butter hearing, speaks volumes. Mental health, and its relation to work, is an increasingly topical theme. We have also seen characters embark on notable career changes through the course of the drama. Mike started out the series punching in as a car park attendant; the monotony of that hum-drum existence driven well and truly home via static camera shots and montage. Having found freelance work a little too unpredictable for his taste, he’s now making serious money as a ‘security consultant’ for Gus.

But moving jobs can, as we know, bring fresh challenges. And while the boredom and lower earnings are gone, being firmly in the employ of a powerful criminal brings notably more stress, and risks. As an aside, Mike’s not too as a people-manager. He can lecture on health and safety like the best of them, but everything from his mentoring of Jesse in Breaking Bad to his “good criminal, bad criminal” speech in Better Call Saul, cement his skills in that regard. And then, of course, there’s Jimmy himself.

His struggle out of the mail room at HHM and into legal practice – and all the intense tribulations and conflicts he has faced along the way – are emblematic of someone desperate to find their place in the working world. We have seen him as a thankless defence lawyer. As a slippery wheeler dealer. As an ace lawyer to the elderly. And back to the wheeling and dealing again. In the latest episode, his push into the burner phones market, shedding his clerical suit in favour of embarrassing tracksuit in the process, was the latest attempt for him to find his working feet. Here, his brush with dealers and biker gangs ended in bruised, mugger-induced defeat. What will the next entry on his CV be?

A search for working pride In a way, this all makes sense. Breaking Bad was after all a show that, to some extent, laid its foundations on the world of work. Jimmy was forced to assess his career plans again this week.  Walter White’s transition from sneered-at teacher and downtrodden car-wash worker to drugs kingpin was underlined by a search for working pride. To be respected for what he did. Walt would refer to his “colleagues” when speaking with Skyler, and stress the importance of the way ‘business’ should be done. We can see similar characteristics in Jimmy.

A desire to find something he is good at, and make a good living from it, coupled with a dangerous streak of wanting others to know just how good they are along the way. It isn’t enough for them to find the perfect job. They also want to be admired for it. Better Call Saul is a show about working people, and the stresses and challenges they face, with almost everything in the show presented through that filter.

Whether the characters are lawyers, salespeople, clerks or drug dealers, we can relate to them. We may never have travelled half-way across a county while blind-folded to tender for a drug contract. But we’ve all faced an especially gruelling hiring process…  

 

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