In what Better Call Saul excels, it tends to have an abundance of. It’s hard to forget the diversity of Jimmy McGill’s wardrobe when it comes to his flashy ties and combinations of dress garments. But what of the montages heavily used throughout the prequel series to Breaking Bad?
It should come as no surprise Better Call Saul utilized over 50 montage sequences in its six-season run, given the prevalent use in Breaking Bad, both created by Vince Gilligan. Breaking Bad’s montages often focused on high-stakes scenarios revolving around Walter White and his involvement in the drug world.
Gilligan uses the montage in Better Call Saul to bring down the tone and focus on more mundane affairs. It’s especially the case in the earlier seasons. They’re used seamlessly in a way that allows the audience to see Jimmy McGill slowly transform into Saul Goodman.
It’s worth diving into what goes into a montage and how it functions in the context of the series with a few examples. Happy reading!
Heart of the montage
The growth and success, or lack thereof, are ever present in these cinematic sequences on a microscopic level. The montage is created from ideas building upon ideas and reaching an endpoint. There are a few things to look out for and recognize when you see one.
The essence of the montage goes to its roots in post-production editing. It’s no surprise these can be quick cuts, different locations on the screen, or cues that signal the passage of time.
On-screen, their function is to condense a narrative concisely. It’s a way to tell a short story within the context of a larger story without wasting screen time. In film and television especially, every second counts.
stupid artsy – Ep. 407
As heard on screen
Now here’s a cover song with a rich history. Written by Carson Parks in 1966 and popularized by Frank and Nancy Sinatra in 1967, “Something Stupid” is covered here by Israeli indie-pop band Lola Marsh. It’s a rendition toned down on the glamour brought forth by the Sinatra’s. Lola Marsh presents a scratchy and LoFi-esque cover fitting of a series like Better Call Saul and an unconventional love story like Jimmy and Kim’s.
What it does
There’s a lot of weight in the adage, “Even when we’re together, we’re apart.” That’s the theme of this montage. The distinct element here is the vertical black line on the screen that splits the daily events of Jimmy and Kim.
At this point in the series, the direction of their careers is pointing north and south. Kim attempts to devote her full-time serving as chief counsel to Mesa Verde while continuing to adjust to a new position at Schweikart & Cokely. Every day she strays further away from her passion for being a public defender.
Jimmy is temporarily suspended from practicing the law. On the surface, he’s just killing time working as a sales associate selling disposable phones. Underneath it all, Jimmy’s just building Saul Goodman’s roots.
The split-screen montage works well to show the passage of time. In the context of the narrative, roughly nine months fly by. On-screen, it only takes up just under six minutes. The showrunners are able to effectively condense close to a year in a matter of minutes.
It’s worth it to dive deeper into the black line and see how it can function as a character. It exists to split the lives of Saul and Kim throughout the montage. There are a few scenes where they’re in the same scene, but the line remains constant. Occasionally one character will cross into the other’s half. Such is the case when Saul pours a glass of wine to Kim and has the bottle he’s holding take up a part of her screen.
Something’s just always in the way for these two lovebirds.
Sleepwalking serenity – Ep. 206
As heard on screen
Although the previous example was free of dialogue, the song featured vocals that spoke for Jimmy and Kim in a way. The cover of Santo & Johnny’s 1959 “Sleep Walk” stays true to the original. Instrumental and free of vocals. The origins of the track go back to a sleepless night had by the Farina brothers. Similar to Saul, the duo got creative and decided to jam out. Thus was born the beautiful and dreamy track covered in this episode.
What it does
This montage, halfway through season two, revolves around Jimmy’s sleeplessness. Having trouble adjusting to the corporate world, Jimmy wrestles with what to do. Is it snack time? Or maybe some light exercise to get his body tired? It’s something a majority of the audience has gone through once or twice and, for that reason, resonates greatly.
A little delusion starts to kick in as Jimmy “plays” golf and basketball with a few make-shift balls from his home décor. At the end of it all, Jimmy lets the balls roll down his stairs and calls it a night. But it won’t be at this house because a house is not always home.
Jimmy packs his bags and hops in his rinky-dink to where he feels most at home. The nail salon where the audience first meets him in season one. His make-shift living quarters are really just a supply closet. It’s cramped and unadorned, but to Jimmy, it’s home. It’s the area where he conducts his business and schemes up law-related shenanigans.
He closes his eyes and cracks a sly smile.
Surplus of montages
There’s no reason to stop doing something if it’s being done well and with a purpose. Better Call Saul perfected the formula that its predecessor began. Critical Crackpot on YouTube has even compiled and ranked a “small” collection of the montages for your pleasure.
Is there a montage in particular that stands out in your opinion? Perhaps it’s played to a song held special to you! Start the discussion in the comments below!