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  • Writer's pictureAllan Dyen-Shapiro

S.G was here: Ozymandias reloaded, now self-aware

The season 2 opener of AMC's sequel to Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, aired this week, beginning, as it did last season, with a black-and-white view, as if through a security camera, of Saul Goodman post-Breaking Bad, hiding under a false identity, manager of a Cinnabon in Kansas, dying inside. While taking out the garbage, he's trapped in the room with the dumpster and cannot exit the emergency door, as the police will be called. He sits and waits. When he leaves, the camera pans in on the wall, where he has used a stray nail to etch, "S.G. was here."

Last season, the final moment of the black-and-white scene had Saul, alone in a house, unobserved, watching a video montage of his old commercials from the days that he operated a corrupt legal clinic out of a strip mall as a front for his services to gangsters. In both clips, it's clear Saul has only his past. He yearns for some permanent record, for some way to yell out, "This is me," loudly, with pride. But like Ozymandias in Shelley's poem, a poem my generation read in high school, a poem which I adored, a poem that has fallen out of favor most likely because fourteen lines are not sufficient to guide creation of more than a few multiple choice questions that could be used on a standardized test--and what worth is literature if it isn't testable using a scantron?--Saul's ediface has crumbled.

Yet, on reflection, Sol has it worse than Ozy. (Such a pity Sharon's husband has monopolized this moniker in the mind of this generation, although I admit I still blast "Crazy Train," "Paranoid," and "War Pigs" whenever they come on the radio, so the kids aren't too far from all right.) Ozymandias at least lived in his present; Sol has neither present, nor future.

An old friend and ex-collaborator from my science days once described the essence of his Hindu religion as living in the present, and there is much to be said for this approach to life. For one thing, it minimizes regret. For another, it obviates longing--if gratification is not delayed, why pine for what one doesn't have? Sol knows what it's like to have palled around with each of Ebenezer's ghosts. While studying online for the bar, taking it multiple times, and struggling to find a job, he was living in the future. In the time period the series has now reached in this episode, he has just obtained his dream job at a prestigious law firm and can live in the present. Through much of Breaking Bad, he was certainly doing the same. Young Jimmy McDougal (Sol's name before he changed it in the fuzzy time period between where the current series is now and when Breaking Bad starts) seemed happy living in both future and present. But in the series openers, all he has is his memories of the past.

But in the season openers, Saul has no past to which he can admit, nor any future worth anticipating. When the present is awful, we Westerners have a hard time living in it and being content. Saul would have made a crappy Siddhartha.

And why is a working class job so awful? For Saul, it is because he cannot tell his story of when he was top of the world. As humans, telling stories is what we do. In our own story, we are always the hero.

Those of us who write differ only in that we record our stories. For current consumption. For posterity. Maybe. Or maybe you should call me Ozy.

It's all good, man.

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