With the final season of Better Call Saul bringing the tension from season 5 to a boiling point, characters are having to think very fast to get out of deadly situations. Luckily, the show is full of highly intelligent characters, and watching them think is one of the series’ greatest joys.
Updated on May 12th, 2022 by Mark Birrell: In the high-powered worlds of businesspeople, lawyers, and criminals in Albuquerque, characters have to be smart to get by, and it’s these clashing intellects that end up becoming the most interesting parts of the show. So much of Better Call Saul revolves around people keeping secrets or not saying what they actually mean that the audience is often forced into the minds of the main characters, and they’re always fascinating places to be. Some characters, however, demonstrate more complexity than others.
15 Tuco Salamanca
In both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, Tuco Salamanca is the first big league criminal player that both the main characters and the audience are introduced to, as well as being their introduction to the dangerous Salamanca family. Tuco is established quite firmly as both the least intelligent and the most volatile of the whole family, making him a major but inconsistent threat.
Jimmy is able to talk him down from murdering two of his accomplices in the second episode of the series and, later, Mike is able to corral Tuco into a situation that puts him in prison for a significant amount of time. That said, during his rare moments of relative calmness, Tuco seems very capable at his business of being a feared drug lord.
14 Kevin Wachtell
Kevin Wachtell may be the CEO of Mesa Verde Bank and Trust but it’s a position that he’s implied to have inherited rather than earned. Kevin is no fool and, at the very least, can convincingly play the part of the straight-talking leader, but he’s almost entirely reliant on his staff to do the real work for him.
Though Kevin is able to see all of Jimmy’s lowest qualities quite clearly, he’s unable to see Kim manipulating him during the incident with the call center construction site in Tucumcari.
13 Stacey Ehrmantraut
Stacey definitely demonstrates a lot of intelligence as a hard-working mother and nurse though she isn’t shown to be overly perceptive. It took her a while to piece together that her husband colluded with a group of corrupt cops, including her own father-in-law, Mike.
Even after Mike admits this to her, she still doesn’t realize that Mike continues to be involved in illegal activities. However, it remains a possibility that Stacey knows about Mike’s illegal activities and chooses to ignore them since she needs his help with her daughter, Kaylee.
12 Howard Hamlin
Howard Hamlin, a senior partner at Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill, is very book smart and a talented lawyer but he has no street smarts. Despite eventually cottoning on to Jimmy’s hateful plans against him, Howard is mostly seen as one step behind Jimmy and Kim.
Part of the reason for this, which is also part of the reason why Jimmy and Kim appear to hate Howard so much, is that Howard is distinctly self-absorbed. Nevertheless, he does try to do right by people in general, especially his employees, though it’s difficult to see what he really stands for.
11 Clifford Main
Cliff Main is one of the senior partners at Davis & Main, a successful and well-respected law firm in Santa Fe that partners with HHM on the Sandpiper Crossing case. Aside from this, Cliff appears to be an old and trusted friend of Howard Hamlin, often lunching with him and sharing intelligent–if uninteresting–conversations about the legal world.
Though Cliff is often made to be a pawn in both Jimmy and Kim’s schemes, he seems more unconcerned by their dangerous side than he seems oblivious to it. Cliff is perhaps a touch old-fashioned but not heartless or stupid, he understands what Jimmy is doing when he deliberately attempts to get fired from Davis & Main so that he can walk away with his bonus, and Cliff complies to cut Jimmy off from him as soon as possible. Overall, it’s a smart move.
10 Paige Novick
Paige is the highly intelligent and professional senior counsel for Mesa Verde, effectively acting as Kevin Wachtell’s right hand, and she had the good sense to fight for hiring Kim to help represent them in legal matters.
But when things started to go awry with the construction of a new call center in Tucumcari, Paige seemed unaware that Kim was working against her from behind the scenes. It’s possible that Paige, like Rich Schweikart, really could see what was going on and just chose not to speak out due to her friendship with Kim, but she’s mostly seen as a kind of corporate lackey.
9 Hector Salamanca
Hector is dangerous, clever, and resourceful, but he isn’t smart enough to know when to hold back and how to run his business using anything other than fear tactics. That’s why he was only ever the right-hand man to Don Eladio. While he’s established as a high-ranking member of the cartel, he was never considered good enough to take over.
Hector is also not wise enough to see Nacho’s plan to kill him despite it being directly under his nose for a long time, not to mention Gus Fring, who Hector suspects for a long time but is never able to expose.
8 Rich Schweikart
A co-founder of the law firm of Schweikart & Cokely, Rich starts out as somewhat of a villain in the series, representing Sandpiper Crossing despite them defrauding seniors. Over time though, Rich becomes a much friendlier figure and even mentors Kim, taking her into his very successful firm.
Of the people involved, Rich is the only person to see through Kim’s lies in the Tucumcari situation and say something about it, and to Kim’s face no less. However, he handles the situation with tact and respect, whilst still being firm. Rich is a realist who’s both charming and experienced, seeming to escape any major fallout from Jimmy and Kim’s actions.
7 Igancio ‘Nacho’ Varga
Nacho teeters on the moral line, acting as a double agent and taking risks to try to get himself out of the cartel business and save his father from harm. He is smart and calculating, as a right-hand man to Tuco Salamanca. He is, in many ways, the brains behind the operation.
But he has made some mistakes, such as his botched attempt at killing Hector. Still, he has a way of calming the often impulsive Tuco and others. He’s the voice of reason among the more terrifying criminals, making him smart enough to work with all of the show’s characters. In the end, however, he’s sadly just a pawn.
6 Mike Ehrmantraut
Always with a seemingly calm demeanor, Mike is constantly scanning every scene and person, analyzing the situation. It’s the result of years of working as a police officer and even though he was corrupt, it took a lot of skill and smarts to pull off the things he did.
He continues to use his knowledge, skillset, and intuition to engage in criminal behaviors, always one step ahead of law enforcement and his competition.
5 Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman
Even though so many people underestimate Jimmy, including his own brother, he really is extremely smart. He was able to study hard to pass the bar exam while working in the mailroom of his brother’s law firm and has used his knowledge of the law to get all kinds of clients out of jams or to use loopholes to get what he wants.
Sure, he might not always use his knowledge in morally acceptable ways, but there’s no doubt that he’s one of the most intelligent and resourceful characters on the show. Jimmy evades capture for a long time after the events of Breaking Bad, and fans are still waiting to see how that all ends up for him, with some coming up with their own theories on Reddit.
4 Eduardo ‘Lalo’ Salamanca
Lalo Salamanca, like Nacho, is a character who is mentioned once very briefly in Saul Goodman’s introductory episode in Breaking Bad, only appearing in Better Call Saul suddenly in season 4. Pretty much from the word go, Lalo cements himself as not only the smartest of the Salamanca family but as one of the best and most intelligent villains of either series also.
Lalo is as violent and as ruthless as his relatives but he also thinks several steps ahead. He’s proven to be a worthy adversary for Gus Fring, though it’s hard to see how the timeline of events in Breaking Bad allows him to come out on top in that fight.
3 Gustavo Fring
Breaking Bad shows that Gus plays a long game, waiting quietly until the perfect time to strike and take his revenge on the cartel. He perfectly plans out his business, using his fast-food restaurant, Los Pollos Hermanos, as a cover for his criminal activities.
He has patience and can think outside of the box. He works in plain sight as a seemingly nice and attentive restaurant owner while he is really a cold and calculating killer. He comes up with devious but very smart plans to take out enemies and ensure that he always gets what he wants.
2 Kim Wexler
Kim Wexler is undeniably one of the smartest characters in Better Call Saul, demonstrating the ability to argue against Jimmy and Lalo and win. Like Jimmy, she’s self-made and incredibly successful. The difference is that Kim does it mostly by playing by the rules.
Her relationship with Jimmy defines her on the show, as she follows him down into the underbelly of Albuquerque’s criminal world, with the audience never quite being sure just how in control of the situation she really is. As she doesn’t appear in Breaking Bad, Kim’s fate still remains a mystery to fans.
1 Charles ‘Chuck’ McGill
Troubled as he was, Chuck was a brilliant legal mind and a co-founder of Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill alongside Howard Hamlin’s father.
He graduated magna cum laude from Georgetown University Law Center and became a widely sought-after criminal lawyer who won a precedent-setting case. He had refined tastes and loathed Jimmy’s conman ways, as well as his ability to cut corners yet still earn respect by charming people. Though he lacked Jimmy’s ability to communicate it, Chuck saw things the way they really were.
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