Better Call Saul finale: Brilliant Breaking Bad prequel sticks the landing

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Saul over now. The Breaking Bad prequel that charted Jimmy McGill’s transformation into Saul Goodman – and then Gene Takovic – ended with our so-called hero where he deserves to be, in a finale that was both thematically, and dramatically perfect.

The Better Call Saul finale was all about chickens coming home to roost. Saul got his comeuppance, arrested at the start of the episode while hiding in a dumpster; a callback to the dumpster he dived in to get Sandpiper going back in the day.

There was also justice for characters from both past and present, with Mike Ehrmantraut, Walter White, and Chuck McGill all reappearing, and Marie Schrader making a belated debut to speak on behalf of poor Hank.

And then it was all over. With Kim saying goodbye to Jimmy for what might the last time. And the audience saying farewell to Saul Goodman for what’s definitely the last time.

Time after time

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Jimmy and Chuck, reunited.

The episode – entitled “Saul Gone” – flashed back to the past on multiple occasions, through the conceit of having Jimmy ask major characters what they’d change if they had a time machine. Which plays better than that sounds.

Mike first says he’d travel back to 2001 (to save his son), then changes his answer to 1984 (the day he took his first bribe). But he’s more concerned with travelling forward in time, to check on his beloved family. Telling us exactly who Mike is.

Once he’s done grumbling about the mechanics of time travel, Walter immediately knows his answer. He wants to go back to the day he started Gray Matter with his friends; a company he promptly lost, which was the driving force behind much of his Breaking Bad behavior. Thereby telling us exactly who Walter is.

Chuck meanwhile, just happens to be reading a copy of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine during his flashback. So we know where all this started. His scene then shows us why. “If you don’t like where you’re going, there’s no shame in going back and changing your path,” Chuck tells Jimmy. As ever undermining his little brother, and causing Jimmy to question if he can ever really change.

Regrets, he’s had a few…

As for Jimmy’s answer, it changes. He tells Mike he’d like to travel back to 1965 to invest with Warren Buffet. It’s a flippant answer. But also underlines how greed has dictated at least some of his actions throughout the series.

But he tells Walter he’d go back to when he was 22, and pulled a “slip and fall.” The money he made off the back of that scheme put Jimmy through bartending school, but in the process permanently damaged his knee.

“So, you were always like this?” Walter asks, and that’s the question at the heart of Better Call Saul. The answer seems to be yes, as Saul is his own worst enemy, falling victim to impulse, becoming addicted to the con, and always having to prove that he’s the smartest guy in the room.

However, another question that both this episode – and the overarching series – asks concerns fate, and whether Jimmy is doomed to make the same mistakes over, and over, and over again? By the end of the episode, we get our answer. Kind-of.

Grandstanding Jimmy

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The gig is finally up for Jimy/Saul/Gene.

Once caught, the negotiations begin, and like so many times before, Jimmy treats it like a game. First, he’s going to get life-plus 130 years. Then he’s offered just 30, in spite of the fact the DA has a “warehouse full of evidence” against him.

But Jimmy wants – needs – to grandstand, so has the authorities bring Marie in, then calls himself a victim, and in a powerful performance, describes being attacked and threatened by Walter and Jesse. With no other choice than to do their bidding.

It’s BS, of course; showing the opposition how easily he might be able to turn a juror. Then, in far crueller fashion than we’re used to from Jimmy, he makes it clear to Marie he’s lying, and states: “All I need is one.”

He’s in his element now – and on a roll – so Jimmy starts making demands, for a specific wing in a prison in North Carolina where he can play golf. And a pint of mint choc chip ice cream every Friday.

Then comes the kicker: the Howard Hamlin information he offers to further sweeten the deal has already been handed over by Kim. And as ever when it comes to Kim, everything changes.

Burning it all down

We can see what’s coming, but it’s no less satisfying for it. Jimmy shows up in court – the suit silver, the hair slicked back – and insists on being called Saul Goodman. We know, as he knows, this won’t help his cause. Saul smiles at Kim – whom this is all for – and then, “It’s showtime.”

Saul proceeds to tell the same sob story about Walter and Jesse. But it soon changes, and suddenly he’s explaining how he helped build their drug empire. “I damn well knew what was happening,” he says. “I was more than a willing participant – I was indispensable… Walter White couldn’t have done it without me.”

And with that it’s all over. Saul pays tribute to Chuck. Gets Kim out of trouble. Then as if to prove Mike and Walter and his brother wrong, tells the court that he’s no longer Saul Goodman. “The name’s McGill. I’m Jimmy McGill.”

End of the line

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Kim visits Jimmy, maybe for the last time.

And so Jimmy’s journey comes to an end. Not in a shallow grave or via cement shoes. Nor eating ice cream while playing golf in North Carolina. But rather at a federal prison in Montrose – one nicknamed the “Alcatraz of the Rockies.”

While journeying there the other inmates recognize him, and start chanting: “Saul Goodman.” Which makes him smile. And suggests there might be life in his alter-ego yet.

But what remains dead is his relationship with Kim. She visits him in the show’s penultimate scene, and they pass a cigarette back-and-forth, much like when they met during Episode 1 of Season 1.

The scene is shot and lit like a film noir, and even sounds like one, as we learn that Jimmy got them down to seven years before ultimately receiving 86. Though with good behavior, who knows?

But where the dynamic duo would now normally start planning his escape route via a complex caper, there’s nothing more to say. As this is the end of the line.

The final scene tracks Kim as she leaves the prison with tears in her eyes. She looks back – the pair of them divided by a pair of fences – then turns forward and keeps walking, as Jimmy disappears from view.

The Verdict – Is the Better Call Saul finale good?

It’s a fitting end to a fantastic season of a superb show. Better Call Saul didn’t quite hit the dramatic highs of Breaking Bad – what show could? – but it was never really about that.

As where Breaking Bad concerned plot as much as character, the focus of Better Call Saul was always character. A study in who Jimmy McGill was, is, and hopefully will be if he can resist those Goodman urges. And in that respect, it was perfectly written by the staff, and perfectly played by Bob Odenkirk.

Ultimately, however, Better Call Saul was also a love story. One that didn’t have a happy ending. But the love that burned between Jimmy and Kim was the beating heart of the show, what kept us tuning in for more than seven years, and where – unexpectedly – the true magic of Better Call Saul could be found.

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