Jimmy Finally Gets What Was Coming To Him — And We All Are Better for It
My Reactions to the Series Finale Of Better Call Saul
Considering how high a bar Felina set not just for Better Call Saul but really every series finale that has aired in the near decade since then, the final episode had an incredibly high bar to cross. So: was ‘Saul Gone’ as perfect an ending? No. Did it satisfy the viewer and give a perfect conclusion to everything we’ve seen Jimmy/Saul go through, not just on this show but ever since we met him on Breaking Bad? I’m pretty sure it did.
The episode flashes back to the aftermath of ‘Bagman’. Jimmy had just found a water trough in the middle of the desert, began swallowing water (emptying the thermos that he had swallowed more than his share of urine from in that episode) and then came that familiar voice: Mike admonishing him to slow down. Jimmy looks at the $7 million carrying for Lalo, and tells Mike that they’d disappear. After admonishing it, Jimmy gets slightly more serious and suggests that they use $6 million of it build a time machine. He asks Mike where he would go. Surprisingly given their relationship, Mike takes the question semi-seriously. First, he says he’d make sure he could check in on certain people, then he picks July 2001 — the day, we assume that he committed the murders that caused him to flee Philadelphia and end up on this path. Then he looks further back, and mentions a date in 1984. “The day I took my first bribe.” It’s as close to regret as we’ve seen Mike in the whole series. Then Mike asks Jimmy the same question, and Jimmy mentions 1965 “when Warren Buffett created Berkshire Hathaway” He’d invest and become a ‘billionaire…maybe a trillionaire.” Mike has always been dismissive but for what may be the only time in their relationship he offers what is something close to instruction: “Money? Is that all?” Jimmy just says he’s rested, and they start walking again.
We then cut back to the instant after we left ‘Gene’ in Waterworks running away and leaving his car behind. Much of the opening six minutes is practically silent as we see Gene finally fleeing from the pursuit of the cops he’s been fearing since ‘Granite State’. But as we have seen in every version of him, Gene is just as pathetic a fugitive as he is a felon. He gets to the house to get his stash; the cops are already waiting for him. He starts running away, there’s a helicopter overhead. He ducks into an alley, the cops are there. He finally ducks into a garbage bin and tries to memorize the number of the ‘vacuum salesman’ before destroying the car. Then he tries to tear his pouch of diamonds open, only to see them spill everywhere. He is futilely picking them up, when there’s a knock on the lid and Gene comes out with his hands raised.
We now see Gene in the police station and he seems to have surrendered to his fate. He watches the cops looking at his video with dull disinterest. He uses his one phone call to call one of his employees at Cinnabon to update her on how things will go and that the home office will need to send a new manager. Then he sits in lockup, angry and resigned to his fate. Then he sees in the wall graffiti ‘My lawyer will ream your ass.” And something changes. He starts laughing, and demands to make another phone call.
We cut to William Oakley, the prosecutor who we learned two episodes ago has become a defense attorney. He picks up the phone, gives his pitch, and then learns its Saul Goodman on the other end. He doesn’t quite react the same way Walter White’s next door neighbor did when she saw him show up at his old house but it was close. Saul explains exactly what he wants and that this will be a career case for him. When Oakley gets a word in edgewise, he asks Saul very bluntly; “How do you see this ending?” The way it always does, Saul says, “with me on top.”
Now Saul has been extradited to Albuquerque and we get a Breaking Bad cameo we genuinely didn’t expect — Marie’s there. (This is the only time I regretted the finale was in black and white; I really wanted to know if Marie was in her trademark purple.) The feds announce the laundry list of charges that they have for Saul — and the sentence is life plus 190 years. Saul seems utterly relaxed, and doesn’t seem interested in the deal of life in prison. Instead, he asks if Marie Schrader is in the building, and says he wants to talk to her.
Betsy Brandt was practically the only major cast member of Breaking Bad not to get an Emmy nomination during the run of the series. I suspect she’ll get one for this episode. It’s not fan service, either; the monologue she utters about not only the loss of Hank, but the death of Gomez — who left behind a wife and three children, four more casualties of Heisenberg — and everything that she blames Saul for helping take away from the world — is one of the most impassioned and emotional sequences in the entire canon.
Saul looks at her, and starts to do what he has always done best — spin a web. He tells the story of how Walter White and Jesse abducted him, and then begins to lie about the fact that he did everything that happened to him with a gun to his head. What makes this monologue convincing is that we know enough about how Saul was dealing with everything that Walter and everybody else in Breaking Bad to know that there’s really less bullshit in than usual. He may have gone in with his eyes wide open, but in the final seasons we knew that he wanted to get out very badly and there were a lot of things that Walter did that he had a huge problem with. When the fed acts if he thinks he could fool a jury, and he gives the remark that all he needs is one, you have a feeling he could very well get it. Hell, any viewer of Breaking Bad might be inclined to believe him. Marie isn’t one of them — she has no interest in negotiating — but you can see the feds are worried.
And it works. In the next scene, the feds are negotiating one of the most complicated plea bargains in the history of plea bargains — they’re up to point eighteen when Saul demands to be put in a federal prison in North Carolina, secluded from the gen pop. He’s going to get seven years. Then Saul pushes back, demanding a quart of ice cream every month. It is at that point, he offers one more piece of intel — the murder of Howard Hamlin. This is the overreach the feds have been looking for, and its here that he learns for the first time that Kim has confessed and turned herself in. For the first time since he was in jail, he looks a little shocked.
The next scene is in color and is also the equivalent of an Easter egg. It’s an interim scene from ‘Granite State’ where Walter and Saul are waiting to be provided new identities. Walter has accepted his fate and is now tinkering with the hissing of the water heater, so the clicking doesn’t bother him. In the middle of this work, Saul once again pitches the idea of a time machine. Walter, as always, is completely dismissive of the idea — calling it theoretically impossible and scientific unsound. (This cameo is more than worthy of Bryan Cranston’s presence.) Walter finally cuts to the point and asks: “Are you talking about regrets?” It is clear Saul has given it some more thought and asks Walter if he has any.
Walt’s answer is pure Heisenberg. Does he regret any of the actions he’s done, all the people who’ve died, the fact that his brother-in-law is lying in an unmarked grave? Of course not. No, his biggest regret is about the company he founded with Gretchen and Elliott. Of course, in his eyes, he was cheated out of his birthright because they outmaneuvered him and took credit for his work. When Saul asks about how successful it was, he asks an obvious question: “Why didn’t you tell me? We could’ve sued their asses!…I could have made a meal of that.” Walter just looks at Saul with disdain, and says: “You would be the last lawyer I would call.”
Walter is inflexible to the last. He could be hiding the fact that suing never occurred to him, or he could be hiding the fact that he never wanted it to become public that he was fooled by his friends, or that the story’s he’s been telling himself was a lie. Walter then asks Saul what his regret is, and Saul still doesn’t have a good answer. Years later, now he regrets slipping on the ice, hurting himself on a con that put him through Bartending School. Walter just looks at him says: “So you were always like this.” From Walter White: pot, meet kettle.
Flying over the country, Saul has a conversation with Oakley as he goes to the bathroom. There’s nonsense with the Marshal which is funny, and then Saul asks how things are going for Kim. Good news, Kim won’t be prosecuted. Bad news, Sheryl is filing a civil suit which could take her for everything she has or ever will have. Oakley goes to the bathroom. When he returns Jimmy says he has something to offer the Feds. “You don’t understand. It’s really good ice cream.”
And we’re in Florida. Kim is eating her tuna sandwich, listening to inane chatter from girlfriends about the merits of Red Lobster, and looking distant again. Then back at work, she leaves the office with a determined look in her eye that the viewer knows all too well. We have an idea where she’s going in the next scene, when we see two women talking. Finally the woman in the jacket asks what Kim wants, and she says she wants to volunteer. Kim Wexler is volunteering at a free legal clinic, and it’s the first spark we’ve seen in her all season.
That night, Kim is hard at work when she receives a call from one of her friends in the D.A.’s office. She tells her that Saul has been arrested and that he’s negotiating a plea…and that there’s more. We don’t hear the rest, but Kim looks dismayed.
The next scene Saul Goodman is back. The mustache is gone, the flashy suit and tie are there and even though he’s in handcuffs Saul is strutting into the courtroom. He walks right in the room, looks at the assembled witnesses — Marie’s there, as is Gomez’s widow, and there’s Kim. The government introduces itself — it’s a long list of prosecutors — and William Oakley and Saul Goodman are for the defendant. The judge does not look happy about the plea agreement, and starts asking harsh question. Oakley writes down words of encouragement and then Saul stands and offers to clear things up.
Saul starts telling the same story he told Marie: that a man came to his office named Mayhew, offered him a bribe, that he was driven out to the desert and stood over an unmarked grave. That was my introduction to Walter White. Pause. “And I saw an opportunity.”
For the first time in a courtroom, Saul Goodman tells the unvarnished truth. Is he taking a bit too much credit for Walter White’s rise to power? Perhaps. But he’s also doing something that Walter White never did. Accepting responsibility. Yes, Walter admitted in his final talk with Skyler that he did what he did for himself, but there’s a huge difference from saying it knowing you’re about to die, and doing in a court of law, facing the rest of your life in prison. And coming from Saul Goodman, who knows all of the ramifications; this makes him something he never was in fifteen years of storytelling — a hero. Not an antagonist, not an antihero. A hero.
Because he doesn’t just stop with everything he did as Saul Goodman. He tells the feds that Howard’s death was his fault and that Kim shouldn’t be punished for what happens. And then he makes one last confession: that he had lied to make sure that Chuck lost his malpractice insurance and couldn’t practice law any more. As Oakley tells him, “that’s not even a crime”, but we now know listening to Saul that it is by far his biggest regret. And how do we know that? Because he finishes up his speech by saying: “My name is James McGill.” He has finally shed all the baggage that Saul Goodman carried.
Having been to the future, we go to the past. Jimmy is paying a visit to Chuck, no doubt before the series ever began. He has his steaks and his juices and says he’s going to get the Financial Times. Chuck makes an effort to reach out in a way we’ve only seen a few times on the series: asking Jimmy about how his efforts to build his practice are going. Jimmy is dismissive, saying how lousy his work is and passing off what he sees is Chuck’s credo about ‘everybody deserves a defense’ (a line we now realize is part of Saul Goodman’s ads). Chuck mentions that he could hire someone to do this. Jimmy says: “I’m doing this.” No question. Chuck tries to open a dialogue with Jimmy, but Jimmy just leaves. For the first time in the series we actually wonder, have we misinterpreted the relationship between the two of them all this time? Chuck shakes his head… and before he leaves, we see a paperback copy of H.G. Wells’ Time Machine.
Saul is on the prison bus. He’s staring ahead. Then the con in front of him turns around, threatens him, and says: “You’re Saul Goodman?” Jimmy shrugs it off. Another con recognizes him, then another. Then one of the inmates starts chanting ‘Better Call Saul’. Soon another picks it up. Then another. Then all the cons are. It unnerves the guards. And we realize that for the first time maybe in his entire life, James McGill is exactly where he should be.
After a cut to the prison kitchen (with a callback to the first shot of the series showing dough being molded) we see Jimmy working in the kitchen. A guard calls for him and he walks through, with all the cons treating him with respect and friendship. He’s told his lawyer is here — and when he walks into the room, of course it’s Kim. She asks for the cuffs to be removed. The guard leaves. Jimmy is stunned, and asks how she’s here. “Well, my bar ID apparently hasn’t been canceled in North Carolina.”
It’s there last scene together. The first time they’ve been in a room alone since she divorced him. Do they embrace? Do they kiss? Of course not. Kim lights a cigarette and walks over to the wall. She takes a drag and hands it to Jimmy. “You could have gotten seven years,” she says casually. “Yep,” Jimmy says. “You got eighty-six years.” Yeah.” Pause. “But with good behavior, who knows?”
We follow Kim in the last shots of the series. She’s walking to the exit. Somehow she knows without turning that Jimmy is standing in the prison yard. She turns around. Jimmy makes guns with his finger, another call back. We get one last look at them from a long shot; Jimmy on one side of the fence; Kim on the other. They both seem to be in prison. But we know them. They’ve never been closer.
I realize it might be a big stretch to consider what we saw in ‘Saul Gone’ as a happy ending. But think about it, particularly in comparison with Breaking Bad. Walter White accepted responsibility and met his fate, but the cost was immense and bloody. There wasn’t a single death in ‘Saul Gone’, no shots were fired. But we saw what happened. Jimmy and Kim survived. Sure, he’s probably going to spend the rest of his life in prison and she might still suffer the thralls of litigation. But after everything that happened in both series, they got out alive. That’s not nothing.
More to the point, both of them got their souls back. Jimmy accepted responsibility for his actions and more important, punishment. Kim accepted blame for her actions in Howard’s death, and is doing penance — and working in the law again. It’s not the clinic she could have gotten, but if we’ve learned one thing from Better Call Saul is that you never underestimate Kim Wexler.
And I know in my heart of hearts Kim and Jimmy will always be there for each other now. Maybe they’ll never be free of the penal system, but that’s never stopped them before. The idea of ‘good behavior’ when it comes to these two is laughable, but the last two words spoken on this show were: “Who knows?” It’s as optimistic an ending you could have thought we could have gotten for Better Call Saul and the world of Breaking Bad.
Of course, the fan knows what a real happy ending for Better Call Saul will entail. Lots and lots of awards for the show in the next year. The HCA gave it four prizes, including Best Cable Drama Saturday. It might be hoping for too much for next month’s Emmys to start recognizing it, but the Emmys were willing to give Breaking Bad an Emmy for its penultimate season. Odenkirk and Seehorn deserve nominations they will get next year, and while the odds will be long for Giancarlo Esposito, I think Jonathan Banks will get one last bite at the apple. I expect a lot of Guest Actor and Actress nominations for this final season; maybe Michael McKean will get another chance. Better Call Saul was one of the greatest shows in TV history, nearly, if not quite, the equal of the series that gave birth to it. It more than deserves the same amount of award love the parent got.