The post Better Call Saul Series Finale Review: This Is How They Get You appeared first on Consequence.
[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers through the series finale of Better Call Saul, “Saul Gone.”]
Sometimes you hit play on an episode of television and see the runtime and groan to yourself, “This did not need to be longer than an hour.” But with the Better Call Saul series finale, coming in at a cool 70-plus minutes (per AMC+, anyway), every extra second of goodbye was quite welcome.
After Gene Takovic (Bob Odenkirk)’s unsuccessful attempt to flee the law, as summoned by that nice old lady Marion (Carol Burnett), the identity of Gene is shed forever (following one last diligent phone call to Krista at Cinnabon). Instead, Saul Goodman suits up (eventually literally), using his formidable weaseling abilities to weasel out of “life plus 190 years” for the many, many crimes he committed during his time as a lawyer for Walter White.
Even the presence of Marie Schrader (Breaking Bad’s Betsy Brandt making a welcome cameo) can’t keep the D.A. from risking his perfect conviction record on the likely chance that Saul might be able to manipulate his way to a hung jury. But just as Saul’s got nearly the perfect deal, an attempt to leverage his knowledge of Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabien)’s true fate for contractually mandated weekly ice cream blows up in his face — because he didn’t know that Kim (Rhea Seehorn), just a month prior to his arrest, had already confessed.
The thing about the character who has been portrayed by Bob Odenkirk since 2009 is that you catch him at his most honest when he’s not saying anything. In thinking about the series finale, what stands out immediately is that the most important scene of the episode isn’t the lengthy confession of Saul Goodman under the courtroom lights. It’s the scene on the plane, as Jimmy learns the full extent of the legal jeopardy that Kim’s in, and decides to truly throw himself on the mercy of the law, sacrificing his deal to make himself the full villain of the story.
Odenkirk’s epic courtroom speech is everything you’d expect it to be, because it was always the line between Saul and Jimmy that was the blurriest. That was arguably James Morgan McGill’s downfall, and maybe also his salvation. He heads to prison calling himself McGill, but as his bus of prisoners realizes who he is, and begins chanting his name, well… Maybe being Saul’s not so bad, he figures.
Again, it’s the quiet moments of this show, the moments when Odenkirk doesn’t speak, that deserve attention. It’s easy to keep coming back to Gene in the kitchen, Marion clenching her LifeAlert: He could have hurt her to protect himself, but he didn’t. Instead he ran, the way he says he’s been running for years. Not running towards something, of course. Instead, running from himself.
Who knows what kind of peace 86 years (minus good behavior) might bring him. But at least he got to share one last clandestine cigarette with the only woman we’ve seen any sign of him loving over the years. In a previous review for Consequence, this critic used the occasion of Jimmy and Kim’s official breakup to discuss how this show was never a love story. But in a way, there was romance to Saul Goodman’s last stand in court — one person left on this planet he cares about, and he did his best to try to help her.
Better Call Saul (AMC)
It’s the light of the cigarette that may prove to be the most haunting moment of the entire finale: That brief spark of color being passed between Kim and Jimmy in what could be their very last moments together. That’s what love always is, when it’s over: A flash of memory and warmth, flickering in the cold grey reality of after. One wonders if the show’s formalist dedication to stick with black-and-white photography to represent “the present” felt limiting, in the endgame that was the last several episodes. But when it leads to bold, and arguably brilliant, creative choices like that one, it’s hard to complain.
Plus, as they have all season long, the flashbacks made an even greater impact by arriving in rich technicolor; like the memories we were experiencing were more real than reality. The episode’s runner of conversations about time travel could have easily drifted into far-too-on-the-nose territory, but for the saving grace of Walter White (Bryan Cranston), nearing the end of his own bleak adventure and thus perhaps in no mood for Saul’s bullshit.
“You are talking about regrets,” he says to Saul as they hide out in the basement below Best Quality Vacuum, before talking once again about the bad move that broke him inside: Getting pushed to leave the company he co-founded. (We’ve never gotten a full recounting of it, but the Grey Matters side of the story… is probably quite different.)
Jimmy’s conversation with Mike, our opening scene, falls along a similar path, with Mike (Jonathan Banks) revealing that he’d go back to the day he took his first bribe as a cop, and Jimmy revealing that given the opportunity to travel in time, he’d use it to become a billionaire with some help from Warren Buffett. And later, we get one last scene with Chuck (Michael McKean) during Jimmy’s public defender days, as Jimmy delivers groceries and runs up against the fact that his relationship with his brother will never change, whether or not he’s finally able to track down a copy of the Financial Times.
All three of these pivotal flashbacks pass a certain blunt judgment on Jimmy/Saul/Gene as the sort of man who will never change, in it for himself and for the money (mostly the money). But that might not be really true, in the end. He was able, as one last act of grace, to do something ultimately unselfish. And if Saul fucking Goodman is capable of such a thing, what about the rest of us?
There are still untied threads here, looming questions. More importantly, there are people that, to use Mike Ehrmantraut’s words, “I’d like to check on in five to ten years, make sure they’re doing okay.” No one really escaped this story with a happy ending, after all. Many of these characters died in unfortunate ways, or remain forever grieving those they lost.
But there are still a few glimpses of happiness, or at least hints at future contentment. Whatever you want to call him, Jimmy or Saul, he seems like he’ll be okay in the joint. And maybe Kim will dump her Miracle Whip boyfriend, take the bar in Florida, return to helping those who need it.
This is what the great shows do: Give you just enough closure, while leaving you with just enough unanswered. Why? Because this way, the characters still feel alive, in their ways — more so especially with Saul, always positioned as both a Breaking Bad prequel and sequel, its story told out of order, a Polaroid photo that took over a decade to finish being developed.
As another AMC show famously put forth, photographs, when arranged in the spinning wheel of a Kodak brand carousel, are a time machine. Just like our memories. In our memories, even a dead man like Walter White still lives.
In “Saul Gone,” though, we go deeper. We learn that the copy of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, previously spotted as unknown men and women packed up Saul Goodman’s fancy mansion in the Season 6 premiere, belonged to Chuck — the one man Jimmy disappointed the most, and the one man whose death will never stop haunting Jimmy. More importantly, we learn this: None of us ever escape our baggage — our regrets themselves are the time machine, pulling us back into a past we cannot escape, and a future created by our actions and reactions.
With all of its delicate touches, its attention to detail, and its unblinking moral gaze, Better Call Saul built on the foundation of Breaking Bad to create a modern fable that with quiet certainty told one of the greatest stories ever told on television. All resting on the shoulders of a smiling Albuquerque criminal lawyer with the flashiest suits and sharpest quips, who wasn’t s’all good, man, but proved to be unforgettable, in the end.
Better Call Saul is streaming now.