Better Call Saul was all the time greater than the sum of its Breaking Bad components

Saul Goodman is lifeless. Long reside Saul Goodman.

After a devastating collection of self-destructive, sloppy selections that landed the con artist previously generally known as Jimmy McGill in police custody, I used to be ready for a hopeless collection finale, one which implicated all of us in having fun with Saul and his smarmy schemes on the expense of actual ruined lives. Up till midway via the episode, I used to be prepared to put in writing concerning the tragedy of a person who’s doomed to be himself without end. But the collection finale of Better Call Saul proved it may pull the wool over our eyes one final time, ending satisfyingly with romantic optimism about change moderately than a nihilistic I-told-you-so about who Jimmy/Saul/Gene was all the time meant to be. Jimmy’s final con was making us consider he was completely irredeemable, and all of us fell for it.

Meticulously detailed, Better Call Saul has all the time been a present about craftsmanship. We watch Jimmy dangle a wall of Post-it notes as he plans his revenge towards Howard Hamlin; we watch Mike Ehrmantraut painstakingly drill dozens of holes within the floor; we watch Kim Wexler tighten her ponytail and button her go well with and straighten her posture prior to each skilled dialog. There is artwork within the ability it takes these individuals to tug off the schemes they pull off. You can’t worry being discovered as a fraud in case you’re not one — in case you’ve satisfied your self you’re in the fitting, and in case you’ve already performed out and anticipated each potential final result in your thoughts. (I believe all of those characters would do nice on The Rehearsal.)

a black-and-white shot of Jimmy McGill sitting on a prison transport bus

Photo: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

This has all the time been true on a micro, character degree, however a part of the genius of Better Call Saul’s storytelling was its full incapability to exist in a vacuum. You couldn’t miss an episode; you’d miss a tiny, essential element that will finally construct to some massive, devastating reveal. Better Call Saul counted on you forgetting these little particulars up till the final second earlier than they mattered. You won’t be capable of maintain observe of all of it, however Jimmy and Kim and Mike and Lalo and Gus positive may. Most of the best-remembered episodes of Saul — season 3’s “Chicanery,” season 5’s “Wexler v. Goodman” — may sound boring and procedural if described on their very own, out of context. “A lawyer does something smart in court” may very well be utilized to the excessive drama of Saul or the monotony of any CBS copaganda collection. But Better Call Saul typically felt so satisfying due to the funding we as viewers made into retaining tabs on the habits of those super-intelligent and competent characters, which frequently appeared nonsensical up till the very second it didn’t. They left nothing to likelihood, no stone unturned, no breadcrumb unfollowed. It was immensely rewarding to be on this journey with them.

The huge tragedy of Howard Hamlin’s wrong-place, wrong-time dying on the halfway level of the ultimate season ought to have clued us in to the truth that, regardless of how nicely we’d gotten to know these characters, their circumstances and schemes may nonetheless shock us. In a method, it was foolish to enter this finale believing Jimmy McGill was irredeemable, that he’d crossed ethical strains that might by no means be uncrossed in the identical method Walter White did on Breaking Bad years earlier than.

But Jimmy and Walter are completely different beasts. Heisenberg’s intrinsic bitterness and greed, hidden by the tasteless circumstances of suburbia and monotonous center class Americanness, turned a highschool chemistry trainer right into a monster as soon as achievable energy was launched into the sophisticated equation of his life and sickness. Jimmy’s motivations are extra base. Less Shakespearean, extra quotidian. They have been each motivated by greed and hubris, however Jimmy by no means fairly had the bloodlust of Walter White. He was simply as flawed and virtually as misguided, however the place Walter White wished to indicate the world at giant precisely what he was able to, Jimmy McGill, at his core, simply wished somebody particular to be happy with him.

Saul Goodman sitting at his desk in a purple suit looking at someone off-camera. The camera is angled down at him signing divorce papers.

Photo: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

a black-and-white shot of Jimmy McGill wagging his finger at the judge in court; he’s shot from below

Photo: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

That’s not essentially true of Saul Goodman, the strolling mutation and coping mechanism Jimmy turned as he diverged additional and farther from his family members. Saul is motivated by spite in a method Jimmy wasn’t; he takes Jimmy’s “watch me” perspective and his want to do issues simply because he can to a complete new, harmful degree.

It was a delight to look at Saul in plea discount negotiations, charming and smarming and wielding the legislation in the way in which solely Saul Goodman can. He’s so efficient that he transfigures a number of life sentences into solely seven and a half years behind bars — plus a hand-delivered pint of ice cream every week, for good measure. Watching a craftsman work, regardless of how little we really need them to succeed, is extremely satisfying.

It’s additionally extremely satisfying to see the craftsman, in his hubris, taken down a peg. Saul is on the finish of his negotiation when he involves be taught that Kim has already instructed the police every little thing she is aware of about Howard’s homicide. It sparks a twinge of guilt, perhaps his first in a really very long time. Hearing Kim’s title cracks open the onerous plastic of the Saul persona, revealing the insecure and eager-to-please Jimmy McGill hidden beneath.

That scene is cushioned by a flashback to a dialog along with his brother Chuck, seemingly early in the middle of the psychological sickness that will finally erode their relationship and result in his tragic dying. I’d forgotten how a lot Jimmy cared for Chuck, and the way a lot Chuck relied on Jimmy. The damage and resentment was all the time there, however so was the truth that Jimmy constantly wished to show himself to individuals he revered.

Jimmy standing over the counter talking to Chuck in a kitchen lit only by Chuck’s oil lamp

Photo: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Jimmy is the lover, Saul the ego that holds him again. When Saul stands up in court docket and says he desires to be tried as James McGill, he’s telling us who he’s determined to be going ahead. He desires to do the fitting factor as a result of Kim — the love of his life, his companion in crime and all else — is watching. He desires to make her proud, to rise to her event and morality. What’s the purpose of scheming in case your confederate desires nothing to do with you?

Saul is, sadly, a persona that can observe Jimmy till the day he dies. After confessing in court docket, considerably dubiously, to being the brains behind the Walter White operation, Jimmy finally ends up on a bus to jail for the subsequent 80-something years (first he needed to show he may get off, subsequent he needed to show he may do onerous time). He’s acknowledged as Saul virtually instantly. Denying his id solely attracts extra consideration to him, and the opposite prisoners begin rhythmically chanting the slogan that made him well-known to the type of one that would find yourself on a prisoner transport. We later see him, as Saul, working within the jail kitchen, coming to phrases with what he can’t simply stroll away from. It’s tragic that regardless of how a lot work he does on himself, he’ll nonetheless carry this main blotch on his morality file, and he’ll all the time be recognized for the issues he did whereas he was at his lowest and loneliest level emotionally.

It’s tragic, however it’s not a dying sentence or a wonderful level. Over six years, we watched Jimmy turn into Saul turn into Gene, however the earlier variations of him have been all the time obtainable and accessible to the fitting particular person on the proper time. We noticed Gene rework into Saul from the second he was thrown in jail; we noticed Saul rework into Jimmy when he heard information about Kim whereas being extradited again to New Mexico. You can’t escape your worst repute or your most harmful behaviors, however you’ll be able to change your actions and select to do the fitting factor at any level. And Jimmy does, similar to Kim did.

The newest McGill mutation — the one which brings Kim Wexler again into his life, the one which’s prepared to do onerous time to pay for his errors — isn’t a step backward into the Jimmy McGill we first met working his method up the ranks of his brother’s legislation agency. He might need the identical title, however he can’t disguise from his errors, and he’s not making an attempt to. The final Jimmy McGill is a conglomeration of all of the Jimmy McGills who got here earlier than, meticulously constructed up — just like the collection he led — to be higher and better than the sum of his components. The Jimmy McGill on the finish of this story chooses accountability over getting away with it. He chooses sharing a cigarette behind bars with the particular person he loves over the system he may have gamed to be again on this planet sooner, as a result of he realizes {that a} world with out Kim isn’t a world value scamming.

99% of the post-breakup scenes of Jimmy and Kim happened solely in black and white, however the tip of that cigarette lights up gold after they discover themselves collectively in a jail cell on the tail finish of the collection. You could make one million dangerous selections, and light-weight may depart your life because of your actions. But it’s comforting to grasp that it could actually all the time come again. You can all the time reclaim your id from the general public and alter for the higher for the advantage of the individuals who actually know you.

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