Sunday, June 23, 2024

Better Call Saul Concludes With Sorrowful, Quiet Reflection

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Over the past fourteen (!) years, the Breaking Bad universe has stood tall as one of the very best things in television/series history. Breaking Bad is often held up in the pantheon of all-time greatest shows, and Better Call Saul has lived up to its predecessor’s legacy. There are those who argue it even surpassed Breaking Bad. As a whole, they have told a remarkably fine-tuned story of the damage done by two men who simply could not let go of their worst traits.

And so here we are, with what Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould seem to want to be the last piece of new content in the Breaking Bad universe, and the last episode of Better Call Saul. Fittingly, it did not go out with a bang, but a subdued piece of character work fitting this wonderful show.

Jimmy and Walt in Better Call Saul

Perhaps the most impressive compliment I can give this final episode of Better Call Saul is that it feels like a proper conclusion to everything. The totality of the harm that Walter White and Jimmy McGill did to the world is here, with some surprising guest appearances adding to the finality of what we see.

Jimmy is caught trying to flee after the incident at Marion’s home and, predictably, ends up being caught hiding out in a dumpster, desperately digging through trash to find spilled gems. He is charged with practically everything the feds could dump on him, plea bargains the sentence down to seven years, but ends up painting himself as the mastermind behind Walter White during the actual trial, which causes him to end up with over eighty-years in prison.

It sounds absurd for Jimmy to sabotage himself at that point, but it was perfect. After watching him run from everything hard in his life for 6 seasons, Jimmy McGill finally stopped running and told himself the truth.

This final episode centers heavily around regret. The opening scene sees a flashback of Mike wishing he could go back to turn down the first bribe he ever accepted. Another flashback features Walt wishing he could turn everything back to the moment he left Gray Matter. One final flashback features Chuck trying to make nicer with Jimmy than we arguably ever have before, and regretting what has become of their relationship. Regret is written in every pained look across Kim or Marie’s face.

Yet there’s also a common theme across all these scenes, which is Jimmy’s refusal of the same truth everyone around him offers. Where others tell the truth, he uses his time machine premise to joke about going back and being a billionaire or talking about a slip and fall gone wrong. He brings up the subject of regrets and yet won’t actually answer it himself.

As Walt realizes while they hide out together, Jimmy has always been like this. He has always been a sleazy conman since the days of taking money from his father’s shop, incapable of being true to himself and others.

Jimmy seems like he is going to keep running and skating along with the terms of his plea bargain. Even having Marie right in front of him does nothing to finally drag a conscience out of Jimmy. It was only the revelation of Kim’s confession that changed his mind.

I mentioned in my review for last week’s episode that Jimmy misreads Kim by suggesting she is too “smart” to confess the truth of Howard’s murder. He totally misunderstood the moral center that eats Kim alive for everything that happened to Howard. You can see this in Jimmy’s surprise in finding out about Kim’s confession to the DA. That was the thing that made him realize just how different she was from him, and who he needed to be to repair their relationship as much as possible.

Let’s not mistake what happened here; Jimmy painted himself as the mastermind of Walter White’s operation because of Kim. She has spent so much of this series supporting Jimmy and wanting him to be the best version of himself. It’s unfortunate that the opposite happened and Jimmy instead made her the worst version of herself, but you could always see how Kim alone seemed to be able to pull Jimmy away from his mistakes. She helped push him to be a lawyer. She helped convince him to return and take the Davis & Main job instead of staying in Cicero after Jimmy’s falling out with Chuck. When Chuck died, Kim did everything she could to support him through his grief.

Kim is the one person who could make Jimmy’s better side shine, and that’s what happens here. Jimmy did not so much redeem himself as avoid destroying the remnants of the one thing he did not lose.

Finally, in the end, Jimmy found the one regret he could be honest with himself about and told the truth to try and make amends. Whether his confession will do anything to stop Cheryl Hamlin from taking civil action against Kim is unknown, but it ultimately does not matter to them. Jimmy needed to do this to have any chance at a future with Kim. He also needed to do this for himself, to finally tell the truth about everything he has been through and put others through.

In Chuck’s flashback scene, he mentions how it’s never too late to take another path. It’s interesting to see both Kim and Jimmy do just that over the past two episodes. Kim’s confession seemed to have freed her. She returns to Florida and shortly begins volunteering at a law office. While not totally unburdened, you can tell that a piece of her emerged again. Kim will never practice law again but she can at least live life as herself.

Jimmy will never leave prison, but that is okay. We see on the transport bus that he will be okay. Everyone knows Saul Goodman, and loves him. Jimmy will spend the rest of his life in something resembling comfort, knowing he did the right thing and is paying the consequences for his crimes. He will be okay with that because he knows that this path was the one that salvaged the most important thing in the world to him.

Rhea Seehorn said in an interview that she believes Jimmy and Kim will keep seeing each other, and I agree with her. Maybe she eventually helps work to get him released earlier, maybe not, but that is not the point. The point is that they owned up to their regrets and can live a better life for it. Despite everything that happened to and between them, they still inspired each other down a different, better path.

And besides Jimmy himself dealing with his role in the Breaking Bad saga, his trial also offers closure for the entire story.

Jimmy in prison from Better Call Saul

The fate of Saul Goodman was the only unsettled question from the days of Heisenberg. Walt is dead. Mike is dead. Gus is dead. Jesse has vanished to Alaska. There was no one left to punish besides Jimmy. He practically went on trial for everything and accepted the punishment the federal government could not dole out on Walter White. Marie’s appearance was an unexpected face to answer to for the murder of Hank, which made Jimmy’s initial insolence and eventual confession feel all the more personal.

Add in those final appearances for Mike, Walt, and Chuck, and this was beyond just finishing Better Call Saul’s story. After all, as Saul admitted, he was central to everything. Dealing with him means dealing with everything that led up to his trial as well.

While Jimmy and Kim live on, the story has ended. There is no one left to punish and no remnant of the crimes Walt committed or the empires he destroyed and built. Anything that happens from here is the start of a new story that belongs to them. This was it for the story Vince Gilligan began in 2008 with Breaking Bad.

Back when Better Call Saul was first announced, it was expected to simply be a funny show about the funny lawyer Walter White employed. That it turned into a show on par with its predecessor and turned Saul Goodman into the most fleshed out, complex character in the entire Heisenberg-verse is a marvel. I cannot imagine that anyone expected it. Gilligan and Peter Gould certainly didn’t, since they initially viewed this as something more like a half-hour comedy.

Is this really it for this universe? To be honest, I really hope so. I cannot imagine a more complete, quality story than what Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul have accomplished. Which show is better? Who cares? Together they make up arguably the most impressive story television has ever told.

Images Courtesy of AMC

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