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Saul Emerges in the Season 4 Finale of Better Call Saul

How has Better Call Saul ended already? Didn’t the season just start? No? Well, back to the dregs for me, but not before one last sparkling review of yet another terrific episode. After 39 episodes, Saul Goodman has officially arrived. He arrived unrestrained at the head of one of his biggest con jobs yet. It was the perfect ending to season 4. Things will never be the same for anyone involved.

S’all Good, Man

Towards the end of this episode, I wondered if Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan were backing off the idea of revealing Saul this season. Yes, Jimmy spent most if it trying to use his brother’s death for sympathy and good word of mouth ahead of his appeal to the Bar regarding his license. It was gross to watch. By the end, though, Jimmy seemed to have gone through a long-delayed emotional breakdown.

The scholarship fund meeting seemed to have snapped something in him. Seeing the fund’s board deny some girl over past shoplifting seemed to have woken a lot of repressed emotions in Jimmy. His breakdown and ugly sobbing in his car afterwards struck me as the grief over Chuck finally coming home. Reading his brother’s farewell letter seemed like Jimmy accepting the complicated nature of his relationship with his brother.

Of course, I know Jimmy becomes Saul. I know his end fate in this struggle for his soul. When Jimmy stopped reading Chuck’s letter, though, I thought Chuck himself might at least be sacred. However terrible Jimmy becomes, he would stop using Chuck. Then he left the hearing and made clear the depths of his immorality.

It was the perfect ending to the season.

He wasn’t alone, either. Mike’s manhunt for Werner served much the same purpose as Jimmy’s exploitation of Chuck’s death. Jimmy and Mike are undoubtedly the main characters of Better Call Saul, and both completed their final plunge into the darker temptations around them. They certainly still have a ways to fall. The time will come when Jimmy is advocating murder and Mike is killing guys like Werner without hesitation. What this finale represented was the moment they stopped dipping their toes in the water and finally jumped in.

As usual, Better Call Saul did a terrific job with these moments for both characters. They still have these vestiges of something better in them. It speaks to the skill of this show’s storytelling that, even knowing where these two eventually end up, I still questioned what decision they would make. Maybe Mike would make one last stand and let Werner go. Maybe Jimmy would try one more time to go legit. I don’t know, maybe? Possibly?

And I think there’s still a possibility for both. I still see those lingering glimmers of something better in them. Jimmy using the name Saul Goodman at least protects his brother’s name from the stain of Jimmy’s future law career. Mike was not particularly happy about killing Werner. Some friction with Gus may occur because of the killing.

In the end, I guess I’m just like Kim. Kim still believed in Jimmy’s good side despite spending the entire episode helping him exploit Chuck’s death. She can’t help but see the guy we met in season 1; eager, loyal, dedicated to making Chuck proud. Actually, she can’t help but see the Jimmy McGill who worked in the HHM mail room with her. That’s the Jimmy she loves, and she can’t help but believe that Jimmy still lies deep inside Saul Goodman.

It doesn’t really matter in the end, though. We know who Saul and Gus eventually become. Here’s hoping Jimmy can escape this moral tar pit when in the Gene flash-forwards. And this episode made Jimmy’s reasons completely clear.

The scholarship fund, while obviously part of the overall con, was really THE moment where Jimmy makes his decision to be Saul. He saw himself in the girl the board turned down. He saw how they held her one mistake against her, despite all the good she had done since. And this was some teenager with just that one mistake. If even she doesn’t have a chance, what hope could Jimmy possibly have? He realized he could never make people like that believe in him. He could never make the Bar accept him as anything other than the shady, immoral little brother of Chuck McGill, someone unworthy of their trust or belief.

It hurts. It really hurts. I still want “Gene” to come out of this okay. Unfortunately, that day is a long ways away, if it happens at all.

Final Thoughts:

  • The karaoke opening was amazing. Ernest slayed “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and Michael McKean called back on David St. Hubbins for Chuck’s duet with Jimmy.
  • By the way, of course Chuck has to upstage Jimmy even during karaoke. No wonder Jimmy feels so inadequate.
  • Werner’s final conversation with Mike has a lot of similarities with the Walt/Mike scene during the season 3 finale of Breaking Bad.
  • Oh, that poor TravelWire employee. Having to deal with both Mike and Lalo? Yikes.
  • Mike’s gum trick on the ticket machine was one of my favorite things he has ever done. I swear he has a trick for everything.

Season Review

Season 4 of Better Call Saul had a tall task ahead of it from the beginning. Season 3 was so powerful and remarkable, with some of the best scenes in recent TV memory. With Chuck’s suicide, the show lost the dynamic at its heart. Better Call Saul had been the story of Jimmy and Chuck. How could they replace such a powerful dynamic? Where would they go without Chuck standing stalwart across from his brother? Who could fill the acting void left in Michael McKean’s wake?

Ultimately, I don’t think season 4 was quite as good as season 3. How could it be? It’s like holding it against a season of The Wire for not being as good as season 4.

Season 4 handled the questions I asked not only well, but easily. How do they replace Chuck’s role in the story? By giving his death a central role in the story and replacing the tension between him and Jimmy with tensions between Jimmy and Kim. As anyone who read my previous reviews has noticed, both characters dominate season 4. I honestly didn’t miss Chuck’s role in the story at all because Kim did such a great job filling the void left behind.

I felt every bit the emotional stakes between Kim and Jimmy as I did between Jimmy and Chuck. Possibly more, in fact. Even at their closest, Jimmy and Chuck always maintained a noticeable distance. Most of their relationship consisted of a rivalry where they openly despised each other. Jimmy and Kim had no such relationship. They’ve been close since the beginning and always supportive. Whatever conflict pops up between them is typically resolved quickly because they want to resolve it.

This made their gradual degradation throughout season 4 really effective, as effective anything Jimmy and Chuck ever went through.

A big reason for this comes down to another question; who will replace Michael McKean’s considerable acting prowess? Rhea Seehorn takes on the challenge with ease. Well, not without ease, because you can’t be that good at acting with ease. Seehorn has always been fantastic, but she takes on the added burden and not only matches the challenge, she exceeded it. I know by this point not to expect anything from award shows at this point, but Seehorn should be a frontrunner at the next Emmys.

Rhea Seehorn stepped up and the result was Kim’s best season yet, right when Better Call Saul really needed it. Seeing Kim try so hard to be a good girlfriend and friend to Jimmy while he inevitably spiraled towards Saul Goodman made for absolutely fantastic scenes. Their parking garage confrontation from last week was as hard-hitting as anything from previous seasons. Kim’s reaction to Jimmy’s speech to the Bar and subsequent confession about it being fake was just as strong.

It also means a lot when Bob Odenkirk is as good as he is. The transition from, sweet, loveable Jimmy to the selfish Saul we end season 4 with is a hard transition to make, but he did so without issue. Odenkirk absolutely owns this role at this point.

You’ve probably noticed I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Jimmy and Kim, but not so much about Mike, Gus, and the cartel stuff. That’s true not only for this review, but throughout the season. There’s a good reason; it was easily the weakest part of the season. The one real flaw in Better Call Saul’s design continued this season, which was its struggle to reconcile its two halves.

I found the origin of the meth super lab interesting, for sure. If nothing else the storyline gave Mike good content to dig into. Thing is, it was relatively uneventful. Compared to the consistently gripping stakes of the Jimmy/Kim scenes, watching Mike pal around with German architects and construction workers didn’t match up. The conflict wasn’t really there until the end, and too late by then.

I also felt like the cartel stuff didn’t really go anywhere besides with Mike. Nacho randomly fell into obscurity once Lalo was introduced. Lalo felt more like an introduction than a contained plot of any kind. The super lab wasn’t even finished. Tuco’s cousins left the season rather abruptly.

I also have a pretty decent problem with the Gus/Hector Salamanca stuff this year. I know this opinion will be unpopular, but I’m not a fan. Tying everything in Hector’s life back to some machination by Gus felt like the kind of prequel sin you’d see in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. The incessant need to make even the most inconsequential things important somehow often cheapens the effect. Hector’s bell doesn’t need to be important. It’s just a freaking bell.

My biggest problem is in how cartoonishly evil this has made Gus. Is he really not evil enough for simply mocking and torturing a disabled man? He has to be responsible for stopping Hector’s medical treatment to make sure Hector stays in the wheelchair, unable to speak? I’m not a fan. Plus, this also doesn’t really lead to anything. It likely will next season since Hector has likely communicated to him what he wants done to Gus. For now, though, it was somewhat unsatisfying compared to the amazing Jimmy/Kim storyline.

I stress the word “compared” here. It’s like saying, “Tuco wasn’t quite the villain Gus Fring was on Breaking Bad,” as a negative. It’s not really much a negative and Tuco was still great TV.

While failing to reach the memorable heights of season 3, Better Call Saul still had one hell of a 4th season. Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan continue to head one of the very best shows on TV, and almost certainly the best character-driven show. What Better Call Saul manages in the character-development department floors me more with every season. I honestly don’t believe anything else matches their work. They have their style down to a science, and so does everyone around them, from the other writers to the directors to the actors to the set and costume design.

Better Call Saul remains a show working on a level few can compare with. Why is this season over already?


Images courtesy of AMC

Bo
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Bo relaxes after long days of staring at computers by staring at computers some more, and continues drifting wearily through the slog of summer TV.

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