Better Call Saul delivers one of the best series finales of all time

by | Aug 22, 2022 | All, Reviews

After a rather subdued run of episodes, we finally get to see both Saul Goodman and Jimmy McGill at the height of their powers. It’s a bittersweet, muted series finale that still serves as pretty much a perfect finale – quietly devastating with nicely judged flashbacks to all the main players in Saul’s life.

When people reminisce about the ending of Breaking Bad their minds often go from the sheer rollercoaster gut punch of Ozymandias directly to the more heartfelt and devastating final episode, Felina. They forget that in between those two episodes sat an episode called Granite State. It is often forgotten but it was a quieter and more character-driven episode than the one that proceeded it. It also featured Saul’s final moments in Breaking Bad, as he and Walt waited to be sent off on their new lives. It’s a moment we cleverly flashback to in ‘Saul Gone‘ the Better Call Saul finale.

The finale was perfect. End of review. I say that because it encapsulated everything that made Better Call Saul so special. The show has always been a deep dive, into what into the inner workings of a man’s mind. What shapes him and causes him to make the decisions that he does.  it’s more reminiscent of the final episode of Justified. There’s no question of Saul going out in a blaze of glory – it’s a lot quieter, more bittersweet and emotional than I and many others expected. It ends on a definite downer, with no light at the end of the tunnel, and yet it still manages to be a touching, wry send-off for the scheming lawyer.

This episode represents and showcases Jimmy McGill and Saul Goodman at their very best / worst. After Marion calls the police, a panicked Gene races his home, grabs a burner phone and dodges the police by hiding in a nearby dumpster. Scrambling around in the trash in the dark it’s perhaps the perfect metaphor for the way his life has gone. He’s literally in the dirt.

When he’s caught, Gene seamlessly transitions back into cynical Saul and still knows how to play the legal process like a fiddle and clearly still holds the entire system in contempt. This is best demonstrated in the way he knowingly calls on the Prosecutor to bring Marie Schrader (a brilliant surprise cameo from Betsy Brandt)  into the interrogation room, then deploys his cynical sob story alibi right in front of her. He emotionally, convincingly lays out his story: he was as much a victim as Hank and Gomie. Walter and Jesse threatened him and he was terrified for his life. When the prosecution calls this out as just a story and asks if he really expects the jurors to buy that story, Saul can’t even be bothered to feign indignation. Instead, he just replies “All I need is one.”

  • (It’s here I’ll say that I loved this farewell for Marie – while her final scene in Breaking Bad was fitting, it was also all-too-brief, and this feels much more appropriate. She also serves as a much-needed embodiment of the human cost wrought by Saul’s relationship with Walter White. It deprived her of the love of her life and her relationship with her sister. We all love Saul, but Marie’s presence is a timely reminder that he fully deserves to go to prison.)

Once more dismissed by the prosecution attorney as a shyster lawyer, Saul runs rings around the entire opposing legal team, with the hapless Bill Oakley (the wonderful ‎Peter Diseth)  representing him looking bemused the entire time. After he somehow manages to negotiate his 86-year sentence down to only seven years, Saul is at his most self-congratulatory and smug, even going so far as to do a victory lap, demanding a tub of his favourite ice cream delivered to his cell every week he’s in prison, offering to tell them about Howard Hamlin in return. Of course, this doesn’t fly, as the prosecution team gleefully inform him that Kim has followed through on her threat to confess to her part in Howard’s death, and while Saul’s deal still stands, this sends him spiralling.

He tells Bill that he has some new evidence involving his ex-wife, and this eventually gets back to Kim, who travels down to the courthouse in person. It’s here that we finally see Saul Goodman in all his glory for the final time.

The finale worked so well because it shows just how deep the ‘Saul’ persona had dug into Jimmy to the point where he’d almost trained himself to ignore anything about the man he was before Saul.

In flashbacks to conversations with Mike, Walt and Chuck we see him meditate on regret, on missed opportunities. These work because they are able to draw on pivotal moments from the series, bringing back key figures without feeling gimmicky or tacked on for the sake of it. He asks both Mike and Walt where they would go if they had access to a time machine – appropriately Mike gives a thoughtful answer while Walt dismisses the entire concept of time travel. This extra cameo from Bryan Cranston, set while the pair are stuck together in Granite State feels completely of the world. There’s no softening of Walt’s character. He’s not anywhere near redeeming himself at this point in the “Breaking Bad” timeline and it’s entirely fitting that he would still be depicted as an unrepentant pedant and is entirely dismissive of Saul’s abilities as a lawyer.) It’s telling though, that in both these conversations when the question is sent back his way, Saul gives frivolous, jokey answers, either a way to be a billionaire today or to pull off a scam without injuring himself. Walt’s response after hearing Saul’s plan sums the man up perfectly, “So, you were always like this?” We know of course that he wasn’t, but Jimmy has been playing the role of Saul for so long that he doesn’t know how to stop.

Walking through the courthouse in a snazzy suit, he mutters “it’s showtime” and lays out the details of his deal, only to comprehensively reject it. He only mentioned Kim’s name to get her to come to court so he could see her one last time. In one second he transforms from Saul Goodman to Jimmy McGill, finally taking responsibility for his actions and his indispensable role in Walter White’s drug empire (and actually seems justifiably boastful about it – you can’t really argue with his statement that Walter wouldn’t have lasted a month without him) for the death of Howard, and most importantly, he shows accountability for the death of his brother – something he had never acknowledged before, even to himself.

Poor Bill gets the thin end of the wedge here, pulled in to be Jimmy’s representation and then dragged down with him when Jimmy kicks the ladder out from under him. The moment when he tries to withdraw from the case and the judge dryly responds “not a chance” is one of the few laugh-out-loud moments in an uncharacteristically poignant episode.

He makes the choice to discard Saul and takes his punishment with his head held high as Jimmy McGill. The irony of which is that as he makes his way to the prison “Saul” is treated as a celebrity on the prison bus, with all the other convicts chanting “Better Call Saul!” and him seeming to enjoy a trusted status in the prison. Despite being in the one prison he didn’t want to spend his sentence, it’s not the bleakest ending imaginable

The final scene with Kim visiting Jimmy in prison is just about the most moving scene of the entire series. They share an illicit cigarette, leaning against the cell wall in a callback to their first scene together, The dialogue is all surface-level stuff, but the performances from Rhea Seehorn and Bob Odenkirk are brimming with pathos, with facial expressions and body language conveying a wealth of emotion and sadness. Jimmy and Kim have always had an incredibly deep, loving relationship, and their final scene is beautifully tender. It’s a melancholy goodbye, mournful even, and deeply sad, but never overwrought or wallowing, which ultimately makes it all the more affecting. There are no big, sentimental moments in this finale but the heartbreaking ending still left us in absolute bits. It’s ambiguous as to whether that final scene between them was a farewell or the first of many visits, but ultimately it doesn’t matter – what’s important is that their relationship has begun to heal, that final shared cigarette, echoing their first meeting in season one. Saul could have gone to prison for seven years and walked out to an empty, hollow life. Instead, he chooses to stay in prison for at least the rest of his life, but in the process, he’s finally himself again, someone who Kim can look in the eye.

Breaking Bad: The art of telling one epic story from beginning to end.

The final flashback to a conversation with Chuck appears to show the moment Jimmy would change if given the chance to hop into his hypothetical time machine. It’s a typically fractious conversation between the brothers, but once Chuck sees how much Jimmy has put himself out on his behalf he seriously offers to sit down and help with his casework, of course, Jimmy takes this as his brother’s overbearing nature and slaps him down. It’s telling that this scene ends with a shot of Chuck’s copy of HG Wells’ The Time Machine, suggesting that really all Jimmy wants is to go back to that night and sit down with Chuck and actually work on their relationship – the flashback demonstrates that both brothers contributed to their rift equally, but there was a moment where they could have reconciled, and it passed both of them by. His admission that “I tried… I could have tried harder” might be the most devastating line in the episode.

Aside from anything else, this is a beautifully directed hour of television, with numerous little visual cues on hand which bely the character’s dialogue – see Walt talking about past regrets and furtively looking down at the watch given to him by Jesse before giving a fluff answer, or the positioning of an electric neon sign in the foreground as Jimmy thinks of Chuck, or a copy of The Time Machine being prominently placed in the frame during Jimmy’s conversation with Chuck.

This is quite possibly one of the best series finales of all time – it wraps up Jimmy’s story perfectly, and gives tips of the hat to all the most important characters in his life while telling us infinitely more about him than them. This is almost certainly the last time we will see these characters, and each of the principal cast gets a moment to shine

The debate will likely go on forever as to which show is better, Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul (and the fact that this is even a question shows just how good the spin-off has been) but this final run of episodes has made it even more apparent that the two shows are best viewed as a whole. This series hasn’t just shown us where Saul came from, but given us more insight into certain characters (Mike, Gus, Hector and Walt) and closure on others (Jesse, Marie, Francesca). The two shows are intertwined, and that’s honestly as it should be. The question still stands though, and while I personally can’t pick between the two, I infinitely prefer this finale, which is about as different to the Breaking Bad ending as you could imagine. Rather than a gung-ho, wish fulfilment “going out on his own terms” ending that conveniently omits those who love him, Jimmy faces his accusers, admits what he did and quietly takes the rap – he goes to jail for a long long long time (he jokes about “good behaviour” but knows he’s never getting out) and takes his punishment smiling, and in doing so, regains at least a portion of his soul.

Nick Bartlett

Nick Bartlett

22/08/2022

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