Better Call Saul Finale: “Saul Gone” Sees Slippin’ Jimmy Confront His Sins

One of the greatest TV shows signed off with a sad, dark, and ultimately beautiful finale that pit Jimmy McGill against his Saul Goodman persona
Better Call Saul Finale: “Saul Gone” Sees Slippin’ Jimmy Confront His Sins

"You are not talking about a time machine, which is both a real and theoretical impossibility. You are talking about regrets. So if you want to ask about regrets, just ask about regrets. And leave all this time-travelling nonsense out of it."

-Walter White in "Saul Gone', Better Call Saul

Three ghosts appear in the finale of Better Call Saul, which over six seasons has developed one of the most fascinating protagonists in television history — Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), an earnest lawyer and former con artist, who reinvents himself into Saul Goodman, a flamboyant and unethical criminal lawyer. At different points in the season finale "Saul Gone", Jimmy poses a question to each of the three ghosts he encounters: "What would you do if you had a time machine?" The first to answer is Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), one of the protagonists of the early seasons. "December 8, 2001," Mike replies. It isn't hard to guess that it is the day his son died. In episode "Five-O" from the first season, we learned that Mike's son followed in his father's footsteps to become a police officer. When asked to partake in corruption, he sought out his father's advice, only to learn that the man he'd idealised all his life was also corrupt. Broken by the revelation, he took the money, but was murdered anyway — his hesitation made him suspect.

In "Saul Gone", Mike retracts his original answer. "No, No. March 17, 1984. Day I took my first bribe," he says. 

When did it start going downhill? This is the question lurking underneath the one that Jimmy asks the ghosts and it's also one that haunted Breaking Bad. In the first few episodes, we cheered when Walter White (Bryan Cranston) stood up for his son against the bullies, when he weaponised fulminated mercury against a local drug dealer. But then there was Jane Margolis's (Krysten Ritter) death, Brock's poisoning, the assassination of a child at the train heist. And we saw that Walt has always carried with him a secret pride which sprouted into bravado when he learned he had cancer, and metastasized into a city-swallowing pit of evil as the show went on.

In contrast, Jimmy McGill was…benign. Blessed with a silver tongue and a knack for concocting petty grifts, Jimmy seemed to lack the sort of poison that turned Walt into Heisenberg, who is the second ghost in "Saul Gone". When Walt shows up in the Better Call Saul finale, he's typically petty, condescending, and cantankerous; and we wonder how we cheered this man on for five seasons. We see Walt in a scene set immediately after the events of "Ozymandias", one of the last episodes of Breaking Bad and he tells Jimmy he would prevent his partners from kicking him out of Gray Matter Technologies. Walt also points out the physical impossibility of time travel. 

Both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul were about underdogs riding the thrill of indulging their specific talents to get an edge over an unfair world, while slowly, imperceptibly, damning their souls. They were about the lies they told themselves about why they were doing what they were doing — only for a devastating moment to arrive, crashing everything around them, exposing them as pathetic liars to themselves. If for Walt this was Hank's death in "Ozymandias", in Better Call Saul, it's Howard Hamlin's (Patrick Fabian) murder in "Plan and Execution" earlier this season. Until then, we felt the adrenaline of the heist as Jimmy came up with a plan to rip off some smug, condescending rich douchebag sitting at the other end of the room. When Howard died and Jimmy's wife Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) left, the colour left the show's world, and we entered a long, lilting lament in monochrome. 

Kim's departure is a turning point and for her performance across the seasons, Seehorn deserves every award under the sun, and more created just to fill her cabinets. Jimmy probably stepped on the road to villainy long before the events of Better Call Saul (perhaps while stealing in his father's shop?), but we saw him taking strides towards becoming Saul Goodman when his brother Chuck (Michael McKean) antagonised him and he retaliated by destroying him in the third season's "Chicanery". In the final episodes of Better Call Saul, you begin to see the villain in Saul, who emerges as a cold, menacing, petty, and ultimately pathetic psychopath. This is the soulless sleazebag we recognise from Breaking Bad, the parody of American greed, whose drug-dealer-filled office had a grotesque inflatable Statue of Liberty outside and copies of the Declaration of Independence plastered across its walls. 

In the finale, we also finally learn what we've yearned to know since Chuck's death — whether Jimmy really feels guilt and regret over his brother's death and the havoc he caused. When he asks Walt and Mike the time travel question, their answers are earnest and Jimmy's, in contrast, paints him as a shallow, money-grubbing sleazebag. In police custody, Jimmy slips into Saul mode, and by showing off how well he can sell a sob story — that he was a victim of Heisenberg and only worked with him out of mortal fear — he manages to wrestle down a 199-year jail term to seven years. We're ready to cheer for Saul Goodman until Hank Schrader's (Dean Norris) widow Marie (Betsy Brandt) reappears, sitting with the prosecutors. Prosecutors who, it dawns on us, are her representatives. Cheering for Saul means applauding him for getting the better of the widow of one of his victims (and one of the most beloved characters in TV history). For the first time in Better Call Saul, we recoil at seeing Saul's silver tongue as one would a snake's. Precisely because it is Marie at the receiving end and not someone who we felt had it coming (like Chuck) and who we want should suffer for what he's done.

Yet, with the big confessional speech before the judge where he essentially indicts himself, we learn that this was him running away from guilt all this while, burying Jimmy McGill underneath Saul Goodman (which is why Kim, in the penultimate episode, indicates to Jesse Pinkman [Aaron Paul] that she doesn't know the man anymore).  

With its final episodes, creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould made bold choices for Better Call Saul. The thrills of the crime drama ended with the cheekily-titled "Fun and Games". As it entwined with Breaking Bad, everything vibrant about the show was choked out of it, slowly. The final four episodes were slow, leisurely and intimate. The colourful world bleached into monochrome; the sunny electric guitar-riff of the intro was increasingly interrupted by static and the sounds of a VHS player (which suggested a sort of sobering retrospectivity — a criminal remembering the good ol' days — or an investigator looking at the tapes for evidence). These episodes also seemed like a clarification of "Felina", the finale of Breaking Bad, and a conscious effort to wrest it away from the pervasive toxic male fanboy reading prevalent in online circles. 

If in "Felina", Walter finally emerges, subjugating and weaponizing Heisenberg for his own noble ends and killing him in the process, in "Saul Gone", Jimmy McGill does the same with Saul Goodman, having him confess his crimes in full and ensuring a jail-term for life, after having negotiated his way down to a seven-year term. He does this, of course, in no small part for Kim, his great love, in what is really a grand romantic gesture. Though he was always Saul Goodman in the world's eyes and a dangerous criminal in his brother's, for Kim, he was always Jimmy the underdog whose penchant for grifts and heists she fell for; only for her own hatred of the posh and privileged to emerge and transform into toxicity, leading to the unintended and devastating death of Howard Hamlin.

When Jimmy McGill resurfaces in the end, Kim recognises him and the death of Saul (who orchestrated her presence at the trial). As she visits him in prison and they share a cigarette like they used to, framed like a classic noir couple, the silence is pregnant with their history and the love they still clearly have for each other. As always, Kim plays it cool, but we realise, seeing her when she steps out, that she's only barely managed to keep up the facade. He'll never taste free air again, and we don't really know what'll happen with her — but what a ride it's been, and what a sad, dark, and ultimately, beautiful farewell to one of the finest TV shows of our time.

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