With nowhere left to run, Jimmy McGill, aka Saul Goodman, faced a final reckoning in the last-ever episode of Better Call Saul
WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE LAST-EVER EPISODE OF ‘BETTER CALL SAUL’
It’s been obvious for some time that the last-ever episode of Better Call Saul ( Netflix) could only end in one of two ways: with Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy McGill, aka Saul Goodman, aka (briefly) Gene Takovic, either dead or in a prison cell.
In the event, the sublime finale of Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s brilliant series ended both ways. Saul, the corrupt, gaudily dressed huckster lawyer retained by Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) in season two of Breaking Bad, died — if only figuratively — so that Jimmy could re-emerge and reclaim his identity.
Not that he had much of a life to look forward to. He’d be spending the entirety of it in a tough maximum-security prison dubbed “the Alcatraz of the Rockies”, having been sentenced to 86 years. It didn’t have to be that way.
Earlier in the episode — which, like the other ones set in the “Gene” era, was shot in black and white — Jimmy’s legal adviser Bill Oakley (Peter Diseth), baffled by his client’s optimism when the Feds had “a warehouse of evidence” proving his guilt, asked him: “Where do you see this ending?”
“With me on top, like always,” said Jimmy, cockily. It seemed for a while that he’d be proved right.
Jimmy somehow managed to wangle a plea deal that would see him serve just seven years rather than the life-plus-190 years that had been hanging over him.
He was granted his wish to serve his time in the same cushy, medium-security prison where fraudster Bernie Madoff had been incarcerated. He even got to choose which wing he wanted to be sent to.
But when Jimmy tried to leverage what he knew about the death of Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian), which had been ruled a suicide, into one further concession, he was floored by the news that his guilt-ridden ex-wife Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) had already spilled the whole story of Howard’s murder by Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton) to the Feds, at the risk of going to prison herself, and also to Howard’s widow, Cheryl (Sandrine Holt).
This was the turning point for Jimmy. Despite the terrible things he’d done as Saul, the numerous people he’d wronged and hurt, the murders — including that of Hank Schrader in Breaking Bad — in which he was in one way or another complicit, there was still one last, tiny flicker of decency inside Jimmy that hadn’t been extinguished.
In court, to the horror of Oakley, Jimmy basically set fire to the agreement he’d made with the Feds by confessing to the crimes with which he’d been charged, and much more besides, including how he drove his own brother Chuck (Michael McKean) to suicide and ruined Howard’s life.
Gilligan and Gould (who was the finale’s writer and director) are too good to give us a simple, sappy, personal-redemption story.
Jimmy wasn’t confessing to unburden his soul and seek forgiveness from the court. He was seeking forgiveness from Kim, the only person he cared about more than himself, who was present.
She brought out the best in him; he brought out the worst in her. As Kim said in an earlier episode, being together turned them into “poison” for others.
There was a brief reconciliation of sorts in a touching final scene. Kim blagged her way in to see Jimmy by posing as his lawyer.
In an echo of a moment from when they’d just met early in the series, they shared a cigarette. Then Kim was outside, looking at Jimmy through the prison fence. As she walked away, Jimmy was gradually obscured by a wall. Then he was gone.
We’d already seen cameos from Breaking Bad faces in Better Call Saul, and there were more here: colour flashbacks featuring Cranston, McKean and Saul/Breaking Bad regular Jonathan Banks.
Rather than gratuitous fan service, their shared themes — regrets and the inability to change the past, only to atone for it — were central to the overall narrative.
This was the perfect finale, superior even to Breaking Bad’s. The only thing that would make it better would be for Odenkirk and the criminally overlooked Seehorn to win the Emmys they’ve been shamefully denied so far.