‘Better Call Saul’ Finale Says Goodbye in Beautifully Poetic Fashion (Commentary)

·4 min read

Throughout the series finale of AMC’s “Better Call Saul,” our deeply flawed, often immoral and occasionally sympathetic protagonist keeps asking figures from his past what they’d do if they had a time machine. First, it’s Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), who rues the day he first took a bribe and began down the path that led him to become an entirely different man. Then, it’s Walter White (Bryan Cranston), who points out that the real question behind the time machine thought experiment is regret.

Saul regrets actually hurting himself while pulling a slip-and-fall scam when he was 22. “So you were always like this?” Walter snarks at him. But we, the loyal “Better Call Saul “viewers, know better than that, don’t we? The show wasn’t about a criminal lawyer who spent his life scheming and scamming to the top, only to descend far below the bottom. It’s always been a show about a man whose soul calcified when the world wouldn’t let him be anything other than what he once was. The series finale — which revisits the quieter moments in between pivotal times across the “Better Call Saul” and “Breaking Bad” timeline — somehow, expertly and beautifully, manages to bridge the gap between it all.

Mike asks Saul if there’s “nothing you’d change?” other than chasing money if he could go back in time as the two trek through the desert in a return to Season 5’s “Bagman.” Walter, driven by blind arrogance, can only blame others for his problems as we flashback to he and Saul waiting to start new lives courtesy of the vacuum man in the final season of “Breaking Bad.” Sometime before Chuck’s suicide, he tells Jimmy it’s not too late to change his path. Call them all interludes or cautionary tales. What matters is that none of these interactions redirect the road our main character has set for himself, despite the best of initial intentions. But in the accumulation of a lifetime’s worth of regret, deflection, selfishness and loss that consumes him whole, Saul breathes one last gasp of humanity before the show closes the book on his journey.

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After his arrest and the official end of Gene Takovic, Saul miraculously negotiates a plea deal down to seven years despite the litany of crimes he’s committed (bonus points for co-creators Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan using Bill Oakley, a minor background character, in its most pivotal episode as Saul unfurls one last grand tale). It’s slimy, manipulative and self-serving — but that’s always been the core of Saul Goodman. Why change now?

In a fitting thematic touch, it is Kim’s (Rhea Seehorn) conscience that serves as the tip of the spear to pierce Saul’s eroding armor. After he discovers that her admission to the DA about the true circumstances surrounding Howard Hamlin’s death in the penultimate episode has put her in potential legal trouble, Saul Goodman makes one last showtime play.

As he addresses the court, a transformation takes place as he throws away his cushy plea deal in exchange for raw, honest truth. “I wasn’t just a willing participant. I was indispensable,” he tells the court. “Walter White couldn’t have done it without me.” In that moment, the man who became rich and famous for convincing juries their clients were not responsible, finally takes responsibility. He frees Kim from the specter of trouble in an unburdening that guarantees his imprisonment, yet also the freedom of his soul. “I tried. I could’ve tried harder. I should have.” There was one regret he wasn’t willing to live with and that was letting Kim suffer any more than she already had.

Sitting down, he notes to the judge he’s no longer Saul Goodman, he’s Jimmy McGill — though the persona he crafted for himself lives ever onward in the eyes of the impressed criminals waiting for him in prison. As he settles in to serve his 86-year sentence, Kim visits to share a cigarette like they once did in the pilot and to tell him, in no uncertain terms, that he did the right thing.

If “Breaking Bad” was about the rise and fall of Walter White, then “Better Call Saul” was about the path almost taken by Jimmy McGill and the path he now regrets.

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