A perfect send-off.
Warning: The below contains full spoilers for the series finale of Better Call Saul, which aired on Aug. 15, 2022, on AMC.
Better Call Saul ends in a much different place than where it began. A show that could have easily gone wrong at many different points quickly turned out to be one of the best things on TV. After many magic tricks over the years, the finale, aptly titled “Saul Gone,” pulls its biggest one yet and manages to pay off 14 years' worth of story. It is a fulfilling, thought-provoking, satisfying emotional gut punch, and a perfect bow to tie a just-about perfect show in.
“What would you do if you had a time machine?” The episode begs that question at multiple moments, and from the first time it’s asked, it becomes clear Better Call Saul has learned a few lessons and is aiming for a much different finale than Breaking Bad. The original show ended in an explosive blaze of glory, wrapping the story on Walt's terms. It didn't really redeem him, but it still offered him an easy way out in pseudo victory. By comparison, “Saul Gone” reflects the prequel series' subtler character study, exploring regrets and change in its protagonist.
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We pick up right where the previous episode left off, with Gene on the run from the cops and Carol Burnett's Marion. While he is an excellent lawyer, he is a lousy fugitive, and is quickly caught by the cops. He is utterly defeated – that is, until he realizes he has one more ace under his sleeve. Once in custody, Gene slips back into Saul mode and manages to weasel his way out of a life-plus-190-years sentence in exchange for a brisk seven years in a comfy white-collar country club of a prison by telling a sad story about working out of fear of Walter — all while Marie Schrader (Betsy Brandt) listens in.
Throughout the episode, we get three flashbacks and three Dickensian ghosts, two of whom answer the time travel question, and the third illustrates it. First up is Mike, who answers by saying he'd go back to the day he accepted his first bribe, as that set him on a path that ended with his son dead. The second flashback includes a surprise appearance from Bryan Cranston's Walter White in a scene set immediately after the events of Ozymandias. In an episode full of heartbreak, it is hilarious that Saul asks Walter if he has any regrets the day after he quite literally lost everything that mattered in his life.
The Walt we meet here is not the badass crime lord that outsmarted a cartel, but a pathetic, apathetic, self-centered asshole who blames the entire world for his problems and belittles everyone around him. This feels like a retroactive attempt at making up for the way audiences continue to side with Walt in the years since the show ended. Walt immediately fixates on the physical implausibility of time travel, and when it comes to regrets, he says he would go back and stay at Gray Matter Technologies rather than allow his partners to kick him out (we know differently) — though he does silently look at an expensive watch Jesse gifted him before answering.
On both occasions, Jimmy avoids the question and gives vague answers, one about money and one about a weak knee he once hurt. This is a man who has spent the entire show avoiding asking himself tough questions, dodging consequences for his actions, and denying any regrets. But the third flashback tells a different story. We meet the biggest ghost of Jimmy's past, Chuck. Set shortly before the first episode of Better Call Saul, we see Jimmy deliver groceries to Chuck. Though the older brother offers Jimmy the opportunity to stay and talk about work, Jimmy refuses, knowing Chuck would only take the opportunity to scoff at him for doing a bad job, a rare time where Jimmy was the one to turn down bond-building.
“Saul Gone” is not just clever wordplay, but a thematic bookend on a show that was never really about Saul Goodman.“
Though he doesn't say it, we get the feeling this is the moment Jimmy would travel back to in order to correct things (made clear by Chuck having a copy of H. G. Wells' book in his hand). This is undoubtedly his biggest regret: failing to try to build a bond with his brother beyond obligations. What's more poignant is Chuck's look of disappointment when Jimmy declines the invitation to stay longer. It is a look that shows that maybe, had things gone a tiny bit differently, the brothers would have been closer, and Chuck wouldn't have tried to sabotage Jimmy, and Jimmy wouldn't have resorted to destroying Chuck's career. And so much suffering, pain, and death could have been avoided.
“So you were always like this,” Walt tells Saul upon hearing his fake regret story, and that phrase ends up being both the key to the finale, to the entire show, and even the ABQ crime trilogy at large. Breaking Bad set out to display how a man could go from Mr. Chips to Scarface, but ultimately showed that Walter White always had a Scarface inside of him, waiting to come out. But Better Call Saul was different. Not only did we already know that Jimmy would one day turn into Saul, but we learned from the first season that Jimmy had always struggled with his own inner Scarface, with “Slippin' Jimmy.” No matter how hard he tried to do good things, he inevitably resorted back to Slippin' Jimmy, and eventually Saul, because it was much easier to put up that front than to take the hard road and confront his mistakes.
Of course, that changes when he hears about Kim's confession and the possible lawsuit that could take it all from her. In the very first episode of Breaking Bad, Walter says chemistry is “growth, then decay, then transformation!” While Breaking Bad ended on that decay, Better Call Saul goes through all those notions in this one episode alone. In what will go down as one of the greatest courtroom scenes in movie and TV history, Saul offers a confession, claiming responsibility for Walt's criminal empire as he prevented him from being caught or killed within a month, and accepts responsibility for the deaths of Hank and Steve — ruining his plea deal, but also screwing over his rival Bill Oakley once again for old times' sake.
Most shocking, however, is when he starts tearing up as he talks about Howard Hamlin's death, and goes as far as confessing to causing Chuck to lose his insurance, which ultimately led to him losing his job, then his life. This is a very different speech than the one he gave to the Bar Association after Chuck's death; this was a genuine show of remorse, a man finally reclaiming his humanity, to the point where he corrects the judge calling him Saul and asks to be referred to as James McGill. This is the first time Jimmy is fully honest with himself, and he’s much better for it.
The Breaking Bad finale title, “Felina,” felt like a clever play on the word finale but not much else. In comparison, “Saul Gone” is not just clever wordplay, but a thematic bookend on a show that was never really about Saul Goodman, yet felt his presence loom large over the story. Saul Goodman is finally dead and gone, and James Morgan McGill is back. Unlike Walter, who got out way too easy, Jimmy pays for his actions. He gets 86 years in prison – a shoddy prison at that – but he is beloved by the inmates who recognize the legend of Saul Goodman, the man who helped countless people, no matter the crime. The man who did fight for the little guy when nobody else would. He's going to be alright.
Better Call Saul not only defied what a prequel/spin-off could do, but what a TV drama could do in the post-antiheroes era.“
As for Jimmy, we don't get an easy death scene that absolves him of his crimes while the rest of the characters are left to pick up the pieces off screen. Instead, we get a scene of him in prison, content, but still incarcerated and alone for the rest of his life – except he isn’t really alone, as he gets one more visit from the love of his life, Kim. Better Call Saul has always looked exceptional, but the final moments of the finale, where Jimmy and Kim share one last cigarette like they did in the very first episode of the show, look straight out of a classic film noir.
For a show that revolved around what was once a one-dimensional comic relief side character to end on such a high note is a miracle. Better Call Saul not only defied what a prequel/spin-off could do, but what a TV drama could do in the post-antiheroes era. This episode makes it clear that Saul wasn’t “always like this.” Jimmy may have been like that once, and he may have become that at some point, but just as Better Call Saul morphed and evolved into one of the greatest TV dramas of all time, so too did Jimmy grow, then decay, then transform into a better man. And if Saul Goodman can do it, couldn't we all?
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