This article contains spoilers for the Better Call Saul series finale.
If you had a time machine, where would you go? In light of the superb Better Call Saul finale, “Saul Gone,” heading back to February 8, 2015 to start the whole series over is sounding very appealing right about now.
Like the Breaking Bad finale before it, “Saul Gone” operates as a sort of writerly wish fulfillment exercise. How does one go about generating some redemption for a seemingly irredeemable character?
In the case of Walter White (Bryan Cranston), Breaking Bad turned him into something of an action hero. Bearded and bedraggled, the former meth kingpin arrived to New Mexico in Breaking Bad‘s last episode looking to settle some scores. And he mostly did just that, killing his rivals and rescuing his partner Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), all before suffering a fatal wound from one of his own MacGyver-ed machine guns. It’s obviously all thrilling stuff but perhaps a little out of character for broken, defeated man who was coughing up his lungs in New Hampshire moments before.
By contrast, the Better Call Saul finale doesn’t ask its viewers to suspend their disbelief quite as much. Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) doesn’t return to Albuquerque in a hail of gunfire but rather as a prisoner of the state. The man formally known as Jimmy McGill is arrested very early on into the proceedings and is then mostly shuffled around as a passive participant in his own conclusion.
In the end though, Saul Goodman does find something approaching redemption and absolution. He doesn’t do it by killing a bunch of neo-Nazis but rather by committing his first truly selfless act. While Walter White once said “I did it for me,” Saul finally does something for Kim. Here is what happens in the Better Call Saul series finale.
Mike Ehrmantraut, Walter White, and Chuck McGill Flashbacks
In keeping with the time traveling motif, “Saul Good” ventures back to the past a fair amount of times. While flashbacks are a great excuse to give several Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul characters satisfying series’ wraps, it also helps illustrate Saul’s evolving thought process and path towards redemption.
After the previously on segment (and a surprisingly striking graphic hyping up the episode from AMC) rolls, the finale picks up in the desert during the events of season 5 episode 8 “Bagman.” While trying to escape the unforgiving New Mexican sun, Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) and Saul Goodman come across a tank of fresh water and sit down to recover. That’s when Saul first asks his time machine question.
Mike says he’d go back to December 8, 2001, the day his son Matt was killed (though he doesn’t tell Saul the significance of the date). Then he thinks about it a little more and says he’d go further back to March 17, 1984 – the day he first took a bribe. Saul, meanwhile, can only imagine time traveling back to 1965 to invest in Berkshire Hathaway.
“That’s it? Money?” Mike asks.
“What else?” Saul responds.
The next flashback we’re treated to features our old friend Walter White as he and Saul languish in the basement of the vacuum repairman’s office, awaiting new identities. Saul poses the time travel question again and Walt, ever the scientist (and asshole), points out that he’s really just asking if he has any regrets.
Walt’s regret is the one he always drones on about – being “pushed out” of Gray Matter, the company he started. Once again, the best that Saul can muster up is a weak anecdote about avoiding a slip and fall con when he was 22 and injured his knee. Even though Saul has brought up the time machine exercise himself twice, he has also twice refused to really engage with the prompt in good faith. For as good as Saul is at reading other people, he is surprisingly resistant to understand himself.
“So you were always like this?” Walt says, and not inaccurately given the information he has on hand.
But there is something more to Jimmy McGill a.k.a. Saul Goodman. At least he’s not the narcissistic ego monster that Walter White is. He’s something more complicated – clever, wounded, defensive, but capable of decency. We’ve seen it before, albeit briefly, when he was with his brother Chuck (Michael McKean) and when he was with Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn). Perhaps that’s why the final flashback “Saul Gone” introduces (and out of chronological order, it must be said) is one of Jimmy and Chuck on one of the early days of Chuck’s electromagnetic sensitivity disorder.
As Jimmy unpacks the contents of his grocery run for Chuck, his brother notes that he doesn’t have to do this for him. Chuck is wealthy – he can hire someone or just snag an intern from the Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill offices. Why is Jimmy doing this?
“Why? Because you’re my brother, duh. You’d do the same for me,” Jimmy says, knowing Chuck probably wouldn’t.
The tragedy at the center of Jimmy and Chuck’s lives is that both brothers love each other, but neither likes each other. Chuck correctly has Jimmy pegged as a terminal conman. Jimmy knows Chuck knows what he is. And that dynamic becomes a swirling, self-fulfilling prophecy over decades that all but guarantees Jimmy will one day become the monster they both fear and ultimately destroy his own brother.
And yet…he still picks up Chuck’s groceries. Because he loves him. And wherever there is even the smallest trace of love, someone is not fully lost. That flashback, more than any other, informs what’s to come.
The End of Saul Goodman
Enough of the past and onto the ending – you know, the one you want explained. Despite AMC’s hilariously misleading final episode teaser, Gene Takovic is captured extremely early into “Saul Gone.” Gene in captivity, however, is anything but anticlimactic. Whether his name is Jimmy, Saul, or whatever else, the man the police have in custody is more dangerous in a legal setting than anywhere else. And that leads to the first bit of fireworks of the episode.
The undefeated prosecuting attorney assigned to Saul Goodman’s case informs Saul that all the charges against him amount to a life sentence plus 190 years. But since he’s a good guy and all, he’ll make him a one-time offer of 30 years. Saul, sensing weakness, pulls off his finest bit of chicanery yet.
His sob story about being threatened by Walter White doesn’t convince anyone in the room of his innocence. But as Saul points out…he doesn’t have to convince anyone in that room, he just has to convince one juror to the point where they refuse to prosecute and lead to a hung jury. With his attorney-in-name-only Bill Oakley (Peter Diseth) at his side, Saul gets himself and incredible plea deal that amounts to seven and a half years at the cushiest federal prison of his choice. This is why you better call Saul, people!
But of course, Saul’s story can’t end there. When he tries to negotiate some Blue Bell mint chocolate chip ice cream for himself by offering up information about Howard Hamlin, he discovers that Kim already revealed that information to the law. Later on, Bill Oakley confirms to Saul that Kim could be in some real deep shit because of it. Sure, Bernalillo County doesn’t feel like prosecuting her now, but they reserve the right to do so. And either way, Howard’s widow is going to sue her into oblivion in civil court.
Though it’s not yet know to the viewer, that is the moment that Saul Goodman ends and Jimmy McGill is reborn. Jimmy tells Bill Oakley that he wants to tell the feds even more about the Howard Hamlin case, stuff that even Kim never would have known. And he makes sure that the U.S. Marshal overhears him so that Kim is summed to court as well. Jimmy is planning one final circus.
The Name’s McGill, Jimmy McGill
The climactic moment of Better Call Saul was always destined to occur in court. This is a legal drama after all. Jimmy’s arraignment in Albuquerque is supposed to be a formality. He has a deal with the state and Bill Oakley says this particular judge always honors those deals (even if they are absurd like this one is).
But Jimmy had no intention of following through on this deal from the moment he heard Kim was in trouble. He forces himself onto the stand, takes the solemn oath of the court and unleashes a holy torrent of righteous confessions and even more righteous lies. Jimmy tells the truth about Walter White. He was afraid of the man at first but then he realized how much money was in the meth game and dove headfirst into Heisenberg’s world. He tells the truth about Chuck as well. He could have tried harder with him. Instead he got his malpractice insurance canceled and Chuck killed himself.
Most importantly, however, he tells a lie about Kim. It was his fault and his fault alone that Howard Hamlin is dead. Kim had nothing to do with it. He gave the cops a load of B.S. so he could get his Blue Bell ice cream. And he wanted Kim in court to see this.
In the end, Jimmy McGill got himself a time machine. There is no Saul Goodman.
Better Call Saul Again
But that’s not really the end, now is it? One of the more fascinating choices that “Saul Gone” makes is in the immediate moments following Jimmy’s triumphant moment in court. As Jimmy is being taken away to jail (and not a swanky federal jail with a golf program at that) one of his fellow inmates identifies him as Saul Goodman. Jimmy tries to deny the accusation but news travels around the bus like wildfire and before you know it an entire bus full of men is excitedly cheering “Better call Saul!”
Then, while in prison, we see that both an inmate in the kitchen and a guard refer to Jimmy as “Saul.” No matter how righteous Jimmy’s moment of self actualization was in court, the world still sees him as the world famous conman. And you know what? Jimmy seems mostly fine with that. Perhaps finding peace wasn’t about rejecting one part of his identity but finding a way to blend them together while (and this part is crucial) not hurting anyone.
Certainly, the final scenes we get with Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman are a triumph. His “lawyer” Kim visits him in prison and the two share a cigarette in a holding cell, much like they used to do in the HHM parking garage. Chuck once told Jimmy that if he didn’t like the path he was on, he could change it. Jimmy never was able to get his head around that way of thinking. But in the end all paths lead to a cigarette with Kim all the same.
Are There Any More Breaking Bad Cameos?
Oh, you betcha! In addition to the aforementioned Walter White and Mike Ehrmantraut (who doesn’t really count because he was in Better Call Saul), the show has one last treat for Breaking Bad fans. Hank Schrader’s widow Marie (Betsy Brandt) makes her series debut as she sits in on Saul’s plea deal talks. Later on at the arraignment, she is accompanied by Steve Gomez’s widow Blanca, who was named but never previously seen on Breaking Bad.
Is This the End of the Breaking Bad Universe?
Almost certainly yes. Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan has indicated that this marks the end of the Albuquerque universe for him. And it’s hard to imagine another spinoff continuing on without him or Saul showrunner Peter Gould. AMC doesn’t have a great track record in letting sleeping content lie with The Walking Dead blossoming into one of TV’s most overwhelming franchises, but even the most artistically bereft corporate exec has to realize that this world has run its course, right?…right???
Anywho, we’ll see you all for Better Call Bill Oakley.