Creator Vince Gilligan always said that Breaking Bad was about one man’s transformation from Mr. Chips to Scarface. Better Call Saul has a transformation story at its core that isn’t as dramatic or definitive: it’s sort of like a grown-up Ferris Bueller, the king of schemers, trying to transform into something legit, then deciding that maybe legitimacy is over-rated.
The season finale of Better Call Saul has Jimmy McGill doing some deep soul-searching. After having his world rocked by the reveal that his brother, Chuck, was the real reason he was being held back in his law career, Jimmy decides to go home to Chicago to get in touch with his roots and pull some of his old tricks with his buddy Marco.
Before Jimmy leaves, he signs over the rights to the Sandpiper case to Hamiln, and for the first time their interaction isn’t hostile. If anything, Hamlin is incredibly impressed when he learns of the ways that Jimmy has taken care of Chuck for the past year. Hamlin’s reaction to Chuck’s shopping list almost serves as the surrogate audience reaction: how could Chuck wrong a guy who’s sacrificing so much for him?
It seems like everyone can witness the hard work that Jimmy has been putting in. His clients won’t stop calling and asking about him, and Kim bends over backward to help Jimmy find new opportunities. If Jimmy really was just a “scumbag,” like Jimmy believes Chuck thinks he is, then why do so many people want to see him succeed?
Jimmy makes the decision to return to Chicago after a meltdown while calling a Bingo game, in which he reveals nuggets about his past, mainly information about his ex-wife and the crime that made him relocate to the ABQ in the first place. We discover that Jimmy’s ex-wife cheated on him with a man named Chet, and in retaliation, Jimmy defecates through the sunroof of Chet’s all-white BMW, not realizing that Chet’s kids are in the car. After his little freak-out, Jimmy returns to the dark Illinois bar where old buddy Marco still sits, almost waiting for him to return.
The pair pull off many impressive scams over a week, like convincing some women that Jimmy is Kevin Costner, but at the end of the seven days, Jimmy doesn’t feel much better. Marco tries to convince Jimmy to stay by insulting Chuck and insisting that Slippin’ Jimmy is really who Jimmy is deep down. Marco can’t persuade Jimmy to stay, but he does get him to agree to pull one more scheme, the Rolex scam from earlier in the season. However, things don’t go as planned, and Marco has a heart attack and dies.
At the funeral, Jimmy gets a call from Kim alerting him that HHM is seeking assistance on the Sandpiper case from another firm, and that firm is interested in making Jimmy a partner. While on the phone, Jimmy wears a ring that Marco used to wear, and he keeps it on throughout his travel back to New Mexico. Perhaps looking at the ring and remembering the words of Marco, who loved and appreciated Jimmy’s skill-set, unlike Chuck, and encouraged his more deceptive ways, really gets to Jimmy and causes him to bail on the meeting with Davis & Main. It shouldn’t be surprising that Jimmy chooses the dark side since we know the end of his story, but the episode still makes this sudden change of heart surprising.
It looks like the do-gooder Jimmy McGill that always does the right thing is gone, but that doesn’t mean that Saul Goodman is here yet. I assume season two will find our hero treading in some murkier waters. It’s a shame that one man’s perception, Chuck’s, could erase all of the hard work and good will that Jimmy generated this season, but then again, Slippin’ Jimmy is far more fun to watch than someone who always does the right thing. Season one of Better Call Saul had staggering levels of confidence and quality for a freshman drama, spin-off or not, and I can’t wait to see what Jimmy gets mixed up in next year.