This Better Call Saul review contains spoilers.
Better Call Saul Season 4 Episode 10
“To the victor go the spoils,” must not have had the same ring to it that “The Winner Takes It All” had in those ABBA writing sessions, but the gist is pretty much the same. The song was written with divorce in mind, but it could function equally well for the dissolution of any sort of partnership or relationship. The cultural critic and writer Chuck Klosterman described the song as “[the only] pop song that examines the self-aware guilt one feels when talking to a person who has humanely obliterated your heart.” In that reading, it becomes a perfectly appropriate song for Chuck to sing with, or rather to his brother Jimmy. Behind closed doors and behind Jimmy’s back, I suppose you could say that Chuck “humanely” tried to block his brother’s success as a lawyer at every conceivable turn and maybe he really did feel guilt over that.
But a reading of the lyrics makes it clear why Jimmy felt a connection to this particular song, strong enough to choose it for his karaoke victory lap. “But I was a fool / Playing by the rules” could have be the thesis statement of Better Call Saul Season 4. The show was tasked this year with executing two crucial moves; exorcizing Chuck’s lingering presence and showing Jimmy’s first true turn toward becoming everyone’s favorite criminal lawyer. For that to happen, Jimmy would need to lose hope in the thought that he could ever get ahead by doing things by the book, the way that Chuck would do them. “The Winner Takes It All,” and nice guys finish last.
Jimmy McGill becoming Saul Goodman was an inevitable that was still going to hurt like hell, and man, did it. In one respect, Jimmy’s deflating about-face happens too suddenly, without the ceremony befitting this game-changing moment that everything’s been leading to, but at the same time, the abruptness leaves the audience as stunned as Kim. The fact that Jimmy was not only able to deceive the bar association, but Kim herself with what we thought was a sincere, emotional reflection on his brother so thoroughly proves that something inside Jimmy has absolutely broken.
The hurt and confusion on Kim’s face as Jimmy drops character so instantly is just as painful as watching the newly donned Saul Goodman shed the last vestiges of Jimmy McGill. Kim worked hard to help Jimmy get to this point, outlining potential speeches, setting up a library dedication, and dutifully standing by as Jimmy used the old “watermelon” stage banter trick to appear solemn to visitors at Chuck’s grave. All throughout, Kim remains slightly disturbed by the way Jimmy refuses to mourn his brother for a moment. “I felt like I look sad” isn’t what Kim wants to hear when she asks Jimmy how he’s feeling. Kim has now seen the extent at which Jimmy is emotionally checked out and it’s natural for her to wonder how far that apathy extends.
I shouldn’t have been as shocked by Jimmy’s “performance” after watching him talk to the scholarship applicant Christy. In a seething, rambling speech, Jimmy tells young Christy that because of her past mistakes, the people in control will never grant her a seat at the table, and if she wants to win and take all, she’ll have to dummy up and stop playing by the rules. It’s the advice that Jimmy has always known to be true but needed to hear himself and it certainly telegraphed the way Jimmy would behave after his reinstatement hearing. In that speech to Christy, and later, in the heart string-pulling, last ditch effort at reinstatement, Bob Odenkirk has never been better. Add in Jimmy’s breakdown in the parking garage, the same garage where he started his climb up from the bottom, and with just one episode alone, Odenkirk has an Emmy-reel for the ages.
Still, I have to wonder if Jimmy’s deflating heel turn at the episode’s end reflects his true feelings. A part of me thinks that there must be some part of him that meant those words that he so effectively emoted in his speech, and that his over-the-top laughter at those “suckers” in the hearing is just an elaborate defense mechanism, one that he doesn’t realize will drive Kim away. Anyway, regardless of whether I believe Jimmy moving past Chuck warranted an entire season worth of storytelling, this ending packed a wallop and definitely satisfied.
The rest of the episode was dedicated toward Mike tying up loose ends in the “Werner’s escape” situation. The execution of Mike hunting down Werner, all with Lalo hot on his trail, was flawless and a throwback to the hardboiled delights of Mike’s scenes in Breaking Bad. Also, the resolution of Mike’s search, ending with an expertly staged wideshot depicting Werner’s murder along with Mike’s wordless confirmation to Gus that the job had been done, shared some symmetry with Jimmy’s story; Mike shedding the last vestiges of his humanity.
But still, I can’t help but think that all of the time spent on the construction of the superlab could have been better spent elsewhere, like on Nacho, who’s story feels frustratingly incomplete this season, or on establishing Lalo, who only flashes some real menace in the second half of the season’s last episode. Surely there’ll be time for both of them in Season 5, but giving them short shrift in favor of filling in unnecessary backstory feels misguided even if the superlab material works well here in the finale, with Gus left standing alone in the world’s most expensive hole in the ground.
Even if the season didn’t turn out to be as explosive as promised and spent its time somewhat curiously in moments, each episode still felt satisfying in a vacuum and Better Call Saul still feels like the most adroitly crafted series on television. With Jimmy McGill’s transformation into Saul Goodman officially official and the ghost of Chuck finally put to rest, Better Call Saul Season 5 is slated to be the year where Jimmy’s personal life must hit the fan in favor of the success of his professional endeavors. It may all be good to Jimmy in this moment, but there doesn’t appear to be any spoils in this victory, just ask Gene in Omaha.
Nick Harley is a tortured Cleveland sports fan, thinks Douglas Sirk would have made a killer Batman movie, Spider-Man should be a big-budget HBO series, and Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson should direct a script written by one another. For more thoughts like these, read Nick’s work here at Den of Geek or follow him on Twitter.
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