The Birth of Saul Goodman
Yes, Jimmy McGill has said the words “Saul Goodman/S’all good, man” before. He said the latter version as early on as the finale of the show’s first season. This season he even adopted the pseudonym as part of his illicit burner phone selling business.
But the real show stopping moment of the Better Call Saul Season 4 finale is Jimmy McGill finally making it official. Professionally, he is now Saul Goodman. Not only that, but he may very well be Saul Goodman full stop. This finale, “Winner,” takes stock of Jimmy McGill’s soul and doesn’t find much of Jimmy McGill left.
In its fourth season, Better Call Saul all but abandoned the prospect of combining Jimmy’s legal world storyline with Mike’s criminal underworld storyline. In fact the two characters met only once in Season 4, back when Jimmy was looking for someone to steal Hummel figurines for him. As a result, the Better Call Saul season 4 finale is really two finales in one. “Winner” features the season end for both Jimmy and Mike. So let’s break down exactly what happened in each.
Last week Kim asked Jimmy if he still wanted to be a lawyer after his initial reinstatement hearing didn’t go well because the board didn’t believe in Jimmy’s sincerity. So Kim’s plan as it were was to apply for an appeal and have Jimmy dial up his sincerity meter to 11, whether he’s pretending or not.
Jimmy spends the entire first year anniversary of Chuck’s death at his brother’s headstone, pretending to be upset. Inevitably, many notable figures in the legal world stop by as well and see how sincerely upset Chuck’s brother is at his passing. Kim and Jimmy also spend tens of thousands of actual dollars to create a wing at a library for Chuck.
The ruse is going well but it just needs one last touch. Jimmy figures out exactly what that is. He’ll read the heartfelt letter that Chuck wrote to him at his appeal hearing – the same letter that he read stone-faced while eating his cereal and that caused Kim to weep.
Jimmy steps up to the stand and begins to read the letter but then something amazing happens! Jimmy goes off script. He admits that this was a half-baked ruse to remind the board of his infinitely more competent brother. It’s time for him to come clean about his complicated relationship with the larger-than-life Chuck.
Jimmy says, in part:
“This letter is between me and him and it should stay that way. My brother, Chuck – you knew him. He loved me in his own way. He loved me as a brother. He did not love me as a lawyer. All I wanted to do was make him proud. And he was not an easy man to make proud. He could be a real son of a bitch. Chuck was the one who was always right. And usually he was. For a guy like me, I did lousy in school, I lacked ambition, I always cut corners. For me to live up to the standards of Charles McGill…I mean: look at me. I’ll never be as moral as him. I’ll never be as smart. I’ll never be as good. I’ll never be as respected. I’ll never be Chuck. But I can try.”
It’s a remarkable speech, and seemingly the emotional catharsis we’ve been waiting for all season. It makes some board members cry. Hell, it makes Kim cry. Jimmy wraps up in perfect fashion.
“If you decide that I get to be a lawyer, I’ll do everything I can to make sure I’ll be worthy of the name McGill,” he says.
Mere hours later, Jimmy will officially ditch the name McGill and begin his life as Saul Goodman. Peter Gould essentially told us this would happen. If not this season then soon. Jimmy was closer to Saul then ever. It’s still shocking that it’s actually here.
What happens after Jimmy’s hearing is devastating. Kim thought she knew who she was dealing with. She knew that these displays of sincerity were all an act – she even helped set them up. But this final acting job is so disturbingly convincing that Kim realizes she may have been living with a borderline sociopath this whole time.
Jimmy’s change in demeanor once he’s given his law license back and adopted his Saul Goodman persona is shocking. “Did you see those suckers? That one asshole was crying,” Jimmy tells a gobsmacked Kim. Then he calls a clerk getting a legal document for him “sweetheart.” Jimmy is unquestionably Saul Goodman now. It happens so quickly that the real question is “when did this happen?” The death of Chuck may have freed Jimmy in ways none of us were expecting. It’s possible that from episode one of this season, Jimmy McGill was already fundamentally Saul Goodman. It just wasn’t until this final episode that he says the words and signs the requisite documents.
What’s Next for Mike?
Mike’s story is similarly devastating. Mike doesn’t go through a significant change here. He’s always been a murderer. In “Winner” he just happens to be forced into a particularly rough one. Werner really thought Mike was his friend. He thought that he could take a four-day break from his job building an underground meth lab for a violent drug lord and then return and everything would be ok because Mike had his back.
Sadly Mike was taking half measures. He didn’t do enough to impart to Werner just how SERIOUS this all was. As a consequence, when Mike finally finds Werner waiting for his wife at a local hot spring…he has to kill the man. Not only has Werner escaped to the outside world – he’s unwittingly revealed parts of Gus’s plan to the Salamancas thanks to a probing phone call from Lalo. Mike takes Werner out to the desert and tries to convince Gus to spare him. Gus is unconvinced. Mike says he’ll do the unfortunate deed.
Mike gives Werner the opportunity to call his wife and convince her to take the next flight home. Werner asks Mike if she’ll ever know what happened to him.
“There will be an accident on the work site,” Mike says. “There will be lawyers, German lawyers. Her questions will be answered.”
“Is there no other way, truly?” Werner asks.
Mike says nothing.
“There are so many stars visible in New Mexico. I will walk out there to get a better look.”
As Werner walks slowly further into the desert, Mike approaches him from behind and shoots him in the back of the head.
This is all good tragedy and works well enough on its own. It does, however, have another small implication for the greater Better Call Saul/Breaking Bad mythology. In the final scene of Mike’s portion of the finale, Gus shows our old friend Gale (hey, Gale!) the unfinished underground meth lab. Gale is astonished with the quality of it all, while Gus is very, very, very cranky. That lab will never be completed and will always represent a certain level of failure for Gus. Regardless, Gale says he can make it work if they’re able to find enough ventilation. Now we know that the lab that Walt and Jesse worked in for the better part of two seasons on Breaking Bad was technically unfinished. Maybe that’s how that damn fly got in there.
Better Call Saul doesn’t usually go for showy or explosive finales. Mike’s sad decision and Jimmy finally acknowledging who he is is about as close as we’ll get. Fortunately, Better Call Saul Season 5 is already confirmed.
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