‘Better Call Saul’s’ Brilliant, Emotional Finale Is ‘Breaking Bad’ in Reverse: TV Review

It turned out that there was only one person who the future and once Jimmy McGill would put ahead of his own personal interests.

In the stunning and stylish final episode of one of the strongest dramas over the last 10 years, Bob Odenkirk’s Saul Goodman, to borrow the phrase, was a slacker. Having finally been apprehended, Saul structured a plea bargain that would have him in and out of prison in a plausibility-stretching-but-who’s-counting seven years.

However, he spotted and decided to get rid of the names of his wife, Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), and to claim his real name, which was the one he had prior to when “Saul” committed himself to full-time sexiness. Jimmy is likely to have to spend the remaining years in jail, knowing that he was released by grace.

The final episode in this spinoff from “Breaking Bad,” some 14 years after the original was first shown in the series on AMC will likely be the end of this universe. The “Saul” ending fits into Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s puzzle with a slightly interesting tension.

The story from “Breaking Bad” was pitch-dark. The show’s finale features the criminal who was twisted Walter White achieves everything he desires before dying peacefully knowing that he was flawless and awed the audience with many of the things they could wish for. The spinoff of that show isn’t giving us the joy of watching Saul achieve one final big win, and forces us to consider the more nuanced pleasures of suffering for doing good.

The final scene was precise, in the way it drew into Saul’s moral dilemma and the confusion of the various ancillary characters in the illicit drug trade only a list of crimes that Saul has to answer in the end — all the way to the use of key characters supporting the plot to help make their points.

Odenkirk probably has never been stronger than during the courtroom, looking completely confident in his decision to apply his skills as a lawyer on others’ behalf, and still happy that the plan is effective.

The performance of Seehorn as Kim is dazzling, especially as she pretends to play her ex-husband’s lawyer to enjoy one last cigarette in jail a euphoric reminder of all the rifts they forged during happier times. Although I’ve at times observed direct references towards “Breaking Bad” on “Better Call Saul” to be unintentionally brash the flashback appearance that starred Bryan Cranston as Walter earned its spot.

“So you were always like this,” the Kingpin’s attorney tells him in the course of discussing an earlier slip-and-fall fraud Saul was able to pull. Walter was made to commit criminality as he claims to himself. Saul was born to do it.

The conversation takes place in the background of Saul being extremely philosophical and he’s pondering if Walter will ever regret anything. (If I can make one observation about this scene is that Cranston does a little too excessively of a meal of Walter’s inability to grasp the subject; I’ve become used to the more mellow pace of Odenkirk’s main performance, and that the pacing “Better Call Saul” generally.) In the next scene, Michael McKean returns for another scene in the retrospective, this time playing Chuck who is brother of Jimmy who was betrayed.

This scene McKean and Odenkirk are in is both tender and sad for the future and is infused with the assurance that Jimmy will be there for his brother. We know he won’t keep. Jimmy realizes Chuck is reading a novel. Chuck is reading a novel called “The Time Machine.”

The finale functions a bit like a time machine also, and not only for the moments that are snagged of Jimmy’s life. Nine years ago, following a euphoric finale, “Breaking Bad” ended in a shockingly shoddy manner. The episode’s tidiness made it an intricate story machine, however, the simple resolution was lacking grip and feel.

It’s not surprising that the creator of the show Vince Gilligan has repeatedly undertaken attempts to stitch further into the plot. He’s accomplished this through the feature-length movie “El Camino,” which follows Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) following the incidents from “Breaking Bad,” and it’s now Saul’s story. Saul gave Gilligan along with Peter Gould (who wrote and directed the episode) another chance to create the series’s final episode.

“Saul” was, to the viewer, a feat that could never be achieved without the predecessor series, and one that was a step up from it. The show’s portrayal of “Slippin’ Jimmy” falling away from grace struck notes of sadness that even the intense “Breaking Bad” couldn’t quite do. (And in no way it was a show with more humor.) The final episode confirms that in the end by revealing the bitter separation between Jimmy and Kim together against the world but separated by a wall of the prison, and the realization that neither could escape their shared desire to be a part of the excitement of wrongdoing, while the other could not, in the end — like the events of “Breaking Bad.”

It could have not been a big deal, however, since it communicated in glances rather than shouts. The last glimpse we get in the form of Jimmy can be seen as what Kim perceives of him as an individual who appears to be ghostly to her in the absence of being so clearly an integral part of her past. The camera follows her eye as a wall of prison is a barrier to him and then he’s gone.

All in all, “Saul” will be remembered as a triumph in a period of television that seemed to end prior to the show’s debut as it had a tendency to tinker with the edges of the plot and a trust in its viewers that brought back memories of the likes of “The Americans,” something that isn’t so prevalent among the newer shows of today. (Notably, there’s a link to the era of AMC as a driving force that was emerging for adult-oriented dramas a period that, with the prospect of the launch of a Sally Draper prequel series at an undetermined date, appears to have slowed down.)

The show’s tendency, particularly during its final stretch of episodes, to alternate dramatic and memorable moments with everyday scenes of everyday life experiences — a conversation with a bartender or a day at work that seemed to last at least a bit too long was an interesting decision. The show had the feel of everyday life and is not what you’d expect to be looking for in a show featuring a corrupt lawyer caught up in the saga of cartel warfare.

Yet that’s exactly what allowed it to work until its final moments. The show’s tendency to repeat itself, and having Saul begin to tell the tale of his fall another time in the last episode before a judge alters the narrative enough to let Kim free of the burden the story is told for a long time. The teaser is a glimmer that reveals, even more, when viewers understand what’s happening.

In the final scene of an inversion of the story, we saw in “Breaking Bad,” a 6-season-long game of confidence: Fans who were enthralled by the transformation of Walter White into Scarface were able to witness the incessant saga that a character who could not resist making mistakes, and who had to make excuses when he was trying to hide from the world. In the final moments, we discover what he’s hidden since the beginning: a human heart.

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