We have come to expect a certain level of fireworks from season finales: shocking revelations, reversals of fortune, betrayals, hookups, breakups. The first season finale of Better Call Saul had none of these, instead serving as a kind of quiet postscript to last week’s wrenching episode in which Jimmy was so thoroughly betrayed and rejected by his big brother and role model Chuck.
Still stinging from finding out that it was Chuck, not Howard Hamlin, who had been blocking his professional progress, Jimmy headed home to Chicago and reconnected with his old running buddy Marco for a week of cons and scams, ending with Marco dropping dead of a heart attack in the middle of a reprise of the old Rolex routine.
When Kim calls to tell Jimmy the Sandpiper case is so big that not even HH&M can handle it, so an even larger firm is taking it on. Even better, the clients’ loyalty to Jimmy has the larger firm interested in hiring Jimmy to a partner-track position.
Jimmy rushes back to ABQ to meet his new potential employers, but stops just short of the courthouse door, gets back in his car, and declares to Mike that he’s through being a sucker, and heads off into the sunset, and presumably, the Law Offices of Saul Goodman, Esq.
I’ve enjoyed this first season enormously, and the finale was no exception, but I found it oddly muted; this finale could easily have served as a series finale, as Jimmy’s (and Mike’s) path to the events of Breaking Bad is pretty clearly laid out. There are no dangling plot threads, no unanswered questions.
It made me wonder how much more story there really is to tell between this point and the fateful meeting with Mr. White and his former student, which brought me to wonder if the plan is really for this series to take place entirely before that, or if it will at some point catch up to Breaking Bad and maybe depict concurrent events, kind of like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Think about it: in Saul’s first meeting with Jesse and Heisenberg, they are wearing ski masks, so it would not be implausible to reshoot that scene from a more Saul-centric perspective, and then focus on the details of how Saul handles their business (while also taking other cases) in their absence. It would also be very interesting for the show to go past the events of Breaking Bad and pick things back up at that Omaha Cinnebon; from what we’ve seen of the cut of Jimmy McGill’s job, he’s not going to stay there for long.
David Segal of The New York Times is perplexed:
But Jimmy hasn’t just opted out of white collar office life. He has announced that he wants to resume his career as a nonviolent criminal. It’s this decision that seems a little mystifying. Nothing about that week of scams in Chicago looks very appealing. In fact, it ends with Marco’s funeral. Additionally, throughout this entire season, aside from a brief moment when he considers keeping that $1.5 million, Jimmy McGill appears to be a reformed man. He’s genuinely helping those elderly people with their wills and estates. I can see him rejecting corporate life. The embrace of the felonious life makes me scratch my head. Last week’s episode implied that Chuck was dead wrong when he said that Jimmy could never shed his roguish past. (“I know what you were, what you are!” he yelled.) Now it seems, Chuck was right. And that’s fine, especially because we have long known that Jimmy is bound to become Saul. I just wish the writers gave us more of an explanation for the about-face. The subtext of episodes one through nine was “People can change.” The subtext of that last few minutes of this season finale was “Not really.”
Entertainment Weekly’s Kevin P. Sullivan muses on why Jimmy decided not to pursue the partner-track job:
The short answer here is “morals,” but it’s a massive change of heart for the Jimmy that we’ve known that’s worth examining. (Albeit, one that happens just a little too quickly for my taste, but that’s beside the point.) Jimmy has a known two ways of life in the past 10 years. Both lead nowhere, so what does he do? He doesn’t accept a position at the law firm because literally nothing has happened to him since moving to Albuquerque that would suggest there’s a legitimate, law-abiding future for him. Over the course of this season, we’ve seen the world and the people who hold the power in it deny Jimmy his chance at complete redemption. The biggest example is Chuck blocking his advancement in HHM, but there’s also the Kettlemans, criminals who won’t deal with a lawyer who could make them look guilty. Why would he ever make another attempt at legitimacy when the world has sabotaged every previous one? This question casts Jimmy and subsequently Saul as ultimately tragic figures. The events of this past season have been teaching Jimmy not to strive to be better, and he’s finally listening, saying back to the world, “You know what? You were right. I’m not as good as I thought I could be, but it’s all good, man.”
Scott Neumyer praises the performances and the episode’s internal logic at The Wall Street Journal:
Between the episode’s opening flashback scene and Jimmy’s impromptu rant during the BINGO game, there is a lot of exposition laid out for the viewer. We get to see Slippin’ Jimmy at work back in the day, McGill gets to vent his frustration over Chuck’s betrayal, and we also finally get to hear what made Jimmy hightail it out of Chicago in the first place. Yet, in the hands of Gould and Bob Odenkirk, these scenes never feel like a large information dump. They are character moments that simply build on the person that we’ve come to know (and kind of love) for ten hours this season. They’re also the type of performance that should make Odenkirk as shoe-in for a statue come Emmy time. At least, I hope that’s the case. Is it surprising to see Jimmy McGill stand up the interview Kim probably tried so desperately to get him? Was I shocked to see him ride off into the sunset tapping his new ring on the steering wheel while humming along to one of rock’s quintessential socks? If it had happened before seeing the events unfold in “Marco,” I would have said absolutely. But, having witnessed what goes down in his life during this episode, I’m not surprised at all.
Yahoo’s Kimberly Potts notes the episode’s multiple nods to Breaking Bad:
* Breaking Bad Easter Egg 1: When Marco learns Jimmy has become an attorney, he assumes that means Jimmy is flush with cash and driving around in a white Caddy… which we know Saul Goodman eventually does. * Breaking Bad Easter Egg 2: During Jimmy’s bingo game, he gets a string of numbers for the letter B, prompting him to say, “B as in Belize… I would love to go there.” Except we know in the future, it’s a very bad thing if Saul Goodman wants you to “go to Belize.” * Breaking Bad Easter Egg 3: “I once told a woman I was Kevin Costner, and it worked because I believed it,” Saul Goodman boasted to Walter White in BB. And at the end of his Slippin’ Jimmy spree with Marco, Jimmy hooks up with a waitress who is very unhappy to awaken the next morning and discover he is not Kevin Costner, as he had claimed the (drunken) night before. “If you build it, I will come,” he chuckles as she stomps out. * Breaking Bad Easter Egg 4: Marco’s mom gives Jimmy Marco’s pinky ring after he dies. It’s the pinky ring we saw Saul wearing throughout BB.
And Alan Sepinwall of HitFix imagines what next season might bring:
That’s the ring Saul will wear throughout “Breaking Bad,” and you can perhaps look at it like the Precious from “The Lord of the Rings,” corrupting Jimmy and possessing him with the spirit of Marco. (As he peels out of the courthouse parking lot, he starts humming — just as Marco did while waiting for Jimmy to arrive in the alley for their final scam — the classic opening riff of Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water,” before the song itself comes on the soundtrack.) Or you can simply look at it as a reminder of who Jimmy/Saul wants to be, and how much he has to resist the temptation to do the right thing when it could cost him money. Ex-smokers are sometimes counseled to wear rubber bands around their wrists and snap them whenever they’re tempted to smoke; this is like an addict wearing one to remind them why they’d be stupid to quit. There’s still a very long road between here and where Saul and Mike are when we meet them in “Breaking Bad,” and I look forward to watching this show take us along all those steps (like the name change, whenever that comes), especially if it’s done with all the craft and emotion that was so abundant throughout this debut season. But it feels like “Better Call Saul” is going to have to be a fundamentally different show in its second season. Not only does Jimmy no longer have aspirations of respectability, which could make it harder to work in the likes of Howard and Kim (even as it should lead to greater prominence for Nacho, who wound up appearing in only four of this season’s episodes), but the emotional arc of the series would seem to be very different. Season 1 was about a man realizing that the universe didn’t want him to be good; once he makes the decision to break bad, it either becomes a matter of degree going forward (much like with Mr. White, only with a less horrifying endpoint), or some other inner conflict has to take its place. Whatever it is, I look forward to it.