Written PostJosh Reviews Better Call Saul Season Six (Part Two)!

Josh Reviews Better Call Saul Season Six (Part Two)!

It’s incredibly hard to end a long-running TV show well.  The list of truly great final seasons, and season finales, is very short.  (About a decade ago, I made a list of some of my favorite series finales.  It’s probably time to update that!)  Many shows I’ve loved have let me down in the end.  Lost is probably the best example of that for me.  (Though as I always point out, I actually like the final episode… it’s the terrible final season of episodes that came before the finale that broke my heart.)  While I didn’t hate the final season of Game of Thrones as much as many people did, there’s no question that final season was something of a disappointment overall.  (Most specifically, I felt they failed to properly execute the end of Dany’s story in the series’ penultimate episode.)

Breaking Bad, on the other hand, had a terrific final season.  I think that final run of episodes was the best the show ever was!  I was hopeful but nervous about Better Call Saul.  Could this show live up to the end of its predecessor?  Trying to end a prequel feels to me like an even harder task than ending an original show, because not only does the ending have to be satisfying in its own right, but all the pieces have to come together perfectly to line up with what has come before.

I’m so happy, then, to report how much I loved the final run of episodes of Better Call Saul.  I was incredibly satisfied with the ending they crafted, and how well they pulled together so many different story threads and character arcs.  It was beautiful to behold.

SPOILERS ahead, obviously, as we dig in here!!

I loved that they didn’t delay in giving us the final showdown between Lalo Salamanca and Gus Fring, bringing those stories to a head right away in the first of these final six episodes (called “Point and Shoot”).  When Better Call Saul first began, I’d never expected the cartel stories to play as huge a role in the show as they wound up being.  (For a long time during its run, Better Call Saul felt like a combination of two totally distinct shows — the Saul, Chuck, Kim lawyer stuff, and the Mike, Nacho, Gus, Salamanca drug cartel stuff.)  I LOVED the cartel side of this show!  But it makes sense to me to resolve those stories early-on, to allow the final run of episodes to really focus in on Saul and Kim.

But holy cow did I love this huge final cartel-focused story, picking up immediately after the shocking mid-season cliffhanger in which Lalo murdered Howard Hamlin in Saul and Kim’s apartment.  This episode was SO TENSE, watching Saul and Kim trying to wriggle out of this near-impossible, horrific situation in which they’d found themselves.  And it was a pleasure seeing Gus and Lalo’s final confrontation (and a satisfying payoff to our seeing Gus’ leaving a gun in the underground Superlab construction site).  I loved hearing Gus finally saying out loud how much he detests all of the Salamanca’s.  I loved Lalo’s glee when he thought he finally had gotten the upper hand on Gus.  And that he dies laughing was just perfect.  I think Lalo might have been the best villain that either Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul ever had.  (Better than Gus?  Maybe I’m not considering Gus a villain any longer, because after following his story for so many seasons here on Better Call Saul, I sort of think of him as a protagonist rather than an antagonist… even though he is a brutal criminal complicit in a LOT of death and mayhem!!)  I also loved getting to see one final sequence of the meticulous Mike at work, in this case cleaning up all evidence of Howard’s murder (and circling back to the episode’s haunting teaser sequence, in which we saw how Howard’s death had been framed as a suicide).

I was satisfied and impressed with how the show finally ended up answering our questions about Saul’s mentions of both Lalo and Ignacio in his first appearance on Breaking Bad.  I can understand why Saul might not have believed Lalo was actually dead (after having been burned once before for believing that), and why he tries to throw blame onto poor, dead Nacho.  That all works for me!  It’s cool to see that all come full circle so nicely.

The next episode, “Fun and Games”, brings answers to two momentous questions: where was Kim during Breaking Bad, and — as creators and show-runners Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have often discussed, teasingly, in interviews — what problem did Jimmy’s becoming Saul Goodman solve?  I’ve been wondering for years what Kim’s ultimate fate would be, and whether maybe there was some way that she was still around during the Breaking Bad years, just that we hadn’t seen her.  I never would have predicted the answers we got here, and yet they felt so right.  What a perfect combination.  Kim’s “I love you, too, but so what?” farewell to Jimmy/Saul was so heartbreaking, after so many years of my falling in love with both of these characters and rooting for them as a couple.

And then that time jump to seeing Jimmy in full Saul Goodman mode.  Wow.  That hit like a hammer.  Time jumps have become a little overused in TV and movies in the past decade, but it works here like gangbusters, immediately allowing us to understand how Jimmy has used the Saul persona as a self-defense mechanism to cope with the heartbreak of losing Kim.  It’s just perfect.  (And so sad.)  It’s crazy how quickly the show tears us away from the characters we’d been following ever since the season premiere!  Suddenly Kim is gone and Jimmy McGill is gone as well, replaced by the horrible Saul Goodman.  I’d been preparing for this moment to come for years… and yet I was still unprepared!!

I also have to comment on how much I adored what proved to be the final scene of Gus Fring on the show: seeing him flirt with the hunky waiter David (played perfectly by Reed Diamond).  What a fun surprise it was to suddenly see this new side of Gus!!  (And for the show to so clearly present Gus as being gay.)  As I’d noted above, Gus is a terrible human being… but my heart still broke for him a little bit when we saw him walk away from David.

Then, in the next episode, “Nippy”, we jumped past Breaking Bad to arrive at the Gene era, and to pick up on the tantalizing cliffhanger set up way back in the season five premiere.  I was surprised to skip past Breaking Bad so quickly, but thrilled to finally get back to Gene.  The Gene sequences have been a staple of this show since the very first episode, and I’ve been hoping for years that the show would allow itself to spend a significant chunk of time with Gene before the end.  I’m so happy they made that choice, spending huge stretches of these final four episodes with Gene (and therefore shifting into the beautiful black-and-white that has been used for all of these Gene sequences).  I loved seeing how smoothly Jimmy/Saul/Gene was able to wriggle out of the pickle in which he’d found himself.  It was joyous watching him pull several new cons!  (The whole mall heist was a delight from start-to-finish, including the perfectly heart-stopping moment in which we, and Gene, see Jeff slip and knock himself out on the store’s newly-polished floor.)  I loved the introduction of Jeff’s mom Marion, played to absolute perfection by Carol Burnett.  What a surprise and a joy to see Carol Burnett in this show!!  Her scenes with Bob Odenkirk absolutely crackled.  I was also thrilled to see Parks and Recreation’s Jim O’Heir as jovial, Cinnabon-loving mall security guard Frank.  He was great!

Having waited and hoped for years that Better Call Saul would not only catch up with Breaking Bad someday, but perhaps tell stories that overlapped with it, I was beside myself with anticipation for the next episode, titled “Breaking Bad.”  Perhaps too excited, as my only twinge of disappointment with this final season was that this episode, called “Breaking Bad,” actually spent so little time in the Breaking Bad era.  And while I was delighted by the return of Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul as Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, their one scene was less than I’d been hoping for.  I’d wanted an entire episode showing us more about what Saul was doing and thinking in and around all of his Breaking Bad appearances!!  But that was not to be, and I try my best to judge shows & movies on what they are, not what I’d hoped they would be.  (I do think it’s cool that Saul was introduced on a Breaking Bad episode called “Better Call Saul,” and now here Walt and Jesse are introduced on Better Call Saul in an episode called “Breaking Bad”.)

That Walt and Jesse scene, while shorter than I’d hoped, was nonetheless magnificent.  It was a hoot to see Saul’s side of his first scene on Breaking Bad, and also to then see what happened next, following the three of them back into the van.  It was also fun to get a glimpse of Mike during the Breaking Bad days, when he worked as an investigator for Saul.  (It’s interesting, and sad, to hear Mike warn Saul not to get involved with Walter White.  Both Saul and Mike himself should have taken that advice.)  It’s nice to hear that Skyler managed to escape the legal problems Walt had created… and also that Huell apparently escaped prosecution as well!

Of course, what I discovered is that the episode title “Breaking Bad” was less about returning to the era of the mothership show, and more about our witnessing Jimmy/Saul/Gene take his hardest turn into the dark side that we’d ever seen.  Ever since the first season I knew this show would one day depict Jimmy’s “breaking bad” and becoming Saul Goodman.  But seeing Gene’s full-on dive into heartless (and self-destructive) greed here was wrenching.

The intensity continued into the series’ penultimate episode, “Waterworks.”  I was hoping that we’d get to see Kim again during the Gene timeline, and so it was a pleasure (and also painful) to get to spend so much time with her in this episode, to discover the sad little life she’d carved out for herself after leaving Jimmy/Saul.  Seeing Kim without her power ponytail, working on a sprinkler company catalogue, was so sad to see.  (Though as I’d feared for years that Kim would be dead by the time the Breaking Bad years rolled around, this is better than that, I suppose!)  I loved the narrative twistiness of getting to see here what went down on the phone call that had Gene so upset in an earlier episode.  Rhea Sheahorn is amazing in that scene… but that pales in comparison to the episode’s most riveting moment, in which in a long, nearly-silent take we watch Kim completely break down while riding on an airport tram.  What an incredible acting moment.  It is devastating to watch as the weight of everything we’ve seen Kim go through finally lands on her.  Just incredible.

As is the flashback to the Breaking Bad era.  First we see Saul at his absolute worst, being just terrible to Kim as she signs their divorce papers.  And then we get a return appearance from Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman!!  I adored that Jesse-Kim scene.  What a great moment.

Which brings me, at last, to the finale, “Saul Gone”.  (Great title.)  What a thrilling episode and a deeply satisfying conclusion to the journey of this show and these characters.  I love the cleverness of structuring the episode around three different flashbacks, set at different points in the show’s many timelines.  I was so happy to get one more meaty Mike Ehrmantraut scene.  Jonathan Banks was so great on this show, but of course Mike isn’t around during the Gene timeline, which means Mr. Banks didn’t have too much to do in these final episodes.  So I loved that they found a way to bring him back for the finale.  (And it was great to return to “Bagman,” one of the best Better Call Saul episodes!)  I was even more delighted (and surprised, though I really shouldn’t have been) that they brought back Michael McKean’s Chuck, who was such a HUGE part of this show for the first three seasons.  And then, building on Aaron Paul’s reappearance in the previous episode, we got one final return of Bryan Cranston as Walter White, set in the final moments of Breaking Bad, when Walt and Saul were waiting to be set up with new identities.  Walt is at his most annoyingly self-centered (and oblivious, blaming Gretchen and Elliott for pushing him out of the company he was too proud and self-destructive to stay involved with), and he pronounces the judgment about Saul that I’d been wondering about since the beginning: “so you were always like this.”

But, of course, he wasn’t.  The greatest discovery of Better Call Saul, right from the beginning, was how different Jimmy McGill was from Saul Goodman, and how much we loved Jimmy despite his (many) flaws.  After seeing Jimmy/Saul/Gene sink about as low as he could go in these final episodes, it was a pleasure (and a relief) to see him take a step back into the light, admitting to Kim (and the judge and other lawyers) all that he had done wrong.

It’s pretty wild that a show called “Better Call Saul” spent almost zero time with the Saul Goodman we’d known from Breaking Bad!  We spent so long building to that transformation, and then we basically zipped over it in a time jump and then. moved right on to the Gene timeline.  What a surprising choice!  I love it.

I’d been wondering how dark this show would go in the end.  Breaking Bad was a tragedy… would Better Call Saul be as well?  I love the solution that the writers found.  It makes sense and feels right that Jimmy/Saul/Gene should be held accountable for his many, many wrong-doings.  I’d been rooting for him to get a happy ending, but winding up in prison (for the rest of his life?) feels correct.  At the same time, I love that they found a ray of light for Jimmy in this ending, finally making peace with what he’d done and reconnecting with Kim.  Will Kim continue to visit Jimmy regularly… or will that be the last time the two ever see one another??  It’s a wrenching question the show left us with, one that I suspect I’ll be thinking about for a good long while.  In one way, Jimmy & Kim’s reconciliation twists the knife of the ending, because with Jimmy in prison for decades to come, it seems like they can’t be together even though they’ve found their way back to one another.  That’s sad… but less sad for me than the idea of Jimmy’s being left totally in darkness at the end.  I also loved seeing how popular and on-top of things Jimmy seems to be in prison, with all the cons apparently loving and respecting the man who was Saul Goodman.  That seemed right as well!

Other thoughts:

  •  I loved seeing that HHM had finally replaced the dented garbage can… a lovely long-running gag on the show!
  • It was great to see Saul’s assistant Francesca, first introduced on Breaking Bad, back in such a big way in this final run of episodes.  (I just wish Saul wasn’t constantly so mean to her!!)
  • I loved the tweaks made to the opening credits in these final episodes, showing the worn-out VHS tape of Saul’s commercials finally starting to wear out.  Such an effective and poetic visual note!
  • I liked getting, in the Gene timeline, some follow-ups to El Camino, such as confirmation that Jesse’s car was indeed left down at the Mexican border, to cover the reality that he’d fled to Alaska.
  • I liked seeing Kim drive past Mike’s old booth when she returns to the courthouse in “Waterworks”, to confess to what she and Jimmy really did to Howard Hamlin.
  • I liked seeing the occasional splash of color in the black-and-white Gene timeline, such as when we see a reflection of one of the old “Better Call Saul” commercials reflected on Gene’s glasses.
  • I loved the surprise of seeing Skyler in the finale!!  That was great!
  • Speaking of Skyler, I loved Jimmy/Saul’s speech to her.  The great Bob Odenkirk has been magnificent on this show since the very beginning.  The way he played that monologue — shifting from heartfelt to conniving on a dime — was absolutely incredible.
  • I was wondering how the show would write around the death of Robert Forster, who played Ed the disappearer.  I loved how they handled that, showing us Jimmy/Saul’s pulling out his card but then not being able to use it after the cops found him in the dumpster.

What a show.  As I have said all along, I have enjoyed Better Call Saul even more than Breaking Bad.  What an achievement that is!!

Is this the end of the Breaking Bad universe (which continued here and in the El Camino film)?  If so, I am completely satisfied.  Though I will miss this show and this world quite a lot!!

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