There’s really not much more a TV fan can ask for than to have a show you love go out on its own terms—especially one that never overstayed its welcome. You can argue that Better Call Saul had some of the same issues as its predecessor (an unsteady start, a few too many cartel-focused plotlines, a cascade of implausible coincidences), but it was, like Breaking Bad, a fantastic and exceptionally artful show, one that ultimately wore its heart on its sleeve.
For years and years, viewers have been obsessed with three aspects of the series: What happens to Kim (who does not appear in Breaking Bad), when Jimmy would become Saul Goodman (and what that would mean for his soul), and when or if this series would overlap with Walt and Jesse. The final season answered all of these things and more with an incredible amount of soulfulness. And it focused, rightfully, on the most unknown aspect of the story: Gene’s timeline. Here, never leaving its shades of gray except for flickers of his old life, we watched Gene slide back into his Slippin’ Jimmy ways, with Slippin’ Jimmy results.
But what proved to be the most important throughline in the show was not Saul meeting Walt or running from the cartel, but Jimmy meeting Kim and running from himself. All of these threads came together with the shocking murder of Howard, something that so rocked Kim that she swore eternal Earthly penance for it by fading away into a life of nothingness. Jimmy went the other way, fully embracing the ostentatious, glib persona of Saul Goodman. Eventually, though, they found each other again, which is what made the finale, “Saul Gone,” so surprising and bittersweet.
As was made clear, Better Call Saul was always about Jimmy being on the run both literally and metaphorically. And that was devilishly fun to watch. Even in the finale, I was gleeful when he whispered to himself, “showtime.” He never stops scheming, never stops looking for that loophole, that exploit, that manipulation to get him back on top. Despite Chuck’s reservations about him and honorable feelings for the profession, Jimmy really is the perfect lawyer. And using those wits he could have gotten away with his sins, too, serving a mere seven years in a cushy federal penitentiary for white-collar criminals.
But he went another way.
“Saul Gone” reminded us, and Jimmy, that he is not a heartless psychopath. Through the flashbacks of Jimmy asking Mike and Walt about their regrets, we see him still hiding his true self even as they give honest replies. Instead, he focuses on money and his achey knee. “So you were always like this,” Walt says to him. Yes and no. He’s slick and he’s a con man, but he’s not a monster. The truth is that Jimmy has one deep, aching regret that he wouldn’t even admit to Kim. And it took years without her, and the revelation that she had essentially turned herself in regarding her one regret—Howard—that brought Jimmy back out, and away from the cool veneer of Saul. It’s why he got her in the courtroom that day, and why he quickly admitted being in cahoots with Walt before talking about Chuck. “That [last part] wasn’t even a crime,” his lawyer Bill Oakley (what a great return) says incredulously to Jimmy as he sits down. But as Jimmy says, it was to him. He wasn’t going to serve that time because of Walt, he was serving that time for Chuck.
But the key figure here was still Kim. She saw the real Jimmy, she knew him, and she was often our only window into that more vulnerable side of him. He wanted her there to hear him speak the truth, finally. And it reconnected them; the two smoking together in the supermax prison, which mirrored the courthouse parking lot scene where we first met Kim, was somehow the sexiest thing on TV this year, maybe this decade. It was just two people who really and truly know and love each other. Maybe they’re good together, maybe they aren’t—I think there are a hundred ways to argue it. But you cannot deny the absolute potency of that scene, and of her walking away as he watches from the prison yard. They’ll both be ok. (“With good behavior, who knows?”) So why does it hurt so much??
Like the Old Testament morality of Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul also ended with everyone who did a bad thing having to pay their dues. No one escapes without consequences. Yet “Saul Gone” was not a downer, nor did Jimmy go out in a blaze of gunfire or slip away quietly into a new life like Walt and Jesse did. He was caught, but there was a strange hope. The bus ride to the prison saw him recognized by the type of men he had built he business on, and they respected him for it. I have to think, as Jimmy listened to them chant “Better Call Saul!” that he was both quietly pleased and thinking about how horrified Chuck would be by this moment. These weren’t the elites of a high-flying lawyer. These were his fellow con men and criminals. And as we glimpsed soon after, he was doing just fine among them.
I didn’t always love Better Call Saul as feverishly as some; it had a rough start, and too often swayed away from the law and towards Breaking Bad in ways that weren’t as compelling as the things the finale honed back in on. But when it was at its best, Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan’s series was both hilarious and devastating in turn, and a tour de force for its exceptional cast—particularly the legendary work done by Rhea Seehorn and Bob Odenkirk. It absolutely forged itself not only in the pantheon of Great TV, but of spinoffs that matched strengths with their original series. “Saul Gone” embodied this fully and wonderfully; in the end it focused back on the heart that drove the series to greatness: a love for Kim, love for Chuck, and even love for the law. In doing so, it has become one of the best. This Jimmy was still in grayscale, but he wasn’t the neutered Gene at the Cinnabon that we saw when the flashforwards began. This was still Saul Goodman, who left his mark and made a name for himself that rang out. Sure, Jimmy has his regrets. But after “Saul Gone,” I don’t.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.