Better Call Saul brings closure to the story of Jimmy McGill and the larger Breaking Bad Universe
The story of Saul Goodman is steeped in such deep sadness. Saul is a costume put on by Jimmy McGill to cover over the emotional damage built up throughout his life. Jimmy seemed to have a decent heart but just couldn’t get out of his own way. Jimmy is a small-time conman who tries to go straight to win the approval of his beloved and highly successful brother Chuck but can never seem to shake the siren call of a good grift. No matter how good a lawyer Jimmy became, he just couldn’t shake his reputation as a slick talking hustler. Eventually Jimmy hardened and lost everything, and Saul because the only way to move forward. When we met Saul in the second season of Breaking Bad, he seemed like every other mob/cartel/drug lawyer we’ve seen a thousand times over. The only difference was that this one was played by Bob Odenkirk and the novelty of comedian-playing-serious. As seen on Breaking Bad, Saul’s character never really had an arc. He was just there to crack wise and assist Gus Fring and Walter White.
By the end of Better Call Saul, which aired its final episodes in 2022 and now available on Blu-ray, the audience knows all the struggle and hurt lurking underneath Saul’s signature brightly colored suits. To think viewers would ever have genuine sympathy for the guy who once suggested Walt and Jesse kill Badger with all the indifference of someone dropping a piece of trash on the ground, well that’s a trick only Jimmy McGill could pull off.
I’ll forgo a detailed plot summary since most people buying this set have either already seen it or would prefer not to be spoiled. As everyone knew going in, this is the season where the primary timeline of Saul would cross paths with Breaking Bad and would likely necessitate the appearance of a particular dynamic duo. Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse (Aaron Paul) showing up was reported on so long ago that I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say they show up here (plus, this creative team is too committed to laying out everything for Walt and Jesse to go unseen). Seeing them again is certainly fun for fans, but it also allowed for a couple of other nice moments that compliment our main characters nicely. The collision course of the two shows also meant that it would have to deal with the Saul characters who never appeared on Breaking Bad. While that sucks a little bit of tension out of the fates of characters caught in the brewing cartel wars like Nacho (Michael Mando) and Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton), it added a heightened level of anxiety over the fates of Saul stalwarts like Kim (Rhea Seehorn) and Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian).
Then there was the matter of Jimmy, nee Saul’s, life post-Breaking Bad, where he relocated to Omaha, Nebraska and lived a quiet life as Cinnabon store manager Gene Takavic. The first scene of Saul’s pilot episode is of Gene, shot in gorgeous black and white photography, so viewers always knew the show would end up completing this thread. When the season begins its extended journey into Gene’s life in Omaha, it carries nearly a decade’s worth of fan expectations. Despite the high bar and limited episode count, Saul’s time in Omaha is just as thrilling as everything that came before, giving Jimmy/Saul/Gene one last con to pull as the character(s) reach their final reckoning. Already an embarrassment of dramatic riches, this closing stretch brings in guest stars Pat Healy and Carol Burnett for pivotal roles.
Aside from the question of “when does Jimmy fully become Saul Goodman,” the biggest question facing this final season is “what happens to Kim.” Kim may be the most beloved character in this entire world, certainly a top five character between Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad. Rhea Seehorn has delivered a world class performance, with a character that followed the Jesse Pinkman blueprint of being a character the creators originally didn’t have big plans for prior to seeing what the actors did with the role. Kim was fascinating from the start, eschewing the undeserved scorn that Skylar White received from Breaking Bad fans. But by the end of Saul, Kim became the heart of the show. The end of her arc is just as important as that of Jimmy’s and the Jimmy-Kim relationship that eventually became the signature element of the series.
Co-creator Peter Gould and his team of writers and directors (including the return of this universe’s creator Vince Gilligan) balanced the series’ three timelines incredibly well. There are no extraneous shots or words in this entire show. Everything is there for a reason and the creative team maximizes every minute off screentime. The show’s plot is as precise as a locomotive schedule, but always finds time for character moments. There are too many lovely, quiet moments to list here, but some of my favorites include Gus’ conversation with a waiter, Mike (Jonathan Banks) stargazing with his niece, and Jimmy sharing multiple cigarettes with Kim.
Saul’s final season frequently mirrors the homestretch of Breaking Bad in story arcs, character beats, and how the story is structured. Like its predecessor, Saul reaches its climax and natural conclusion three episodes from the end but uses its final hours to put a larger bow on everything. Through nearly fifteen years, this universe gave viewers some of the best acting, peerless cinematography, ace directing, and best writing the medium has ever seen. Each one of those elements is as sharp as they’ve every been in this final season.
Special Features & Extras
If you’re a fan of the show (and if you’re reading this, I assume you are), then picking up the final season for your personal collection is a must. Aside from being an all-timer, Sony and the Saul team have packed the physical release with so many special features. There is a litany of extras, from deleted scenes to a gag reel to goofy short videos. Those come on both the Blu-ray and DVD releases. Exclusive to the Blu-rays are the features “Series Adjourned: Saying Goodbye to Saul” and “Fear and Loathing in Omaha: The World of Gene Takavic.”
The best features, however, are the commentary tracks on every episode. Fans of the show may already be familiar with the Better Call Saul Insider podcast (which, of course, started as the Breaking Bad Insider podcast), in which editors, creators, producers, writers, directors, actors, department heads, and everything else in between would dig into the nuts of every aspect of the show. When so many creators like to play coy with details, the Saul team is the complete opposite. The world of Saul, Kim, Mike, Gus, Nacho, Lalo, and Walt is known for its attention to detail and painstakingly going step by step through every plan and scheme. The podcast conversations are very laid back, fun, and informative. The commentary tracks carry over the same feeling of eavesdropping on friends, just with a little more focus. Frankly, it’s worth listening to both if you really love the show. One thread that ties much of the special features together is the affection everyone has for each other and for the work they produced. Everyone is quick to give compliments, defer praise to others, and lovingly poke fun at each other. These tracks are as informative and entertaining as any commentary I’ve ever listened to and single-handedly make the set worth buying.
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Better Call Saul Season Six — https://amzn.to/3XRoooJ
Better Call Saul Complete Series — https://amzn.to/3j3sSdk