(spoilers for season 6, episode 13)
For months we’ve gathered here speculating what Saul’s ending could possibly be. Many viewers longed for freedom and redemption, while others vied for prison or worse. As it turns out, Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have performed an alchemical wonder by fusing the two diametric possibilities into a beautiful hybrid of tragedy and hope, loss and love, endings and beginnings.
As I expected, Marion is who brings Gene’s house of cards tumbling down after he allowed his ego to run amuck. After fleeing her house (thankfully leaving her alive as he does so), he runs home just long enough to grab his emergency stash as a manhunt quickly ensues. It’s easy to assume that the majority of the episode is going to revolve around an adrenaline-pumping chase, but aside from a gasp-worthy moment in which Gene accidentally spills a tin full of diamonds in the dumpster he sought refuge in, our expectations are upended when the police quickly apprehend him.
In an episode filled with a number of welcomed guest appearances, I was ecstatic to see Peter Diseth return as former District Attorney Bill Oakley, who we were told “switched sides” by Francesca. It’s fascinating watching a soft-spoken Gene speak with Cinnabon employee Krista be completely replaced by a swaggering Saul a short time later when he rings up an astonished Bill to compel him into being his co-advisory counsel. “How do you see this ending?” Bill naturally wonders. “With me on top. Like always,” Saul responds. By the time the two men are in the room with Assistant US Attorney George Castellano (Bob Jessar), he of the uninterrupted court win streak, and his veritable army of prosecutors, Saul’s claim doesn’t seem so farfetched.
Even if Gould and Gilligan hadn’t released the news that Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul would reprise their roles in guest spots, I wouldn’t have been terribly surprised by the appearance of Walt and Jesse Pinkman. But the appearance of Betsy Brandt as Marie Schrader completely knocked me for a loop. Brandt seems to slip effortlessly back into the role (along with a performance that was deeply underrated throughout the course of Breaking Bad), serving as one of the few living witnesses who can attest to the tremendous human toll Saul indirectly had a hand in.
There is a common assertion that the best lies contain an element of truth, and it’s a premise that Saul exploits with a deftness that would be awe-inspiring were it not so sleazy. He launches into his very true account of the first time he met Walter White (that RV flashback scene serving as a useful reminder) before drifting into the land of make believe with occasional detours back into reality. Between the biggest song and dance of Saul’s entire scamming career and the capricious nature of juries, he manages to finagle the deal of a lifetime—seven and a half years, likely less with good behavior, down from the hundred-plus years he was originally charged.
Were it not for Saul’s outrageous ego and a love of Blue Bell mint chocolate chip ice cream, things would have gone in a very different direction. However, his need to push even when he’s ahead results in a bombshell he couldn’t see coming: Kim’s guilty conscience, knocked loose from her and Saul’s tense conversation, compelled her to submit a legal confession about what happened to Howard on that terrible night.
Regret is a subject explored at length throughout the episode, but one that never sheds a flattering light on Saul. For Mike, his greatest regret is starting on the path of corruption that ultimately results in the death of his beloved son, while Walter would maintain control of Gray Matter, allaying his eternally wounded ego. But when it’s Saul’s turn to describe his greatest regrets, they’re solely related to personal gain. While his obsession with money is deeply rooted in who he is as a person, the last six seasons of Better Call Saul have gone a long way to show us how much more there is to him. Doubtlessly, one of his greatest regrets in life revolves around Chuck (the great Michael McKean gracing us with his presence after being gone for three seasons), both their relationship in life as well as the circumstances that brought about his death. “If you don’t like where you’re headed,” Chuck tells him in the flashback, “there’s no shame in going back and changing your path.”
It can be argued that changing one’s path is a central thesis of the series, now that we’ve seen Jimmy McGill become Saul Goodman then Gene Takavic, only for the metamorphosis to reverse. But never is there a more monumental change than the one that comes over Saul in that courtroom—in truth, it began the moment he learned of Kim’s confession and mentally took shape as he underwent the extradition process. What starts off as the perfected victim act he performed in front of Marie becomes a startlingly honest account of his life as a vital element of Walter White’s drug empire while also covering for Kim and, finally, confronting the fact that Chuck killed himself and the role he indirectly played leading up to it, the glow of the exit sign serving as a reminder of the razor-sharp cruelty with which it was done (a nod to my all-time favorite episode, “Chicanery”). His plea deal is gone, but with it comes a unique sense of freedom, for in the end, he’s finally able to reclaim the name Jimmy McGill.
From one life chasing dough (money) into another making it. Jimmy’s making the best out of life in ADX Montrose, “The Alcatraz of the Rockies.” In one last beautiful storytelling flourish, Jimmy receives a visit from his “lawyer,” who we’re not surprised to see is Kim, who managed to use her old bar card she wisely kept. We come to where we began, with Jimmy and Kim leaning against a wall sharing a lone cigarette (Odenkirk’s face as he holds her hands to light that cigarette rendered me breathless with the romance of it all). He’ll almost certainly die in that prison, but peace sometimes comes at a high price. Kim walks away to a life more balanced than the mindless one she was previously living—coming clean has allowed herself to use her legal knowledge to assist with a pro bono center; ultimately she winds up living her dream after all—while Jimmy disappears from view. But although it’s highly unlikely the two will ever see one another again, at least they can both go on with their separate lives without regret.
It’s not the happy ending many people may have dreamed of, but it’s the happy one we deserve. For all of the darkness and displays of horrific behavior, it wound up being a show about hope. There’s the lowly hope of material trappings, and then there’s the hope that comes with the attempt to live as your best self. It’s a story in which love becomes a saving grace, as we see in the long glances between Jimmy and Kim in that courtroom. It’s shocking in its seemingly quiet simplicity, especially considering the ostentatious flash and danger the menace known as Saul Goodman lived in for so many years. Truly fitting for a man we’ve known by numerous names, only to end it all as the one we loved most: Jimmy McGill.
Kaleena Rivera is the TV Editor for Pajiba. When she isn’t tremendously grateful for everyone who read these recaps over the course of this final season of superb television, she can be found on Twitter here.
Image sources (in order of posting): Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television, Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television