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‘Better Call Saul’ Ends With a Poetic Verdict on Love and Regret

In its climactic series finale, ‘Better Call Saul’ shows it’s never too late to stop breaking bad for the ones you love

AMC/Ringer illustration
Spoiler warning

After Jimmy McGill narrowly averted death last season while picking up Lalo Salamanca’s bail money in the middle of the desert, Mike Ehrmantraut offered some fatalistic advice about the bad choices that brought them to that point. “The road we’re on led us out to the desert and everything that happened there and straight back to where we are right now,” he told Jimmy. “And nothing—nothing—can be done about that.” It’s the words of a man both consumed by regret and consigned to play the hand that life has dealt him, adding a tragic dimension to the cartel fixer originally introduced in Breaking Bad.

We get one more scene with Mike in Better Call Saul’s series finale, “Saul Gone,” which takes us back to a previously unseen exchange in the desert in which Jimmy proposes a thought experiment about what they’d do if they had a time machine. Mike wants to go back to when he first took a bribe as a cop in the ’80s—the ill-fated decision that put him on this road to begin with. Mike may believe he’s beyond redemption by the time we catch up with him in Albuquerque, but he knows exactly where his life went wrong and how he’d change it. Jimmy, conversely, isn’t feeling so introspective: He says he’d travel back to 1965 and hitch his wagon to Warren Buffett when he started working at Berkshire Hathaway. Even under such dire circumstances, Jimmy would rather think about money than the measure of his choices.

If nearly dying in the desert wasn’t enough of a wake-up call, perhaps being caught will offer Jimmy some form of clarity. Picking up where the penultimate episode left off, “Saul Gone” finds Gene Takovic on the run after Marion used her Life Alert fob to notify the authorities that the man once known as Saul Goodman was in her home. (The lesson: Mess with Carol Burnett at your own risk.) It doesn’t take long for the local police to track him down: He’s caught hiding in a dumpster, a fitting end for a man Lalo perceptively labeled a cucaracha. After a lifetime of avoiding consequences, it appears Jimmy is finally going to face the music.

Of course, there’s a reason he earned the nickname Slippin’ Jimmy, and even though he’s in custody, facing life behind bars, he still finds a way to gain the upper hand. At a plea hearing with the team of prosecutors, and with the widowed Marie Schrader also in attendance, Jimmy orchestrates a narrative in which he helped Walter White launder money and avoid legal consequences because he was afraid for his own life. He sprinkles in real moments—being abducted and threatened in front of an open grave in the desert, Walt ordering a hit on 10 people in prison at the height of his Heisenberg powers—that add weight to the story. The prosecutors (and Marie) might not buy his bullshit, but Jimmy argues he needs only one member of a jury to believe his story for it to stick. Much like when he manufactured convincing emotions while reading Chuck McGill’s letter to get reinstated as a lawyer at the end of the fourth season, Jimmy is betting on himself to avoid real consequences.

Jimmy’s reasoning is compelling enough that the prosecutors offer him an outstanding plea deal in which he’d face a mere seven and a half years at the prison of his choice. (Given how many times he represented members of the criminal underworld, it’s only natural Jimmy knows the best spot to do his time—all the way down to the specific cellblock.) Never one to miss an opportunity to gloat, he tries to get a weekly pint of Blue Bell ice cream as part of the arrangement, dangling the truth behind Howard Hamlin’s death as a sweetener. But the prosecution laughs off his request: As the audience is aware from last week’s episode, Kim Wexler already confessed and gave Howard’s widow, Cheryl, an affidavit explaining what really happened to her husband. As a result, Kim is facing a civil suit from Cheryl, who could take everything she owns.

Heading back to New Mexico to face his sentencing, Jimmy tells his legal counsel, Bill Oakley—the hapless defense attorney who has popped up occasionally in the series since Season 1—that he’s willing to testify with information against Kim. The news that Kim could be thrown under the bus by Jimmy’s testimony gets passed through Albuquerque’s legal grapevine before District Attorney Suzanne Ericsen calls her as a courtesy. The game of telephone gives Jimmy exactly what he wants at his sentencing: Kim in attendance. With her present, the two of them share the screen for the first time in the show’s chronology since signing divorce papers prior to the events of Breaking Bad.

While the present-day scenes of “Saul Gone” are in black and white, there’s no mistaking that Jimmy is wearing a garishly colorful suit from the familiar Saul Goodman wardrobe. Considering both his treatment of Kim since his transformation into Saul and his cunning handling of the law, you fear the worst for her. But if the heartbreak of losing Kim is the fateful choice that led him down the dark(er) road we see in Breaking Bad, then the prospect of reconciling with her takes him on a new path—one toward redemption. After breaking out the Saul persona one last time in the courtroom, the old Jimmy reemerges and confesses to his crimes, blowing up the false narrative that he worked with Heisenberg out of fear rather than self-interest. In the battle for our protagonist’s soul, Jimmy ultimately prevails over Saul.

Jimmy’s decision to come clean and spend the rest of his life in prison makes for a fascinating companion piece to Breaking Bad’s ending, in which Walt went out in a blaze of glory after admitting to Skyler White that he became Heisenberg for himself. The closest thing Walt had to redemption was killing a bunch of neo-Nazis—not complaining!—and rescuing Jesse Pinkman from a fate worse than death. Walt did not end Breaking Bad as a better person so much as he embraced the dying embers of an all-time ego trip.

Aside from the shared characters across its universe, Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul are studies in duality. But whereas Walt succumbs to the spiteful Heisenberg in his final moments, Jimmy sheds the Saul persona out of his love for Kim. It might not erase all the sins he committed across both series or the punishment he’s going to face, but Jimmy chooses to live with the better version of himself. In doing so, he shows a capacity for change that Chuck never thought possible for his brother.

“If you don’t like where you’re heading, there’s no shame in going back and changing your path,” Chuck tells Jimmy in a flashback, hammering home the recurring theme of regret throughout the finale. It’s a rare moment of sibling affection from Chuck, but all Jimmy can think about is how his brother would never heed his own advice. Indeed, Better Call Saul has repeatedly demonstrated how difficult it is for someone to break free of what fate has seemingly assigned to them: an appropriate dilemma for a prequel to tackle, where some events are already set in stone. But if there’s any major takeaway from Better Call Saul’s final season, it’s how characters as far-ranging as Jimmy, Kim, and Nacho Varga have taken the difficult steps of getting off the bad choice road—even if it means a lifetime in prison, a civil suit taking everything you own, or accepting death to ensure the safety of a loved one.

Having settled into a new routine in prison—he works in the kitchen, utilizing his Cinnabon skills—Jimmy gets summoned into a meeting with a lawyer. As it turns out, Kim’s New Mexico bar card has no expiration date, so she poses as his legal representation and they share a cigarette. It’s a callback to Jimmy and Kim’s first scene together on the series in HHM’s parking lot, a moment of understated intimacy that implied a shared history between them. Once again, they don’t need to say much to one another—so much is expressed in knowing glances, and with the flame from her lighter being the only color that emerges from the show’s monochromatic present. Jimmy may never get out of prison, but their spark will never fade.

“Saul Gone” could’ve ended right there, but the series gives us one final taste of the characters’ penchant for mischief. Leaving the prison, Kim spots Jimmy looking at her from the rec yard before he brings out the patented finger guns. If Jimmy is filled with regret over the decisions that led him to becoming Saul Goodman, the gesture is an indication that there’s some things from his past as a grifter he’d never change. Given Kim’s warm, subtle acknowledgement of the signal, the feeling is clearly mutual.

That Better Call Saul culminates in such restrained fashion, especially compared to Breaking Bad, speaks to the show’s different set of priorities. At its best—so basically, its entire run—Better Call Saul reveled in detail, process, and what made its characters tick. It was a series that honestly felt more at home crafting montages within Albuquerque’s legal system than diving into the city’s well-established criminal underworld. But above everything else, Better Call Saul showed that it’s never too late to stop breaking bad for the ones you love. Even as Jimmy McGill takes that lesson to heart while spending the rest of his life behind bars, he’s never been more free.