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‘Better Call Saul’ Is Ready to Come Full Circle

If there’s any major takeaway from the premiere of Season 6, it’s that ‘Better Call Saul’ looks primed to answer questions about the past, present, and Cinnabon-glazed future of the ‘Breaking Bad’ universe

AMC/Ringer illustration
Spoiler warning

Better Call Saul might document the beginning of the end for Jimmy McGill, but the sixth and final season opens with the expunction of Saul Goodman. The Season 6 premiere moves away from the tradition of starting a new season with Gene Takovic—Jimmy-cum-Saul’s post–Breaking Bad identity as a Cinnabon manager in Nebraska— and instead sees Saul’s possessions being removed from his home. (This would put the cold open closer to the end of Breaking Bad when Saul went on the run.) Along with tacky flourishes that feel extremely on-brand for Saul—of course he has a golden toilet—the home sweep becomes a trip down memory lane of his prequel series journey, highlighting specifics like a few boxes of the disposable cell phones he sold in Season 4 when his law license was suspended. But the most telling detail of the cold open is a stray item that falls out of a drawer being shoved onto a truck: the top from a bottle of Zafiro Añejo tequila, a totem of Jimmy and Kim Wexler’s relationship. The top rolling onto the pavement seems innocuous, but it hints at the inevitable: It won’t end well between Jimmy and Kim.

Kim-related anxiety is hardly a new feeling for Better Call Saul viewers, but all bets are off now that the show is coming to an end and this season has to explain why she never appears in Breaking Bad. The Season 5 finale culminated with Kim proposing a scheme to destroy Howard Hamlin’s reputation, a move that would allow Jimmy to score a big payday from the Sandpiper Crossing retirement home case. While Howard hasn’t been the most likable character in the series—anyone who drives a car with the license plate “Namast3” is definitely a tool—even Jimmy wasn’t comfortable with the prospect of going after him. Nevertheless, Kim is ready to break bad; viewers, in turn, are bracing for the worst.

But for all the high-octane thrills that brought Season 5 to the finish line, Better Call Saul sticks to its proverbial guns as a dread-inducing slow burn to begin the final season. Monday’s two-episode premiere lays the foundations for how Kim plans to character assassinate Howard, a scheme that Jimmy begrudgingly goes along with. First, Jimmy enters Howard’s country club and slips what looks like cocaine (it’s actually flour) into his locker. Returning from a round of golf with Cliff Main, a senior partner at another prestigious law firm, Howard stumbles through an explanation that one of the country club workers must’ve accidentally left it in there. Jimmy twists the knife even further by convincing the Kettlemans—the couple who is caught embezzling money from Bernalillo County back in Season 1—that they can be exonerated in a civil suit by claiming that Howard, their former attorney, has a coke habit. The Kettlemans then bring this information to—who else?—a shocked Cliff Main. The fact that Howard isn’t snorting lines of coke is irrelevant; repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.

The tactics are right out of the Saul Goodman playbook, and while it remains to be seen how this all affects Howard, a Sandpiper settlement should be a foregone conclusion. After all, a financial windfall would explain how Saul was able to set up his office and deck it out with garish touches like plastic Ionian columns and Constitution wallpaper. But despite how this scheme would benefit Jimmy, Kim’s heel turn has underlined how the couple could have conflicting motivations for cutting legal corners. For all his faults, Jimmy’s cons are usually borne out of self-interest and in helping people like him who are looked down on by the rest of society. Conversely, Kim appears to be wielding her appetite for scamming as a form of moral superiority: By the end of the two-part premiere, she brings the Kettlemans to the brink of tears by threatening to report their newest money-grabbing tactic—mooching off people’s tax returns—to the IRS.

When it comes to the Kettlemans, Kim is certainly in the right, but it’s hard not to feel a bit uneasy about her newfound God complex and the joy she derides from making them squirm. (Only Better Call Saul could turn what is objectively a righteous moment into something harrowing.) It’s especially worrying because her supposedly altruistic behavior has already been twisted into knots: The Kettlemans might be scammers worthy of Kim’s wrath, but what is Howard guilty of aside from being a bad hang? And for that matter, what makes Jimmy all that different from the Kettlemans? Like its predecessor, Better Call Saul exists in a moral universe, and for the better part of five seasons, Kim has lived on the right side of it. But through two episodes of the final season, the most troubling development isn’t that Jimmy is corrupting her as much as Kim is unearthing parts of herself that were long buried.

Doing the right thing while pulling off cons that could destroy the career of an innocent lawyer feels untenable; at some point, the walls will close in on Kim. There’s a similar—and more life-threatening—tension unfolding across the border with Nacho Varga, who is surrounded by enemies and has no allies to help him escape Salamanca territory after being outed as the man who betrayed Lalo. (Lalo is presumed dead; meanwhile, the breakout star of Season 5 is cooking up his own plot to prove that Gus Fring has been orchestrating his family’s demise.) There doesn’t appear to be any way out for Nacho, but as Better Call Saul has proved time and again, the show is at its best wriggling characters out of seemingly impossible situations. It’s a recurring challenge that the series’ brain trust has enthusiastically embraced, and as we approach the endgame, the fates of characters like Kim, Nacho, and Lalo are hardly set in stone.

If there is a major takeaway from the two-episode premiere, it’s that Better Call Saul looks to be coming full circle. The Kettlemans were a throwback to one of Jimmy’s first moral dilemmas on the show—what to do with their embezzled money?—while Kim’s power move against the couple reminded him of an early childhood lesson about the world being made up of wolves and sheep. What’s more, the inclusion of a Breaking Bad–era cold open, along with the announcement that Walter White and Jesse Pinkman will show up this season, is living up to the early promise of Better Call Saul having a Rashomon effect” for earlier story lines, as Rhea Seehorn explained to Entertainment Weekly. Essentially, Better Call Saul looks primed to answer questions about the past, present, and Cinnabon-glazed future of the Breaking Bad universe. (Gene Takovic hasn’t reared his head yet, but rest assured, he’s featured heavily in the Season 6 promotional materials.)

Of course, while Better Call Saul fans might be itching to have lingering questions resolved, the show will move along at the measured pace that has defined most of its run—no matter how precarious things look for the likes of Kim and Nacho. The brilliance of Better Call Saul isn’t necessarily that it trusts its audience to appreciate its understated tone, but that the series has the confidence to do so in the shadow of an all-timer in Breaking Bad. With just 11 episodes remaining, Better Call Saul continues to be the best show on television by marching to the beat of its own drum, and it has earned the right to flex on its own legacy. “I think maybe we outsmarted ourselves,” Kim tells Jimmy in the middle of their latest scheme. “Maybe this was all too subtle.”

“Nope, not too subtle,” Jimmy responds. “Perfect.”