Review by Brian Lowry, CNN
After six seasons building toward Saul Goodman’s foreshadowed fall, “Better Call Saul” presented its final chapter, faced with the burdensome expectations raised by its Emmy-winning predecessor, “Breaking Bad.” Adding callbacks from that series and building on its own run, the show delivered a thoughtful contemplation of what transformed the title character, and whether there was any path to redemption.
Never exactly a racehorse in terms of pacing, the extra-long finale continued to pursue the show’s slow-and-steady strategy, which this season included an entire episode seemingly devoted to one drop-dead-funny sight gag inside a department store.
Still, the series reached a logical if understated conclusion, one that saw Jimmy/Saul (Bob Odenkirk) engage in a single noble, self-sacrificing act in order to bring himself back together, even fleetingly, with his ex, Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn). Her fate had always served as the show’s most fundamental mystery, and the key to Jimmy’s evolution (or descent) into the fast-talking huckster he became.
Having been caught in of all places a dumpster by of all things a medical-alert bracelet (creating a priceless guest starring role for Carol Burnett), Saul went about the task of doing what he does best — namely, gaming the system.
It was something, as Walter White (Bryan Cranston) observed in a pointed flashback, that he was forever prone to do, which explains why he couldn’t resist returning to his larcenous ways, eventually leading to his capture.
“So, you were always like this,” Walt said.
Back in his element arguing on his own behalf, Saul appeared to have outsmarted the suits yet again by securing an absurdly light sentence. That was despite another “Breaking Bad” alum, Marie Schrader (Betsy Brandt), demanding justice for his complicity after the fact in the death of her husband, Hank.
The “Bad” characters served a purpose, with fellow transplant Mike (Jonathan Banks) expressing thinly veiled contempt when Saul asks him about a time machine, saying that he would use it in order to invest shrewdly and become a billionaire.
“That’s it? Money?” Mike sneered.
In the end, though, Saul found something more important, for what seemed to be less about rescuing Kim, or clearing her from a potential lawsuit, than simply seeing her again. It was an expensive cigarette in terms of years added to his sentence, but all things considered, worth it to him, reclaiming at least a piece of his soul.
Written and directed by Peter Gould (who co-created the show with Vince Gilligan), “Saul” obviously couldn’t provide the same fireworks that distinguished the “Breaking Bad” finale, but it did prove satisfying in a way the felt true to the show.
Notably, “Better Call Saul” had never won an Emmy in any category heading into the current season. In addition to its pending nominations, this second batch of episodes — which played outside the current eligibility window — will likely put the series, and perhaps especially Odenkirk, who survived a near-death experience to deliver the performance of a lifetime, in contention for next year, assuming anybody can remember back that long.
With his cover blown early in the episode, Saul exhibited his priorities by trying to take his money and run. Ultimately, though, first Kim and then Saul/Jimmy had to atone for what in hindsight was the show’s pivotal moment: How their shared glee in perpetrating scams finally resulted, if only inadvertently, in the death of Howard (Patrick Fabian).
At that moment any innocence was lost, drawing a straight line to Jimmy’s “Breaking Bad” years and his drab, colorless future.
Even then, his Cinnabon-honed experience with baked goods would come in handy, a skill he was shown applying in his new role as a prisoner. Because like “Breaking Bad,” “Better Call Saul” always found ways to bring the past, present and future together, even if it was something as small as Jimmy’s knack for manipulating a different kind of dough.
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