The relatively short first season of AMC’s Better Call Saul ended with its tenth episode,”Marco,” on Monday, April6 , 2015. The season finale wasn’t one filled with explosions or cliffhanger endings, but was one that really captured the spirit and intensity ofthe spin-off series while creating fertile future storytelling opportunities. The series focuses on the evolution of Jimmy McGill to Saul Goodman—the Saul we know (and either love or hate) from Breaking Bad. Set in 2002, it looks at the down-on-his-luck Jimmy McGill, a barely B-grade lawyer with a mail-order law degree in reformation from his past as a manipulative, con-artist grifter. It’s fascinating for the viewer to watch Jimmy become Saul, and a brilliant choice of narrative for showrunners Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould.
This blog post was originally posted on 4.11.15 for the “Endings” Class blog in my graduate level Studies in Narratology course, taught by Dr. David Lavery. See the Course homepage here here, and view other “Endlings” blog posts here: http://narrativeendings.blogspot.com/
In the season finale, Jimmy is at a crossroads. His brother, Chuck, whom he has been actively caring for after a nervous breakdown and bizarre development of an “electronic allergy” (it’s clearly psychotic in nature), has betrayed him and revealed that he thinks Jimmy is (still) nothing but a loser. Chuck’s betrayal results in Jimmy’s own breakdown. After starting the season (and series) at zero, working the courthouse circuit for any and every case to earn the smallest paychecks, he’s started to develop a name for himself as an Elder Law attorney and discovered a massive scam at the retirement home where most of his clients reside. He’s also worked to take the moral high ground on several occasions, resisting the urge to fall back into the persona of “Slippin’ Jimmy”– including an opportunity to pocket 1.6 Million dollars from a pair of embezzlers, the Kettleman’s.
One of the most powerful scenes in the episode is where Jimmy is reading out the Bingo numbers at the senior’s hall (dressed in his best replica Matlock suit) and keeps getting the “B” balls — the anecdotes he attributes to the letter get progressively more deranged until he recalls the story of how he once got busted for doing a “Chicago Sunroof” (that, in case you were wondering– is when you defecate through an open sunroof) in front of 2 juveniles. He’d been justified, he claims– first of all– the tint couldn’t have been legal, it was so dark– and besides, who leaves two kids in the car, alone, when you run into the local Dairy Queen? Secondly, Jimmy had been acting in retaliation against the guy who slept with his ex-wife, so that kind of warranted the action. Chuck worked some magic to bail Jimmy out of a trumped up sexual offender charge to public indecency. That charge– and Chuck’s getting him off the hook– proved the catalyst for everything to follow in Jimmy’s life. Fast-forward to the Bingo hall, and Jimmy starts to crack. Spiraling out of control, he decides to leave New Mexico and to go home to his old stomping grounds in Chicago.
What is remarkable about the season finale is that it doesn’t play into the traditional season finale tropes. There’s no cliffhanger ending. No explosions. No will-they or won’t they drama. What there is is a slightly trippy road trip where “Slippin’ Jimmy” goes home to Chicago to drink and con with his former best bud (and partner in crime) Marco, on a week-long crime spree that ends with Marco biting it in an alley after having “the best week of his life” running scams alongside Jimmy.
Marco’s death and all the other moments leading up to that moment cause Jimmy to come back home a changed person. He thinks that he is going to go to a high-profile meeting with a powerful law firm about a possible partner option (thanks to Chuck’s firm, HHM passing Jimmy’s case to a larger law firm that better handle it), but as he strides across the parking lot rehearsing his own introduction, he pauses. His life is basically at a crossroads. Where to go from here? High profile law firm, partner track, tackling a multi-million dollar lawsuit? Or, is it worth all the effort going the straight and narrow?
Ultimately, we get the sense that no– he’s not going to go the straight and narrow. As he departs the courthouse parking lot, he asks parking attendant (and for hire baddie) Mike what stopped him from taking the 1.6 million dollars from the Kettlemans when piles of money sat on his desk. Mike tells him he was hired for a job, the money wasn’t his, pure and simple. Jimmy, after a pause, says, “I know what stopped me. And you know what, it’s never stopping me again.”
As his little yellow car drives away, the audience gets a sense that things are going to be changing for Jimmy McGill– things that will eventually lead us to the character we know from Breaking Bad, but my, what a ride awaits.