You better call Saul has just concluded its fifth and best season. A review of the finale, “Something Unforgivable”, to come as soon as I show you the surprise in my frunk…
“Am I bad for you?” -Jimmy
What if we look at it all wrong?
We have long assumed that Jimmy McGill would become the real Saul Goodman – not the guy wearing his clothes and using his name, but the amoral bastard who facilitated the rise to power of Walter White – out of bitterness over how Chuck and the legal l ‘establishment treated him and / or as a response to however things seemed likely to end with Kim. The series was conceived as an inescapable tragedy in which a mischievous but above all good person gradually becomes a monster because of the expectations of the world for him. Kim, as much as we have learned to love and respect her, would be collateral damage in any version of this story.
“Something unforgivable,” however, suggests that something else may have happened all this time, and in the process offers an entirely new path for the sixth and final season.
Because if someone speaks and acts like Saul Goodman at the end of this final, it’s Kim Wexler.
Before I get to this alarming suggestion, plus an exciting shootout in Lalo’s compound in Chihuahua, “Something Unforgivable” is a deliberately less intense experience than the last few episodes. We pick up where “Bad Choice Road” left off, with a Jimmy and Kim shaking making sure Lalo has left the area. After a quick phone recording with Mike, Jimmy allows himself to exhale, an action that several characters will repeat throughout the hour, including Mike after Jimmy has left his house, and Kim after being informed that Lalo won’t would bother more. Even people who don’t literally breathe out do it metaphorically, Lalo heading south to follow Kim’s advice and put his house in order. It’s like Peter Gould (who directed the final and co-wrote it with Ariel Levine) realized that he had to relax after placing his characters in such physical and emotional danger in recent weeks. . It’s calm after the storm, and it gives everyone a chance to reflect and understand who and what they have become.
For Lalo, this respite is an opportunity to reincarnate with Don Eladio, while officially presenting Nacho as the new man in charge north of the border. He doesn’t know the details of what Gus and Juan Bolsa did to get him out of the game, but he does know that the Salamancas have been supplanted as cartel favorites by the hated Chicken Man. He can no longer be in direct confrontation with Gus, but his return to Mexico has the advantage of giving him time in front of the man in charge, whom he knows is impressed by the kind of great gestures in which Lalo specializes. In this case, it puts a small fortune inside a red Ferrari like the one Tom Selleck drove Magnum, P.I. and hand over the keys to Don Eladio, who looks like a kid at Christmas. (If that wasn’t enough to tell you how effective the gesture is, Juan Bolsa seems just as unhappy to realize that Lalo used it to regain status in the organization.)
If Lalo is in his element with Eladio and among the staff of his complex, Nacho is very nervous, especially when he receives a call from the hitmen of Gus to alert him of the plan for this night. However, Nacho is a survivor and a thinker, and he presents a good show for the big boss, improvising a business plan which consists of opposing biker gangs to each other so that the cartel can take control of their territory. (*). Would it really work if Nacho returned to Albuquerque and performed the operation? It doesn’t really matter, because all he has to do right now is convince Eladio that he is a smarter and more reliable manager than Tuco. Mission accomplished.
(*) If Nacho is still alive in 2008, he could benefit Son of Anarchy?
Lalo’s overwhelming charm in these early scenes from Mexico might make us believe that he has lowered his guard enough to allow Gus’s assassination plan to work. But at this point, it is clear that he is as superhuman in his own way as Gus or the Cousins. Nacho is alarmed to find Lalo awakened by fire when he tries to let gunmen enter the back door, and Lalo suggests that his own difficulty sleeping is another type of superpower, allowing him to get things done while his enemies and allies sleep. Nacho’s improvised cooking fire turns out to be a momentary distraction, especially since Lalo suspects it was the fault of his youngest and most irresponsible bodyguard, Ciro. But Lalo’s sense of Spidey intervenes again quickly enough that he uses Ciro as a human shield against the first wave of hitman bullets, and from there he has the edge on the field in addition to his prodigious gifts with violence. He has a tunnel under the house, because of course he does, and pushes his opponents to follow him, even if he has looped back towards the entrance to shoot them while they are crawling ducks. Nacho is creeping into chaos, but he’s hundreds of miles away from home, with no allies, and a rabid Lalo will surely realize that Nacho is not lying like his beloved cook.
We had to assume that the attempted coup would go wrong, if only because of what Saul seems to know in his first breaking Bad appearance, where he is terrified that Walt and Jesse have been sent by Lalo. In this episode, Mike assures Jimmy that Lalo will be dead tomorrow, which meant that Jimmy / Saul would find out in the future that this was not the case. But it’s still a crackerjack sequence, with all the clear action, even if it takes place in the middle of the night. And that goes even further in building Lalo as a huge threat to almost all of our remaining characters as we head into the final season. (And Lalo could still die before the show ends, just in a situation where Jimmy is oblivious to his disappearance.)
It’s also the first time that a You better call Saul the season has ended so far narratively from Jimmy. The previous finals all ended with scenes that set him in motion or (in the case of Chuck’s suicide) are much more emotionally connected to him than Lalo kicking and taking names. Perhaps this is Gould and Levine’s way of showing how much the history of the cartel has taken over the whole series, and how close Jimmy is to being part of it full time. Or maybe it’s because they realized that the final scene with Jimmy and Kim is so much a mirror of the end of season four that they didn’t want to brown the lily too much by placing it last.
In this closing scene from last season, Kim is surprised to realize that Jimmy was simulating emotions in his speech on Chuck and to learn that he has chosen to practice law under a new name. Jimmy, oblivious to his distress, smiles and makes a double point saying, “All is well, man. As he walks away, the camera pulls away from Kim, making her look very small, lonely and vulnerable. Here we get this scene upside down. Now it’s Jimmy who’s surprised, this time by Kim’s plan to destroy Howard’s career as a way to use Sandpiper settlement money to set up a pro bono defense practice. Now it’s Kim who seems completely oblivious that she and her partner are not on the same spiritual page, and the colon is taken to the next level by Kim mimicking a pair of pistols and pretending to blow the smoke barrels, like she was a cowboy in one of the old movies Jimmy likes to watch. Now, it’s Jimmy who takes the camera back, leaving him small and alone, and not at all like the Saul Goodman who seemed to regain control in “JMM”.
The finale goes the extra mile to prepare Jimmy to feel shocked at the time. He and Kim arrive together in their chic hotel hiding place but are almost immediately on separate pages. He wants to hide from Lalo, and maybe take advantage of certain amenities in the process; she wants to go to court, where she asks Grant from the Public Defender’s Office to give her more cases of overflow. (And in the process discovers a The Raiders of the Lost Arksimilar to a labyrinth of filing boxes representing clients with no one to defend them.) He will confront Mike about the situation; she laughs at Howard for talking about bowling balls and prostitutes just hours after her life was threatened by Lalo. They’re not focusing on the same things at all, so Jimmy is particularly disadvantaged when Kim starts talking about the scam she would like to run on Howard. She already put Lalo in the rearview mirror, which is all he was thinking about.
Of course, she almost died in the desert, so it all stays a little more abstract for her even after Lalo’s home visit. Or maybe it’s just PTSD from another band, and his shock at this conversation pushes the darkest and most amoral aspects of his personality.
Or maybe it’s something we’ve seen elsewhere in this universe, from the main character in the series who introduced Saul Goodman.
Think about what we know and have seen from Kim Wexler. She built her life and career from nothing. She’s convincing in the world of Howard Hamlin and Kevin Wachtell, but she’s always had to hide some resentment from these rich and powerful men to whom good things seem to come so easily. She is better than her peers in almost every task she decides to do. We saw with the blow that kept Huell out of prison that Kim can be a smarter scammer than Jimmy. By verbally dismantling Lalo, she also seemed to be a better friend of the cartel than Jimmy. And following an experience that could very well have killed her, but it is not the case, Kim finds herself considering doing something really bad, even when she says to herself and to her spouse that she would do it for a fundamentally good reason.
Sounds like someone we know knocking?
The scene in the empty courtroom with Howard is disturbing because of how obviously he is correct about everything, even if she literally laughs at it. She placed a very bad bet on Jimmy McGill when she proposed marriage rather than a breakup, and she has no choice but to keep doubling on that bet, throwing good money after bad to get convince that she made the right choice. Howard describes Jimmy as “someone who can’t control himself,” but he might as well talk about Kim. And again, his attempt to do a good deed looks like he’ll come back to bite him, awfully.
When Kim throws the Sandpiper gambit at Jimmy, she is in her Kansas City Royals nightgown. Her hair has fallen out. She is completely relaxed and as distant as she is capable of being the controlled, hairstyled and polite lawyer that the rest of the world sees – that even Howard thought he saw when he dismissed her to warn her of Jimmy.
Even Jimmy doesn’t see him at first when she presents the play to him. He repeatedly tries to dissuade her, first by suggesting that it might be too difficult to get out of it, which Kim greets with a priceless and terrifying smile, as it is obvious that she can remove it. Then he tries to warn her of what it would mean to Howard, and in turn what it would make Kim feel, suggesting that she probably wouldn’t agree with it in the cold light of day. And Kim Wexler, who looks as serene, happy and beautiful as at any time in the series, replies: “Isn’t it? At another point in Jimmy’s life, he might fall in love with her more than ever at this show; here he’s first unsure if she’s playing with him, then he’s mostly afraid for her.
As will be the case with her husband’s future client, Kim is confident that she will do harm for a noble cause. But it seems like she does it for her – that when she shoots a cunt, she likes it, she is good at it and she really feels … alive.
Kim has drawn Jimmy to the light many times in those five seasons, but he has also drawn her to the dark regularly. The assumption we had all along was that Jimmy would break in a way that would bring total ruin, if not worse, to the woman he loves, and that he would kiss his inner Saul in reaction. This could still be the way it happens. But as I watched this scene over and over and over, another thought came to me about how we could have had things. What if Jimmy didn’t really become Saul Goodman in response to a bad thing that happened to Kim? And if he does it for prevent this bad thing to happen? And if he realizes that the only way to scare him is to fulfill Chuck’s prophecy (which Howard invokes earlier in this episode) and show him exactly how much Slippin ‘Jimmy is licensed in law? What if the best thing Jimmy can do before the end of this show is to embrace the worst of himself? And then discover that he can’t easily become the most decent rascal Jimmy McGill?
We will have to wait a while to see how it all works out – most likely a very long time, given how television production has been disrupted by the pandemic at the same time as all other companies, large and small. But this incredible TV season made me question many of my assumptions about the series (including if I can always comfortably say that breaking Bad is obviously better). I want things to go well for Kim, not only because she is the friendliest person on this show (and probably on both shows), but because she is one of the few people left for which a happy ending is even possible. She is the joker, the one who was never mentioned when Saul Goodman met Walt and Jesse, the one who is not bound by the events described on AMC from 2008 to 2013. But maybe I want to believe that a good ending is possible for her in the in the same way that a lot of breaking Bad fans really wanted to believe Walt was just do it for his family, despite ample evidence to the contrary. Because it’s a devilish world, and Saul Goodman is ultimately a villain. Jimmy McGill is not that guy yet, but he is on his way, for whatever reason, and it is hard to imagine the woman who loves him coming out of this transformation unscathed.
And does it sound like a woman who wants to be saved?
Season five pretty easily ranks as the best year You better call Saul has had to date. The merger of the two halves of the show was to the benefit of both, giving higher stakes and tensions at the end of things Jimmy / Kim while making the affairs of the cartel richer in emotion and less like a breaking Bad bonus function. The closer we get to the end of this part of the story, the more You better call Saul in theory should look like its parent series. But while the cartel is now making its presence felt in almost every corner of the series (even Howard’s scenes are underlined with the somber and comical feeling that he has no idea what Jimmy and Kim are really about. faced), Saul somehow feels less indebted breaking Bad, rather than more. Jimmy, Mike and Gus have all had significant emotional experiences this season, although Gould and company have relied more and more on characters whose fate is unknown. The how and why of Jimmy becoming Saul for real remains a convincing mystery and character arc, but I found myself at least as invested in the destinies of Nacho and Lalo, and the person whose future worries me most. is by far Kim Wexler.
So it’s fair that the show wraps up its best season yet with an hour where a lot of the action is led by people who don’t exist on breaking Bad. (Even Howard is important as a victim in Kim’s proposed plan.) Whenever Jimmy eventually turns completely into Saul Goodman, it will hurt. But not as much as the terrible turns ahead for the woman he and we love.
Some other thoughts:
* I spoke with Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan about where the finale leaves Kim and Jimmy, how Lalo became Lalo and when we get to see the last season.
* This is Daily show correspondent Roy Wood Jr. as Grant from the Office of the Public Defender.
* Just seeing Don Eladio sitting by the pool where Gus killed him would be quite spicy. But make him say “Salud! – the toast that doubles as the title of the episode where he died – at this location caused even more chills.
* Nacho using tin snips and an aluminum box to choose Lalo’s back door lock is a gadget from Mike Ehrmantraut, but also something that is apparently very real.
* Finally, the refined hideaway of Jimmy and Kim is the Andaluz Hotel in downtown Albuquerque. As one of the nicest and most architecturally interesting hotels in the city, its lobby is often used as a film and television location for ABQ-based productions. About the USA Heatherroom, for example, the character of Rosario Dawson lived there. Saul actually used a library in the corner of the hall of Juan Bolsa’s office in last week’s episode.