[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for “Better Call Saul” Season 4 Episode 10, “Winner.”]
While things seemed bleak for Jimmy McGill’s law career at the end of last week’s episode, “Winner” focuses on his last-ditch efforts to save his license — this time, leaning heavily into the role of still-grieving brother. While things between him and Kim remain cool, she is by his side, coaching him through his graveside mourning and the reception to honor the Charles McGill Reading Room that costs Jimmy $23,000, but puts on a great show for the local law community.
The show continues into the board hearing, where he comes prepared with the letter Chuck left to him in his will — but instead of reading the letter to the board, he uses it to pivot into an epic speech about how “I’ll never be as moral or smart or respected or as good as Chuck, but I can try.” Kim is blown away by his presumed sincerity, until he reveals to what degree the whole thing was an act. She might have told him before the hearing that “Whatever happens in there, I’m with you,” but as he walks away to restart his life as a lawyer, she realizes just what has happened.
On The Journey From Jimmy to Saul
“If you decide and I get to be a lawyer, I’ll do everything in my power to be worthy of the name McGill,” Jimmy told the board during his hearing, but here it is, the moment everything changes: Jimmy officially decides to abandon the name “McGill” as a lawyer, fully embracing his Saul Goodman alter ego that has come to define the worst parts of him as a person.
Until now, Jimmy used the Saul name strictly for his shadier activities, preserving James M. McGill, Esq. for his legal career. But the dream of a Wexler-McGill firm seems to be dead, and Jimmy is riding the high of manipulating the system for his own purposes: Whatever he’s planning for the future will involve a lot of rule-bending and shady manipulations. And the way he crows at Kim is legitimately chilling: “S’all Goodman?” Easier said than done.
Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures
Michael McKean makes another welcome appearance in “Winner,” which begins the episode with a punch to the heart. “Saul” has learned well from “Breaking Bad,” which created the tradition of weaponizing flashbacks as nostalgia bombs, and in the opening scene we have Chuck McGill vouching for his baby brother as a newly minted lawyer, followed by Jimmy insisting that Chuck enjoy the celebration that follows. It’s painful to see the two brothers lie side-by-side in Jimmy’s shithole apartment late that night, singing ABBA together, knowing what the future holds for them.
Oh, That’s Right, It’s a Period Piece
That opening flashback takes place years before “Mamma Mia” came out in 2008. As an aside, shout-out to Bob Odenkirk for being fearless about singing on screen — based on previous reports, his subpar warbling was not an act. (McKean, meanwhile, has a mean set of pipes.)
“It’s From a Movie!”
Jimmy’s bold outburst of “I could see ‘The Matrix’! I could dodge bullets, baby!” might feel like an odd reference without remembering that the current year is 2004, which means that the reference is more than timely: “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions” are likely now available to rent at Kim’s local Blockbuster Video.
Remembering What Hasn’t Happened Yet (The “Breaking Bad” Tie-In)
“Better Call Saul” has always had a slightly easier rhythm to it than “Breaking Bad,” but if anyone’s going to escalate things to the heights of danger experienced during that show, it’s Salamanca operative Lalo. From his casual killing of the TravelWire clerk to his ruthless stalking of Mike, Lalo is a shark in the water who’s proven quite capable of biting. We know that the future holds a scenario in which Gus ultimately wins out over the Salamancas (at least until the ringing of a fateful bell), but what Gus has to do in order to reach that position will likely drive a large portion of Season 5, and Lalo will not make things easy for him.
Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures
It’s been mentioned before, but while Lalo doesn’t appear on screen in “Breaking Bad,” he’s still alive in the future-set series: The character is mentioned in the first episode featuring Saul Goodman. Thus, he’s not dying anytime soon. Meanwhile, Gayle returns to scope out Gus’ incomplete lab and is thrilled by the possibilities. David Costabile plays the scene with such innocent glee that one might almost forget, for a moment, what it’s cost to get to this point.
What’s Up With Mike?
Mike has taken more than a few lives in “Saul,” with a Season 1 flashback depicting him getting revenge on the two crooked cops who cost him his son. Since relocating to Albuquerque, Mike’s approach to problem-solving has focused on eliminating issues without unnecessary collateral damage. However, after Werner’s escape and Gus’ loss of trust in the engineer, Mike has no choice but to kill a man who simply wanted to see his beloved wife.
The scene in which Mike tells Werner everything he has to do to keep his wife safe, and what will happen next, features stellar work from both Jonathan Banks and Rainer Bock. But the real moment to appreciate in Banks’ performance is in an earlier scene, when Gus asks, “Are you sure?” It’s not just that Mike says “Yes,” rather than his typical “Yeah”; it’s the touch of sadness that comes with it. Previously, Mike we saw Mike kill for personal reasons. Now, he’s accepted what his role in this business requires, and that awareness comes the knowledge of what it will cost him going forward.
Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures
“They dangle these things in front of you, they tell you you got a chance — but I’m sorry, it’s a lie. Because they had already made up their minds and they knew what they were going to do before you even walked in the door. You made a mistake and they are never forgetting it — as far as they’re concerned your mistake is who you are. It’s all you are.”
That’s only a portion of this brilliant monologue, a rant that Jimmy delivers to a stunned high school girl whose one incident of shoplifting has kept her from getting a scholarship from the fund created in Chuck’s name. It’s one of those “He’s not really speaking to her, but to himself” moments, but it speaks so clearly to the heart of everything this show is about. Life is unforgiving more often than not, second chances rarely prove out, and making the easy choice instead of the right one will always haunt you.
In Conclusion, Your Honor
One of the most difficult hurdles in “Saul” is finding ways to braid the season’s story strands, but it’s brilliantly achieved in “Winner,” which spells out a key ethos of the series: No one can escape the mistakes they’ve made.
Jimmy may think you can at the end of the episode, but he’s so consumed with triumph over getting his license back that he can’t see what it might have cost him with Kim. Meanwhile, Werner paid the ultimate price for betraying Gus’s trust, a brutal reminder that this is a world where consequences truly matter.
But “Saul” has always excelled at making this a key part of the universe, as vital to the fabric of the show as every nuanced detail of writing and direction and acting. It’s not that the bad guys get punished and the good guys get rewarded for their actions; it’s that nobody’s perfect, and bad choices never just disappear. It’s the only part of this show that doesn’t continually prove surprising, making it one of TV’s most moral fables — albeit a tragic one.
“Better Call Saul” has been renewed for a fifth season by AMC.