[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Better Call Saul” Season 6, Episode 13, “Saul Gone.”]
The final season of “Better Call Saul” has seen both death and resurrection. There’s a growing body count that’s been offset by a handful of reappearances, of characters either presumed or confirmed dead, in the life of a notorious defense lawyer on the lam. These weekly reviews have made definitive statements that a certain persona was all but cooked. They’ve also teetered on the brink of making assumptions that his one-time partner was all but marked for a death of her own.
So it’s only fitting that the series finale many assumed would carry physical and emotional carnage (as its predecessor show fit into its final hour) offers one last zig in the face of expected zags. “Saul Gone,” written and directed by showrunner Peter Gould, isn’t solely a parting tale of rebirth. But it certainly offers more preservation than the dissolution of the Gene Takavic era seemed to promise.
As all planned final episodes are, whether intentional or not, “Saul Gone” is a reckoning. And what is a reckoning if not seeing the lives of those you’ve wronged and outlived, even if only in memory? This finale welcomes back Marie Schrader (Betsy Brandt), Walter White (Bryan Cranston), Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), and Chuck McGill (Michael McKean) to offer their own assessments of Saul (Bob Odenkirk.)
They arrive as character witnesses, each in their own way. (Given this creative team’s appreciation for — and participation in — TV history, it can’t be a coincidence that significant stretches of this episode are drama-series echoes of a finale for another of the greatest shows of all time.) Marie happens to be the representative present for one last “Better Call Saul” scheme, with Saul going from pacing around mumbling in a small Douglas County holding cell to engineering a dessert-topped plea deal in a manner of on-screen minutes. He offers a fabricated sob story — hinging on Badger, of all people — that raises enough of a specter of a hung jury to get an artisanal plea deal. His smug additions to the terms of his cooperation with the federal government are delivered with the confidence of a man who ultimately gets what he wants, even if he has to spend a few months living in a different state before that happens.
There’s one person, though, who left the one void Saul never knew how to fill. (Even amidst the wealth and riches of being a friend of the cartel, he still kept that tequila bottle topper.) In relation to where things end up, last week’s Vince Gilligan-directed episode becomes Kim’s closing statement. Offering herself up to the mercy of the court and the Hamlin family and the restaurant choices of her boyfriend, she finally relinquishes control of her Albuquerque loose ends (even if she kept her Bar card, just in case). She’s present for Jimmy finally doing the same for himself. Ever the spin artist, his sentencing hearing becomes a venue for a bait-and-switch offloading of guilt that’s both confession and profession. He swaps the promise of a life in the clear for a life with a clear conscience. He trades almost nine decades’ worth of state-ordered punishment to reclaim a tiny bit of what he’d never been able to give up.
This certainly isn’t the last chance to salute the “Better Call Saul” creative team, but it’s worth noting some of the folks who made this final collection of affirmations as clear as it could be. There’s longtime DP Marshall Adams, making the greyscale world of the “future” pop, from the color of the dough at multiple venues to the black lettering on the back of Jimmy’s jumpsuit(s). Skip Macdonald has cut a handful of sequences this season that are virtuosic in their tension-building. Juggling the bevy of reactions in the plea deal and courtroom sequences was no easy editing feat, either. Costume designer Jennifer Bryan found the perfect funeral suit for Saul Goodman, a gaudy number that still shouts as bright as his wardrobe always has, even when presented in shades of grey.
And then there’s Odenkirk, who’s straddled the line between three men for the better part of a decade now. It’s not exactly a revelation in “Saul Gone,” but this finale confirms that the key to Odenkirk’s performance has been an uncanny understanding of the nature of performance. It’s not just the Fosse hands in the mirror or the slicked-back hair or the pinky ring (one of the show’s only supporting characters to not make a return visit for the finale). Along with Gould, Odenkirk locates the idea that Saul Goodman was only as good as a reflection of his audience. Playing for clients, playing for judges, playing for his wife: maybe it was a mistake to reduce the man to a simple Jimmy/Saul binary. He wasn’t two men or three men, but thousands, making tiny adjustments in whatever way suited his chosen end goal. In “Saul Gone” alone, he’s a reflection of every one of his flashback scene partners. The exacting detail of Mike, the ruthless efficiency of Walt, and the prizing of respect of Chuck are all present in the testimony he gives in that last courtroom scene. Welcoming all of those shades into one person is Odenkirk’s lasting legacy on this show.
Parsing out whether or not this was the fate that Jimmy deserved almost misses the point. The flashbacks in “Saul Gone,” aside from gathering in all the Albuquerque buddies for one last party, are part of the case that “Better Call Saul” has been building in its own trial of Saul Goodman for years now. As an alias, Saul has also been an idea. It’s one that Bill Oakley has at least latched onto in part, based on how he answers his phone (with an announcement and a slogan before the person calling has a chance to speak). It’s reflected in every justified plaintiff whose view of the law grows that much more cynical over seeing it manipulated. It’s in the look the wall of prosecutors give when they sense that Saul Goodman is about to thread together some arcane, tangential statutes into his own personal Rube Goldberg machine.
Saul Goodman promised speedy justice. The truth for what’s left of Jimmy McGill is more gradual, and even more in the eye of the beholder. In a way, it depends on whether you see that bus ride to ADX Montrose as a winding path into hell or a prelude to an 86-year stint in a self-imposed purgatory. Would justice be better served if it wasn’t on Jimmy’s terms, if the final say came about because of someone else’s words delivered at that podium? If there’s any ambiguity to be found here, it’s in that question, one that Gould leaves for viewers present and future to weigh for themselves. Regardless of the ultimate answer, in Montrose he’s Saul. His past efforts at self-promotion doom him one last time, as a Greek chorus of his fellow felons turn his chippy slogan into a ghost he’ll never shake. Jimmy is destined to live a life without his chosen name, and one without color.
For at least a day, though, it’s one with Kim Wexler. Season 6 has been peppered with reasons why Kim and Jimmy were too good of a team. The 2004-era McGill-Wexler alliance was a toxic cocktail of ambition and cleverness and spite. It got one man killed, and started the ball rolling on a few other fatalities. In the full accounting of their lives, though, Jimmy and Kim were a pair who also had stretches where they brought out the best in each other. The series’ close finds Kim at a place where she can use her powers for good, bringing her eye for organization and justice to a central Florida pro bono outfit. (It’s a lovely touch that Gould somehow presents a massive jumble of casework files as an oasis, as only Kim could see it. Seehorn lets a little bit of Kim’s assuredness come back, but not too much that it negates what she’s still having to overcome.) Jimmy’s law days are over, but at least his energy is spent making the kind of dough that doesn’t have anything to do with Berkshire Hathaway. They both get their shot at penance, however earned each might be.
Not sure either of them would use the word “atoned,” but they’ve each given up the idea of hiding from the guilt or consequences of their shared time in New Mexico. As a result, neither are condemned to isolation. Their last moments together still have a bit of the old thrill, with Kim sneaking in under semi-false pretenses. This time, though, it’s a bit of harmless boundary-pushing they both can live with.
It wouldn’t be a “Better Call Saul” finale without a lovely bit of symmetry, so of course the two turn the Montrose visitation room into their own time machine, fulfilling the prophecy of Jimmy’s bedside table in “Carrot and Stick.” They share a wordless cigarette at a canted angle in shadows beamed in from the ‘40s, each taking in what the other has become. Is it a neat and tidy parallel to the beginning of their partnership? Sure. But as people who dabbled in their own bit of showrunning, constructing an entire elaborate Season 6 ruse that they essentially co-produced, it’s undoubtedly the ending they would chosen for themselves.
Saul Goodman would have wanted the Hollywood ending, either walking off into the sunset after seven years of time served and good behavior or pistols blazing after telling an invisible pal he should have gone to someplace like Bolivia. But as the show promised back at the start of Season 2, “SG Was Here.” Instead, now, the closest thing Jimmy McGill has to guns are his index fingers and thumbs, borrowed from Kim, the only thing close to family he has left. He doesn’t exit. He lingers, fading into the building that now holds him. And that’s where we’ll leave him. At least for now.
“Saul Gone,” the “Better Call Saul” series finale, is now available to stream on AMC+.