What did we learn from the Season 1 finale of Better Call Saul? Well, two things, big picture.
First and foremost, we learned that the trigger that sets off the full-on Jimmy-to-Saul transition appears to have been the death of his former fellow flim flam man, Marco, after the two of them went on a week-long Chicago grifting bender. The whole first season had been about Jimmy trying to leave that life behind and do quote-unquote the right thing in the face of near-constant temptation, but it looks like Marco’s death in the act of one last scam sent him over the edge and caused him to finally start — and I apologize for this next part — breaking bad. Pinky ring on, conscience eroding, etc. All that’s left now is to buy some neon dress shirts and lease a Cadillac. It’s showtime.
But it wasn’t just Marco’s death that led to this. That was the match. The gasoline was everything that happened last episode, with Jimmy realizing Chuck never respected him and would never let him join the firm. You can see it in Jimmy’s face during the meeting with Howard. What looked like calm and acceptance on the surface turned out to be quietly simmering rage that bubbled over during bingo in an increasingly unhinged — and fun — monologue. And if we’re gonna keep going with this fire metaphor (we are), then the thing where he returned the Kettlemans’ money and lost out on his fancy new office and chance to work with Kim was the kindling. The steps were laid out bit by bit during the season, and it’s important to remember that because, otherwise, his decision to blow off the meeting Kim set up for him feels like a leap in a show that has taken great pains to take deliberate steps so far.
(And to be honest, even with all that said, it still felt like a little too much a little too sudden to me. Maybe not a leap, but, I mean, what’s between a step and a leap? A gallop? Let’s go with gallop. Like a fancy horse.)
The question the closing moments of the finale raises, of course, is wheeeeeeeeere do we go from here. Saul Goodman was a great secondary character because he was immoral and fun in small-ish doses, and Jimmy McGill became a great lead character because we bought into his struggle with good and evil. If he’s really killing off the angel on his shoulder, then the issue becomes how to make that compelling week-in, week-out in heaping spoonfuls, and how fast to go there. And that’s just the big question. There are smaller falling outs (fallings out?) that come from this decision, namely that Kim got burned after putting herself out there for him. That’s not gonna be a very fun conversation.
Complicating matters even more is that by about the midpoint of the season, I actually found myself starting to hope things would, like, work out for Jimmy, especially when he was really trying. Knowing that the guy who ran to his brother with a potentially big case like a proud puppy will eventually end up alone in a dark room re-living his glory days via VHS tape after his shift at an Omaha Cinnabon… that’s kind of a bummer. But if I trust anyone to get us there, it’s the guys who turned a cancer-ridden school teacher into Nino Brown and still made us care about him. Benefit of the doubt and such.
The second thing we learned from the finale is that a Chicago Sunroof is when you poop into someone’s car through an open sunroof. I consider both of these revelations to be equally important.
All in all, I think we can safely say that Season 1 of Better Call Saul was a success, doubly so when you take into account all that baggage that comes with spinning off one of the most beloved and respected television dramas of the last 20 years. The bar was set mighty high on this one. It was fun watching Gould, Gilligan, Odenkirk, and company Fosbury Flop their way right over it. On to Season 2.
HELEN JOHNSON: Hello?
TREVOR JOHNSON: Hi, Nana!
HELEN: Oh, Trevor! It’s so nice to hear from you? How’s college?
TREVOR: It’s good. I’m learning a lot. Cracking those books, you know?
[Trevor’s roommate walks in carrying a bong as tall as an 8-year-old, Trevor shushes him]
HELEN: That’s wonderful. I’m so proud of you.
TREVOR: How about you? How are things at the new facility?
HELEN: Oh, we had some excitement at bingo yesterday. Let me ask you… do you know what a “Chicago Sunroof” is?
HELEN: My lawyer was telling us about it. Apparently it’s when a man — or a woman, too, I suppose — stands on top of a car and makes a number two through the sunroof.
HELEN: Do you and your friends do the Chicago Sunroof, Trevor? Is it… what what that word from the news… a meme?
TREVOR: Uh… what? No. We don’t… you said your lawyer told you about this?
HELEN: Oh, yes. Such a nice man. A little excitable, but so handsome. He gave us Jell-O.
TREVOR: Nana, are you feeling okay?
HELEN: Never better, sweetie. Oops, gotta go. Time for bridge. Trevor, listen to me. I don’t care if all your friends are doing it, I don’t want to hear about you doing Chicago Sunroofs. It just not nice. Promise me.
TREVOR: Uh, I… won’t. I promise.
HELEN: That’s a good boy.
Odds and ends:
– Say what you will about Chuck and his treatment of Jimmy, he is right about at least one thing: Red Delicious apples are garbage. When HHM wraps up this Sandpiper case they should go after the sociopaths who continue to push these round hunks of cardboard on society under a recklessly misleading name. I am barely kidding.
– Another Chuck thing: This episode kind of confirmed the Hamlin/Chuck flippity-flop we saw developing last week. Hamlin wasn’t so much an asshole as he was a dude put in an impossible position between the legendary rainmaking face of the law firm and the screw-up kid brother who the former wanted to keep out. That must have sucked so bad, to be the heavy in a family battle you have no business fighting, all because your all-powerful partner is too much of a coward to talk to his own brother.
– That thing where Jimmy tricked the woman into thinking he was Kevin Costner? Probably my favorite Breaking Bad callback yet. Narrowly edged out the shoutout to Belize during bingo. “I would love to go there.” Oh ho ho, my friend. I do not think you would.
– I’ve made this point a few times throughout the season, but I love a good montage, and Season 1 delivered a handful of them. The latest was last night’s trippy 1960s-ish look at Jimmy and Marco’s Chicago swindling spree. That was fun.
– Marco was a goner as soon as he pitched that one last job. Never do the last job. Always stop two or three jobs early. That’s Crime 101.
– Not a lot of Mike in the finale. But with Jimmy going Saul (or, like, half-Saul) as he sped off, and Mike coordinating crimes from a booth outside the courthouse, there are going to be lots of opportunities for them to team-up going forward. This is a good thing.
Your thoughts below.