TV

The ‘Better Call Saul’ Lie Detector Test: It’s Showtime, One Last Time

The Better Call Saul Lie Detector Test is a weekly recap of the major events of the final season, separated out by their apparent truthfulness at the time. This is not one of those recaps that gets into granular detail about things. It will miss the occasional callback or foreshadowing. But it will be fun. Sometimes, that’s what’s important.

Season 6, Episode 13: “Saul Gone”

LIE FALSE SAUL
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Saul Goodman will run out of tricks at some point

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The thing about a guy like Jimmy/Gene/Saul is that the brain never stops working the way it works, even if sometimes he might want it to. Even this episode, when he was caught in a dumpster and plastered to the wall by various branches of the government for all of the various crimes we’ve seen him commit over multiple seasons of two television shows, he still was gaming potential outs for himself. A career-obsessed prosecutor’s fear of losing a big case, a potentially sympathetic story about big bad Jesse Pinkman hunting him down and getting revenge (lol), information about Howard Hamlin’s murder (whoops), all of the angles he sees and plays, all of the pressure points he knows how and when to push, just instinctively and almost involuntarily. He’ll still be doing it all in one way or another until he dies as a superstar in that supermax prison, and yes, I would also watch that show, too. I’m not innocent in all of this either.

Even his big Coming Clean moment in the courtroom, where he strapped on a shiny suit one last time and declared it showtime, as he was blowing up the sweetheart deal he had wiggled himself into, he was still running a con. He wanted Kim there to hear his big speech, to be in the room as he owned up to a lifetime of stuff he’d been running from, but the only way he knew to get her there was to raise the specter of more harm to her via his potential testimony. It worked out for him, kind of, to the extent anyone talking themselves into an additional 80 years of maximum security prison can be considered “things working out,” but he did get that small smile out of her and one last shared cigarette. All things considered, that is substantially more than nothing.

It was also a nice touch, this business of continuing to remind us who this dude is, for better and worse. He’s a charmer, a manipulative weasel, but also a sweetheart, kind of, which is how he survived so long being those first two things. Look at both of the speeches he gave about his first meeting with Walter White, the one when he was trying to get a shorter prison sentence and the one where he was tossing that sentence straight into a toilet. Neither of those sets of facts were entirely true. Both were spun and tweaked to play a specific hand the way he wanted to play it. I don’t even know if he could tell it straight if he tried. It would make him a deeply frustrating dude to know and associate with (please look at Kim’s face throughout this entire final season for confirmation), but it also made him a fascinating television character.

Saul Goodman has been in my life in one way or another since the second season of Breaking Bad. We’re going on 13 years here, real time. And I could easily go for more. I was serious about that jail show. Then give me a prequel about one of the characters he meets there. Chain Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould to a wall and force them to make product for me like the meth-Nazis did to Jesse Pinkman. It’s not an unreasonable ask.

The people who make this show are bad at their jobs

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Speaking of Gilligan and Gould… damn. Just a killer one-two punch of closing episodes. They did the thing a lot of shows do where a lot of the heavy action goes down the week before the finale — bus crying, Life Alert pendants, etc. — and then the last hour or so is spent sifting through the wreckage of the things that got broken, but still, man, I don’t know how you could have done it much better. I did not ever expect to get a little emotional from one character doing finger guns at another and yet, there I was, a little misty as Kim walked away one last time after one last shared cigarette.

Speaking of that smoke… what a cool little moment. The shots line up really close with the first time they shared a cigarette way back in the first season, which really slams home just how much has changed for both of them in the time between those puffs. These two…

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became these two…

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… and ruined any number of lives in the process, most notably their own. It all created a cool bookend for the series, a sweet little moment brought back in new circumstances, with everyone changed in exciting and worse ways. The lesson here is that we should all start smoking cigarettes.

Wait. No. That’s not the lesson. Give me a second. I’ll figure out where I was headed with that.

Bill Oakley had a lot of fun

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Poor Bill. Look at this from his perspective:

  • Agreed to come on as advisory counsel in the hopes of making a name for himself with a big case
  • Had his advice repeatedly ignored
  • Watched his client talk himself into almost a century of jail
  • Got a mean look from a U.S. Marshal on an airplane
  • Got yelled at by the judge a little bit when he tried to quit in the middle of the hearing

Tough run for Bill.

LIE UNCLEAR SAUL
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This was a happy ending

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I mean… kind of? It was kind of a happy ending? Maybe as happy as any of us could have expected. I don’t even know what would count as “a happy ending,” now that I type this all out. These are people who did bad things. People are dead. More than a few. This was never going to end with Jimmy and Kim on a beach on some little island sipping mai tais. It couldn’t have. It shouldn’t have. It would have been deeply unsatisfying. Actions have consequences. Walter White died at the end of Breaking Bad because he was always headed in that direction, cancer diagnosis or not. Jimmy ended up in prison because he was always headed in that direction, too, dating way back to his days as Slippin’ Jimmy. That cigarette and finger gun and smile is as close as any of them — or any of us watching at home, considering we knew what we were getting into here — deserve in the direction of happiness.

I do wonder what all of this means for Kim, though, going forward. She seemed to find joy in her brief moments volunteering at the Legal Aid office, even just answering the phones. I don’t know if there’s a future there beyond that for her, if only because admittance to a state’s bar usually includes a Character and Fitness assessment and “recently wrote a sworn affidavit confessing to a number of crimes and ethically dicey activities done in cahoots with a current SuperMax inmate who is so infamous that fellow prisoners chanted his catchphrase on a bus” might torpedo that pretty fast. And there’s also the thing where none of what Jimmy said in court undid anything she said in that affidavit. She’s still going to get sued into oblivion by Howard’s widow and will forever be tied to Saul Goodman by anyone who knows how to operate a search engine. It’s not ideal.

But she did get closure. And she’s moving in a better direction. And Jimmy seems to be doing okay in prison. So… happy ending? You could spin it that way if you really tried.

Better Call Saul will go down as a better show than Breaking Bad

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CASE FOR:

  • I liked it more
  • It took the comic relief from one iconic show and twisted it into a dramatic tour de force of its own, which is kind of impossible
  • Introduced us to both Kim Wexler and Lalo Salamanca, two of the best television characters of the past decade for very different reasons

CASE AGAINST:

  • Better Call Saul only exists because of Breaking Bad, which actually counts as another point for the original
  • Breaking Bad had more shots of a violent meth kingpin running around in his underpants, which I enjoyed
  • If you don’t say “Better Call Saul was better than Breaking Bad” out loud to anyone, they won’t start yelling at you about it

VERDICT

Please do not yell at me. I am doing the best I can.

I would watch a whole standalone movie about just the news coverage of the events from this episode

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Hmm. I think I would. Probably. Just two hours of breathless news anchors with $800 haircuts recounting the story of the New Mexico attorney who helped a drug lord build an empire and then disappeared and was arrested in a dumpster in Nebraska sometime later. Interviews with Marion about how she figured it out. Whole primetime specials with the employees at the Cinnabon who only knew him as their manager, Gene. Shots of Marion at home watching that primetime special and doing a smug little smile because she went all Murder, She Wrote on the whole thing. Clips of comedians doing bits about him getting arrested in a dumpster. Marion watching those clips. And so on.

The takeaway here is that maybe I just want a movie about Marion. One where she catches the investigation bug and goes around looking into another crime. Put her on a cruise ship and let her solve a murder. I am increasingly serious about this.

LIE TRUE SAUL
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It was nice to see old friends one last time

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A slew of familiar faces in the finale. Just a parade of them. Mike was there in the beginning with a flashback to the desert for the first time machine conversation, one in which he once again lamented the course of his life after taking his first bribe in Philly in 1984. Walter was there later, being a huge prick about the time machine hypothetical because Walter is a man of science and also just kind of a prick in general. Marie was there to remind everyone that Hank and Gomie had died just a year earlier and there is still real hurt out there from the things Walter and Saul did. Chuck was there to center everything once again and drive home how that relationship is one of the things that set Jimmy on the course to Saul and then Gene. It was cool.

It also, like, worked. There’s a fine line between doing these things to drive home a point or a theme through callbacks and doing these things just as a blatant attempt at fan service. Running out a bunch of major characters from the shared universe like this could have teetered over into that second thing on a lesser show. Easily. You’ve seen it happen. But here, it felt… I don’t know, right? The Jimmy —> Saul —> Gene journey is fascinating and it sent him hurtling through a bunch of different worlds. He brought up the time machine a lot because it’s a fun conversation to have but, also, as Walter identified, it’s a good way to play back regrets and redo them to make yourself the victor. It all set up the speech in the courtroom where he got to hop in a metaphorical time machine to try to atone for the things he did, for Kim more than the judge.

It was a good piece of business. I also whooped a little when I saw Walter again, just because I am at heart a trained seal who will clap when instructed. I feel okay about it.

I am going to miss this show a lot

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Yes, yes I am. Again, we’ve all spent over a decade in this universe. We know the characters better than we know some of our real neighbors. We met new ones in this show that might be the best ones of the whole endeavor. I am going to miss them all a lot. Mike’s grumbling, Saul’s scheming, Kim’s facial expressions, Lalo’s… well, everything about Lalo. I really loved that psychopath.

But it’s also the comfort of knowing you are in good hands. There are so many shows now. It’s hard to know what’s good and what’s worth your time and what’s going to go off the rails and what’s going to get struck down by the streaming gods after two seasons. These shows were just good, all the time, right up through the end, made with care by people who respected both the craft and the audience’s time. Go to a message board and look at all the callbacks this episode dropped into the action. These people loved making this show a lot and it came through on the screen. It was a hell of a ride. I’m glad I was on it but I’m sad it’s all over.

I need to know what color Jimmy’s outfit was

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Legitimately hilarious that the last time Jimmy went full Saul was in the black-and-white timeline and the suit he was wearing — clearly shiny and loud in classic Saul fashion — was rendered moot to the audience at home. I laughed out loud. And then I got mad that I didn’t get to see what colors he wore for his last big speech. This will tear me apart. It’s probably not the appropriate note to end on for my final recap of the final episode of one of the best shows ever, but… like… come on.

I’ll get over it. Probably. Maybe. By the time Jimmy gets out of prison, at least.

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