Better Call Saul Finale: The Inevitable Travesty of Justice

Spoiler Alert: This article discusses in detail the finale of series Better Call Saul.

This is the final episode. Saul is better, which aired its finale on Monday, estranged spouses Kim Wexler and Saul Goodman—né James “Jimmy” McGill and later known as Gene Takovic—reunite to formally dissolve their marriage. Kim (Rhea Seehorn) visits Saul’s (Bob Odenkirk) strip-mall law office, a mecca for petty criminals in search of shady representation, to to sign the divorce papers, and her eyes drift to the decor: an absurdly large desk, a statue of Lady Justice with her scales, walls papered with the Constitution and bracketed by Greek revival pillars that recall the Supreme Court building. “What do you think?” Saul asks. “Pretty great, right?” All she can manage to say is: “Yeah, it’s, um… yep.”

Because we’ve gotten to know the intelligent, idealistic Kim so intimately through Seehorn’s riveting performance over the past six seasons, it’s easy to imagine what she’s really thinking: that Saul has made a mockery of the values that brought her and Jimmy, the struggling public defender we meet in the series premiere, together. Once committed to helping the little guy, even if that meant deviating from the letter of the law, he’s now found fortune and fame by surrounding himself with the tackiest signifiers of his profession and building a reputation as the criminal-defense equivalent of an ambulance chaser. It’s impossible to imagine a better story for the main character of a series about justice and its perversion. Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan are well-known for condensing complicated themes into powerful images. The episode begins with Saul throwing a ball against his Constitution wall, until a weak pillar falls on his desk.

Breaking Bad FansI have known since childhood that Saul He was moving in that direction. The surprise for us was the first glimpse of Jimmy, a former scammer who became a courtroom crusader. Later, what propelled many of us through the seasons was the attachment we developed to Kim, who turned out to be the show’s moral center—not just the proverbial woman who made Jimmy want to be a better man but a hero in her own right—and who, as many nervously noted, was no longer a part of Saul’s life by the time Walter White walked into it. Kim survived, contrary to all our worst fears. She leaves Saul but the last remnants of his professional dignity, his desire for justice and not to settle any scores, are gone.

Rhea Seehorn, “Better Call Saul”

Greg Lewis—AMC/Sony Pictures Television

After Kim leaves their apartment, Saul awakes in a garish, tiger print bed, alongside a snoring prostitute. The new house has an Baroque-via Versace style with lots of gold paint and stained-glass windows. There are also wall-sized reproductions of Renaissance fleshy art. “I’m so sorry, I’m getting another call,” he tells a client, before putting down his phone and taking a blow dryer to his audacious comb-over. His breakfast is a Nutri-Grain bar in a plastic wrapper that boasts “real fruit.” Upon arriving at his office, he hangs a disability parking permit in his window. A mammoth inflatable Statue of Liberty, tethered to the building’s roof, waves in the wind. “Let justice be done, though the heavens fall,” he declares into the intercom at his desk, in an empty invocation of a legal maxim after Kim’s own heart. Without her, every aspect of his life is either a fabrication or performance or lie. It is absurd to think that justice can be achieved. “It’s showtime,” Saul says in the finale, as his criminal trial begins.

This story is not the only one that travesties justice in this show. An earlier episode featured Mike Ehrmantraut (the legendary Jonathan Banks), tracking down Nacho Varga’s father. Nacho was Michael Mando (an undersung cast member who is an ideal casting member) and his murder by the Salamanca bloodthirsty family. “Your son made some mistakes,” says Mike, clearly thinking of his own broken boy. “He fell in with bad people. But he was never like ’em, not really. He had a good heart.” At least “you won’t have to worry about the Salamancas. They are coming. There will be justice.” Nacho’s father shakes his head. “What you talk about is not justice. What you talk of is revenge,” he says, before adding, in Spanish: “You gangsters and your ‘justice.’ You’re all the same.” His words wound Mike, who likes to think his hypercompetence and lack of malice separate him from monsters like the Salamancas. The father was right. Vigilante violence also constitutes a perversion in justice. Nacho’s fate was similar. Nacho, a man of great potential, spent many years trying to escape from the criminal underworld.

Bob Odenkirk and Michael McKean, in “Better Call Saul”.

Greg Lewis—AMC/Sony Pictures Television

In the opposite corner of the moral matrix—the lawful evil to Nacho’s chaotic good, if you will—sits Saul’s late brother Chuck (Michael McKean), whose obsession with laws and legitimacy helped catalyze his descent into suicide midway through the show’s run. Chuck’s concept of justice, which privileged rules above genuine ethics or benign intentions, was at least as hollow and self-serving as Mike’s own moral code. The finale reminds us of that, in a flashback where Jimmy delivers groceries to his housebound brother, who responds to the ice-packed cooler of food by sniffing: “I’m hoping you didn’t steal that from a hotel ice machine.” (After Chuck’s death, the show explored the dire consequences of hypocritical, elitist mindsets like his across a justice system that doesn’t truly believe in rehabilitation.) Jimmy’s devolution into Saul is depressing, in part, because of the extent to which his justice-themed kitsch echoes Chuck’s superficial grasp of what it means to be a good lawyer. Both brothers hide their selfish motives in the letter of the law; in Saul’s case, said text just happens to be printed on his office walls.

Only Kim ends up living by a definition of justice that isn’t clouded by self-interest, and that existence is anything but glamorous. A snoozy desk job in Florida, a boyfriend who frets over the right kind of mayonnaise to put in a potato salad, a group of interchangeable girlfriends, a mousy dye job that literally hides her light—this is the artificially sweetened, Miracle Whip version of a life. When she confesses to Howard Hamlin’s (Patrick Fabian), her involvement in his death, she almost manages to end that sun-drenched paradise. Kim has suffered more than enough for the harm she and her ex-husband caused together, yet at one point in the series finale it seems inevitable that she’ll be ruined by civil, if not criminal, charges in yet another miscarriage of justice perpetrated by Saul Goodman.

He uses the flaws of the system to grant her the vindication that she needs. Representing himself at his trial, he lures Kim to court with the suggestion that he’s going to throw her under the bus and gives one of his signature speeches, the kind that has already convinced the prosecutor to offer a plea deal that would reduce Saul’s sentence to just seven years to avoid having to trust a jury to see through his performance of victimhood. He uses his ability to manipulate the system to accomplish a selfish goal: To shift all of the blame onto himself, which is more than he ought to have. This is a feat of skill that landed him a record 86 year behind bars.

Bob Odenkirk, RheaSeehorn and Rhea Odenkirk appear in “Better Call Saul”.

Greg Lewis—AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Jimmy McGill’s subsequent and arguably more well-earned reclamation of his name fails. On the bus en route to prison, his fellow criminals immediately recognize him as the guy from the commercials and start chanting “Better Call Saul.” But he’s Jimmy again to Kim, when she comes to visit him in the slammer, looking partially recovered from her flop era with the curl back in her hair, and they smoke one more cigarette against the wall together. Her fatal flaw, if it was inability stop scheming then his irrepressible propensity for trusting an unjust system. Jimmy’s great act of heroism was to use his inherent crookedness to give Kim the justice her inherent honesty never would’ve yielded. Don’t forget Bridgerton—that’s a romance for the ages.

And it’s a conclusion that rings true to real life in the present-day U.S. More often than not, when a TV series is described as It is important to act promptly Or Relevant it’s because it literally parallels a specific cultural moment: a show about workplace sexual harassment in the #MeToo era, or a show about a pandemic during a pandemic. One of the elements that made this show stand out was its focus on social justice. Saul Starting at Breaking Bad—and made it the superior of the two classics—was its rigorous engagement with justice, a preoccupation whose creeping pessimism proved timely in a more artful, profound way. Debuting in the long lead-up to the 2016 election, it unfurled its disconcerting observations into a culture inundated with misinformation and disinformation, Constitutional crises and Supreme Court chaos, where laws protecting women’s bodily autonomy are struck down while laws that would save children from being gunned down at school almost never gain traction.

If The Wire became a classic by showing us the crumbling of America’s institutions, then Saul is better deserves a place in the canon for the vividness with which it captured something less tangible but more elemental: Americans’ crumbling faith in the values that once gave those institutions meaning. We are left with the final question: Does the perversion or abuse of justice happen in all societies, regardless of the circumstances? Or just in this society and its justice system? If only Kim Wexler were a real person, I’d call her up and ask.

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