Better Call Saul was always more than the sum of its Breaking Bad parts

Better Call Saul was always more than the sum of its Breaking Bad parts ...

Saul Goodman has died. Long may he rest.

After a disastrous series of self-destructive and sloppy decisions that resulted in the former Jimmy McGill being placed in police custody, I was prepared for a bleak series conclusion that implores all of us to witness Saul and his shady schemes at the expense of real-dead people. Jimmy's last con was eroding us all into believing he was totally irredeemable.

Better Call Saul has always been a show about craftsmanship. We watch Jimmy hang a wall of Post-it notes as he plots his revenge on Howard Hamlin; we watch Kim Wexler tie her ponytail and tie her outfit prior to every professional conversation. You cant fear being discovered as a fraud if youve already planned everything in your head. (I think all of these characters would do fantastic on The Rehearsal.)

Better Call Saul's inability to exist in a vacuum was demonstrated. It's possible to overlook a tiny, crucial detail that would eventually lead to a major, devastating revelation in the final scenes of any CBS copaganda series. But Better Call Saul often felt so satisfying because of the effort we as viewers made to keep tabs on these super-intelligent and competent characters.

Howard Hamlin's tragic wrong-place, wrong-time death at the end of the final season should have alerted us to the possibility that, no matter how well we've gotten to know these characters, their circumstances and schemes might still surprise us. In a way, it was foolish to go into this finale believing Jimmy McGill was unredeemable, that he had crossed moral lines that couldn't always be unravelled as Walter White did on Breaking Bad years earlier.

Jimmy and Walter are different beasts. Heisenberg's inner lust and greed, concealed by the drab surroundings of suburbia and savage middle class Americanity, transformed a high school chemistry teacher into a monster once achievable power was introduced into the complicated equation of his life and illness. Jimmy was both driven by greed and hubris, but never quite had the bloodlust of Walter White. Although Walter White wanted to demonstrate the world what he was capable of, Jimmy McGill, at his core, wanted

Saul Goodman is not necessarily the walking mutation and coping mechanism Jimmy became as he diverted more and more from his loved ones; he takes Jimmys watch me inclination and his desire to do things just because he can to a whole new, dangerous level.

It was a pleasure to see Saul in plea bargain negotiations, charming and smart, wielding the law in the way only Saul Goodman can. He is so powerful that he transcends multiple life sentences into only seven and a half years, plus a hand-delivered pint of ice cream each week.

It's also so refreshing to see the craftsman, in his hubris, remove a peg. Saul is at the end of his negotiations when he discovers that Kim has already told the cops everything she knows about Howard's murder. It's a strange shock, perhaps his first in a very long time. Hearing Kim's name cracks open the hard plastic of the Saul persona, revealing the naive and eager-to-please Jimmy McGill.

A flashback to a conversation with his brother Chuck, early in the development of the mental illness that would eventually erode their connection and lead to his tragic death, was a distraction from the scene. Jimmy never forgot how much he cherished Chuck and how much he depended on him. He always wanted to prove himself to those he respect.

Jimmy is the lover, and Saul is the ego that keeps him back. When Saul speaks up in court and declares that he wants to be tried as James McGill, he is revealing who he wants to be. Kim is watching, his partner in crime and all else. He wants to make her proud, to rise to her occasion and morality.

Jimmy is a persona that will follow him until he dies. After confessing in court, somewhat dubiously, to being the brains behind the Walter White operation, he gets placed on a bus to prison for the next 80 years (first he had to prove he could get off, then he had to prove he could do hard time). We later see him, as Saul, working in the prison kitchen, coming to terms with what he cannot just walk away from.

Jimmy became Saul after being convicted of murder, but the previous versions of him were always accessible and available to the right person at the right time. We saw Saul transform into Jimmy when he learned about Kim while being extradited back to New Mexico.

The latest McGill change, the one that welcomes Kim Wexler back into his life, isnt a step backward into the Jimmy McGill we first encountered as he worked his way up the ranks of his brother's law business, meticulously constructed as the series he led to be better and greater than the sum of his parts. Because he realizes that a world without Kim is not a place worth scamming.

Jimmy and Kim's post-breakup conversations tended to be entirely black and white, but the tip of that cigar lights up gold when they find themselves together in a jail cell at the end of the series. It's comforting to know that light can always come back. You can always change for the better for those who really know you.