Television

Better Call Saul Was a Love Story

The Breaking Bad spinoff ended by breaking in an unexpected direction.

A black-and-white-still shows her standing at a door, looking back, her hand on the handle, the window barred, the walls looking dingy. He looks at her from within his jumpsuit. She, meanwhile, retains a professional look.
Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) and Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) in the series finale of Better Call Saul. Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

This article contains spoilers for the finale of Better Call Saul.

To borrow a phrase from defense attorney Bill Oakley (Peter Diseth) in the final episode of Better Call SaulWhere did you see this ending? I bet you didn’t think it would end as a love story.

Better Call Saul endgame theories have marked the series since it first premiered in 2015. The awful certainties of death, jail, and dissolution were always assumed as features of its conclusion, as was the idea that the end of Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) would ultimately necessitate the sacrificial offering of Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn).

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You wouldn’t have been amiss to assume that was the pattern unfolding, especially as the final season went grim and took great care to remind us of the connective tissue that exists between Better Call Saul and the tonally darker Breaking Bad, with cameos from that series’ leading men, Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul).

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As it wound to a close, Better Call Saul evoked its present and past. The finale played with the idea of time, reminding us of where our cast of characters have been and where they will end up despite their regrets. But it also toyed with our expectations of what was to come.

In the end, Better Call Saul didn’t break bad. It broke open, staying true to the principles of its own unique parallel universe and heeding the call for a Jimmy McGill-style of justice. The finale incorporated the expected crime and punishment, tears and tragedy—Saul is caught and charged and sent to jail—but it subverted the expectation that Saul’s story would mean the necessary sacrifice of Kim, and by extension, the complete destruction of Jimmy McGill, a character worth revivifying if not restoring to full color. Consequently, in its final moments, the series revealed itself as something closer to a redemptive love story than a tragic tale of one man’s self-destruction.

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From the beginning, Better Call Saul has been about more than one man’s evolution. It has almost always been the tale of two characters evolving in relationship to themselves and each other. Jimmy McGill and Kim Wexler’s fates have been tied and weighted as equals, a double arc that offered a kind of gender balance rarely glimpsed in old-school prestige TV and entirely absent in Breaking Bad, in which women paid the bounty on every man’s head.

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The Kim and Jimmy love story has always been strange—and strangely compelling. It was never entirely clear if they married for love or if it was just a “legal arrangement,” as Jimmy explained it to Huell (Lavell Crawford), a way to protect Kim’s career from the threat of her boyfriend’s extra-legal activities. Notably, Jimmy and Kim’s first official “I love you” wasn’t exchanged at the beginning of their union but at the end of their relationship in Season 6, a confession of feeling followed by Kim’s fantastically undermining follow-up: “But so what?” It’s a good question. What is the point of a love story amid such violence and greed and corruption?

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Kim and Jimmy’s chemistry never hewed to stereotypical relationship tropes. They began as friends and co-workers at Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill, Jimmy in the mail room and Kim as the talented law student, paying her way through school. Theirs wasn’t a work-wife evolution or a Jim-and-Pam, The Office-style love match. The substance of their connection was generated from certain psychosexual currents: a dose of family trauma mixed with a shared taste for the adrenaline thrill of getting one over on blowhards and vanity cases, wealth managers and nepotism babies. Their shared respect for the domestic bliss of nights at home eating takeout and watching TCM was simply the cherry on top.

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Kim had mother issues; Jimmy had brother issues. It’s one of the weirder grace notes in their story that they first consummate their relationship after pretending to be siblings Viktor and Giselle St. Clair. The incestuous fantasy may ease the scam’s execution, but it’s hard not to think it doesn’t involve the kind of sexual frisson that would’ve kept Freud up nights.

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It’s Viktor who calls Kim at the end of the series, dialling her from a payphone in Omaha, addressing some naked part of her that compels her to draw the shades before picking up the phone. He knows where to poke and prod—the soft spots, the unhealed wounds. He ridicules her advice to turn himself in to police.

“You preaching to me?” he hollers. “Why don’t you turn yourself in, seeing as you’re the one with the guilty conscience.”

Kim has never been one to back down from a dare. She travels to Albuquerque and confesses, while still taking pains to protect Jimmy/Saul from the wrath of Howard’s widow.

[Read: Better Call Saul’s Last Season Has Found Its Real Hero.]

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If Jimmy and Kim have been our touchstone since Season 1, the tail end of Season 6 is notable for the disorienting effect of losing that fulcrum when they part and later divorce. “Together we are poison,” Kim tells Jimmy before she leaves him. Later, in a short scene with early Breaking Bad Jesse, she makes it clear some part of her worries she never really knew Jimmy at all.

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“This guy, any good?” Jesse asks of Saul.

“He was when I knew him,” she says, heading out into the rain.

When Kim briefly disappeared from the series in the final season, the narrative scales felt weighted back in favor of Jimmy/Saul’s solo arc. For a time, Better Call Saul started to feel like a man’s world again, like a brother series to Breaking Bad. And no offense, guys, but the sense of doom pervades. As Cinnabon manager Gene Takovic, Jimmy has taken up with a crew of hapless male misfits eager to get in the game. But Gene is grimmer and more ruthless than Jimmy/Saul and singularly focused on money. The image of Gene building up his treasure chest of dollar bills implicitly evokes a similar obsession exhibited by Walter White. Once again, we’re watching a guy who sold his soul to the devil attempt to reap the reward in big thick stacks—all those endless wads of futility.

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In the season finale, this familiar trajectory feels all but assured, an impression enhanced by the resurrection of three ghosts: Walt, Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) and Chuck McGill (Michael McKean). In three separate scenes that span both series, we listen as the now-dead guys ponder the idea of regret and paths not taken.

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It’s like an antihero therapy session that bridges both series. We don’t learn anything we didn’t already know about them, but we do start to suspect that Jimmy might be headed down the same path. His regrets are that he didn’t invest in Warren Buffett’s fund before it boomed, and that he took that dive in front of Marshall Field’s for such a cheap payday.

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“That’s it. Money?” Mike says to Jimmy, incredulous at the shallows he uncovers.

“What else?” he replies.

“So, you were always like this,” says Walt in another timeline, another series.

Later, we’ll see Chuck resurrected for a final chat. This time he’s urging Jimmy to reconsider the path he’s travelling on.

“When have you ever changed your path?” Jimmy says to Chuck. It’s another good question.

After such exchanges, the fate of Jimmy/Saul seems like a done deal. He’s a guy that pursued money to the bitter end. A scam artist down to his bones. A man that cannot get off the road he’s been walking for decades and who is about to become the latest ghost of his own making.

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But if the end of the series is haunted by certain male ghosts, in the final scenes of Better Call Saul, it seems clear that what we were watching might have been more of an exorcism than a revival. In the courtroom where Jimmy finally meets slippery, ever-elusive justice, the scales are balanced again by the return of a few women, specters who also happen to be still living, starting with Marie Schrader and Blanca Gomez. (Skyler’s fate is only given in aside, when Francesca tells Gene she got a “deal.”) Marie and Blanca wear masks of sorrow, victims of bad guys pursuing bad ends. Kim comes into view, now, too, behind them. Another sad-faced former wife, she sits squarely on their side of the aisle, a decision that feels like an inevitability. She seems like she’s steeling herself to endure the final obliteration of Jimmy. At Saul’s end, she’ll experience her own destruction too.

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It feels as if he’s going to do the bad thing after all, forcing Kim to cast her lot with the broken widows of Breaking Bad. But he doesn’t. Instead of going full Saul, he conjures up the vulnerability of Jimmy McGill and cops to his crimes in court, looking back at Kim in that strangely affecting way Bob Odenkirk has patented, with the furrowed brow of a Labrador Retriever trying to atone for making another mess in the kitchen. Jimmy doesn’t stop confessing until he sees Kim’s face relax and assume the gentle contours of the woman he remembers.

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It’s a subtle and unspoken moment of restoration—not just of Kim, but also of their connection. It is the unveiling of Better Call Saul as a love story.

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Jimmy’s actions are an answer to Kim’s “But so what?” This is what, Kim. The meaning to hold onto, out of all the regrets, violence, and death.

For his self-sacrifice, Jimmy is condemned not just to life in prison but life in prison as Saul. He’s brought Kim back to life and himself too, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences. You can’t sell your soul to the devil without paying a price.

For his pains, he’ll get one last moment with Kim. One last chance to be a hero, too, because Kim’s not looking like the Florida wallflower anymore. Trademark ponytail be damned, she’s starting to resemble, once again, the legal hotshot who shared a smoke with him in the firm’s parking garage. We should have known—where there’s smoke, after all.

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As she walks away from the prison and into the uncertainty of her own freedom, he offers her one last parting gift. His hands form pistols as he sends her off with a two-gun salute. It’s a reminder of who she is, was, and will always be—a gunslinger with the power to damn or rescue herself.

Bang, bang. That’s it. You’re not dead, Kim. You’re free. Or maybe not. Maybe you’ve got a price to pay, too. But it’s OK to look back and remember: You knew him when he was good—and right to the end.

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