May 5, 2018
Better Call Saul: His Brother's Keeper? (Season Finale Speculation)
Less than twenty-four hours till the season two finale of Better Call Saul! Last week the internet exploded when an astute fan with too much time on her hands, unscrambled the first letter of each season two episode title to discover the Tiffany Easter egg within. As we all now know (unless we’ve been unplugged for a week) the letters spell, “FRINGS BACK.” We’ll forgive the writers for leaving out the apostrophe (just this once).
There has since been further speculation that they were going to write Gus back in, but then it didn’t happen. Many are seizing upon remarks made by Vince Gilligan (aka GOD) during a podcast, in which he stated there was a perfect opportunity to bring a character back, but they decided not to because it didn’t really move the story forward.
But why assume Gilligan was talking about everybody’s favorite restaurateur and super-villain? The “perfect opportunity” to revive a Breaking Bad character came up in episode eight (Fifi) which opens with that amazing tracking shot of the border. We could have seen Hank or Gomez or some other familiar DEA face in the hanger checking out the truck. It would have made sense, but then what?
Introducing Gus on the other hand, would move the story where it needs to go, or rather it would move Mike’s story where it has to go. As far as we know, Gus and Saul never meet. When Walter and Jesse are looking for a distributor, Saul doesn’t even mention Gus’ name. It’s not clear, even with his underworld connections whether he knows the name. What he says is, “I may know a guy who knows a guy who knows another guy…”
Given what we know about Gus, would he be caught in the same room as a low-life criminal lawyer who wears loud suits and operates out of a strip mall? They only have one thing in common. Saul’s occasional go to fixer, is also Gus’ enforcer. Gus has to show up sooner or later, and given that this season we learned that Gus and Mike share a common nemesis – one Hector “Tio” Salamanca, we’re set up for it to be sooner.
But the bigger question is: Where is Saul in the show named for him? Where is the man who without much advance notice can find you a guy that will go to prison for a fee? Or if you prefer can see that your potential informant gets shivved in the shower? And if neither of those two options work for you, he’ll hook you up with a man who can give you a new life someplace else.
It’s not just an intimate knowledge of the Albuquerque underworld that separates Saul and Jimmy. Jimmy has a sweet side not so apparent in Saul. Fans have been dreading the metamorphosis. It seems the more we get to know Jimmy, the less likely it is he could turn into the obnoxious, out for nothing but a buck, over the top S’all Good, Man. Last season it looked like the realization that Chuck was behind Jimmy’s not getting hired at HHM might be the turning point. It certainly caused Jimmy to question the path he was on. But it turned out what Jimmy was questioning didn’t have much to do with what kind of lawyer he’d be. He was questioning whether he wanted to be a lawyer at all. So how would Jimmy become Saul – a man who doesn’t seem to exist outside of his sometimes illegal legal practice?
The Jimmy we know is different from the Saul we met on Breaking Bad in at least two key ways. Saul is totally into being Saul Goodman – Criminal Lawyer, and he is all about making coin.
Jimmy on the other hand left the high salary he was getting at Davis and Main without regret. Sure, he kept the bonus, but he couldn’t even sleep in the soulless corporate apartment, and preferred the pullout couch in his office home. He doesn’t miss the fancy car with the cup holder that never fit either. Even Jimmy’s scams were more for the love of the game than for profit. As Slippin’ Jimmy he made “beer money” and lived in a basement. He wasn’t using his talents to live large. The two cons he and Kim pulled off were purely for kicks.
So what explains the change? Have the writers fallen into a trap where it’s going to be impossible to bridge the gap between Jimmy’s past and Saul’s future?
Until last week, it might have looked that way, but then things started to “fall” into place. We know from the sneak peek now on AMC that Chuck survives – at least initially. But what if he’s never the same? Maybe he has a stroke, or suffers brain damage. Jimmy may lack a moral compass, but he’s no sociopath. He feels terrible guilt, and he loves Chuck. Chuck could need some very expensive lifetime care. What if Howard won’t release Chuck from the partnership (freeing up a considerable amount of cash) not because Howard is an asshole, but because Howard knows that if Chuck knows he’s never going to be a lawyer it will kill him.
What if in these pre-Obamacare days, Chuck has maxed out his health benefits? It was (or will be) a similar dilemma to the one that Walter White faced. What if Saul isn’t obsessed with making money because he’s greedy? What if he needs the money to keep his brother safe and comfortable? What if those wads of cash are going straight to the billing office of Chuck’s therapeutic residence?
Another thread throughout this season has been Jimmy’s relationship with Kim. Most viewers have been waiting for Kim to say, “Enough already,” but last week she did something we didn’t see coming. When Chuck confronted her with his theory, her defense of Jimmy was the only tack she could take. If she admitted Jimmy’s guilt, than she’d have to give up Mesa Verde. Not only that, but if what Jimmy did comes out, her own professional reputation will be in shreds. She has to defend him. But this also means she has to collude with him. She has to warn him that he better clean things up so that there’s “nothing” for Chuck to find.
What if she’s spooked enough to decide that they can’t work together – even if it’s only sharing space? She’d be an idiot to think that Jimmy’s antics won’t hurt her career again the future, and we know she’s no idiot. So let’s says she puts a stop to the space sharing plan. She keeps the dental office or maybe even decides to take Schweikart’s offer, which she can probably improve upon if she comes on board with Mesa Verde. (And that would give the show an excuse to keep Rick around too.) She might even set up shop in Santa Fe to get a little geographical distance.
Kim is a great character but if she’s not Jimmy’s girlfriend than what place is there for her on the show? Let’s not forget, the plan on Breaking Bad was to kill off Jesse at the end of the first season, but sometimes a character is just too good to let go. So let’s say Kim just can’t quit Jimmy? Why couldn’t she be Saul’s girlfriend? Or even his wife? Saul refers to an ex-wife or two on Breaking Bad, but we don’t know anything about his private life.
Remember that place midway between Albuquerque and Santa Fe that they talked about, and how they could even have horses? What if they bought that house but built a high, impenetrable a wall between their personal and professional lives? What if they don’t even talk about themselves as a couple. What if when Saul gets into his big conspicuous car, Kim is the one he drives home to? And he always puts the car in the garage so the neighbors won’t see it. Or they live so far out in the country that they have no neighbors. What if in addition to making money to pay for Chuck’s care, he also works hard to keep up with the missus. He doesn’t want to be her kept man. And she still calls him Jimmy.
Speaking of which… Back in season one, Howard (probably acting on Chuck’s request) brought up the idea that Jimmy should change the name of his firm. What if now Chuck and Howard insist that Jimmy not use the McGill name at all? And they have leverage to force his hand? That bit he told Walter about his clients’ wanting a “member of the tribe” – that might be why he chose the name he chose, but not why he made the change.
And what’s in a name? Saul is different from Jimmy, but that doesn’t make them two different people. Jimmy is a man for whom all the world really is a stage, and he plays many parts. We’ve seen him playing Viktor with a K, brother of the beautiful Gabrielle St. Clair. The first time we met him in the series premiere he was rehearsing in the men’s room before going into court. When he decided to practice elder law, he got himself the Matlock suit, and even added the cowboy hat for his Texas jaunt. Saul Goodman isn’t Jimmy McGill. He’s a character played by Jimmy McGill (sometimes on TV). Jimmy may not care very much about having a fancy car, but Saul Goodman needs to be seen driving around in the big white caddy with the LWYERUP vanity-plate. Saul has a lot more swagger than Jimmy. Watch the Breaking Bad episode where we get our first glimpse of him, and you’ll see him walking around talking into his blue tooth like he learned a thing or two from Ken. Saul is Jimmy’s creation. His masterpiece.
Thinking of Saul as a persona rather than a separate being Jimmy has somehow “turned into” helps us understand those moments when Saul shows a softer side. There aren’t many, and we may not have even noticed them the first time we watched Breaking Bad, but they are there. If we look at Saul as being an act, then those moments create an after the fact continuity. What we’re seeing is Jimmy breaking character. Gilligan himself has mentioned the scene where Saul is dropping off money for Jesse’s estranged girlfriend. Jesse is in the car with him, and Saul pushes Jesse to go inside and talk to the girl. But that’s not the only time Saul’s humanity is showing. Again, going back to Saul’s first appearance, when he recognizes that one of his kidnappers is the man who earlier introduced himself as Badger’s uncle – the man with a horrible death rattle of a cough, Saul tells him to take off the ski mask so he can breathe. In that moment, Saul, even though he’s being threatened, can’t help himself. He hates to see anyone suffer.
So if any of my theoretical musings are on target, what might next season look like? Here’s a possible path forward:
In Season 3, Mike and Jimmy continue on parallel paths that occasionally cross. Jimmy/Saul gets deeper into the underworld as his business grows. Mike likely does some work for him and may even bring him some business, but keeps a distance. It’s likely that as Mike starts making more money from illicit activities, he’ll need Saul’s expertise to keep that money safe.
Season 4 could be groundbreaking. The time period could be the same as seasons two through five of Breaking Bad. They might mix in scenes from the earlier series, using the original footage. We could see more of what was going on in Saul’s life when he wasn’t busy being Walter White’s consigliere. Here’s something to think about: In the Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul universe time doesn’t just move back and forth. Sometimes it moves at different speeds. All five seasons (or six depending on how you count them) of Breaking Bad occurred in a time period of about a year and a half. Skylar was pregnant in season one and didn’t have the baby till some time in season three.
The baby wasn’t even a toddler when Walter went on the lam. That same time period could be condensed into one season of Better Call Saul.
That brings us to season five. The people who put the show together are smart enough to know when it’s time to quit. Let’s imagine a final season where the viewers have been brought “up to date.” Then what? Does Saul read about Walter White’s death? Does Kim get word to him that she’s cut him a deal and it’s safe for him to come him? Could his story end in anything less than tragedy?
Those are my theories, and I’m sticking to them. I’m probably wrong about everything, but we’ll see. Before we do, care or dare to put down any of your own thoughts on what may happen on tonight’s season finale, or beyond?