Throughout the first season of Better Call Saul, the creative team behind the Breaking Bad spin-off has made some really bold choices. While the show has been somewhat unpredictable week-to-week, I don’t think anyone would have imagined that the season 1 capper would have Jimmy returning to Chicago, his former partner Marco, and their slippin’ ways. What other show in recent memory has ignored almost all of the established drama to devote its finale to an existential road trip? But the sharp left turn makes for some fascinating characters moments—not all of which totally work—and moves Jimmy in a direction that will no doubt make for an interesting season 2.
The hour kicks off with yet another opening flashback, this one taking place just after a previous one. Jimmy is fresh out of Cook County jail, and Chuck is waiting in the car. There’s just one last stop to make before the brothers head to Albuquerque. Marco, Jimmy’s partner in crime from his days as Slippin’ Jimmy, is schooling some chumps on the art of removing a dollar bill from beneath a stack of quarters when the younger McGill comes in. This is goodbye for the grifters and a farewell from Jimmy to the con game they played together. “It’s like Miles Davis giving up the trumpet,” Marc tells Jimmy, trying to get him to stay, but his future—at least for now—lies in Albuquerque.
Unfortunately, that future is pretty crappy. Fresh from the reveal of Chuck’s continued betrayal, Jimmy shows up at HHM dressed in his best Matlock costume, ready to accept Howard’s offer. In the lobby, Kim gives her apology for not being more honest about telling Jimmy to take the deal and forego a role in the Sandpiper class-action suit. She just didn’t want him to hate his brother. That also seems to be the reason for a lot of Howard’s dickishness toward Jimmy, but that doesn’t mean we’re willing to forgive the lawyer for everything. (He really does need a new tie.) Jimmy, however, is willing to apologize for his expert use of the term “pig-f–k,” which kind of takes the sweetness away from that moment. All of this is underscored with a great deal of sadness. Before, Chuck was just an eccentric, someone that needed constant care from his loving brother, but he turned out to be something much darker, a scumbag, a willful leech on Jimmy’s attempts to better himself.
Before Jimmy heads to Chicago, there’s one last, horribly awkward thing that he has to do. Don’t you just hate it when you’re calling bingo, and nothing but “B”s come out of the shoot? And then you start losing your mind and your anecdotes become way too personal? Jimmy hates that, too. The “B”-induced mental breakdown spurs the lawyer to tell the full story of his last incarceration and why it was such a big deal that Chuck bailed him out. It turns out that Jimmy was married at one point and that his wife slept around on him. This naturally leads to a good amount of drinking from Jimmy, who spots the car belonging to Chet, the man with whom his wife did the deed, outside of Dairy Queen, so he performs a Chicago Sunroof. For the forgetful out there, a Chicago Sunroof is that thing where you poop through a sunroof, but the key is to make sure that there aren’t any kids in the backseat. Those unfortunate children were the reason that Jimmy’s arrest could have led to him registering as a sex offender if it weren’t for Chuck. The way Jimmy sees it, that Chicago Sunroof was the start of all of his problems.
NEXT: So what does Jimmy do next? [pagebreak]
Jimmy goes back to the start. It’s been 10 years since Jimmy left Marco in the bar, and that’s exactly where he find his former partner in crime asleep on the counter. Marco—it seems—has gone straight, working for a standpipe company. He’s hurt when he finds out that Jimmy came back to town for his mom’s funeral without looking him up, but it’s not enough to dissuade him from another grift with his partner. They decide to pull a classic on a business-type sitting at the bar. Jimmy pretends that he needs to offload a rare, misprinted Kennedy half dollar to Marco, but he’s not buying it. While the seller goes to the bathroom, Marco pretends to call a coin expert, finds out that the thing is legit, and proceeds to lowball Jimmy when he returns. The mark wants in on the action and outbids Marco, offering $110 for a perfectly normal 50-cent piece.
The reunited Jimmy and Marc proceed to pull off a series of cons in a beautifully done montage that range from the classic deposed Nigerian prince to the old “I’m Kevin Costner” routine. (A Breaking Bad callback that I missed the first time.) But the grifting life isn’t for Jimmy anymore. He’s done, or at least that’s what he tells Marco, who tempts him with one final fake Rolex. The con is the same; the outcome a little different. Jimmy once again leads an unsuspecting rube down the alleyway with his patented wolf howl signal for Marco. The problem is that when Jimmy goes to poke Marco, he doesn’t move right away. Jimmy’s able to stir his partner long enough for Marco to tell him that the past week was his best ever, but soon after, he’s dead.
So why are we even bothering with Marco in the season finale? Jimmy is at a crossroads. The straight and narrow path that Chuck laid out for him after the Chicago Sunroof incident was a false one. It only led him to disappointment and relative failure. For Jimmy, Chuck’s deception has voided that entire chapter of his life. That’s the last 10 years we’re talking about, so where could Jimmy possibly go from there besides backward? But this path doesn’t hold any promise for him either. In fact, through Marco, Jimmy gets a very literal look at what his life would have become if it weren’t for his brother. The only two paths that Jimmy has known lead him absolutely nowhere, so what’s the solution?
Well, what ultimately ends up being a false solution for Jimmy appears in the form of a phone call from Kim. The firm that is working with HHM on the Sandpiper case is interested in placing Jimmy on the partner track, pending an interview. A quick pitstop by Chuck’s, who has a new assistant from the law firm working for him, helps clarify things for Jimmy—who’s now armed with Marco’s ring (another callback). But the truth doesn’t hit him until he’s in the courthouse parking lot, when he pulls a U-turn and asks Mike a bit of a philosophical question. At one point, Jimmy and Mike had $1.6 million in their possession, why didn’t they keep it. Mike’s answer is simple: He had a job to do, and he did it. Jimmy’s is less so. “I know what stopped me,” he says. “And you know what, it’s never stopping me again.”
The short answer here is “morals,” but it’s a massive change of heart for the Jimmy that we’ve known that’s worth examining. (Albeit, one that happens just a little too quickly for my taste, but that’s beside the point.) Jimmy has a known two ways of life in the past 10 years. Both lead nowhere, so what does he do? He doesn’t accept a position at the law firm because literally nothing has happened to him since moving to Albuquerque that would suggest there’s a legitimate, law-abiding future for him. Over the course of this season, we’ve seen the world and the people who hold the power in it deny Jimmy his chance at complete redemption. The biggest example is Chuck blocking his advancement in HHM, but there’s also the Kettlemans, criminals who won’t deal with a lawyer who could make them look guilty. Why would he ever make another attempt at legitimacy when the world has sabotaged every previous one? This question casts Jimmy and subsequently Saul as ultimately tragic figures. The events of this past season have been teaching Jimmy not to strive to be better, and he’s finally listening, saying back to the world, “You know what? You were right. I’m not as good as I thought I could be, but it’s all good, man.”