He may not have the Cadillac, the tie collection, or the tricked-out strip mall office, but there’s no mistaking the man onscreen in the final moments of Better Call Saul‘s last episode of the season.
Ladies and gentlemen, Saul Goodman is in the courthouse.
But this has been a journey, and we should start at the beginning — not of this season, but of Jimmy McGill’s legal career. In an opening flashback, we see Jimmy years earlier, at his original swearing-in as a lawyer, where he’s accompanied by a still-alive and supportive Chuck. Hours later, the whole gang (including Ernie! Hi, Ernie!) have gathered at a karaoke bar to celebrate, where Jimmy convinces a reluctant Chuck to stay and join him onstage for a rendition of ABBA’s “The Winner Takes It All.” It’s a fun, brotherly duet… for about thirty seconds. Chuck — who is a better lawyer and a better singer — grabs the mic from Jimmy’s hand and takes over the stage, in a scene that might as well be a microcosm for their entire relationship. (Although damn, it’s a fun reminder that Michael McKean can really wail.) But if that scene is deeply symbolic, then so is what comes next: back at Jimmy’s apartment, Chuck takes off his little brother’s shoes and helps him to bed, leaving him with a bucket to puke in and a promise of pancakes the following morning.
This is the cold open, and an important reminder of just how complicated the sibling rivalry between Chuck and Jimmy was — and still is. Even now, a year after Chuck committed suicide, Jimmy is still competing, still squirming and scheming to escape the shadow of his brother’s legacy. But what does it look like to win against a dead man?
Think about that while we catch up with Mike, who is dealing with the surprise disappearance of Werner the German engineer — and trying to convince Gus (whose terrifying frown of disapproval was in top form this episode) to let Werner return to finish his work. Complicating matters: Lalo, who showed up in the last episode to step all over Nacho’s hard-won leadership of the Salamanca enterprise, is hot on their tail as Mike and his men try to track their missing contractor. Mike manages to elude Lalo with an enjoyable bit of old-man spycraft that involves jamming up a parking ticket machine with gum, but Lalo is resourceful. The next time we see him, he’s successfully convinced the clerk at a wire-transfer storefront (where Werner picked up some cash from his wife) to let him review their security footage… or, uh, maybe convinced isn’t the right word. There’s no sign of the clerk; there is, however, a discreet but distinct splatter of blood on Lalo’s cheek that suggests something very, very bad might have happened to him.
Meanwhile, Jimmy is still on a quest to get his law license back after being deemed “insincere” in his first hearing, and he has one last chance to win — in the form of a long and complicated con that casts him as grieving and full of gravitas. It begins at Chuck’s grave, where he fakes a show of mourning (“It felt like I looked sad,” he cracks, when Kim asks how he felt about the performance), and then continues at HHM with an “anonymous” donation of $23,000 to dedicate a reading room in Chuck’s name. (Jimmy’s team of student filmmakers, disguised as cater-waiters, make sure that everyone knows just who paid for the event). He even takes up the offer to sit on the board that awards the Chuck McGill scholarships! But just as Chuck would never have given that kind of support to Jimmy, the applicant who’s most like Jimmy (a shoplifter-turned-aspiring-lawyer) doesn’t stand a chance. And when Jimmy chases her down in the parking lot to give her the bad news, he follows it up with a pep talk that’s as much for himself as it is for her.
“You were never gonna get it,” he says. “They dangle these things in front of you, they tell you’ve got a chance, but I’m sorry, it’s a lie. As far as they’re concerned your mistake is who you are, and it’s all you are. They’ll smile at you and pat you on the head but they are never, ever letting you in. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. You don’t need them. They’re not gonna give it to you? You’re gonna take it. You are not gonna play by the rules, you’re going to go your own way, you’re going to do what they won’t do. You’re going to cut corners and you are going to win. And the higher you rise, the more they’re gonna hate you. Good. Good. You rub their noses in it. You make them suffer. The winner takes it all.”
But does Jimmy McGill feel like a winner? Venturing a guess: no, he does not. In the next scene, he climbs into his car — which won’t start — and bursts into angry, helpless tears.
Leaving Jimmy to his misery, we check back in with Mike, who catches up to Werner in real life at the same time as Lalo reaches him by phone. Mike interrupts the conversation (Werner is babbling away like a naive idiot, per usual) and puts the handset to his ear, and damn, is this a gorgeous showcase of Jonathan Banks’ acting skills. Lalo, realizing that he’s no longer got Werner on the line, simpers into the silence — “Michael, is that you?” — and Mike’s only answer is a silent twitch. You’d miss it if you blinked, a split-second loss of control from the most deadpan man in the business, and it’s exquisite; compare this moment to Mike’s expressionless resignation as he calls Gus, relays the latest, and finally understands that Werner won’t be given a second chance.
Even for Mike, who’s no stranger to getting his hands dirty, there’s no joy in this part of the job — only duty, a sense that it should be him and not one of Gus Fring’s henchmen who puts a bullet in the German’s head. In the end, Werner accepts his fate with grace, and the death is a solemn, quiet affair: two silhouettes seen from a distance against the darkening desert sky, a raised weapon, the faint pop of gunfire.
And then it’s time for Jimmy’s big moment: his hearing. He’s decided to read Chuck’s letter in lieu of a prepared statement, but suddenly, he stops.
“This should stay between me and him,” he says. And instead, he offers a speech so sincere, and so moving, that there’s not a dry eye in the house.
“I’ll never be as good as Chuck,” Jimmy says, fighting back tears. “But I can try. If you decide that I get to be a lawyer, I’ll do everything in my power to be worthy of the name McGill. And if you decide I’m not a lawyer… it doesn’t matter. I’ll still try to be the best man I can be.”
Kim wipes a tear as it ends.
Then it’s over, and Jimmy knows he’s won — only in his sneering victory, he doesn’t realize that it’s going to cost him.
“Did you see those suckers?” he crows. “That one asshole was crying!”
He doesn’t notice that Kim has gone silent, no longer celebrating. But we do, and it’s not hard to understand why. It’s not that Jimmy is a con man; she knew that, she even liked it. But she’s always been in on the gag, always able to tell when Jimmy was scamming versus sincere — or at least, that’s what she thought. But if the board member who was moved to tears by Jimmy’s speech was a sucker, then so is she. And as the episode comes to a close, it’s Kim who holds down the last shot, watching as Jimmy disappears down the hall to file a DBA — because not only is he not going to do everything in his power to be worthy of the name McGill, he’s not going to use it at all.
“Wait, what?” Kim stammers.
Jimmy turns, grinning, triumphant.
“S’all good, man.”
The winner takes it all.
Only we know: he’s going to lose everything.