As the end of season four draws near it’s apparent that the only thing we can expect is that whatever happens will be unexpected. The latest episode of Better Call Saul was an important reminder of this fact. Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have, time and again, proven their mastery over the subtle twists that take their narrative in directions you couldn’t possibly have imagined, and this week played out like a kind of wry wink as they set up a potentially emotional season finale.
In hindsight, it seems silly that we ever thought Jimmy would be given his license back at the end of his year long probation. Why would they give us that? Even knowing what lays down the road for ol’ Jimmy McGill, it’s hard to watch him languish in retail hell while his dreams slip farther from his grasp. His happiness would be too much, clearly, and Better Call Saul took it from us again as it denied Jimmy the right to return to the practice he so loves.
Whatever happens, we know it can’t be good. Even before all this, when the world seemed bright to Jimmy, he was already talking about using Saul Goodman as his new professional name, given that it’s the name by which Albuquerque’s criminal underground already knows him. With just this last year under his belt, it seemed as though he’d struck a balance between his two personas. Facing down another year of suspension, it’s not hard to see where he’ll be going full Saul in his down time.
That’s always been a given of course, but the exploration of Jimmy’s moral decline has been and will continue to make for fascinating television. The subtleties of their narrative are teased out deliciously—part of the reason I think that Better Call Saul is better than Breaking Bad—and the implications are far reaching. It’s a covert corruption that slowly laces its way around everything any of these characters touch, dooming them irredeemably.
Like Kim’s scam she pulls on the city of Lubbock. I’m sure it’s thrilling to cut corners in so brazen a manner, and I can imagine that it must get boring sitting an office day in and day out, but corner cutting is a surefire way to ensure collapse. Every time she allows herself to take part in Slippin’ Jimmy’s world, she’s pushing herself closer to tragedy. She may have gotten Mesa Verde the building that they wanted, but at what cost? Sooner or later that piper will come piping, and it won’t end well.
She even seems to understand this, at least implicitly. She sees Jimmy and his struggles and doesn’t suffer from the blinders of love. She knows exactly who and what he is and tells him as much in an emotional devastating scene following his probation hearing. “Jimmy,” she tells him, “you are always down.”
Goddamn. It would be great if Jimmy took that as the wake up call he needed, that he could hear that and somehow change the trajectory of his life so that Walter White never happens and Gene never has to manage a Cinnabon. But the fatalism of the line is part of what makes it so impacting. It doesn’t matter what he does, Jimmy will never not be down. It hurts to hear and to admit it, but he’s a piece of shit and we know that’s all he’ll ever be.
That’s fitting for whatever is about it happen. We don’t yet know how Lalo and Jimmy’s lives become entwined, but we know it’s on the horizon. And he’ll most likely need to be a piece of shit to handle whatever Lalo has in store for him. Lalo is currently being set up as one of the most formidable antagonists in the entire franchise, even with his scant screen time. His charm is off putting, which is just the way he likes it. He’s all smiles and friendship, but his every word is carefully chosen to subtly or not-so-subtly hide different meanings. What’s he planning? Whatever it is, he’s about to go up against Gus Fring. Even knowing who comes out on top there, we know we’re in for something wild. And hey, we also now know where Don Hector got his bell. That Lalo…what a guy.
Meanwhile, Mike is dealing with a new problem as Werner gets more and more anxious away from home. You gotta feel bad for Werner. Construction is taking a lot longer than anticipated and he’s been away from his wife for almost a year. The young bucks he hired can handle it. They got beer, basketball, and TV. What more could a twenty-something roughneck need? Werner though…he feels the pressure. And now he’s finally snapped, finding away to escape the compound to, presumably, head back home. Will Gus take pity on the poor guy, and allow him to simply not return to finish his job? Will he have him executed? Something worse?
It’ll probably be big, whatever happens. Historically, Better Call Saul’s seasonal penultimate episodes set up something big and shocking for the finale. With all the angles possible, who knows where the big shocks will come from? And what will they mean for the future?
Better Call Saul airs Monday nights at 9/8 central on AMC.