Entertaining 'Better Call Saul' season finale a grim reminder that show won't end happily
As of this week's fourth-season finale of "Better Call Saul," AMC's prequel to "Breaking Bad," Naperville native Bob Odenkirk is credited on 83 episodes of television set amid the criminal world of Albuquerque, New Mexico. That's 21 more than Bryan Cranston, who starred as meth lord Walter White in all 62 episodes of "Breaking Bad" and has yet to show up in the spinoff.
At this point, I don't even want him to.
That's not because I think "Saul," which chronicles how Odenkirk's lovable loser Jimmy McGill became slimy lawyer Saul Goodman, has surpassed "Breaking Bad" in quality, though such a claim has been popular to make on Twitter during the spinoff's last two seasons. Yes, "Saul" is better than anyone could have possibly expected (and has been since Day 1), but I'm not ready to put it ahead of the groundbreaking saga that inspired it.
But I can say that "Better Call Saul" is more fun than its progenitor, especially in this fourth season -- which made this week's tragic episode feel almost like a rebuke to the audience.
We take delight as straight-arrow Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn, still waiting for that Emmy nod) helps Jimmy keep bodyguard Huell (Lavell Crawford) out of prison with a staged protest campaign. We laugh knowingly when incapacitated crime lord Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis) is presented with the bell whose ring became an iconic part of "Breaking Bad" lore. We feel warm and fuzzy, for cryin' out loud, when bulldog-faced enforcer Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks, continuing to craft one of TV's great characters) meets a kindred spirit in German meth-lab engineer Werner Ziegler (Rainer Bock).
None of these characters, within the context of these 40 episodes, has done anything as awful as White did in "Breaking Bad" -- and he was that show's protagonist. When White shows up in "Better Call Saul," assuming he still will, it will mean there is no goodness left in Jimmy McGill. It will mean Saul Goodman has finally taken hold. It will mean Kim is out of Jimmy's life -- forever. And it will mean Mike's days are numbered.
I don't want those things to happen, but of course they must; "Winner," this week's finale, was a grim reminder that there will be no happy ending. Jimmy's a lawyer again thanks to a letter from his late brother (Michael McKean), but his emotional outburst before the board reinstating him was a sham, much to Kim's shock. (Is it just me, or do you think Kim might have actually written that letter?) Mike lost his only friend -- and proved his loyalty to drug trafficker Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) -- by murdering Werner after he tried to escape for a weekend getaway.
Mike's story feels complete. The story of Jimmy, who announces his intentions to practice under the name Saul Goodman with the episode's last line, appears to be missing just one chapter. I hope showrunners Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan allow Kim to have a happy ending, even if we can't.
And I sure hope she doesn't meet Mr. White.
• Sean Stangland is a Daily Herald multiplatform editor. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanStanglandDH.