With the fourth season officially in the books, Jimmy McGill is finally ready to embrace the moniker Saul Goodman, and the journey to take him to this point has been remarkable. Let’s take an in-depth look at the most recent season and speculate on where season five might take the story!
Season three closed with the shocking suicide of Jimmy’s brother Charles (aka Chuck) which was the result of many factors, not the least of which being his public humiliation in court at his brother’s hands and being forced out of the firm he built by longtime partner (and all-around snake) Howard Hamlin. Chuck never wanted Jimmy to be a lawyer in the first place, always seeing him as the consummate con man “Slippin’ Jimmy,” and in the eyes of the older brother, he shouldn’t be allowed the esteem of sharing his sacred field of practicing law. When Chuck set Jimmy up earlier in the season using the taped confession regarding doctoring legal files to benefit his friend Kim Wexler, the goal was never really to land Jimmy in jail, but get his disbarred. In that regard, Chuck was successful, despite Jimmy’s license only being suspended for one year, but it cost him his career, coming off as completely insane and petty while on the stand. It’s easy to see that Chuck felt he had nothing left, and perhaps part of his final act in this world was about hurting Jimmy, as he had done verbally in their final scene together. So when season four opens, we have a grieving man who has lost his way of making a living and doesn’t have much to hold on to outside of Kim. He wants to work his way back to becoming a licensed, practicing lawyer, but as always, shortcuts and temptations may stand in his way, and ultimately, we know which path he will choose at that fateful moral fork in the road.
Elsewhere, perennial fan-favorite Mike Ehrmantrout linked up with Gus Fring in season 3, proving himself very useful in getting Hector Salamanca’s drug front ice cream business shut down while avoiding a war with the cartel in the process. Now fully immersed in Fring’s operation, we see Mike oversee the initial construction of the underground lab which will be the source of Blue Sky in the very near future. Nacho made an attempt on Hector’s life by tampering with his medication, which resulted in the hollow shell of Hector that we are used to seeing from the Breaking Bad universe. He remains the easy-to-root-for criminal with a good heart, especially when trying to protect his father from the Salamancas and the cartel, but the feeling that he is in over his head is mounting. This only gets worse when he is forced to take over Hector’s operation and is brought under Fring’s full control and when he has to deal with a new member of the Salamanca operation coming to town and asking questions.
Kim Wexler, the lovable moral compass that tries to keep Jimmy on the right path, is also reeling and vulnerable after Chuck’s death and her car accident from season three, a result of running herself into the ground for Mesa Verde. She lives with Jimmy, fully willing to be his lover and confidant, but not his law partner, a source of a small (and perhaps growing) divide between the two. She begins to resent Mesa Verde and pushes more and more of her workload to others, opting to provide pro bono assistance to low-level offenders. None of those things, however, ever seem to stop her from jumping to Jimmy’s aid on a moment’s notice. And the more she is exposed to his slippery ways, the more of a rush she feels in helping him bend the rules.
Jimmy’s journey to becoming Saul has been a fascinating slow burn, and it took all 40 episodes of the show for him to fully embrace who he was destined to be. When the season starts, all he wants to do is process Chuck’s death (and let Howard hold onto all the guilt over it to assuage his own) and become a lawyer again. When he has to find a way to make a living in the meantime, he sells burner phones to street criminals, showing tact for not only making money quickly, but also building up a potential client base in the future. However, collateral damage is going to start piling up around him soon enough, and watching him gently lure Kim down his path is heartbreaking, considering how often we have seen his heart squarely in the right place. But make no mistake, Jimmy McGill is dying and Saul Goodman is emerging from his ashes, and Albuquerque will never be the same.
I firmly believe this to be one of the best-written roles on television and Rhea Seehorn has been absolutely killing it year-in and year-out. Her arc, going from someone who wants to save Jimmy, to someone who wants to almost emulate Jimmy, is absolutely fascinating. Kim is driven to a fault, sometimes so focused on the long game that she forgets to look right in front of her. The signs are all there for her to see, yet when Jimmy delivers the fateful final line of the season, she is still blindsided. Before that, though, we see her join Schweikart & Cokely, where she thrives and achieves partnership. This effectively ends Jimmy’s dream of a Wexler & McGill firm, but she has by no means given up on him. Perhaps the distance she allows to grow between them is responsible for the stunned look on her face that closes the season. I love this character and can’t wait to see how she deals with Saul Goodman…
Want to know just how calculating Mike is? Determined to make his “employment” at Madrigal as a security consultant seem as real as possible to cover for his newfound position as the right hand of drug and chicken kingpin Gus Fring, Mike travels to some of Madrigal’s warehouses and conducts full security audits, ruffling as many feathers as he possibly can in order to have his name and face remembered, in case any questions arise in the future regarding the legitimacy of his contract. Mike leave no stone unturned, and is always five moves ahead of those around him. So when he befriends Werner as the underground lab construction moves forward, he compromises a bit of himself in order to extend a little trust toward another man. Perhaps doing what he ultimately had to do in that regard is one of the big reasons the Mike we came to know and love in Breaking Bad has steeled his resolve beyond the point of trusting anyone. While I never worry about Mike’s safety, I do worry about his character, as he travels further down the path that will lead him to Walter White.
Nacho is one of those characters you can’t help but love, while at the same time you can’t help but assume will meet a horrible fate. It seemed like that fate had caught up to him when Gus kills Arturo in front of him and says that he knows Nacho was responsible for Hector’s stroke. But Gus uses this to get Nacho under his control, before setting up a fake hit on him to deflect attention away from him following Arturo’s murder, which includes a bullet to the abdomen. Luckily, he calls the Salamanca twins, who get him to a doctor in time. More trusted now than ever, Nacho moves up in the organization, all the while secretly working for Fring. He keeps a stash of cash and a few Canadian passports for himself and his father, and we desperately want to see him use them in an escape plan, but when another Salamanca, Lalo, shows up in town asking to know more about the day-to-day operations, Nacho clearly grows concerned about a potential war escalating that he may be caught in the middle of, much to our collective chagrin.
Cold. Ruthless. Smarter than everyone else. We finally get to see more of what makes Gus truly villainous when he discovers the extent of Hector’s stroke. Hiring a doctor to work with him until he showed visible progress, Gus made sure his rival was cognizant enough to confirm he was aware of his surroundings (and physical limitations) before ceasing treatment. Hector may have the last laugh, but for now he is confined to that chair for the rest of his days, relying on the bell for communication. Gus essentially trapped his healed mind inside his broken body, possibly a fate worse than death. He also faked gang turf wars to capture more territory, put Nacho under his thumb and used Gale’s design to start construction of a crystal meth super lab. Gus Fring is NOT to be messed with.
Here is a new face to the universe. Werner is brought in to oversee the lab’s construction and keep his crew in check while boarded in the amazing barracks Mike had built inside one of Gus’s warehouses. The more Werner and Mike work together, the friendlier they become. The problem is, the longer Werner is away from his wife, the more he starts to slip and let go of the discretion needed for the job. When he tries to make his escape, Gus forces Mike’s hand into an action he clearly never wanted to take. Werner wasn’t long for this show, but folks who get into the inner Fring circle are typically not long for this world.
Ah, Howard. He is clearly no longer seen as the villain in the series, and that is never more evident than when he is seen collapsing under the weight of the guilt he holds over Chuck’s death. He is, after all, the man who forced his old partner out, and took a big financial hit while doing so. Howard further slinks down when verbally thrashed by Kim early in the season, and it’s not until late in the season when Jimmy basically tells him “get your shit together” that he rebounds and maps out a plan for the continued success of his firm. Howard didn’t have a large role this season, so who knows what else is in store for him moving forward.
All in all, I found this to be another excellent season of Better Call Saul. When it was first announced, a lot of fans had their doubts about a spinoff featuring the snaky lawyer, but the entire cast and crew have delivered year after year, creating a tense, incredibly detailed slow burn that rewards its audience more and more as the episodes continue. While it didn’t end on the gasp-inducing, tear-filled moment that season three went out with, it did give us confirmation that we are closer to the end of this storyline than the beginning, with Jimmy being reinstated and telling Kim he plans to practice under the name Saul Goodman. This is an amazing ride that I am in no hurry to get off anytime soon!
Final Grade: A-