There's an increasingly popular creative decision in U.S cable drama, to have the penultimate episode contain the majority of a season's climaxes, then use the actual finale for palate-cleansing and a peak at what the next season could bring. It's most famously true of Game of Thrones, and now Better Call Saul joins the club with "Marco".
That's not to say this finale was pointless and frustrating, just unexpected and not quite as dramatic as "Pimento" last week—with Chuck's (Michael McKean) vitriolic speech about his brother's suitability as a lawyer. Instead, we got to explore more of Jimmy's (Bob Odenkirk) past in Cicero, Illinois, but in the present-day without the need for flashbacks. Having reluctantly handed the RICO case over to HHM, Jimmy took stock of his ten years in the New Mexico desert by literally revisiting his past—heading back to his hometown, reacquainting with his erstwhile accomplice Marco (Mel Rodriguez).
Little has changed for barfly Marco, although Slippin' Jimmy's unexpected return revitalises his zest for life—or criminality, to be more specific. Indeed, the majority of this hour was spent simply watching Jimmy and Marco execute some of their cons on unsuspecting marks; most memorable a swindle involving an erroneously rare Kennedy half dollar incorrectly pointing west.
It's said that before you can move forward, you need to make peace with your past and learn from its experiences, and that's what this episode was ultimately about. While giving their signature fake-Rolex scam another go, Marco suffers a heart attack and died after "the best week of his life". With a fresh reminder of what his early life was like (fun but hollow), and his partner-in-crime now gone, it was time for Jimmy to return to the place he's made his home. He has responsibilities in Albuquerque now—not only to his dependent brother (despite their recent schism), but the elderly clients that keep asking about him at HHM and leaving voicemails (a notable turnaround, considering the season began with Jimmy's office answer-machine constantly empty).
Interesting how this episode ended with HHM having to team-up with a legal firm in Santa Fe, Davis & Mane, to help with the RICO case, and Jimmy being offered a partnership from that firm. All his dreams were suddenly achievable, and yet it seemed like his week in Illinois had reminded him where his true talents lie—in deception and underhandedness, to make a quick buck. The season ended with him swearing to Mike (Jonathan Banks) he'll never again make the mistake of "doing the right thing" when it comes to easy money—reminiscing on the fact he returned $1.6m in cash out of a sense of morality—and drives away from his lucrative partnership humming the guitar riff to Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water". A clear sign that Slippin' Jimmy's going to be at the wheel, going solo, next season.
Overall, this was a very good episode, partly because it was so unexpected in terms of what we traditionally feel a season finale should be. As a piece of storytelling, season 1 of Better Call Saul has achieved a lot—making Saul/Jimmy into a character with considerably more depth than I anticipated him having, and proving that a conman/legal show set in the Breaking Bad universe can definitely work. I know some people continue to think a Mike-focused prequel would be more entertaining and tonally similar to what the parent show was doing (pointing to the season standout "Five-O" as proof of that), but I'm not sure I agree. Mike's a great character who can steal scenes and own showcase episodes, but there's only so much you can do with the life of an ex-cop turned criminal hitman over the course of many years. Jimmy/Saul is someone with more a clearer arc (loosely echoing that of Walter White's as a good man going bad), and who's to say Mike's role won't eventually become fairly equal?
Shame we have to wait a year for more episodes, but season 2 already promises a more ruthless version of Jimmy McGill as he begins his transition into Saul Goodman, and I can't wait to see where Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould will take him from here.
written & directed by Peter Gould • 6 April 2015 • AMC