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Better Call Saul Season 1 Finale Review – ‘Marco’

After last week’s bombshell installment – which felt more like a season finale than a penultimate episode – I couldn’t figure out how Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould were going to deliver a finale that threw us anymore surprises.

So, did they manage to deliver?

The short answer is overall, for the whole season, yes. They delivered, but it just felt like the writers had to stop for gas this week. It resulted in a relaxed and playful finale which was caused by the choice to reveal Chuck’s true motivations last week. Marco, however, did provide plenty of memorable standalone moments even if it didn’t have a classic finale’s life shattering moments.

As last week’s episode ended the main plot thread in season 1, which was between Jimmy and Chuck, the finale didn’t have time to delve into any of the other threads they have recently introduced i.e. Nacho. It left the writers in a bit of a dilemma: they couldn’t force Jimmy into Saul yet, even though that feels like the logical thing for him to do after the Chuck revelation, instead they had to find a way of stalling Jimmy’s change, and what better way than going back to his roots, his slippery roots (I’ll admit – that was pretty bad).

Once slippin’ Jimmy, always slippin’ Jimmy.

You can’t keep slippin’ Jimmy out of the game for too long. In the eyes of Chicago he left there in a Hawaiian shirt with an eye for a con and he returned there with a Hawaiian shirt and an eye for a con. It was a ‘dark night of the soul’ for Jimmy as he’d failed to go straight again and while I enjoyed the cleverly directed and edited montage sequence and his chemistry with Marco, played by Mel Rodriguez – who pulled off the role excellently even though he only had a short space of time to display a believable camaraderie with Jimmy before he collapsed. Jimmy’s Kevin Costner reference from Breaking Bad was also a nice tie-in but that was all this sequence was: fun. In a final episode you’d expect a focused narrative which would propel what has occurred in the middle of the episode to explode by the end, but Better Call Saul is a different kind of show, it’s happy to wander around being playful even if, sometimes, it doesn’t mean anything. That was my main problem with the Chicago story – it didn’t serve towards Jimmy’s decision in the parking lot at the end.

It was nice to wrap up Jimmy’s past and find out the meaning behind the ‘Chicago Sun Roof’ but I feel that was a decision by the writers because they left themselves short after last week. Peter Gould said in an interview after last week’s installment that episode 9 was initially going to be the finale, but they changed their minds later on because they wanted to inject a shock for the audience. While it did provide a shock, I still think episode 9 should’ve been the finale because it left the writers almost stumped here. The theme for season 1 was all about Jimmy trying to stay on the right side of the law, and by the end of this season he had to be on the edge and was finally pushed off when Chuck rejected him as legit. Considering that happened in the penultimate episode, the writers couldn’t make Jimmy turn into Saul yet because it would feel out of sync with season 1’s tone and theme. The writers had no choice but to try and keep in with Jimmy wondering which road to head down, so this was always going to become more of a filler/fun episode.

The writers covered up the dilemma well though. It was a believable problem for Jimmy because when we are at a crossroads in our lives it’s hard to pick a route and head down it without looking at the map first. Jimmy needed to ‘let it all out’ so to speak and to find his bearings. If there was one scene which was the most important in the finale, I’d say Jimmy’s bingo rant was the one. For one, it was fabulously written with a strange and offbeat tension. Never have I dreaded the letter ‘b’ on a bingo ball before. It was in keeping with the feel of this show: that the biggest moments are in the imaginative, but small moments. But the scene was crucial to this finale because it had a big impact on Jimmy’s decision at the end as he seemed thrilled that even though he laid all his past demons out on the table, it still endeared him to the audience, which might be subconsciously telling him: he’s got “just the right amount of dirty.”

Has Odenkirk done enough for awards recognition?

As I said before, the episode was packed with brilliant individual moments. One of the best was seeing Howard Hamlin act all chummy with Jimmy as he told him, “I always liked you Jimmy.” It was almost a sign of desperation to be liked from Hamlin, which might tell us he did really like Jimmy after all, or that maybe he’s just a busy body – a Charlie Hustle busy body; and while it seemed like the end between their conflict, I still think season 2 could go anywhere with anyone.

The season left me wondering where HHM/Sandpiper Crossing case will go and how big will it get? How”s Chuck going to deal with his relationship with Jimmy? How’s Mike’s relationship with Nacho and Price? All these questions have no answers yet, but let’s throw in a question we do know the answer to: Is Jimmy going to ‘break bad’? Well, all I will say is, “It’sssaaalll-goodddmann!”

All in all, I don’t have a problem with this episode; it’s fun, interesting, imaginatively written with hardly a cliché in sight and Gilligan/Gould’s own brand of quirky humor. All those ingredients have given us a very solid base to build a deluxe piece of art on, but there’s something else which is Better Call Saul’s key ingredient: the acting.

When the season started, I didn’t know much about many of the actors bar Bob Odenkirk, Michael McKean, Jonathan Banks and Michael Mando. The likes of Rhee Seehorn, Patrick Fabian, Jeremy Shamos, Kerry Condon, Mel Rodriguez and Julie Ann Emery were all names and faces I was unfamiliar with. It’s a testament to how good their acting has been that if any of those actors I was unfamiliar with appeared on a talk show I would actually see Kim Wexler, Howard Hamlin, Craig Kettleman, Stacey Ehrmantraut, Marco and Betsy Kettleman. They all inhabited their roles so fully that I only see their characters, not the actor. They have all given their characters their own little ticks and nuances. Seehorn plays Kim with a dry and downplayed tone that is in keeping with her character’s mystique. Fabian makes Hamlin as dislikeable as possible with those smarmy grins. The Kettlemans have a sharp chemistry which is thanks to Shamos and Ann Emery who just seem like a couple out of a Coen brothers’ film as they pull the roles off with fluid comedic timing. Rodriguez, as I said before, had little time to imbed himself in Marco, but was fully believable as a long-time chum of Jimmy’s. All very impressive overall, as well as McKean, who really surprised me with his dramatic acting, showing he can go really dark when permitted and the same can be said for Mando, who gives Nacho another dimension to your typical Mexican drug peddler. Jonathan Banks has been as sour as ever, but not all the time, no, we saw a vulnerable and more open side to Mike we never thought could be possible. Banks really nailed that big emotional scene at the end of Five-0, really making Mike a more rounded character. They’re not just outstanding as individuals however. The whole cast has more chemistry than the Hadron Collider; they all just seem to play so smoothly off each other and it’s just another masterstroke of casting by these screen runners. However, I’m saving my biggest praise until last and you’ve heard me say it before, but considering this is the final review for this season, why not go big?

To have a great show you obviously have to have a great lead and when Bob Odenkirk was given the duty of leading his own show, I didn’t doubt his ability, I only doubted how he could portray different sides to a largely (in Breaking Bad) two-dimensional character. But thanks to some excellent writing, Odenkirk has been able to branch his acting skills out. He’s shown so many sides to Jimmy this season: the down-and-out mullet haired Jimmy, the confident yet naïve Jimmy, desperate Jimmy and the seriously down on his luck Saul Goodman (albeit five minutes), and he’s carried the role off without breaking sweat. Odenkirk could carry this show even if the writing, cinematography and other actors weren’t up to par, he’s been that good. And yes, I do think he deserves a Golden Globe nod, but who needs awards to be a brilliant actor right? For now I’m just happy Better Call Saul has weathered the storm and come out largely unscathed in terms of criticism, meaning the anticipation for next season will be minus the fear of it being any good and having it live in the shadow of Breaking Bad, but excited for a truly original show that stands on its own two feet.

For now, we’re going to have to find something else which will fill our Monday nights; perhaps take a trip to Belize – it doesn’t matter, all that does is to make sure you are here when Better Call Saul returns for a longer, 13 episode, run in 2016.

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