“S’all good, man!”
From the very beginning of Better Call Saul, we’ve known this moment would come. And while you’d be forgiven early on for wishing we’d get here sooner, we’ve now spent four years in the company of Jimmy McGill and his partner in crime Kim Wexler. We’ve felt every knock he’s taken, every struggle to stay on the straight path and we’d now begun to dread the moment when he adopted this persona for good.
But given the shows ties to Breaking Bad, not to mention its own title, this outcome was unfortunately inevitable. The real challenge, however, was ensuring that this big transitional moment was delivered in a way that didn’t feel cheap, unearned, or worse, obvious. And thankfully “Winner,” Better Call Saul‘s season four finale, had some of the strongest talent currently working on television behind it– from creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, to writer Thomas Schnauz (who co-wrote this episode with Gould), to director Adam Bernstein.
This is a team that certainly knows how to deliver on a season finale– just think of Chuck manipulating Jimmy into confessing on tape in season two or the former’s crushing suicide at the end of season three. And after what could well be Better Call Saul’s finest outing yet, there was really only one way the creators could bring the finale to a close– by sending Jimmy to the point of no return, finally committing to the name and persona that he’s been flirting with for years.
The final scene of the season was one we’d been building to for some time– Jimmy’s impassioned plea to be reinstated as a lawyer. After his previous attempt saw him labeled “insincere” Jimmy had to pull out all the stops if he ever wished to practice the law again. And this meant confronting the issue he’d been brushing off all season– Chuck’s death. “Winner” saw Jimmy and Kim pulling a number of their signature cons in the name of trying to prove his sincerity by mourning his late brother.
All this led to the final scene, where Jimmy presented his case to the board and began to read Chuck’s letter from earlier in the season. All he had to do was read his brother’s kind words, showing his remorse and commitment to the law in the process. But as he starts reading the letter, a switch goes off in Jimmy’s head. “Would this be enough?” he thought.
After reading a few lines, he pauses, trembling slightly. What was once a clear act of deception, appears to take the form of something genuine. We then cut to Kim, whose subtle reaction indicates that Jimmy is now going off script. She leans in, her eyes looking to meet Jimmy’s in support. “This letter’s between me and him, and it should stay that way,” he says, his face half in shadow, confessing that he’d intended to manipulate the board.
Is Jimmy finally being honest about his feelings towards Chuck? Is this shameless deception the final straw to break him out of his indifference? Or are we looking at another step of the con? Another cut to Kim certainly suggests the former. But of course, this is all part of his deception, although little does Jimmy know that he’s also duped Kim in the process. Some fantastic wordless acting from Rhea Seehorn, who quietly begins to choke up, really makes this all hit home.
Bob Odenkirk, too, has one hell of a balancing act to pull off here, and he nails every step. In this scene, he portrays Jimmy giving a performance, then breaking out of that performance, which in itself is a spontaneous addition to the act. It’s such a gripping piece of acting that despite knowing exactly where Jimmy is headed, I became fully caught up in the moment, believing that this outburst was genuine– that he meant every word he was saying.
Jimmy talks at length about Chuck, his voice cracking as he paints a heartfelt portrait of their relationship. It’s a genuinely touching speech, giving the impression of two brothers who genuinely admired one another, despite their differences. And as we cut back to Kim, she nods in acknowledgment of Chuck’s flaws, another poignant little moment considering the respect she had for the elder McGill.
As Jimmy continues, speaking about trying his best to live up to Chuck’s legacy and how he inspired him to become a lawyer, the brilliance of Seehorn’s performance really begins to show. She’s truly one of the best when it comes to listening, carefully considering and taking in Jimmy’s words, reaching out to him with the slightest of gestures. With each subsequent shot of Kim, she begins to break out into tears, moved by what she’s hearing, in a way that’s devastating upon second viewing.
“Well that’s… that’ll have to do it for me,” Jimmy concludes, having reduced even a member of the board to tears. Kim wipes a tear from her eye, as Jimmy returns to his seat next to her and she places a hand on him in support. A stunned silence hits the room, as the two sit with what just happened.
But reality quickly catches up to us, as we and Kim are given a sharp reminder of what show we’re watching. She and Jimmy celebrate their victory, ecstatic at what they’ve accomplished before Jimmy drops the bombshell. “Yeah, did you see those suckers? That one asshole was crying,” he spits out, no remorse in his voice. Kim’s face sinks as if all the excitement was suddenly drained out of her, stopping dead in her tracks as Jimmy goes on.
He becomes more and more animated as he describes in detail how he managed to trick the board, completely oblivious to the fact that Kim went along with them. She tenses up, looking deeply uncomfortable and struggling to even look him in the eye now. He’s intoxicated by what he’s gotten away with, and when he’s asked to return to sign the necessary paperwork, we truly realize what he’s become.
Walking out of focus, Jimmy leaves Kim behind both literally and figuratively, before stating his intention to drop the McGill name. A far cry from living up to the legacy he just spoke of. Kim can’t believe what she’s hearing, reaching out to him one more time. In response, he utters the infamous words, leaving Kim stunned, as the camera (and Jimmy) walk away from her before cutting to black.
For the first time, she understands that Jimmy McGill, defender of the little guy, is gone and Saul Goodman, criminal lawyer, stands before her. The range of emotions on Seehorn’s face leaves us with much to consider– perhaps this is something she’s known for some time and not wanted to accept, having looked the other way all this time. Having been a part of Jimmy’s cons all this time, she’s now on the other side of it. And maybe that stings the most.
The scene is a masterful reversal of expectations, utilizing our investment in these characters to pull off this magic trick. As obvious as it may seem that Jimmy is still deceiving the board, we allow ourselves to get caught up in his speech and put our blinders up, much as Kim does. And of course, this doesn’t work without Odenkirk and Seehorn’s wonderful performances, as both actors give so much with what they do and don’t say here.
However, the real key to this comes earlier on in the episode. When selecting which of the interviewing students will receive HHM’s scholarship, Jimmy latches on to one of them. He sees himself in “the shoplifter,” as she’s dismissively referred to, somebody who made a mistake but really wishes to make amends.
But as he tells her after, HHM, and the world, will only see their mistakes. That’s all they’ll ever be. And in Jimmy’s warped mind, that means embracing that– cutting corners and getting one over on them. He breaks down in his car, perhaps finally realizing that the decks are stacked against him. His own words strike a cord and he comes to the conclusion that the only way forward is to lie, cheat and swindle. While Jimmy will never be accepted by the HHMs of the world, Saul Goodman can forge his own path.