Bether Call of Saul is never a show to rush. Since its inception in 2015, it has refused to thrive on anything other than a steady simmer, slowly piecing together a series of circumstances with enough care to make whatever happens feel inevitable.
This is the way to go. If you’ve seen Breaking Bad – and, according to conservative estimates, 100% of Better Call Saul’s viewers have seen Breaking Bad – then you’ve known for almost a decade where the story will end. At some point, charming attorney Jimmy McGill will succumb completely to Saul Goodman’s dark charms, get involved with Walter White and run off to run Cinnabon in Nebraska under the same identity. With Better Call Saul, the destination is never the most exciting part. What matters is how we get there.
And co-showrunner Peter Gould has spent years enjoying how slowly he can tell Jimmy’s story. Saul’s fragment has been infused into Jimmy’s world with punishing added speed. In one famous early episode, a character painstakingly disassembles a car component by component until, at the last moment, he finds something microscopic he’s been looking for. It’s a great metaphor for the show as you’ll find.
But we are at home now. This is the final season of Better Call Saul, and has only 13 episodes to bridge the gap with Breaking Bad. The premiere’s chilly opening makes it very clear how much ground we have left for us to cover. The sequence — one of the show’s most expertly crafted, that’s really saying something — slowly drifts around Goodman’s abandoned house as the FBI strips him. And it unrecognizable. It’s a mansion, Trumpian in its lack of taste, filled with marble and the most implausible gold statues and toilets in television history. Viagra bottles line the bathroom. A neon G-string lifted from the tub. At the time of the FBI raid, it looked like the place was occupied by Saul Goodman on a full two-dimensional flight. Trust the sequence and, at this point, all traces of Jimmy McGill have been extinguished.
The final season started off in two parts, and neither of those episodes seemed particularly keen on joining the dots. That leaves us with 11 episodes to go from here to there. And the Jimmy to Saul story is only a small part of what Better Call Saul is today. The show has become a complete tapestry. Gus Fring, Mike Ehrmantraut, Lalo Salamanca, Nacho Varga and Howard Hamlin all have stories that need to be completed. We still haven’t learned what happened to Kim Wexler, who remains absent from Breaking Bad. And now there are only 11 episodes to finish all of this. For the life of me, I have absolutely no idea how it will turn out.
But this is why we watch Better Call Saul. No other show on television has the same ability to overwhelm you. If we didn’t care about these characters, this deliberately slow development would be boring. But we care about them, almost without exception. Everyone wanted Kim to come out in one piece. But Lalo, whose valiant first appearance in season four made the entire series extraordinary, has become such a compelling presence that I now anticipate his fate with the same degree of dread.
It hurts even more for the characters we already know, because we know what happened to them, and nothing good. Jimmy loses his humanity and turns into Saul. Mike died. Even Francesca, Saul’s receptionist, had finally run out of will to live. At this point, I really don’t want the gap to be bridged. I love these guys, and I really want to hold on to them for as long as possible before gravity takes over and they slip to terrible conclusions.
Eleven hours. That’s all we have in this world. I mentioned earlier that I prefer Better Call Saul over Breaking Bad. It is more humane, more willing to linger on people’s decency. But 11 hours from now, it will be gone forever. When Vince Gilligan created Breaking Bad, he was consciously making a show about metastases. It continues to Better Call Saul. And now that the prognosis is terminal, I’m already heartbroken.