Netflix UK TV review: Better Call Saul finale (Episode 10 – Marco)
Ivan Radford | On 07, Apr 2015
“I was hired to a job. I did it. And that’s as far as it goes.”
That’s Mike (Jonathan Banks) to Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) in the Better Call Saul finale, as they reminisce in the car park about the Kettlemans’ cash. Why didn’t they just take the money and run?
Mike, ever the stoic professional, has demonstrated the strength of his values time and time again in this first season of the Breaking Bad spin-off. He’s not just a brick wall physically, but morally too; proof that you can be a good bad guy. But what about Jimmy?
If Banks’ performance has been so impressive thanks to his ability to bring nuance to a steadfast character, Bob Odenkirk has won us over through his ability to do the opposite: in Odenkirk’s skilled hands, Jimmy can slide from sleazy con man to Matlock wannabe, but still remain fixed on that singular goal of success. Before now, McGill has measured that success in terms of affection and friendships; the potential partnership with Kim or the approval of his older brother. But after last week’s reveal that Chuck doesn’t respect him as a lawyer – hell, barely even likes him as a person – Jimmy’s previously upright spirit is broken.
It’s a revelation that co-creator Peter Gould rams home again and again, as everyone from Hamlin and Kim to even his old drinking buddy, Marco (Mel Rodriguez), reveal they knew all along that Chuck was far from his brother’s biggest fan. Our anti-hero smiles through it, but finally unravels in the middle of a bingo session. Endlessly drawing out balls with the letter “B” on them, his patter derails, going from gags about Nancy Reagan to rants about betrayal. It’s a tragic scene that Odenkirk delivers with the minimum of fuss, staring at the balls he’s given with growing pathos. His white suit has never seemed more uncomfortable to wear. That versatility has been key to this spin-off’s success; its ability to be both tragic and hilarious, switching Saul from Vince Gilligan’s silly comic relief to a fully-fledged, sympathetic character. The show’s relentless focus on tiny details, rather than big twists, unsubtle laughs or contrived suspense, goes right down to its episode titles, which pick up on seemingly inconsequential details.
Which brings us to Marco, who turns out to be his grifting partner from Episode 3 (“‘s all good, man”). After resolving in that chapter that “Slippin’ Jimmy” was over and that he would commit to help Chuck get better – a moment with a shopping list is a tender touch – here, he slips back into the old routine. What follows is a highly amusing carousel of cons, as Odenkirk’s natural showmanship relishes the chance to pretend to be Kevin Costner. The fact that this takes place in Cicero, Illinois, is no accident: from the rock music to the nighttime air, the barren, bright prison of Alburquerque feels like miles away.
It’s a typically elegant about-turn for the show, going back to the start at its close. While Rodriguez brings big laughs, pretending to be an expert about his new, legitimate career, he also introduces a sad note to balance out his side of the moral coin. “I don’t need the money,” he admits, asking Jimmy to do one more hustle together. “I need this.”
Back in the day-lit car park, McGill confronts his motivations head on. “I know what stopped me,” he says. It’s another important revelation in his journey from Jimmy to Saul Goodman – and one that leaves him driving firmly in the right direction. (The fact that his end destination is a Cinnabon only adds to the depressing humour of it all.)
The result is a satisfyingly low-key finish to a restrained opening season. Over 10 hours, Gilligan and Gould have taken what could have been a cash-grab with an obvious ending and crafted a mature, unpredictable drama. They’ve more than done the job they were hired for. Thankfully, they’ve still got further to go.
Better Call Saul is available on Netflix UK, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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Photo: Ursula Coyote