Opinion ‘Better Call Saul’ argued that the law matters. It’s a message we need.


HR King
May 29, 2001
I thought this one deserved its own thread, YMMV:
Better Call Saul,” which ended its run on AMC this past weekend, has always been two shows in one. As a prequel to the smash-hit antihero drama “Breaking Bad,” “Better Call Saul” is the backstory of a well-known roster of cartel bosses and corrupt lawyers. Foremost among them is Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), the con man who transforms himself into Saul Goodman, the lawyer who eventually launders “Breaking Bad” drug lord Walter White’s money.

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But the series achieved greatness on its own by exploring a subject uniquely relevant in these dark times. Jimmy’s evolution from huckster to outright villain became a way for “Better Call Saul” to examine the difference between treating the law as an ideal to be upheld and approaching it as a game to be finessed.
When “Better Call Saul” began, the show seemed to present Jimmy’s older brother Chuck (Michael McKean) as the primary antagonist. One-time conman Slippin’ Jimmy was supposedly trying to go straight. He was getting his law degree via correspondence school while working in the mailroom at Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill, his brother’s firm. Jimmy’s hope was that, after getting his degree, his brother Chuck would recognize his hard work and give him an office at the firm — a hope Chuck cruelly dashed.

But instead, the show pivoted, and by its third season, it was clear that Chuck was, in fact, a moral conscience, a rebuke to the fondness that shows about antiheroes foster for charming-but-monstrous protagonists. Despite Chuck’s flaws and foibles, he was the only person who could see Jimmy for what he was: a menace, however goodhearted.
Viewers watched Jimmy commit fraud in a successful effort to get Chuck stripped of his malpractice insurance, denying Chuck the ability to keep working as a lawyer. They saw as he corrupted Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), a former public defender who tried to help those who cannot afford decent representation avoid being chewed up by the justice system’s pitiless maw. And the audience witnessed how, with Kim’s help, Jimmy falsely convinced the world that a former colleague, Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian), was a drug addict, and then covered up Hamlin’s murder.
“Slippin’ Jimmy with a law degree is like a chimp with a machine gun. The law is sacred. If you abuse that power, people get hurt. This is not a game. You have to know,” Chuck almost implored his brother near the end of the show’s first season. “On some level, I know you know I’m right. You know I’m right!”

In the series finale that aired on Monday, Jimmy finally acknowledged that Chuck was correct about the importance of the law — and tried his best to lay Slippin’ Jimmy to rest once and for all.
In a series of flashbacks, we see Jimmy contemplate regrets. When he tells a drug cartel fixer he wishes he could go back in time to invest in a way that would make him a billionaire, the man asks whether money is all he values. During a similar discussion with “Breaking Bad” drug lord Walter White (Bryan Cranston) set a few years later, Jimmy says his main regret is slipping too hard in a slip-and-fall scheme. That statement disgusts even White, a meth kingpin and the man responsible for multiple murders, including that of his own brother-in-law.
When White tells Jimmy, “So you’ve always been like this,” the jibe is rich — but not wrong. “Better Call Saul,” like “Breaking Bad” before it, is less the story of a man falling from grace than showing the danger of a maladjusted person achieving apotheosis. “Saul Goodman” was just the perfected form of “Slippin’ Jimmy.” Redemption for Jimmy McGill cannot come without admitting that, just as Chuck warned he would, he has used and abused the law rather than treated it as an ideal.

In the end, Jimmy realizes saving his soul will require him to make a sacrifice. After getting arrested while on the lam in Omaha, Jimmy deploys his typical tricks to talk himself into a sweetheart seven-year plea deal — far lower than the 30 offered by the feds. But after hearing that Kim has come clean about Hamlin’s death, and realizing the jeopardy this put the woman he loved in, Jimmy realizes he has to come clean — not merely to protect her, but to right a lifetime of wrongs. And doing so means fully admitting to acting like Chuck’s machine-gun-wielding Law Chimp.
In our age of antiheroes, the best endings are those that offer appropriate punishments for their protagonists. Mob boss Tony Soprano spends the rest of his life looking up every time a door opens until it cuts to black. “The Shield” protagonist, corrupt cop Vic Mackey, is confined to a desk filling out reams of reports while he stares at a picture of the team he betrayed. It’s one reason the finale of “Breaking Bad” rang false to some: Walter White got to go out a hero, killing neo-Nazis and rescuing his former partner.
Jimmy McGill abused the law in his quest to keep his drug lord clients out of prison. As a result, people died. Justice demands that he, and all those like him, spend his remaining years imprisoned within the physical manifestation of the ideal he so calculatedly and repeatedly violated. Sic Semper Slippin’ Jimmies.