For most of its fourth season, Better Call Saul has been three shows in one, yet all have reached the same conclusion. The thread through Jimmy and Kim’s story took the pair through the wake of Chuck’s death and Jimmy’s denial of his feelings, as well as Kim’s rise while Jimmy remains down. They’ve stayed together, and yet, there have been major cracks. The emotional weight of this arc, even with its joyous Slippin’ Jimmy moments along the way, has been devastating, and its culmination in “Winner” was excruciating.
Then there’s Mike’s story, which hasn’t overlapped much with Jimmy, but did have a major connection to Gus and a piece of Breaking Bad lore. The creation of the Superlab so well-utilized in that show’s “Fly” capsule episode had no right to be interesting, and yet, it became a deeply interesting and ultimately (again) an emotionally difficult ride. As for Nacho, who did not appear in the finale, things are hardly looking up for him, either. He’s searching for a way to escape but can’t manage it, getting pulled deeper and deeper into the game and its violence with each passing day, appearing to give up. The bottom line is that the game is rigged — there are no winners here. And that’s a hell of a pill to swallow.
“Winner” certainly didn’t mind hammering that fact home, either, starting with the cold open flashback karaoke scene where Jimmy and Chuck were actually on good terms. Chuck stood for Jimmy as he was made an attorney, and stayed through most of his party (and later, the two even shared the stage to sing). Chuck took care of Jimmy back at his house, collapsing on the bed beside him as the two continued to sing until they drifted off. It was a rare moment of harmony between the brothers, and seemed to signify that Jimmy might actually be ready to face his feelings about Chuck’s death one year (and one season) ago. And yet.
On a more macro scale, this season (and Better Call Saul in general) has been about how the past defines you. We know where these characters are heading in the Breaking Bad universe, but despite the inevitability of their futures, it’s been fascinating to watch how exactly they get there. That cosmic predestination really sunk in with the leads of each of the three stories, though, for the first time this season. Mike realized that despite all of his careful planning, half-measures don’t work. Werner paid the consequences, but so did Mike in a way. The two men had struck up a kind of friendship, one that let Mike’s guard down just enough to make Werner dangerous (Werner did not see it that way, of course). “Is there no other way, truly?” Werner asks him during their devastating final conversation in the desert. If there was, Mike would have found it, but that’s not Gus’s way.
Seeing Mike thwart Lalo (that ultimately didn’t add up to much, did it? Neither did the Origin of the Bell in the previous episode, frankly. Not everything has to be explained or connected!) was classic, especially with the gum and, later, basically using a few pages from Slippin’ Jimmy’s book to hunt down Werner. It served to get our hopes up, though, for something that could never be. Things more or less ended with Gus showing Gale the space, which was fun for Breaking Bad fans, but at that point it was more about the death of potential, and Werner’s death in particular. Mike, and viewers, looked on with sadness. Gus made his bunker, mostly, but at what cost? Was there ever another way, truly?
Jimmy, too, projected his own understanding that your past will always define you when he blew up at the young scholarship candidate, Kristy, telling her that she has to cut corners to win. It’s him justifying his own actions, but also expressing his hardened world view that who he is doesn’t really matter. Since the game is rigged, everything is just a con. It’s a depressing realization, made even sadder by remembering Jimmy’s eventual future — one without Kim, completely alone in Omaha, having panic attacks in a Cinnabon.
It all culminated in that final scene, which hit me (and Kim) like a Mack truck at the close of the episode. Jimmy’s final plea to the board to be reinstated was supposed to be about sincerity, which he was already working on by (insincerely) donating a law library in Chuck’s honor, and making sure everyone knew he was behind it. It was its own con, and Kim was ok with it. But when he stopped reading that letter out loud and seemed to find the truth that we saw in that opening flashback — that, complicated as their relationship was, Chuck was still Jimmy’s brother and they loved each other in their own way — it was genuinely moving. It was sincere. “One asshole even shed a tear.” Yeah, it was Kim, it was me, it was everyone.
And then the horror sank in.
It wasn’t sincere at all, it was just another level to a con; a way for Jimmy to leverage perhaps some kernel of truth (whether he realized it or not) into something false to get what he wanted. There’s still a chance that it was sincere and he just doesn’t realize what real emotions are anymore, but I think that’s not the intention here. The stricken look on Kim’s face and the way Jimmy so glibly ran off to sign the papers really says it all. That and “s’all good, man,” of course. Jimmy has already made his choice; he couldn’t win as Jimmy McGill. He has to leave Chuck’s shadow, and the only way he can practice law is to bring Slippin’ Jimmy into it for real and forever. He has to move forward to a place that fans have been waiting for a long time. But we know the winner doesn’t take it all, and it couldn’t feel worse to say it: he’s Saul Goodman now.