Major spoilers ahead for Better Call Saul season 6, episode 9
As I've been watching Better Call Saul, I've occasionally been dipping back into Breaking Bad to watch scenes featuring the lawyer formerly known as Jimmy McGill. Back then, Saul was the archetypal sleazy bus bench attorney. An amoral ambulance-chasing slimeball of the Lionel Hutz variety. "God, you are killing me with that booty," he says lustily in an early appearance, after unsubtly offering to walk his secretary Francecsa home. Saul became more interesting and nuanced as Breaking Bad went on, but I've still always found it hard to reckon the complex, multi-faceted star of the prequel series with this shady, crass cartoon of a man. That is, until I watched the latest episode of Better Call Saul.
This was a bombshell of an episode, ending with the destruction of Jimmy and Kim's—let's be honest—deeply unhealthy relationship. After their devastating break-up, the show jumps forward in time and we find ourselves in the company of a man who has fully embraced the role of Saul Goodman. He wakes up in his gaudy mansion with a sex worker in his bed, which in Breaking Bad wouldn't have been surprising at all. It's what you'd expect from a guy like Saul. But knowing who Jimmy is deep down, and the emotional journey we've shared with him, it's a shock to the system. There was no ceremony to it, either. One second we're with Jimmy McGill, distraught and alone; the next, with Saul Goodman.
Now we know the truth: that 'Saul Goodman' is a mask worn by a man so traumatised by his life collapsing around him that he had to create an alter ego to deal with it. He always enjoyed playing the role of Saul, but when he got back home he was Jimmy again—joking around, scheming, and watching old movies with Kim. But with her gone, and the deaths of Chuck McGill and Howard Hamlin playing on his conscience, the other personality has completely taken over. Saul was the breezy comic relief in Breaking Bad, always lighting up a scene with his sordid wit. But now when I watch those old episodes I just feel sad. I see a man hiding from reality, giving into his basest impulses to numb the pain.
It's even worse when you realise that Jimmy loves being Saul Goodman. He's no Pagliacci, putting on a show then weeping in private. He's playing a role, but has gotten so deep into it that he's starting to believe that's who he really is. In a flashforward we see him scratch 'SG was here' into a wall, not 'JM was here', which speaks volumes. When 'Gene' is sitting at home after a hard shift at Cinnabon, he nostalgically watches old Saul Goodman commercials. He wants to be him again, and that makes me worried that Jimmy McGill is gone for good. That said, if there's one person that can bring him back, it's Kim. If this character is going to be saved, the destructive force that is Saul Goodman needs to die.
Better Call Saul has completely changed my perception of Breaking Bad, turning its funniest character into its most tragic. I won't be able to watch that series in quite the same way ever again, knowing what I know about the truth of this character. For all his many, many faults, Jimmy McGill is someone you can't help but root for—which makes his seemingly permanent mutation into Saul Goodman all the more upsetting. I don't know if he truly deserves redemption, but I hope he gets it, in some form, before this final season is over. In El Camino, Jesse Pinkman was given a chance to start again after surviving his own personal hell. I hope James Morgan McGill is extended the same courtesy.
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