With callbacks and flashbacks and tie-ins and fade-outs and one final, lingering glance across a prison yard that forcibly established what "Better Call Saul'' really was all along — a love story, naturally — one of the great series of TV history ended Monday night. No questions were left hanging, no mysteries or storylines left to resolve. This really was the climax and conclusion to one of TV's most thrilling adventures, or one that began all the way back on Jan. 20, 2008 with the launch of "Breaking Bad."
Was this finale satisfying? How could it have been otherwise?
Spoilers follow, so if you want to preserve the surprise when you fire up the DVR (or catch it eventually on Netflix), read no further.
Or if you want to be left with just one thought (largely spoiler free), then perhaps ponder this: "Saul" was always about the unity of time, or how the past informs the present, and how the present informs the past, as if they are linked in some sort of spooky action-at-a-distance way. In "Breaking Bad," this meant that human actions were predetermined, and if predetermined — as part of some sort of irresolute deterministic universe — then the past was already written on the future. The minute Walter (Bryan Cranston) met Jesse (Aaron Paul) and the two of them met Saul (Bob Odenkirk), their fates were intertwined and established. Character was destiny, and there was no way (at least for Jesse and Walter and Saul) to escape that particular prison.
But "Saul," the series, always played with the notion of either/or. Yes, character is destiny, but what about free will? Either fate is predetermined or there is indeed human agency — a way to reorder that which was meant to be. In Monday's finale, in the most moving of those callbacks, Saul's brother, Chuck McGill (Michael McKean), said "we always end up having the same conversation, don't we?" The cycle, in other words, continues — unbroken and unyielding, also the prescription for tragedy (Chuck's and Jimmy/Saul's.)
Hence Saul's ruminations about a time machine in those two flashback scenes and the possibility of change, or the possibility of reordering that which is. If time is immutable, then no change is possible, and you are what you have become.
But if the past is bound up to the present, and that present to the future, and free will isn't some sort of illusion, but a way to rewrite that which has come before, or at least a way to rewrite what will come next, then …
Well, then, perhaps Saul's "time machine" is possible, or at least the metaphorical version of one. Few TV series have ever embraced such an optimistic outlook by the end of a long ride that always seemed to have portended a tragic outcome. But Saul — who was finally back to Jimmy by the end — had good reason to change, and a future to embrace, or someone to embrace — Kim (Rhea Seehorn), on the other side of that prison fence.
Scene by scene, almost minute by minute, there was almost too much to relish in this finale, beginning with the opening seconds. Jonathan Banks, who played series' standout Mike Ehrmantraut, never really got the send-off he deserved in "Breaking Bad," but that oversight was corrected last night.
What would Mike do if he had a time machine? Go back to the day "I took my first bribe, then I'd go forward. Some people I'd like to check in on in five or 10 years, make sure they're doing OK."
Walter returned for one final callback too — a funny, sharply written (and acted) scene, back in the bunker (in "Bad's" "Granite State"), as both awaited deployment to their future lives. "Stay in your lane," Walter snapped, when Saul dared suggest an abridgment to the second law of thermodynamics.
We said goodbye to other beloved characters, like Peter Diseth's Bill Oakley, who had turned into a bottom-feeder too — a Saul Lite, if you will — and Betsy Brandt's Marie Schrader. If only we could have seen Sklyer and Walter Jr. one last time, but you take what you get.
We got any number of laugh-out loud lines. (Perhaps the funniest of them all was when Walter turned to Saul, to dryly observe, "So were you always like this?")
We got countless tie-ins and references, embracing an immediate or far-distant past, like Wayfarer Airlines. which brought Saul back to Albuquerque — indeed, the same Wayfarer involved in one of the most infamous crashes in prime-time history, on "Breaking Bad."
But mostly, we got reaffirmation. "Better Call Saul" knew all along what it was doing and where it was going (and how it would get there). Meanwhile, the pleasure of the journey was all ours.