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‘Better Call Saul’ season 3 finale abides good v. evil theme

Bob Odenkirk's "Better Call Saul" season 3 finale

Bob Odenkirk's "Better Call Saul" season 3 finale airs Monday. Credit: AMC / Sony Pictures Television / Michele K. Short

THE SERIES “Better Call Saul”

WHEN | WHERE Season finale Monday at 10 p.m. on AMC

GRADE A+ (for season 3)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT In the season 3 finale, “Lantern,” Kim (Rhea Seehorn) takes a break; Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) looks for a payday; his brother Chuck (Michael McKean) and law partner Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) get ready to rumble; Mike (Jonathan Banks) has gotten in deeper with Fring (Giancarlo Esposito); and Nacho (Michael Mando) makes a big move. (The network supplied a plot summary, but did not make the episode available for review.)

  MY SAY Under those blue New Mexican skies, “Better Call Saul” became the quietest show on television this season. You could almost hear the wind whistle, or expect to see an errant tumbleweed photobomb some scene. There were long moments of silence, and frequent shots of hands. Sometimes those belonged to the dead, like the one Mike uncovered out in the desert, with just a wedding ring on one finger.  Usually people let their hands do the talking for them. As the predominant theme and symbol of “Saul,” hands had plenty to say.

Devoted fans knew exactly what that was. Like “Breaking Bad,” “Saul” is a meditation on the nature of good and evil. Stripped of the usual prime-time bait of sex and violence — there was virtually none in the third season — “Saul” allows viewers to think, and even demands that they do, occasionally about God.

With the exception of “Bad” or a few episodes of “Star Trek,” there may never have been a series more theological without being overtly theological than this one. Like “Bad,” “Saul” wants you to think about the nature of God without realizing you are.  Also like “Bad,” it has developed its own theodicy — how God allows evil to exist — within the framework of its own narrative puzzles. Meditative, somber and deeply intelligent, “Saul” presumes to have no concrete answers either.

One inspiration this season has been the books of Genesis and Job. Why does evil exist? Why do brothers turn on brothers? How do actions lead to unintended consequences, good or evil? In “Bad,” the most famous example was the season 2 finale when the jets collided over Albuquerque. An air traffic controller had lost his mind after the death of his beloved daughter — a daughter whom Walter (Bryan Cranston) had murdered.

In “Saul,” this arrived in the brilliant episode “Chicanery.” Walking into Jimmy’s disbarment hearing, Chuck bumped into a man who secretly planted a phone battery on him. During cross-examination, Jimmy had him pull  the hidden battery out of his suit pocket, revealing that Chuck’s sensitivity to electronic objects was in fact psychosomatic. In a scene evoking Capt. Queeg’s (Humphrey Bogart) emotional breakdown on the stand in “The Caine Mutiny,” poor Chuck falls completely apart. It’s both moving and pathetic: two brothers bent on each other’s destruction, and one finally prevailing.

Chuck and Jimmy’s mutually destructive story is the tale of Jacob (Chuck) and Esau (Jimmy) from Genesis: 27. There’s a touch of Genesis 37:1 here, too. That’s the story of Joseph and his (also jealous) brothers who throw him down a well. Joseph later goes on to save Egypt from famine, and so from their evil comes good.

 Chuck later goes on to nearly cure himself of his crippling disease, thanks to the big courtroom reveal, so Jimmy’s malice had a good outcome, too. But fans already know the eventual outcome for Jimmy — they have seen “Breaking Bad” — and forcefully learned this season that Jimmy is really just another Walter White. 

In the previous episode, Jimmy seduces, then emotionally ravages, an elderly woman in forcing her to settle a class-action lawsuit that will net him a big payday. As he waves his hands during the brutal con, an old movie is playing on a TV screen behind him. Robert Mitchum’s homicidal Rev. Harry Powell from “The Night of the Hunter” is waving his hands, too, on one tattooed the word “love,” on the other “hate.”

Good vs. evil: The eternal struggle, the eternal question, and in “Saul” it all comes down to the hands. The Bible has something to say about hands, by the way: “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” asks Job.

In Jimmy, both are already tragically conjoined.

 BOTTOM LINE Spectacular season that officially ranks “Saul” with “Breaking Bad.”


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