What’s inherently striking about the final season of Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s “Breaking Bad” prequel, “Better Call Saul” is its relationship with stillness — particularly the kind of stillness that colors the quotidian rhythms individuals actively choose, yet passively inhabit.
For example, the penultimate episode of the series, “Waterworks,” spends large swaths of time accompanying Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) through her reticent dissociation from the suburban Floridian life she has chosen to live. Kim’s turn from a driven public defender to an overqualified analyst at a sprinkler manufacturing company consists of her essentially playing the part of a Floridian Karen. Yet, despite the reconstruction of her new image — a response borne from guilt, cyclical trauma and jarring consequences — she is unable to escape the discord she feels from her body as she goes to brunch, clocks out from 9 to 5 and passively hooks up with a boyfriend she hardly seems to like. It’s a monotonous, sorrowful loneliness that is excruciatingly familiar to those living under the repetitive nature of contemporary late-stage capitalism.
The final season of AMC’s “Better Call Saul” shines in its willingness to slow down with its characters. Gilligan and Gould expertly integrate the series’ rhapsodic moments within the ordinary junctures of its characters’ lives. The season initially follows Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) and Kim Wexler’s differing responses toward the unforeseen effects of their less-than-legal scheme to ruin a former colleague, before following the two characters’ individual paths in flash-forwards. Odenkirk and Seehorn each portray a performance within a performance, possessing a detached yet affecting melancholy that emphasizes the emotional and psychological stakes behind their every predicament.
For much of the run of “Better Call Saul,” the series followed two major plotlines that, for the most part, remained separate. One tracks the legal world that Jimmy, Kim and Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) inhabit, while the other trails the often flimsy happenings of the Albuquerque cartel scene particular to the lives of Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) and Mike Ehrmentraut (Jonathan Banks). Most of the series’ shortcomings lay within the latter plotline, with the cartel-focused storylines sometimes feeling too protracted, and anchored down by a deliberate need to show a series of arbitrary events in order to perfectly lead up to the events of “Breaking Bad.”
The final half of Season Six of “Better Call Saul” not only merges the two plotlines to devastating emotional fallout, but also discards most of its focus on the cartel, and the series is all the better for it. If “Breaking Bad” was a persistently pulsing predecessor full of verve, electricity and expert craftsmanship, “Better Call Saul” takes the time to slow down and trust its central characters to guide the orientation of the series. As a result, its character-driven exploration of the ever-shifting nature of identity, complicity and the human capacity for redemption arguably reach more soulful and trenchant ends than “Breaking Bad” did in its final episodes.
For long, “Better Call Saul” has evoked a singular pathos for its interplay between the mundane and the bombastic, but also for its care toward visual composition. With most of the show’s final stretch taking place in flash-forwards, the series continues to wield a distinct visual subjectivity, but to an even more cutting effect. Its reliance on noir-esque, black-and-white photography and chiaroscuro intensifies the moral and ethical underpinnings bursting at the seams of the climax of the series. The final moments of the series finale pay homage to Robert Bresson’s “Pickpocket” to a poignant and stilling effect, capping off the arcs of its characters in an aching, tender fashion.
While “Better Call Saul” may share an Old Testament-influenced examination of morality and reckoning with its predecessor “Breaking Bad,” as the former’s series finale “Saul Gone,” suggests, just because Jimmy has molded himself into Saul doesn’t mean he has lost the capacity to catch up with who he could be. Perhaps the power of human connection is that it can unlock the capacity to become more than what one’s instincts or histories might tell them. It is this open-hearted conception of connection that grounds “Better Call Saul” in its final liminal moments.