What is your default state? That’s the question that Better Call Saul has wrestled with in its first season. The show has examined the makeup and character of earnest lawyer Jimmy who we all know will one day be the sleazy lawyer Saul. Through flashbacks and even a rogue show-opening flashforward we’ve seen this man at different stages in his life which has prompted the question: who exactly are we looking at here? Breaking Bad played with this concept at points as the true makeup of Walter White was poked and awoken by circumstance. In that show it was implicitly clear that Walt’s story was a journey of transformation. While he always had the parts of Heisenberg inside him, it required huge life changes to spark the reaction that would transform a school teacher to drug kingpin. Identity and one’s true self was a permeating theme, for sure, but for Better Call Saul it’s the main concentration. The season ender goes a little atypical in its design when compared to the standard finale. Usually, the season send-off is very corporal in impact. People die, locales change, twists happen. Yes, a lot of this took place in “Marco,” but the true center of episode is much more nuanced and internal. After last week’s bombshell that his brother Chuck, the guy who prompted “good” change in Jimmy, has been secretly sabotaging him for years, James M. McGill has become a man at a crossroads of identity. This is plain when Jimmy goes to meet with Howard Hamlin to formally hand over the Sandpiper Crossing lawsuit. He looks beaten and bewildered in his sit-down and it’s hard to blame him. Jimmy’s whole world has been flipped on its head, and this is epitomized when Howard, the man who he’s considered his greatest rival, reveals that he’s actually always liked Jimmy and holds no ill-will. After working out a deal that will pay him nicely on the backend of the Sandpiper Crossing suit, Jimmy returns to the old folk home to do some more entrepreneurial legwork in the form of community service. When a series of B’s from a bingo machine starts to drive him into a mild madness, Jimmy unravels an unsolicited torrid confession. As he slowly erupts in front of a room full of elderly bingo-players, the viewer gets some glorious context as Jimmy explains exactly what a “Chicago Sunroof” is, the act that landed him in the Illinois jail shown back in “Nacho.” It turns out that in trying to get revenge against an assclown named “Chet” (who apparently slept with Jimmy’s previously unheard-of ex-wife) our hero took a big poop inside of his car. While this is a troubling act in itself, the real problem is that he didn’t know children were in the backseat (which Jimmy blames on illegal tint). Thus, what would have ended up a minor crime with a beatable charge transformed into a major indictment, one that forced Jimmy to sober up, get his stuff together, and move West to work in a lawfirm’s mailroom. For most, most, this would be an upward turning point, and for Jimmy it was in a lot of ways. With a stable income and a clean(er) record he became a contributing member of society. However, as we’ve seen all season, something deep is missing from Jimmy’s life. We all remember Saul and it always appeared that he enjoyed his work. This has not been the case with Jimmy who has labored to do “the right thing.” His bingo meltdown demonstrates it clearly: Now that Chuck’s praise and validation is a nonfactor, he’s facing the fact he’s living a life he doesn’t want and didn’t necessarily choose. That sets the stage adequately for the episode’s true concentration: Marco! We previously met Jimmy’s brother-in-arms in the opening sequence of “Hero” where the bulky Midwesterner posed as a sleeping drunk primed to be robbed. Almost no attention was paid to Marco in that scene and I remember thinking he was good candidate to show up again via flashback but I’ll admit I never thought his importance would be so crucial to the central tenants of Jimmy’s character journey. Marco first shows up in, um, “Marco,” during another show-opening flashback, this one set directly after the jail flashback in “Nacho.” Jimmy stops into their local bar, Arno’s, to say goodbye as he’s immediately leaving for New Mexico. Marco is as sad as he indignant. Not only is he losing his best friend but he does not agree that Jimmy needs to fix up his life. A talented conman himself, Marco sees Jimmy’s departure akin to an athlete retiring before his prime. After the incident at the bingo hall Jimmy goes home again where he proves that you can’t go home again. Upon arriving in Cicero, Illinois he finds a passed out Marco at Arno’s and the two quickly, very quickly, ease back into their old groove. In a montage sequence built and edited like something out of 1940’s film (with actors speaking directly into the lens and creative lighting choices and fades) this dysfunctional duo scheme and toil for sensation and shenanigans instead of survival. Jimmy lives his old “Slippin'” life for a week before revealing to Marco that he’s now a lawyer and has responsibilities in the Southwest. Marco is a bit upset but preaches to his friend a mantra I’m also dedicated to: do what makes you happy. He proposes one more con job, the watch swap from “Hero”, and he makes it clear that running the cheat isn’t about money, it’s about thrill. Of course this last hurrah must end on a tragic note; it’s a season finale after all. In the middle of the con Marco drops dead, but not before telling Jimmy that the last week of bromance and debauchery has resulted in the greatest of his life. He then takes his leave to the nether realm. Goodnight, sweet prince, we hardly knew thee. Later, outside of Marco’s funeral, Jimmy gets a call from Kim who advises him to return to New Mexico as, through a joint effort between Howard Hamlin and herself, another large firm is interested in hiring Jimmy, possibly one day as partner. Indeed, this is what Jimmy has been shooting for the last five years: (clean) personal success, and after checking in on Chuck from afar he prepares to meet with them… That is until he starts to toy with Marco’s ring on his finger, a keepsake given to him by his friend’s mother. In an understated though powerful final scene (itself a kind of a representation of the series as a whole) Jimmy approaches Mike at his tollbooth looking for answers. He asks Mike how he’s able to live with himself after returning the 1.6 million Jimmy asked him to steal from the Kettlemans earlier in the season. More accurately, he asks Mike how he’s able to do “the right thing” when the right things feels so wrong. Mike doesn’t give a direct answer, simply stating he performed a job and that’s that. This non-answer makes Jimmy state the truth plainly, the same truth he realized at the bingo hall: Know thyself. With that he drives away humming “Smoke on the Water” letting us know his inner rockstar is ready to take center stage. With a much more insulated and introspective finale than I was expecting, I do have to say I enjoyed the previous episode just a tad bit more, but mainly because the final reveal of Chuck’s deceit shocked and stuck with me. “Marco” lacked a twist of that caliber but did some heavy lifting in regard to getting the main character and the audience into a headspace that is more Saul and less Jimmy. In some ways I feel like this finale could have been the series premiere as it gets to the meat of the show, that is, how, and more importantly why, does Jimmy McGill willingly transform into Saul Goodman. Instead Peter Gould, Vince Gillian and the rest of the writers opted for the slooooww burn option of showing us a gradual change, a paced shift of one’s inner being, not only in this ten episode frame, but in one’s lifetime. “Marco” masterfully mashed together many of the important flashbacks and themes of the first season to give us a more complete picture of Jimmy’s mental state, his motivations, and ultimately his main deficiency: he’s really good at being bad. In some ways this season was an inverse of Breaking Bad, Jimmy made a decade-long effort to “break good” but it didn’t work, and now we’ll see what happens next. Season Two is a fourteen episode order. That’s 40% increase in length from this year, and I’m looking forward to the extra room afforded. The season, and this episode, was so zeroed in on Jimmy that most of the side characters got shafted or just feel plain undercooked. Chuck ended up becoming one of the best new characters in 2015 but we really only got a glimpse of his real deposition in the last two hours. Mike got a good deal of screen time in the middle-end of the season but without his partnership with Jimmy/Saul things felt a little dethatched and forced. Kim Wexler showed up a lot in a supportive role but still lacks a defining element to her character that’d help make her anything more than a sidekick to Jimmy. And finally Nacho Varga, the Latino gangster with a hidden agenda, is basically a mirage of a villain at this point. One final gripe: The season opened with a post-Breaking Bad flashforward of the main character looking miserable and paranoid; however we received nothing else of that scene. The move to include this with no follow-up feels a bit cheap. At its core, the first season of Better Call Saul is a great success. The work it does in terms of internal strife and truth of character are novelistic and sincere. I’ve been familiar with Bob Odenkirk since Mr. Show, and I always thought him underrated, but I never thought he could command a dramatic role the way he has. Extremely Cranston-esque. In terms of legacy this spin-off has proven itself valid. It took a little bit for the show to settle in, and there are a whole new set of challenges for Season Two, but the basis is strong. Better Call Saul is slowly slipping out of the looming shadow of Walter White and, together with its protagonist, searches for a victorious identity. I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next installment. Better Call Saul 1.10 "Marco"Jamil's Rating4.5Overall ScoreReader Rating: (0 Votes)Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.