Updated: Nov 14, 2022
I remember when Mad Men finished back in 2015. Fellow MM devotees and I threw a little costume cocktail party to give it a proper send off.
But what to do with Better Call Saul? Go to court? Bake? Get some Germans in to build a meth lab?
BCS was not a flashy show. Jimmy could talk the talk, but the series itself was never gimmicky. It was a slow burn of solid character work and quirky yet relatable relationships. With consistently knock-it-out-of-the-park writing, it's become an instant classic TV writers aspire to.
What is the Secret Sauce in BCS?
The inextricable link between story, character and character dynamics.
The show is a perfect example of the adage that story must be absolutely unique and true to its main character(s), something many emerging writers struggle with. Often we'll come up with a great concept, only to shoe-horn a completely generic character into the story and expect it to all fall into place. It won't.
Jimmy McGill aka SG was a joy to watch con his way into and out of anything. We loved him all the more for it. Why? Because we understood him. We got his backstory: growing up in the shadow of a brilliant brother and the rivalry that cultivated. There was no competing with Chuck. The tension between these two characters and the changing dynamics in terms of how Jimmy either railed against or sought the approval of his big bro was a compelling watch.
Jimmy's character was defined by the relationship he had with his brother, and that in turn determined the direction of the story. Jimmy's flaws, needs & wants conflicted beautifully with everything Chuck stood for. It didn't matter what Jimmy did, it was going to create problems with Chuck either way and generate great story for the series.
When Chuck died at the end of Season 3, I have to admit, I was worried. I thought the inherent tension of Jimmy's story was gone. Of course, I was still curious how Jimmy was going to turn into Saul. But which relationship would shape that in a meaningful way now that Chuck was dead?
Better Call Kim
From season four, Kim really started to kick into gear and become more of a main character on par with Jimmy/Saul. Kim had always been intriguing, and there were hints of the layers underneath that stoic facade. As we got to learn more about her history and saw that, despite appearances, just how much she and Jimmy were on the same page, the story and events started to evolve with this very different relationship dynamic at its core.
At first sight, Kim appeared to be a solid rock of perseverance, the compass of reason and morality that Jimmy needed to stop him from veering too far off course.
Gradually, it became clear that Kim was shouldering just as much of a burden as Jimmy in terms of having "something to prove”. Like Jimmy, Kim had an internal need to be a puppet master, extract revenge and take the privileged minority down a notch or ten.
The key to the last three seasons was seeing how Jimmy and Kim, with their individual weaknesses and character goals, combined to create an entity that was adorable and genuine – the kind of couple to emulate, in some ways – and yet insidiously toxic and destructive.
It was a long and winding road to disaster. If Jimmy's dysfunctional relationship with his brother laid the foundations for the creation of Saul Goodman, it was the consequences born of Jimmy and Kim's union and eventual break-up that propelled Jimmy to his final destination.
The final scenes of the series feel so satisfying. It's masterfully written (and shot), providing closure – and somehow hope – in a place devoid of hope. It's an homage to Jimmy and Kim's relationship and how far they've travelled to come full circle, with mutual respect intact.
Whenever I think about this dignified and beautiful ending for these two characters, I love the show just that little bit more.