Better Call Saul has always been about regrets. The heart of this show for the past six seasons has come from the main characters living their lives, all searching for a semblance of contentment, hoping that they would no longer live in service of wronging their rights. By the Better Call Saul final episode, Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) deeply regrets the paths he has taken – one of which includes arguably pushing his brother Chuck (Michael McKean) to suicide. Mike (Jonathan Banks) regrets contributing to his son’s death at the hands of corrupt cops, and spends the rest of his life working to forgive himself for what had happened. Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) is haunted by the loss of his partner Max, and dedicates his life to avenging him at the cost of his own happiness. Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) regrets her involvement in Howard Hamlin’s death (Patrick Fabian). To an even greater degree, Kim regrets blowing up her entire life.
What makes Better Call Saul compelling is the violent cycle of self-destruction all of these characters continue to perpetuate. If they all truly regretted the way their lives have played out, why do they keep on walking the same path? “Saul Gone,” Better Call Saul‘s series finale, shows us what happens when someone tries to stop the cycle and make amends to the one they love. The finale focuses mostly on Saul and Kim, but we still saw many flashbacks of previous characters. Chuck, Mike, Marie, and Walter White (Bryan Cranston) all appear in fleeting and emotional moments. “Saul Gone” finale reminds us that no one in the entire Breaking Bad universe has a happy ending. (Except maybe Lyle.) But for all of these people, taking responsibility for their decisions has to be enough.
First Place: Marie Schrader
It’s an understatement to say that Marie showing up in the Better Call Saul finale was a (welcome) surprise. Other than Hank’s brief cameo back in Season 5, the Schraders were never really that relevant to the plot of Better Call Saul. As Saul is taken to negotiations over his prison term, we see that Marie is in the building. She is filled with hatred over the man behind Walt and Jesse’s empire, and the man who led to her husband’s death. Marie doesn’t get first place because she’s happy or because she has some amazing new life now. No: she gets first place in the last-ever Better Call Saul power rankings because she gets to see one of the men responsible for the destruction of her life end up in jail for 86 years. It’s an interesting move for Better Call Saul to spend time in the finale reminding us that Jimmy McGill, a goofy and down-on-his-luck lawyer, is not someone with whom we should necessarily sympathize. Marie probably never even met Saul; she certainly never knew him. But his actions still affected her, and her justice comes with Saul’s downfall.
Second Place: Mike Ehrmentraut
We see that when they were stuck in the Albuquerque desert during Season 5’s “Bagman” and “Bad Choice Road” that Jimmy posed to Mike one of the motifs of “Saul Gone”: What he would do if he could travel back in time? Immediately, ideas about what Mike’s answer could be rushed to my head. Does he regret Matty’s death? Maybe he could have better spent his time with Kaylee and his daughter-in-law? If there’s one character we know spends time reliving his many regrets, it’s Mike.
He first answers with a date that presumably is the day his son was killed. But he revises his answer and goes even farther back. He regrets taking that very first bribe back when he was a cop. Better Call Saul has never been easy on its characters, and there is an implication that Mike thinks he’s trapped in a cycle of his own doing. He took his first bribe; ever since then, that’s been that – it put him in the game for life. When Walter killed Mike in Breaking Bad, we knew he had regrets. But now, pre-Walter and pre-Saul, Mike places the blame for the way his life turned out squarely on himself. It’s a tragedy that informs his entire character arc. He knows he isn’t stuck in service of a bunch of bad men – he is the bad man. And he regrets it more than anything.
Third Place: Walter White
I don’t mean to rehash the events of Breaking Bad and my anger with its finale, because at the end of the day I should be ranking the Walter we saw in Better Call Saul. But I’m going to. The series finale of Breaking Bad presents a shockingly different ending for its protagonist. Walter gets what he wants: money for his family and a successful drug empire. And he gets to decide on his own terms when his death happens. It’s a frustrating ending for a show that always seemed to struggle to get its viewers to hate Walter White. Death is in no way a positive ending, but when your options are between that and life in prison, death is the easy way out. Especially when it’s exactly what Walter expected all along, thanks to his terminal cancer.
In “Saul Gone,” we get an expansion of Saul’s final scene in “Granite State,” Breaking Bad‘s penultimate episode, in which Saul and Walt hide out in a bunker beneath Ed’s vacuum repair shop before they can be “disappeared.” But instead of making Walter seem like the powerful antihero he often did in Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul reminds us of who he truly is – an egotistical man. Saul asks Walter the recurring question: If he could time travel, what would he go back and change?
Instead of musing on his regrets in life – things like, you know, the multiple murders and deaths he caused – Walter scoffs that time travel isn’t possible. When Saul agrees to change the premise of the question to simple regrets, Walt brings up his usual response: he regrets leaving Gray Matter, the company he started in college. In the same way that “Saul Gone” reminds us that Saul did some very bad things, it also reminds us that Walter, the reason we’re here in the first place, regrets none of his evil actions. Walter is the complete antithesis of Saul.
Fourth Place: Jimmy McGill
When writing these power rankings, I’ve always struggled to know when to use “Jimmy,” when to use “Gene,” and when to use “Saul.” Yes, they are the same person, but it isn’t hard to see that these three different personas are basically indistinguishable from each other. It’s been easy to question what Jimmy’s fate was going to be. Would he end up dead or in jail? Would he stay with Kim? Would he be on the run forever?
A question I didn’t think to ask myself was not what he would be at the end of the show, but who he would be. When Saul is negotiating the terms of his deal, he is fully Saul: cocky; a little annoying – but smart. He gets his prison sentence down to seven-and-a-half years, a truly incredible feat considering how many crimes he committed. But by the time we get to his trial, we’ve found out the truth. He doesn’t intend to defend himself because he thinks he’s still best lawyer in the world. He just wanted to suggest he might incriminate Kim in order to ensure her appearance. Once Jimmy sees Kim in the courtroom, he announces to the judge that he isn’t Saul Goodman – he’s Jimmy McGill. He confesses to all his crimes. And we know there’s no longer any possible endgame for him other than spending the rest of his life in jail.
And then we see Jimmy on the bus to prison, where the other inmates immediately recognize him…as Saul Goodman. They start chanting “Better Call Saul” over and over. If Jimmy was trying to embrace his true self and escape the Saul persona, the scene is a reminder that no matter how hard he tries, he’ll never be able to. For years, he wanted to be anyone except Jimmy McGill; when he thought he’d done it, his actions came back to haunt him.
So when Kim visited Jimmy in prison, I really didn’t know what to expect. Other than that brief and tense phone call, the two of them hadn’t actually spoken in years. Was Kim going to scream at him? Tell him he’s a horrible person? What happens instead is a reminder of how Better Call Saul began. She greets him with “Hi, Jimmy.” They share a cigarette, just like they did in the pilot. Once again, Kim remains the only grounding presence for Jimmy. They talk, share a laugh, and, as she’s escorted out, he shoots one last finger gun at her. Jimmy may die in prison; he may never escape his misdeeds. But the one thing he will never regret is his time with Kim. With her, he gets to be just Jimmy.
Fifth Place: Kim Wexler
It’s impossible to say enough about Kim Wexler. One of the most complex, well-written, well-acted characters in television history, Kim was a driving force behind Better Call Saul, and concern over her character’s fate has for years left a dark cloud over even the most lighthearted scenes. When Better Call Saul took the leap to a post-Breaking Bad world and focused on Gene’s adventures in Nebraska, I don’t think I was alone in worrying that we wouldn’t see Kim again, or at least not get a strong ending for her.
Boy, was I wrong. We know she hates her new life; that once again, her regrets got the best of her; and that she fled New Mexico for a depressing life in Florida. After one conversation with Gene, she realizes that she has to confess to her crimes. It’s the only decision she’s made in her new life that opens up the possibility of happiness in the future.
It’s hard to know exactly what Kim was thinking in that courtroom, watching Saul dissolve and Jimmy return. Maybe she was scared for herself, or Jimmy, or maybe she felt her love for Jimmy returning. Whatever Kim felt, she knew she had to see Jimmy again; when we see her visit him in prison, it’s the closest we’ve seen to Kim being like her old self, despite those horrible brunette bangs. She and Jimmy share their cigarette, share their small laugh. Jimmy shoots finger guns at her and she holds her hand as though she wants to return the gesture before walking away. We don’t know for sure if the two of them will ever see each other again. But we do know that as much as Kim regrets her choices and may well continue living a painfully dull life filled with repetitive and tedious legal assistant work, she loves Jimmy. Their time together will never be a source of regret.
Sixth Place: Chuck McGill
Of all the tragic characters in Better Call Saul, Chuck McGill had one of the most tragic storylines. His refusal to even try connecting with Jimmy led to years of animosity between them and to Chuck’s eventual suicide. So when we get Jimmy and Chuck’s flashback, we don’t repeat the pattern set up in the episode. Jimmy doesn’t ask him about the time travel question since, as we know, Jimmy doesn’t think Chuck would care. It’s a horrible reminder that their whole relationship could have gone down differently. Maybe if they had found a way to get past their differences and anger they could have been true family. Because, as Jimmy leaves, we see a copy of H.G Wells’ The Time Machine on Chuck’s table – a reminder that the two of them have forever missed their chance to be brothers.
In the middle of Jimmy’s courtroom confession, he veers off-topic from his crimes and instead mentions his regrets about his relationship with Chuck. As he does, we cut to an exit sign buzzing above them. It’s a callback to Chuck’s illness, and to the famous scene in Season 3’s “Chicanery” where Chuck confesses his hatred and resentment towards Jimmy. But the cut is also a reminder that as much as Chuck believed Jimmy didn’t care about him, he always did and always will.
Seventh Place: Me, Miriam Handel
I can’t believe this beautiful, emotional, perfect show is over. See you in two years for the Kaylee Ehrmentraut spinoff?