ByNick Bartlett/Aug. 18, 2022 2:38 pm EST
Warning: This article contains spoilers for the series finale of "Better Call Saul."
From his introduction in Season 2 of "Breaking Bad," Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) was an instant fan favorite. With his silver tongue, sharp suits, and canny brain, he is the perfect legal advisor to Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and his expanding drug empire. As Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) puts it, "When the going gets tough, you don't want a criminal lawyer, you want a criminal lawyer."
"Better Call Saul" gave us more insight into Saul, aka Jimmy McGill, and his descent into the seedy criminal lifestyle he inhabits in "Breaking Bad." Ranging from his ace moments in court to his colorful scams, or even just touching personal moments, here is a selection of our favorite moments from Saul Goodman in both series.He's a nuanced, entertaining character, masterfully played by Odenkirk, who perfectly judges each character beat, hitting the broad strokes and the more quietly intimate scenes with equal acuity.
Tracking down Walter
From the moment we first meet Saul Goodman in "Breaking Bad," he looks like a joke, trading barbed insults with the DEA and mistaking Badger for someone accused of indecent exposure. He seems like a cartoon of a lawyer, and even when he is abducted by Jesse and Walt he doesn't do anything to disabuse the audience of this impression, seeming more like a hapless, comedic character than anything else.
It's only when he turns up at Walt's high school that we see just how shrewd and perceptive he really is. Tracking Walter down and casually walking straight into his chemistry classroom, he lays his cards on the table and demonstrates his criminal acumen, pitching himself as the guy to get Walter connected to the right people. He doesn't know it then, but he's setting himself down the path that will see him on the run in a couple of years' time.
The introduction of Jimmy McGill in "Better Call Saul" is a thing of genius. Discovered in the courthouse toilets, we find Jimmy rehearsing every beat of an impassioned speech before bursting into the courtroom. He gives an evocative, florid speech before launching into his defense of his clients. They were drunk, he says, but nobody was hurt, and while their actions were dumb and distasteful, what harm have they really done? The prosecution's response is simply to wheel out a television set and play the court a surveillance tape of exactly what Jimmy's clients did — namely breaking into a morgue to sexually abuse a corpse.
What this does is perfectly demonstrate Jimmy's ever-changing relationship with the truth, as well as his love of theatrics. He defends his client with an energy and passion that is worlds away from the cynical indifference Saul shows his clients in "Breaking Bad." It's the perfect reintroduction of the character, clearly illustrating to us just who Saul used to be.
Despite his smarmy, polished exterior, Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) is one of the few characters in "Better Call Saul" who is revealed to be a largely decent, sympathetic character,so of course he can't have the happy ending we wish for him. In the aftermath of Chuck's death, the usually immaculate Howard is a mess, and when he bumps into Jimmy he confides that he's not been sleeping. In an attempt to bring him back to his normal, charismatic self, Jimmy bursts into his office and gives a simultaneously insulting and dynamic motivational speech. It works in breaking Howard's slump as he perks up enough to shout"F*** you Jimmy!" with Jimmy replying, "There you go, use that!"
Whatever his feelings at the moment, it encourages Howard to get Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill (HHM) back on its feet.Given the events of Season 6, this scene is particularly upsetting, but it's one of the few moments where Jimmy acts almost entirely altruistically. It's a moment that is echoed grimly in their final scene together, where again Howard assures Jimmy that he'll bounce back, only to be tragically proven wrong.
When Kim leaves HHM and goes off on her own, she takes her big client Mesa Verde with her, but they are quickly charmed back to HHM thanks to the influence of Jimmy's brother, Chuck (Michael McKean). Taking this as a personal slight against him (and in a misguided attempt to defend her honor), Jimmy begins a personal mission to get Mesa Verde to return to Kim.
His method is characteristically elaborate and designed to exploit Chuck's biggest weakness: his intellectual vanity. Jimmy steals the Mesa Verde files from Chuck's office and takes them to a photocopy shop, where he painstakingly alters all the references to Mesa Verde's address by one digit. At the subsequent hearing, Chuck pompously refuses to accept that the address is wrong and brushes off the client, leading to them rehiring Kim.
Beyond serving as a win for Jimmy against his brother and once again showing his ability to read people and (often) predict their actions, the scheme is a great example of something the series did regularly; taking something superficially petty and insignificant and using it as the launch point for a dramatically escalating chain of events. This incident permanently severs the already brittle relationship between Chuck and Jimmy and indirectly leads to Chuck entrapping his brother. This in turn leads to the climactic hearing, which eventually leads to Chuck's death.
Watching the final season, with Jimmy's corruption almost complete, it's getting harder to remember a time when Jimmy actually strived to be a good lawyer. However, in Season 1 he repeatedly demonstrated his tenacity and determination in representing his clients, best shown in his discovery of the over-billing practices perpetrated by the Sandpiper retirement home.
When he attempts to get evidence of the mistreatment of his clients from the care home, he is banned from entry but manages to write a makeshift cease and desist letter on toilet paper before being unceremoniously thrown out. When he realizes they have been destroying evidence, he returns after hours to retrieve the shredded documents from the bins, rooting through bags of disgusting trash before painstakingly piecing them back together at Chuck's house.
It's true that Chuck does most of the work when an exhausted Jimmy passes out, but this is the perfect example of what Howard referred to as "Charlie Hustle," specifically Jimmy's willingness to go to extreme levels to win cases. It's a trait he continues to use later on, albeit for more nefarious purposes.
Perhaps the only time Jimmy is truly in his element in the early seasons of "Better Call Saul" is when he briefly takes a sabbatical from the law to return to his hometown and run scams with his old friend, Marco (Mel Rodriguez). The two are both adept at performing and taking their marks for all they can, be it via a Kennedy half-dollar con or a fake Rolex.
Both characters clearly revel in the con itself. The montage of their various scams is one of the most purely fun sequences of the entire series. The two characters havea genuinely touching friendship that's cut tragically short when Marco suffers a heart attack in the middle of a con, telling his friend as he dies, "Jimmy, this was the greatest week of my life."
As the series goes on, Jimmy's friends all fall by the wayside, until all he can see are easy marks and fellow con artists, but Marco was a true friend who looked up to Jimmy and wanted nothing more than to run scams with him. Marco is honored by Jimmy throughout the show in the form of the pinky ring Jimmy inherits from him, which he wears for the remainder of the series.
Jimmy runs so many elaborate scams in the later seasons of "Better Call Saul" that it's impossible to catalog them all here. But potentially the most wholesome bit of con-artistry he performs is the rehabilitation of Huell Babineaux (Lavell Crawford) after his arrest for assaulting a police officer.
Fabricating letters of support and setting up a fake website dedicated to paying for Huell's legal defense, Jimmy and Kim construct a whole backstory for Huell in Louisiana. Jimmy and his film crew doggedly answer calls from the prosecution as they try to learn more about Huell. Jimmy takes the first call as a pastor, really laying it on thick with his admiration for Huell, utilizing an incredible Cajun accent, and promising to bring an entire congregation to court in support, leading to the prosecution dropping the case.
Jimmy would later go to even further extremes but for much less altruistic reasons, from his campaign against Mesa Verde to his vendetta against Howard in the final season. This would be one of the last times he derived genuine pleasure from one of his scams. You can see the pride writ large all over his face as he finishes his performance.
Negotiating with Tuco
In only the second episode of "Better Call Saul," Jimmy demonstrates his remarkable negotiation skills when convincing the hot-headed, violent Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz) to not only spare his life, but also that of the twin con artists who called his grandmother a "biznatch."
Taken out into the desert for an ad-hoc execution, Jimmy is able to talk Tuco out of killing him fairly easily, but he still seems intent on killing the skateboarding con-men. Jimmy can't bring himself to leave the two to die, so appeals to Tuco's vanity and self-perceived fairness, negotiating with him for their lives. In a colorful bit of haggling, Jimmy talks Tuco down from killing the pair to simplybreaking one leg of each of the con artists. The brothers hate Jimmy for it, but as he says himself, "I just talked you down from a death sentence to six months probation. I'm the best lawyer ever."
Throughout his appearances on "Breaking Bad," and despite the numerous examples of his shrewd legal brain, Saul is consistently underestimated and mistreated by Walt. Sure, part of this is due to Saul's mercurial, obvious demeanor, but even his good ideas are constantly shot down, from recruiting "Jimmy In-'N-Out" to his money laundering laser tag idea. Laterin the series, he is even threatened by Walt when he tries to dissolve their partnership, with Walt stating, "We're done when I say we're done."
It's only in their final scene together that Saul finds the wherewithal tostand up to Walt. When they are waiting to be given new identities, Walt tries one last time to bend Saul to his will, walking towards him menacingly and beginning to repeat his threat, saying, "It's not over, until..." before suffering a coughing fit, a symptom of his newly returned cancer.Saul finally grows a backbone and tells his client, "It's over," before walking out on Walt for good.
The relationship between Jimmy and Kim Wexler is both the heart and soul of "Better Call Saul," and the most bittersweet element of the series. For every heartwarming scene between the two, there is also the ever-present knowledge that something has to happen to drive the two apart at some point prior to the events of "Breaking Bad."
Theories abounded about Kim's ultimate fate, so it came with a mixture of relief and sadness when it was revealed that she is the architect of her own downfall in many ways. Starting the series as a serious, ethically-driven lawyer, her fatal flaw is that she loves Jimmy McGill, and finds herself drawn toward the thrill of the scams he runs. What makes her fall from grace all the more tragic is how this starts in a fun, affectionate sequence between the two, as Jimmy demonstrates his skill at hustling pretentious douches in bars.
Jimmy takes Kim to a restaurant where they meet Ken (Kyle Bornheimer), a loathsome stockbroker. They ask his advice on a fictional inheritance and feign interest in consulting with him, while building up a significant tab of drinks, including a bottle of the prohibitively expensive Zafiro Añejo tequila, which Ken then inadvertently pays for. The couple would embark on increasingly elaborate, sometimes dangerous scams, often at Kim's insistence, but this is where it all began.
Nature vs. nurture. This is the ever-present question in the early seasons of "Better Call Saul." How much of Slippin' Jimmy is due to his inherent nature, and how much is due toChuck's personal resentment and his dismissal of Jimmy's abilities as a lawyer? In the first season, Jimmy works diligently as a public defender. He's unconventional but constantly works to become a better lawyer, to be worthy of his brother's respect, or to even get a job alongside his brother, who he has been painstakingly caring for ever since his breakdown.
It's only in the first season's penultimate episode that the ever-clever Jimmy pieces together that Chuck has been sabotaging his career the entire time, phoning Howard to block Jimmy's chance at a partnership and even using Jimmy's phone despite his debilitating "electromagnetic sensitivity." Bob Odenkirk's delivery of "the phone must have felt like a blowtorch in your ear" is just heartbreaking.
Chuck's concerns are borne out by the rest of the series and "Breaking Bad," but it's something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It's clear that Chuck doesn't believe Jimmy is capable of change, but we will never know how it would have turned out if he had just trusted his brother. Instead, his actions simply push Jimmy further off course.
Buying Jesse's house back
Saul Goodman is a larger-than-life, cartoonish character in many respects, with his loud, garish suits, an awful comb-over/mullet, and ever-present Bluetooth device. It's a great cover though, obscuring the fact that Saul is actually very good at what he does. One of the most cathartic moments of the entirety of "Breaking Bad," and one of the few categorical wins for one of our heroes, is the way in which Jesse regains his aunt's house, left to him but repossessed by his parents.
Representing an anonymous Jesse, Saul charms the Pinkmans, beforeoffering them a measly $400,000 for the property, assuring them that's the most his client would be prepared to spend on a meth-contaminated property. Saul has them exactly where he wants them, and still retains his slick demeanor, butthe look he flashes the Pinkman's lawyer as he says, "How about it counselor? Do you concur?" is pure contempt.
The tragedy of Jimmy McGill, and the central theme running through the entire Jimmy and Chuck relationship, is that Jimmy is a great lawyer, but Chuck refuses to see it or outright dismisses his methods as simple chicanery. Even when Jimmy applies himself to diligent legal work, Chuck can't see past their personal history. It's a fascinating dynamic, and one that comes to a head in their face-off in court, where Jimmy outmaneuvers his brother on the stand, exposing his condition as a mental illness by having a phone battery planted in his pocket without Chuck realizing.
That is just the first step though, as Jimmy again relies on Chuck's professional arrogance and vanity. He provokes him into a tirade on the stand to make him look emotionally unstable,exposing him as a petty, vindictive man and calling his judgment into question. This kicks off Chuck's downfall, but Jimmy doesn't celebrate his victory, instead seeming utterly crestfallen. The entire sequence is intense and only further complicates while simultaneously peeling back more of Jimmy's layers, especially where his brother is concerned.
If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.
If anyone in the entire world of "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul" was destined to be caught by the police, it's the mild-mannered "Pryce" (Mark Proksch), the hapless pharmaceutical employee who tries to make some money on the side by selling pills. He's not exactly subtle about his newfound wealth, wearing loud garish sneakers and buying a Hummer, but it's his love of baseball cards that proves his undoing, when Nacho breaks into his safe and steals them, along with the drugs he was planning to sell.
Being a naive idiot, Pryce reports the robbery to the police, leading to Mike hiring Jimmy to help. With the cops' suspicions raised by the presence of his secret safe, Jimmy has to play a blinder to pour cold water on their investigation, and he does so in a masterstroke, with three words: Hoboken Squat cobbler. He convinces the cops that the objects Pryce didn't want them to find were compromising photos of himself, sitting naked in a variety of pies.
The beauty of Jimmy's defense is just how plausible his story is, and it speaks to just how thoroughly he and Mike understand the law and the police. They recognize that it's not enough to prove that Pryce didn't do this one specific crime, they have to allay the cops' suspicions enough so they will abandon the investigation altogether — which they do.
"This is the moment Jimmy became Saul." If you frequented any TV forums over the course of the spin-off show you will be familiar with these words, but if "Better Call Saul" has shown us anything it's that there was no one incident that turned Jimmy McGill into Saul Goodman. There is, however, a definite moment where Jimmy drops the pretense of treating the law as sacred. After a year's suspension from practicing law, and despite doing everything right in his application for his new law license, Jimmy is still denied his license due to a perceived "lack of sincerity" during his bar hearing.
To counter this, hereads from a letter bequeathed to him by Chuck at his appeal hearing,but breaks off and gives a spontaneous, heartfelt speech that moves the board members (and Kim) to tears. When celebrating afterward though, he admits that he was simply conning the board like any other mark. By doing everything right, he was called insincere, but by deploying the most cynical tactics he is made a lawyer again — the most damning evidence that Chuck was right the whole time.
There are many other equally important moments in his transformation into a shyster lawyer, but this might be the bluntest of these. It's no coincidence that the second he is reinstated as a lawyer he changes his name to Saul Goodman.His contempt for the law is complete, and as he walks away from Kim he turns round and says the immortal words, "It's all good, man!"
His whole career, Saul is looked down on by the legal community, and even when he runs rings around his opposing counsel he is treated like a shyster. In the final episode of the series, he does this yet again, with a defense portraying himself as the victim in a cynical but very plausible move. He wrangles himself an incredibly generous plea deal, knocking multiple life sentences down to just seven years. But when he learns of Kim's involvement — the one person who can see the good inside him — he makes the conscious decision to do the right thing, even if it means spending the rest of his life in jail.
Before that, though, he gets one last chance to shine in court, turning up decked out in what looks like a sharkskin suit and with the old Saul Goodman patter. In front of Kim and the court, hethrows his deal away, and finally takes responsibility for all of his criminal actions, admitting his pivotal role in Walt's empire and even acknowledging for the first time his culpability in his brother's death. It's his finest hour, and the moment where he finally feels like Jimmy McGill again.