"Better Call Saul" captured the inevitable perversion of justice

Spoiler alert: This piece discusses in detail the series finale of Better call Sol.

In the penultimate episode of Better call Sol, which aired its finale on Monday, estranged husband and wife Kim Wexler and Saul Goodman — born James “Jimmy” McGill and later known as Gene Takovich — reunite to officially end their marriage. Kim (Rhea Seehorn) visits Sol’s (Bob Odenkirk) law office, a mecca for petty criminals looking for shady representation, to sign the divorce papers, and her eyes drift to the decor: an absurdly large desk, a statue of Lady Justice with her scales , walls covered with the Constitution and supported by Greek Revival columns that resemble the Supreme Court building. “What do you think?” Saul asks. “Pretty cool, right?” All he manages to say is, “Yeah, it’s, um…yeah.”

Because we’ve gotten to know the intelligent, idealistic Kim so intimately through Seahorn’s compelling performance over the past six seasons, it’s easy to imagine what she’s really thinking: that Saul has mocked the values ​​that brought her and Jimmy, the struggling public defender, to meet in series premiere, together. Once dedicated to helping the little boy, even if it meant deviating from the letter of the law, he has now found fortune and fame by surrounding himself with the most loathsome symbols of his profession and building a reputation as the criminal defense equivalent of an ambulance chaser. There could be no other trajectory for the protagonist of a series about justice and its inevitable perversion. Creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould are known for condensing complex themes into powerful images, and the episode opens with Saul bouncing a ball off the wall of the Constitution until a flimsy pole falls on his desk.

Breaking Bad fans they always knew that Saul headed in that direction. For us, the surprise was this initial view of Jimmy as a reformed con artist turned judicial crusader. Later, what drove many of us through the seasons was the affection we developed for Kim, who proved to be the moral center of the series — not just the proverbial woman who made Jimmy want to be a better man, but a hero in her own right. in itself – and which, they very nervously noted, was no longer a part of Saul’s life by the time Walter White entered it. Contrary to our worst fears, Kim survives. But as she leaves Saul, the last vestiges of his professional dignity, of his desire to serve justice rather than settle scores or line his own pockets, drain away behind her.

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Rhea Seehorn in Better Call Saul

Greg Lewis—AMC/Sony Pictures Television

In the first scene, after Kim leaves the apartment they shared, Saul wakes up wrapped in garish tiger-print bedclothes next to a snoring prostitute. His new home has a baroque Versace aesthetic, with lots of gold paint, stained glass and wall-sized copies of Renaissance art. “I’m so sorry, I’m getting another call,” he tells a customer before putting down his phone and picking up a blow dryer for his daring comb-over. His snack is a Nutri-Grain bar in plastic packaging that boasts “real fruit.” When he arrives at his office, he hangs a handicap parking permit in his window. A huge inflatable Statue of Liberty strapped to the roof of the building sways in the wind. “Let justice be served, though the sky falls,” he declares over his desk intercom, in an empty reference to a legal maxim after Kim’s own heart. Every element of his life without her is a lie or a fake or a reproduction or a performance. The idea of ​​justice is a sick joke. “It’s show time,” Saul says in the finale as his criminal trial begins.

His storyline is hardly the only one on the show that is a travesty of justice. Earlier in the same episode, Mike Ehrmantraut (the great Jonathan Banks) tracks down the father of Nacho Varga (Michael Mando, an unfulfilled cast member), whose murder at the hands of the bloodthirsty Salamanca family he is ultimately forced to instigate. “Your son made some mistakes,” Mike says, clearly thinking his own broken boy. “He fell in with bad people. But he was never like them, not really. He had a good heart.” At least “you won’t have to worry about Salamanca. Their day is coming. There will be justice.” Nacho’s father shakes his head. “What you are talking about is not justice. What you’re talking about is revenge,” he says, before adding in Spanish: “You gangsters and your ‘justice.’ You are all the same.” His words hurt Mike, who likes to think that his uber-competence and lack of malice set him apart from monsters like the Salamancas. But the father is right. Vigilante violence is also a perversion of justice; such was the fate of Nacho, a young man with enormous potential who spent years trying to escape the criminal underworld.

Bob Odenkirk, left, and Michael McKean in Better Call Saul

Greg Lewis—AMC/Sony Pictures Television

At the opposite corner of the moral matrix—the lawful evil to Nacho’s chaotic good, if you will—sits Saul’s late brother, Chuck (Michael McKean), whose obsession with laws and legitimacy helped catalyze his suicidal descent midway through the show. Chuck’s concept of justice, which placed the rules before true ethics or benevolent intentions, was at least as hollow and self-serving as Mike’s moral code. The finale reminds us of this, in a flashback in which Jimmy delivers groceries to his imprisoned brother, who reacts to the ice-filled cooler of food by sniffing, “I hope you didn’t steal it from a hotel ice machine.” ( After Chuck’s death the show explores the dire consequences (of hypocritical, elitist attitudes like his in a justice system that doesn’t really believe in rehabilitation.) Jimmy’s entrance into Saul is depressing in part because of the extent to which his kitsch on the subject of justice reflects Chuck’s shallow understanding of what it means to be a good lawyer . Both brothers hide their selfish motives within the letter of the law; in Saul’s case, said text happened to be printed on the walls of his office.

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Only Kim ultimately lives by a definition of justice unclouded by self-interest, and that existence is anything but glamorous. A sassy desk job in Florida, a boyfriend who worries about the right kind of mayo to put on potato salad, a group of interchangeable girlfriends, a mousy paint job that literally hides her light – it’s the artificially sweetened version of Miracle Whip of life. And she nearly blows up this sun-drenched purgatory when she confesses her role in the death of Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) to both his widow and the prosecutor. Kim has suffered more than enough for the damage she and her ex-husband have caused together, but at some point in the series finale it seems inevitable that she’ll be wracked with civil, if not criminal, charges in yet another Saul Goodman miscarriage of justice .

Instead, in a final twist that made me gasp out loud, he takes advantage of the broken system to give her the rehabilitation she deserves. Impersonating himself at trial, he lures Kim into court by offering to throw her under the bus and delivers one of his signature speeches, the one that has already convinced the prosecutor to offer a plea deal that will reduce Saul’s sentence to just seven years to avoid having to trust a jury to judge his performance as a victim. But this time he used his power to manipulate the system for an unselfish purpose: to shift all the blame onto himself, more than he should have. And he’s doing a masterful job of getting a whopping 86 years behind bars.

Rhea Seahorn and Bob Odenkirk in Better Call Saul

Greg Lewis—AMC/Sony Pictures Television

His subsequent, perhaps well-deserved, comeback to his good name, Jimmy McGill, flopped. On the bus to prison, his fellow criminals immediately recognize him as the man from the commercials and start chanting “Better call Saul.” But he’s Jimmy again to Kim when she comes to visit him in the hall, looking partially recovered from her failure era with a curl in her hair, and the two smoke another cigarette against the wall together. If his fatal flaw was an inability to stop scheming, hers was an unstoppable tendency to trust an unjust system. Jimmy’s great act of heroism was to use his inherent crookedness to give Kim the justice that her inherent honesty would never yield. Forget it Bridgerton– it’s a romance for the ages.

And it’s a conclusion that rings true for real life in the US today. More often than not, when a TV series is described as in a timely manner or relevant that’s because it literally parallels a specific cultural moment: a show about workplace sexual harassment in the #MeToo era, or a show about a pandemic during a pandemic. Among the many elements that distinguish Saul from In Satan’s shoes– and made it the superior of the two classics – was its rigorous commitment to justice, a concern whose creeping pessimism proved timely in a more artful, profound way. Debuting in the long run-up to the 2016 election, it unfolded its disturbing observations into a culture awash in misinformation and disinformation, constitutional crises and Supreme Court chaos, where laws protecting women’s bodily autonomy are being overturned while laws that would save kids from being shot at school almost never get traction.

If The wire then it became a classic, showing us the breakdown of American institutions Better call Sol deserves a place in the canon because of the vividness with which it captures something less tangible but more elemental: Americans’ crumbling faith in the values ​​that once gave these institutions meaning. It leaves us with a final question: Is the perversion of justice inevitable in any society under any circumstances, or only within that particular society and the judicial system it has built? If only Kim Wexler was a real person, I’d call her and ask her.

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