‘Better Call Saul’ sticks landing with series finale: NPR



DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

It’s FRESH AIR. The AMC series “Better Call Saul” televised its series finale Monday night, ending 14 years of storytelling that began with AMC’s “Breaking Bad” and continued with the Netflix film “El Camino.” Our TV critic, David Bianculli, wondered if “Better Call Saul” co-creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould would properly end this long-running TV saga and stick to the landing. They did it, he said, beautifully. Here is his opinion.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: Vince Gilligan started “Breaking Bad” in 2008. That series ran until 2013, when the story of high school teacher-turned-meth kingpin Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston, was reaches its unforgettable conclusion. “El Camino,” a movie sequel also created by Gilligan, followed in 2019, continuing the story of Walter’s young partner in crime, Jesse Pinkman, played by Aaron Paul. But by then, Gilligan and Peter Gould had already revisited the world and characters of “Breaking Bad” for four years in a 2015 series called “Better Call Saul,” which was sort of both a prequel and a sequel to “Breaking Bad”. It told the story of that show‘s slimy lawyer, Saul Goodman, but in several different incarnations.

Played by Bob Odenkirk, Saul was introduced as a fast-talking aspiring lawyer named Jimmy McGill. “Better Call Saul” followed Jimmy’s slow descent into the amoral Saul Goodman TV commercial, but also, in black-and-white scenes set years later, showed Jimmy adopting another alter ego hiding from the law. as a Cinnabon manager named Gene in Omaha. The way these various plot threads and timelines were woven together, up to and including this week’s series finale, made this collective work – “Breaking Bad”, “El Camino” and ” Better Call Saul” – the best drama series ever shown on television. Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould and company not only know when to end the TV show, they know how. And the details were as breathtaking as the surprises.

The finale made way for unexpected returns from five different characters, including stars of “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” spanning multiple timelines. It’s no surprise that HG Wells’ novel “The Time Machine” features in one of these scenes and discussions of time machines in two others. And the actors who returned for a final lap had great things to do and say. For loyal viewers, it was one treat after another. And when Saul got one last chance to do what he does best and try to get out of trouble, it was gripping and, again, unpredictable. The latest episodes of “Better Call Saul” have consistently defied expectations, extending some storylines while speeding up others, but always maintaining its own compelling pace.

At the end of last week’s penultimate episode, in scenes set six years after the end of “Breaking Bad”, Jimmy, as Gene, is identified as Saul Goodman by a woman named Marion, a recent acquaintance played by guest star Carol Burnett. The actress began her television career in black-and-white shows in the 1950s, and in these black-and-white sequel scenes from “Better Call Saul” she comes across that way and powerful again, as when Marion grabs her Life Alert necklace to call for help as Jimmy, aka Saul, now aka Gene, threatens to strangle her with a telephone wire. This is the lowest he has sunk on this series. But after Marion points out how he betrayed her, he allows her to activate her necklace, then flees.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “BETTER CALL SAUL”)

BOB ODENKIRK: (As Gene) Write that down. Write that down, Marion. Put it down. Don’t do it, Marion. Last warning.

CAROL BURNETT: (As Marion) I trusted you.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Valerie) Marion? Here is Valérie (ph) with Life Alert. Are you OK?

BURNETT: (As Marion) No, Valerie, I’m not well. There’s a criminal in my kitchen threatening me. He’s a wanted man, and his name is Saul Goodman.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Valerie) Alright, Marion, I’ll call the police. I’m calling right now.

BIANCULLI: It puts Jimmy – or Saul or Gene – on the run again in the final episode. He doesn’t stay a fugitive for long, but what he does next makes for a wonderful ending to this whole long story. In a way, “Better Call Saul” ends as it began, with Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy McGill sharing a smoke in the shadows with Rhea Seehorn’s Kim Wexler. But in another way, the series has one last surprise in store. He overtakes Saul Goodman and brings him back to the person known as Jimmy McGill, and Jimmy at the last moment breaks the good a bit. The ending of “Better Call Saul” was awesome, as was the series and the whole “Breaking Bad” odyssey.

DAVIES: David Bianculli is a professor of television studies at Rowan University in New Jersey.

(SOUNDTRACK FROM THE SONG, “BETTER CALL SAUL”)

JUNIOR BROWN: (Singing) You have one drink, two drinks, three Long Island Iced Teas. But your friend is less well and he throws you his car keys. Lights flashing, 4:00 a.m., state trooper makes you wish you were never born. You better call Saul. You better call Saul. You wanna tell the world you’re in love with a girl named Fran? So you find an overpass and you say it with a spray paint can. The blue light started flashing (ph), those handcuffs are clicking, you know who to call and you better call quick. Saul, Saul, you better call Saul. He will fight for your rights when your back is against the wall. Stick it to the man. Justice for all. You better call Saul.

DAVIES: On tomorrow’s show, we talk with reporter Robert Draper about the right-wing shift in the Arizona Republican Party. In a new New York Times article, he says the extreme views of the new wave of Republican candidates in this swing state are unlike anything he’s seen in his two decades of coverage of conservative politics. Hope you can join us. For Terry Gross, I’m Dave Davies.

(SOUNDTRACK FROM THE SONG, “BETTER CALL SAUL”)

BROWN: (Singing) Shopping at Walmart, just a few beans. There’s a George Foreman grid on the back of your blue jeans. They surprised you at checkout, blue lights are flashing. Only one got a call because the others all stink. You better call Saul. You better call Saul. Your husband disappeared in the most convenient way. Now that your worries are gone, his insurance will surely pay. You get to the bank but the cops say, whoa. Who you gon’ call when they lock you down?

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