REVIEW: Better Call Saul – “Winner”

The following is a recap and review of the tenth and final episode of the fourth season of Better Call Saul, available on AMC in the U. S. and on Netflix internationally. Expect story spoilers. 

In the tenth and final episode of the fourth season — Winner — Lalo (played by Tony Dalton) starts to follow the search for Werner Ziegler (played by Rainer Bock), while Jimmy McGill (played by Bob Odenkirk) prepares for the appeal hearing. Winner was written by Peter Gould and Thomas Schnauz, and directed by Adam Bernstein.

At the beginning of this season, I was worried about what the show would look like without Chuck McGill. I was worried that perhaps it wouldn’t work without him. In the episode-opening teaser to Winner, the season finale of the fourth season, Jimmy makes an argument for why symmetry is important.

You can’t have one nipple, you need two, but no more than two. Just like, to Jimmy, HHM would need another M for it to make sense. Symmetry. As Chuck and Jimmy, in the episode-opening flashback, sang in bed together — side by side — I couldn’t stop thinking about how it wasn’t the show that needed Chuck — it was Jimmy.

Without Chuck, Jimmy doesn’t have a strong enough moral code to counterbalance his scheming and slippin’ ways. Without Chuck, he is ready to run wild and be the chimp with a machine gun that we were warned about. Because as this season has reminded us, Kim Wexler isn’t the Yin to his Yang (I think, all things considered, Chuck might’ve been the one to keep harmony as the absolute ‘good’), she isn’t his opposite and her moral compass isn’t strong-willed enough to guide Jimmy to goodness. It isn’t all good, man. And I’m still as shocked as Kim was at the end of the episode. And maybe I shouldn’t have been. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Before we get to the captivating appeal hearing and everything around it, I need to talk about the B-story. First, yes, it did annoy me that we didn’t really get to see Nacho in the season finale. He seems like such an important character, but, for some reason, they decided it was best to have multiple episodes where we didn’t get to see him this year.

When Nacho hasn’t been in the episodes, the B-story has, in season four, had a tendency to feel like filler content that wasn’t immediately interesting for those who know what happens in Breaking Bad. But, with these final two episodes of the season, the creatives behind the show have managed to build the B-story up to a satisfying crescendo. Lalo is interested in what Fring is doing, Mike has lost an absent-minded German national who holds the plans to Fring’s super-lab, and they are both racing against each other to get to him first.

This was so much fun to watch. Jonathan Banks’ Mike got to show off his impressive MacGyver-like skills with nothing more than the pieces of chewing gum that he kept next to his gun (Chekhov’s gun — a lovely trope) in his glove compartment. It was unfortunate to see the money wire clerk getting killed — I assume — as a result of Mike’s getaway. Lalo’s methods were a little bit over-the-top, but I enjoyed watching him disappear and then drop down to the ground. Although Lalo didn’t get to Werner, what we have seen of him thus far suggests that he will become Better Call Saul‘s most memorable villain yet.

We all knew what it would come to once Mike found Werner, even though, frustratingly, Werner somehow didn’t get how much of a mess he had made. Mike had bet on Werner being smart enough to do his job and not cause trouble. Werner was Mike’s problem to fix, even though, it seems, Mike had come to really like Werner. And who can blame him? Werner seemed like a nice enough guy, which is why it was so hard to see him and Mike together in this episode.

Like multiple people have pointed out online, Werner’s plea to talk to Fring himself and all that resembles how Walter White tried to convince Mike not to kill him in Breaking Bad. In both scenarios, Mike had to say that there was nothing he could do — they had both made their bed, now they had to lie in it (even though Walter would get out of it).

“There are so many stars visible in New Mexico. I will walk out there to get a better look.”

What really bothered me about this scene was how Mike had pushed a genuinely nice man, who loved his wife, to scream and yell at his wife that he didn’t want to see her. I don’t like to think about how Margrethe’s last conversation with her loving husband ended like that. But, as both Gilligan-universe shows have taught us, actions have consequences. And so, Mike had to take out a nice old man during a beautiful and particularly starry night.

While Lalo and Mike were out looking for Werner, Jimmy and Kim prepared for Jimmy’s appeal hearing by spreading rumors about how sad and thoughtful Jimmy was about his brother’s death. I thought it was a really cheap and offensive con to have Jimmy stand by Chuck’s enormous gravestone and wait for people to come so that he could pretend to be sad. Make no mistake, all of the scenes prior to the ending reveal how Jimmy doesn’t care at all.

Sure, he then goes out and ‘anonymously’ spends $23,000 to get a reading room named after his brother. This was really smart and surely all Kim’s idea. Sure, it is expensive, but they would get the word around in town after this celebration of life. So, where does Jimmy show his true feelings in this scene, you might ask? Jimmy actually suggests starting a fire in the house of a judge. That is absolute lunacy. Interestingly, though, this is the second time Jimmy has mentioned someone saving people from a house fire. First, it was with Huell and now this. These are the only true hints this season that Jimmy is actually broken up about his brother’s death.

Because as we come to find out, his big appeal hearing speech was all an act, even though the committee, Kim, and I were all moved by his words. Kim and us — the audience — shouldn’t have been surprised, though. He has been this way since the start of season four. But we were because Jimmy has previously cared for his brother openly. He has been a genuinely good guy.

“The winner takes it all. The loser’s standing small.”

Which makes it all the more hurtful to Kim to have been once again fooled by a con act of his. Just like the lyrics to the song, which the episode is named after, the winner took it all and left the loser — Kim — standing small, which is a nice visual callback to Jimmy’s karaoke song. Although Rhea Seehorn has been terrific all season Odenkirk was the star here, and really he has been that these last two episodes. Maybe it’s time to finally start referring to his character as Saul Goodman, a notion that is absolutely devastating to me. A stunning end to another great season of Better Call Saul.

A+

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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