It’s shocking to think how much has happened on “Better Call Saul.” When the show began, Jimmy’s brother Chuck was a major force and antagonist. But Chuck is now dead, and it feels like he’s been gone for a very, very long time. Which makes his reappearance here in another flashback all the more jarring. There is a moment where the two brothers try to get close to each other, but ultimately fail. Chuck is too prickly, Jimmy is too defensive. “We always end up having the same conversation,” Chuck finally says, retreating into the darkness of his house with a copy of “The Time Machine” in his hands. And this has to be it – this has to be Jimmy’s “time machine moment.” While his earlier responses to his grievances were rather pathetic, this the moment shows a glimpse of what could have been. Because here, in this flashback, Chuck makes an effort to try to reach out to his brother; to extend an olive branch. These two were diametrically opposed all their lives, but they were also brothers. And every now and then Chuck tried to connect with Jimmy. Here he wants to talk to Jimmy about his affairs – but Jimmy, who is so used to Chuck’s shit, shrugs him off.
We get it here, just like Jimmy this is the moment that could have changed everything. That if Jimmy had just stayed and talked to Chuck about his cases and his clients, every single thing could have been different. But Jimmy has no time machine; as Walt pointed out, they do not—and cannot—exist. That means this is just a memory. Or a glimpse of what could have been.
In the end, things end the only way they could. After confessing to his various crimes and blowing his deal, Jimmy McGill goes to prison – and not the fancy Bernie Madoff prison, either. There is a wonderful moment where Jimmy is on his way to prison and is recognized by the other convicts on the bus – who all start chanting “BETTER CALL SAUL!” as a light, knowing smile comes to Jimmy’s lips.
Finally, one day during his incarceration (it’s unclear how much time has passed), Jimmy is visited by his lawyer – who turns out to be Kim, of course. And she has a cigarette. I felt a twinge in my heart here, thinking back to the first episode, when Jimmy and Kim were standing in the shadow of the HHM parking garage sharing a smoke. Once again they are shrouded in shadow here, with the lighting evoking film noir and German Expressionism (lots of cell bar shadows cutting across faces and walls).
As the two share a cigarette, we learn that Jimmy has been sentenced to a staggering 86 years. “With good behavior, who knows?” Jimmy says with a wink, and it’s bittersweet and heartbreaking and perfect. The idea of Jimmy rotting away in prison for the rest of his life is not a good one – but it is ultimately fair. He was a criminal who did terrible things. He may not have physically killed anyone himself, but he played a major role in the empire of those who did. We want him to be free because we like him, but liking someone does not determine justice.
The show ends with a series of powerful shots. Outside the prison, Kim is walking to her car when she sees Jimmy, behind a fence across a yard. Kim, standing behind her own fence, looks at him – and he fires finger guns at her, a knowing gesture they both understand. There is a wide shot here of the two, separated by fences and distance and space and eternity. And when Kim finally walks away, we see Jimmy disappear into the distance, the camera moving, passing in front of a solid object, blocking him from our view forever.