So, Better Caul Saul season six is a tale of two seasons. Both literally and figuratively. The show’s creators split up the episodes of this, the final season, between seven in the initial batch and six in the second grouping. And I know this is going to be an unpopular take, but the whole thing felt like a caper… followed by yet another caper. Which in and of itself wouldn’t be a bad thing, but after investing five long years in this endeavor as a viewer, I feel like I needed something a bit more invasive. A bit deeper. Something with more of an emotional gut punch. It’s not as if it didn’t feel like a season of Better Call Saul, but the usual detailed minutia and machinations felt more like a simulation of itself while the real race to the finish happened in the background.
I think what I realized is that the Saul Goodman character just isn’t that interesting. And even less interesting is his new persona, Gene Takavic. I mean Cinnabon just isn’t that compelling. The character who is actually interesting is Jimmy McGill. So the further we get away from him, the less I care. The less I’m into watching all of the choices. Because, ultimately, Saul is a caricature. And Takavic is… Well, a manager at a Cinnabon and a weirdly low-level scam artist. Slippin’ Jimmy with a mustache and combover. I don’t get him. I don’t get it. Is this man really so fragile and self-destructive that he’d risk his life over some stolen sneakers? I’m not really understanding his motivation after all these years. Just because Kim doesn’t like him anymore? Also, I found the black and white video distracting and kind of gimmicky. I think it’s a group of filmmakers looking for an excuse to do Ed Wood or, uh, Clerks or like Following or some 40s noir film. They wanted to do black and white and here was their chance. And for me, I didn’t love it. It took me out of it.
I also found it a bit weird that they basically killed off all of the antagonists in short order. And, look, I don’t need a massive shootout ending. In fact, I hate that shit. But it was kind of anti-climactic to me that the only person left to bring Jimmy/Saul/Gene down is fucking Carol Burnett. I missed Tony Dalton as soon as he was gone. Same with Nacho (Michael Mando). I missed Rhea Seehorn’s ponytail. I don’t much care about Jeff the cab driver (Pat Healy), who isn’t even the same actor who played him the first time we met him. Which was also strange. I tried to ignore the aging of the characters — which can’t be helped because humans are humans — but found old-ass Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) showing up in the dark shadows to hide his puffy face in one scene, and sporting a beanie in the other to hide his hairline a little disconcerting. And I swear I kept waiting for Mike (Jonathan Banks) to blow out one of his 75-year-old knees every time he bent down to pick something up. It was a tough hang at times.
But getting past these nit-picks, it did feel like there was a portion of this season where they kind of shifted into neutral in order to extend a story that they just wanted to get to the end of. Or knew they needed to get to the end of. I mean I’ll take all the Better Call Saul I can get, but it was pretty obvious at times they were just stalling in order to fulfill whatever number of episodes the creators agreed to in their contract. I didn’t need to see Gene bring the mall guards Cinnabon 52 times in order to distract them from the cameras so he could pull off his heist. I get it. The heist itself was fun and wacky, but the build up felt like that season where Jimmy seemingly spent half of it writing on Post-It notes in the back of a bus. Or bouncing the ball off the wall at the cell phone store. A study in monotony. But in black and white.
Thing is, there were also some wonderful things in this season of TV. I know there are scenes they put in to reward the serious Saul heads, like the mystery of the tequila stopper (which I had absolutely not recollection of) and the resolution to the Sandpiper case (which I didn’t even realize was still active), but in between some of the throat-clearing and capers there is some really good acting. And some heartbreaking stuff. Especially memorable is an encounter between Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) and a potential love interest in a bar. It’s so well written, and Esposito is so amazing that it really stood out not only as a piece of TV-making, but also as a contrast to some of the care that seemed to be missing at times with the other characters. So much so that I forgot for a minute the dude is a straight-up sociopath. I suppose Jimmy/Saul is and has always been a bit of a clown. We really only saw the deep side of him in his interactions with his dead brother, Chuck (Michael McKean). Otherwise he always seems to be working an angle. Even with Kim. With whom his relationship always seemed like more of a challenge than an actual relationship. That said, Kim was another more complicated character that deserved more than she got. Even in the decent final episode, I just wanted more for her. And less for a dude who it doesn’t quite feel like he gets his comeuppance in a satisfactory way. So I suppose I just didn’t get all the way there on the finale. Though I’m most likely alone in my feelings.
Ultimately, this is probably one of the better television series to ever be produced. Granted, it’s a show that is absolutely not for everyone. There are portions of seasons that are admittedly a slog. The motions are so minute. So achingly precise and particular that I can imagine a lot of people bailing on it. Ms. Hipster certainly did. Shows about legal doc review will do that to you. But if you can stick it out and ignore some of the glaring issues with shooting a prequel years after the original with the same actors, you will also be rewarded with something that sticks with you. Thinking back on the Better Caul Saul journey — which started way back at the beginning of 2015 — it almost feels like it’s always been with me. I can recreate that feeling of finishing an episode and wondering what I just watched. It was different than most other things. Different than its predecessor, Breaking Bad. It’s a show I reviewed previously and remarked on how, at times, it felt like a show about boredom. Because the shit that happened in it at times was — well — it was boring. But the thing is, even the boring parts felt intentional. It wasn’t as if they were spinning their wheels waiting to get to a battle. Or just taking the piss to see how much the audience could take. And, until this last season, I was convinced they’d roadmapped every single second of the show. Which, again, they may have. But it always felt professional and in the hands of experienced television makers who knew what they were doing. It could be dramatic. It could be exciting. It could be tense. But those things never felt sensationalized or out of line with what was going on. Buttoned-up isn’t high praise, I suppose. But the series was buttoned-up. And it was good and decent. Even if the characters often times weren’t.