It’s shocking to think how much has happened in “Better Call Saul”. When the show started, Jimmy’s brother Chuck was a major force and antagonist. But Chuck’s dead now, and it feels like he’s a very, terribly long time. Which makes his return here in another flashback all the more shocking. It is a moment when the two brothers try to get close to each other, but in the end they fail. Chuck is too prickly, Jimmy is too defensive. “We always have the same conversation,” Chuck finally says, retreating to 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 previous responses to his regrets were quite pathetic, this one moment shows a glimpse of what could have been. Because here, in this flashback, Chuck is making an attempt to reach 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 contact Jimmy. Here he wants to talk to Jimmy about his business – but Jimmy, so used to Chuck’s nonsense, shakes him off.
We realize here, just like Jimmy, that this one is the moment when everything could have changed. That if Jimmy had just stayed and talked to Chuck about his business and his clients, things could have been different. But Jimmy doesn’t have a time machine; as Walt noted, they don’t – and can’t – exist. Which means this is just a reminder. 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 up his deal, Jimmy McGill goes to jail – and neither does the posh Bernie Madoff prison. There is a beautiful moment when Jimmy goes to jail and is recognized by the other convicts on the bus – who all start singing “BETTER CALL SAUL!” as a small, knowing smile hits Jimmy’s lips.
Finally, one day during his incarceration (it’s unclear how much time has passed), Jimmy is visited by his lawyer – who, of course, turns out to be Kim. And she has a cigarette. I felt a stab in my heart here, thinking back to the first episode, when Jimmy and Kim stood in the shadows of the HHM parking lot, sharing a cigarette. Again, they’re shrouded in shadow here, with the lighting evoking film noir and German expressionism (lots of shadows from cell bars cutting across faces and walls).
As the two share a cigarette, we learn that Jimmy has been sentenced to a whopping 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 isn’t a good thing, but in the end it’s fair. He was a criminal who did terrible things. He may not have physically killed anyone himself, but he played an important role in the realm of those who did. We want him to be free because we like him, but liking someone doesn’t 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 gate over a courtyard. Kim, standing behind her own fence, watches him – and he shoots her with finger guns, a knowing gesture they both understand. Here’s a wide shot of them 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 fixed object and blocking him from our view forever.