In a question of unbridled sincerity, season four’s swan song “Winner” kicks off with a flashback showcasing a time when newly appointed attorney Jimmy McGill felt the strongest affection and admiration for his brother, Chuck, who swears him in before the New Mexico Bar Association. It’s a moment so strong to the extent where even Chuck (harbored grudges aside) is enamored likewise by this feeling. The brotherly bond runs deep as Jimmy celebrates becoming a lawyer with his karaoke rendition of Abba’s “The Winner Takes it All”, which a reluctant Chuck is pulled on stage to sing alongside him. It’s the one time in the show where Chuck is happily swept up in Jimmy’s blissful aurora and embraces him most fondly and publicly.
Even if he doesn’t want to admit it, Chuck is proud of Jimmy here and that becomes most prevalent when the two are alone crashing together for the night where there’s nobody around to potentially pretend for. Despite politely brushing off Jimmy’s drunken ramblings that the two McGill brothers have become equals, Chuck immediately snaps out of any fixed umbrage when Jimmy begins to sing the song once again. Jimmy cherishes this sweet, rare moment of connection to his brother and Chuck chimes in because he too appreciates its value. It’s the most pure on-screen display of the unconditional love, however complicated, that exists between them.
Jimmy ironically carries this memory with him throughout the episode, even when forcing himself to appear sad over Chuck’s death to any on-lookers from the law community. The paradoxical magic of Abba’s “The Winner Takes it All” brought these brothers close but the lyrics actually prophesize their bleak, underlying conflict and serves as a theme to the regrets Jimmy feels for allowing himself to love and honor Chuck for the better part of his life. Jimmy tried his best to play by the rules in order to recapture that rare feeling of making Chuck proud and in the end, it crushed him. As he sees it, his past mistakes forever doomed him as an irredeemable screw-up to those who hold the keys to the castle of opportunity and that’s how it’s always been. He realizes the world will define you by your actions and reaffirms the only way to counter that is by cutting corners, which has always been his instinct.
Jimmy relays this line of thinking to a young Kristy Esposito, a rejected finalist for HHM’s memorial scholarship who he served on the board to vote for. As her only supporter, Jimmy sympathized with her, being a kid who was once caught shop-lifting and seemed to have worked hard to correct a mistake she very well may have learned from. Jimmy pleads to her, “Remember, the winner takes it all,” after telling her to bend the rules and rise above the people who are dead-set to shut her out. It’s this “the end justifies the means” form of advice he wishes he could have given to his younger self before the McGill war came to a head. As Kim made clear last episode, Jimmy is always down and there’s no more appropriate place but HHM’s depressing basement parking lot for him to have an uncontrolled breakdown over this epiphany. What might sting most is he could have been on the figurative fiftieth floor instead if he had not felt such a burning desire to make Chuck happy. Through his suppressed grief, this is the feeling that is so real and sincere, it finally comes pouring out with a devastating performance by Bob Odenkirk.
At the end of the cold open, Jimmy stresses the natural order of symmetry in a drunken tangent to Chuck (two eyes, two hands, two nipples, etc.). It’s all nonsense babbling but it paints a clear picture of Jimmy’s world-view assumption that he’s entitled to just as much as Chuck for achieving the bare minimum solely because of his idealized fantasy that they’re two brothers of the same profession. Jimmy even suggests adding another M to HHM in order to restore symmetry (HHMM). I don’t think Jimmy necessarily believes he’s as smart as his brother or as accomplished, but despite Chuck living life on the straight and narrow, he has a strong, resilient backbone. He has just as much of a backbone to zig left as Jimmy has to zag right and that’s something their father, from Jimmy’s perspective, sorely lacked. Jimmy has always felt superior to his father but Chuck built a life for himself in tribute to how good his father was and I think this always amazed Jimmy. The thought of taking something seen as pathetic and turning it into gold is one thing, but for Chuck to reject Jimmy in a harsher manner than Jimmy rejected his father could be seen as the greatest slap in the face.
The tension in Jimmy’s story lies in the anticipation that he’s going to finally confront his brother’s death and allow himself to truly feel his feelings to appear sincere at his appealed reinstatement hearing. Faking tears over Chuck’s headstone while literally sobbing the words “boo-hoo” sets itself up for the question: How does Jimmy go from a laughable circus act to a moment of sincere, cathartic introspection by the end of the hour? We already witness him have an honest breakdown in HHM’s basement parking lot so we know he’s capable of feeling something. Chuck’s farewell letter being taken out like it’s the magic key to recapturing those emotions for a genuinely sound testimony clues us in on the plan, but we already know the letter had no effect on him the first time around. Maybe now it will work though, especially since all the hard, expensive ground-work of Jimmy’s grieving narrative has been spread to everyone in Chuck’s professional orbit? At the hearing, Jimmy barely reads a few sentences before stopping himself and it’s here where we realize this off-the-cuff deviation from the plan is the true road to salvation.
In my review of the previous episode “Wiedersehen”, I mentioned how this season seemed to be building towards Jimmy confronting his brother’s death, while the parallel story of Mike is about unburdening himself from the death of his son. The separate journeys undertaken by these two characters tend to mirror each other whether through similarities or opposition. Symmetry, if you will. It seemed pretty cut and dry that Jimmy had to tap into his honest opinion on Chuck in order to truly emote. The speech he gives to the board is in the essence of a moving Don Draper pitch. It’s humble, it’s spontaneous, and we know as long-time viewers, that he’s speaking the hard truth. When we see Kim (someone who arguably knows Jimmy more than anyone) getting misty-eyed, we know this is real. It’s real, it’s real, it’s real, and then Jimmy pulls down the curtain in celebration of winning everyone over and reveals it’s all bullshit, duping all of us, including Kim. Was it an act though? Or did he somehow allow himself to feel something real and in turn used it for deception? That’s the scariest part of this ending being that he can go so far down the emotional well which he’s avoided all season and come back up with it meaning nothing to himself.
Kim is left stranded speechless as she, for once, is on the receiving end of Jimmy’s scheme. A scheme that he pulled out of thin air without realizing the effect it would have on anyone in the vicinity, regardless if it’s someone he supposedly cares about. How can Kim trust Jimmy after that? She’s worked scams with him before and is aware of his magic and trickery but this ending reveals a darker side to him where even the real and sincere is just another tool in his bag of tricks. Everything real that Kim feels for Jimmy or believes Jimmy feels for her is potentially worthless now. If he could dismissively turn the grief for his dead brother into a lottery ticket, then what chance does Kim have to mean anything beyond another card in his deck? How can she make heads or tails of what he actually values? Throughout the entire series, fans have been waiting for the introduction to Saul, and while this ending is the greatest push forward and the journey is not over, we’re getting what we’ve been anticipating in the most heart-wrenching, tragic way. The final turn where Jimmy pivots his entire body in one eerie motion before exclaiming “It’s S’all good man!” is the most earned, ‘twist-of-the-knife’ conclusion to date.
The outcome to Mike’s story goes as predicted by my last write-up, but that by no means takes anything away from the magnitude of where it leaves us. The episode spirals into a mad hunt for Werner while also juggling a cat-and-mouse game between Lalo and Mike for reasons that remain curiously odd. Lalo, who serves as a mystery as to exactly how he’ll play into the show’s endgame, surveils Gus’ operation in this time of crisis. He has no knowledge of the construction of the super lab or why everyone is scrambling all over town, but he’s getting closer to learning something, even it means ramming cars in private parking lots or killing the TravelWire clerk who helped give Mike information on Werner’s possible whereabouts. The Lalo portion of the B story is very chaotic, as it should be, but it’s ultimately setting the stage for what story developments we can expect from season 5. In the end, we know Lalo is going to play an important enough role to the point where it will bleed into Saul Goodman’s world and possibly signify Nacho’s demise, or who knows, even Kim’s. Gus told Juan Bolsa in the beginning of the season, “someone will make a move on the Salamanca family and that will bring war, which brings chaos, which brings the D.E.A.” We’ll stay tuned.
As I mentioned, story execution still needed to play its part in properly landing the conclusion of Mike being forced to deal with Werner Ziegler. In my “Coushatta” write-up, I speculated how Mike would possibly pledge allegiance to Gus if he is put in the position to take Werner out and this episode helps us understand that, somewhat. Throughout the hour, an angry, concerned Gus stays silent. The story becomes less about forcing Mike to do anything and more of Mike feeling responsible for this colossal hiccup which he knows he should have been on top of. Better Call Saul revels most in character-driven outcomes more than plot-driven. The characters dig their own graves and that’s a factor that helps Mike realize that Gus’ operation is too great for him to have a conflict of morality over what happens to Werner.
Werner knew what he signed up for and knew his decision to leave was foolish, but he was blinded by his undying urge to simply see his wife again. If the lives we lead lend themselves to a story, then our decisions (again, reflective of where the world places us) will eventually write ourselves into inescapable corners. Unfortunately, all the pieces were in the right place for Werner to meet his end even if he didn’t fully understand the game he was playing until it was too late. Just the same, all the pieces were in the right place for Mike to deliver what Werner had coming to him and that’s because of Mike’s own choices throughout the season. The final scene with Mike and Werner is handled so beautifully in the way Mike grants Werner a chance to save his wife while Werner sees Mike’s troubled situation clearly for what it is, and unlike Walter White’s frantic, compromising refusal to accept his own fate, Werner not only accepts but selflessly makes it easier for Mike to do what he has to do. Werner is the sweetest man to ever fall victim directly to Mike and this definitely shakes Mike to his core.
“There are so many stars visible in New Mexico. I will walk out there…to get a better look…” – Werner
It’s official now. Mike has now become everything he’s always hated. He’s now killed a good man and turned an unsuspecting wife into a widow. It’s what happened to his son and the good samaritan Hector killed back when Mike hijacked the delivery truck in season 2. He blamed himself quite heavily for both of these tragedies, so we can expect season 5 will open with Mike in an extremely dark place. The thing is, with a fuming Gus left inside the most expensive hole in the ground West of the Mississippi, does Mike being indebted to this problem become more urgent than his own internal reservations over what he’s done? Will he bury this incident deeper in the archives of all the terrible things he’s had to do and become more hardened? We know he’s more cold-blooded about killing in Breaking Bad than where he is now, but this murder is much different than the violent goons who were in the cartel game. I think there’s still a significant amount of story left to tell here because Gus and Mike are not on the even ground we’re accustomed to in the other show. Mike is going to have to seriously figure himself out after this.
Other things to note:
- No Nacho this episode. He just becomes absorbed into the Gus/Lalo war that’s starting to brew. There’s something unsettling about that. At a certain point, Nacho’s secret plan of escaping to Canada with his father under false identities is going to become a reality. Gus and Lalo pulling him back and forth to do their bidding is eventually not going to end well.
- I was hoping the show would check back in on Howard and I’m happy that he’s looking healthier and that HHM is recovering from its setbacks. Earlier on in my write-ups, I compared Howard to Werner in that they were both willing to see the hurdles ahead of them for what they are. Howard got his hands dirty and seeked therapy over Chuck’s death, while Werner approached the construction of the superlab as the dangerous and difficult operation that it was. I’m glad for Howard’s sake that symmetry went for opposition here in terms of where they ended up.
- Mike choosing the gum in his glove box over the gun (wordplay) lead to another clever way to shake Lalo from tailing him. Better Call Saul never runs out of brilliant ideas for these characters to get themselves out of a jam. It’s too bad there was nothing as inspired in the glove box to relieve Werner from his fateful predicament.
That’s a wrap on season 4! It was another great one.