Let’s start by stating for the record that Better Call Saul’s second season has already established itself as one of the year’s best. It was not only an incredible acting showcase (I named three of its stars as TV Performers of the Week), but it improved upon its first season by not hingeing on absurdist plot points (though it did briefly at the beginning with Mike’s client). Instead, it was a breathtaking character study that found an unexpected hero not in Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) but in his co-worker and eventual romantic partner, Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn). It stuck to its themes of identity and morality in complicated ways, including some interesting moments spent with Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) as he wrestled with his desire to not commit a murder while dealing with chaotic murderers.
But while the season’s final episode, “Klick,” had a lot of excellent moments (including some Breaking Bad-esque tension with Mike’s sniper mission), it didn’t feel like a finale. Mike deciding that he did need take a life because he caused two to be lost (due to the trick he pulled taking Salamanca’s money) was a great way to end the season, but he was warded off in a way that felt like the beginning of a new chapter.
The same was true regarding Jimmy and Chuck’s (Michael McKean) feud. The season’s penultimate episode, “Nailed,” would have made a devastating finale because it was a subversion (and something like revenge) of the Season 1 finale when Jimmy discovers Chuck’s betrayal. Instead, “Klick” took us right back to that Season 1 finale moment, with Chuck emerging victorious — seemingly — having caught Jimmy on tape confessing knowingly to a felony.
The fallout from that will be immense and a great way to kick off Season 3 tensions, but again, it felt like a beginning and not an end. Instead, the guilt and horror Jimmy (and viewers) would have felt seeing Chuck potentially die at the copy shop while Jimmy stood by to make sure his bribe worked would have been a harrowing finale. It would have really brought home the complicated nature of Jimmy’s personal ambitions and need for vigilante justice (regarding Kim having Mesa Verde snatched from her) versus his love for his brother.
“Nailed” also provided us with a great closing moment for Kim’s arc throughout the season. Kim has stood as a bastion of morality to Jimmy’s questionable practices, not only in denying his help even after being affected by his schemes, but in making the professional delineation between them clear. And yeah, in “Nailed,” she knows what Jimmy did to win her Mesa Verde, and she sides with him in his confrontation with Chuck. When Jimmy attempts to address it later, she shuts it down immediately and says she never wants to talk about it again, ever — though cryptically warns him to cover his tracks. That was a huge shift for Kim.
Yet in “Klick,” she was relegated to almost not being there at all. She comes to support Jimmy at the hospital, and later, goes along with his showmanship at the law office about being his coffee-getting associate. But for a character who has been such an integral part of this season, it didn’t feel like enough of a conclusion.
Much has been made of TV turning into more of a binge-watch-worthy, novelistic style rather than one that focuses on the art of the episode (I recently suggested that The People v. O.J. Simpson was the anti-binge watch because it keep a very episodic-driven structure). Better Call Saul is definitely of the contemplative sort that deserves full immersion into its world in that novelistic fashion. But while that can work beautifully in terms of a seasonal arc, Saul’s Season 2 finale suggestions the show is seeing its chapters of storytelling not as episodes within a season, but as seasons within the series. That is a harder thing to sell, because it doesn’t leave a lot of satisfaction for TV viewers at the close of each season.
And of course, knowing the Jimmy ends up as Saul Goodman and, ultimately, at a Cinnabon in Omaha doesn’t drain the tension out of the series in the least — the more interesting questions are about Jimmy’s transformation, the relationships won and lost throughout, and the tension of the small schemes he runs in service of his goals. That’s also why, even though Mike’s story was largely disconnected from Jimmy’s and in its own orbit throughout most of the season (they really feel like they belong on two separate shows), it remains compelling. Mike’s journey parallels Jimmy’s thematically, and also hinges on these small moments that cause increasingly large fallouts.
All of this is to say that while Better Call Saul’s second season was truly something great, with each week providing both the new and familiar. Still, it would have really nailed it almost beyond reproach, though, if it had concluded with “Nailed” instead of “Klick,” as each major character found themselves on the precipice of immense emotional and moral change that has made the series so fascinating. On the other hand, getting several more episodes would also have been a wonderful addition to such an exceptional season.