If Better Call Saul had just been a limited prequel series, “Marco” would have felt like a completely satisfying place to leave Jimmy McGill. That decision to drive away and, eventually (probably very soon) transform into Saul Goodman was Jimmy’s most pivotal moment. It’s what everything has been building towards, and it delivered completely.
Throughout this first season run, Jimmy has struggled between these two sides of himself: Jimmy McGill, Esq., and Slippin’ Jimmy. Thinking that it was time to turn his life around because his successful brother believed in him, Jimmy worked hard to emulate Chuck, using Chuck as his moral compass. So the last episode’s reveal that all of that was a sham — that Chuck never believed in him, and actually actively worked to suppress Jimmy’s success — was a terrible revelation that rocked Jimmy’s entire conception of himself.
In the show’s best — and one of TV’s best — monologues, Jimmy slowly loses his cool as the bingo balls keep coming up B. “B” stands for breakdown, as Jimmy devolves into an increasingly unstable detailing of his own personal history, including the full story of the Chicago sunroof, which was everything we could have guessed it was, and still so much more.
“Marco” allowed Jimmy to travel back to the past by visiting Cicero for a week and connecting with his old scam buddy Marco (The Last Man On Earth‘s Mel Rodriguez). In a fun, retro montage, we saw snippets of the two running every scam in the book, as well as the origins of the Breaking Bad reference about Saul once convincing a woman he was Kevin Costner. It was a marvelous time (I would watch an entire series of just Jimmy and Marco running cons), but we knew it was doomed. Not just because we know about Jimmy’s eventual transformation, but because Marco coughed. No one coughs in movies or on TV unless they’re going to die, but the way that the show gave us what we expected, and then brought him back just long enough to get our hopes up, was a master stroke of cruelty.
Despite knowing Jimmy’s ultimate trajectory through Breaking Bad that brought us to the Cinnabon that kicked off this series, I still rooted for Jimmy to make a different choice. It was easy to get fully invested in his struggle and hope that maybe he could change things this time, as if Better Call Saul was an opportunity for him to take that job in Santa Fe and re-route his life away from Gus and Walt and Omaha.
But in “Marco,” Jimmy embraced his true self. He may have had aspirations to something else, but he decided — as he said to Mike in another quietly powerful moment between the two — that he wouldn’t be defined by Chuck’s expectations any more. Jimmy struggled against his Slippin’ moniker throughout the season, with the Kettleman deal and returning the money being his finest moment, morally speaking. But it never felt natural, and even when he was being sincere with his elder law clients, he was dressing like Matlock and giving them kitty-cat notebooks to gain favor.
There’s a deep tragedy to Jimmy’s choice, though it provides fertile ground for the show’s second season, which is already a lock for next year. Still, the end of “Marco” marked a particular point in time where Jimmy was still Jimmy. It’s been a slow transformation with many detours, but for this one moment, we saw a choice that redefined a life. It happened twice in “Marco,” actually, bookending Jimmy’s dependence on Chuck. Like Mad Men this week, the overarching theme was of a life not lived, and what would it have been like if he had? It was a long, slow descent in the end, but one with a genuinely good payoff. S’all good, man.
Season Rating: ★★★★ Very good
Episode Rating: ★★★★ Very good
Musings and Miscellanea:
— Ernesto … Gustavo … the look was a little too on-the-nose to be coincidence, right?
— I’m so, so happy they ended this first season with the full Chicago sunroof story. Exceeded all expectations.
— Chuck’s interactions with Ernesto, and him talking to Jimmy outside had a strong Wes Anderson vibe to me.
— Though their interaction was brief in this episode, I’m glad that Jimmy spoke to Mike about the money. Mike truly sees Jimmy for who he is, but I think he’s also intrigued by him.
— “He’s my brother, he thinks that i’m a scumbag, and there’s nothing I can do” – Jimmy.
— Howard was really exceptionally nice to Jimmy after everything they’ve been through, even stumping for him regarding that other law firm.
— “I’m Irish, I spend my timing staying out of the sun” – Jimmy. Amen.
— “You built it, I will come.” – Jimmy a.k.a. Fake Kevin Costner.
— Glad we got a final shot of the trash can Jimmy has kicked so many times before.
— “None of us are ever going to leave this godforsaken wasteland […] kitty cat notebooks for everybody” – Jimmy.