Readers Write In #532: Ending of ‘Better Call Saul’ Explained

Posted on December 21, 2022

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By Cholan Raje

Jimmy is driven by a need for validation. Because of his life as a conman, the only people who ever loved and respected him were his parents and Marco. The relative scorn he received from everyone else always caused him to, in the back of his mind, have a low image of himself, and look up to people like his brother. This is what causes him to move to Albuquerque and work in HHM’s mailroom to “grow up,” and after his parents die and Marco becomes estranged from him, Jimmy looks to Chuck to fill in the void left by his parents. The combination of idealizing people like Chuck and requiring love and respect from someone to replace his parents causes Jimmy to become a lawyer for Chuck’s love and respect.

Alongside becoming a lawyer, Jimmy’s entire arc in the show is driven by his need for love and respect to fix his low self-esteem. Chuck tells him he will always be Slippin’ Jimmy. Because Jimmy idolizes Chuck, he subconsciously internalizes this idea. Chuck’s rejection of Jimmy and Jimmy’s knowledge that Chuck killed himself because of Jimmy’s actions plummets Jimmy’s self-esteem so much that he needs love and respect to feel better about himself to the extent a drug addict would need drugs. This causes Jimmy to pursue becoming Saul Goodman; he needs love and respect, but because he believes he will never be anything greater than Slippin’ Jimmy, and thus never receive the love and respect he craves, he tries to make as much money as possible, place sketchy commercials in the public eye, dress up in eye-catching suits and help thugs, since he believes that the negative attention he will receive from doing so is the closest thing he can get to love and respect.

One may argue that Jimmy is not driven by cravings for love and respect because he already receives both from Kim. But Jimmy does not feel that way. In S4E9, Jimmy accuses Kim of seeing him as “some kind of lowlife, some kind of asshole,” i.e., Slippin’ Jimmy. In S3E7, he splurges on expensive items despite being in debt to keep her company, and in S6E1, he agrees to scam Howard only because he is insecure about whether or not she will stay with him otherwise. Jimmy believes Kim does not love or respect him enough.

So when Jimmy is in Omaha and finds out Kim asked if he was alive, he is genuinely surprised. He calls her and she tells him to turn himself in, and because he already believes that her and everyone else in his life sees him as Slippin’ Jimmy, he concludes she is being Chuck 2.0. More interested in preaching down to him to feel better about herself than caring about him. To cope, he starts drugging rich men and robbing their identities to recreate the feelings he received from his Saul Goodman days; the crimes he commits here are notably darker than everything we know he has done other than helping Walter White, and unlike helping Walter White, we can’t rationalize his actions by stating he is trying to make as much money as possible to get others’ attention. He can’t afford to get anyone’s attention, which means the darkness of the crime is only being pursued to distance himself from the pain of being Jimmy McGill by distancing himself from his humanity.

When he gets caught and finds out Kim Wexler confessed to her role in Howard’s murder, he realizes that Kim was not trying to preach down to him to feel better about herself, and thus told him to turn himself in out of love. One may argue that no one who loves you would ask you to turn yourself in for the rest of your life, but we could explain this counterargument away by noting that (1) Kim may not have known the extent of Jimmy’s crimes; he had to confess to them for a reason, and (2) Kim had no reason not to assume that the life he was living was worse than prison.

Regardless, Jimmy now knows that Kim truly does love him. Strongly enough for that love to last six years. He knows he will never get the love and respect he craves from anyone else, so to at least get it from her, he confesses to his crimes in court. Not because he thinks she wants him to turn himself in, especially after she’ll find out how long he’ll go away. The rationale is rather to let her know that the kind, caring Jimmy McGill she loved still exists within the cold shell of Saul Goodman, which is something he will find difficult to show anywhere but court, since the consequences of court and the danger they possess to the existence of scamming, thieving Saul Goodman are probably the only thing that can show her his act of trying to shed Saul Goodman is genuine. This rationale is achieved when he allows himself to disclose and show remorse over his role in Chuck’s suicide in front of her; Saul Goodman’s existence relied on repressing these truths away. Jimmy finally sheds Saul Goodman, and in doing so, receives Kim’s love and respect, ending his quest throughout the show.