“To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.” –Ecclesiastes 3
The finale of “Better Call Saul” centered itself on questions of life regrets. Given the carnage and human suffering triggered by Saul’s endless machinations and trickery for six seasons, dozens of possible answers could have been offered. Mike wishes he could go back in time to the day he took his first bribe. That eventually branched into a life in which he corrupted his own son. Walter White wishes he had never left the company he founded with his two college friends, a decision that forever filled him with rage and contempt.
But what about Saul? Does he regret the winsome scheming and perpetual lying, the endless scamming and wily trickery? Does he wish he would have been a better brother to Chuck, or is there perhaps a patina of remorse for having corrupted the benevolent nature of his wife, Kim?
He answers that he wishes he could go back in time and buy shares of Berkshire Hathaway stock when Warren Buffet took over in 1965. He then asks if there is such a thing as a “trillionaire?” The sheer magnitude of his greed mixed with pride is impossible to process. Mike asks, “That’s it? Money?”
That interaction signals remembrance to an earlier scene in the final season. Kim tells Saul she is being followed by men in a car to which he replies: “Well, you know what they say: ‘The wicked flee when no man pursueth.’” Kim’s response is earnest and brisk: “You think we’re wicked?”
And indeed, this interplay between righteousness and wickedness is the animating theme of the final season of “Better Call Saul.” The question on everybody’s mind heading into last Monday night’s finale was, “Can this modern anti-hero par excellence, this morally compromised but deeply likable character, find anything resembling redemption?”
Yes and no.
He does seem to exhibit the smallest morsel of humanity in the end by confessing his own culpability and greed, allowing his sentence to be extended from the seven years the government had originally granted to 86 years instead. When he sits down during his final hearing, he asks to be known as James McGill instead of Saul Goodman. But as far as redemption, or even salvation, are concerned, it was a rather pedestrian admission of wrongdoing. And unlike the Biblical version, this Saul never became Paul. Saul Goodman’s road was not towards Damascus, but a federal penitentiary filled with prisoners chanting, “Better Call Saul,” suggesting he would never escape the legacy of the monster he had spawned.
Juxtaposed to the tepid transformation of Saul Goodman is the utter agony embodied in the suffering of his ex-wife, Kim Wexler. There is a riveting moment in the penultimate episode of the series, appropriately titled “Waterworks,” in which Kim—brilliantly portrayed by the extraordinary Rhea Seehorn, who deserves an Emmy for this extraordinary scene—dramatically breaks down in the midst of a banal bus ride, weeping uncontrollably as she seems to finally accept without qualification or stipulation her culpability in the murder of Howard Hamlin. It is through her tears that she allows herself to experience debilitating waves of guilt, anchored by the admission of her own evil.
Saul Goodman was not a good man for a simple reason. While charming and charismatic, he forever exhibited a pathological tone-deafness to the cosmic tuning fork of transcendent morality. Saul is a paradigmatic modern man, driven by a pernicious cocktail of pride laced with avarice. He lived his life wholly untethered to any notion of “a higher” or “the good.” In many ways, “Better Call Saul” is a modern parable about the consequences of living life unmoored from the anchor of a universal and objective moral order. The arc of the show is a cautionary tale about the abounding seductions experienced by those who joyfully deny the existence of a ubiquitous and Edenic moral cosmos, who put their greatest capacities—reason, will, imagination—in the narrow service of petty appetites and vain desire.
It is no coincidence that in the final moments of the show, Kim has been liberated and Saul is imprisoned. Kim’s journey is the path of the reconciled soul, a soul that has acknowledged the limits of its own freedom. While not exactly begging for God’s forgiveness—reflective of the seemingly common thinking in this modern age—Kim’s decision to come clean and encourage Saul to do the same doesn’t end her life but instead allows it to begin anew, her confession serving as a balm for her conscience. Her longings seem to arise from an inner and wholesome desire for peace, a peace which only exists when one lives in accordance with what is eternal and objectively true.
Saul, on the other hand, forever lived his life “beyond good and evil,” parked in a terminus of moral indifference. Such men and women live in their own self-imposed fortresses of gloom, forever enslaved by the hands of their own hubris, scheming and conniving without end, forever attempting to warp reality by making themselves into the victim, as Saul does for most of the final episode.
The Vince Gilligan-Peter Gould duo have created two of the best shows in the history of modern television. But while simultaneously unique and connected, both shows depict the same conundrum that is as old as humanity itself. There is a primordial and base desire in all of us to bend the world to our wants and placate our modern restlessness with unbounded projects of self-fulfillment. Indeed, we all have the capacity to animate vanity—not love, grace, or faith—as the wellspring of life. And if you are a man or woman of deep capacity, either through genius or cleverness, you might just be able to do it—for a while. But in the end, the apple can only sustain us for so long. Hunger will reassert itself and only the desert will surround us.
Ultimately, no one ever “gets away with it.” Not Saul. Not Kim. Not us.
Jeremy S. Adams is the author of the recently-released Amazon best-selling book ”Hollowed Out: A Warning About America’s Next Generation.” He has taught American civics for 24 years in Bakersfield, California and was the 2014 California Teacher of the Year (DAR). You can follow him on Twitter @JeremyAdams6.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.