How 'Better Call Saul's Finale Parallels A Classic 'Breaking Bad' Episode
This article contains MAJOR SPOILERS for this week’s episode of Better Call Saul.
The mid-season finale of Better Call Saul (cheekily titled “Plan and Execution”) went out with a bang .. literally. After successfully conning Howard with their long-gestating elaborate ruse – which involved both drug-laced photographs and phony mustaches – Kim and Jimmy celebrate a hard-earned victory at home. But then Howard, now knowing exactly how he was played, stops by their condo in order to berate his former colleagues. Unfortunately for Howard, Lalo Salamanca also pops by unannounced and randomly shoots him in the goddamn head, in what is arguably the most shocking scene of the series so far that doesn’t involve pooping down someone’s sunroof.
While this twist floored many viewers, it also has symbolic ties to its TV predecessor. As the episode’s writer and director Thomas Schnauz mentioned on the Better Call Saul Insider Podcast, this scene “parallels” the train heist from the Breaking Bad episode “Dead Freight” – which also, incidentally, aired roughly around the mid-way point of the final season. Both stories feature fun, audience-pleasing capers with ultimately nefarious goals. And both escapades end with the unexpected violent death of an innocent party -- Howard and a small boy, respectively.
All of which grimly ties into a near-universal trope of heist/con movies; often, our heroic crooks get away with their odds-defying plans, but in the end, there’s some kind of cosmic retribution for their transgression. In the original Ocean’s 11, the score is smuggled in a coffin and accidentally burned up in a crematorium. In Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing (featuring Rodney Dangerfield, sort of), the loot blows away on an airport tarmac.
And this isn’t the first time in which Jimmy’s plans have led to a disaster; throughout the show’s run, we’ve seen that his cons frequently lead to tragic outcomes. There was the death of his old partner, Marco, during a routine scam, and of course, the time Chuck suffered a head injury while trying to expose his brother’s forgery scheme – Howard banging his head on a table as his lifeless body falls to the ground seems like a pointed reference to this moment.
And in a way, Jimmy’s overarching story, and his adoption of the Saul Goodman name, is the ultimate version of this; we know that his slimy persona and ethically-dubious choices will lead to riches, but that’s swiftly followed by a new life as the world’s most paranoid Cinnabon manager.
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Top Image: AMC