The title sequence for Better Call Saul this week was of a “World’s Greatest Lawyer” mug in a slow free-fall before it shatters on the floor. As the film connoisseur the title refers to would note, it’s kind of like a moment from the climax of The Usual Suspects. To not spoil the noir for the three of you who haven’t seen it, when the coffee mug crashes on the floor in that flick, we find out that one character has been keeping a mighty dark secret hidden from us the whole time. It is one of contemporary crime cinema’s great conclusions. Better Call Saul’s season finale, “Marco,” doesn’t quite have a whopper of a twist of its sleeve like Suspects, but it shows the two sides of the man who will become Saul Goodman: the one facing west and the one facing east.
“Marco” is one of the best hours of television that has ever aired on AMC – and given the quality drama the network is often synonymous with, that’s a sterling compliment. The not-so-hidden secret to the episode, and much of the series thus far, has been Bob Odenkirk. Giving Jimmy McGill the droll hilarity of a huckster and the deep-set vulnerability of a damaged soul trying to start again only works with an actor with the ability to bring out both of those elements. Fittingly, the actor’s tour de force comes in the finale of one of the sharpest premiere seasons in recent small-screen memory.
Series co-creator Peter Gould, who both pens and directs the finale, gives Odenkirk no shortage of terrific moments here. The episode highlight is a mesmerizing monologue of self-destruction, done without any kind of self-effacing comfort, set – in all places – at the Bingo hall where Jimmy MCs. As the protagonist calls out the numbers whirling around in a windy vortex-like machine, the sound of the contraption’s crack and rattling starts to mess with his head. Slowly, Jimmy begins to lose his flair for quick improvisation. When a series of balls with the letter B come up, he is only reminded of his brother’s betrayal. (Among the other words he mentions in an alphabetical tirade is Belize, a sly wink to Breaking Bad fans.)
Jimmy’s frustration boils until he is bitching about the “soulless, radioactive” New Mexico melting outside the room’s windows. With the floor and mic to himself, he entertains (and horrifies) the senior citizens with tales of a “Chicago sunroof.” He mentions Chet, the man who ruined his marriage, and the juvenile act of revenge that sent Jimmy to prison on counts of indecent exposure. “I’ve been paying for it ever since!” he snipes at the crowd, his sunny demeanor melting away to show his burned side. (This speech, featuring Odenkirk’s ace comic timing and dramatic nuance, is so expertly delivered that this reviewer stopped the episode at the commercial break, rewound to the start and watched it again to catch up on all the bits he missed as he howled in awe and disbelief.)
Alas, Jimmy returns to his old stomping ground of Chicago to visit pal and past grifting partner Marco (Mel Rodriguez). We met Marco in the cold open of “Hero” several weeks back and he returns in the starting flashback of the episode that features his name in the title. In that scene, he is peeved that Jimmy is moving out of town after spending time in jail. Jimmy believes that the time has come for Slippin’ Jimmy to slide away, while Marco rolls his eyes at this prospect. Several years later, the two men reunite in the same dimly lit bar for a bottle of beer and the chance to return to the art of the con.