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Network: AMC
Airdate: August 6, 2018
Standout episodes: "Piñata," "Coushatta," "Winner"

Perhaps even more than the show it originated from, Better Call Saul has favored the journey over the destination. We’ve all seen Breaking Bad and know what fate awaits the artist formally known as Jimmy McGill, but the whys and wherefores of that journey have remained elusive and mysterious. Showrunners Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan realized in the first season that Bob Odenkirk’s performance as Jimmy McGill was so likable and loveable that they could delay the transformation a few seasons. It was a decision that further tied it to the legacy of Breaking Bad, preparing the audience for an eventual turn. So when it finally arrived at the conclusion of Season 4, viewers had been prepared. Yet, the ultimate result was even more gutting than previously imagined. 

Picking up in the immediate aftermath of Chuck’s death, what was an already tense situation between two brothers who never quite saw eye-to-eye, becomes a festering wound. And it’s one that Jimmy has no desire to heal, despite objections from a number of people closest to him. Rather, Jimmy is laser-focused on getting reinstated as a lawyer, planning his comeback by pulling off grift after grift. When the time comes to plead his case to get his job back, Jimmy doesn’t seem sincere enough about Chuck’s passing—which is true. He pulls off one final trick to get what he wants, but it comes at a considerable cost. 

This payment is rendered in the form of Rhea Seehorn’s superlative and criminally underrated performance as Kim Wexler. Frequently painted as the show’s audience surrogate, Kim is often a willing participant in Jimmy’s cons, finding the thrill of the chase just as thrilling as both Jimmy and the audience does. So when Jimmy, forgive my parlance, finally breaks bad at the end of season four, she’s just devastated as the viewers. As Jimmy declares his remorse was just another con, the lingering shot of Kim’s crestfallen realization is just as gutting as anything Walter White did in the quest of his empire.

But that’s only one half of the equation. 

Better Call Saul may take its name from Odenkirk’s titular character, but it’s just as much the story of Mike Ehrmantraut, too. While Mike’s evolution hasn’t been as dramatic, it’s still affecting all the same. The season sees Mike dive deeper into his relationship with Gus Fring (a most welcome Giancarlo Esposito) as the chicken man looks to dramatically expand his empire, he enlists the security skills of Mike to ensure the progression goes smoothly. This ultimately places Mike in a situation that requires him to make a transformation of his own, moving from reluctant anti-hero to something more akin to a full-on villain.

Following in the footsteps of Breaking Bad was always going to be a dangerous proposition and fans were right to be skeptical of the whole endeavor. But Better Call Saul has proven it’s a worthy successor to the empire of one of Peak TV’s towering achievements; Season 4 is undeniably the jewel in that crown.—William