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BETTER CALL SAUL Is Telling Jimmy’s Villain Origin Story and Mike’s Tragedy

BETTER CALL SAUL Is Telling Jimmy’s Villain Origin Story and Mike’s Tragedy

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Better Call Saul‘s season four finale.

For the first three seasons of Better Call Saul, it looked like we were watching the tragedy of Jimmy McGill, a good person who might have avoided his demise if only the universe hadn’t conspired with his greatest shortcoming to destroy him. The season four finale made it clear, though, that Jimmy was never a hero, and what we are watching is the origin story of a super villain. But that’s not to say that Better Call Saul isn’t a tragedy about a man undone by chance—it is. Only that story is about Mike Ehrmentraut.

Jimmy spent the first three seasons dominated by his complicated, frequently rotten, occasionally loving relationship with his brother Chuck, whom you could call the villain of the first chapter of Better Call Saul. While far from perfect and often a real jerk, Jimmy has seemed deep down like a kindhearted person whose particular set of skills could have just as easily led him to success and morality if only Chuck had nurtured his better traits rather than hate him for his worse ones.

But when freed of both his enemy and his anchor after Chuck’s suicide, Jimmy sank. Rather than step out of his brother’s oppressive shadow, Jimmy gave up his humanity and stepped into Saul Goodman’s. Almost all of Jimmy’s good traits disappeared in season four. His grotesque advice to the scholarship applicant who had once been caught shoplifting laid out who he is and and always has been. They won’t ever let you in, so to be a “winner” (said episode’s title) you need to go around them, take shortcuts, do whatever you have to do to make them pay. Those aren’t the words of a hero taking responsibility for his actions; they’re the twisted justifications of a villain who honestly doesn’t know that he is the bad guy.

By the end of the season, Jimmy was so monstrous and lacking in empathy he conned Kim during his reinstatement testimony without even trying. This isn’t the picture of a hero, but of a villain who honestly doesn’t know that he’s the bad guy. Chuck might have been a villain in his own right, but he was right about his brother—he’s dangerous and always has been.

That’s not true of Mike, though, who, like Jimmy, has also newly reached the turning point in his sad story. Mike has always lived in the gray of life, a “good” corrupt cop in a corrupt world where there are no absolute rights or wrongs—just honorable pragmatism. You might be a criminal, but as Mike once said, “Good one, bad one? That’s up to you.” But when he told Gus he would murder Werner—a decent, naïve, harmless man whom Mike knew would never pose any kind of real threat to them—he became a bad one. He traded his soul to show his boss he could be trusted to do whatever the job required.

Sure, he had killed his son’s murderers, but Mike—who wouldn’t even agree to kill a lunatic like Tuco when Nacho wanted him to—didn’t become the killer we know from Breaking Bad until he put that bullet into the back of Werner’s head. And why did he do it? Because like a true tragic hero, his tragic flaw—thinking he could be a good man while doing bad—brought him down. That attitude got his son killed and left Mike feeling responsible for his granddaughter. One crooked job for money led to another, which led to another, and before he knew it there he was out under the stars working for a drug lord, murdering a good man whose only crime was being stupid and missing his wife.

Unlike Jimmy McGill, who now seems like he was never not going to become the villain, Mike Ehrmantraut’s story could have gone a very different way. His flawed outlook on life cost him his son and sent him on a tragic journey that will end on a riverbank telling Walter White to shut up so he can die in peace.

What do you think of the season four finale? Are either Mike or Jimmy tragic heroes, or are they both villains? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below.

Images: AMC

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