Better Call Saul didn’t seem like such a great idea at first. Did we really need a whole spinoff for the crooked lawyer Bob Odenkirk played on Breaking Bad? Was series creator Vince Gilligan beating a dead horse in the New Mexico desert? Smash-cut to the present—the memory of that skepticism is as foggy as Saul Goodman’s moral code. Today, it’s almost become a cliché to suggest that Saul might actually be better than Breaking Bad. What sounded like a shameless cash-in now looks, in the hours leading up to Monday night’s series finale, like one of the past decade’s most thrilling acts of serialized storytelling—a multifaceted small-screen character study that maintained its urgency over six whole seasons.
So much of Better Call Saul’s power has been cumulative, with Gilligan, cocreator Peter Gould, and a crack team of writers and directors unraveling the decency of Odenkirk’s Jimmy McGill, Rhea Seehorn’s Kim Wexler, and Jonathan Banks’s Mike Ehrmantraut over a credibly protracted time frame. But if the whole of Saul is greater than the sum of its parts, those parts are plenty impressive, too. The series is a triumph of macro and micro storytelling, working splendidly on a week-by-week basis thanks to its frequently cinematic style and the singular pleasures of any given installment.
There are really no bad episodes of Better Call Saul. Or at least, none that we’ve seen yet—though it seems exceptionally unlikely that the final installment will fall flat. But some episodes are better than others, and it’s those that make up the list below, a ranked rundown of Saul’s 25 funniest, scariest, and most gripping hours, as selected from the 62 that have already aired. Don’t agree with our picks? S’all good, man! There’s no shortage of worthy favorites in a series as great as this one.
25. “Mijo” (Season 1, Episode 2)
Almost immediately, it was clear that Better Call Saul would be much more than Breaking Bad fan service—even if that didn’t preclude the show from drawing on the deep ensemble of Albuquerque cops and criminals destined to be pulled, years later, into the orbit of Walter White. The first of Bad’s bad guys to appear on Saul is the deranged cartel kingpin Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz), literally yanking Jimmy McGill into the “game” in the final seconds of the pilot. The payoff of that cliffhanger is a deliriously tense, darkly comic negotiation in the desert, as Jimmy flexes his uncanny powers of persuasion to secure a reduced sentence of sorts for some unlucky scammers. Going forward, Gilligan would mostly (and thankfully) avoid turning his prequel series into a parade of cameos. But as sops to the faithful go, “Mijo” is queasy fun—and also a fine introduction to one of the new show’s principals, the sensible, perpetually put-upon drug-war lieutenant Ignacio “Nacho” Varga (Michael Mando).
24. “Mabel” (Season 3, Episode 1)
A deep love of process runs through Better Call Saul, most evident in every extended sequence of grizzled ex-cop Mike Ehrmantraut performing a task with all the meticulous expertise of a safe cracker in a heist movie. Season 3’s opener, “Mabel,” is mostly table setting, tracing the fallout of the previous season’s finale, including the confession of legal misconduct Chuck surreptitiously coaxed out of Jimmy. But the episode also eccentrically devotes a whopping 18 minutes—nearly half of its running time—to a stretch of almost wordless action: Mike’s step-by-step attempt to figure out who’s been surveilling his every move and how. It’s a miniature professional-at-work procedural worthy of Michael Mann—a small masterpiece of purely visual storytelling, as patiently observational and detail-obsessed as Mike himself.
23. “Switch” (Season 2, Episode 1)
After an inaugural season of steadfast emotional support and playful banter, Better Call Saul finally answered the prayers of shippers at the top of Season 2, consummating the burgeoning romance between Jimmy and his old mailroom coworker Kim Wexler. Naturally, it’s a bit of deceptive role-playing that seals the deal, the two bilking an obnoxious day trader out of a hefty bar tab and discovering a shared love language of con-artistry in the process. (The subtle flush of barely concealed elation on Odenkirk’s face when Kim at last commits to the bit and gets on board is perfection.) Of course, the long con is on the audience: “Switch” is as charming and light-hearted as this show would ever get, but it also plants the seeds of a dynamic that will come to literally destroy lives dozens of episodes later. From here on out, we’re watching the Jimmy and Kim Show, a romantic comedy destined to curdle over time into tragedy.
22. “Marco” (Season 1, Episode 10)
Vince Gilligan’s New Mexico is a sandbox for ace character actors, every law office and drug den a who’s who of That Guy supporting players. But one of the more memorable guest spots on the show happens far from Albuquerque. Directed by Peter Gould, who assumed full showrunner duties after Gilligan’s temporary departure, “Marco” closes the first season of Better Call Saul with a significant detour to Chicago as a disillusioned Jimmy returns to his old stomping (slipping?) grounds to reconnect with a former partner in small-potatoes crime, wonderfully played by Mel Rodriguez. Together, Odenkirk and Rodriguez sketch a whole implied history of misdemeanor transgression—the folly of youth as seen through the sad but entertaining spectacle of two aging hustlers trying to relive it. Though “Marco” ends on a eulogistic note, don’t mistake it for a breakthrough: Slippin’ Jimmy’s eponymous accomplice may be gone, but he won’t go down so easily.
21. “Coushatta” (Season 4, Episode 8)
It’s never less than thrilling, in an Ocean’s Eleven kind of way, to see one of Jimmy/Saul’s grand plans come effortlessly together. If the coin and watch swindles of “Marco” represent the low end of his ambition as a grifter, “Coushatta” finds him joining forces with Kim to realize something close to his full potential (at least before the two take their combined talents for manipulation past the point of no ethical return two seasons later). Chronicling the pair’s attempts to scuttle the assault charge leveled against Jimmy’s future muscle Huell Babineaux (Lavell Crawford), the episode is a grand magic trick, revealing the full, elaborate scope of their scheme, fabrication by fabrication. As usual, though, Saul shrewdly undercuts the triumph with storm clouds on the horizon, including Kim’s growing addiction to subterfuge, Mike’s troubles with the work crew, and the whistling introduction of a scary new member of the extended Salamanca family.
20. “Nippy” (Season 6, Episode 10)
A mere three episodes shy of the end, Better Call Saul finally thrust viewers into the black-and-white, post–Breaking Bad reality previously reserved for the opening scenes of season premieres. Directed by prolific Emmy-winning Breaking Bad alum Michelle MacLaren, “Nippy” is an outlier in more than just its stark imagery; in finally transitioning from prequel to sequel, it jettisons the multi-character, multi-plot storytelling of the series at large and situates us in the lonely present tense of Gene, f.k.a. Saul Goodman, né Jimmy McGill. The genius of the episode is in how it breaks from the look, tone, and rhythm of everything that came before, while piecing together an after-hours heist that’s vintage Saul (and Saul) in its intricacy. This is a 51-minute character study of an incorrigible scoundrel, powerless to resist the urge to be his shady self, even after he’s lost everything.
19. “Klick” (Season 2, Episode 10)
Few TV shows make more pointed use of the cold open than Better Call Saul. The final episode of Season 2 offers a devastating example: a revealing flashback to Mother McGill on her deathbed, crying out for the charismatic younger child who’s stepped away and ignoring the responsible older one still sitting by her side at the end. The scene is crucial to understanding the relationship between these two brothers and the shocking trap the petty, bitter Chuck (Michael McKean) lays for Jimmy at the end of the episode—a cliffhanger reveal that speaks volumes about both men’s motivations while proving that underhandedness may run in the family. “Klick,” in other words, closes as brilliantly as it opens, whetting our appetite for the drama to come. It also hints at the return of a fan favorite with nothing more than a single word of warning on a windshield.
18. “Bingo” (Season 1, Episode 7)
Jimmy McGill’s descent into scumbaggery is quite gradual, with plenty of detours into decency on the road from good man to Goodman. “Bingo” is McGill at his most selfless, a shyster who cares. Wrapping up the Season 1 arc of the Kettlemans, a seemingly wholesome couple facing a massive embezzlement charge, the episode finds Jimmy enlisting Mike to steal the stolen money—not for his own personal enrichment, but to force these amateur white-collar crooks to accept reality and a plea bargain, for their own good. Betsy, as played by Julie Ann Emery, is a terrifically funny foil for Jimmy: a stubborn suburban Lady Macbeth who meets his self-aware sketchiness with a total denial of her family’s own wrongdoing. The final shot of Jimmy wistfully letting go of his dream of a better office and practice is bittersweet on multiple levels. It’s one of the last times we’ll see him act entirely against his own interests.
17. “Point and Shoot” (Season 6, Episode 8)
Rarely did Better Call Saul try to match the white-knuckle intensity of its sister series, but “Point and Shoot” could give almost any episode of Breaking Bad a run for its money in the suffocating suspense department. Picking up seven weeks in airtime but mere seconds in screentime after the shocking ending of “Plan and Execution,” this breathless Gilligan-helmed installment throws Jimmy and Kim into the clutches of Lalo (Tony Dalton) as he makes his final move against his mortal Salamanca enemy Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). Prequel logic dictates how their showdown must play out, but it’s still thrilling to see Esposito drop the mask of false civility and firm up his final-boss bona fides—a scene as satisfying as Darth Vader cutting through a hallway of helpless rebel troops in Rogue One. The closing minutes are cruelly ironic as a slain innocent and his killer are buried together, their fates entwined by the schemes of our “heroes.”
16. “Fun and Games” (Season 6, Episode 9)
How did the flawed but hardly heartless Jimmy McGill of Better Call Saul become a cartel lawyer so devoid of feeling that he advocates for the murder of his own client during his first appearance on Breaking Bad? That’s the question Gilligan and Gould finally answer in “Fun and Games,” in which Jimmy and Kim reckon with the hard truth that as good as they are for each other, they’re terrible for everyone else—a breakup scene made all the more heartbreaking by the fact that it’s essentially capped by the two saying “I love you” to each other for the first time on screen. There’s no coming back from what these soul mates have done. Likewise, there’s nowhere else Better Call Saul can go from here but the inevitable culmination of Jimmy’s arc, realized via an abrupt time jump for the ages.
15. “Something Beautiful” (Season 4, Episode 3)
Not every great episode of Better Call Saul is as shattering or narratively momentous as “Fun and Games.” Some are just superb middle chapters, inching everyone a couple steps forward through gripping storytelling and impeccable craft. That’s the gist of this Season 4 gem, which skillfully toggles between dramatic wavelengths: Nacho’s hellish ordeal as an unwilling mole, gutshot and left to suffer in the desert as the only survivor of a staged ambush; a low-stakes nighttime robbery of a copy-machine store, complicated by the comic discovery that one of the owners is having relationship problems and sleeping in his office; and the quietly stunning final beat, when even a personal letter from the deceased can’t break through Jimmy’s pathological inability to process his brother’s death. “Something Beautiful” is what it looks like when Saul hits its groove, crosscutting from one powerhouse moment to the next.
14. “Rebecca” (Season 2, Episode 5)
The title refers to Chuck’s ex-wife, seen for the first time in the opening flashback. But “Rebecca” could just as easily have been called “Kim,” given how fully Seehorn’s hardworking, unfairly snubbed associate attorney takes center stage. Much of this outstanding Season 2 effort concerns her attempts to work her way out of doc review at HHM—the professional purgatory to which she’s been banished as collateral damage in the ongoing family feud between the McGill brothers. The obvious highlight is one of Better Call Saul’s signature montages, depicting Kim’s dogged search for a new client in hopes of getting back into the good graces of her capricious boss, Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian). But even without that bravura sequence, “Rebecca” would be a minor-key symphony of workplace indignities and disappointments, built around Seehorn’s dependable blend of steeliness and vulnerability. From here on out, Better Call Saul never marginalized Kim Wexler, even as it threw a spotlight on the way her colleagues did.
13. “Bad Choice Road” (Season 5, Episode 9)
Speaking of montages, there’s a great one at the start of “Bad Choice Road,” splitting the screen down the middle to concurrently depict the journeys of Jimmy and Kim, nearly dying of dehydration and of worry, respectively. It’s a shrewd way to express the schism a near-death experience—and Jimmy’s refusal to honestly talk about it—creates between the newlyweds. For as much as Season 5’s penultimate episode functions as an epilogue to its immediate predecessor, the phenomenal “Bagman,” it has plenty of unforgettable moments of its own, from Jimmy’s testy PTSD rendezvous with the gruff straight man who saved his life to a breath-stealing climax in the McGill-Wexler living room echoed by the very next episode on this list. “Bad Choice Road” is also one of the best looking episodes of the series, thanks to a vibrant color palette that contrasts fiery sun-baked oranges with waiting-room greens and domestic earth tones.
12. “Plan and Execution” (Season 6, Episode 7)
Poor Howard Hamlin. Initially positioned as the most detestable of foils, the ultimate Ivy League jerkoff, Chuck’s law-firm partner with the Tony Robbins smile steadily accrued new dimension as Better Call Saul trudged on, becoming more sympathetic the deeper he was sucked into the melodrama of the McGill family. By Season 6, Patrick Fabian had found a damaged human soul beneath Howard’s elitism and textbook preppiness … which rather deliberately sucked some of the fun out of watching Jimmy and Kim systematically destroy his reputation for money and kicks. “Plan and Execution” is the moment when all the pieces of their plan come together, but the dazzling intellectual thrill of the climax—of seeing a whole half-season’s worth of carefully placed dominoes fall—is diminished by the injustice of what they do to him. At least Howard gets one perfect rebuttal of a monologue, dressing down his character assassins before meeting a random, ignoble end at the hands of an actual assassin.
11. “Gloves Off” (Season 2, Episode 4)
The hook of Better Call Saul is Walter White redux: characters sliding down a slippery slope to moral compromise, becoming versions of themselves we might remember from a different show. But maybe the characters themselves can see that trajectory, too; part of Saul is about them avoiding the path their fictional lives will inevitably take. In “Gloves Off,” Mike finds a novel solution to Nacho’s Tuco problem, opting to provoke an arrestable ass-kicking from the psychopathic gangster rather than simply kill him. This is an ingenious peek behind the curtain of the future hitman’s code, and an opportunity for Banks to play gloriously, strategically dumb—it’s an essential Mike Ehrmantraut episode. Of course, the title could also refer to the juicy verbal sparring match between Chuck and Jimmy, the latter taunting his brother with invitations to “roll around in the dirt.” Unlike Mike, he’s barely resisting the urge to break bad.
10. “Rock and Hard Place” (Season 6, Episode 3)
Nacho Varga is mentioned exactly once in Breaking Bad, his name screamed by a panicked, blindfolded Saul Goodman. By standard prequel protocol, that seemed to guarantee Michael Mando’s wearied cartel foot soldier a place in the Albuquerque of the future. But the Saul team wasn’t about to let a single line of dialogue prevent them from following through on an arc that’s been tightening like a noose for multiple seasons. Nacho, too, knows that there’s only one logical way for his story to end, and that’s the thrust of the captivating, melancholic “Rock and Hard Place,” wherein he accepts the bad hand he’s been dealt and makes a sacrifice to protect his father. The ending, with Nacho unburdening his hate-choked heart while locked in multiple crosshairs, is an exhilarating sendoff for a perpetually beleaguered supporting character. Like Howard Hamlin, he’s a man doomed by his associations, and blessed by the opportunity to make a final, withering speech before the bullet enters his brain.
9. “Waterworks” (Season 6, Episode 12)
Maybe it’s recency bias, but Better Call Saul’s penultimate hour already looks like one of its finest. It just might be its bleakest—a bifurcated B&W snapshot of two lives marred by the mistakes of the past. First up is the lonely ballad of Kim Wexler, escaping her soul-crushingly mundane second life in Florida just to confess to her sins; her sobering quest for atonement ends with Kim sobbing on a bus, in the single-shot tour de force of Rhea Seehorn’s career. All of that looks downright rosy compared to the depths Gene/Saul/Jimmy sinks to in Nebraska, where his identity-fraud, breaking-and-entering scheme spirals into two potential attacks on the sick and elderly (including Carol Burnett, incredible in a choice bit role). Grimmest of all is the full-color flashback to Jimmy and Kim’s last encounter, featuring Saul at his absolute iciest. At this rate, a happy ending seems about as likely as James McGill going clean.
8. “Lantern” (Season 3, Episode 10)
Is Charles McGill the role of Michael McKean’s lifetime? Even a Spinal Tap diehard might concede that the man who was David St. Hubbins does his richest, prickliest work as this legal luminary, undone by a disease that’s all in his head and an intimately related resentment for the loopholes his more likable younger brother always found. As the finale of an eventful season, “Lantern” has a lot of loose ends to tie up, with ample screen time afforded to Nacho’s desperate ploy to rid himself of Hector Salamanca and Jimmy’s attempts to undo the damage he’s done to a kindly old woman’s social standing. But the episode is primarily a swan song for Chuck, building as it does to a mental meltdown modeled on the ending of The Conversation and a final scene that counts as the most apocalyptic cliff-hanger in a series known for them. Though McKean makes his exit from Saul here, his performance looms over everything that follows, just like that smiling portrait of Chuck hanging in the HHM boardroom.
7. “Inflatable” (Season 2, Episode 7)
When Better Call Saul was first announced, many assumed it would be an outright comedy—the adventures of Saul Goodman, bumbling ambulance chaser to the underworld stars. Vince Gilligan had other ideas, of course, but Saul in fact turned out to be funnier around its margins than many sitcoms are at their centers. Perhaps its most side-splitting hour was this Season 2 delight about Jimmy’s harebrained scheme to get shitcanned from his cushy law-firm gig without losing his signing bonus. The centerpiece is a colorful screwball montage of Jimmy remaking himself into the ultimate nightmare coworker; it’s like a Jacques Demy musical anchored by a sketch-comedy genius. Beyond the laughs, “Inflatable” has a lot to say about the concept of professional satisfaction—the distinction between being “unhappy” and “not happy,” as Jimmy clarifies before embarking on his joyful kamikaze mission of workplace faux pas.
6. “Five-O” (Season 1, Episode 6)
It was clear early on that Jonathan Banks would play a very prominent role on Better Call Saul, second on the call sheet only to the moonlighting comedian in the tacky suits. But it wasn’t until “Five-O” that we saw the extent to which the show would function as an origin story of two Breaking Bad alums, with Jimmy’s moral decline consistently contrasted against Mike’s. This powerful, chronologically nonlinear episode dives into the retired police officer’s past and the vigilante justice he enacts against the dirty cops who killed his son to cover up their crimes. As usual, it’s electrifying to see this careful man of action set a plan into motion. But in the parlance of the cop thrillers “Five-O” evokes, this time it’s personal. Digging deep into his character’s regret with a poignant late monologue, Banks firms up the outlaw cool of his taciturn muscle, while finally showing us what’s really eating him.
5. “Wexler v. Goodman” (Season 5, Episode 6)
“He has a way of doing the worst things for reasons that sound almost noble,” Charles McGill at one point says of his ne’er-do-well brother. That spot-on assessment could be applied to so much of the legal mischief Jimmy gets into over the course of Better Call Saul, but perhaps especially to the dirty tricks he pulls in “Wexler v. Goodman.” Does the nobility of the ends (fighting for the rights of a homeowner being steamrolled by a giant bank) justify the sliminess of the means (including a series of hilariously libelous attack ads)? The real line Jimmy crosses in this astonishing episode is keeping Kim in the dark, effectively making her the enemy—a choice that leads to a blowup spat, and from there to an unexpected proposal. “Wexler v. Goodman” comes to the damning conclusion that the dubious means may be the actual point for Albuquerque’s most unscrupulous lawyer. His noble defense of the little guy is just an excuse to toss bombs.
4. “Pimento” (Season 1, Episode 9)
Exhibit A for the case that Bob Odenkirk has become a phenomenally expressive and nuanced actor: the climactic showdown from Better Call Saul’s first season, a jaw-dropping scene in which Jimmy confronts Chuck about how he’s blocked Jimmy’s path to a position at HHM. The onetime Mr. Show funnyman slow-plays the accusation, letting Jimmy ramp up to the bombshell that he knows what Chuck has done, like a lawyer masterfully cross-examining a witness on the stand. And then the anger and hurt and outrage erupt out of him, exacerbated by Chuck’s cutting dismissal of his dreams. It’s a master class in acting from both Odenkirk and McKean, and the emotionally savage crux of an episode that looks, in retrospect, like maybe the crucial turning point of the series. “Pimento” draws battle lines from bloodlines, as Jimmy hardens his broken heart and takes an important step down the path to strip-mall damnation.
3. “Bagman” (Season 5, Episode 8)
It’s Sicario by way of Gerry, as Jimmy is at last thrust headfirst into the real dangers of the drug war and Mike is forced to come to his rescue, guiding him through a hostile desert landscape on foot, heavy sacks of cash slung over the lawyer’s bruised shoulders. Returning to the director’s chair, Gilligan stages the action of this crackerjack, nearly self-contained survival thriller with a muscular clarity uncommon to the small screen. But “Bagman” is also a peerless, dark buddy comedy, finally arranging an extended showcase for the amusingly antagonistic rapport between these two very different characters. For most of its run, Better Call Saul kept Jimmy and Mike on parallel tracks, their stories only occasionally intersecting, their worlds largely separate. In “Bagman,” those tracks gloriously merge under the sweltering sun.
2. “Winner” (Season 4, Episode 10)
“Winner” is the absolute pinnacle of this show’s ability to divide our interest equally among a number of crisscrossing plots. The race to intercept the fleeing Werner (Rainer Bock) is about as urgent as Saul ever got—a heart-stopping chase in piecemeal, setting Mike against the jovially menacing Lalo, who deals death from the air ducts like an especially limber Anton Chigurh. But there’s just as much fascination to Jimmy’s stubborn refusal to cope with the legacy of his dead sibling, which reaches a punctuation of false catharsis in the courtroom as he suckers everyone (Kim included) with an expert imitation of an emotional breakthrough. What’s more chilling: Jimmy jettisoning his humanity to officially become Saul? Or Mike extinguishing his conscience to become a cartel killer? However Gilligan and Gould decide to wrap Better Call Saul up, they’ll have to work hard to top this staggering helix of climaxes—a season finale so dramatically satisfying that it could have served, in a pinch, as a proper if inconclusive end to the series.
1. “Chicanery” (Season 3, Episode 5)
What else could it be? Situated in the middle of the third season and near the midway mark of the series itself, Better Call Saul’s greatest episode is a masterful crescendo of legal and emotional fireworks—a first-rate courtroom drama that pits brother against brother on the battleground of their shared profession. Many of Saul’s most indelible stories pivot around Jimmy’s gift for constructing complex, Rube Goldberg rackets and traps. Here, that convention takes on the most personal of dramatic stakes; his con this time is saving his own career by throwing his brother’s sour motives (and illness) under the microscope and turning the McGill boys’ ugly lifelong grudge match into a revealing public spectacle. Before he loses the high ground, Chuck jokingly references Perry Mason. “Chicanery” is like if Shakespeare wrote an episode of that prime-time classic, with a tragicomic Puck in the lead.
A.A. Dowd is a writer and editor based in Chicago. His work has appeared in such publications as The A.V. Club, Vulture, and Rolling Stone. He is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.
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