The latest season of Better Call Saul (AMC's prequel to its beloved Breaking Bad) opens with the aftermath of a main character's death—an end that only the audience knows for sure was a suicide. It's a grim but fitting return for a show that has always been about characters struggling, and usually failing to great dramatic effect, to contain subterranean self-destructive impulses.
That includes protagonist Jimmy McGill, well on his way to becoming the silver-tongued lawyer Saul Goodman whom viewers know and love. Once a slightly slimy but essentially well-intentioned attorney, Jimmy in season four is increasingly cynical and uncaring, shell-shocked by a major loss, and tempted by petty, purposeless criminal schemes. His legal and romantic partner Kim Drexel also returns to her old habits of dangerous overwork in an attempt to escape mounting professional pressures and a relationship she sees, more and more, as toxic. Before long, the brutally efficient Mike—another familiar face from Breaking Bad—has become a central figure in a massive meth empire he at first wanted nothing to do with.
The audience already knows these characters' flaws are leading them to dark ends. That makes Better Call Saul inherently fatalistic yet darkly individualistic. Rather than divine intervention, random chance, or impersonal social forces wrecking their lives, our characters are given ample opportunity to avoid their fates only to have their inner demons drive them into the abyss.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Better Call Saul".