“Why jump to the nuclear option? I’m saying keep it simple.” – Jimmy McGill to Tuco Salamanca (Season 1×02, “Mijo”)
“You got the nuclear option! Launch the doomsday device. Game over.” – Jimmy McGill to Chuck (Season 1×09, “Pimento”)
Amidst multiple references to the Cold War (you can check out my review pointing out Better Call Saul’s season 2 parallels to Dr. Strangelove here) or the Space Race (a xerox machine is referred by Jimmy to be as complicated as a space shuttle a few episodes before he uses one to sabotage Chuck), the show has always used these themes to help drive the tension between the brothers. If Tuco from the quote above represents the smoking crater that is Breaking Bad’s world which Jimmy is not yet ready for, then Chuck is the key that would need to be turned to get him there. If there ever was an episode where both brothers finally blow their lives up in a significant matter, it’s this finale, which appropriately kicks off with the camera pushing through the space of a backyard that almost resembles the remains of a battlefield. As a young Chuck reads The Adventures of Mabel to his kid brother, you can sense the seeds of war destined between them as a no-nonsense Chuck endures Jimmy’s impatience to know what happens at the end of the story. It’s reminiscent to Jimmy constantly interrupting Kim while watching Ice Station Zebra back in season 2’s “Amarillo” (“So do they all die? Tell me that much.”…. “So what I miss? Anything blow up yet?”).
The cold open drives up intensely close on a white-gas lantern, an object which has been a looming concern often ignored throughout the entire season/series. The imagery of the lantern is represented with the same symmetry in following scenes of the episode, such as the glowing wooden frame behind Howard’s seat in the boardroom or the row of lights on the table that separates Chuck from Howard as they discuss the options of Chuck’s lawsuit. There’s a moment when Chuck gets out of his chair to propose a peaceful resolution as he walks passed each lit lamp (a sign of his own mental improvement). Intermittently our TV screen goes dark as the camera pans across the back of each chair. It’s a perfect illustration that despite Chuck’s claim for not wanting be the cause for HHM’s destruction, he’s completely delusional to the well-positioned line of doom he’s brought upon himself the second he decided to betray his own law partner/best friend.
Howard deciding to pay Chuck out from his own pocket is awfully telling to how off-the-rails Chuck’s behavior has been. I adore the Kubrick-like pull-back as Chuck sneers from upon the lobby’s balcony as Howard arranges their employees to give him a rushed, yet properly celebrated send-off. As Howard coldly cuts his own applause short and a befuddled Chuck marches out the automatic doors into the blinding white sunlight, we’re once again reminded of the lantern.
“You know, sometimes you gotta play to your strengths.” – Kim
While Chuck sticks to his convictions against HHM after hitting the self-destruct button, it’s Jimmy who realizes the same nuclear option can be applied to his problem in order to right the previous wrong of getting the retirement community to turn on Irene Landry. Chuck gets the hero’s exit from HHM’s staff as he cuts himself off from that world he held so dear, while Jimmy’s is much less ceremonious as he becomes ostracized from the elder community who have loved and supported him for three seasons now. Jimmy consciously sacrifices his reputation with an entire client base to get Irene back in everyone’s good graces as well as ensure the residents of Sandpiper Crossing receive their highest potential earnings from the class-action lawsuit, but was it out of genuine regret of his actions or just to prove Chuck wrong that the regrets he claims to feel are real?
The thing is, he wouldn’t have shown up at Chuck’s doorstep at all if he didn’t feel bad for Kim’s car crash (he even feels the need to blame himself for being the reason Kim overworked herself). I do believe in Jimmy’s nature of act now and feel bad later, even though most of his schemes ironically operate by foretelling the beats to where every action leads. For Jimmy, it’s all about what seems right to do in the moment and for all he’s concerned, the universe can have fun playing catch-up in the aftermath. However, by destroying the door of practicing elder law permanently, Jimmy, from the result of Chuck’s judgement, is showing clear potential of his ability to change. It’s just too bad Chuck won’t be around much longer for it to even matter to Jimmy.
“I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but the truth is you never mattered all that much to me.” – Chuck
It’s tragic that these are the last words Chuck will ever say to his brother and it’s probably what drove Jimmy to try and fix his mistakes throughout the hour. What Jimmy never sees after exiting the house for the final time is that Chuck looks up towards the door suggesting that he never meant what he said. It’s the fattest lie he could have told as everything in Chuck’s life revolves around Jimmy. You can imagine the hurt that’s felt when he’ll later learn of Chuck’s final act, never getting any hint of closure from this moment, even if he suspected Chuck’s sentiments were false. You can’t help but feel bad for Chuck though, because he’s clearly sick and can’t help himself from burning bridge after bridge after so many events throughout the season have lined up flawlessly for him to do so. The final scene is certainly the most saddest and darkest moment in the show to the point where the credits sequence is the only one to date to not use the usual, upbeat closing theme.
In the beginning of this final scene, the camera tracks slowly along the ground similarly to the way it did in the cold open, this time showing the insulation and upturned furniture with the lantern’s light shining ominously in the background. The smash cut to Chuck bobbing helplessly in his seat almost plays at first glance like he has somehow electrocuted himself. The way the scene takes its time to reveal what’s actually happening is disturbing, especially how most of it is unveiled through a series of fixed shots, as if only the inanimate walls and stacks of newspapers are aware of what’s happening. This really helps capture Chuck’s complete and utter loneliness in the aftermath of the scene prior where he punches holes in his walls to snuff out the last bit of mysterious electric current. In the end, the only electricity left is what was left of his mind. Chuck’s death will undoubtedly become a major turning point for the series as Jimmy and the rest of the characters move forward.
Kim exits this season battered and physically defeated after her near-fatal car accident. It speaks a lot to to the work she’s buried herself with after harboring the remorse of humiliating Chuck in court in exchange to support a partner she knows is guilty. If this is an episode where Jimmy takes stock of his own behavior, then that goes double for Kim as she chooses to re-evaluate her priorities by dropping Gatwood Oil as a client and pushing her meetings with Mesa Verde. By stripping the band-aid of workload, it’s as if she’s allowing her questionable allegiance towards Jimmy to truly sink in. Kim’s plan to marathon nearly ten movies from Blockbuster is perhaps her way of getting back to the root of why she enjoys being in Jimmy’s corner. If this means she has to continuously endure Jimmy’s pressing desire to take shortcuts and care more about where each story is headed, then that’s something she’s may be willing to atone for. Does Kim survive in the end like the protagonist in The Adventures of Mabel (“Is she gonna be okay?”…”She’ll be fine Jimmy.”… “How do you know?”…”Just listen.”) or does Kim meandering through an old relic Blockbuster Video signify her own demise? Maybe the fact that Blockbuster still exists in extremely rare locations means she’ll still be alive but at what cost?
Nacho, whose hand was already forced to inform his disappointed father of his criminal connections to the Salamanca family, is now forced into a speedy rescue mission after Hector declares Nacho’s dad to be untrustworthy. At the risk of Manuel being expendable, Nacho must put an end to Hector once and for all, but it’s not that simple. Even with Hector finally undertaking the serious stroke that likely leads him to the wheelchair-ridden Hector we know from Breaking Bad, Nacho now has more dangerous eyes on him. Not only does Hector’s fate still hang in the balance after Gus surprisingly makes a valiant effort to save him, but Gus’ life-long plan to get Hector under his own thumb has been threatened once again. Mike may have been absent from the finale, but his warning to Nacho back in “Expenses” may have just rang true. Nacho, like Jimmy, has not taken the consequences of his actions properly into account, but unlike Jimmy, Nacho has been moving Heaven and Hell to make sure he can. Unfortunately the conflict he finds himself in has a far deeper and wider scope than he could have forseen. It’s something even a good study like Mike had to learn the hard way back when he made an attempt on Hector’s life.
Can you feel the heat of Better Call Saul rising?