'Better Call Saul' Finale: Jimmy and Mike Got Fooled

·Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
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One of the great pleasures of Better Call Saul throughout its second season, which concluded on Monday night on AMC, was to watch people do their work. Specifically, watching Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), his brother, Chuck (Michael McKean), and his colleague and lover, Kim (Rhea Seehorn), cull through paper-work to prepare various cases, make pitches to prospective clients, and navigate the dangerous territory of inter-office politics. Sure, the parallel plot-line involving Mike (Jonathan Banks) frequently had more action — punches thrown; guns fired — but action isn’t the same as drama, and for my money, it was the lawyerly side of Better Call Saul that provided the better service in that area.

Related: ‘Better Call Saul’ Recap: Gimme Jimmy

So it was during the season finale titled “Klick,” written by Heather Marion and show creator Vince Gilligan, and directed by Gilligan. The pre-credit sequence filled in a poignant detail in the troubled history between the McGill brothers. While we may have expected the scene set in a hospital room to reveal Chuck in the bed — as had, after all, suffered a nasty clunk on the head when he collapsed in the copy-shop at the end of last week’s episode — the producers gave us a mild surprise by opening with a flashback, to Chuck and Jimmy sitting at the bedside of their dying mother. Jimmy, ever restless and eager to please both himself and others, offers to get his brother a sandwich during the long vigil. Chuck, ever contemptuous of what he perceives as Jimmy’s inability to remain focused and serious about the task at hand, dismisses him with irritation. While on the food run, Mom dies. Chuck, crying, is forced to hear her final word alone: “Jimmy!” calls out Mother. Even in death, we’re led to suppose, it’s the more troublesome son who occupies a parent’s thoughts. Chuck is forced to confront this fact with immense bitterness, and when Jimmy returns and asks if she said anything before dying, the older brother withholds this last comfort from the younger.

Of course, withholding is something we know Chuck is expert at doing, whether it’s withholding a key fact until just the right moment to execute a legal fine-point flourish, or withholding love and respect from Jimmy, who wants both so badly. The finale had to play out the rest of the plot about how Jimmy had sabotaged Chuck’s work in order to get Kim the Mesa Verde account — the show was meticulous in making clear that Jimmy was not motivated by sibling rivalry but by romantic and professional ardor. And in the hospital scenes that placed Chuck in bed, in agony at being bombarded by the electricity to which he is too sensitive, we were once again drawn in by the way Better Call Saul delivers thoughts and emotions through action — how each character, including Chuck’s doctor, reacts in a situation.

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Meanwhile — as though we’d switched the channel to an entirely different show — Mike was preparing to shoot and kill Hector. Buying a gun (hello, Jim Beaver!), setting up a hidden position with a good sight-line, Mike was as lethally methodical as ever, and we waited with him as he sought a clear shot. (Some of the ways Gilligan directed these shots in the sun-baked desert reminded me of scenes in the 1967 Paul Newman western Hombre.)

Related: ‘Better Call Saul’: Michael McKean on Chuck’s Power Play

But in a startling denial of the rules of conventional drama, Mike never fired the gun; instead, he was drawn into a new mystery that remains one until next season: Who left the note saying simply “Don’t” on his car windshield? Here I must confess that, while I liked all the Mike stuff in this episode, I found this character’s arc during this season to be occasionally trying, especially in its periodic over-emphasis on kindly grandpa-Mike as a way of sentimentalizing a character who functions best in a more hard-boiled context.

And so back to Jimmy, who should have been able to enjoy some relief. He seemed to have a debilitated Chuck under control: Even after Chuck emerged from what the doctor termed a “self-induced catatonia” (am I a dreadful person to suspect that control-freak Chuck may have been faking even this?), it seemed as though the older brother would be unable to pin the document-tampering felony crime on Jimmy. (Thanks, Ernesto!)

In the end, however, Chuck conned Jimmy the con man in a way I’m sure most viewers saw coming a mile away. This didn’t mar the achievement of this episode or of this season, however. The immense value and satisfaction of Better Call Saul resides in seeing the inevitable play out. When the series premiered, some worried that, since we knew the futures of Jimmy-turned-Saul and Mike from Breaking Bad, the new show would seem like a mere waiting-game.

It’s turned out, however, that Better Call Saul is one of television’s most richly rewarding shows for the way it runs against all the now-standard habits of quality TV. It rejects ostentatious attempts at profundity (I’m thinking of you, Mad Men) and gritty fatalism (see ya soon, Game of Thrones!) to explore the nature of Jimmy McGill as a flawed man fated to seek approval and love from a world designed to deny him his simplest and yet most profound desires. I’m going to miss the desperate little weasel a whole lot until he returns next season.