Written by Gennifer Hutchison; Directed by Peter Gould.
The season 3 finale of Better Call Saul took us to some very dark places, and even though I saw some of it coming, I was still entirely unprepared for it.
Throughout the season, and even a few times earlier in the series, there have been little bits of foreshadowing (including this episode title, “Lantern,” which has been listed on IMDB for quite some time) that pointed us in the direction of Chuck’s fate. But, hate Chuck as I may (and I still do), I just didn’t want to believe it. The Better Call Saul writers aren’t afraid to say goodbye to a character when their time has come, and the bell has been chiming for Chuck McGill for quite some time. After all, this is Jimmy’s story—or rather, the story of how Jimmy McGill becomes Saul Goodman—and Chuck has no place in Saul’s life. In fact, the absence of Chuck (and the way that absence goes down) is likely a huge part of what allows Jimmy to go full-Saul.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here, let’s back up a bit. The very short teaser of of the finale shows a young Chuck and an even younger Jimmy in their childhood backyard. Chuck is reading to Jimmy (by lantern light) from a book called The Adventures of Mabel. It’s a callback to this season’s premiere, “Mabel,” which took place before the strained relationship between the Brothers McGill finally broke for good. In “Mabel,” Chuck had to remind Jimmy that it was he and not their mother who read to Jimmy when he was a child. Here we see the act itself in a flashback. This short scene serves as concrete evidence that, despite what Chuck may say later, there was once some love between these brothers, and it makes what ultimately goes down between them that much more tragic.
Back to the present, Kim is in the hospital getting fixed up after her car accident. She’s bruised and battered and she’s got a broken arm, but considering what could have happened, she’s actually pretty lucky. Last week I was so mad at Jimmy for what he did to poor Irene Landry that I honestly believed that Jimmy McGill was gone and not coming back. But here, with Kim, we see the Jimmy we know and love. He’s deeply affected by her accident and all he wants to do is take care of her—not unlike the way he used to worry over and care for Chuck.
If there’s one thing Kim hates, it’s having to rely on or be indebted to someone. Look up self-sufficient in the dictionary and you will find Kim Wexler’s picture. In pain and with only one usable arm, she’s forced to accept help from Jimmy. He goes out to the site of her accident and collects the documents scattered by the roadside. At home, he’s Nurse Jimmy—forcing her to drink Gatorade for the electrolytes, cooking her breakfast, and getting her her medication (“the good stuff” of course). Kim has trouble eating with one arm but she draws the line at letting Jimmy feed her.
After almost losing Kim, Jimmy is ready to let go of their office space. He seems to have finally realized that their domestic partnership is not intrinsically linked to their professional one, and that the office space is just that—a building with furniture, all of which is replaceable at a later date. They are together whether or not they are working in the same physical space or even in the same profession. Kim is less concerned with the office space than she is with the fact that she made a series of bad choices that led her to her current situation. She crossed three lanes of traffic before crashing and could very easily have killed other people and/or herself in the process. Jimmy tries to shoulder all the blame but she rightly corrects him, telling him that she’s an adult and she made the choice to work herself to the bone on no sleep and then get in her car and drive.
The thing I love most about Kim’s character development this season is that, despite the fact that Jimmy has messed up in a million different ways, the choices that led to her accident were 100% her own. She’s not some innocent bystander suffering in the wake of Jimmy’s mistakes. She is a victim of her own ambition and her drive to do it all on her own. Kim chose to take on Gatwood Oil when she knew she was already stretched too thin. Kim made the choice to sacrifice her own well-being for her work. Kim made the choice to get in her car and drive when she was physically in no position to do so. And as far as Jimmy’s choices go, Kim was not in the dark. She may have found out about some things after the fact, but she made the choice to stay with Jimmy and help him. She chose to take Mesa Verde even after she learned where it came from. Unlike so many female characters we see in TV and film, Kim Wexler has agency. She’s not Jimmy’s victim, and that’s what makes her one of the most interesting, complex, and true-to-life female characters out there.
The conflict between Chuck and the HHM partners comes to a head in the conference room. Chuck and Howard sit at opposite ends of the table, with the rest of the partners in between. Chuck speaks to them as if he is still in charge of the situation and presents them with their options: they can go through an expensive trial, sure to damage the firm’s reputation; they can buy him out, which will bankrupt the firm; or—as is Chuck’s hope—they can all just let it go and move on, allowing him to remain senior partner (and presumably sue the insurance company). Chuck is certain that they will take option 3, but Howard has no intention of doing so and asks the partners for the room.
This confrontation between Howard and Chuck is a long time coming. Howard feels betrayed and hurt by Chuck, not just because he has not (of late) had the firm’s best interests in mind, but also on a personal level. Chuck and Howard have worked together for nearly twenty years, and Chuck was his mentor and friend. To Howard, Chuck’s recent actions have destroyed both their working relationship and their personal relationship, and he wants him gone. So much so that he pays him $3 million out of his own pocket (one of three payments he’ll get) just to get him out ASAP. He tells Chuck, “You won,” but there’s really no winner here.
It becomes crystal clear that Howard never had any intention of allowing Chuck to either sue the firm or to stay there. When Chuck leaves the conference room the entire firm has already gathered to bid him farewell. It’s a sad mirror of the round of welcoming applause Chuck received when he came back to HHM to work on Sandpiper with Jimmy. Chuck takes no pleasure in this send off. In fact, Howard’s brief going away speech is really more of a fuck-you than anything else, although the rank-and-file employees of HHM don’t know this. Chuck can barely contain his anger and wounded pride as he walks down the stairs and out of the building for the last time.
Nacho arrives at his dad’s business with Hector to give him a tour and explain to him how the operation is going to run out of the shop. Even after explaining the dangers to his father, Manuel, Nacho still wants to keep him away from Hector but Hector insists on meeting him. Hector sees him in the front office and goes in to “meet” him, though he’s really just trying to get a read on whether or not he can be trusted. Despite Nacho’s warnings (and Manuel’s own knowledge of how dangerous the Salamancas are) he stands his ground when Hector lays out a bunch of cash on the counter and tells Hector to get out of his store.
Nacho tries to smooth things over (and reminds his father not-so-subtly that they have family in Mexico that would be in danger if he goes against the Salamancas) and eventually Manuel grudgingly takes the money, but the damage has already been done. Hector straight up tells Nacho, “I don’t trust him.”
Kim has Francesca bring over a bunch of her work from the office. She’s trying to figure out how to adjust her schedule for her recovery when Francesca tells her that it will still be possible to get the work for Gatwood done in time. Kim’s initial reaction is to immediately start scrambling to try and get it done in a few short days but she quickly realizes that to do so would just be repeating the same mistake that put her in her current situation. She tells Francesca not only to cancel the Gatwood meeting, but to push everything else. It’s long past time for Kim to exercise a little self-care, and being 2003, that means a trip to Blockbuster Video to pick up a boatload of DVDs. Ah, the days before Netflix binge-watching. I remember them well. RIP Blockbuster.
Kim’s accident has given Jimmy a new perspective on his relationship with his brother and he goes to Chuck’s house to check up on him and apologize—as much as Jimmy really apologizes for anything. To his surprise, he finds Chuck’s house fully electrified, with a full fridge of food and music in the air. Chuck seems perfectly well and Jimmy is legitimately happy about it. After all, Jimmy has always wanted Chuck to get better, despite anything else that may have happened between them.
Jimmy has come to express his regrets about what happened between them and he tells Chuck he would do things differently if he could go back in time. Chuck isn’t interested in making up with Jimmy. In fact, he seems hell bent on making him feel as awful as possible and severing ties completely. He tells Jimmy that there’s no point in regretting anything because he’s not ever going to change—he’s just going to keep hurting everyone around him, and Chuck thinks he should stop apologizing for it and just accept it. In fact, Chuck says he’d have more respect for Jimmy if he would just embrace who he is. And then Chuck tells Jimmy the worst possible thing for him to hear: “I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but the truth is, you’ve never mattered all that much to me.”
As it turns out, those are last words spoken between the Brothers McGill. In my opinion, the entirety of this conversation (combined with what happens later) is a large part of what creates the Saul Goodman we know in Breaking Bad. After all, what is Saul Goodman if not a guy who fully and unapologetically embraces that he’s a scumbag?
The next day, Jimmy goes to visit Irene Landry at Sandpiper, assuming that all is well now with her and her friends after she accepted the settlement, but he learns that her friends still haven’t let her back into the group. Jimmy may have failed to reconcile with Chuck, but he’s determined to make things right with Irene. He dons another tracksuit and meets up with Irene’s former squad at the mall to try to convince them to make up with Irene but the damage is done. Thanks to Jimmy’s meddling, they are convinced that Irene can’t be trusted, and they want nothing more to do with her.
Chuck’s recovery starts to buckle under the stress of his exit from HHM and his last confrontation with Jimmy. After Jimmy leaves, he almost immediately starts to suffer the physical symptoms of his condition again. He wakes in the night and his medication isn’t easing his symptoms so he ends up going downstairs and turning off the electricity, but even that isn’t enough.
Dr. Cruz had warned him that recovery is a long and unsteady road but, being Chuck, he thought that if he just worked hard enough, he would succeed. Unfortunately for him, that’s not the way mental illness works, and Chuck is not a man who deals well with what he perceives as failure. He hits a very large bump in the road here and spirals out of control the next day when he notices that, even with all the breakers off, the meter outside is still showing the house drawing electricity. He takes all the lightbulbs out and checks every possible source, and in the middle of it all he calls Dr. Cruz’s office to cancel his appointment. If he stopped to think for a moment, he would realize that this is exactly the kind of moment when he should be seeing Dr. Cruz, but Chuck is obsessed with finding the source of the electricity and he literally tears his house apart looking for it. We watch him completely unravel as he takes his house apart, hacking through walls, and when his house is in ruins and he still hasn’t found the source, he goes outside and destroys the meter with a baseball bat.
After the incident with Hector and Manuel, Nacho feels like he’s out of options. If he wants to keep his family safe, Hector’s gotta go, and the pill switcheroo isn’t doing the trick (at least not fast enough for his liking). He goes to the meet early and waits in the shadows for Hector, gun ready, but before he has a chance to get a shot off, the rest of his crew arrives. Soon after, Gus and Juan Bolsa show up at the behest of Don Eladio, who wants to make it clear to Hector that all their product is to be distributed via the Pollos Hermanos trucks—no exceptions. Juan also tells Hector that the boss wants him to settle his beef with Gus once and for all so that their business can move forward smoothly.
But Hector isn’t about to let it go. He takes it as a personal slight to himself and to the Salamanca family who built the entire business. He gets more and more heated, yelling at Juan, and then he goes into cardiac arrest. He tries to take a pill but ends up dropping the bottle at Nacho’s feet and collapsing on the ground. Instead of just letting him die, Gus springs into action to save Hector. He sends Juan away, tells the rest of the guys to get rid of their guns, and starts performing CPR on the unconscious Hector.
Nacho picks up the bottle of pills and, in the chaos, is able to replace them with the real ones, which he gives to the paramedic before they take Hector to the hospital. As the ambulance drives off, Gus shoots Nacho a look that leads us to believe he knows what Nacho has been up to. We know that Gus wants Hector dead—he told Mike earlier in the season that a bullet is too good for him—and yet he goes out of his way to make sure Hector survives the heart attack. While this attack could very well be the thing that puts Hector in the wheelchair, dinging the rest of his life away, the fact that Gus saved him makes me think that maybe Hector comes out of this ok, only to suffer something far worse at Gus’s hand later on.
Kim is at home, enjoying Relax-a-thon 2003 with a nice spread of chips and dip when Jimmy comes home. To absolutely no one’s surprise, we learn that one of Kim’s favorite movies is To Kill A Mockingbird, and that when she was a kid she wanted to be Atticus Finch. To Jimmy, Kim is close to accomplishing that goal but Kim feels differently—she’s not fighting the good fight, she’s just sorting through a bunch of banking regulations to make a bunch of rich people even richer. This scene reminded me of Kim in Season 1, when she told Jimmy that she had thought about getting into elder law so she could help people that couldn’t help themselves. It’s interesting that, even though Kim has worked her ass off for Mesa Verde and had a lot of success lately (minus the recent incident), she doesn’t find her work gratifying.
Jimmy is still struggling with the Irene Landry situation, and it turns out that Kim knows the whole story. This actually came as a surprise to me because, to me, the Irene stunt was the ugliest thing Jimmy has pulled to date. I thought for sure, especially given Kim’s fragile state after the accident, that he would keep that little scheme to himself (at least for the moment), but what this showed me was that Jimmy and Kim have reached the point where there are no secrets between them. He did something awful and he told her about it almost immediately, and she accepts him and loves him anyway. She doesn’t even seem particularly bothered by it. The bond between the two of them is even stronger than I thought it was, for better or worse.
Jimmy thinks he’s run out of options to help Irene and he tells Kim something that will prove to be true over and over again. “I’m not good at building shit,” he says, “I’m excellent at tearing it down.” She tells him to “play to his strengths”—which is not entirely unlike what Chuck told him earlier, albeit in a much kinder way. And then Jimmy has a “Eureka!” moment—he can’t build a bridge between Irene and the gals, but he can tear himself down to fix the mess he created.
Jimmy completely burns himself and his professional reputation to the ground to get Irene back in the good graces of her friends. With a little help from his old Davis and Main colleague/nemesis Erin Brill and a hot mic outside of chair yoga, Jimmy has a “private” conversation with Erin in which he lays out all the shitty things he did to Irene and the gals in order to get the Sandpiper money for himself. The best part about this is it’s entirely true, as are all the nasty things Erin says to him during their conversation. She meant every word she said, too, and I’m sure she’s been waiting a long time to say some of them. I can only imagine how gratifying that must have been for her.
With the Irene situation taken care of (and Jimmy’s Sandpiper settlement money off the table for the foreseeable future) it’s time for Jimmy and Kim to pack up and leave their office. Unfortunately, this also means saying goodbye to Francesca. Luckily she was able to get her job at the DMV back, but she’s definitely disappointed. She hugs Kim goodbye (and is pretty cold with Jimmy) before she leaves. We know she’ll be back as Saul’s right-hand-woman in Breaking Bad, but it remains to be seen how long that is going to take.
Jimmy chucks his rolodex in the trash because, after the little show he just put on with Sandpiper, he’s dead to the entire elder community of Albuquerque. He tells Kim he’s going to need a new business model when he finally gets his license back, and we all know what that business model is going to be, and where he’s going to end up because of it.
Kim and Jimmy take one last look at the wall with the WM logo painted on it, and Kim reassures Jimmy that they will have another one some day. I sincerely doubt that will be true, but for the moment, they are keeping hope alive. They lock up and leave for the final time and head back home together. And so ends the saga of McWexler in Season 3. We leave them in a precarious position—their personal bond is stronger than it’s ever been, but their careers are both a big question mark moving forward. We know Saul Goodman is coming, he’s lurking just under the surface now, but we don’t know what that means for Kim. We know she wasn’t a part of Breaking Bad, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s not in Jimmy/Saul’s life. I’m both looking forward to and dreading learning what’s to come for Kim, and praying she fares better than Chuck.
Finally, the end of the episode and the season, and the end of Charles McGill. Sitting near-catatonic in the house he destroyed, wrapped in a space blanket, Chuck uses the last of his energy to kick the table in front of him. A gas lantern sits precariously on it, inching closer and closer to the edge with each kick. Finally, it falls to the ground and smashes, and from the exterior we see the bottom floor of Chuck’s house erupt in flames. After everything that happened, with his disease returning stronger than ever and feeling like there was no hope of recovering the life he once had, Chuck decided to end his life. He did it in a way that could be (and likely will be) viewed as an accident, and which will also probably destroy all the evidence of the destruction he wrought on his house before he did it. But he also did it in a way that is sure to haunt Jimmy for the rest of his days. In that way, he ultimately “won” the battle of the Brothers McGill, but there are no winners here either.
With Chuck gone, and with the way that he went, Kim is Jimmy’s last lifeline. Without her anchoring him to his humanity, he will go full Saul. There’s no stopping that train or the trainwreck that is Saul Goodman, Esquire. That terrifies me because we know Saul Goodman is coming, and while I love the idea of what Jimmy and Kim’s relationship could be, the reality of the situation is: if she’s going to make it out relatively unscathed, she’s got to drop Jimmy and soon.
And now, BCS fans, we must settle in for another epic hiatus. See you all on the flip side!