Mar 15, 2021
Better Call Saul: The prodigal son gets screwed (S2 E10 Recap)
The world’s most terrible television drama (I’m talking about you Quantico) might throw in all the random nonsense it wants and label that “twists and turns.” Viewers can’t solve the puzzle because they weren’t given all the pieces, and the pieces they have don’t fit. In Better Call Saul, the surprises feel like revelations. There’s always something we didn’t see coming, but should have because it was as inevitable as the fall of a king in a Greek tragedy, foretold to us in various ways that we somehow missed because our attention was diverted.
In Klick, the Better Call Saul season finale, we couldn’t quite put together that Chuck had set a trap for Jimmy, or maybe we suspected something, but couldn’t grasp that Jimmy would fall for it, and we sat helpless in front of our screen shouting at Jimmy to just stop talking as though we were the ones getting chump change from the state to defend knuckleheads. In the end it went down the only way it could have, and we had more than enough information to have known that Jimmy was being set up, that Chuck would prove himself to be more slippery than Jimmy ever had been, and that Jimmy’s empathy – of all things – would be his undoing.
Our opening shows both brothers waiting at their mother’s hospital bedside. She’s not conscious, and from the conversation it’s clear they are waiting for her to die, and it could be hours, or minutes, or days. Jimmy asks Chuck when he last ate. It’s been a while. Jimmy suggests they get some food, but Chuck doesn’t want to leave his mother’s bedside. Even here, one senses Chuck is judging his brother, condemning him as an impatient child. The truth is more complicated. Jimmy isn’t abandoning his mother. He’s getting food for both of them. He’s trying to take care of Chuck.
After he’s gone, Chuck starts to cry, something he probably wouldn’t do in front of the younger brother he doesn’t trust. He calls out, “Mom, mom.” Mrs. McGill answers, “Jimmy. Jimmy.” She’s not actually conscious. It’s not a declaration that Jimmy is her favorite. It’s not a judgment against Chuck, but Chuck takes it that way. She dies. When Jimmy comes back, he asks Chuck if their mother woke up, if she said anything. Chuck lies to him, tells him no – which should tell us something.
We can see this will be yet another mark Chuck will hold against his brother, and it deepens our understanding of what we’ve seen this season, in particular in the episode Rebecca when we saw how bothered Chuck was by his wife’s falling for Jimmy’s charms, or even last week’s “Svengali” remark. Like many of this season’s openers it feels like a self-contained tale, a parable whose meaning we are meant to work out. In this case, it’s a variation on the story of the prodigal son.
The title sequence features a mug falling and shattering, a great image referring both to Jimmy’s car mug as metaphor and Chuck’s spill. Then we pick up where we left off with Nailed. It’s Jimmy’s moment of truth. He runs into the copy shop and immediately starts to take care of Chuck, first by turning off all the lights and unplugging the machines, then getting Lance to put something under Chuck’s head, and making sure the ambulance is called. Chuck comes to for a moment, looks at his brother, and seems to pass out again, though he’s awake when they get him to the hospital. He’s crying that they’re killing him with their EKGs and other forms of electrical torture.
The same doctor we met earlier in the season is there and she’s weary. To her nothing has changed since Chuck’s last admission. They’ll have to run tests to figure out why Chuck fainted. Was it his heart? Did he have a stroke? Plus they’ll have to check out the head wound as well. Jimmy tells her he’s not committing his brother, but he comes up with the idea of a temporary emergency commitment. The doctor is relieved and goes to call a judge.
Jimmy goes to talk to his brother who immediately accuses Jimmy of trying to have him put away, of trying to keep him silenced. He refers to him as “Johnny on the spot” and surmises he got to the copy shop so quickly because he never left, had been staking the place out, paid off Lance, and wanted to see Chuck further humiliate himself.
Chuck calls for Ernesto and goes into cross-examination mode, but Ernesto is not the cooperating witness he had hoped for. Ernesto tells him he called Jimmy before they even went to the copy shop, that he was worried about Chuck.
Chuck tells them both to get out. Jimmy asks Ernesto why he said that. Ernesto tells him it was because Chuck is out to get Jimmy. He’s more worried about Jimmy, whom he considers a friend, than he is about Chuck. If only Jimmy had listened more closely to Ernie’s warining. While we haven’t seen the two of them as buds, they do have a history. Ernesto along with Kim was there when Jimmy had his “passed the bar” and out of the mail room celebration at HHM, the one that got interrupted by Howard’s congratulations and your fired and I’ll just help myself to some cake speech.
Chuck is taken for a CAT scan, and Kim shows up to sit with Jimmy while he waits. The commercial he was shooting two episodes back (Fifi) airs. It’s a masterpiece featuring not only “Fudge” but other members of the greatest generation — an aging farmer driving a tractor, and the unflappable Mrs. Strauss. The take away is when old people are being pushed around they need to get on the phone and shout, “Gimme Jimmy!” It does have a ring to it, and the tag line is, “A lawyer you can trust.”
The doctor tells Jimmy that Chuck is in what she describes as a “self-induced catatonia” similar to his state the last time he was hospitalized. She thinks he’ll come out of it. Jimmy is not going to leave his brother’s side until he does. When Chuck finally comes around, he accuses Jimmy of wanting to drop him off at an “insane asylum” and seems genuinely surprised that the the temporary guardianship was temporary and Jimmy is taking him home. Chuck insists he’ll be fine on his own. He doesn’t want Jimmy to stay and he doesn’t need Ernesto’s help. After Jimmy’s gone, Chuck takes his propane lamp into the garage where all the appliances are stored. He’s looking for something and we see him digging around with a pair of wooden tongs. What’s on that sly mind of his?
Mike meantime is seen first with the gun seller, practicing with a sniper rifle in the desert. This time the sale is completed. The gun seller wipes off all his prints before handing the weapon over, and throws in the ammo for free.
Next we see Mike on another stakeout. This time he’s watching a house behind a fence in the desert. It’s where Hector along with Nacho, Arturo and the brothers have taken the truck driver for some more torture before his inevitable execution. They’re digging his grave. He’s bound but not gagged, squirming like a fish drowning in air.
Mike is looking to get a clean shot, but Nacho is standing in front of Hector. We know the hollow point bullets Mike has could tear through Nacho’s flesh and bone and still kill Hector. We know Mike could make the shot. So does Mike. He hesitates and doesn’t take the shot when he could have. We hear the muffled sound from a distance of one of the brother’s putting a bullet in the driver’s head.
Mike is still watching and listening, though the mostly what he can hear are cicadas and the wind. Then the chirping stops. There are a few seconds of silence followed by the steady beeping of a car horn. It’s too far off for Hector and his guys to notice. Mike goes to investigate, and finds that it’s coming from his car. Someone propped a tree branch between his steering wheel and the front seat, and left a note on his windshield. One word: DON’T. Who could have done that? Could it have been Gus Fring? Or more likely was he Victor (not with a “k”) “the guy” Mike would have whom he’d lose and Jesse Pinkmam would be a sorry replacement for? In any case, it doesn’t look like Fring is back in the past just yet – at least not in the flesh, but it sure looks like he’ll have to show up soon.
Over at the old dental office, now the new home of Wexler and McGill the non-partner partners, the waiting room is packed with olds. Jimmy’s commercial was a hit, but they still don’t have a receptionist. Will it be Francesca? Could it be Francesca (please)? Also though they painted last week, they kept the waiting room rainbow, which seems oddly reassuring in a law office.
Kim tells Jimmy that Howard has been trying to reach him. An annoyed Jimmy suggests that Howard should just leave him a message and not go through her, but Kim says it’s about Chuck, and that’s enough to get him to the phone.
Jimmy goes to Chucks, where he has to pound on the door because he doesn’t have a key. Chuck won’t let him in at first, but Jimmy says he won’t leave. Chuck has lined his wall and ceiling with space blankets, and is talking about the need for a Faraday cage with is real physics thing and not a Lost reference – although technically he was actually turning his house into a Faraday cage with the blankets. Jimmy’s there to speak to Chuck about the resignation letter he sent to Howard. Chuck rants about how he has no choice but to retire, how his disease has clearly taken a toll. He made a mistake and it hurt a client. He can’t cut it anymore. And even worse he blamed his brother for his mistake. Time to “end it.” There’s a lovely sound effect of a ticking clock in the background, and Chuck’s as always carefully chosen words have what Jimmy might call “gravitas.”
Jimmy tries various tactics to plead and cajole his brother like pointing out that he can’t quit until he gets Jimmy disbarred, and also specifically mentions that this would make Jimmy “the only McGill” practicing the law, and surely Chuck wouldn’t want that. (We know from last season that Chuck – through Howard – wanted Jimmy to change the name of his practice. It looks like this will soon be a demand.)
Jimmy can’t get his brother to budge and after a few beats he offers, “What if I told you you didn’t make a mistake.” And then, despite all the pleas of all the viewers, Jimmy fesses up. Chuck asks if he’s just saying this to make him feel better, and we might be hoping that like Walter White said that one time to Hank, Jimmy will just put his hands up and say, “You got me! But wasn’t it a good try, Chuck? Just wanted to make you feel better.” But no, Jimmy doubles down and tells Chuck how right he was, how he got every single detail correct when he described the scheme to Kim.
Chuck accuses Jimmy of doing it to humiliate him, and that’s when Jimmy begins to lose patience, telling him that he did it for Kim, and he didn’t anticipate Chuck’s reaction. Chuck asks him if he realizes he just confessed to a felony.
Jimmy’s words tell us everything about what is most essential to his Jimmyness, “I guess, but you feel better, right?” Then he mentions that “It’s your word against mine.” Jimmy walks out and Chuck uncovers the cassette player he used to record the whole thing. And then that’s it. Season over. What a way to cliffhanger!
We’ve got a year to speculate on what will go down next. We know Jimmy won’t get disbarred – because he doesn’t. It would be great to hear from her criminal lawyers on this, and by criminal lawyers I mean lawyers who defend criminals, not criminal lawyers in the sense that Jesse Pinkman uses it. Was Chuck’s evidence legally obtained? Is it even evidence? Couldn’t Jimmy still say he was just telling Chuck what Chuck wanted to hear?
Per last week’s speculation post, we know that certain things have to happen because (in the Breaking Bad world) they already have. Jimmy has to change his name: Is Chuck going to use the tape as leverage to force his hand? Is that a compromise the brothers reach in return for Chuck not getting him disbarred? Will Chuck and Howard go after Kim as well as Jimmy? Force her to give up Mesa Verde or even Jimmy? And how does Jimmy go from being the go-to guy for seniors suing the steakhouse after they choke on a piece of meat during the early bird special to becoming Walter White’s personal Virgil, guiding him through Albuquerque’s underworld?
Looks like we’ve got a year to discuss this amongst ourselves, so please have at it in the comments below.