12:53pm PT by Daniel Fienberg
Critic's Notebook: Strong 'Better Call Saul' Season 2 Finale Brings Mystery Note, But No Saul
[Warning: This article contains spoilers for the April 18 season two finale of Better Call Saul, "Klick."]
Breaking Bad fans have been watching Better Call Saul for 20 episodes, waiting for a moment that occurred in Monday night's season two finale. It's also a moment that Better Call Saul fans have been waiting for for much of this season.
Our protagonist — as always, expertly played by Bob Odenkirk — dedicated much of this run of episodes to tentatively exploring the waters of low-budget advertising, producing an expert spot that brought clients to Davis & Main, but also set the wheels in motion for Jimmy McGill's ouster from the firm, and then developing and filming an ad for his own shingle. We saw Jimmy and his team of guerrilla marketers use fraud and cunning to film in front of a vintage World War II airplane and a low-flying American flag. All the while, in the back of our mind, we knew that Better Call Saul gets its name from the Saul Goodman slogan echoed in billboards and commercials.
So Monday's finale, titled "Klick," finally featured Jimmy watching his new ad with Kim. It's a glorious slice of cheese aimed at the Greatest Generation and calling Jimmy "a man who says what he does and does what he says." And then it builds to the slogan …
Catchy, but not quite there.
Better Call Saul is and has been all the way there for a while now, expertly giving viewers some of what we think we want, but making it clear that we don't need what we think we need.
Jimmy McGill can wear Saul Goodman's suits and make his huckster sales pitches, but Saul Goodman was a man seemingly past redemption. Did he give hints, especially toward the end of Breaking Bad, that he still had a soul and was still willing to sacrifice himself for people he cared about? Kinda. Saul is in black-and-white purgatory at a Cinnabon in Omaha for a reason, and eventually we're going to see the character transition that dooms him to that fate. But for now, we're with Jimmy. And even if we think we know where he's going, we have to believe that Jimmy still has the ability to change, to take a beneficial exit on the freeway of life, to make quiet accommodations to dignity and live a life of moderate satisfaction pandering to old people and trying to prove himself worthy of the love of Kim Wexler.
I just wrote a few days ago about why Better Call Saul has been so great this season and I don't want to belabor it. I'd rather just talk a bit about the finale, but it bears repeating: We came into Better Call Saul rooting for the transformation from unfamiliar Jimmy to fan favorite Saul, but rather than making that point of transition into something that will reward the audience, Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have made it into a punishment. We thought Saul was a comic figure and he turned out to be a doomed tragic hero. Who knew?
I can see and will acknowledge the ways in which the Saul finale could be seen as slightly disappointing.
Jimmy did not become Saul. What? You thought we'd earned that already? We definitely haven't and hadn't. If anything, it feels like we're possibly further away from Saul now, which can't possibly be the case.
Last week, it seemed possible that Jimmy was setting Chuck up for humiliation, avoiding consequences for having the truth exposed and then setting Chuck up again to question his sanity at the copy shop, leading to Chuck having one of his electro-sensitive episodes and whacking his head on a ledge — and that that confluence of events, most in Jimmy's control, could lead to Chuck's death, which might be exactly the thing that would push Jimmy to the dark side.
Nope. Not only did Chuck live, he was barely harmed. He required a brief hospital stay, and Jimmy had to assume a temporary emergency guardianship to force a CAT scan on Chuck, but each threat was only a threat. Even when Chuck fell into a coma, it was brief. And all the while, Jimmy was by his side, and even though every nefarious bone in my body was saying, "This is the moment Jimmy can either have Chuck committed or inflict tests upon him that worsen his condition and maybe push him closer to dead," Jimmy's instinct at every turn was to get Chuck home and healthy. And even when Chuck was home and miserable and had begun to fear for his own capacities, Jimmy couldn't even allow him that doubt and reassured Chuck that he was still a great lawyer and that not only had Jimmy conned him, but Chuck had correctly guessed and diagnosed every bit of the con. And now, as we head into the third season, Chuck has Jimmy's incriminating confession on tape and can hold felony charges over his brother's head.
I've had fights with friends over Chuck's awfulness. On one level, of course Chuck's right. He didn't "steal" Mesa Verde from Kim. At all. There was no deceit to his presentation that won the client back. He praised Kim, but emphasized both his own knowledge base and the advantages of having many attorneys on the Mesa Verde files. And he's right. Kim's passionate and great, but she's less experienced and she's only one person. Jimmy committed fraud and tampered with official documents and a bunch of other legal no-nos. He deserves punishment, whether he did it for love or not. And Chuck's obviously right to distrust Jimmy and, as we've seen in several flashbacks, based on the information at his disposal, he has historical grudges against him that are valid. But when does "right" give way to "pettiness"? Is it not telling Jimmy that their mother's last words were calling his name because Jimmy had the temerity to leave her lengthy deathbed vigil to get a sandwich? Or is it just when Chuck decides that despite having full legal recourse against Jimmy that he's going to lead an investigation of his own, starting by attempting to undermine Jimmy with the woman he adores? If Chuck's caution about Jimmy is entirely validated, the punishment he seeks is extra-legal and venal and takes him far out of the right, at least for me.
Jimmy just cares about Chuck. Right up to the point of self-destruction.
Or is that not what his last scene is? Do you want to take Jimmy to task for hubris? I don't think Odenkirk is playing Jimmy's confession as Odysseus mocking Polyphemus and ruining a clean escape by revealing his name and taking an excess of pride in his crime. It could have been played that way, mind you. In fact, I think Saul Goodman might have played it that way as, "I did this to you. You were right all along. And who's going to believe you?"
But Jimmy's not Saul yet.
And back to disappointment ...
There were Reddit threads of people who were sure they had cracked this season's episode title code to anticipate the arrival of Gus Fring, but if he arrived, he did so in handwriting only.
So who left the note reading "Don't" on Mike Ehrmantraut's windshield? Well, I suspect it's Gus. And by the time I finish this article and post it, I'm betting somebody will have found something written in Giancarlo Esposito's handwriting and analysis will have been performed.
Could it have been somebody else? Sure. If you have no knowledge at all of Breaking Bad, you'd have no reason to think that a person whose name you've never heard of wrote a warning for Mike not to shoot Hector, letting his henchmen kill the driver of the truck Mike ripped off. Who else could it be, though? Dunno. It wasn't an especially effective act anyway. Mike had already sat on the hilltop staring down at Hector and Nacho and done nothing, in a stunning piece of dialogue-free storytelling showcasing the great Jonathan. We don't know exactly how long Mike had been up there, but it was long enough to pull the trigger if he wanted to, and Gus or whoever's note, after Mike was lured down to his car by a jury-rigged honking of his horn, more accurately told him, "This thing you weren't able to do anyway, maybe your hesitation is a good idea." The honk and note weren't a very good advanced warning, were they?
But it's like Nacho said last week, explaining why he knew Mike was the hijacker. "Who's the guy who won't pull the trigger?"
Mike will eventually become, again, the guy who will pull the trigger. But we're not back to that yet, just as we're not up to Saul.
A few other thoughts on "Klick," which was directed by Gilligan and co-written by Gilligan and Heather Marion:
*** I loved the trick opening shot with the EKG machine and a nurse seemingly talking to Jimmy, meant to make us thing he was sitting by Chuck's bedside only to have the nurse move away and reveal Chuck sitting with Jimmy, exposing the sequence as a flashback. Gilligan has always had a great directing eye, just like nearly everybody in the Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul stable.
*** For a season dominated in some ways by Rhea Seehorn and Kim -- she's the embodiment of all futile well-wishing we might do for Jimmy -- the finale was light on Kim, but I adored her pure, uncomplicated adoration for Jimmy's commercial and her much more complicated response to seeing her role in their joint law offices reduced to glorified receptionist for Jimmy's older clients. The finale underuse of Kim would be another source of minor disappointment if you felt such a thing, which mostly I did not.
*** Ernesto is not a character we think about very often, but he had one of my favorite scenes with Jimmy this week, lying to Chuck about having called Jimmy to the copy shop. His solemn, "I miss the mailroom," as he walked away was a good reminder of Ernesto's past friendship with Jimmy and this different relationship they have now. Ernesto's thoughts on the nature of his current job are obviously hard to read, but I like the idea that he probably has thoughts. And this episode made me go to check the Internet to see if there are conspiracy theories regarding a possible tie between Ernesto and Gus Fring and ... of course there are. The internet can be counted on for many things, and conspiracy theories that one minority character must inherently be related to another minority character are the most internet-y of things. And yet, I looked it up.
*** The first season of Better Call Saul was great and was in my Second 10 best shows of 2015. As of now, the even better second season would make my top 10 for this year. The year is long, though, and full of terrors. So we'll see. But to repeat something I've said repeatedly: Emmy nominations for Seehorn and McKean (and, again, Odenkirk) are mandatory.