A review of tonight’s Better Call Saul finale coming up just as soon as I help a mid-sized local bank become a mid-sized regional bank…
“In the end, you’re going to hurt everyone around you. You can’t help it. So stop apologizing and accept it, embrace it.” -Chuck
This is the story of two brothers: one good, one not-so-good.
And it’s a tragedy. For both of them.
The good brother devoted his life to the rules. He studied them, he followed them, he built a whole career and ideology around them. He was successful and widely respected, but he rarely felt as loved as the not-so-good brother, for whom the rules were an inconvenience to be stretched or shattered or ignored altogether. Everyone knew the other brother was no good, but they loved him anyway, and that included the good brother, who cared for him as a boy and bailed him out of repeated troubles as a man.
And it’s there that the tale of the two brothers became truly complex, and tragic. Because the not-so-good brother suddenly, after all these years, decided that the good brother was worth imitating, and he did everything he could to be good, down to choosing the same rules-honoring profession. And he genuinely meant it, even if he was never destined to be as big a stickler as the good brother. But the good brother — suffering from a mental illness that he refused to acknowledge as such, and waited on hand and foot by the now somewhat-good brother — had become so curdled with resentment from decades of watching his sibling slip and fall through life, with no real consequences, that he refused to believe in this conversion, and in fact went so far out of his way to hamstring this career change that his suspicions became a self-fulfilling prophecy: the harder he leaned on his brother, the more his brother felt he had to push back against the rules just to survive. Eventually, things grew so tense and ugly between the two that the somewhat-good brother had to publicly humiliate the good brother in a last-ditch attempt to stop the good brother from taking his career away. The good brother finally reckoned with the reality of his illness, and briefly seemed to be making progress with it, but in the end, it was just too much to bear, and he destroyed first his beautiful home, and then his own life, using a lantern — very much like the one he once used to read to his younger sibling — to burn the whole place down with himself inside.
That’s the worst part. But almost as bad is that, before he spiraled into madness and decided there was no way out, the good brother said the worst possible thing he could say to the somewhat-good brother, who had always craved love and respect, and from his honorable sibling most of all:
“I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but the truth is, you’ve never mattered all that much to me.”
And the somewhat-good brother was then destined to become not-so-good again, and then worse, and worse, and worse, until he fulfilled every fear the good brother ever had about him, tearing apart lives as easily as he broke every rule the good brother had dedicated every fiber of his being to.
“Lantern” is only the the conclusion of Chuck McGill’s story — though characters in this fictional universe have escaped what seemed like certain death before, the look on Chuck’s face as he slowly kicked over the eponymous light was that of a man who welcomed his imminent and painful demise (not to mention, he unplugged the phone and put it on a high shelf in an earlier scene) — but it’s hard not to look at it as also being the end of the Jimmy McGill story. Technically, there’s still more to come — the name change, the shift into criminal law — but nearly everything keeping Jimmy from becoming the man we first met on Breaking Bad is gone. And the earlier line from the McGill brothers final conversation — the one I quoted up top about how Jimmy needs to just embrace all the bad things he does — will prove prophetic.
Whatever blame Chuck deserves for his role in transforming Jimmy into Saul — and he deserves quite a bit, even if the choices ultimately are all ones that Jimmy made — he is once again right here, even if he can’t comprehend exactly how right. In time, Jimmy will embrace his bad side and stop apologizing for it. If Saul Goodman ever looked stressed in his dealings with Walt and Jesse, it was over dangers to himself, not others. Maybe this show will one day spend some time showing the Heisenberg years from Saul’s point of view, and we’ll learn that Saul Goodman still has loved ones he keeps disappointing, has stresses that go beyond whether Gus Fring is going to take him out, still has vestiges of the humanity that we’ve seen throughout these three wonderful seasons — including in this finale, where Jimmy makes the most self-sacrificing move we’ve ever seen him try — but viewed from the outside on Breaking Bad, Saul seemed to have taken Chuck’s advice to heart. He was loving his life and not fretting about the consequences of any of it.