For three seasons now, Better Call Saul has spent a considerable time exploring the condition of Charles McGill. What started out as a mysterious illness quickly became a tool for the writers to show the internal struggle of the man who would become the unwillingly antagonist of this story. If “Lantern” does one thing, and it certainly does much more in it’s runtime, it clearly lays out just what spurs Chuck’s EMS and his symptoms. Guilt and shame send Chuck spiraling back into the worst moments of his condition but this time, he’s pushed everyone around him away and is left to his own devices. Chuck may have brought this on himself but it doesn’t make his end any less heart-breaking.
A great story always finds a way to have you empathize with the villain but it takes impressive skill to make you also dislike the actions of a protagonist, as well. Last week, Jimmy scammed a poor, old woman in order to get a payday and it was the most despicable thing he’s ever done. This week, Jimmy makes amends after dealing with the aftermath of Kim’s accident. The possibility of losing Kim drives Jimmy to attempt to patch things up with the group of old ladies he tore apart but it isn’t as easy as he seems to think it is. So, he falls on his sword. He engineers it so that they hear him having a conversation with his old Davis & Main colleague, Erin. They discover Jimmy to be what he really is, a con man and in the end he loses his quick pay day but he regains a sense of morality, however temporary that may be.
Elsewhere, Nacho’s scheme finally pays off in an unexpected way. After reconciling with the fact that Hector would be running out of his father’s shop Nacho tries, in vain, to get his dad to accept the proposal but he is less than receiving of Hector’s bribes and condescending talk. This propels Nacho to attempt to kill Hector himself but he quickly gets caught up in a meeting between Gus, Hector and Bolsa. Hector becomes enraged with the order that all shipments are made through Gus and has a heart attack due to the fake pills planted by Nacho. The ensuing chaos allows Nacho to replaces the fakes with the real thing but the side eye glance Gus gives him suggests that he isn’t out of the thick of it quite yet.
Still, it all comes back to Charles McGill, the episode gives considerable focus to the lengths he goes to take out any sign of electricity. It’s a heartbreaking fall preceded by equally devastating final scenes between Chuck and Howard and Chuck and Jimmy, respectively. Howard agrees to pay out Chuck using his own money, bankrupting himself but saving the firm and showing, once and for all, who really cares about HHM. As for Jimmy, he attempts to once again make amends but Chuck rebuffs him and sends him away with an earth-shattering line, “frankly Jimmy, you’ve never mattered all that much to me.” Chuck lies in that moment, as the opening flashback shows, there was a time he cared, a time when he read stories to his brother by lantern light. Now, that lantern burns down everything Chuck has and, ultimately, consumes him as well.
This season, Better Call Saul took the previous years of character building and used them to craft a story that stands toe to toe with some of the best being told in the medium of television. It’s impressive for a show that has always been beholden to the huge shadow of it’s predecessor to finally shine through and prove itself of being on equal footing. Better Call Saul rewards viewers for their patience and if this season was just the start of the rewards I can’t wait to see what grand prize Vince Gilligan and co. have in store.
Bits ‘n Pieces
- This episode had a number of amazing shots but perhaps none more amazing than Chuck and Howard sharing one last glance as Chuck makes his exit from HHM.
- We also get a fun visual callback to “Crawl Space” with Chuck in his bed as his EMS returns.
- Mike was absent this week which I found particularly odd given it was the finale.
- Farewell, Michael McKean, you were tremendous in everything you did and while I usually reserve my “Best Supporting Actor” Emmy support for Jonathan Banks, I think I’ll have to change it this year.
Jesse Swanson is a would-be writer, podcaster and funny guy who covers TV shows of all shapes and sizes. You can find him on Twitter @JesseSwanson