Photo: AMC

In the centerpiece of tonight’s finale, Chuck McGill rips out paneling, punches holes in kitchen tile, and leaves piles of plaster, drywall, and insulation throughout his home, looking for whatever is still drawing current into his house. It’s a scene that immediately brings to mind the end of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, in which Harry Caul, a man who listened into the conversations of others, becomes so paranoid that he is being bugged that he tears up his entire apartment looking for the device. He’s left huddling in the corner, surrounded by rubble.

The parallels go beyond the visual. Both Harry and Chuck are driven to this extreme when they find that a situation they thought they had under control was something other than what they assumed. Chuck’s plan for outmanuveuring Howard, delivered with his usual faux-offhand smugness in the HHM boardroom, falls apart quickly. What he never counted on was that Howard would rather go into debt, personally, than allow Chuck to keep hurting the firm. Turns out Howard is the one with the company’s best interests in mind, even though Chuck has sanctimoniously claimed that for himself all along. Howard shows Chuck the door through a gauntlet of applauding associateseven Jorge the janitor gives him a final handshakeand there’s no loophole to wriggle through.

For Chuck it’s always been about having the upper hand. Other than his work, he has only one other arena in which he can score pointshis relationship with his brother. And score he does, viciously and without a single qualm. He rebuffs Jimmy’s reluctant apology with blithe indifference, telling his brother to drop the act and spare himself the humiliation since both of them know he’ll never change. Chuck, after all, doesn’t really have feelings for Jimmy that need to be soothed: “The truth is, you’ve never mattered that much to me.” But once that’s donewhat is left for Chuck to fight, to win, to find purpose in? Only a battle against the electric meter, which stubbornly keeps turning even after he shuts off all the breakers. It won’t yield to his will. There’s nothing to find, no road back after slipping all the way back into the depths of his condition, no way to retain a pretense of exceptionalism. Just burn it all down.

When Chuck kept futilely flipping switches to see if something was wired directly to the meter bypassing the breaker box, I was reminded of the “DO NOT TURN OFF” switch in Jimmy’s Davis & Main officethe one he defiantly flipped. That was a moment where Jimmy rebelled against having to answer to an employer and signaled defiance for rules in general. But tonight Jimmy submitted to something: his relationship with Kim. No more would he try to go it alone, holding up his end of the partnership to keep the office as a symbol of the temporariness of his suspension. And Kim submits, too, to the laws of physics and physiology. When Francesca offers her an opening to keep the schedules she’d set up with Gatwood and Mesa Verde, despite having only one arm and cuts all over her face, she pauses and chooses a different path“Relaxathon 2003,” as Jimmy puts it, with snacks from her grateful clients and DVDs from Blockbuster.

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Nacho, like Chuck, is driven to desperation when his plans for keeping his father out of Hector’s way fall through. He’s ready to shoot Hector in an ambush, prevented only by the arrival of more Salamanca associates. But desperation doesn’t get the better of him. When Hector succumbs to a cardiac episode after raging at Fring and Bolsa, the swapped pills finally do their work, and Nacho is able to gather up the fakes and swap them for the real thing before handing the bottle to the EMTs. But control doesn’t mean independence. Gus is in this with him. And Hector’s not going to die.

“I’m excellent at tearing things down,” Jimmy tells Kim, frustrated that he can’t reconcile Irene with her friends. He’s never been big on trust except as a mechanism to part people from their money, and so he doesn’t understand that you can’t just turn it on and off like a faucet (or a light switch). “Sometimes you’ve gotta play to your strengths,” Kim quips, and that’s indeed the answer. He has to tear down the Sandpiper plaintiffs’ trust in him in order to get them and Irene back on the same side, and even though it hurts, he goes through with it. No office, no clients who’ll come back next year, no vision for James M. McGill, Esquire. But he’s got Kim. They’re battered and bruised, but their relationship is healthymaybe better than it’s ever been.

The fire creeping up Chuck’s curtains doesn’t feel like a cliffhanger or a final twist (even though it’s no doubt the reason this finale wasn’t provided to critics ahead of time). It’s the closing of the Chuck chapter, a despairing exit by a man who never knew how to exist without someone to lord it over. Yet once upon a time, before Chuck decided Jimmy was irredeemable, he protected him. Reassured him. Told him that Mabel would be all right, hiding out in a tent in a yard littered with debris (mirroring the lawn of his own house decades later, on the last night of his life). Jimmy said goodbye and good riddance to Chuck this season, but he needed his brother, tooonce to shield him from uncertainty, and then, in their adulthood, to prove him wrong, to defy or live down to that stubborn, infuriating image that was all Chuck would let him be.

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There’s only one thing we know about what Jimmy will become, without Chuck looking over his shoulder. He won’t get any more free.

Stray observations

  • The pacing of this episode was relentless, like the whirring of that hideous electric meter. Kudos to Gennifer Hutchison, who put the script in final form, and Peter Gould, who directed.
  • My favorite moment was one that passed very quickly and yet hit me like an electric shock: Nacho getting out of the car with the gun and running to take position behind an empty car on the lot. That speed is something we’ve never seen from this character, so deliberate in everything he does, and it’s the perfect signal that we are in very dangerous territory with a man who’s been driven beyond his limits.
  • What leads up to that scene is seeing Nacho try to protect his father from Hector, whose condescension is infuriating. Ugh, that money on the counter and Nacho pleading with his dad to take it. Let’s hope that Hector’s hospitalization and the single-corridor plan of the Eladio operation means that the upholstery business stays clean.
  • We’ve been in generic “early 2000s” territory on this show for so long that it’s surprising to get some very specific temporal markerslike Blockbuster not quite being dead, but being all the way switched over to DVDs.
  • On the mall Muzak as Jimmy tries in vain to rehabilitate Irene with her friends: “Steal Away” by Robbie Dupree.
  • Jimmy’s jabs at the oldsters on the open mic are painfully callous. I prefer his gentler references to their age when he dumps the Rolodex in the trash: “They’re smearing my name across the whole tristate area, sending telegrams far and near!”
  • “Fight the good fight, change the world? That was more Chuck’s thing.”

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