Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Everybody’s fighting for the wheel as Better Call Saul barrels toward its finale

Photo: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television
Photo: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television
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Comedy psychiatrists get a lot of laughs by constantly distancing themselves from their own relationships through psychiatric jargon. Just think of Frasier Crane, gripped by frustration or anger, suddenly perking up when he is able to attach a clinical label to his own dysfunction. Nothing makes him happier than mastering unruly emotion—or appearing to—via self-diagnosis. The joke is that a DSM category doesn’t actually confer control, just the illusion of it. Nevertheless, it’s the tool that gives him the most satisfaction, because it allows him to maintain an elite status, even over his own flaws and missteps.

In this gripping, ominous hour leading up to the season finale, we see lawyers doing the same thing. To the intricacies of human relationships, to rifts with colleagues and friends, even to the internal conflicts that stem from wounded pride and perceived betrayal, these lawyers apply the remedy they know best: the law.


Chuck, as usual, represents this premise at its most infuriating. Sitting across the table from the folks who underwrite HHM’s legal malpractice coverage, he blows his top at the suggestion that he represents a risk for the firm. Why should anyone impose conditions on him? Why should any professional framework or process have any power over him? No, it’s the process of which he is master that will exert the power. When the threat of a lawsuit over unspecified lapses and violations fails to bring the representatives into line, Chuck anticipates the next step—“a demand letter that will make their heads spin”—with relish.

And of course, when Howard fails to back him up, and instead suggests (first gently, then forcefully) that he retire for the good of the firm, Chuck takes that unsheathed sword of the law to his partner, without hesitation. Chuck may have accepted that his condition is psychosomatic, but he has not stopped believing that the law will vindicate him. It’s the foundation of his worldview. He was willing to shatter his relationship with his brother over it, so naturally he’s also willing to destroy the firm with his name on it. At the start of the season I wondered about the resonances these storylines might have for our current geopolitical predicament, and dare I say, this is a big one. Seeing your enemies driven before you, hearing the lamentations of their women, forcing them to acknowledge your mastery—it’s worth anything, even reducing the world you’ve won to ash and rubble.


Jimmy can’t directly practice the law to get out of his money troubles, but he’s got money coming from his previous work with Sandpiper—20 percent of the common fund, if he can shake it loose. But he gets bupkis until the suit is settled, and Irene, the class representative, prefers to leave it all up to that nice Erin at Davis & Main. And so, in a heartbreaking callback to the elder-law montage of “Alpine Shepherd Boy” and the hellish bingo game of “Marco” (not to mention an ominous foreshadowing of the Omaha mall where the former Saul Goodman will someday frost cinnamon rolls), Jimmy plants the seeds of distrust in the other ladies of the plaintiff class.

Jimmy is leaking empathy like his Subaru probably leaks oil, faster and faster as the season nears its end. The cruelty of what he does to Irene takes my breath away. Peeling off an old lady’s friends, the last things she has in her sunset years, without a whisper of hesitation. Manipulating her as a tool by positioning himself as the only friend she has left. And for the simplest and most crass of reasons: He needs the money.


In his one brief scene, Mike is on the other side of this “lawyers gotta lawyer” dynamic. He prides himself on being a free agent, cutting through the bullshit, making any deals he needs to make with everybody’s eyes wide open. But here he is submitting to someone else’s process, in a situation where he has no control, mastery, or independence. Somebody’s making copies of his documents and putting him on the books. He doesn’t understand why Lydia would risk her nice office and her privileged position by allowing Gus to use her, and he sure as hell doesn’t understand why he’s doing the same thing—except that his stack of money is too big for any of the channels he’s got on call.

Like Kim, he’s rocked himself out of a rut only to set himself on a collision course with who knows what. Like Kim, he might be able to hit the brakes once or twice. But you don’t know what you don’t know, and you can only see what’s in front of your open eyes. Mike is heading down an unfamiliar road, and he’s just put blinders on.


And Kim. Oh, poor Kim. Faced with uncertainty, her relationship with Jimmy strained, she doubles down on the only thing she knows for sure she can do: Work hard. She blows past her physical limitations, and gravity gives her a hard reminder that she’s not invincible. Unlike Chuck (who bluffs his way past the pain) and Jimmy (who uses anyone who gets in his way so he can hold onto Kim, the one person he still sees as a person), I think Kim is smart and self-aware enough to take the hint. Can she be like Nacho’s father and say no to spiritual self-destruction, even if it means a dreadful dismantling of what she’s built, facing personal risk, taking a long honest look at yourself, even dragging others down? To save herself, she will have to stop calculating, stop compartmentalizing, stop carrying everyone else’s burdens solo, stop lawyering. Otherwise the rocks just off the road will do the stopping for her.

Stray observations:

  • If you like it when lots of stuff happens on this show, this was the episode for you. Jimmy infiltrates chair yoga! Kim goes for a two-week turnaround on an interstate tax issue! Chuck declares war on Howard! Mike gets a Madrigal lanyard! Rigged bingo!
  • And I haven’t even mentioned that the swapped-pill operation from last week pays off in a tense scene… where Hector fails to die of a heart attack, as we knew he must, and yet somehow hoped, for Nacho’s sake, that he would. Were those not the doctored pills? Or were they, and did he recover in spite of them? (I expect we are not done with the fake pills.) In either case, Nacho figures he’s failed, and tries to get his dad to accept the inevitable—which he doesn’t, thank goodness, because I can’t take another morally compromised business endeavor on this show.
  • This episode is full of wonderful details that pass by in a flash: Jimmy rejecting the kitty-cat cookie with the broken ear, Boz Scaggs’ “Lowdown” on the mall Musak, Robert Mitchum giving the Night Of The Hunter love vs. hate speech on the Sandpiper common room TV, a background Madrigal employee humming past on a Segway.
  • You just can’t beat Jimmy’s bingo patter, which seamlessly integrates cringe-inducing puns with pandering references to the Greatest Generation: “B9! Let’s hope that biopsy comes back be-nign!”
  • When Jimmy shows up at Wexler-McGill to celebrate pressuring Irene to settle, he brings Zafiro Añejo—the fictional tequila they scored in their first con together, and which Gus will later use to poison Don Eladio. I wonder if Jimmy introduces Gus to its beguiling blue bottle?
  • What a difficult scene that is to watch, by the way. Even though the scam he runs on Irene is terrible, it’s played for our entertainment. We love watching Jimmy work even when he’s running over little old ladies; we cover our eyes but peek through our fingers. Seeing him refuse to listen to Kim, caring only about his triumph, is unrelentingly grim. Thank goodness we get the tag of Francesca grimacing as she awkwardly downs a shot from an office mug: “Smooth.”
  • My favorite moment, though, because at this point I enjoy seeing Chuck writhe in pain, is when he casually buzzes his sauce with an immersion blender, ostentatiously showing Howard that he’s all better. And speaking of how the show revels in Chuck’s loathsomeness, do check out Alan Sepinwall’s chat with Michael McKean and Peter Gould at Uproxx.
  • Say what you will about Howard, the Hamlindigo-clad dude can spit out a simile. “It’s like talking to Gollum,” he tells Jimmy in the parking garage. “Next time, bring a tin cup.”
  • Can’t tell you how much I love Jimmy’s shoes with the rounded-off soles, the ones that used to promise you’d burn more calories because they force your muscles to work harder or something (promises that were, inevitably, debunked). Even better is the reveal that he’s got a whole trunk full of them, prepared for any size Irene happens to be.
  • “Maybe they want the money… I dunno… to improve their lives?”

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