Monday, June 19, 2017

REVIEW: 'Better Call Saul' - Careers and Relationships are Destroyed and Rebuilt in 'Lantern'

AMC's Better Call Saul - Episode 3.10 "Lantern"

Kim takes time off. Jimmy tries to make amends. Nacho gambles with his future. Hamlin pushes Chuck to make a decision.

There has been more Saul Goodman in this season of Better Call Saul than at any other point in the series run. The character was referenced for the first time as Jimmy came up with the identity in order to pitch himself as a commercial director. But more importantly, Jimmy's inner Saul was coming out more and more. He was being more ruthless and manipulative of other people in order to obtain his own selfish desires. Last week's episode was so brutal to watch because Jimmy was ruining an elderly woman's life just in order to get his payout from the Sandpiper case as soon as possible. It was absolutely horrifying. In the end, he felt like celebrating. He felt no remorse for his actions. Yes, the pain was still present in the moment of turning Irene's friends against her. But it was all worth it in the end to Jimmy. That adds to the overall sense of tragedy of this season. The characters seemingly got what they wanted all along. And yet, their pursuit of those things has actually destroyed their lives and their most precious relationships. Jimmy and Kim haven't been the same since they bested Chuck in court. And now, that divide between them could lead to even more tragedy.

Last week's episode ended with Kim crashing her car on her way to a very important meaning. It served as a massive wake-up call that she was pushing herself too far. If she continued down this path, she could very well kill herself or others. The desire to be the absolute best at her job is very tantalizing. It's important to her. She enjoys being organized and coming up with the clever solutions that help her clients. But the pressure was amplified because she felt the duty to continue the life she had been living with Jimmy. She threw herself into her work so she didn't have to think about the consequences of what she did to Chuck. She did it in order to keep up the business so that Jimmy could one day return to it as if the suspension never happened. It was always unrealistic. It was always going to end in despair. It was just unclear of how far things would ultimately go. Would Kim stop after the car accident? Or will she use it to amp the stakes even higher because the deadlines are fast approaching and she has this new disability to deal with? It's fascinating to see her what to keep her schedule because the solutions can still be found to make everyone happy. The fact that she chooses to take a step back is very important. It's such a relief to see her just take a vacation with a trip to Blockbuster. That makes her seem like one of the few healthy characters in the show at the end of the season. She realized she needed to take a step back and that's exactly what she does.

Of course, it's a little easier for Kim to do that. She changed so much in such a short amount of time because of the McGill brothers. She got pulled into their drama and it almost ruined her life. She was able to pull herself out of it in this moment of time. It's unclear if anything has really changed though once she fully recovers and is able to work as hard as she wants again. But with the brothers, things are more complicated because these are the personalities and choices they've had and made for their entire lives. These are the roles they've always filled. The cold open reveals that Chuck has always been the one telling his brother to be patient. It was simpler then with Jimmy just wanting to know the outcome of a story in a book. It's more complicated now because so much damage has occurred. They finally clashed and came to a decisive ending to their feud. They are no longer in each other's lives. They've split to follow their own paths. And yet, neither of them have been happy with their current lives. They've tried to be better. They've worked hard on themselves so that these patterns don't continue in the future. But it's tragic that life continues to bring them down into the same roles they've always fulfilled.

And again, both Chuck and Jimmy have gotten what they wanted. Chuck was furious with Howard for the mere suggestion of retiring instead of bankrupting the firm through the new insurance premiums. That friendship was so strong. And now, Chuck just casually tosses it aside because he wants to prove to the world that he's back and better than ever before. He can't face the reality of his situation. That's what makes it so personal and moving when Howard calls him on his bluff. He offers to buy Chuck out of his partnership. It's a deal that Chuck accepts but is completely devastated by. His walk through the offices of HHM as the entire firm claps is bittersweet. They appreciate what all he has done for this business. But it comes at a time when Chuck wants to do more but can't. He's won his lawsuit. He's come out of this a whole lot richer. But it's not what he actually wanted. He crafted the suit just to prove a point. But the damage has been done. Now, he has to wallow in those consequences. He destroyed a really good relationship. And for what? His ego got in the way once more. It defined all of his decision making when it came to Jimmy. And now, his vitriol has turned on Howard. So in the end, he's all alone once more. He may be getting better with his illness but he can't share his life with anyone.

Meanwhile, Jimmy still has Kim. They are still together even though they've been very distant as of late. He's the supportive boyfriend who is there for her during this healing process. He's the one who ultimately decides that it will be better if they sublet the office and just work from home until everything can get up and running officially again. He realizes that he can no longer be projecting that fantasy onto the business and Kim. That's mature of him. But it also forces him to realize that he's a cruel and manipulative person as well. Seeing the damage done to Kim makes him see the damage he causes in every corner of his life. He hates Chuck but he still reaches out to him because the bonds of family are still important. For Chuck to say that Jimmy never really mattered to him is so devastating. It comes at a time where Chuck blames Jimmy for everything that has happened. He perhaps has some clarity over the situation. But he's also saying it to manipulate Jimmy because he clearly does care. If he didn't, they wouldn't be in this mess in the first place. That conversation serves as the motivation for Jimmy to make things right with Irene and her friends. He still wants to be the good guy. He still doesn't want to prove his brother right. He wants to believe that he can change. In the process though, he ruins the business he has spent his legal career building. In order to fix things with Irene, he basically has to expose himself as a master manipulator who doesn't care about his clients. That will be very damaging to his business. He still returns home to Kim but the rest of his life is in complete limbo because he has no plan whatsoever as to how to survive in this world for the next few months of his suspension.

Plus, the tragedy of the McGill brothers only keeps coming. It's one of self-destruction as much as it is their individual personalities clashing with one another. It's a dynamic that has been a part of their lives for so long. And now, it's been missing. When they finally do interact, it's just as combustive and damaging as before. Chuck is telling Jimmy to just accept who he is after all this time. He will respect him for doing so. It's a moment that sends Jimmy spiraling. Jimmy can't provide the same reflection for Chuck. He's in his own amount of pain as well. After his interactions with Howard and Jimmy, Chuck relapses in his condition. He tears his home apart trying to rid it of all electrical currents. It's so devastating because it's so personal and isolating. Chuck is pushing the rest of the world away. His actions have burned so many bridges. His ego has destroyed the ambitions he had for his life. And now, he sees no way out of this spiral. He will continue to obsess over electricity. He will continue to destroy his home until there is nothing left. It's so heart-breaking to watch. Chuck has always been a frustrating personality because he's so pompous with his opinions. He's always been right in knowing what Jimmy will one day become. But his actions will lead to the rise of Saul Goodman. Their feud brought that onto Jimmy. It's a story that already follows a tragic ending of Jimmy needing to go into hiding as Cinnabon Gene. And now, that tragedy continues with Chuck seemingly killing himself. It's such a powerful final moment for the season. It's a moment that will have profound consequences for Jimmy. He'll have to deal with the fact that his actions pushed Chuck to this decision. He'll have to reckon with that which could send him spiraling onto the path of becoming Saul Goodman. He could finally listen to Chuck's advice. And that's the perfect conclusion for this story. It's only in death that Jimmy actually listens to and understands what Chuck has been saying this whole time. It's just horrifying that it took something like this for him to realize that.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Lantern" was written by Gennifer Hutchison and directed by Peter Gould.
  • The story works if Chuck turns out to be dead from the lantern he tips over which causes his house to go up in flames. That's the tragic ending this story has been building towards. And yet, the show could still easily reverse course next season. Chuck seems determined to die in that moment. But seeing the actual fire could change his mind very quickly. 
  • Of course, if this is the end for Chuck, it's yet another powerful performance from Michael McKean. He's slowly become one of the best actors on this show. The character is just so nuanced and complex. He's unlikable one moment as he hurts his brother and incredibly sympathetic the next as he deals with the crushing reality of his disease. Those complications only add to the overly effect of the story and the impact it will have throughout this world.
  • Nacho's plan to eliminate Hector reaches its tragic conclusion as well. It all goes exactly as Nacho planned it as well. He was ready to put a bullet into Hector to end all of this. But then, Hector gets worked up into enough of a state over the transportation deal that he has the heart attack aided by the wrong medication. He even spills his pills so that Nacho has the perfect opportunity to switch them with the correct ones.
  • However, there is a brief moment of suspicion between Gus and Nacho after the ambulance arrives to take Hector to the hospital. The audience is aware that he lives but is confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak. He'll continue to hold a grudge against Gus until the day he dies. But right now, it's intense for Nacho because it's unclear if Gus suspects any kind of foul play in this situation.
  • Plus, Nacho is still estranged from his father. All of this goes exactly as planned. But that relationship is still tense and may never heal. Nacho did all of this to protect his father. And yet, it didn't happen soon enough. Hector being taken out now could change things. But Nacho's father will always know that his son returned to this lifestyle once more and almost ruined everything for the family business. As such, they may never be able to heal properly.
  • It's nice to see Erin pop up again to help Jimmy carry out his master plan to reveal his true self to his elderly clients. The Davis & Main characters haven't really appeared since Jimmy quit that job last season. So to see her again and yelling at Jimmy for every horrible thing he has done is really quite satisfying.
  • The show technically hasn't been renewed for a fourth season. I wonder why that is? Is it a contractual thing where the network and the studio are running into a particular problem? Is it the creative team trying to figure out how much story is left in this world? I have no doubts that the show will return for a fourth season. I'm just a little curious as to what the future will bring given everything that happens in "Lantern."