The layers of Chuck v. Jimmy animosity are building a repugnant lasagna of brotherly betrayal. In the previous episode of Better Call Saul, Jimmy bribed a man at the copy shop where he’d originally fiddled with Chuck’s lawyerly paperwork on the Mesa Verde case — asking the clerk not to disclose that he’d fiddled with said paperwork. But instead of merely being told of Jimmy’s innocence re: fiddling, Chuck fell down and hit his head because a task as easy as finding out whether your brother betrayed you at a copy shop via fiddling is never quite so easy if you have electromagnetic hypersensitivity.
And so this episode — the second season’s finale, “Klick” — begins with a trick: Jimmy is in a hospital room. The person in the bed seems to be dying. We assume this is Chuck — some of us may even hope it is. But then, through virtuosically manipulative (the good kind!) directing on creator Vince Gilligan’s part, the camera slowly reveals Chuck to be sitting right next to Jimmy — the two are speaking with one another. Is this Six Feet Under? Is Jimmy conversing with some idealized mental portrait/ghost of Chuck? Alas, no, the camera continues to pull back, revealing an old woman in the bed: this is a flashback, that is their mother.
Obviously, if you’re flashing back in the middle of a cliff-hanger, the expectations for delivering something exceedingly symbolic or revealing or potent are high; this scene more than meets those expectations, summing up everything about Jimmy and Chuck’s relationship in five minutes and foreshadowing what we’ll see at the end of the episode.
Jimmy thinks the two of them have time to leave the hospital to procure sandwiches; Chuck doesn’t want to risk missing their mother’s passing to gain sandwiches. Jimmy sets out in search of a sandwich nonetheless. While he’s gone Chuck weeps, then their mother dies in front of him, but not before uttering her last words, calling out “Jimmy, Jimmy” to Chuck. When Jimmy returns and finds out the news, he asks if she said anything, and Chuck nonchalantly declares, “No, she didn’t.” It’s not just in the territory of law that Chuck will deceive Jimmy (which Chuck justifies by blaming Jimmy for being inauthentic and dangerously cavalier, thus becoming in fact far more inauthentic than Jimmy ever could be). Now, we see, Chuck’s propensity to sabotage Jimmy has always been in deeply personal matters.
Seeing this deception’s ability to infiltrate areas beyond law is fearsome. It was nice, but definitely idealistic, to at one point think this was a professional battle between brothers who, on a deeper level, love and nurture one another. The saddest part is that’s still what Jimmy thinks it is. And so we cut back to the current day, where Chuck is bleeding on the floor of a copy shop and unconscious, and Jimmy decides to run in and help him — risking exposing his simple (and previously successful) plot to embarrass Chuck in court in order to come to his rescue. In personal crisis, Jimmy will save Chuck. The reverse, it now seems completely clear, cannot be said.
In another masterfully filmed sequence, Chuck is wheeled through the emergency room, and the whole scene is filmed upside down in a way that makes us vertiginously empathic to Chuck’s feeling of disorientation and even, when they start talking EKGs and catscans, violation: psychosomatic or not, this is torture for him. Meanwhile, Chuck’s resistance to medical procedure leads his doctor, played again by Clea Duvall (But I’m a Cheerleader) to encourage Jimmy to have him committed.
But despite being in the midst of a dirty professional war, Jimmy refuses to sign Chuck up for what he sees as a defeatist fate — instead opting to sign for a “temporary emergency guardianship” — and even doing this with his brother’s best interest in mind. Chuck is understandably suspicious, saying, “You finally got me where you want me,” and then beginning a line of questioning about the length of time he was unconscious in the print shop. How could Jimmy have gotten there so quickly to rescue him if he weren’t watching somewhere from the sidelines? Ernesto happens to be in the room and tells Chuck that he’d called Jimmy when Chuck had gone out, saying he was worried. (Ernesto later tells Jimmy why he chose to lie on his behalf: “Your brother, the way he’s been talking about you, he’s really out to get you Jimmy, and you’re my friend.” Jimmy should heed his words.)
Kim pretty much sits this episode out — and the writers are well aware of it. Tellingly, back at the office, she’s asked, when Jimmy gets an important call about Chuck from Howard Hamlin, to make coffee with very specific demands for the crowd of elderly people waiting to be helped by Jimmy — who’s wooed them with his utterly creepy “gimme Jimmy” commercials touting his moxie (the most elderly-pandering adjective imaginable). Kim’s momentarily menial role in the office and in this episode seem to foresee further difficulty between her and Jimmy in the season to come. Rather than thriving in a co-working haven with her boyfriend, she’s suddenly distracted from her own work by having to play receptionist in both his absence and the absence of an actual receptionist.
The aforementioned important call from Hamlin is made to notify Jimmy of Chuck’s alleged decision to retire. Overcome by guilt, Jimmy bolts to Chuck’s house, where he finds his brother plastering the walls in space blankets, attempting to create an electromagnetism-repellent environment that just looks like the finale of Bug. Chuck, who seems utterly helpless, bemoans having “messed up” in court — and begins pitifully saying he’s lost his spark as a lawyer, and that his condition has clearly clouded his abilities.
“How are you going to retire before you get me disbarred?” Jimmy jokes, and suddenly we wonder whether this will end in them chuckling and hugging it out instead of, say, killing each other.
But then, feeling increasingly guilty — not only has he compromised his brother’s physical state, now he thinks he’s done so mentally — Jimmy confesses to having messed with the documents that humiliated Chuck in court, and to having bribed the guy at the coffee shop to lie for him.
“Jimmy, you do realize you just confessed to a felony?” asks Chuck.
“I guess, but it’s your word against mine,” Jimmy replies, walking out the door, after which Chuck desperately claws a pair of salad tongs and lifts a space blanket that’d been piled somewhere in his living room, and reveals a (somewhat expected, but shockingly cruel nonetheless) tape recorder that he’d had turned on the whole time.
Meanwhile, this plot has become so deliciously venomous and layered with legitimate pain for both characters (but I want to say that I now think “Chuck sucks” works as the objectively correct slogan) that it’s easy to forget that a whole separate (though admittedly very secondary here) plot has been taking place with Mike — who is now becoming very serious about the idea of killing Hector Salamanca, and has set up a cozy little sniping booth beyond Hector’s desert lair. But just as he’s about to pull the trigger, he hears his own car-horn honking incessantly in the distance, and finds a note on his windshield that says, merely, “don’t.” And if you think this letter from an undisclosed source might in fact be the first sign we’re seeing of Breaking Bad‘s Gus Fring, a recent interview with Bob Odenkirk certainly doesn’t deny the possibility.
All in all, this season finale did a spectacular job at summing up the series’ now central tragedy: the inevitable destruction of a brotherly relationship between a bureaucratically “lawful” man who, at his core, would go to any legal means and break any moral code to see his competition fail, and a superficially lawless man who, when it ultimately comes down to extremes, has a soft spot for a code of fraternal morality. In an episode whose war was fought, on Chuck’s part, subtextually from the physically paralyzing realm of the hospital bed, towards the end we begin to wonder if, by the laws of clichés like straws that break camel’s backs, the two won’t finally just fight to the death. But instead, the episode offers no explosive ends to anything — just a continued cold war as Chuck’s odium reaches new heights. That tape recorder is far more chilling than any physical attack would have been.