Recap Digest: Better Call Saul 2.10, "Klick"

Apr 19, 2016 by Alex Castle

Brothers fight. It’s what they do. They fight over what to watch on TV, over the last cookie, over respecting the sacred boundaries of each others’ bedrooms. Sometimes those fights are just yelling, but sometimes they turn physical. At least, that’s how it was at my house, between my brother and me. We fought all the time, and we scrapped all the time. But no matter how angry we got at each other, no matter how sincerely we wanted to kill each other, in the course of roughly 1,500 fights we both observed an unspoken agreement that we never once violated: No punching in the face. Even when we wanted to hurt each other, we didn’t want to, you know, hurt each other.

This is the principle that Jimmy McGill is operating under in his escalating war with his older brother Chuck: sure, he spent an entire night falsifying documents in order to win a big client back from Chuck’s firm to Kim’s, and take the impossibly pompous Chuck down in the process. But when it looks like Chuck’s life is in danger – when he passes out haranguing the copy shop clerk that he’s correctly guessed was paid off and hits his head – all bets are suddenly off and Jimmy is at his brother’s side, turning off all the electricity in the copy shop and assuring him that he’s going to be all right, even as he knows that he’s confirming to Chuck that all his suspicions about Jimmy’s antics were correct.

This episode was masterfully directed by Vince Gilligan, full of point-of-view shots that brilliantly evoked the mental state of the characters, particularly the inverted shot of Chuck being wheeled into the hospital on a gurney and then being examined by the doctors – combined with Michael McKean’s performance, a tour-de-force of dread and panic, this was definitely season finale material. Chuck’s “condition” is clearly a load of hooey, and his doctor wants Jimmy to have him committed, but even in the midst of their pitched battle for Mesa Verde, with the stakes no less than Jimmy’s right to continue practicing law, Jimmy demurs, agreeing instead to a Temporary Emergency Guardianship, just long enough to run the necessary tests on Chuck, but then let him go home.

Even when Chuck connects the dots as to how and why Jimmy happened to be at the copy shop when Chuck collapsed, and Ernie (who Chuck insists on calling “Ernesto”) provides a false alibi because, as he explains to Jimmy, “the way he’s been talking lately, he’s really out to get you,” Jimmy still lets Chuck go home, despite the obvious fact that he needs psychiatric attention. Even Chuck can’t believe it, insisting to Jimmy that “you’ve finally got me where you want me” – an epic bit of projection, considering that Jimmy has never been anything but indulgent when it comes to Chuck’s condition, and that Chuck is the one trying to end Jimmy’s career, not the other way around.

Indeed, while Jimmy steadfastly continues to observe the no-punches-in-the-face rule, Chuck has no such scruples – he’s out for blood. A cold-open flashback to the two of them at their mother’s deathbed shows both the source of Chuck’s frustration, and how cruelly he acts on it: after refusing to join Jimmy in leaving Mrs. McGill’s side to get some lunch, Chuck bears witness to her final words: she gasps out Jimmy’s name a couple of times – Jimmy, who was caught stealing from the family store, allegedly driving Mr. McGill to an early grave – and then dies. When Jimmy returns and hears she’s gone, he asks Chuck if she woke up or said anything, and Chuck says “no.” That’s cold.

Seen in this light, Chuck’s elaborate play to get a full confession out of his brother doesn’t seem so out of character. He tenders his retirement from HHM, prompting Howard to press Jimmy on his role in it, which brings Jimmy running to Chuck’s, where Chuck lays on the self-pity thick as molasses, even going so far as to line his interior walls with Mylar to further shield himself from the electricity he claims is the cause for his error.

Jimmy walks right into his trap, making a full confession and implicating Kim along the way, all of which Chuck secretly records with an old tape recorder. So much for no punching in the face.

For all of the complaining from some quarters that the stakes on this show – or more precisely, Jimmy’s half of this show – are not high enough to elicit the same drama as Breaking Bad so masterfully conjured week after week, this episode provided a solid rebuttal, paying off nearly everything that happened over the course of the season with a series of tense, fraught scenes between two masterful actors. There may not have been a body count or a storage unit full of cash, but there was enough drama to power a whole season in this one episode – and that’s with Mike barely even making an appearance.

What little we do see of Mike here has him looking to settle the score with Hector Salamanca, purchasing and test-driving a sniper rifle from Jim Beaver’s nameless Black Market Gun Dealer (another Breaking Bad alum) and setting up outside the safe house where Hector’s gang is beating on the popsicle-truck driver Mike robbed in the last episode. In another wonderful POV sequence, we see through Mike’s gun sight as Nacho – knowingly or unknowingly, it’s not clear – stands in the way, blocking Mike’s shot. But as we’ve seen, Mike is a patient man, and he probably would have waited there all night for a better shot, if not for the fact that the horn on his car starts blowing, forcing him to come down off his perch and investigate. He finds a stick lodged between the horn and the seat, and a note on the windshield reading simply “Don’t.” Was this Nacho, trying to keep Mike from escalating his war with the cartel? Or maybe another person with an interest in intracartel politics who we haven’t yet met on this series? Maybe someone with a chain of fried chicken restaurants?

The A.V. Club’s Donna Bowman points out how the McGills really aren’t so different:

Back at home, Chuck ventures into a garage full of discarded appliances from the days before his EMS sensitivity—lamps, blenders, Cuisinarts, washers, even a Macintosh II—and retrieves by lamplight some small gadget from a tub full of them. Next time we see him, it’s inside a living room he has transformed into a Mylar-shielded haven with duct tape, an endless supply of space blankets, and a ladder; even the ceiling is covered. There he explains to Jimmy that he’s stepping down from the law because his “mistake” in the Mesa Verde filing clearly shows that his mind is no longer trustworthy. “It’s this goddamed electricity, it’s wearing down my faculties,” he cries.

When Jimmy counters this by lauding how accurately he deduced the copy-shop caper, and Chuck retrieves the recorder that captured his brother’s confession, we realize it’s all been a ploy. But we also realize something else: Chuck is an even better con man than Jimmy. Talk about commitment to the bit: Chuck takes it to a whole new level by with the staging of the foil-lined room and his performance as a tired, beaten old man who wants out of the game. He’s got endless patience. He’s entirely invested. He will endure any sacrifice. He’s not the opposite of Jimmy at all—he’s the same, only more so. And everything he does to convince himself that they’re nothing at all alike just piles up more proof.

That doesn’t mean he’s faking his EMS allergy—and making that clear is part of the reason for the relentless Chuck POV in the hospital. But his illness’s psychosomatic nature does speak to his immense ability to convince himself, an ability on which he relies to keep his precious, fragile moral compass aligned in a world gone topsy-turvy. As he resorts to more and more extreme measures to underscore the difference between himself and Jimmy, though, he’s treading dangerously close to losing that carefully-rehearsed clarity. His means get closer to his brother’s, making it harder to maintain the distinction of their ends.

Kenny Herzog of Vulture marks this episode as the moment Chuck breaks bad:

For now, and for better or worse, “Klick” is foremost preoccupied with the McGills' escalating turf war. Across from the copy shop, Jimmy beams while watching his mentor/tormentor stagger with disbelief. But Chuck’s ensuing panic attack — a highly effective bit of weaponry in its own way, even if it’s no 168-grain bullet — instantly disarmed Jimmy, leaving him vulnerable to being exploited for his fundamental naïveté.

After Chuck wakes up from what Dr. Cruz characterizes as a self-induced catatonia — brought on by tests, pokes, and prods that would traumatize any patient, let alone one with delusions of electromagnetic sensitivity — he’s conscious in an entirely new way. Better Call Saul has largely been about Jimmy’s journey toward actualization, but it’s Chuck who emerges from this unwanted confrontation with the most volatile parts of his psyche more self-possessed. His ensuing act of deceit — i.e., the tape-recorder incident — is hard to stomach, but it’s also our introduction to Chuck as a clear-headed antagonist. His evolution has been slow and unsteady (and, by the showrunners' own admission, not always mapped out), but has paid off with a push toward supervillainy that will, in turn, force Jimmy into some no-win situations sooner than later. This, for us, all but ensures good drama.

And Alan Sepinwall of HitFix applauds the season as a whole:

What a great season of TV this was. At the start of the year, I said the show shouldn’t be in any hurry to start bringing in Breaking Bad characters, because Jimmy’s story was so interesting in its own right — and Jimmy so much more likable and vulnerable than Saul Goodman — that I wanted to enjoy it as long as possible without dreading the arrival of Gus, Walt, et al to ruin things for him and Mike. But the show managed to have its cake and eat it, too, by having Mike deal with some of the most iconic BB villains of them all even as Jimmy’s story proceeded at its own pace, largely divorced from Albuquerque’s drug trade. (And the one time he did rub elbows with a dealer, it was in service of the series' funniest scene to date.) Along the way, the show and Rhea Seehorn deepened our understanding of and attachment to Kim until she began to feel like as essential a part of the series as Jimmy or Mike. (My one disappointment about the finale is that it didn’t have much room for her.) On both a story and visual level, it continued to be put together in a thoughtful, meticulous fashion that puts nearly all its scripted competitors to shame. It’s beautiful to look at. It’s funny. It’s heartbreaking. It almost certainly wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t a Breaking Bad prequel — good luck with the standalone pitch, “We’re going to follow a reformed con man as he tries to make a name for himself as an eldercare attorney… Oh, and there’s a gruff retired cop wandering around and occasionally speaking” — but it’s turned out to be an incredible show in its own right.

Recent episodes of Better Call Saul are available on-demand.

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