July 20, 2024

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Better Call Saul “Lantern”

Season Three Finale

So, does Jimmy McGill feel regret?

One of the more common themes to a lot of prestige TV shows is whether the sometimes despicable main characters can change and maybe become better people.  Tony Soprano couldn’t, and as soon as Dr. Melfi realized it, she gave up on him.  Vic Mackey couldn’t, and he ended his series with everyone pretty much aware of what a dirtbag he was.  Don Draper maybe thinks he did, but whatever he learned, he channeled it into more advertising, and that is somewhat missing the point.

But then there’s Walter White.  Did he change?  Well, yes and no.  He changed for the worst over the course of his series, but his final change wasn’t to become better than it was to become honest with himself and his wife.  That look Skyler gives Walt when he finally admits he did everything for himself and not for his family was a look of, if not forgiveness, than at least a little relief that Walt finally admitted what he was all along, not the concerned family man but the frustrated chemistry teacher who felt he needed something for himself and just chose the worst possible route to do so.

What about Jimmy McGill?

See, this episode is the last one for Chuck barring the occasional future flashback scene.  Chuck and Jimmy have that last conversation where Jimmy tries to make amends and Chuck won’t hear of it.  Chuck says a few things here, and part of it struck me as projection and another part struck me as Chuck lying his head off.  Chuck is in a bad place.  Jimmy’s thing with the malpractice insurance forced Chuck out of HHM, a move that Howard executed in a way to force Chuck into retirement, and probably in the most humiliating way possible.

Thing is, Howard was right to do it.  Chuck’s arrogance over his position meant he never quite seemed willing to admit how much his Jimmy obsession hurt him and HHM.  Would Howard have hired Jimmy as a lawyer when Jimmy passed the bar if not for Chuck?  Maybe.  Not now, but then maybe.

But apparently this is not the first time Jimmy has done this, and Chuck is uninterested in offering Jimmy forgiveness.  Not really.  The projection kicks in when Chuck states that Jimmy should just admit he’s that dishonest scammer that doesn’t really care for what happens to other people but only feels bad afterwards when people get hurt.  Chuck’s suggestion, that he would respect Jimmy more if his brother did just that, sounds an awful lot like how Chuck admitted to himself his electricity allergy was psychological, not an actual thing.  Jimmy isn’t Chuck, and the fact that Jimmy has to use his scamming power to fix Irene’s relationships with her friends in a way that utterly ruins Jimmy’s elder care law practice is perhaps proof of that.

But Chuck also says Jimmy doesn’t matter to him.  That is a lie.  Chuck obviously thought about Jimmy.  Why would he go to so much effort to, you know, stop Jimmy from doing things if Jimmy didn’t matter to his older brother?  Factor in the cold open of the brothers as children with Chuck reading a book to Jimmy, and yes, Jimmy mattered to Chuck.  Maybe Chuck really believed that when he said it.  Or maybe it was just what Chuck figured was the biggest way to hurt his brother and get back at him for what Jimmy did to get Chuck forced out.

It’s a moot point.  The episode ends with Chuck effectively killing himself after his “allergy” has a relapse.  Jimmy was already showing remorse for his actions.  I can’t imagine he’ll take it very well.   But for me, the bottom line is simpler:  Jimmy McGill is a more complex man than his big brother Chuck ever gave him credit for.