For a season finale as understated as “Klick”, concluding the second-season run of a show as understated as Better Call Saul, an awful lot happened in one hour. Time and again we find ourselves referring to Saul in terms of a balancing act — between comedy and drama, between moral and immoral, between sympathetic and pathetic, between action and inaction. “Klick” lived in a few of those spaces, none more obvious than the space between subtlety and downright ridiculousness. Saul on the whole thrives in this balancing act, and in part it’s forced to do so by the predecessor Breaking Bad. Saul has to balance restraint with forward progress, treading lightly so as to remain interesting while not intruding on Bad‘s storylines.
Take the first scene of “Klick”, veering toward the latter on the scale spanning subtlety and ridiculousness. Jimmy and Chuck sit by their ailing mother’s hospital bed, Mrs. McGill lying unconscious as she closes in on death. It’s been a while, apparently, and so Jimmy recommends they go get hoagies. Chuck declines — he won’t leave his mother, not now. Jimmy? Yeah: Jimmy wants a hoagie. So Jimmy goes to get a hoagie. When he’s alone with his silent mother Chuck breaks down, perhaps remembering how Jimmy screwed his father over right before his expiration date. Chuck cries because if his mother dies then it will just be him and Jimmy, which in Chuck’s mind is tantamount to it just being him.
And wouldn’t you know it: Mama McGill wakes up, gasps for breath, and starts to say something. Chuck wipes his eyes and rises quickly from his chair. Mama croaks Jimmy’s name twice before dying an instant later, the name of his brother still ringing in Chuck’s head as the final exhale leaves the room. Jimmy returns with hoagies in hand to find his mother passed, and Chuck reports that she said nothing before her death.
This scene is over-the-top by Saul standards, such that we might not even believe it fully for how scripted it seems (aside: wouldn’t that be something, if flashbacks like this and the one from “Rebecca” were just Chuck’s perception of what went down). It’s not ridiculous in a bad way, and that “scripted” feeling isn’t overly soapy or anything like that, but it’s neatly out of place in “Klick” for just that reason. This scene, the dramatic DON’T note on Mike’s car (more on that in a second), Chuck’s makeshift Faraday cage — all of these elements bear the hallmarks of bold storytelling, both in the striking visual imagery and the implications for the characters involved.
By the same token, though, the first scene is carried by Chuck and Chuck alone and exists to Jimmy as “nothing” rather than a memory of his mother saying his name as her dying words. The DON’T note concludes a scene of Mike scoping back and forth from potential target to potential target, frustration building as his clear shot at the prime target remains blocked, and then notably not pulling the trigger after all of that. The Faraday cage turns out to be a con, or at least a part of a con, and it’s likely we won’t ever see that shiny interior again. “Klick” featured an awful lot of people lying in hospital beds, unconscious or in states of catatonia. Even Kim, who enjoyed a beautifully expanded role in the second season and led one of the best episodes yet (the aforementioned “Rebecca”), ends up getting coffee for Jimmy’s clientele by the end of the episode.
Saul is able to succeed in these more subtle moments as well. A crucial one involves Ernie, the young former mail room employee and personal aide to Chuck in Jimmy’s absence. He lies to Chuck about Jimmy’s presence at the copy shop, putting a nail in a potentially disastrous plot point. The fact of this would-be game-changer being snuffed out by Ernie, who notes that he did what he did simply because he considers Jimmy a friend, shows the penchant the show has for subtlety in place of fireworks. A lesser series would likely have burned through twice as many subplots by now.
Maybe all of this unfulfilled potential is what carries us forward to Breaking Bad, undoubtedly one of the finest exercises in bringing a slow burn to full, roaring flame by the end of the day. That DON’T note? That was Gus Fring, right? It had to be, unless there’s more to Nacho than meets the eye or if there’s another cartel faction we don’t know about. Mike working for Gus in the original series will almost certainly receive due attention at some point in Better Call Saul, and the theatricality of the DON’T note matches Gus and just makes too much sense for Mike’s arc. He’s not yet a stone cold killer (Vince Gilligan noted as much on Talking Saul right after the finale) and so perhaps it’s Gus who pushes Mike over the edge on that front.
So a lot went down in “Klick”, some of it subtle and understated, some of it reeking of potential unfulfilled, some of it outlandish. Part of the brilliance of Better Call Saul is in the interpretive qualities of much of this, the ways in which we sympathize with both Jimmy and Chuck while simultaneously seeing how wrong they might be. One thing that’s not open for interpretation is the fact that Saul is populated by some of the finest actors working today, from Bob Odenkirk to Rhea Seehorn to Michael Mando to Jonathan Banks. Michael McKean is perhaps a particular standout after “Klick”, he having one of the more involved and complicated arcs over the course of two seasons. When Saul returns for a third season next winter you can bet that McKean’s Chuck and Odenkirk’s Jimmy will further their epic rivalry, dragging everyone else through the subtlety/ridiculousness of the journey toward a seedy lawyer with some really bright neckties.