It goes without saying that there are spoilers in this review, so don't end up looking like one of Slippin' Jimmy's marks.
It's Season Finale time in Better Call Saul's world, but if you think that means everything is ramping up to massive revelations... Well, you're only partly right, and then only at the end. Like much of the season (and the show itself) Saul's season 2 capper takes its time telling the story, clearly aware that a third year of stories is on the way and therefore content to leave us hanging.
But we start with Jimmy sitting worried by a hospital bed. You might at first suspect he's hovering near an ailing Chuck after the latter fell and bashed his head last week, but it's all a fake-out, albeit one you could figure out from Jimmy's clothes. As the nurse moves, it's revealed that we're actually in a flashback and both Jimmy and Chuck are at their dying mother's bedside. We start with heartbreak on two fronts as, shortly after Jimmy leaves to fetch some food for him and his brother, their mother dies with just Chuck in the room. The pain is felt by Chuck, who has to endure both his mother ebbing away, and to rub salt into his wounds, calling for his younger brother before she does. And when Jimmy returns to discover she died while he was elsewhere, a still-grieving Chuck twists the knife the other way, lying that she said nothing before she went.
After the credits, we're back in the present as Jimmy urgently rushes into the copy store to help Chuck. An ambulance is summoned and the older McGill is whisked off to the hospital. Strapped to a trolley at the mercy of the fizzling florescent lights and all the beeping machines, Chuck tries without success to make the doctors leave him alone. They're ordering up all sorts of tests that will play merry havoc with his condition, and he balks at the thought of being subjected to a CAT scan.
Outside his room, a nervous Jimmy talks to Dr. Cruz (Clea DuVall), who we first met in last year's Alpine Shepherd Boy. She's been trying to convince Chuck that they need to do tests to check his head and figure out why he keeled over, but he's naturally resisting. Jimmy refuses to commit his brother for observation, but does consider a temporary emergency guardianship, which would enable him to order the tests against Chuck's wishes. When Jimmy goes in to see his brother, a suspicious Chuck seems a little better, and has apparently figured out that Jimmy bribed Lance the copy store worker to deny having seen him, and that he was only there to help because he'd already been watching to see his plan work out. But Ernesto, who comes into the room at Chuck's request, seems to help Jimmy's story, saying he called him after Chuck collapsed. As they walk out and down the corridor, a mystified but grateful Jimmy thanks Ernesto for backing him up and Ernie mutters that he misses the mail room. Life was easier back then, eh, buddy?
Out in the desert, the Cousins are transporting some poor helpless fellow trussed up with gaffer tape to a mystery location. This probably won't end well for their victim. Mike is trailing their van in his car, but stops and turns around when they open a locked gate and drive where he can't follow.
As Chuck tries to convince the doctors they shouldn't be running more tests, Jimmy watches anxiously from outside the door. Then we cut to poor old Chuck stuck in a CAT scan, clearly suffering the effects of the machinery enclosing him. As Jimmy waits for him, Kim arrives. He asks her to get some work out so he can be distracted by something "unhospital-y" and she agrees. But then Jimmy's advert comes on the TV and it's a fantastic little spot that impresses Kim and even briefly helps Jimmy's mood. Dr. Cruz arrives to put a damper on things: the tests were normal, and his collapse in the copy shop was more likely the result of a panic attack. But there was a complication in the CAT scan.
Which we can clearly see when we cut to a seemingly catatonic Chuck. It's not the sedative, it appears to be self-inflicted. Jimmy's angry and feeling helpless. He'll wait by Chuck's bedside, clearly feeling some lingering guilt over everything that has happened.
We're back in the desert, but this time it's Mike with weapons dealer Lawson (Jim Beaver back again) and they're testing out rifles for something Mike has planned. We'd be happy to watch these two in a sitcom about laconic brothers who just speak gruffly and sensibly all the time. Mike finds what he wants and Lawson throws a box of ammo in free for the deal.
At the hospital, Chuck finally starts to emerge from his catatonic state after 20 hours (thanks, time-lapse photography!) He wants water and Jimmy scurries to provide. Chuck thinks his younger brother will have him sent to an asylum next, but Jimmy simply wants to take him home. At Casa Del Chuck, he sinks onto the sofa wrapped in his usual space blanket and brushes aside Jimmy's offer to make him tea. He'll let Ernesto come back and help, but it seems Jimmy isn't wanted. But once his brother leaves, Chuck gets up and heads to his garage, a veritable museum to the equipment he can no longer bear to have in the house. He's hunting for something in a box, but thanks to a POV shot we don't see exactly what.
Mike's staked out in the desert, set up on a ridge overlooking a squat, small house in the middle of nowhere. As he watches through the scope on his rifle, Hector Salamanca, Nacho, the cousins, and a couple of others execute the guy they brought out in the van and dump his body in a shallow grave. Mike tries to line up a shot at Hector, but Nacho keeps getting in the way. And then he hears the distant sound of a car horn going off. The tension ratchets up as he discovers it's his car making the noise – someone has wedged a tree branch against the wheel... And there's a note on the windscreen that simply reads "Don't". Stealth (very) early marketing for Edgar Wright's Grindhouse trailer, which won't come out for several years yet? Nope, just a message warning Mike away. But from whom? A certain Mr. Fring, perhaps?
At Jimmy's office, business seems brisk and there are plenty of old timers waiting to consult with him. As he sees one man out and prepares to welcome the rest, cursing his lack of a receptionist, Kim emerges to tell him that Howard Hamlin is trying to get in touch by phone. Turns out Chuck has quit HHM, to everyone's surprise.
Heading to Chuck's Jimmy raps on the door until his brother finally lets him in and when he walks in he finds... Chuck at work stretching and taping more of the space blanket material everywhere. It looks like a scene from The X-Files, which is familiar territory for Saul co-creator Vince Gilligan. Chuck's building a makeshift Faraday cage, convinced that his electromagnetic nemesis is degrading his brain. Since the CAT scan, he's decided that he made the mistake with the Mesa Verde documents, and nothing Jimmy says can convince him otherwise. So Chuck's decided to retire from the law. Such is his blind spot where his brother is concerned, Jimmy piles on with his confession about the documents, talking about their past and admitting to what he did. As chuck points out, Jimmy just admitted to a felony, but his younger brother is convinced it's Chuck's word against his. Silly Jimmy... After he leaves, Chuck lifts a blanket to reveal that he's had a couple of tape recorders running the whole time. He clicks one of the machines off... And we cut to black.
There's no denying that Better Call Saul keeps you guessing in its masterful, quiet fashion. Bringing the focus back down almost completely to the brothers and their screwed-up relationship worked wonders, letting Bob Odenkirk and Michael McKean do their thing in a cat-and-mouse game that the younger sibling thought he'd won. But Jimmy's clear concern for Chuck, despite the issues that exist between them, proved to be his undoing and now we wait for that emotional and legal bomb to go off next season. Some lovely work from writer Heather Marion, working with Gilligan who also directs, turns the tension up. And, as ever, the show does so much work with its shots – whether it's those trademark long shots to show the characters isolated and small in frame (such as Jimmy in the hospital waiting room) or the use of light and shadow – that every scene feels that much more alive. Take Chuck's arrival at the hospital, with the camera upside down to give some idea of his mental state through one quick choice.
And there's still room for some nice Mike moments: his gun purchase scene with Lawson was a delight as always and the shots (no pun intended) of him trying to assassinate Hector had us biting our nails bloody. Of course we know he won't kill the man, given that we see him in Breaking Bad, but it didn't dispel the tension.
All in all, another fantastic season for one of the best shows on TV that sticks to its game and doesn't try to rush things, especially since Gilligan, Gould and the gang have at least another season to keep showing Jimmy McGill's dark path towards Saul Goodman.