Better Call Saul has always been amazingly well-written and has featured award-worthy performances from its stellar cast, but the season three finale was easily a highlight of the series in what could only be described as the best season of the series thus far. Filled with breakout performances, defining character moments, and a breathtaking final scene, “Lantern” was an unparalleled hour of storytelling perfection.
The episode began with a flashback of Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and Chuck (Michael McKean) as kids camping outside. They are sitting in a tent with a gas powered lantern lighting up the space. Chuck is reading The Adventures of Mabel by Harry Thurston Peck to Jimmy, which is a callback to the season three premiere, when they are reminiscing about their childhood. With everything that has happened over the last two seasons, Chuck and Jimmy couldn’t be any farther apart, and this opening reminded audiences that not only were they related, but they were close with one another. It wouldn’t be the last time we saw a lantern, but more on that later.
The penultimate episode ended with one of the scariest moments of the series. Kim (Rhea Seehorn) fell asleep at the wheel and crashed her car. She had overworked herself trying to earn enough money to pay for all of the expenses while Jimmy was out of work. The episode begins with her in the hospital and Jimmy rushing to her aid. The accident is a wake-up call for Kim, who after initially trying to go about her day as if nothing happened, realizes that she needs to take a break.
The fate of HHM was also at stake now that Chuck and Howard (Patrick Fabian) were at odds. In the previous episode, Howard suggested that Chuck retire to save the company from any more embarrassing mishaps. Chuck was offended by the notion, especially since he had worked so hard on trying to move past his “condition,” and decided to sue HHM rather than retire. When the board meets to discuss the lawsuit, Chuck admits that he doesn’t want to take legal action and that he is willing to forget about the whole thing if he can stay on as a lawyer.
In a surprising move, Hamlin rejects Chuck’s offer, having felt betrayed by his former partner and friend. Not only does Howard pay Chuck out of his own pocket, but then he goes as far as embarrassing him by announcing Chuck’s departure to the entire staff. Patrick Fabian effortlessly goes from upset to angry to vengeful to proud in just a few minutes of screen time. If he were to receive an Emmy nomination, it would definitely be for this scene.
After thinking he has failed to kill Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis), Nacho (Michael Mando) unwillingly involves his father into his life of crime. Hector’s meeting with Nacho’s father was heartbreaking to watch, knowing that his father is an honest and hardworking man just trying to make a living. What was even more powerful was Michael Mando’s performance over these final two episodes of the season. What looked like the end for Nacho was actually the moment Breaking Bad fans have been waiting for. We finally find out what happened to Hector with a surprising twist.
During a meeting between Hector, Juan Bolsa (Javier Grajeda), and Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), Hector goes into cardiac arrest and ingests more of the pills that Nacho had replaced with poison(?). He falls unconscious and is saved by Gus, who performs CPR on his nemesis. Gus had previously mentioned that he was being kept alive because he deserved something worse than death and now we know what got him into that wheelchair.
After what happened to Kim, Jimmy realizes that what he put Mrs. Landry through to have her settle the Sandpiper case wasn’t worth ruining her life. On the Better Call Saul podcast, Bob Odenkirk said that what Jimmy did to Mrs. Landry was the first time the audience saw the real Saul Goodman, because he knew what he was doing to her and what the ramifications would be. He got what he wanted regardless of who he hurt in the process. Jimmy spends the majority of the episode trying to right his wrong and get Mrs. Landry’s friends to talk to her again.
The other half of the episode is focused on Chuck and for good reason. After being let go from HHM, he is visited by Jimmy, who after seeing what happened to Kim tries to make amends with his brother. What follows is a heartbreaking moment that even rivals the moment in season one when it was revealed that it was Chuck and not Hamlin who didn’t want Jimmy a part of HHM. When Jimmy tries to apologize, Chuck delivers one of the most devastating quotes of the series, “I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but the truth is you’ve never mattered all that much to me.”
Being let go from HHM and breaking Jimmy’s heart must have triggered something in Chuck because he develops insomnia, which negates all of his progress and has him revert back to his old ways. He starts tearing apart the house, removing any electrical current. He keeps going back to the meter to see if it is off but can’t figure it out, and so he destroys the meter. The final scene shows Chuck in full Howard Hughes mode, surrounded by books, debris, and darkness. He is in a chair kicking a table with that familiar gas lantern sitting on the edge. The lantern finally falls and the house catches fire. It in this moment that Chuck realizes that he is not going to get better, he has lost his wife, his job, and his family. He has officially hit rock bottom and he takes his own life.
It was an incredibly emotional ending that had been building up since the beginning of the series. With an episode title like “Lantern,” I felt that Chuck might not make it out alive by the end of the episode. I just didn’t think he would be the one personally responsible for his death. Leave to the creatives behind the best show on television to constantly surprise viewers at every turn.