The unknown messenger’s letter to Mike is a road sign as plain as any you could ask for. Passing it means oblivion, the annihilation of the self through the act of murder, and in the end Mike is still, for now, the man who can’t pull the trigger. He has maybe ten lines in all of ‘Klick,’ but the moments in which he contemplates wounding or killing Nacho in order to get his shot at Hector are so tense I found myself literally biting my nails. “You’d better have paid attention to that shot,” Lawson tells Mike during a live fire test of a high-powered sniper rifle. Then the episode does just that, painting a picture of a desolate house in the desert and the perspective-shrunken drama unfolding in and around it through the scope of Mike’s gun. First Nacho blocks his field of fire, then he witnesses the cold-blooded execution of the truck driver he hijacked in ‘Fifi.’
Something he sees makes Mike hesitate long enough for some unknown party (my money’s on the Chicken Man) to send a message, jamming the horn on Mike’s car and forcing him to abandon his stakeout. Breaking free of the scene’s painterly construction of the canyon and the furor around the man killed and buried there feels like coming up for air from Mike’s POV. It’s a restrained storyline, a quiet contemplation of the void awaiting Mike’s soul when, inevitably, he takes up the sword again. His love for his granddaughter and daughter-in-law, his bonhomie with the strangers for whom he bought a round last week, his grouchy rapport with Jimmy, it all plays out in the shadow of a man who will become a notorious mass murderer and die at the hands of an even crueler, greedier monster on the bank of some nameless river in backwoods NM.
And speaking of death, the language and imagery of the underworld still cling tightly to Chuck. From the nausea-inducing inverted angle of his in-processing at the hospital to his implosive cessation of function in the Kubrickian monolith of the MRI machine, the experience sends him fleeing into the recesses of his mind. The episode opens with a heartbreaking scene in which Chuck, unwilling to leave his dying mother’s bedside to get a sandwich with his brother, is present for her final moments. She wakes, confused and frightened, and asks plaintively, “Jimmy? Jimmy?” before fading out of life. Loveless and unloved, Chuck hides her words from a distraught Jimmy when he returns. He keeps his mother’s love for his brother secreted away inside himself like poison.
And what is the foil-tented cavern of his living room if not a liminal space where sins are recorded and judged? Chuck’s elaborate bid to weasel a confession out of Jimmy gives him the power to throw his brother to Ammit, to destroy Jimmy as he constantly suspects Jimmy of attempting to destroy him. Watching Chuck accuse Jimmy time and time again of attempting to lock him away in an asylum, of seizing any opportunity to gain control over his life, betrays just how much Chuck’s struggle against his brother is a struggle against his own baser self. He believes, deep inside, that he is unloved and that his brother is incapable of being good. There is genuine anguish in his ploy, his miserable false confession that he believes his illness has begun to destroy his mind. “It all used to work,” he cries, slapping himself in the forehead with the same frustration and terror we’ve seen in him before. But it’s Chuck on the hunt for a blade to hold over his brother’s head, not the other way around.
“Jimmy, do you realize you just confessed to a felony?” Chuck asks his brother. “I guess, but you feel better, right?” Jimmy answers. It’s wrenching, a simultaneous revelation that Jimmy can’t let his brother take the fall for his own crimes and that he believes those crimes are essentially meaningless next to whatever feelings make him feel guilty or uncomfortable. “When you’re ninety-nine, you can drop dead giving closing arguments to JudgeBot 3000,” he jokes with Chuck before departing and leaving the elder McGill to collect his hidden tape recorder with a pair of tongs, a beautiful visual metaphor for their family’s inability to handle the truth directly.
Mike’s and Jimmy’s parallel stories never reached the fever pitch of mayhem and terror that served as Breaking Bad‘s engine, but flirting with that chaos delivered gorgeous and ambiguous portraits of lives in moral decline. The dual cliffhangers that play out season 2 are a great example of the restraint and deep character focus that made the season so challenging and rich, and with Gustavo Fring looming on the horizon and Kim’s and Jimmy’s careers dangling by a thread, season 3 is a prospect at once thrilling and dreadful. That unease is a testament to just how great this show has become.