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In Defense of Chuck's Motivations in the 'Better Call Saul' Finale

By Dustin Rowles | TV | April 19, 2016 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | April 19, 2016 |

There were concerns, especially earlier in this season of Better Call Saul, that Kim Wexler was getting the Skyler White treatment: The nagging buzzkill who toed the line between hypocrite and moral arbiter.

That concern never really availed itself. Kim Wexler ultimately revealed that, while she didn’t approve of Jimmy’s way of life for herself, she was mostly willing to accept Jimmy for who he is (to a point).

Kim Wexler is not Skyler White. Chuck is Skyler White. He’s the morally upright, disapproving buzzkill. He’s the asshole, but like Skyler White, Chuck McGill is also ultimately right. He was right about Jimmy not belonging at McGill. He was right about Jimmy failing at Davis and Maine. He was right about Jimmy screwing him out of Mesa Verde. He has always been right about Jimmy. Jimmy cuts corners. Jimmy crosses ethical lines. Jimmy cheats.

And Chuck resents him for it. Why shouldn’t he? Chuck has always done the right thing. Why? Because Chuck always wanted from his own parents the very approval that Jimmy is seeking from Chuck. Did he get it? No, his parents — like every one else, like his own wife — preferred the charismatic, corner-cutting con man Jimmy McGill.

Why do you think Chuck is the way he is? Why do you think he has a psychosomatic disease? Why do you think his wife (probably) left him? Because of Jimmy. More to the point, because Chuck is not Jimmy.

Chuck wants to destroy Jimmy’s legal career (and his relationship with Kim) for a very simple reason: Because Jimmy’s success undermines his own. Because it messes with his world order. Because it’s a slap in the face of all the hard work that Chuck has put in to get to where he is. Because their parents loved Jimmy more, even though it was Chuck who worked so hard to gain their approval.

Jimmy McGill is 2008’s Obama to Hillary Clinton. She did everything right. She went to the right schools, stuck by adulterous husband, kissed the right asses, curried favor with the establishment, put in her time as a Senator, tried to win the favor of the liberal masses, and cut the perfect path to the White House. Everything was going perfectly until this upstart, charismatic one-term Senator came along with his talk about hope and stole what she thought rightfully belonged to her. He took shortcuts, and he could because he was more likable than Hillary, just like Jimmy is more likable than Chuck.

I don’t think that Chuck wants to completely ruin Jimmy’s life. Chuck merely wants Jimmy placed within the appropriate rung of the hierarchy. Jimmy belongs in the mailroom, or at the very best, Jimmy deserves the kind of legal career his substandard law degree should have afforded him: Hustling old folks for $150 gigs writing wills. That’s where Chuck is comfortable with Jimmy. That validates Chuck’s worldview. Chuck wants to be bailing Jimmy out of jail, offering him entry level jobs, and coming to his rescue when Jimmy gets in trouble because every time Jimmy fucks up, Chuck says to himself, “See? My way was the right way all along, even if our parents loved him more than me.”

Chuck is a petty, jealous asshole. He’s a son of a bitch. But he’s not a monster. He’s a guy who has lived his entire life a certain way — the “right” way — and he doesn’t want to Jimmy’s success to reveal that there was another easier way. More than anything, however, Chuck wants Jimmy to get his comeuppance: Jimmy cheated their Dad. Jimmy was more loved by their mother. Jimmy stole the affections of Chuck’s wife. Jimmy even briefly won the approval of his partner, Hamlin. Jimmy conned his way through his life. Jimmy needs a reckoning.

Jimmy’s ultimately going to get it, but we don’t know if Chuck will still be around to see it.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.