After 3 seasons of buildup, Better Call Saul has finally reached this point. Chuck versus Jimmy. McGill versus McGill. Jimmy’s law license on the line. We’ve seen these brothers swing wildly between support and betrayal since the very first episode, and Chuck’s confession of holding Jimmy back was always assumed to reach exactly this point. So how does McGill Bowl (get hype) play out? Can Jimmy give his troubles the slip one more time or is this it for him?
Hey, ignore the whole “he’s still practicing law in Breaking Bad” thing. Somehow the episode makes you forget, and goes down as arguably the best episode yet of Better Call Saul’s remarkable run.
Spoilers for 3×05 “Chicanery” below
A flashback kicks off “Chicanery” with a bit of chicanery. Workers hook up a bunch of electronics in Chuck’s house and mow his lawn. Jimmy and Chuck are clearly preparing for something, which turns out to be Chuck’s ex-wife Rebecca coming over for dinner. They have already divorced at this point and it turns out Rebecca doesn’t know about Chuck’s condition.
He concocts a lie about the power company to explain the lack of power. The dinner goes well until Rebecca receives a call on her cell phone. Chuck panics and eventually tosses the phone from her hands. He still lies to her, claiming “bad manners” to answer a phone among company. Naturally, this ends the dinner on a bad note. Chuck refuses to let Jimmy tell the truth.
Fast-forward to the present day, where Jimmy visits Mike’s veterinarian to hire some shady help. Meanwhile, Mesa Verde’s second go-around with Kim at the helm goes perfectly. Afterwards she tells them about the accusations Chuck made about Jimmy, in the spirit of full disclosure. Kevin insists he’s happy with Kim and dismisses the accusations. Paige asks if these accusations will be a problem, and Kim assures her they won’t.
Over at the courtroom, Chuck and Hamlin discuss accommodations for Chuck with another lawyer. Hamlin asks for a minute alone with him and expresses worry about Chuck testifying. Chuck sees Hamlin’s true interest is protecting HHM. He says the law and justice matter more than HHM’s reputation. “May justice be done though the heavens fall.”
What a prick.
The Bar prosecutor gives his opening statement and seeks disbarment for Jimmy. Kim gives the defense’s statement, which focuses their defense on the relationship between Jimmy and Chuck. Hamlin testifies first and describes Jimmy’s break-in. Kim’s cross-examination focuses on Hamlin’s past opinion of Jimmy and Chuck’s role in denying Jimmy a job with HHM. She also gets him to talk about Jimmy’s years taking care of Chuck.
Next the tape of Jimmy’s confession is played, after a bit of delay by Jimmy, who is waiting for someone to arrive. After a scene of Chuck practicing his upcoming testimony, the tape is played, and then Chuck is brought in for his testimony. Everyone’s electronics are collected, but Jimmy says he left his phone in the car. While ascending stairs towards the courtroom, he’s bumped into by…Huell Babineaux! Oh man, I’m so happy to see Huell.
Chuck’s testimony involves the reasoning behind making the tape. He also talks about his electric allergy and how he exaggerated it for the recording. He also compares the allergy to HIV and AIDS while insisting his mental faculties remain sound. Afterwards the state Bar rests.
Jimmy and Kim stall again, and this time long enough for…Rebecca to show up. Chuck asks for a break and goes over to greet Rebecca. She came because Jimmy told her about his disease. Chuck spends the entire conversation questioning Jimmy’s motives and clearly upset about her presence. When Rebecca makes to leave, Chuck insists she stays. Prideful to the end.
Outside the courtroom, Jimmy and Kim talk about Rebecca, and Jimmy acknowledges that Rebecca will hate him after the hearing.
Jimmy cross-exams Chuck and focuses on the context of the tape. Chuck constantly tries to guess Jimmy’s direction. It’s established how the walls were covered in foil and Jimmy worried about his brother. He tries to make the case of Chuck hating him. The history and causes of Chuck’s illness is also brought up, with it established that Chuck’s illness began soon after his divorce.
Chuck then thinks Rebecca’s presence is an attempt to make him break down. Jimmy switches gears to the illness and the legitimacy of it. He sets Chuck up by using his phone, which he lied about and is still in his pocket. Chuck takes it and sees the battery was removed. However, Huell slipped the battery into Chuck’s pocket when they bumped into each other and Chuck never noticed, exposing his illness.
This causes Chuck to finally lose it. He goes on an angry tirade about the photocopy scheme, the billboard in season 1, Jimmy defecating through a sunroof years before in Chicago, stealing from his father’s register, basically ranting in paranoid manner about Jimmy.
The episode ends on a somber courtroom in the aftermath.
I know there’s more of this hearing to go. I know things can still go terribly south. They probably will go terribly south, if for no other reason than Jimmy McGill can’t help but mess his life up. For now, though, he has won. If nothing else, he has accomplished what he set out to do in this hearing.
Chuck is done. His pride, jealousy, and lies have been exposed for everyone to see. His electric allergy has been exposed even to him. Yet nothing about this felt like a triumph. As shown on the faces of everyone in that courtroom following Chuck’s furious tirade, this was a sorrowful moment, full of regret for every witness.
Chuck’s bitter jealousy of Jimmy has been well known to Better Call Saul viewers for some time. The initial presentation of his actions as fear of Jimmy practicing law vanished somewhere between him lying about their mother’s final words and his behavior the first time Rebecca met Jimmy. His use of the law was only meant to justify the resentment he felt towards Jimmy long before Jimmy considered a law degree. No matter how he tries to use the sanctity of Law as his reasoning, his reasoning has been undercut numerous times.
While we’ve known that, no one else has. Not even Jimmy ever truly understood the full extent of his brother’s jealousy and hatred. Now Chuck’s full feelings have been laid bare for everyone they care about. Chuck is done. HHM will likely separate their firm from him. Jimmy already has. Chuck’s reputation will be in shambles.
I doubt he will be alone. Jimmy still committed a crime which he will be punished in some manner. HHM’s reputation will only suffer further for Chuck’s rant and whatever future consequences he will now face. Kim’s assurance to Mesa Verde that Chuck’s accusations would not be a big deal was almost certainly false, and she might suffer for that.
There’s a reason this moment wasn’t presented as a triumph, and it’s because little triumph was involved. All you walk away from Chuck’s rant feeling is regret.
“Chicanery” gradually peeled away Chuck’s arguments, his reputation, and his ethical high ground until he was left standing alone, looked down upon by everyone in a courtroom. This process made for incredible television and arguably the best episode yet of Better Call Saul.
I talked in my review for the season 3 premiere about Better Call Saul’s skill at relaying information without bludgeoning you over the head. These past two episodes revolving around the strategy for this Bar hearing and the hearing itself have exhibited this skill at the show’s best. Information is relayed so you understand just enough to follow, but all the while remain in the dark about the eventual direction.
You know Jimmy and Kim want the tape played, but you’re not sure why. You know they will attack Chuck’s mental health, but you don’t know how. Assuming you’ve watched Breaking Bad, you know Huell slipped something into Chuck’s pocket or took something away, but you don’t know what. In many ways Chuck’s responses to Jimmy’s cross-examination mirrors the audience. He never stops trying to stay a step ahead of the strategy, to understand where exactly Jimmy wants to go.
Like him, we realize exactly what Jimmy wanted when it’s too late and Chuck has spent the past minute exposing the truth of his own agenda.
This episode was a masterful example of a very tough skill to pull off successfully, that ability to exist between understanding and non-understanding. Too far in one direction and there’s no tension because we see everything coming. Too far the other and you lose audiences who don’t care to parse minor details to piece together truth. So much needs to go right for this style to work. Everyone involved in the filming and editing of the episode must keep the balance between these two states.
Gilligan and Gould always did an exceptional job with this balance throughout Breaking Bad, and their skills have only increased with Better Call Saul. I also mentioned in my review of the premiere how Better Call Saul may manage to match its predecessor. Well, at this rate season 3 may lead Better Call Saul to surpass Breaking Bad. We’re halfway through an incredible season which rivals any half-season I ever saw during Walter White’s journey.
Now, to be clear, the show is not there yet. A great deal of what solidified Breaking Bad’s status near the top of all-time lists was the ending season. Episodes like “Ozymandias” delivered mind-bogglingly outstanding resolution on plots which simmered for 5 seasons. Better Call Saul will need to do the same before it stands on those heights.
It is well, well on its way, though. “Chicanery” may not be “Ozymandias,” but it had the same type of thoroughly satisfying resolution to multiple seasons worth of plot which made that episode so incredible. Better Call Saul also improves from year to year. I’m truly stunned at how this little prequel show about Saul Goodman has turned out. Here at the halfway point of season 3, it has surpassed any expectations I ever had for it.
- “The bigger the lie, the harder it can be to dig out.” Oh, Jimmy.
- Chuck transposes address numbers to explain his lack of electricity to Rebecca. 215 to 512, like Jimmy changing 1261 to 1216.
- Chuck also mistakes the address of the Mesa Verde branch during his tirade at the end.
- Chuck is still clearly bitter about his divorce, both in the flashback and the courtroom.
- I love how much the vet loves animals. Any scene moving forward lacking animal care advice will disappoint me.
- Hamlin had quite the look of disgust on his face directed at Kim after her cross-examination of his testimony. Seems so long ago that she was a star pupil of his.
- “If you had lung cancer, would you have told her?” Gee, I wonder why they chose this specific example?
Images Courtesy of AMC