Better Call Saul recap: 'Chicanery'
Jimmy faces the disciplinary board with a little help from his friends.
The strange sibling rivalry at the center of Better Call Saul was front and center this week, as the conflict between Jimmy McGill and his brother Chuck passed its presumable point of no return. With all other plotlines left on the back burner, this episode was entirely devoted to the respective characters of these two men and their relationship with each other — a relationship more or less encapsulated by the moment in which, ahead of the hearing to determine Jimmy’s fate, Chuck McGill stands in front of a mirror and practices the line, “I love my brother,” trying to make it sound sincere.
The problem is, Chuck doesn’t really love anyone; he can’t bear the vulnerability it requires. And while we’ve seen that hinted at before — not least in his ongoing envious grudge against charming, genuine Jimmy — Chuck’s self-sabotaging hubris is on full display as “Chicanery” opens. In a flashback, we see him preparing an elaborate meal on a camp stove; Rebecca, his ex-wife, is coming for dinner. She doesn’t know about Chuck’s breakdown (or electricity allergy, if we want to be generous), and Jimmy urges Chuck to tell her the truth.
“In my experience, the bigger the lie, the harder it can be to dig out,” he says.
Chuck doesn’t take Jimmy’s advice, of course (when has he ever?); instead, he tells a fib about having his electricity cut off over a billing screwup, which explains the candlelit house… but not, unfortunately, Chuck’s out-of-control panic attack when Rebecca answers her cell phone after dinner and begins obliviously chatting. He grabs the phone away from her, throws it to the ground, and chastises her for having “very bad manners” instead of explaining his illness.
Cue the title card (in this case, a bench advertisement for Saul Goodman, Attorney at Law), and we’re back to the present, as Jimmy prepares to face Chuck and the disciplinary board. While Kim alerts Mesa Verde to the potential for bad publicity as a result of Chuck’s allegations, Jimmy pays a visit to the local veterinarian-slash-HR-representative for petty criminals.
“I’m looking for someone with a light touch,” he says. The vet mulls it over, then asks, “You gotta fit him in a tight space?” (Side note: If you don’t know based on this convo alone which beloved Breaking Bad character is about to make his first Better Call Saul appearance, you don’t deserve to call yourself a fan.)
And now, it’s time for the hearing that will decide Jimmy’s fate as a lawyer. Preparations are being made to rid the room of electromagnetic stimuli — nearly everything will be shut off in deference to Chuck’s sensitivity — as Jimmy and Kim rehearse their part (and brush their teeth together; clearly, the two are still mixing business with pleasure). At first, it seems like Chuck is right to be confident that the proceedings will end with Jimmy’s disbarment. Kim manages to poke a few holes in Howard’s testimony, bolstering the argument that this is a family conflict rather than a legal one, but that damning tape is still, well, damning — and Jimmy keeps scanning the room for someone who’s not there. He looks at Francesca, who mouths back, “Flight delay.” Is the man with the light touch late to the party?
At first, it seems like that must be it — and like it’s all over for Jimmy, because the notorious tape is being played aloud (it sounds even worse the second time around, somehow). But that’s before Chuck arrives to give his testimony… and collides with Huell Babineaux on his way up the stairs.
In the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “chicanery” is defined as “deception by artful subterfuge or sophistry” — and artful is the only word to describe the way Jimmy McGill plays his brother in the scene that follows. The person they’ve been waiting for turns out to be Rebecca, whose appearance Chuck assumes is an attempt on Jimmy’s part to unsettle him and make him mess up his testimony (though considering the outcome, it seems more likely that Jimmy wanted to make sure Chuck had some form of familial support to lean on when this was all over). And after getting Chuck to talk at length about his disease, specifically about the pain he experiences when he’s anywhere close to a source of electricity, Jimmy goes in for the kill — looking as miserable as we’ve ever seen him. For better or worse, he does love his brother, and he takes no joy in destroying him.
“Could you reach into your breast pocket,” he asks, “and tell me what’s there?”
Answer: It’s a cell phone battery, which Huell (now sitting in the gallery) placed in Chuck’s pocket an hour and 43 minutes ago. Chuck, who’s just claimed at length that he experiences extreme physical discomfort when he’s anywhere near an electric charge, never felt a thing.
At first, Chuck is rattled. Then, he’s unhinged, ranting and shrill. “This chicanery? He’s done worse!” he cries. “He defecated through a sun roof and I saved him! I shouldn’t have! I should have stopped him when I had the chance! And you HAVE to stop him! You — ”
He stops, but it’s too late. The expressions on the faces of the disciplinary board members say it all — and not just because they’re probably wondering about the story behind that “defecated through a sun roof” thing. The room is silent as they stare at Chuck. And Chuck, who suddenly looks very small and very old in his seat behind the microphone, stares at the one source of electric light in the room: a bright red, faintly buzzing sign that says, “EXIT.”