Three seasons in and Better Call Saul continues to deliver on high-quality content week after week. Chicanery, the fifth episode of season three, takes place entirely in a State Bar courtroom, though writer Gordon Smith makes every word of dialog as suspenseful as could be. The pieces Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and Kim (Rhea Seehorn) set-up in Sabrosito don’t all come together as I had predicted but what does work lands with a crescendo.
Reintroducing Rebecca (Ann Cusack) in a flashback was inevitable considering that storyline was never fully explored or realized. With some conflicting statements, it seems Charles (Michael McKean) and Rebecca’s divorce ended somewhat amicably, albeit without her knowing of his diagnosis of EHS, or Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity.
Smith writes one of the better episodes of the series, delivering on the metamorphosis of the toxic sibling rivalry in a brilliant monolog expertly executed by Michael McKean. McKean’s dialog didn’t just cut through from the screen, his demeanor and conviction as Charles made that scene so compelling. Daniel Sackheim’s tracking shot of Charles staring at the lit ‘Exit’ sign is an exclamation point that brings light to the McGill’s strained relationship and the mental instability that plagues Charles.
The opening flashback shows two things: Chuck’s last night with his ex-wife, and Chuck’s ability to put on a façade. Chuck’s testimony was riddled with arrogance, someone cocksure of his actions. McKean’s portrayal of Chuck is the character you love to hate because of his know-it-all attitude.
When asked if he hates his brother Chuck responds with a rehearsed line, “I love my brother.” His rehearsal, along with a “confession” of his play acting to guilt Jimmy into a confession is all Jimmy needed to hear to break Chuck down; using Chuck’s strengths as a weakness.
Those final twenty minutes with Chuck on the stand, Jimmy presents a demeanor of humility with a bit of pain. This demeanor carries over during a recess in which Kim politely explains his actions may make Rebecca hate him. “I know,” he replies dryly as he walks away. Odenkirk conveys the emotional range of a mournful villain sorry for the actions that he’s about to commit. It hurts Jimmy to “expose” Chuck, given his willingness to care for his brother in his many times of need; the opening flashback being one of them.
Chuck’s façade to his ex-wife shows not only a pattern for the lawyer but a trait he shares with his brother. While Jimmy may rely on twisting the law to fit his needs, Chuck will go to great lengths to prove his suspicions true. His setting up a recorder and firing Ernesto are the clearest examples of Chuck walking in a morally gray area.
“Let justice be done though the heavens may fall” may sound like a noble quote coming from a cocksure Chuck, but is then made ironic by the final seconds of the episode. A Latin legal phrase, that quote means that justice will be made regardless of the consequences. Justice hasn’t yet been made but one can assume justice will prevail in Jimmy’s favor. And the consequences that arise are strained relationships amongst a few: Rebecca and Jimmy, Jimmy and Chuck, certainly, and possibly Chuck and Howard.
Howard (Patrick Fabian) mentions to Chuck his priority is to “safeguard the firm’s [Hamlin Hamlin McGill] reputation.” Numerous times throughout Chicanery Howard’s look of surprise probably puts some doubt in Chuck’s ailment. For years, Howard has been using assets from HHM to accommodate Chuck and his ailment and that has caused a lot of money, resources, time, and the loss of major clientele.
Though their relationship is now on the rocks, Rebecca and Jimmy’s relationship with one another is a bit harder to foresee. By the time of his introduction in season two of Breaking Bad, Jimmy, then known as Saul Goodman, doesn’t maintain any relationship with his brother, Rebecca, or Kim. However, if a definitive decision is made about their whereabouts by the series end, I can’t make a clear speculation.
Chicanery, straying away from the drug world, is one of the few episodes in the show’s short three season run that I would call one of the best. In fact, may I boldly claim Chicanery should be listed amongst highly regarded episodes of Breaking Bad?
Of the many complaints I’ve read online about Better Call Saul, the major one is it is not of the same quality of Breaking Bad. Cut from the same cloth, Better Call Saul continues with the same degree of excellence set forth by Breaking Bad and Chicanery is a perfect example.