Better Call Saul, Season 3, Episode 5, “Chicanery”
It’s the heavyweight battle every Better Call Saul viewer has been waiting for since the McGill brothers were introduced. The drama at Jimmy’s Bar hearing may not have broken new ground in the annals of television law, but it was riveting to watch.
The law can be used in many ways by people. Chuck uses it as his crown. The law is how Chuck maintains order and moral superiority over his shifty brother, Jimmy. The law is Chuck’s church, and those who defile it deserve to be cast out at all costs.
For Jimmy, the law is clay, to be shaped and molded into whatever form suits his purposes, and in this episode, he manipulated the proceedings as deftly as a TV lawyer ever has. Jimmy knows his opponent’s soft spots, which is why he brought in Rebecca, Chuck’s ex-wife, who doesn’t know the full extent of his electromagnetic affliction.
Jimmy and Kim run this bar hearing like the dinner and drinks scam they ran together in those early episodes of the season. Kim keeps Mesa Verde’s trust through impeccable work, and by casting doubt on Chuck’s assertions about Jimmy’s wrongdoing.
The hearing and the episode hinges on Chuck’s testimony, during which Michael McKean gives a masterful performance. The panel and Chuck allow Chuck’s undiagnosed “physical” illness to become an issue, and Jimmy goes in for the kill.
McKean is helped by some simple, yet elegant camerawork during Chuck’s cross-examination by Jimmy. Every time the camera turned back to Chuck, it was a little closer to him, creating the sense that the walls were closing in on Chuck.
The final straw of the revelation that Chuck has unknowingly had a fully-charged phone battery in his suit pocket (conveniently planted earlier in the day by a pickpocket Jimmy employed) and it did nothing to him, casting doubt on Chuck’s motives, and no doubt embarrassing a group of people who had just gone to ridiculous lengths to accommodate Chuck’s special circumstances.
Jimmy wanted to prove his brother was motivated by hatred rather than love of the law, and the battery trick brought out Chuck’s righteous indignation out in waves. The law belonged to Chuck. So there was never a thought of appreciating Jimmy for going through law school and passing the bar on his own, without fanfare or help. There was no thought that Jimmy might be a skilled attorney. In Chuck’s mind, Jimmy will always be the charming kid everyone loves more than him, even though Jimmy’s hand is clearly picking them clean, just like he did to their parents.
It’s after that final outburst that Chuck realizes that things have fallen apart. He tries to save face and rebuild his façade of cool professionalism. It’s too late. The camera has pulled back to reveal Chuck looking isolated and alone in that witness box – on an island of his own creation.
The show cuts to black with Chuck squirming ever so slightly under the orange glow of the room’s exit signs. The fallout from the end of the McGill brothers will have to wait another day.