I haven’t had a chance to create a list of “Better Call Saul’s” top episodes. But my initial reaction is that “Chicanery,” the fifth episode in “Better Call Saul’s” third season was the best of the series so far.
The long awaited battle between the brother’s McGill that the show has been building towards since the end of season one reached its climax in the only location that could do it justice: the courtroom.
And with Jimmy landing the decisive blow at the end of last night’s episode, does this mean the official end of the great litigator, Chuck McGill? Up to this point, only Jimmy knew Chuck’s true mental state. No one else in the show has witnessed the elder McGill melt down and spew out the hate for Jimmy like he did last night. Now, Chuck’s former colleagues, his ex-wife, and a public record have all bared witness to his insanity. What will become of Chuck now that Jimmy has taken everything away from him?
We’ve got a lot of moments to analyze in this recap. So let’s start that discussion with the flashback that set the tone for last night’s entire episode.
“The Bigger The Lie, The Harder It Is To Get Out From Under It”
Tonight’s flashback returned to a time when Jimmy was Chuck’s best ally as the latter dealt with his “sensitivity to electricity.” Chuck has really let things go around his property. So Jimmy brings in a full crew to cut the grass, handle landscaping, and make repairs in the house so it looks like it did before. The reason for all this is that Rebecca, Chuck’s now ex-wife, is coming over for dinner. And Chuck does not want her to know about his condition.
The two talk and appear to be having a wonderful time reminiscing when Rebecca gets a phone call. Because Chuck was hiding his condition, he didn’t ask Rebecca to put her phone in the mailbox. A great game of Cat and Mouse ensues as Chuck desperately tries to get away from the phone. But Rebecca seems to find herself walking towards Chuck while carrying on the phone conversation, completely unaware of how it is driving Chuck insane.
Chuck finally comes through with a very adult solution to the problem: knock the phone out of Rebecca’s hand. And even more childlike, Chuck blames Rebecca for the incident, saying it was rude of her to take a phone call in the middle of their conversation. Rebecca calls a cab as Jimmy pleads with Chuck to tell her the truth. But Chuck’s pride won’t let him reveal to Rebecca his “condition.” And Rebecca stays in the dark about it until the trial.
“Let Justice Be Done, Though the Heavens Fall”
We return to the “present” with Chuck making arrangements for how the courtroom can best accommodate his “condition.” Howard is there, heavy in thought as visions of his law firm going up in flames dance through his head.
Howard doesn’t want Chuck to testify. And he worries that tape being played for public record will be damaging to HHM. But Chuck insists Jimmy must be disbarred. And in order for that to happen, the tape must be played and he (Chuck) must testify.
The Hearing Begins
The prosecution’s opening remarks indicate they are using a “just the facts” approach, only wanting to focus on Jimmy’s crime. Kim, on the other hand, wants Chuck’s hatred for Jimmy to be the central point of the trial.
Howard testifies first and Kim presses him regarding the role Chuck played in keeping Jimmy from being hired at HHM. She tries to get Chuck’s mental state introduced into the trial, but the prosecution successfully stops her first attempt.
Next, the tape is played, and the camera work is some of the best of the series so far. Kim had not heard the tape before, She knew Jimmy forged those documents, but hearing him admit it on the recording was noticeably tough for her to handle. And Francesca, Jimmy and Kim’s new assistant, gulps as she listens. She has to be thinking, “Just who have I aligned myself with?”
“We’ll Grant You the Same Leeway on Cross-Examination”
Finally, it is Chuck taking the stand. In his testimony, Chuck admits to putting on a performance to get his brother’s confession. His reasons are just so admirable aren’t they? The law is “just too important” to allow his brother, who he loves so very much, to continue practicing it after what Jimmy did. He discusses his physical condition and recites the speech he rehearsed at home before appearing at the trial.
Now, two very important events happen while Chuck is testifying. The first is granting Jimmy McGill “leeway” (the same that prosecution is being given) during his cross-examination of Chuck (Slipping Jimmy getting leeway in a courtroom? Great idea there New Mexico Bar Association!!!)
The other event is the appearance of Rebecca, an arrangement Jimmy made just before the trial.
“She’s Going To Hate You When This Is Over”
Just before cross-examination, Rebecca tells Chuck that she wishes he would have told her about his condition. It’s a tender moment, the last we may ever see involving Chuck.
Jimmy takes over the cross-examination and grills Chuck on his mental health and hatred for Jimmy. As most of us predicted after last season, Jimmy moves to have the confession dismissed, saying he just wanted to comfort his brother, who only did this because he hates Jimmy.
The case turns when Chuck’s “illness” comes up again. And thanks to the “leeway” granted earlier, Jimmy can turn the situation around, making Chuck appear to be the one on trial.
Jimmy claims Chuck’s “illness” is a mental, not a physical condition. And Chuck’s mental state was the reason Jimmy said what he said on tape. To prove Chuck’s “sensitivity” is mental, Jimmy pulls out a phone. Chuck senses the trap and checks the back of the phone. There’s no battery in it, and the smug look stays on Chuck’s face. It won’t stay there much longer.
Huell Babineaux, Saul Goodman’s body guard in “Breaking Bad,” enters the courtroom. Huell bumped into Chuck earlier and planted a cell phone battery in Chuck’s coat. He’s also on the list of witnesses, meaning that what he says in court enters the official record (I think).
Jimmy asks Chuck to check his pocket, where the elder McGill is horrified to see a phone battery. Huell stands up and informs the court (in a humorous moment) that the battery has been in Chuck’s pocket for “1 hour and 43 minutes.” If Chuck’s “condition” was physical, he would have noticed that battery already.
The trap is set and Chuck falls right in it. He starts rambling about how horrible Jimmy is and how desperate Chuck is to see his brother disbarred. But at the end of his rant, Chuck looks up and sees everyone staring silently at him, shocked as Chuck admits in court the hatred he feels for his brother.
The show ends with another brilliant piece of continuity. Every light in the courtroom was turned off except the exit lights (they have to stay on by law). But Chuck doesn’t seem to notice them at all until the end of the episode, when Chuck can suddenly “feel” the electricity flowing through the sign.
-We now know that Chuck’s “condition” didn’t cause his divorce. His “illness” was as a result of Rebecca leaving him.
-Chuck’s arrogance proved to be his downfall in the trial. He testified against Howard’s wise counsel thinking there was no way Jimmy would best him on the witness stand. Also, Chuck clearly did not review Kim and Jimmy’s list of witnesses. Otherwise, seeing the name “Huell Babineaux,” a man who had no previous interactions with Chuck at all, should have raised a red flag.
-Howard has a tough decision ahead regarding Chuck. Can the firm continue to have Chuck as an active partner despite the potential risks he poses to cases? Or can they afford to let him go and lose the third of the company’s money Chuck would be owed on his way out the door?
-Nice work by Kim calling Howard out on the ridiculousness of his “nepotism” argument for not hiring Jimmy.
-Kim also successfully pushed Mesa Verde through with approval to develop new branches in the Albuquerque area. It was also good to see the team at Mesa Verde stick by Kim after she broke the news of what could be coming. We’ll see if they stay so gung ho about her after the fallout of Jimmy’s trial is complete.
-So of the three big clues for the case that last week set up, only one of them revealed itself this week. The photos Mike took last week were sent to Rebecca, revealing Chuck’s condition to her. They also appeared to be used in Jimmy’s cross-examination. Now, what Kim meant by Bingo and what was on that note are still mysteries, at least to me. Please let me know if you noticed something I didn’t regarding the latter two items.
-So Francesca learns early on just how questionable Jimmy’s ethics are, yet she still sticks by Jimmy/Saul.
Breaking Bad Returns
-An exciting return last night by the recently slimmed down Lavar Crawford playing the role of Huell Babineaux. It’s also good to see Jimmy and Mike’s contacts starting to become the same as Mike referred Jimmy to Dr. Caldera, the vet with all the underground crime hookups.
What will become of Chuck now that his life appears on a downward spiral? And will Jimmy officially become Saul Goodman next episode? We’re halfway done with season 3. See you guys again next week.