Better Call Saul S3E5 “Chicanery”
While Better Call Saul has never been a show with a huge cast that sends us around more plot lines than one episode can cover, it has definitely achieved a distinct style of storytelling. By now you’re used to the formula, half of an episode of Better Call Saul deals with Mike and his descent into the criminal underworld of Albuquerque, and the other half to Jimmy McGill and his legal adventures which often become misadventures. “Chicanery” bucks the trend though. There’s only one story to tell in this episode and we get three segments out of it, a cold open to foreshadow things to come, the calm before the storm, and lastly, Jimmy’s New Mexico Bar Association hearing itself. There’s a certain charm to the simplicity that the episode provides but it goes beyond that. Chicanery from start to finish is the pinnacle of two and a half seasons of Better Call Saul and it isn’t even close. With the praise out of the way, let’s get into it.
As always, we start with our cold open. Tonight’s features a flashback. Chuck is a divorced man at this point and his condition is in full effect. His ex-wife Rebecca is coming for a visit and in order to impress her, Chuck puts in a bunch of fake appliances in the house to give the illusion of living a normal life. His lie to not actually have the power on is a bum on the same street didn’t pay his electric bill and there was a mix up in addresses (that sounds familiar doesn’t it?). Jimmy advises against all of this and is in favor of Chuck just telling Rebecca about his condition, even saying the bigger the lie is, the harder it is to get out of it. Chuck still has feelings for his ex-wife and doesn’t want to make her think he’s some crazy person so Jimmy holds true to his brother’s wishes and even plays the wing man role over dinner between the three.
Things are going rather well actually but it all changes when Rebecca takes her phone out to answer a call. Chuck tries to change rooms to keep his distance but Rebecca seems to be matching him step for step. Chuck reaches the point where he can’t stand it anymore and tosses the phone from her hands on to the ground. Not wanting to come clean about his condition, Chuck uses a woeful excuse to defend his behavior saying its bad manners to answer a phone call when one is a guest. Rebecca decides to leave after this and Jimmy again advises Chuck to tell his ex-wife about the condition but once again Chuck is adamant about keeping it a secret. End cold open.
With that out of the way, the episode starts us off in the calm before the storm, the day before the hearing. Jimmy, Kim, and Chuck are all up to different things as they prepare for the big day tomorrow. Jimmy pays a visit to the vet with all the criminal underworld connections, goldfish in bag in hand. After a berating about proper fish care, Jimmy asks the vet for someone with a “light touch” and the vet has just the right man for the job, providing he doesn’t need to fit in a tight space (Breaking Bad vets should be able to immediately guess who’s coming back from that line).
While they haven’t featured much in this third season, the folks over at Mesa Verde are still around and they come back this episode. Things seem to be going well and Kim is getting more work and more money coming her way from the recent successes. After this, like a professional, Kim lets the two of them know about the upcoming hearing for Jimmy and the fact it centers on her getting them illegitimately through Jimmy’s sabotage of Chuck. If the case goes public, Mesa Verde will also get publicized as they are the client that this whole mess is centered around. They take their leave for now but I’m sure we’ll be revisiting them some time soon.
We then arrive to the day of the court case. We go through the morning routines of our big three here, Kim and Jimmy mixing business with pleasure and getting ready in unison while Chuck prepares a speech to make it sound like he loves Jimmy and is doing this for his brothers betterment. Howard comes to pick him up and we join them at our location for the rest of the episode, the hearing room. Before things get underway, Howard asks Chuck to actually not give his testimony stating that whole incident looks bad for HHM and will bring about loads of bad PR for the firm. He tries to convince him by mentioning the case is strong enough where they’ll probably get a desirable result even without Chuck there. Chuck insists that he will testify and this is not the time to care about what they look like. Howard tried his best, but Chuck will not be swayed.
Chuck doesn’t actually get to testify until later so we’ll start with Howard, who goes first. Kim starts on fire, asking great questions left and right, at every turn being reprimanded for going “off topic” (Jimmy did say Chuck had it good with everyone at the bar). She probably could have done better but given the circumstances, she did pretty well here. Next up is not so good news for Jimmy, its tape listening time and the tape sounds just as bad as you thought it would. Jimmy asks for a small timeout and is granted it. Kim, being confused as to the purpose of the timeout, asks Jimmy what it is that they are doing here. “Stalling” he says. For what, or who?
If you guessed for who, and the who being Rebecca, you would be right! Her flight gets delayed but she ultimately does make in time to watch the latter half the hearing, which is mostly Chuck taking the witness stand. Chuck does a pretty good job for the most part and it seems as though he is going to get a favorable result here. Chuck assumes Jimmy brought out Rebecca to throw him off his game but he doesn’t seem very phased by her presence anyway. Little did Chuck know that Jimmy brought her so he would have someone there for him after the dramatic ending to the hearing that was about to take place.
As we work towards the end of the episode, the questioning of Chuck by Jimmy turns into a discussion of Chuck’s condition. Jimmy tries to paint a very precise picture of how Chuck is effected by this condition. After Jimmy succeeds in getting Chuck to detail exactly how he’s feeling right now, he pulls out his cellphone, the only one in the room as everyone was instructed to put theirs away for Chuck. Chuck calls his brother’s bluff and takes the phone, pops the back case out and reveals that there’s no battery in it, thus no symptoms. Chuck can’t get too excited however, as his whole world is about to turn upside down.
On his way up the stairs to the hearing room, Chuck bumps into Huell Babineaux, a Breaking Bad veteran and the man with the “light touch” Jimmy hired and has on his witness list. The touch was so light, that when they bumped into each other, Huell reverse pickpocketed the missing cell phone battery into Chuck’s suit pocket without his detection. So after Jimmy again gets Chuck to confirm that he doesn’t feel any pain right now, he finally asks Chuck to look into his suit pocket and there he finds the battery. Chuck throws it on the ground to look the part, but the sham is over. We knew it back in season one when the doctor turned on Chuck’s electronic bed in the hospital without Chuck noticing and now Chuck finally has to know his condition is not physical.
At the suggestion that he is mentally ill, Chuck snaps. Filled with rage he yells that he isn’t crazy and has a rant to end all rants about Jimmy, even going back to their childhood when Jimmy was nine years old. The sad part about all of this is that nothing he says is a lie. It’s all true but the rant paints him as a madman who has a lifelong vendetta against his brother. The goal was to disbar Jimmy but at this point, that’s all out the window. Chuck thought this was the time and case to go all in on Jimmy, to end his career but Jimmy was the one to go all in, hurting his brother for the very first time with the intent to actually hurt him. The look on Howard’s face is a face of disappointment and shock, knowing that something like this could have happened, but not to that extent. Chuck ironically told Howard that this case wasn’t the time to worry about how they look and in a cruel twist, Chuck makes himself look crazy while defending that he isn’t crazy. The exact ramifications of this hearing are still unknown but the episode doesn’t need it. “Chicanery” is a masterpiece.
Gorgeous camera work as always. Before Chuck starts his rant, Jimmy is right beside him and as he goes on and on, the camera progressively zooms in on Chuck. As he finishes, we see he’s all alone in his craziness as Jimmy is on the other side of the room. The last shot of him getting smaller and staring at the exit sign was extraordinary.
The runtime on “Chicanery” is 49 minutes but it sure felt like the fastest hour of television I’ve ever seen. And the episode took place mostly in one location. Amazing.
You just have to love how much the vet actually cares about the animals. You would never suspect him of having a dark side because he’s so passionate about his client’s pets. Give that fish some air Jimmy!
Good to have Huell Babineaux make his Better Call Saul debut. He lost a ton of weight and he still gets introduced with a fat joke. Huell can’t catch a break.
This marks the first episode of the series where Jonathan Banks does not appear. If you’ve read my reviews up to this point, you know I think he’s a tremendous actor but “Chicanery” honestly didn’t need any more cast members. I’ll be glad to have him back next week though.
Word of the Day comes from the vet. Ichthyology: the branch of zoology that pertains to fish.
“Chicanery” narrows the focus to the long awaited McGill court showdown and delivers a masterpiece