Better Cal Saul S03E05 Recap: 'Chicanery'

"Chicanery" feels like the episode, the moment that Better Call Saul has been building to since its first episode. Hell, maybe even since its inception, from the early days of Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould teasing us about a law dramedy much different than what wound up on the screen. Despite not featuring any of the Mike/Gus/Hector drama that has dominated the early part of the season, this is an episode that feels transformative; like a culmination of much of what the early part of this show has been, at least in terms of Jimmy McGill and his saga with his brother Chuck.

Outside of an expository opening scene and a couple of other little moments, almost the entirety of "Chicanery" takes place inside the hearing room where the future of James McGill the lawyer will be decided. It's the court case of the century. Jimmy vs. Chuck. Everything on the line. Jimmy's license, Chuck's principles, even the disease he's been using as an excuse since the day that we met him. And by the end of the episode, it all boils over into a cathartic climax.

After a couple of weeks of speculation, we find out what Jimmy and Kim's play is to trick Chuck and save Jimmy's law degree. In fact, it's kind of a parade of parlour tricks that feel a lot more Saul-esque than the Jimmy we already know. The big one involves roping Chuck's ex-wife into town. Jimmy tells her about Chuck's disease, which in an earlier flashback is something Chuck makes Jimmy promise not to do. Whether or not this is meant to discombobulate or merely distract Chuck is unclear, but it helps expose the fact that Chuck's "allergy" to technology started shortly after his divorce. But Jimmy has Chuck ducking jabs when he intends to hit him with an uppercut, as he reveals to the court that Chuck's been implanted with the battery to Jimmy's phone for the better part of two hours, a master stroke which involves a distraction, and a totally legal play with a real witness. And if that's not enough, all of this finally sets Chuck off as he admits in front of Jimmy, Kim, Hamlin and a panel of their lawyer peers that he's been out to get his little brother ever since he was a little boy stealing money from their father's shop.

In an amazing scene that never breaks away from a close up of Chuck, the elder McGill basically admits everything we know and hate about him. He's mean, he's vindictive, and he's always been out to get his brother whether he deserved it or not. All of this at the end of an episode that goes to even further lengths than before to paint Chuck as mean and pathetic. We see him nonchalantly practicing his speech in which he wonders whether to compare his brother to the fucking Unabomber. He settles on saying that he loves his brother but needs to uphold his respect for the law, which is fine, albeit trite and transparently fake, yet he still manages to sneak in a comparison between his made up disease and, of all things, AIDS. Chuck McGill hate is at its peak when Jimmy finally manages to take him down, and in Chuck's own domain no less, making it all the more satisfying after an hour of opening statements and witnesses.

Is the episode that we needed, not only because of how satisfying it winds up being, but because it also winds up representing the changes in tone and theme that this show is going through. After two and a half seasons, Better Call Saul is a much different show than it was early on. It's no longer only about the grandstanding between squabbling brothers and the minutia of their legal maneuvers. This is a show that has now introduced basically the entirety of the Mexican drug cartel that drove and escalated the action in Breaking Bad. Gus, Hector, Tuco, even Don Eladio, they're all around now. They're not in "Chicanery", but they're around. They've roped in Mike, and soon enough they'll rope Jimmy in too. How much longer can Jimmy be slapfighting his brother over tampered legal documents before the disconnect between the show's two main characters becomes too ridiculous? This is already something that we spoke a lot about after last week's episode.

It almost feels as if "Chicanery" is clearing the deck, opening the door for Jimmy to move on to greener pastures now that he's disposed of his brother Chuck (at least for now; I kind of feel as if Chuck has an even more tragic downfall yet to come). In fact, you could probably even assign a particular moment to it, when freaking Huell pops up to help Jimmy grift his brother. You'll certainly remember Huell as the guy that's probably still sitting in the safe house after the end of Breaking Bad, but more importantly, we know him as the man who'll become Saul Goodman's bodyguard and goon. Like Gus and all the other Breaking Bad imports on the show, he represents that evolution, that next, more dangerous stage. Prior to this, Jimmy's only gotten a taste or two, like that tense scene where he meets Gus for the first time, but this is Huell basically getting on Jimmy's payroll. It really feels like a change is coming.

But before that change, we get an excellent, bottled episode of television that delivers an incredibly satisfying conclusion to two and a half seasons of television. "Chicanery" is peak Better Call Saul, and it gets 10 domestic terrorists' siblings out of 10.

Notes & Quotes:

  • Seriously though, Huell! It took a lot not to start this review by simply exclaiming his name. Sidenote, Lavell Crawford is looking pretty good!
  • "Would you rather she think you're a raging prick than know the truth?"
  • "Just because you don't see swinging dicks doesn't mean you can't tell the boy fish from the girl fish."