Better Call Saul “Chicanery” (S3E05)

This recent episode will undoubtedly go down as one of the shows’ most commendable hours. A master class of a script from Gordon Smith that just had my mind spinning and pacing throughout. First off, this might be the most glued I’ve ever been to a teleplay where the majority of the story is dedicated to a court room. I’ll admit, I have not seen enough of the best procedural tv to know how this episode might hold up against what’s already been done, but as far as serialized television goes, this was something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. Out of the top tier serialized dramas, crime dramas especially, the court room is usually avoided. Scenes take place there but rarely, if ever, will an episode dedicate the entirety of its duration to any trial, hearing, or the like, because it can run the risk of being tedious, by the book, and grinding the overarching narrative to a halt. Even comedies are cautious while treading in this arena. Better Call Saul, however, boldly went forward and achieved some of the most fascinating, powerfully earned moments where every character is just a force, simply from speaking. Conducting oneself as articulate when on the spot and maintaining composure when delivering an argument or weaving around each counter-argument is some of the most enjoyable uses of ‘action’ in story for me. It’s heroic no matter who’s speaking, especially when the conflict is so complicated.

Every scene manages to accomplish something that transcends any containment to just ordinary court procedure and it’s all played straight. There’s nothing dressed up about this episode. No montages, time-lapses, or musical sequences to keep the viewer attentive. Instead the show is unafraid of long pauses and well-researched lawyer speak because it possesses an intricate story that holds its own effortlessly through personal confrontations. One of the many aspects that made “Chicanery” work so well, other than the fact that the series has carefully been building to this showdown for a while now, was that it operated on a human scale and never missed an opportunity to explore character. When the chairman is rattling off introductions, we are shown scenes of Kim and Jimmy getting ready for the day, cementing their loving investment in one another before pulling the trigger on a strategy that will ultimately involve dismantling Chuck in front of everyone and everything he actually does hold dear. When the tape is played for what is now the third time to us, the show takes advantage of hearing it through everyone’s perspective and most notably, Kim’s, whose expression upon hearing it for the first time manages to translate ‘smile’ without even smiling.

Chuck’s condition becomes the subject of this episode and the hour takes advantage of providing answers on the state of Rebecca and Chuck’s relationship, past and present, as well as when Chuck’s condition generally began and the context to what Rebecca’s awareness was in regards to it. We definitely now have a clearer picture than what we had. The cold open sets the stage in the traditional, yet always unpredictable fashion of introducing the smoking gun to what will conclude the episode or become relevant to the climax of the story. Jimmy warns Chuck, “The bigger the lie, the harder it can be to dig out”, and this is essentially what Jimmy and Kim hone in on in order to hit Chuck in his greatest weak spot. Chuck is a man who buries himself in the principle of doing what’s right, honest and good in order to mask his resentment towards Jimmy. It’s the greatest lie he tells himself, on top of it being generally associated to a condition that he is not willing to admit is a mental illness. Between inviting Rebecca to the hearing and bringing Chuck’s mental state into direct question, we are given a cathartic explosion of the true hate that Chuck reserves for his brother.

This was an episode that made me want to read up on the actual concept of ‘hate’ since it’s a term that tends to get loosely thrown around. Being able to identify with Chuck makes you wonder how close you can get to taking your principles too seriously and how that can affect those around you. “Chicanery” stuck out and remained a resonant vehicle for the story because it was about bringing what’s hidden under the surface to light. It explored themes of hate and delusion and provokes a reflection and thought out of the viewer. It made me wonder what we’re capable or even guilty of when it comes to this negative human emotion. Do we ever really know if we hate someone? Does it derive from love? Can we be blind to it or do we just make sure to never admit it? Because Chuck certainly never seems to address it even when we’re shown him properly rehearsing, while alone, to not come off as cold or sanctimonious in proving the love for his brother. Man, Michael Mckean is outstanding here…

Another thing that was brilliant in this episode was how nuanced Jimmy and Kim’s strategy was. It wasn’t like in Breaking Bad where Walt and Jesse have a deep bench of resources to force the outcome of something into their favor. Sure, Huell serves as a guy with the superpower of pick-pocketing/planting items from or onto someone’s person and Mike taking pictures of Chuck’s house last week was a cheap, sleazy act, but it’s all small potatoes when ultimately the goal is more about creating a situation where Chuck self-destructs of his own doing. Figuring out how to tap into that is what made it so clever. The amount of foresight you need in order to pull this off, as well as executing everything correctly so that it’s earned is what makes it great. Every element of this hearing chisels away at Chuck but provides volleys for him to feel confident over when he swipes it down. The phone that Jimmy reveals off himself is a clumsy, dummy tactic to further establish the logic of Chuck’s condition before getting to the grand contradicting moment. So good.

The directing of Daniel Sackheim (The X-Files) really helped make this episode visually compelling. The way the camera pushes in on Chuck as he begins to rant and then pulls out when the reality of his outburst hits him is marvelous. The way he knew to capture the right person’s reaction in each necessary moment throughout the entire show was fantastic. It made everything so much more interesting. Just an example, I like how at 1:57 of the video above, after Chuck mentions that his condition is not a quirk, they show the skepticism of the lawyer who’s defending Chuck. For a one-time character, that’s interesting how you can extract such a subtle expression from just one quick frame. The cold open’s flashback also was shot incredibly well. I love when Rebecca’s phone goes off and we’re drawn in on this ghoulish shot of Jimmy in the threshold of the kitchen being fully aware that Chuck’s about to become possessed by this strange affliction. There’s an emotion there. You can owe it to the subtext of the scene being that Jimmy and Chuck are in on a scheme together and Jimmy who loves his brother is invested in this hurdle that’s just presented itself. Either way, the director took full advantage of that feeling.

More things of interest:

– Kim calling Howard on the subject of nepotism was a fair point. Any chance to get Howard and Kim to face off is always great. I like how he alluded to Jimmy’s involvement at Davis & Main as a sly way to bring up how Kim vouched for him after that whole disaster. Kim quickly waving the notion to go any further on that subject made me smile. Speaking of Howard, I like how he mentions how despite the crime Jimmy has committed, HHM still should be held responsible for not properly protecting their client’s documents. It gives Chuck’s outburst so much more impact in terms of any further negative PR for the company.

– The idea of this hearing having any blowback for Kim in regards to Mesa Verde added an extra layer of tension. Kevin Wachtell is the last guy I’d want to get upset and for Kim I certainly wouldn’t want to disappoint a good friend in Paige.

– It’s amazing how Huell has bumped into someone for the third time now and they still manage to make it surprising. I was trying to think of what Huell possibly could have taken from Chuck without ever considering that he had planted something. We’ve seen the ol’ switcheroo, and his later mistake in lifting Jesse’s dope, but never an act of just planting. Other than that, I’m glad he’s made his debut and congrats to Lavell Crawford for losing 130 lbs!

We’re halfway through the season! What’s everyone else’s thoughts?

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