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‘Better Call Saul’ Review: Bob Odenkirk and Michael McKean Spar in an Ultimate Clash of the Brothers

In Season 3 Episode 5, "Chicanery," Chuck relies on the law, while Jimmy relies on himself. 

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill - Better Call Saul _ Season 3, Episode 5 - Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Michele K.Short/AMC/Sony Picture

LAST WEEK’S REVIEW: ‘Better Call Saul’ Review: It’s Strategy Versus Will in an Episode of Showdowns

Case Summary

It’s the trial we’ve been waiting for, because Chuck (Michael McKean) is on a mission: To get Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) disbarred. Not suspended, but disbarred. The episode is, therefore, largely devoted to Jimmy’s hearing before the New Mexico Bar Association — the testimony of Howard Hamlin, followed by the playing of the fateful tape, and then Chuck’s own turn on the stand.

This has a number of repercussions, because Jimmy’s got a plan that (like so many of his plans) involve factors outside of the legal system. First off, it’s the arrival of Rebecca (Ann Cusack) to throw Chuck off his game — then there’s hiring Huell (yes, “Breaking Bad’s” Huell!) to plant a secret battery on Chuck’s body (something to which Jimmy admits fully).

Jimmy gets exactly what he wants: Chuck snaps. His humiliation is complete. Though the exact aftermath will clearly wait until next week, the repercussions may be seismic.

Achievements in Cinematography

Michael McKean as Chuck McGill - Better Call Saul _ Season 3, Episode 5 - Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

In Season 2, we saw Michael McKean own the screen for one long take, as he underwent treatment following a blow to his head in a sea of confusion and electrostatic. That single take was both a technical feat as well as an acting coup — McKean’s terror and fear were palpable.

Here, we get another close shot of McKean’s face, but rather than instill any sympathy with us, that slow pan in only made us hate him more. In Chuck’s long unstable rant on the stand, tracing Jimmy’s illicit career all the way back to shoplifting from their parents’ store just enough of a hint of instability, Chuck’s truest self was on full display.

Sometimes the simplest shots say so much. Especially when the character on screen is screaming out.

The Least Legal Move

Pretty sure hiring a pickpocket to plant a battery on your brother isn’t ethically kosher, but as a non-lawyer, I can’t say for sure (and that’s not an easy question to Google). However, the fact that Jimmy put Huell on the witness list means that it was a trick he was more than willing to admit to in front of the judges’ panel.

Remembering What Hasn’t Happened Yet (The “Breaking Bad” Tie-In)

Huell! It’s Huell, everyone! It stood to reason that we’d see Lavell Crawford make his first appearance as Jimmy’s future bodyguard at some point in the series, and now we know how he became acquainted with his future employer: Mike (Jonathan Banks) referred Jimmy to Dr. Caldera the veterinarian for a recommendation. (Truth: Once Caldera asked whether this potential new hire would need to “fit into a tight space,” we had a pretty good guess as to who to expect.) But still! Huell!

Lady Sings the Blues

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill, Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler - Better Call Saul _ Season 3, Episode 5 - Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Kim and Jimmy on such an intimate level — while it’s not totally clear if they’re living together at this point, right now they at least have co-habitating toothbrushes. The touch of chivalry Jimmy offers by carrying Kim’s wheeling briefcase up the stairs is perfectly matched by the two of them pushing into the courtroom together, side by side.

Oh, That’s Right, It’s a Period Piece

Said it before, will say it again — we still kinda miss flip phones.

READ MORE: Giancarlo Esposito’s Current TV Roles, Ranked by Increasing Level of Scariness

What’s Up With Mike/Gus/The Cartel?

No clue. Between the extra-long opening sequence with Rebecca and the episode’s focus on the trial and Jimmy’s shenanigans, there wasn’t any room in “Chicanery” for the emerging drama within Albuquerque’s criminal underworld. And frankly, the episode was stronger for it.

Brotherly Love

Key to this episode, in so many ways, is the opening flashback in which Jimmy not only helps Chuck de-electrify his house, but plays wingman during another dinner between Chuck and his wife Rebecca. Make that ex-wife, officially, but Chuck is clearly hoping to take advantage of her being in town to woo her back — a plan that goes belly-up when Rebecca gets a phone call.

It’s not what the scene says about Chuck and Rebecca’s relationship that matters — it’s what it reveals about Chuck, a man who will go to extraordinary means to get what he wants… but not at the expense of his own dignity.

And when Rebecca shows up in the present, it reveals that Jimmy knows exactly which of Chuck’s buttons to press — a nuclear option, really, striking right at his brother’s greatest weakness.

Michael McKean as Chuck McGill - Better Call Saul _ Season 3, Episode 5 - Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Best Quote

“He has a way of doing the worst things for reasons that sound almost noble…and the way my brother treats the law — it breaks my heart.”
— Chuck

Chuck’s speech about the law being sacred, and Jimmy being unfit to practice it, is well-rehearsed and, in parts, pretty accurate about Jimmy’s complexities. It’s that last bit — the part about it “breaking his heart” — that’s the lie. It’s impossible to see any love remaining inside Chuck’s soul, for the law or other people. All that currently resides there is raging, broken pride.

In Conclusion, Your Honor

“Let justice be done though the heavens fall,” Chuck says in a scene preceding his testimony, which is an old legal expression dating back to when folks spoke Latin. It speaks to Chuck’s state of mind, his wholehearted conviction that he’s doing the right thing in trying to destroy Jimmy’s career, but it also speaks to the hubris that ultimately undercuts him.

“Chicanery” is a relatively simple installment on a plot level — Jimmy’s two big tricks aren’t massive twists. But once again, it’s the character interactions that have us captivated, as well as the show’s willingness to pull out the ugliest aspects of these characters and pit them against each other. “Saul” has done such excellent work in establishing who both Jimmy and Chuck are, and what they’ve done to each other over a lifetime of brotherhood. The way this episode exposes it is why this is one of the strongest dramas on television today.

Grade: A

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