Monday, May 8, 2017

REVIEW: 'Better Call Saul' - Jimmy and Chuck Go Head-to-Head in Court in 'Chicanery'

AMC's Better Call Saul - Episode 3.05 "Chicanery"

Kim and Jimmy face off with an adversary. Jimmy looks to Chuck's past to secure his future. Jimmy loses an ally and gains another.

Breaking Bad was an all-time great show. At times, Better Call Saul feels very similar to it in its look, tone and storytelling decisions. That's gotten more and more true as the series has gone along and introduced more of the criminal aspects of this world. And yes, it's always so fun and thrilling to see a familiar face make a surprising and unexpected return here - like Gus Fring, Hector, Victor and even Huell who pops up for the first time here. But Better Call Saul can be a very different show as well. The creative team has done such a strong job across three seasons making this a compelling series instead of just pandering to the fans who don't want this universe to be done completely. It's embraced its differences to its benefit. At tines, it presents as two dual narratives. They aren't fighting or clashing for control. They simply exist at the same time and have big connections because they end up in the same place. "Chicanery" takes a very different approach in focusing solely on the brotherly conflict between Jimmy and Chuck. Whatever is going on with Mike and Gus will have to wait another week. Yes, it's been fun to see Mike tear things apart in silence while Gus deals with the cartel. But the drama happening in the courtroom is just as dramatic. And here, it hits a very satisfying and complicated climax.

There has always been a tragic irony to Chuck throughout this story. He's willing to do whatever it takes to get Jimmy disbarred because he will make a mockery of the institution he loves so much. And yet, it's his tactics that are driving Jimmy away and forcing him to become Saul Goodman. Chuck's intentions are pure and understandable. He knows that Slippin' Jimmy will always be conning people.  But Chuck is so pompous and petty too. He has the case to get Jimmy disbarred. All of his hard work is paying off. He laid the trap and Jimmy fell for it. He has all the evidence he needs to ensure that Jimmy never practices as a lawyer again. And yet, he's too full of himself to let the evidence speaks for itself. He feels he needs to personally be there to make sure that it all happens the way he wants it too. He can't just sit back and hope the law does what should. He needs to be the center of attention teaching his brother a definitive and crushing lesson. He does it out of spite and anger instead of love for Jimmy or the law. Those are his rationalizations to present his case. But it's his selfish ways that ultimately ruin all of this for him.

This is a very intense episode of the show. It spends the majority of its running time in the courtroom as the two sides present their cases. The tension and mystery builds and builds until it finally releases in the end. It's a thing of beauty from a structural standpoint. It's marvelous for the actors as well. Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn and Michael McKean turn in some phenomenal performances. This whole endeavor pains all of them so much. Jimmy and Chuck have been fighting for a long time. And now, this is a critical turning point. It will be a decisive action that defines their dynamic for the next stage of the series. They are simply doing what they believe they need to do. They are actions of pure survival. The consequences of which should be very fascinating to see play out in the remainder of the season. They've passed the point of no return. The lines have been drawn. They are going head-to-head in the courtroom to see who really has come up with the stronger strategy. Is it Chuck, the well-respected and brilliant partner at a prestigious firm who is letting his petty feelings define his actions? Or is it Jimmy, the charming conman who will craft any kind of story no matter how illegal it may be to ensure his self-preservation?

It's a fascinating approach to this hour. It's interesting to see how far Kim is willing to go with all of this as well. She understands these brothers much more than the people deciding their fates. She loves Jimmy and wants him to succeed. In the courtroom, she's not disputing any of the incriminating evidence against Jimmy. He did all of the things he's accused of doing. But she's arguing that it's simply a family squabble that should best be resolved in the family. That's an incredibly murky line for her to draw. She's the beneficiary of Jimmy's actions. She knows that he committed fraud and forgery by changing the address on official documents. That's what led to her landing Mesa Verde as a client. She's still doing strong work for them. But this case could alter her reputation in the legal community. She's walking that fine line of what's ethical. She informs Kevin and Paige about what's going with this case. She reassures them that it won't affect their business. But they have to be incredibly wary moving forward. If Kim supports this, it shows just how far she is willing to go to help Jimmy as the lawyer he is destined to be.

All of that is fun and interesting. But again, this hour truly shines when it's the brothers facing off in court. They know each other so well. They know that they must be planning something to completely offset the perception of the case. Chuck is anticipating a big move on Jimmy's part to weasel his way out of this hearing unharmed. Ultimately, it's a con within several other cons. It's a brilliant strategy on Jimmy's part - even though both he and Kim know just how damaging it will ultimately be if they are successful. Jimmy is a showman and he does put on a show in the courtroom. The hour even establishes how he has the leeway to do so. Chuck is expecting Jimmy to throw him off of his game somehow. At first, it presents itself with the sudden arrival of his ex-wife, Rebecca. She has no idea about Chuck's condition. This episode reveals that it wasn't the cause of their divorce. In fact, the divorce may have been a contributing factor to Chuck suffering from this condition. Chuck isn't rattled by this. He still maintains control and thinks he's bested Jimmy. He believes Jimmy has to rely on cheap tricks to fool the court. That Jimmy has to resort to a cheap stunt of having a hidden cell phone near Chuck to show how crazy he really is. It's still not the big "gotcha" moment. Chuck believes he has the power because he keeps besting Jimmy's attempts to discredit him.

That's what makes the final reveal so brilliant. Jimmy was simply luring Chuck into a false self of confidence. In truth, the cell phone battery was in his pocket all along. Huell put it there on purpose. That's the confirmation Jimmy needed right now. It's been pretty clear for awhile now that Chuck's condition is psychological instead of a physical ailment. It's gotten to where it is today because Chuck is this demanding personality who is used to getting his way and not trusting anyone who disagrees. He believes it's a rare condition that doctors simply don't know how to treat or understand right now. He's a medical marvel. That's such a high opinion of himself. He truly believes that he is special in a way that everyone else is not. Of course, he isn't. When Jimmy proves it in court, it really engages him. The power of that sequence cones from the creeping closeness to Chuck's face as he goes on this tirade against Jimmy. He takes it beyond the scope of this case. Way back to 9-year-old Jimmy stealing from the cash register. It's in this moment where Chuck is revealed as who he really is. He doesn't realize it until it's too late. Once he does, the camera positions itself high in the room to make Chuck look as small as he fells. Jimmy bested him. That's the outcome of this fight. Both brothers may still face repercussions from the bar. But it's not the central focus in the end. Jimmy has defeated and shammed his brother. It was a victory. But it leaves things very open for what happens next and how this case will ripple throughout the outside world. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Chicanery" was written by Gordon Smith and directed by Daniel Sackheim.
  • This really feels like an episode that should get multiple Emmy nominations. The script by the previously nominated Gordon Smith is so powerful and precise. Meanwhile, it could very easily be Odenkirk's submission hour. Plus, the directing is so beautiful despite it being largely confined to one room. 
  • Chuck and Rebecca's split was apparently amicable. Jimmy even helped Chuck hide his illness from her. She returns here as a pawn in this war between the brothers. But it should bet interesting to see if she has new importance moving forward now that she knows the full truth.
  • There is a brief mention of Mike at the top of the hour. He's responsible for Jimmy meeting Dr. Caldera and getting Huell for the important job. Plus, he gets a fish in the process too. Will he actually take good care of her though? It seems doubtful.
  • Paige has always been Kim's biggest supporter at Mesa Verde. And yet, she's the more skeptical one when Kim informs them about the situation with the McGill brothers. She wants the guarantee that it won't blow back on them in any way while Kevin just wants to keep the best lawyer no matter what. 
  • Since Breaking Bad has ended, Lavell Crawford has lost over a hundred pounds. That's very rewarding for him on a personal note. He looks good. But now, I'm worried Huell will be seen eating in every scene moving forward. 
  • The bar's decision on this case will have to wait until next week. Of course, the damage has already been done - both personally and professionally for the McGill brothers. But it should be interesting to see if either one faces suspension or being disbarred.