REVIEW: Better Call Saul – “Chicanery”

The following is a review of the fifth episode of the third season of Better Call Saul, available on AMC in the U. S. and on Netflix internationally. Expect story spoilers. 

In the fifth episode of the third season — Chicanery — Jimmy’s hearing takes place, and Chuck finds out the lengths to which Jimmy is willing to go to ‘win’ the hearing. Chicanery was directed by Daniel Sackheim and written by Gordon Smith.

It didn’t occur to me until I recently rewatched Chicanery, but I think it is my favorite episode of the series thus far. Previously, I would’ve said it was Five-O, but Chicanery tops it. This is the quintessential Better Call Saul episode as far as I am concerned, and even though we see Huell (played by Lavell Crawford), the episode is almost entirely concerned with this show. That Huell Breaking Bad-cameo is the only thing that gets in the way of it, even though it works to perfection. This is the best episode of television that Better Call Saul has produced thus far.

It all begins with the excellent episode-opening teaser, which is a flashback to when Rebecca, Chuck’s ex-wife, was coming over for dinner, during which Chuck wanted to ‘win her back.’ In this scene, Chuck is faking that he is alright, even though he is suffering from his hypersensitivity to electromagnetic fields. His home is remodeled to make it appear as if everything is all well and good.

Chuck is faking a power outage to get around the fact that he cannot stand electricity. Chuck makes up this story that the person living on 512 San Cristobal didn’t pay his bills, whereas Chuck lives in 215, but the power company cut off his electricity by mistake. Interestingly, it’s the exact same ‘mistake’ that Jimmy made it appear Chuck had made with the Mesa Verde files.

Seeing Jimmy watch over the scene as Chuck makes small talk with Rebecca is nice, and it shows the kind of brother he is. But the calmness is cut short by Rebecca’s phone. Chuck can’t deal with the effect of Rebecca’s phone, and he ends up throwing it across the room.

Jimmy pleads with Chuck to tell her about his illness — to come clean — but Chuck would much rather put up with a charade. This is the one thing that Chuck cannot get over, he is ashamed of his illness and it is his deepest secret. If she found out, it would ruin Chuck, which perfectly sets up Jimmy’s master plan in the ‘present day’ timeline of Better Call Saul.

Before we get to the big showdown at the hearing, we get to see one of the more uncomfortable and awkward scenes on the show. Kim basically feels that she has to tell Mesa Verde about her connection to Jimmy McGill, as well as what he may or may not have done to the papers.

Although the two representatives end up believing and trusting Kim fully, the show’s female lead is clearly uncomfortable here. I really appreciate the way this scene is shot, with her face being framed right between the arms of the Mesa Verde representatives. I read this scene in the ‘text’ as something akin to a child lying to their parents, but its framing definitely suggests the uncomfortable hiding of the truth to upstanding people.

Like it or not, Kim and Jimmy have never been more of a team than they are here, which is made evident by the images that run while the hearing is about to begin. We see Kim and Jimmy brush their teeth together, go to work together, and walk into the hearing room together. Kim has tied herself to Jimmy in a risky career move, and this is not just Jimmy’s future that is on the line, but potentially hers as well.

The hearing and cross-examination are both initially fairly unremarkable, except for one skilled nepotism reply from Kim Wexler to Howard Hamlin (played by Patrick Fabian), but it is when Jimmy and Kim bring in outside forces that new life comes to the hearing.

It is time for Chuck, who had previously been shown having to rehearse saying that he loved his brother, to be cross-examined, which doesn’t go as planned for Jimmy’s brother. Jimmy had orchestrated Chuck’s downfall beforehand in a way that Chuck hadn’t foreseen. Suddenly, Rebecca walks through the door, and it becomes clear that Jimmy wants to showcase Chuck’s true mental state, even though Rebecca has been told otherwise. This clearly riles Chuck up.

After a brief break, Jimmy takes charge in the cross-examination of Chuck. This is the crucial moment. Sure, Chuck rolls with the punches fairly well, even by owning up to how he had deceived his ex-wife, but he becomes just a little bit too cocky. Jimmy, as we find out, has an ace up his sleeve, or, rather, in Chuck’s jacket pocket.

After a bit of warm-up including a phone without a battery, Jimmy reveals his scorched earth tactic in response to Chuck’s unbrotherly moves in the second season’s final episode. Jimmy has planted a fully charged battery on Chuck, which Chuck never noticed. Jimmy has startled Chuck, who begins to rant about his brother thus showcasing the magnetically uncontrolled performance delivered by the excellent Michael McKean.

It makes sense for a spin-off show about a lawyer to have its greatest episode be filled with opening statements, testimonies, and cross-examination. But Better Call Saul is not just any lawyer show and the way Jimmy expertly, viciously, and with malintent and forethought changes the direction of the hearing is exactly as cold as you would expect Saul Goodman to be — with Chicanery it feels like Jimmy’s friendly, family-oriented persona has washed off.

A+

This episode originally aired May 8th, 2017, and it is being reviewed now to be ready for the season four premiere.

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen

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