Better Call Saul Returns To Remind You That Both Brothers McGill Have Criminal Minds
When you're housebound due to a sensitivity to electricity, pulling off a scheme takes some planning.
When last we left the brothers McGill, Chuck had just done what Chuck does best: clandestinely screwed Jimmy -- this time by manipulating him into admitting he'd forged legal documents to make Chuck look incompetent and thus win the Mesa Verde account back for Kim. And since a decision has been made for us not to miss a single beat of the Saul Goodman origin story, that's exactly where we pick back up -- with Jimmy storming out of the conversation to call Howard and tell him he's convinced Chuck that he's still as sharp as ever and that the details of how he did it are immaterial. Neither Howard nor Jimmy has any idea that Chuck has a master plan, and that they're both playing their parts exactly as they should.
Looking back on the first two seasons really makes one appreciate the restraint that has gone into fleshing out the character of Chuck -- his successful, "respectable" past; his current (seeming?) frailty; his talent for cruelty toward Jimmy; his ability to justify it. Knowing Jimmy from his Breaking Bad-era Saul days means we have sometimes been able to predict some of the ways his loose grasp of ethics might manifest itself, but Chuck is what gives the show much of its suspense: over the first twenty episodes, we've seen that he can be just as slippery as Slippin' Jimmy, but while Jimmy is prepared to punch his way out of any dirty alleyway to pull off a grubby short con, Chuck's cons tend to be stately and elegant and leave no trace of dirt on his hands.
Chuck is so good at what he does that even when he summons Howard to the house to hear the tape, he gets the pleasure of watching the stunted brainpower Howard's response betrays. Of course the tape wouldn't be admitted in court. Of course Jimmy would, if it somehow did get admitted, call audio experts to testify as to the possibility that it had been edited. Of course there's no point trying to redeem HHM by playing it for Kevin Wachtell at Mesa Verde. Howard: "If that tape is useless in a court of law, and no help in the court of public opinion, what's the point? Because I can't think of a single use for it!" "I can," smirks Chuck. Who could doubt it?
We then leave Chuck for almost the whole episode. Mike figures out how his unseen adversary has been keeping one step ahead of him -- a cleverly hidden tracking device in the gas cap on his car -- and confirm what we would have probably said had anyone asked, which is OBVIOUSLY Mike is the kind of person who would know how to dismantle an entire car in a single afternoon. Jimmy Jimmies out of a dressing-down from the poor Air Force officer he tricked into letting him film an ad on his base. Kim stays decorously quiet through a meeting with Mesa Verde Paige in which the latter slams Chuck for his anger and sexism at her last catastrophic meeting with him, later to spend several minutes agonizing over a single punctuation mark (because she's determined that her work should be unimpeachably immaculate? because it's a distraction from the thing she and Jimmy are never, not ever going to talk about? both?).
By the time Ernesto appears at Chuck's for his grocery delivery, that meeting with Howard is a hazy memory, until Ernesto produces an unusual item Chuck specifically requested, which Ernesto wrapped in tin foil just to be safe.
They're batteries, for a tape recorder Chuck happens to produce from his desk, except given Chuck's difficulties, it's painful for him even to open the battery door. Can Ernesto help? Ernesto comes straight to Chuck's aid, and as soon as the new batteries are in, disaster! Jimmy's voice fills the room: "I changed 1261 to 1216. It was me." The tape was cued to that very spot? Darn the luck!!!
"TURN THAT OFF," Chuck bellows, racing back in from the kitchen. Ernesto's so flustered that Chuck gets to it before he can, and after screaming, "YOU DID NOT HEAR THAT," Chuck -- unsettled, voice shaking -- tells him how devastating this accident could turn out to be: "You know about confidentiality, right? As employees of Hamlin Hamlin McGill, you and I are both bound by the strictures of client confidentiality. By law, both of us -- by law."
"So I'm not supposed to tell anybody?" asks Ernesto.
"That's right," says Chuck. "No matter who. No matter what reasons you think you might have. You must not -- you cannot -- tell anyone. There could be terrible consequences. Life-changing consequences."
This is pretty clearly Ernesto's worst day of what has been a pretty unrewarding assignment -- and then it gets worse. "We don't want you to get into trouble," Chuck adds. "If something were to happen to you because of this, I'd feel sick about it!" He catches his breath and concludes: "'Nuff said?" "I guess," says Ernesto, reluctantly, before excusing himself to finish unloading Chuck's supplies. Chuck carefully uses his wooden electronics-handling tongs to put the tape recorder away again, locks the drawer, and then...
The more insistent Chuck is that Ernesto definitely must not tell anyone what he's heard, the more certain we are that Ernesto will feel compelled to do exactly that, perhaps to someone who was, until recently, a colleague -- a blonde one whose good opinion Jimmy craves nearly as much as he does Chuck's.
One has the sense that Chuck wouldn't like to hear his talents for deceit compared to Jimmy's, because Chuck's self-image depends on his conviction that he's doing the wrong thing (creating this scenario to trap poor Ernesto in a moral quandary) for the right reason (taking down Jimmy). But clearly, they're both cons: both gifted liars; both attuned to their marks' specific weaknesses. But we have a very recent example of Jimmy realizing that there actually are limits to how far he can justify going in deceiving his brother. What makes Chuck so scary is that we don't know how far he'll go.