On Better Call Saul, Chuck F---s Up His Day In Court
Okay, it's just a Bar Association hearing, but he's still bested -- brutally -- by the very man this is all meant to destroy.
As a prequel, Better Call Saul has been a tragedy since before it even began: as each season-starting black-and-white flash-forward to the grim life of a moustachioed Omaha Cinnabon manager reminds us, this guy only exists due to the deaths of the two men who previously wore his face. But in this week's episode, Jimmy is not the McGill brother whose hubris leads him to his own undoing -- or, at least, not yet. Instead, as only we viewers pretty much had to assume he would, Jimmy has no choice but to prove to Chuck that his talent for a short-con grift makes him a really great lawyer. Certainly a much better lawyer than Chuck is either a witness, or a long-con grifter.
Heading into the Bar Association hearing he thinks will strip Jimmy of his right to practice law, Chuck is very sure he's about to see the payoff for the con he set into motion in the Season 2 finale: using the tape he made, of Jimmy's confession, to prove Jimmy's commission of a felony with the Mesa Verde documents, and save the legal profession itself from Jimmy's grubby practices. With his lawyer, and Howard, he confidently walks the hearing room, confirming that the tiny amount of electromagnetic energy given off by the fire exit lights -- which can't be turned off for him -- won't be a problem during his testimony, and suggesting where the court stenographer might sit so that his or her equipment doesn't throw him off. He takes more care of his own well-being by staying away from the hearing until he comes to take the stand himself, using the time to sit in his dark house and rehearse what phrasing and tone will make "I love my brother" sound convincing. Just as calmly as he presumably conceived this operation, Chuck prepares to star in its final chapter. But it's Chuck's hubris that keeps him from realizing that just as he was able to manipulate Jimmy into the confession he taped because he knows Jimmy so well, Jimmy knows Chuck too. And he knows some techniques that, had Chuck not started any of this, Jimmy probably never would have thought to use against him.
In this episode's flashback cold open -- the first of the season -- we go back to Chuck's house at a much earlier time in Chuck's mental deterioration. (Or, as he would angrily insist, physical.) In anticipation of a dinner with Chuck's ex-wife Rebecca, Jimmy and Chuck are supervising the staging of the house to look like it still normally has electricity: some workmen are putting a modern fridge in place in the kitchen, without hooking it up; another is putting back a dining room chandelier. When Jimmy arrives with Rebecca, Chuck smoothly offers the cover story for all the candles he's lit: darn the luck, but when he was in the middle of cooking, the power went out, thanks to a screwup by "those bozos at PNM" confused financially stable Chuck, at 215 San Cristobal, with the deadbeat at 512! (One wonders if Chuck remembered this part of the charade when the 1216/1261 "error" occurred.) But he already cooked everything on the gas stove, so they can just rough it! Rebecca is game, and the dinner goes well until the after-dinner chat is interrupted by a jarring electronic ring.
Rebecca has no idea as she answers her phone and flits back and forth talking and looking for something to write a note on that Chuck is in serious "physical" distress from her phone battery until finally he yanks it out of her hand and throws it on the floor, covering by claiming he's offended by her rudeness and bringing the evening to an abrupt halt. But evidently Jimmy never forgot what was proven both in that moment and, later, when Chuck was hospitalized, Dr. Cruz demonstrated: that Chuck only has a "physical" reaction to electromagnetic waves when he knows what their source is. So while Chuck's preparing for court by running lines, Jimmy's visiting Mike's favourite crooked veterinarian for a recommendation for an operative "with a light touch" -- "a real pro." "You gotta fit him in a tight space?" asks the vet. Jimmy doesn't think so. Vet: "I got just the guy then." And anyone who's watched Breaking Bad isn't surprised in the least when the vet's guy runs into Chuck on the courthouse stairs.
When Jimmy stalls on Chuck's cross-examination long enough for Francesca to enter with a flight-delayed Rebecca, Chuck assumes the purpose is to rattle him into screwing up his testimony, since this will be the first she's ever heard about his "EHS." But Chuck maintains his composure, certain he's dominating Jimmy and coasting to victory.
For viewers frustrated by the slow progress of either Mike's full engagement with Gus or Jimmy's re-christening as Saul Goodman, spending a whole episode on the deterioration of the McGill brothers' relationship may have been frustrating. For this viewer, who considers the exploration of that relationship the true purpose for Better Call Saul's existence, its execution is as tense and its outcome as wrenching as anything we've yet seen. It also represents a very tough lesson for Chuck to learn.
Maybe this time it'll stick.