“Better Call Saul” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Five: “Chicanery”

Yeah, I know that there are viewers who are vocally disinterested in the Chuck vs. Jimmy storyline, because I see them saying so on social media. (To be fair, you can see people say just about anything on social media—get a load of this crank who hates Mad Max: Fury Road, for instance. The nerve of some people!) This is a disinterest I don’t share, and understand only insofar as I understand that there will always be an audience segment who dislikes the most prominent non-criminal on any show involving criminals. But by god, Better Call Saul is at least in part about what two damaged, middle-aged brothers do to one another, despite the love they constantly and sincerely profess. When was the last time you saw anything like that on television?

I’m consistently amazed by how well the show, and actors Michael McKean and Bob Odenkirk, handle this particular strain of love-hate relationship—the resentment that comes from being tied to one another like a rat king, unable to permanently break free of one another because they care, driven to new heights of anger and vengeance because of it. Both characters are smooth talkers in their own way—Chuck is a high-class attorney, Jimmy’s a confidence man—so the choice of the creators and performers to depict their moments of greatest conflict by making their voices break and crack with rage is a brilliant one. Think of Jimmy screaming like a madman when he breaks in to Chuck’s house. Think of Chuck lashing out at Jimmy over his law degree, comparing him to a chimp with a machine gun. Think of the climactic scene of this episode, with Chuck uncontrollably venting a literal lifetime of spite and disgust against his baby brother, near tears as he recalls Jimmy’s juvenile betrayal of their hard-working father decades ago. That shit is so real to me, so raw. In each man’s voice you can hear the cognitive dissonance: They really do love and care about the person they hate most in the world. How can you live with that? How can you live like that? We’re finding out, and it isn’t a story with a happy ending.

I reviewed this week’s Better Call Saul for the New York Observer. It occurs to me that as much as I enjoy the Mike material on this show, more than the Jimmy material on balance I’d say, the Chuck/Jimmy scenes, or perhaps more accurately the Michael McKean/Bob Odenkirk scenes, are the things that stick with me the longest. I’ve never seen this before.

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