Written by Gordon Smith; Directed by Daniel Sackheim
“Chicanery,” focuses almost completely on the showdown between the Brothers McGill. We’ve been building to this since last season’s reveal that Chuck taped Jimmy’s confession and, since then, they have both been scheming to ensure victory. For Chuck, winning means Jimmy being publicly disgraced and losing his law license. For Jimmy, winning means keeping his law practice (and Kim’s) safe, and making sure Chuck can never come after him again.
“Chicanery” opens in flashback, some time after Chuck’s ex-wife Rebecca left him. Chuck’s illness is in full effect and he has enlisted Jimmy to help him pull a con-job on his ex-wife. He’s trying to have a nice dinner with Rebecca—not unlike the one we saw in the season 2 episode “Rebecca”—but he doesn’t want her to know about his illness. Because the house has been gutted of all things electric, this elaborate plan includes bringing in decoy appliances (nothing actually plugged in or functional) and a gazillion candles and concocting an elaborate story about a transpositional error by the power company. We see here that Jimmy likely got the idea for the Mesa Verde number switch from Chuck himself, which adds an interesting layer to the whole situation.
The plan goes to shit, because of course it does. Chuck and Jimmy have actually managed to pull off dinner all the way through dessert and Chuck and Rebecca are having a nice, friendly conversation when her cell phone rings. It’s a work call she has to take and she proceeds to walk around with her phone like a totally normal person on an important call. Chuck starts to freak out and he tries to conceal it from her but he ends up snatching her phone away from her and throwing it across the room. Instead of using this moment as an opportunity to come clean with Rebecca (which is what Jimmy desperately urges him to do), he keeps up the lie and tells her that taking a call at dinner is “incredibly bad manners” and rude. Basically, he makes a conscious choice to be a total prick when he could have just told her the truth. From the way dinner went, it seems the split is amicable and Rebecca would likely have been supportive. but Chuck is too proud to speak his truth so she leaves the house on a very sour note.
Back in the present, Jimmy goes to the Sketchy Vet (referred by Mike) to find a professional pickpocket to pull a job for him. When the Vet asks if he needs to fit in a tight space, I just KNEW that one of my Season 3 wishlist items was about to come true: the return of Saul-squad member Huell Babineaux.
After the Mesa Verde hearing, which went swimmingly and impressed everyone, Kim decides now is the right moment to give full disclosure to Paige and Kevin regarding the incident with Chuck. She tells them about Chuck’s allegations against Jimmy and warns them that it could come out publicly and cause them some headaches. Kim gives them the choice of going with other representation but Kevin isn’t about to lose the best outside counsel he’s ever had because Chuck McGill can’t accept his own mistakes. Paige seems a little more concerned but she takes Kim at her word when she says that Mesa Verde isn’t involved.
Ahead of the trial, Howard and Chuck visit the courtroom with the state bar prosecutor, Mr. Alley, so that Chuck can inspect and okay the accommodations they will be making for him during his testimony. Howard takes this opportunity to try to convince Chuck not to testify. From what Howard has seen of Chuck recently, he’s a bit unhinged and not really fit for public consumption. For the sake of both Chuck’s reputation and the firm’s, Howard believes that Chuck should stay off the stand because he’s confident they can win the case without his testimony.
Chuck straight up tells him that he doesn’t care about how any of it looks, which just goes to show how obsessed he has become with getting revenge against Jimmy. There was a time when Chuck would have been as insistent as Howard that the firm’s reputation come first, but he’s letting his personal vendetta cloud his judgment. He says it very plainly, using a Latin legal phrase is he is wont to do: “Let justice be done though the heavens fall” (Latin: fiat justitia ruat cælum, for my fellow Classics nerds).
“Chicanery” is a bold episode because nearly all of the remainder of the episode (over 30 minutes) takes place entirely in the courthouse where the McGill v. McGill showdown is upon us. Writer Gordon Smith manages to make all the legalese and the events of what would normally be a boring court proceeding into an incredibly dramatic and heart-wrenching showdown between many of the show’s key players.
Howard is up first and gives the details of the break-in he witnessed On cross, Kim uses Howard’s testimony to tell the story of “Jimmy McGill: The Early Years,” when he bootstrapped his way into a law degree while working in the HHM mailroom. Howard is forced to admit that he used to hold Jimmy in high esteem and that Chuck was the one who wanted to keep him from becoming an associate. Howard claims it was to avoid the appearance of nepotism but Kim absolutely wrecks him by pointing out that the other Hamlin in HHM is Howard’s own father. Kim goes on to demonstrate the ways that Jimmy used to take care of his brother, but when she tries to get into the details of his mental illness, she gets shut down.
Mr. Alley is ready to play the tape despite Kim’s many motions and objections. Jimmy has got something cooking involving Francesca, who is sitting in the back. He calls her over and we learn that someone is supposed to be coming but their flight was delayed. Jimmy and Kim need to stall in order for whatever plan they’ve got to work.
In one of the few scenes outside the courthouse, Chuck is at his house, preparing for his testimony. He goes through several iterations of what he wants to say and it’s just another example of how Chuck is excellent at acting and otherwise faking emotion. At one point he compares Jimmy to Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber), but ultimately decides that approach is too “sanctimonious.” Ultimately he decides to go with some feigned heartfelt admission of love for Jimmy but make it clear that “the law is too important” to allow his brother’s transgressions to go unpunished.
The tape of Jimmy’s confession finally plays in court and we watch everyone reacting to it. Kim maintains her composure, even throughout the part where he explains that he did it all for her. Francesca is in the back like WTF am I getting myself into. And now it’s time for Chuck to take the stand. They prepare the room for him, collecting everyone’s things, and Jimmy claims he has left his phone in the car. Cut to Chuck arriving at the courthouse and having a run-in on the stairs with Huell, who sneaks something into Chuck’s pocket.
Chuck finally takes the stand and during his testimony he explains why he made the tape. He also clarifies what his disease is and claims it is something entirely physical that doesn’t affect his mental ability whatsoever. What everyone heard on the tape was just “play acting” meant to get a confession out of Jimmy, not an accurate reflection of his mental state. He finishes by saying that he loves Jimmy but he cannot abide the way he treats the law, even if he does what he does for reasons that aren’t malicious. The law is sacred, Jimmy needs consequences, blah blah blah. The state bar rests.
We finally see who Jimmy was waiting for. Rebecca enters the room before the cross-examination and Chuck looks horrified. During a recess, Chuck speaks with Rebecca. Turns out Jimmy sent some of the pictures Mike took of Chuck’s house to Rebecca to demonstrate the extent of his illness. She believes Jimmy told her out of concern but Chuck knows better. Rebecca offers to leave so as not to be a distraction but Chuck tells her to stay. He wants her to see that Jimmy has been playing her and expose him for who he really is. Chuck wants Rebecca to watch as he defeats Jimmy once and for all.
Finally it’s time for the cross, but it’s Jimmy and not Kim who will be doing it. It really is Jimmy at his best, and we are reminded that despite it all, Jimmy McGill is a really good lawyer. He sets Chuck up very subtly, relying on the fact that he will proudly tell the court the lengths that he went to in order to get Jimmy to confess. This includes an extended discussion of the state his house was in, covered in mylar and space blankets, which to Chuck seems perfectly reasonable as part of the scam but which, to the rest of the people in the room (especially Rebecca) seems absolutely insane. Jimmy also uses the Mike photos as evidence to show that Chuck’s house, while not always covered floor-to-ceiling in space blankets, is very much not normal. It’s actually quite dangerous, with one fire hazard after another—a tragic accident waiting to happen.
Jimmy tries to get at the ER doctor’s assessment of Chuck’s illness by referencing his emergency guardianship. He claims that Chuck’s mental state is relevant to understanding both the context in which the tape was made and Jimmy’s own mindset when it was recorded. Jimmy’s contention is that his entire confession to Chuck was just a lie to make him feel better. To convince the court of this, he has to establish that Chuck is suffering from a mental, not a physical illness.
Chuck still thinks he has the upper hand because Jimmy’s attempt to rattle him by bringing in Rebecca and exposing him did not work. What he doesn’t know is that was only Part One of Jimmy’s plan. The rest unfolds as Jimmy reveals that he has a cell phone in his pocket. Since Chuck couldn’t feel it, he (correctly) assumes that Jimmy took out the battery to trick him on the stand. What he doesn’t know is that the battery has been in his pocket the whole time, courtesy of Huell. Once he touches the battery, Chuck starts to unravel in front of the court, to Rebecca and Howard’s absolute horror.
The more Chuck tries to convince everyone he’s not crazy, the crazier he sounds. He jumps from thought to thought, trying to expose all of Jimmy’s previous lies and schemes, but he just ends up coming across as unstable and obsessed with revenge against the brother he has hated since their childhood. To say Chuck overshares is putting it lightly, and by the end of his ranting and raving, he knows he’s been defeated.
If we’ve come to learn one thing this season, it is that Chuck is just as good of a scammer as Jimmy, he just uses his skills fully within the confines of the law. That doesn’t make it right; it just makes it legal. But Chuck’s fatal flaw is his pride. If he hadn’t insisted on testifying, none of this would have happened. He would likely have won, Jimmy would have been disbarred, and his reputation would have remained intact. But he just had to show everyone that he’s the smartest guy in the room and it was his downfall. I don’t know how Chuck comes back from this, or where his relationship with Jimmy goes from here. I do know that Jimmy is as close to Saul Goodman as we’ve seen him—complete with Francesca and Huell as part of the gang—and Kim is fully on board with it. It makes me wonder where exactly Kim’s line in the sand is, and when Jimmy is going to cross it.