The penultimate episode of the stellar first season of Better Call Saul goes down like a mixture of the gin, tequila, and bourbon that Jimmy offered Kim if you were to guzzle it all at once. The breakup of the brothers McGill was a bitter, wretched affair. After reaching a career high, stumbling along the Sandpiper case, Jimmy was in good spirits, and it seemed as if the days of Slippin’ Jimmy would be put to bed permanently. Last week’s episode hinted at a bright future for Jimmy, but it was inevitable that the good times would cease to roll, after all, no one changes their identity if things are going swimmingly.
What wasn’t expected was that the harshest blow to Jimmy’s ego – harsher than being called a criminal that guilty people hire by Betsy Kettleman, harsher than getting dumped on weekly by prosecuting attorneys, and harsher than being constantly belittled by Hamlin – would come from Jimmy’s own flesh and blood. It’s revealed that Chuck has been blocking Jimmy’s upward mobility, denying him a seat at HHM and engineering the theft of his most prominent case to date. Jimmy has been working his ass off to prove he’s not the Illinois schemer that he once was, but he’s unable to cement it due to his brother’s refusal to believe that he can actually change.
The moment when the curtain is finally pulled back to reveal that Chuck’s been the biggest thing in Jimmy’s way is heartbreaking, especially when Jimmy offers up the idea that Chuck could just threaten to quit if he really wanted them to work together. And Chuck just sits solemn, thinking of the easiest way to deliver his betrayal. Bob Odenkirk shows deep levels of hurt when Kim suggests that Jimmy take Hamlin’s deal, but then takes things to a complete other level when he realizes that the man he’s being taking care of and desperately trying to heal has been holding him down. All Jimmy wanted to do was prove to Chuck he could turn things around, make him proud with his dedication to become a lawyer, but Chuck had been sneering at Jimmy’s shortcuts all along.
Chuck likens Jimmy’s quick path to passing the bar as a disrespect of the law, but how could he ignore all of the ways Jimmy has proven to be an observant, dedicated, and crusading lawyer? Mike’s great little storyline this week, where he protects a nebbish first-time criminal and delivers beat downs and wisdom that made him a fan favorite back on Breaking Bad, ends with him talking about the distinctions between good and bad. Mike sees the grey areas in life: a criminal can be good, a cop can be bad, but Chuck sees things in far more black and white terms. He can’t possibly accept that his criminal brother might be a good lawyer, and that’s a flaw that might be worse in the long run than electromagnetic sensitivity.
The most impressive aspect of this episode is the way the writers make Chuck’s sabotaging of Jimmy really sting. Lesser shows couldn’t create all of this repressed resentment and backstory between two family members and make it explode like a powder keg in just nine episodes, but Better Call Saul makes the moment puncture like a hunting knife in the back. The fallout for both Jimmy and Chuck is sure to be interesting, and it’s also unclear how Jimmy will proceed with the case. Regardless, it looks like that brotherly team-up that seemed like such a fun idea is officially dead, and it’s just one more brick in the building of Saul Goodman.