This is part of the 5 Favorite Episodes of 2017 Series. Check out the previous entries here. This is the subjective countdown of my favorite episodes that aired in 2017. Articles include SPOILERS.
Whether it’s Mike’s introduction to Hector Salamanca and the Breaking Bad cartel characters, Kim’s drive to prove herself and stand as her own, or Saul’s schemes to scam his way into being a good lawyer, the best thing about Better Call Saul has consistently been its secondary and tertiary plots. That’s because the main conflict of the show – Jimmy and Chuck as feuding brothers – has always felt flat. No matter what they did to each other, it always felt as though they’d continue to be family. There was only so far their relationship seemed to be able to fall.
“Chicanery” changed all that by offering up the best version of what Better Call Saul could be, addressing all of the challenges that a prequel series poses and turning them into opportunities. We know, more or less, what is going to happen in the series, and are watching to see exactly how it plays out. When Jimmy’s disbarment hearing begins, we know the outcome before anything happens. Jimmy isn’t going to be disbarred permanently. Chuck will lose this battle. So even as evidence mounts against Jimmy, we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.
The flashback from the beginning of the episode plays on this same expectation, reminding us of who Jimmy used to be and where he is on his path to becoming Saul Goodman. But all of that is misdirecting our attention. The story of this episode is not what’s going to happen to Jimmy, but what is going to happen to Chuck. It’s the way in which Jimmy embarrasses Chuck and publicly outs him as a mentally ill individual that is so devastating. It’s not just that he’s beaten Chuck, but that he’s destroyed him in order to do it. The stakes are raised from a sibling rivalry to a full blown smear campaign, with their careers hanging in the balance.
Every decision along the way was done masterfully. Where turning off of electronics used to be seen as something people did to protect poor Chuck, this episode weaponizes it. Chuck’s no longer Jimmy’s helpless brother, but the villain, so turning off all electronics doesn’t feel like a safety measure but a growing shroud of darkness, an omen of what’s to come.
The courtroom drama itself plays out like an expert chess match, each character not just trying to outmaneuver each other but to misdirect the audience as well. The flashback from the beginning seems to be setting up how Chuck’s illness can derail him even when he’s prepared, but then appears to be the introduction to his ex-wife, a trick to get in Chuck’s head. In reality, it’s all to distract from the phone battery placed in his pocket earlier, an action highlighted by a Breaking Bad cameo by Huell, forgotten in the chaos of the show, but then instantly realized when it happens.
The twist in “Chicanery” wasn’t just a shift for the episode but for the show. Its consequences were lasting for the series and solved the Jimmy and Chuck problem. No longer was the show about the brothers as a unit but as them as individuals, dissolving that baseline relationship that had held back their plot. It breaks the pattern of lashing out at each other, making up, repeat. Instead, it forces them to find new targets for their flaws and setting the tone for the rest of the series.