“My brother is not a bad person, he has a good heart. It’s just—he can’t help himself, and everyone’s left picking up the pieces.”
Since season one’s Better Call Saul finale, Chuck McGill has been the show’s biggest asshole. He tried to destroy his brother’s attempts at an honest career, told Jimmy he wasn’t worthy of practicing law, undercut him in front of two major law firms, and seemingly set out to ruin Kim’s career because she vouched (and cared) for Jimmy. And by the end of that great, understated scene with Kim, Chuck had become a much more sympathetic and likable character.
Especially in lieu of the extended flashback that started the episode, where Jimmy came over and had dinner with Chuck and his wife Rebecca to mark the start of Jimmy’s mail room career at Hamlin, Hamlin, & McGill.
Chuck’s problem has never been explained before; his electromagnetic “allergy” has been a mental illness without a foundation, but tonight’s episode indicates it has been a response to grief. It seems as though his wife Rebecca, whom the episode was named for, passed away, and that was the trigger for Chuck’s issue.
That alone (with Michael McKean‘s continued excellence) made Chuck more sympathetic because it made him more human: the gifted, smug, proud jerk who is actually a sad, broken widow, just as frail as everyone else. The end of that scene, with Chuck and Rebecca in bed, also gave a little more insight into why Chuck might resent Jimmy so much—he’s envious of him.
Jimmy is likable, funny, and charming; he’s everything Chuck isn’t. He even commented on how hard Howard (Howard!) works at the firm to keep morale up, indicating he’s not really capable of engaging people on a human level. Chuck thought his wife would hate Jimmy, but she was enamored with him and his stupid lawyer jokes. When Chuck tried, and failed, to make his own little joke, you could see that even as the successful older brother he sees traits in his screw-up brother he’ll never have—and he isn’t above a little jealousy.
If that had been it for new insights into Chuck, his character would have already been one more worthy of empathy and understanding. But then we learned the real source of his animosity for Jimmy.
The story Chuck told Kim, about how he caught Jimmy skimming money from their saintly father’s store, laid it all on the table. It even gave context to his jealousy about Jimmy’s natural charm. Chuck works hard and does the right thing, but Jimmy is the one that people let slide because they can’t help liking him in spite of his obvious warts.
That quote about how Jimmy isn’t a bad person (he just always does the wrong thing and other people pay for it) shows that Chuck knows who his brother is—he’s just jaded and hurt by it after all these years. And he blames Jimmy for his father’s death. Considering how Chuck responded to his wife’s passing, it’s probably a wound he can’t ever recover from, and therefore can’t ever really forgive Jimmy for, let alone trust him.
With this show it wouldn’t surprise me if it turned out Jimmy really didn’t steal from his father. With the way the characters on this show often seem to be hiding things from one another in an attempt to protect them, it can’t be ruled out that their father had a gambling problem or something like that, and Jimmy was protecting their beloved father from Chuck’s disappointment.
But it won’t matter—except to make Jimmy McGill’s tragic descent into Saul Goodman that much sadder, because it’s already shaped how Chuck views him. And the actions Chuck’s taken in retaliation have already put Jimmy down the Saul path.
It’s all very sad, and while this season has probably been a little slower than some fans want, I thought this was another beautifully written episode, where the development and revelations about the characters made the hour fly by. I’ve detested everything about Chuck since the “monkey with the machine gun” comment, but after tonight I wanted to apologize to him and tell him I was sorry for his loss. Slow doesn’t mean bad, not when the quiet moments pack so much punch.
Now just a few more thoughts while I debate whether or not I want to tell the police the gun was mine…
- We always see Jimmy and the good and bad of the shortcuts he takes, but this episode showed us the other side, by having Kim display what an honest, hardworking lawyer really has to do to be successful, as she called everyone she ever met in an attempt to get out of the (what turned out to be Howard’s) doghouse.
- Yet, it kind of made an argument for Jimmy’s Beanie Baby-bribing tactics when it didn’t work, right? Right? Okay, it didn’t, but you have to admit that deflating moment for Kim certainly had you reconsidering the merits of right and wrong.
- Hmm, that was it. Nothing else major happened. No one of importance showed up and nothing super cool took place.
…oh, except for the freaking return of Hector Salamanca!
I don’t always love the overt Breaking Bad tie-ins (and yes, I missed Krazy 8’s cameo last week, probably because I haven’t seen his face in years), but I’m never going to scoff at Mark Margolis showing up—especially when he can communicate without the use of a bicycle bell.
We knew things wouldn’t be that easy for Mike when he conspired against the Salamanca family, but this is even better than we could have hoped. More Hector, less Tuco thank you very much.
So what did you think of this week’s episode? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.