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Better Call Saul – Season 3, Episode 5: Chicanery Review

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★★★★

It goes without saying that there are spoilers in this review, so don't end up looking like one of Slippin' Jimmy's marks.

Are you one of those Saul viewers worried that the last couple of episodes focused too much on the likes of Gustavo Fring and Mike Ehrmantraut, and strayed too far from the clash of egos and family that is the McGill brothers? If so, Chicanery is the show for you! Aside from a flashback to the brothers' earlier days setting up Chuck's electric-free house, a quick side trip for Jimmy to set something up and checking in with Kim's progress working with Mesa Verde (also relevant given how it ties into the central case of Chuck Vs. Jimmy), the majority of the hour was taken up with a masterful courtroom drama that showed the siblings squaring off. It's a credit to the team – the script here is credited to Gordon Smith, with Daniel Sackheim in the director's chair – that both Jimmy and Chuck come across as smart, savvy manipulators who know exactly what they want from the end game.

And while an episode set mostly within the walls of a courtroom could have been dull, the legal wrangling is given an electric – no pun intended – air thanks to the talents of Rhea Seehorn, Bob Odenkirk and, particularly this week, Michael McKean.

We all know that Chuck is a slimy, slippery type hiding under the guise of a warm, smooth operator and struggling, afflicted man. Here we get to see him in full flow, be it practicing his speech about Jimmy, or trying to bat away the accusations of mental illness. It's a tour de force for McKean, highlighted by that epic rant about his brother towards the end, as Jimmy's little trick with the planted phone causes him to show his true colours at last. And McKean is helped by typically great visual work, with the courtroom literally darkening to suit Chuck's condition, and making it look like the Devil himself is entering the room. Plus that beautiful final shot of Chuck looking small and defeated, with the exit sign buzzing away in the foreground. All through it, Chuck is still presented as a human, especially when confronted with ex-wife Rebecca (Ann Cusack).

And let's not forget Odenkirk or Seehorn, as Jimmy figures out a way to argue his case while not denying what he did, and Kim goes to the mat for the man she loves (usually) and has to work alongside.

In Breaking Bad references of the week: HUELL! Mr. Babineaux (last seen in a DEA safe house), played by Lavell Crawford, gets to cross over to the Saul world for his first meeting with Jimmy and to use his light-fingered touch to slip the phone battery into Chuck's pocket. Jimmy finds him via Dr. Caldera (Joe DeRosa), the vet and fixer that Mike has been known to contact and work for in the past. It's a great little blending of the worlds without putting up a giant, blinking neon sign about it.

This was another excellent episode of Better Call Saul, which boiled over the simmering tension between the brothers once again to excellent effect. If you were wondering how Jimmy might weasel his way out of punishment (or at least avoid being disbarred), Chicanery delivered in spades, ratcheting up the tension while shining a light on the differences between the siblings. Despite Jimmy's clever scheming, no one came out of the case looking like a hero, as Saul has much deeper plot motivations than a clash between egos. And as for shows that take place almost entirely within one room, other series could learn a lesson from this one.

Better Call Saul airs Mondays on AMC in the US and is appearing weekly on Tuesdays via Netflix in the UK.

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