Better Call Saul: Say Uncle


Chuck isn’t the funniest guy. Maybe he’s just been through too much, or he just naturally lacks comedic timing. Undoubtedly, his early bird quips and lawyer punch lines lack panache. And panache is what Jimmy has for days. For years, in fact. Actually, decades. As far as Chuck’s concerned, his little brother’s charmed and oozed his way into people’s good graces dating back to their childhood in Cicero.

In a welcome twist on the “My old man was a fall-down drunk” trope, Chuck and Jimmy’s dad was, as Chuck tells Kim, a nobly decent man. He scraped and saved and opened his own corner store. He was the town’s patron saint of penny candy and baseball cards, so endeared to his neighbors that he couldn’t even conceive of sin. That’s why, according to Chuck, their father was Slippin’ Jimmy’s first big con. Chuck leaves Kim stunned with an anecdote about Jimmy gradually sneaking $14,000 of Papa McGill’s money right out from under his nose. The store shuttered, and their dad died six months later. One can presume that, right then, Chuck lost his sense of humor and became obsessed with justice. Fast forward to 2002, and there’s no way he’s going to let Jimmy steal the dignity out from under him to boot.

The silver lining for Kim in this tragic yarn? She knows who’s working against her. And despite Jimmy’s protestations about Chuck conspiring to punish any of his known accomplices, it’s Howard who keeps her in the doghouse. That’s not exactly cause for celebration. It means her hard-earned recruitment of Mesa Verde National Bank (a Duck, You Sucker reference, perhaps?) is all for naught, and there’s no getting around Chuck’s axiom: Where there’s Jimmy, there’s trouble.
Still, in Kim’s — and probably Chuck’s — wildest fantasies, they’d never fret that remaining in Jimmy’s orbit would place them in perilous proximity to the Mexican cartel. It’s foregone that Jimmy’s and Mike’s paths will cross again as they each stake out their own ethical happy medium. And now, Mike has to contend with the loose ends of his dust-up with Tuco. That means an unsolicited face-to-face with Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis) himself. The drug kingpin who would one day blow Gustavo Fring to smithereens is still relatively spry at this point. He’s not yet wheelchair-bound, and doesn’t need to frantically hammer at a call bell to push someone’s buttons. He corners Mike at his favorite diner and strongly encourages him to confess that the gun on Tuco’s person was, in fact, registered to Mike Ehrmantraut, thereby sparing Hector’s nephew a few of those years in the slammer. He’ll even toss the grizzled ticket-booth attendant $5,000 to soothe his conscience. Suddenly, Mike’s beginning to understand why his choice to not stealthily put a slug in Tuco’s brain and walk away with ten times that sum left Nacho perplexed. This may well be the moment when Mike truly adheres to the principle of full measures. Alas, he’s already halfway toward employment via Hector and the cartel.

Jimmy technically still operates as a fourth-year associate directly underneath Clifford Main and his partners. But for all intents and purposes, he’s suddenly under the thumb of second-year associate Erin (Jessie Ennis, unforgettable as Leigh in Veep). She nags him at night about proofing depositions, appears in his office at 9 a.m. sharp like “a goddamn pixie ninja,” chaperones him to the courthouse and thwarts a tried-and-true attempt to “bribe” his favorite contract counsel administrator (welcome back, Nadine Marissa!) with a precious little Beanie Baby. Jimmy’s not easily housebroken, but after a dispiriting bathroom run-in with his old pal Bob from the D.A.’s office, servitude in Santa Fe doesn’t seem unbearable. At least he survives most days without clients puking on his bargain-rack suit (and presuming he lays off the onion rings, puking on it himself). Or, for that matter, slumming in the bowels of HHM like Kim, whose belief in Jimmy may eventually send her down a rabbit hole until she’s living fitfully in the darkness like Chuck.

If “Rebecca” illuminates anything, it’s that Chuck wasn’t always this withdrawn. An opening flashback finds him fixing a dining-room bulb (it does, in fact, only take one attorney to do it, Jimmy) in his and his wife’s carefully appointed home. He may not possess his brother’s knack for witty delivery, but he knows all there is to know about Carol Burnett. He carries himself with a bit of self-seriousness, but he’s also a supportive partner, earnestly talking through Rebecca’s (and yep, she’s a Cusack — Ann specifically) concerns about her orchestra’s chemistry. But when Slippin’ Jimmy glides through their front door with a six-pack of Old Style and boasts of mailroom efficacy, it alarms Chuck’s fight-or-flight mechanism like a ringing call bell.

Tragically for her husband, Rebecca’s too smitten with her whirling-dervish brother-in-law to detect or comprehend his discomfort. Later, in bed, Chuck sublimates his vulnerability by trying in vain to mimic Jimmy’s way with a joke. It fails miserably, and he’s humiliated. With more resolve than ever, as conveyed in his catatonic stare, Chuck is instantly re-obsessed with ensuring that Jimmy can’t claim any part of the happiness he’s earned. From that point on, no half measures.