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Why Chuck From ‘Better Call Saul’ Isn’t The Villain You Might Think He Is

Better Call Saul took a lot of pleasure in essentially turning Jimmy’s older brother, Chuck, into a supervillain this week. Hell, the episode opened with him playing the piano in the shadows of the darkened, empty home that he hides away from society in, which is more or less the modern-day equivalent of a monster playing the pipe organ in a scary castle at the top of a mountain. And immediately after that, Howard walked in and informed him that Jimmy landed a job at Davis & Main, which led to Chuck saying the following things during their conversation:

  • “Doing what?”
  • “Partner track?”
  • “It’s… great.”

The words themselves are damning enough (especially “Doing what?,” which he said about his lawyer brother who was hired by a law firm, and then seemed surprised when the answer involved the practice of law), but his delivery and body language made it come across even worse. The only way he could have appeared more villainous in the moments after he found out about Jimmy’s new job is if he had spontaneously sprouted a black goatee and started stroking it. By the time he showed up at the firm during the meeting about the Sandpiper case, it was clear that he’ll be willing to go to great lengths — including leaving the house, which is a big deal for him — to try to rattle Jimmy and derail his legal career, because he’s afraid Jimmy will disgrace himself, and his family, and the entire profession. Or, in his own words, “Slippin’ Jimmy with a law degree is like a chimp with a machine gun.”

All of which would make him the villain of Better Call Saul if not for one small thing: He’s pretty much right.

Like, he is, isn’t he? Jimmy is going to make a mockery of the law profession, eventually. We know this because we’ve seen Breaking Bad. We know Jimmy becomes a flashy-dressing huckster who operates out of a strip mall and does things like help his shady clients launder money through “legitimate” laser tag operations. And that’s one of his lesser offenses. The man becomes Saul Goodman, New Mexico’s most notorious criminal lawyer. “Criminal” lawyer.

And even if we didn’t have that ability to see into Jimmy’s Walt-related future, he went ahead and confirmed Chuck’s suspicions like 30 minutes later — episode time, not real-time — when he helped a dim-witted pharmaceutical pusher get the police off his back by inventing an alibi about deviant sexual proclivities involving adults dressing up like babies to mangle pies by squatting into them, and going so far as to create falsified evidence to back it up. (Sounds worse when you phrase it that way.) Chuck saw all of this coming because he knows his brother better than anyone. It doesn’t look like it at this point in their journey because Jimmy is still the scrappy, charming underdog and Chuck is the mentally ill power figure hellbent on destroying his dream, but you could make a decent argument that Chuck is the hero in this story.

I mean, follow the thread through a bit. If Chuck somehow convinced or forced Jimmy to give up the law, then Walter White probably doesn’t get hooked up with Gus Fring, which means he might not have gotten mixed up with the Nazi bikers, which means, at the very least, like 7,000 different terrible things might not have happened to Jesse. It’s like that old saying, “A butterfly flaps its wings in an electricity-free house in New Mexico and an excitable young meth cook ends up not getting caged up like a dang dog at a Nazi drug compound.” Or something.

(Two obvious caveats here: One, while we know where Jimmy ends up, we still don’t know how he gets there. So, there still is the possibility, I suppose, that Chuck’s actions actually force Jimmy to become Saul somehow. In which case, please ignore everything I said here and pretend that was the focus of this entire post. And two, we don’t know what happens to Chuck, either. Like, at all. Besides the fact that he’s nowhere to be seen by the time Breaking Bad kicks in. Still a few unknowns floating around.)

So, the next time some nameless legal assistant walks into a conference room carrying a bin and demands everyone’s electronic devices, and the whole thing plays out kind of like people in an X-Men movie frantically ditching any metal on their bodies to prepare for an appearance by Magneto, let’s all remember that Chuck is actually trying to do a good thing here. And then let’s all remember that he’s going to fail miserably. And then let’s all thank the television gods that he does, because that Saul-less, Gus-less, Nazi-less version of Breaking Bad I described a minute ago sounded boring as hell.

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