Monday, May 8, 2017

Better Call Saul: Is Chuck Motivated By Ethics Or Malice?

Season Three of Better Call Saul has revolved around a clash of brothers that is rife with gray areas and ethical violations. Just four episodes into this season the most questionable activity has not been the obvious offender so far, but with the sibling who is actually behaving ethically. 

At first glance, Chuck McGill is in the clear. Played by Michael McKean, Chuck is an accomplished attorney who seems to be held in high regard by everyone in the New Mexico legal community. Meanwhile, his brother has gone the other way after spending much of his life being a conniving scam artist. Bob Odenkirk's affable Jimmy McGill has his colorful moments that present an endearing charm (the Hoboken Squat Cobbler being one of the most memorable). You know Jimmy is always up to something he should not be doing, but he is just so enjoyable that his scheming becomes something to root for. 

When Chuck discovers that Jimmy has committed a major ethics violation by altering the minute details of a document he believes that he has to stop his brother. It becomes hard to argue with the surface reasons for Chuck's actions. He has seen Jimmy's nonsense before and recognizes that his brother has the potential to cause harm as he practices law with reckless morality. Jimmy has become a champion for elderly clients, but he is also a shady ambulance chaser. Jimmy is undoubtedly wrong, but the dilemma in this instance stems from the motives for Chuck's decisions. 

Jimmy is a lovable guy doing questionable things for the right reasons, but if Chuck is doing the correct thing, is he acting with good intentions?

As Better Call Saul has progressed we find things about the stoic Chuck that clash with his initial image. He has quietly blocked Jimmy's efforts to rise within their firm and exhibited Machiavellian behavior by punishing his brother's friends Kim and Ernesto. Chuck's most recent act shows that he is capable of being vindictive over even the smallest details. In an arbitration scene he makes sure that Jimmy's restitution is raised from $321.00 to $323.98. The main cost was from the damage done to a doorway, but the piecemeal argument stems from the inclusion of a cheap cassette tape that Jimmy had destroyed in a fit of rage. 

Chuck has deep-seated motivation for his actions. He blames his younger brother for their father's death and holds resentment towards Jimmy's popularity. Even Jimmy's temerity to practice law with an online degree is beneath Chuck. He does not value someone who could achieve similar accomplishments because he worked so hard to build his high-profile firm. With such a rough personal history it is hard to believe that Chuck is not being driven by malice despite a surface morality.

Better Call Saul has also sprinkled in tension between dynamic characters that is rooted in Breaking Bad, but with a disbarment hearing looming, Better Call Saul's first epic clash is likely to be McGill vs. McGill. 

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