Sunk Costs and Chuck McGill

Note: This post contains minimal spoilers for Better Call Saul season 3, episode 3: “Sunk Costs.” Go watch it if you haven’t already.

 

Just when you think you couldn’t hate Chuck any more than you already did…

Last night’s episode “Sunk Costs” picks up right where we left off last time, for both the main plot and sub plot. Jimmy waits patiently for the police to arrive after his bull-headed breaking and entering. Mike finally encounters Gustavo Fring, who informs him (in his patented “Gus” way) that while he is free to screw with Hector Salamanca’s business to his heart’s content, the man’s life is not an option. Yet.

As usual, we have another stellar episode from the writers, cast, and crew of Better Call Saul. I particularly like the cinematography; how the camera always shows you something seemingly innocuous, or focuses on what appears to be the least important thing in the shot, but not only does this get elaborated further into the episode, it also gives you subtle, even symbolic hints about the characters present. Even the short title sequences at the start of every episode do this to a certain extent; not with characters, but with the tone. Pretty much every one tells me that the traditional “American” ideal of justice will be ignored or bastardized in some way, and good old fashioned vigilante justice will prevail, even in the darkest shadows.

Without getting too deep into spoiler territory, I would just like to elaborate what I said at the start, as well as in my character study: Chuck continues to reach new lows as a character. It astounds me that someone who seems like an unambiguous “good guy” can become not just unlikable, but downright loathsome. Especially in comparison to a glorified con artist.

His frustrating, pretentious assertions of moral superiority and perhaps somewhat unconscious decision to do everything that he can to punish and hinder Jimmy is exacerbated by the fact that he maintains a façade of innocence and concern for everyone else around them, and he uses that to his advantage. In the last season, Chuck even used it against Jimmy himself, causing his younger brother to worry enough for his sanity that he blurted out a confession to a felony in order to reassure him. A confession which Chuck was counting on, and thus secretly taped.

 

I’m not condoning or forgiving Jimmy’s actions; in fact, during last week’s episode, I was shaking my head at the T.V., beginning him not to do yet another stupid thing (in this case, playing right into Chuck’s hands). But Jimmy’s fall is inevitable; we already know the end result, so all we can do now is look at what precisely pushes him over the edge.

While personal choice should not be ignored or downplayed, Chuck is helping to create the ideal environment, and the irritating thing is that he acts like he’s so much better than Jimmy, when really, they are two sides of the same coin. Flashbacks have shown us pretty clearly that Chuck is jealousy and resentful of Jimmy, and his insistence that Jimmy should do everything his way now seems less about “doing the right thing” and more about the fact that Chuck believes he deserves success and security more than his younger brother. For all of his posturing, the older McGill brother is, at the end of the day, a proud man, and while he is no Walter White, that quality of Chuck’s certainly makes him arrogant and entitled, feeding his insecurities rather than putting them to rest.

 

In “Sunk Costs”, I see even more of Chuck’s insidious, calculating side being revealed, and it’s the subtlety of it that makes it even worse. He is doing whatever he can to isolate Jimmy and take his desires away from him, all under the guise of wisdom and help. Any genuine care he had for Jimmy’s “best interests”  is long dead; it’s about revenge, plain and simple, and though Jimmy is upset, he’s not oversimplifying anymore. He knows exactly what he’s looking at, and his response is the epitome of, “You’re dead to me.”

Granted, Jimmy should be punished for his illegal actions, but he wasn’t doing them just to be petty or superior, and to be so thoroughly used, betrayed, and antagonized by his own brother, his only remaining family – whom he has taken great pains to care for in Chuck’s time of need, I might add – is too harsh. It’s unjust, and I can pretty much guarantee that Chuck is going to be the main reason Jimmy officially breaks bad. Kim may have something to do with it, but if so, I have a feeling she will just be the final nail in the coffin. Officially sealing the deal, but not the killing blow or funeral prep by any means.

But we’ll just have to wait and see.

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