My Theory Of Chuck
If you have not seen the season finale of Better Call Saul, wait to read this until you have.
In other words * SPOILER ALERT *
I watched every episode of Breaking Bad and I have watched every episode of Better Call Saul (even more likely since I have the full collection of Mr. Show). Let us just say that I am a huge fan of Vince Gilligan and a huge fan of Bob Odenkirk.
Oh right, more important for this article, also a big fan of one Michael McKean.
So, this post is called "My Theory of Chuck," and I am writing it because the comment was made during the post-show (Talking Saul) that it was a surprise that Chuck (Michael McKean) out hustled his brother Jimmy (or Slippin' Jimmy who is, even at this point, a seasoned con man).
I was surprised at this comment because it was no surprise to me at all that Chuck conned Jimmy. I thought about why it wasn't a surprise to me, and this post is the result.
Hopefully, this interests you as well?
Who Is Chuck - Part One
So, if you have watched the show before, you know Better Call Saul is a prequel to Breaking Bad that, more or less, has the goal of explaining how Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) transformed into Breaking Bad's legal defender of the worst of the worst "Saul Goodman."
Like all good dramas, Better Call Saul is also telling other stories through the characters surrounding Jimmy. One of the most amazing things about how Gilligan writes shows is that virtually every character (often this even extends to minor characters) ends up with a depth of backstory usually reserved for only the main characters on any normal show.
Better Call Saul has four major story arcs:
Jimmy against Jimmy (we know how this ends up, he ends up working at a Cinnabon after running from the law after Walter White goes down apparently)
Jimmy against Kim (Rhea Seahorn, the love interest who is mostly trying to make him a better person)
Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) against himself (sometimes abetted by Jimmy, we know he ends up a hit man for the cartel)
and, Jimmy against his brother Chuck (Michael McKean, we know nothing of Chuck from Breaking Bad).
Now, I go way back with Michael McKean (because I am old). Michael McKean was Lenny on Laverne & Shirley when I was a kid. Later Mr. Mckean was in one of my favorite movies (and mock bands) This is Spinal Tap. And, of course, he was a mainstay in all of the other mockumentaries put together by Christopher Guest.
But, what I did not know, but should have suspected, is that Michael McKean is a really fine dramatic actor. He is AMAZING in the very rich but difficult part of Chuck. Chuck is a very meticulous "Type A" personality who is one of the best and most feared lawyers in New Mexico. He also is slightly nuts.
We have yet to have the entire genesis explained but at some point between when he became a senior partner in his law firm and when the place the show started in season one he develops what he calls a "hypersensitivity to electricity." This "condition" (which is almost certainly psychosomatic, more on that in a second) is so severe that he works entirely from his house using only non-electronic lighting and appliances.
When we first meet Chuck he is entirely on sabbatical from the firm and being taken care or exclusively by Jimmy. We learn from the early interactions between the two of them that Chuck is paternal and paternalistic towards Jimmy. Both of them clearly see Chuck as the more important and smarter member of the duo. Jimmy is both a dutiful younger brother and also clearly idolizes his older brother.
We also start to learn slowly that Jimmy was a con man who specialized in slipping and falling and threatening to sue businesses for his injuries (Hence the nickname Slippin' Jimmy). This pattern ends when Chuck bails his brother out of jail and gets him a job in the mail room at his firm. At some point, Jimmy also follows in his brother's footsteps and gets a law degree and passes the bar (but at some fly by night law school).
Hopefully, you already know the rest of the factual details of Chuck and Jimmy. The important part is to know the basics of their relationship from season one.
Who is Chuck - Part Two (My Theory of Chuck)
I will stop gilding the lily, this is my theory of Chuck:
Chuck doesn't know it, but he has always been a con man too. Chuck and Jimmy are much more similar than either would care to admit. The biggest difference is that Jimmy is a con man by nature and Chuck is a con man because of intense jealousy which has turned into cruelty.
But, why would I say this?
Chuck really doesn't like Jimmy (at some level there is love but there is also hate and rage). There is a point in this season where Kim calls Chuck out on how cruel he has been to Jimmy and you can tell he knows that every word is true but he just can't stop himself.
The secret was slowly revealed over the last several episodes. A few episodes Chuck explained to Kim how his father died after being betrayed again and again by Jimmy. He also mentions that his Father still deeply loved Jimmy until the day he died (he would not even entertain the idea that Jimmy was behind his struggles despite, I am certain, many attempts by Chuck to help him see the light). I am virtually certain Chuck felt his father never loved him in the same way (despite being more successful and reliable in virtually every way).
And, In the final episode just as Chuck and Jimmy's mother is literally expiring, and despite the fact that Chuck is right there, she asks for Jimmy and not for Chuck. This burns him so much, he doesn't even tell Jimmy that their Mother asked for him as her last act. And Jimmy feels entirely justified, he has sold himself the story that Jimmy is bad and that he is finally going to show the world that Jimmy is the "bad" McGill and that they should have always loved Chuck (and not Jimmy).
Many of the times throughout the entire first two seasons where Chuck gets the most agitated is when people seem to authentically warm to and respond to Jimmy (to embrace his personality). At one point this season a flashback shows Chuck as married (who knew), and despite Chuck clearly briefing his wife beforehand about how deeply he disapproves of Jimmy, she is totally charmed by Jimmy within minutes (just like everyone else).
It has never yet been explained what happened to Chuck's wife, and for a long time after the episode, I just assumed Jimmy must have been involved in whatever terrible fate befell her and that whatever happened would explain all of Chuck's hatred towards Jimmy. But now, after much reflection, I believe that Chuck probably left her because she actually had the temerity to like Jimmy. I believe it would be impossible for Chuck to ever stay with a woman who authentically liked Jimmy (a true betrayal at the deepest level in his mind).
But all of this is a dodge. What the scene with his Mom showed is that his whole life has been a reaction to his jealousy over the attention given to his younger brother. Sadly, as an older brother myself, I can remember how it felt to suddenly have a living and breathing challenge for my parent's affections. The difference between Chuck and most other older brothers is that he has never grown past this very primal jealousy.
Chuck has never been able to outcompete Jimmy for love and affection because he is not a very lovable person. He is very insecure because deep down he believes he is boring and unlovable, otherwise, why would his parents prefer Jimmy? Even people, like his wife, who are supposed to prefer him are activated by Jimmy in a different more vibrant way. He sees his own failure to be loved in Jimmy's visage and in anyone who is activated positively by Jimmy.
At an earlier point of the show, Jimmy finds out that Chuck has been behind sabotaging him at HHM (Chuck's firm where Jimmy brought in a HUGE piece of class action lawsuit business) When Jimmy confronts Chuck, Chuck shows (and tells) him how much disdain he has for him. Chuck tells Jimmy that he doesn't deserve any success at all because he is a shitty, shoddy, and immoral lawyer who doesn't deserve to be in Chuck's profession (much less in his firm). Chuck can only survive his own self-loathing in a world where Jimmy is a failure.
To make what is becoming a very long story short. I believe the cause of Chuck's extra sensitivity to electricity is Jimmy. The electricity game is Chuck's means of being the center of attention. It is Chuck's means of making Jimmy constantly subservient to him and his means of making Jimmy constantly feel sorry for him and care for him.
Care for him like their parents cared for Jimmy.
I am not saying this is conscious, I think it is a manifestation of his insecurity and his years of pent up rage towards Jimmy. I used to think that we were going to find out that there was some terrible accident that cost Chuck his wife and that it had to do with electricity and Jimmy. But I am almost entirely convinced now that Chuck is just subconsciously acting out his need for attention.
The final hint is that, when he truly wants to, he can force himself through his malady, almost always to strategic effect. Big case, he will show up at work. If he has a big pending court case, he will somehow make it to the courtroom and through the trial with electricity all around him. And finally, when he wants to con his brother, so he can finally have no moral choice but to destroy Jimmy, he can use electronics and his affliction to con Jimmy.
But deep down, in places he doesn't even know he has, he has been conning Jimmy (and everyone else) for years.
Anyway, that is my theory of Chuck.
Was anyone else excited that Vince Gilligan basically admitted that Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) left the note on Mike's car? Fring is my favorite character ever (plus Esposito was "Buggin' Out" in Do The Right Thing.
What is your theory of Chuck? Do you love Better Call Saul too? Let me know what you think of my theory, leave a comment!