Chuck McGill, the straight-laced, judgmental older brother of protagonist Jimmy (also known as Saul Goodman), cites an allergy to electricity as the reason he needed to take a leave of absence from his law firm, of which he was a partner. The condition serves as the plot device for much of Jimmy’s early development as a character.
Because of Chuck’s perceived hyper-sensitivity, Jimmy must become his older brother’s caretaker. The arrangement forces the characters to interact frequently. More importantly, it demands that Jimmy suffer the slights and taunts of a brother who seems ashamed of him. After all, Chuck is presented as one of the state’s preeminent attorneys — a cornerstone of the community and a successful firm owner, as well.
The dynamic between Jimmy and Chuck sets the tone for Better Call Saul
Jimmy, the eccentric younger brother with a habit of thinking too outside the box, shares Chuck’s love of the law, but can’t seem to get out of his own way in life. But Jimmy must also watch his brother slowly slip further away from reality into some form of psychosis. In the end, this titan of American law privately crumbles before Jimmy’s eyes, though he guards his reputation fiercely.
The result is a bizarre dynamic between two flawed men who both love and resent each other simultaneously. It’s a tremendously ambitious plot for a television series; one that completely collapses if done improperly. The audience needs to feel both sympathy and frustration with the titular character. We need to root for Jimmy and lament his proclivity for poor decisions. The slow meltdown from happy hustler to full-blown con man needs a spark to light the fuse, and we find it in his relationship with Chuck.
More specifically, we find the spark in Chuck’s life-altering condition, which makes him edgy and mistrusting. The writers of Better Call Saul pull off the feat with aplomb; so much so that viewers take the condition for granted. But is it even real? Do people actually suffer from allergies to electricity? Or did the writers spin such a convincing web that we, the audience, just accepted the premise without a second thought?
How is the condition viewed in the real world?
In one episode of Better Call Saul, Chuck checks himself into a hospital after a particularly bad reaction. Speaking to Jimmy privately, the attending doctor encourages him to check Chuck into a mental institution. This reaction is fairly representative of real life.
Basically, the medical community views this “condition” as more mental than physical. While electromagnetic hypersensitivity may be severe in patients, “there is no scientific basis to link EHS symptoms to [electromagnetic frequency] exposure.”
According to the World Health Organization, while hypersensitivity may appear severe in some patients, “there is no scientific basis to link EHS symptoms to electrical exposure.” Furthermore, double blind studies have found that patients who believe in the sensitivity report symptoms of exposure even when absolutely no electrical frequencies are present.
So, is the condition real? Maybe, maybe not. And that ambiguity is what makes it a fantastic plot device for Chuck. Whether he is a real victim or a perceived victim of an affliction, he ultimately needs Jimmy’s help to live day-to-day. Jimmy learns to manipulate the vulnerable as a result (and justify it by thinking he’s acting in their best interest) — a habit of behavior that serves as the impetus for his total moral destruction.