Wednesday, 4 March 2015

BETTER CALL SAUL, 1.5 – 'Alpine Shepherd Boy'

Wednesday, 4 March 2015


The episode titles of BETTER CALL SAUL's maiden season all appear to be one-word ending in 'o' (with the exception of this fifth instalment, "Alpine Shepherd Boy"), and that's not the only thing that marked this hour out as distinct from what's come before. When you think about it, not a lot actually happened, and yet several things were confirmed or made clearer, before a curious denouement focusing on the hitherto marginalised Mike (Jonathan Banks).

There was a lot of comedy in this hour. This mainly came from seeing the assortment of crackpots who've been tempted into employing Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) because of his much-publicised billboard rescue: a wealthy eccentric who wants him to fight a crazy court battle to turn his estate into an enclave from the U.S (with its own currency he intends to pay Jimmy in); an elderly woman who carves wooden figurines she wishes to bequeath to her family in her Last Will & Testament; and a man who's invented a toilet training device for kids (with unintentionally sexual spoken words of encouragement from the gadget add-on).

It seems that last week's feeling of a breakthrough in Jimmy's business opportunities has only really brought him to the attention of local oddballs, with serious legal business still unobtainable for someone like him. All of this was entertaining to watch, but it also gave this episode a feeling of being padded somewhat. Or perhaps it was an opportunity for the writers to remind audiences that Better Call Saul is intended to funnier and more chilled out than Breaking Bad ever was, so we should expect more hours like this, now the show's earned respect and has everyone's attention.

But that's not to say there wasn't anything in "Alpine Shepherd Boy" that moved the story on in a significant way. Chuck (Michael McKean) had his house raided by suspicious cops, who for some reason have time to bother with neighbours complaining about stolen newspapers, which brought him into contact with electromagnetism (a Taser to be exact) and resulted in him being hospitalised. It was there we learned from a doctor (Clea DuVall) that Chuck's condition isn't physiological, but psychological—so his mental health is unequivocally a problem to be solved, which HHM boss Howard (Patrick Fabian) doesn't want to hear because it would give Jimmy a greater say in Chuck's company affairs if he was committed.

More than that, the story revealed that Jimmy has great compassion for this brother, but is unwilling to have him institutionalised because it would mean admitting Chuck's brilliant legal mind is gone. He needs Chuck to look up to as a person, still, and would prefer to perceive this entire situation as a modern-day 'David and Goliath' battle… when, perhaps, everyone just wants Chuck to get the medical help he needs, and that it would benefit HHM is just coincidence.

Later, Jimmy had to persuade his brother that the billboard rescue he was keeping secret wasn't a sign that his Slippin' Jimmy persona is coming back, but that he actually has a straight-forward business plan for success—focusing on legal aide for the elderly ("Need a Will? Call McGill"). It's going to be fun seeing the point when Jimmy decides the only way to become a success is to embrace the shadier side of life, whilst keeping his brother in the dark.

In some ways, the most interesting part of this episode belonged to Mike—who's role has been oddly low-key in the series so far, considering the fact we know this taciturn ex-cop will become an hitman-slash-fixer for criminals very soon. Until now, Mike's been literally stuck in a box, but the dying embers of this hour gave is an insight into his life—which is lonely, dull and repetitive. He simply has morning breakfast at a diner after his nightly shift, and goes home to watch old movies in an armchair. However, he also spent some time watching the movements of a mystery woman (his daughter, right?) from a car parked outside her house. And then there's the weird ending with a group of lawmen arriving on his doorstep with information—about what? We'll have to wait and see next week, but I'm glad Mike's finally getting involved in the show more, as his story seems to be opening up an equally interesting front.

The show may be called Better Call Saul, but I know lots of people who are happy it can simultaneously provide some back-story to Mike's as a popular character.

written by Bradley Paul • directed by Nicole Kassell • 2 March 2015 • AMC