Published on March 5th, 2015 | by Michael


Better Call Saul – Alpine Shepherd Boy – Review

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Insight the first: Better Call Saul has had the good sense not to be handcuffed by its own trends. This week’s episode title, ‘Alpine Shepherd Boy’, doesn’t follow the pattern set in the first four episodes (probably because it is hard to find a single word ending in ‘o’ that is relevant to each episode). There are also no flashes either backwards or forwards, the entire storyline takes place in the present, by which of course I mean the past. Check out that VCR! The only creativity with the timeline appears in the ever changing title sequence. Each week it has shown us glimpses of Saul’s life in the Breaking Bad era: this week we see those notorious bench adverts.

Insight the second: Jimmy’s billboard stunt didn’t garner him the calibre of client I think he was after. His first potential client is clearly a man of means, and a dubious taste in décor. Richard ‘call me Ricky’ Sipes is a very wealthy man, a captain of industry, an entrepreneur. He also wants to secede from the United States, the country being just too small for the scope of his grand libertarian vision. Jimmy’s face when Ricky outlines his plan is a picture, Bob Odenkirk managing to simultaneously express greed, tragedy and mirth without a word. You might imagine a chancer like Jimmy would jump at the chance to spearhead such a media friendly Forlorn Hope and you’d be right. The snag comes when Ricky tries to pay his £500,000 down payment in his newly minted currency. What worked for Emperor Joshua (look him up) does not work for Ricky. What is in Ricky’s favour  however is his use of language, especially when he apes Foghorn Leghorn’s speech pattern (A major, I say major…)

Eccentric client number two (no pun intended) asks Jimmy to sign a non-disclosure form before revealing his big invention, a toilet! In fact, the invention is the pressure triggered voice unit that offers what is supposed to be words of encouragement to kids in potty training. The problem (other than the one of the core concept, of course) is that Tony The Toilet Buddy TM talks in ludicrously suggestive phrases, often namechecking the inventor’s son, Chandler. The inventor is incensed when Jimmy suggests that certain countries ‘in the Pacific Rim’ might enjoy the titillation provided by an encouraging water closet, chasing Jimmy off his property. Jimmy gets in a shot as he leaves – ‘I hope you do make a fortune, to pay for Chandler’s therapy!’

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Jimmy’s third client of a hectic day finally offers some relief, although it doesn’t seem that way at first. The client, an elderly Hummel figure enthusiast, takes well over a minute of run time to get from the Stannah Stairlift to the table where Jimmy is sitting patiently, bringing the titular Alpine Shepherd Boy with her. The client is very keen that in her will the Hummel figures get distributed correctly among her family and friends. Jimmy, to his credit, seems to have a genuine grasp on the convoluted web she weaves, earning her respect. She’s happy to pay the full $140 fee upfront, even after Jimmy makes a tasteless joke about a DNR. While it might not be at the more thrilling end of legal work, drawing up documents for clients who have the same speed across land as a glacier, Kim sees that it a real opportunity for Jimmy. She suggests he takes up senior law, will, trusts and the like. Truthfully I think she just wants to discourage him from his efforts as a nail artist, for which he apparently has no talent whatsoever. To this end, Jimmy watches an episode of Matlock on video so that he can copy his style and has a cartload of Jello (the original title for this episode) sent to an old folk’s home, each with an advert for his services at the bottom. Watching Jimmy go round the home’s game room glad-handing the residents is a joy to watch, with Saul really shining through in this scene.

However it seems to be Jimmy’s lot that as one thing goes right, another goes wrong. This episode opens with the 5-O knocking on Chuck’s door because of the newspaper he ‘stole’ at the end of last week’s episode (despite the fact that he left 10 times the paper’s value under a rock for its rightful owner). Chuck’s over earnest speech about probable cause, coupled with views of ripped out circuitry in the house, leads the police to believe that Chuck is high. ‘A tweaker’ in fact, is how they put it, though of course Sky Blue has yet to hit the streets. If Chuck is on meth, he’s on the inferior stuff. Despite or because of Chuck’s please, the cops taser the poor guy, leading to a hospital visit. It perhaps testament to the uneasy relationship between the brothers that Jimmy is only made aware of the situation via Kim, who heard off Howard, who was contacted from Chuck’s business card. Even though he’s been playing nursemaid to his brother for months, Jimmy isn’t listed as Chuck’s next of kin.

In the hospital, the McGills drop lucky as Chuck’s Doctor, played by the always excellent Clea DuVall, is very sympathetic to Chuck’s plight, albeit she’s also very sceptical. Having agreed to leave her electronics outside the room, she surreptitiously turns on Chuck’s electric bed, thus proving to Jimmy that Chuck’s condition is psychosomatic. Jimmy had long suspected this of course but points out to the good Doctor that Chuck is far smarter than he’ll ever be, so if he thinks he’s sensitive to electricity, Jimmy will have to go along with it. The Doctor floats the possibility of sectioning Chuck, Jimmy wavers but makes up his mind when the odious Howard arrives – Howard doesn’t want Chuck to be sectioned because Jimmy will cash Chuck out of Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill as detailed in the pilot.

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Debating Chuck’s Future

Once Chuck is released, there’s another interesting scene between Chuck and Jimmy. We’ve seen Jimmy’s unease at the ‘space blanket’ before and that rears its head again – Jimmy is convinced that when Chuck catches him doing something unethical, his condition worsens. He may have a point, although I reckon in this instance the tasering had more to do with it.  Jimmy tries to assure his brother that from now on he’ll be doing the Lord’s work as a lawyer for the elderly, parroting Kim’s reasoning almost verbatim as he does so. Jimmy has a talent for this kind of work, clearly, however we know that it won’t stick.

This episode of Better Call Saul was much broader comedy, at least for the first half, detailing Jimmy and his list of potential clients. Breaking Bad had plenty of funny moments, especially in earlier seasons, but nothing like the sustained comedic barrage here. Better Call Saul so far has been similar to its predecessor in tone, though largely lacking the ever-present sense of dread, episode two aside. It’s nice then to see them lean into the humour a bit more to ensure that it feels distinct from Breaking Bad. In truth it will probably never full escape that show’s shadow (and since it was one of the most revered programmes ever made, that is really no surprise) but diversions like this are to its credit.

No loathsome Kettlemans this week, but the story with the much more popular Mike is developing apace. After some typically stilted banter at his booth, (‘John Wilkes Booth! Booth Tarkenton!’), Jimmy gives Mike his card. After all, he’s working for seniors now. After his shift, Mike parks up outside a house and has an awkward silent encounter with a woman in an SUV. Mother of his beloved granddaughter, perhaps? Presumably as a result of this, two figures, backed up by the Albuquerque police, arrive at Mike’s house. One of them at least seems to know Mike well. Echoing the conversation between Mike and Jimmy in Nacho, they mention that they are both a long way from home. It would appear then that Mike is in a spot of bother. Of course, he has the business card of a certain up and coming lawyer in his pocket…

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