Better Call Saul Review: “Alpine Shepherd Boy” (Season 1, Episode 5)

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Each of these scenes, awkward and amusing, is a comic gem, emphasized by the use of space and comic timing. In the first segment, the graceful glide of Jimmy’s Suzuki into Sipes’ gated home is juxtaposed with the car’s quick zoom from the same space when Jimmy sees Ricky’s face peering at him from the $100 bills. In the second segment, the placement of the toilet in the middle of a mostly empty garage tethers the scene to this central position, creating a tug-of-war between Jimmy on one side and Roland on the other. Finally, the drawn-out pacing of the final scene mirrors Mrs. Strauss’ stilted walk. (In one of the episode’s funniest touches, Jimmy grabs with finesse the $140 that she just counted quite gingerly on the couch.)

An episode complete with the sheer absurdity of Jimmy’s client meetings could have made this one of the funniest outing of any show currently on television. However, after prolonged relief from the surprising opening, the hour has to gear up for Jimmy eventually hearing about Chuck’s collision with the outside world. In the lengthy hospital scene, we come to understand the depth – and also the limits – of Jimmy’s brotherly love for Chuck. He slides off a suggestion from the doctor, played by Clea Duvall, for a month of psychiatric evaluation. However, even though he wants his brother to be fine, he also begins to side with the doctor, who thinks Chuck could be manifesting more of this syndrome from deep psychological trauma. She even turns on an electronic attachment to the bed to see Chuck’s reaction – he doesn’t flinch – and to quash Jimmy and Kim’s statements.

In a few moments, the scene by Chuck’s bedside feels ponderous with exposition. Michael McKean, as terrific as he is trying to regain strength despite looking gaunt and feeling disfigured, is a bit lost when trying to explain all of his medical history to the doctor (and, alas, the audience). However, the scene does show Jimmy at a crisis: should he commit his brother to an institution that could damage him beyond repair but leave the family with a nice settlement from HH&G, or return Chuck to his native habitat, where he may not always be able to call for help? (Jimmy is probably thinking that his newfound success will ensure he is much more occupied in the future.) After some snarky comments and half-truths from Jimmy in the first half, it was a relief to see the character come to reason and respect his brother’s wishes.

As off-balanced as most of “Alpine Shepherd Boy is,” the last 10 minutes of this Better Call Saul hour do a much better job of showing how craftily the drama can flow from Jimmy’s suave schemes to Mike’s personal woes. (That slow fade from night to morning, focused on the tollbooth under the bridge, likely had something to do with it.) Now deciding to specialize in elder law – a business angle he capitalizes on with, of all things, Jell-O – Jimmy shows off to Mike his new card. (Slogan: “Need a will? Call McGill.”) And not an evening too soon, as Mr. Ehrmantraut has some ambiguous loose ends to tie up with the police. It doesn’t take much to figure out Mike’s next move. However, in a clever motif, it does seem like every time the police come knocking, there’s only one number to call.