Review: Better Call Saul s01e05 “Alpine Shepherd Boy”

You have to hand it to Vince Gilligan and the other folks behind Better Call Saul for having the balls to take their time and have the patience to dole out Jimmy McGill’s story slowly. The pressure to capitalize on Breaking Bad’s heat must have been enormous, but they’ve mostly (except for Tuco’s cameo) been satisfied to set a slower pace that implies they know where they’re going and have the confidence not to rush it. Of course, having the series renewed for a second season more than 6 months before it even premiered probably made it easy, but still. I wouldn’t be surprised if fans are starting to get a little impatient, but Gilligan and his crew already showed with their previous show they know a thing or two about telling a long form story. It’s not about where you are from one episode to the next, but where you wind up in the end. I have faith.

If the end of this latest episode (which marks the half way point of the first 10-episode season) is any indication, we might be in for a shift in narrative focus to shake things up and keep things interesting. Whether it’s temporary or an indication of what the remaining five episodes will be like remains to be seen, but more about that in a minute. We’re not done with Jimmy McGill just yet.

Last week’s episode, “Hero”, opened with Jimmy’s sordid past as a scammer before jumping back to the show’s present where he spent most of the episode trying to legitimately make it as a lawyer even if by slightly shady means. The key here once again is that Jimmy so far is almost the exact opposite of Breaking Bad’s Walter White. We know Jimmy eventually becomes Saul and breaks bad to a degree by becoming the lawyer to some very dangerous men, but at this point in his story, he appears to be doing everything he can to leave his shady past behind and stay afloat by staying honest.

When his billboard scheme from last episode drums up many phone calls but little viable business (one guy wants to secede from the United States, another one wants to patent a creepy talking toilet and a third is just an old lady trying to decide which grandchildren will get which Hummel figurines when she dies… hence the title of the episode), the pressure on Jimmy to do the wrong thing grows, but he’s sidelined when his brother Chuck (Michael McKean) is hospitalized after getting tased by the police who showed up to find out why he’d taken the neighbor’s newspaper in the previous episode. A tasing is bad news for a guy who thinks he is allergic to electromagnetic radiation of course and Chuck’s in pretty bad shape.

Besides upping the ante on the drama a little bit with Jimmy having to decide whether to finally have his brother institutionalized or not, this subplot really emphasized a surprising sweetness to Jimmy. Sure, in the courtroom he’s brassy and obnoxious, but when it comes to family he just wants to do the right thing. Up to this point, I haven’t completely bought this relatively nice version of Jimmy McGill (who rather miraculously appears to be banging Kim, the smart and sexy associate at Chuck’s law firm) as the bridge between not-very-nice “Slippin’ Jimmy” and not-very-nice Saul Goodman, but his relationship with Chuck is revealing. It seems pretty clear now that the desire to not disappoint Chuck has been a huge factor keeping him from reverting to his old ways. I’m wondering at this point if it’s something happening to Chuck that finally unleashes Jimmy’s inner Saul. We’ll see.

Whatever happens with Jimmy, we might have to wait a while longer to find out because, after keeping Mike Ehrmantraut teasingly in the background for the first five episodes, he’s finally given his own scenes at the end of tonight’s show and you could almost feel an impatient audience suddenly perking up. All of Mike’s scenes so far have been interactions with Jimmy, most often as the cranky court parking lot attendant. What started as an antagonistic relationship has slowly softened to one of maybe slightly irritated indifference, but that’s as far as it’s gone despite the fact we know from Breaking Bad the two men wind up partners of a sort. Anyway, leaving the parking lot this time, Jimmy tries to make small talk with stone-faced Mike and is mainly rebuffed. Instead of following Jimmy’s exit, however, the camera stays with Mike as the show fast forwards to morning and the end of Mike’s shift. He drives away then waits outside of a suburban house for a woman (Kerry Condon) to come out and get into her car. They have a moment in the street as she passes in her car where they stare at each other and she appears to rebuff him in some way to his visible disappointment.

We don’t know a ton about Mike from Breaking Bad except that he is a former Philadelphia cop whose career ended in some controversy and that he has a granddaughter he loves very much. I’m guessing Kerry Condon is his daughter and they’ve had some kind of falling out. She is perhaps the reason he chose to relocate to Albuquerque in the first place. The episode ends with a detective and some cops showing up at Mike’s door and I assume this is his Philadelphia past coming back to haunt him.

So, does this mean we’re in for a few episodes of Mike and his backstory? I hope so. I’m enjoying the ride with Jimmy/Saul, but it’s time to bring Mike to the forefront. It’s time to find out more about Mike and finally learn how these two opposites became a team.

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