Elder Law: A Review of Better Call Saul Season 1, Episode 5 “Alpine Shepherd Boy”

Posted: March 3, 2015 in Better Call Saul, Reviews, TV
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Episode: 105
Airdate: March 2, 2015
Directed by: Nicole Kassell
Showrunners: Vince Gilligan & Peter Gould
Written by: Vince Gilligan (creator) & Peter Gould (creator); Bradley Paul (written by)

Right up front, I need to make a brief mea culpa for this review: I’m enjoying Better Call Saul so much, that I’m afraid it’s beginning to impact my reviews. Tonight gave us insights into Jimmy’s character that somehow seem to make up for the foibles on display last week, as well as developing both Chuck and Mike Ehrmantraut. Granted, the Ehrmantraut piece comes at the very end of the episode, and is an obvious set-up for next week, but the focus on Chuck brings to mind the kind of early plot development and foreshadowing Gilligan and Gould showed us in Breaking Bad, specifically beginning with Season 2 (pink teddy bears, anyone?).

<<Spoiler Alert: The following review will discuss Better Call Saul Season 1, Episode 5 “Alpine Shepherd Boy” at length, as well as discussing ongoing storylines.>>

We pick up right where we left off last week. Chuck’s neighbor, who saw him in his weird space blanket purloining her newspaper, has called the cops. They head to Chuck’s, and he refuses at first to let them in. One heads to the back and, seeing the ripped out circuit breakers and stacks of white gas, decides along with his partner that Chuck is likely a tweeker – a meth addict – and they feel this is probable cause enough to break in. Chuck is completely rendered immobile as they enter, and you know things are just going to go from bad to worse.

However, we switch to Jimmy. He’s got three inquiries lined up, and they’re doozies. The first: a big game hunter named Ricky sitting on 1100 acres of land who is a lifetime subscriber to Infowars-style anti-government propaganda. He wants to secede from the US, and he’s willing to pay Jimmy one million dollars – half up-front, half when the case is settled. Despite the absurdity of his potential client’s desire, Jimmy’s willing to overlook it that for the money involved. Problem is: the client wants to pay in Ricky-bucks, $100 bills with his own face on them. Jimmy drives out of there as fast as his little beater will go.

Second, he visits a budding inventor. He gets Jimmy to sign an NDA before he’ll reveal his invention – which appears to be nothing more than a toilet. The difference is a small device with motion sensors, intended to help toilet train children. It’s tailored to the inventor’s son, Chandler, and when he begins dropping items into the toilet, it begins to speak: “Oh yeah, you’re so big!…Fill my up, Chandler!” and so on. Jimmy looks taken aback, and when the inventor, Mr. Cox, asks him what he thinks, Jimmy tells him, “It’s a little sexual, maybe?” Cox chases him off the property, and Jimmy’s parting shot is, “I hope you do make a fortune, because Chandler’s going to need it to pay for his therapy.”

The one successful stop is with an elderly lady, who wants to ensure that her collection of porcelain dolls gets doled out to the right people, with a bunch of minor caveats dependent on who’s with whom, and what they’ve done or not – some very specific and esoteric stuff. It is, in fact, one of her prized possessions – her alpine shepherd boy figurine – that gives the episode its title, giving us a hint as to the direction Jimmy will end up taking. Jimmy, almost regretfully, tells her that his fee for doing a will is $140, and hesitates further, telling her he’ll happily take half now, and half when the paperwork is done. She carefully goes through her purse, and counts out the full amount. At least he’s getting paid for one of the inquiries he’s been called out to.

We cut to that evening, where he’s attempting to give Kim a pedicure at the beauty salon, all the while talking her up with lines from Tony the Toilet Buddy. She’s enjoying it, but does tell him not to give up his day job – he’s a terrible pedicurist. He mentions that his day job is going okay, that despite the cranks, he actually got a bit of work doing some wills. Kim suggests that he consider taking up Elder Law – something she’s considered as well, as the treatment her grandmother got as she got older still bothers her. As they’re discussing this, Kim gets a call – it’s Howard Hamlin, and he’s letting her know that Chuck is in the hospital.

What follows is a series of moments wherein we get to see the better side of Jimmy, as he risks hospital security and possible arrest to try to ensure that Chuck is comfortable. He turns off all the lights and the machines, allowing Chuck to come out of his comatose state. Apparently, the cops that showed up at his place regarding the stolen newspaper (“I didn’t steal it – I left $5, and it’s cover price is fifty cents”) ended up tasering him when they broke in, suspecting him of being a tweeker.

Looking after Chuck is Dr. Pruse [Clea DuVall]. She abides by Jimmy’s request to get rid of all electronic devices, and Chuck even seems to be able to sense a pager she keeps in one pocket – but then again, it’s pretty predictable that a doctor would have something similar on their person. The doctor recommends committing Chuck, who conveniently wakes up just in time to tell her he isn’t interested, and that his problem is physical, thank you very much. Jimmy backs his brother up, and wants to take him home. The doctor, not convinced, distracts Chuck and surreptitiously turns on an electronic monitoring device on the bed. Chuck doesn’t skip a beat.

Outside, Jimmy tells her it was a dirty trick, but she points out that she was simply trying to test whether Chuck’s condition was psychological or physical. She again recommends commitment, and accuses Jimmy of being an enabler for his brother’s illness, but Jimmy is having none of it…until Howard Hamlin shows up, and backs up Jimmy’s decision. That’s enough for him – he tells Howard that screw it, he’s committing his brother. But as Kim runs him down and tells him not to do it, he admits it’s just a bluff – he wants to see Hamlin sweat. There’s no way he’s committing Chuck, even if it’s likely the best option for his brother. Jimmy does this not out of malice, but out of love – he really wants to believe that Chuck will get better on his own, and he wants to support his brother.

Back at Chuck’s, Jimmy tells him that he knows he got sick as a reaction to the newspaper story regarding the billboard rescue. He tries to reassure Chuck, saying, “You think this is the return of Slippin’ Jimmy, but it’s not.” He offers to make a promise to Chuck, which Chuck – perhaps used to Jimmy’s promises – refuses to hear. Jimmy changes tack, telling his brother that he’s considering taking on Elder Law, parroting Kim’s suggestions to him back at the nail salon the night before.

Cut to Jimmy watching reruns of Matlock, noting the suits that Andy Griffith is wearing on the show. We go to a seniors’ home. The filming here is lovingly done, with close-ups on people and the jello cups they’re eating. The shot enters on a top-down view of the food cart as it’s wheeled in, getting the POV of whomever is doing the wheeling. We then see several senior citizens eating their jello with a certain amount of relish. One lady, finishing, finds words in the bottom of her cup: “Need a Will? Call McGill.” Jimmy shows up, glad-handing the residents, saying, “What a grip there. Watch out, that’s my will writing hand” to one, introducing himself and flattering as many as will listen to him.

Later, we see him leaving the court parking lot. He has the requisite number of stamps – “Will wonders never cease?” asks Mike. Jimmy gives him one of his new business cards, asking him to call if he…knows anyone who needs a will. Wisely, he stops before suggesting that Mike might be old enough to be considered an “Elder Law” client himself.

The camera stays on Mike and the parking booth, until night turns to day and he leaves. We see Mike at a diner, looking a little out of sorts, and then we cut to him sitting in a late-model Ford or Lincoln, watching a woman get into her station wagon. As she drives by Mike, she stops and makes eye contact with him. He looks a little perturbed, and when she drives off, he leaves as well.

At his home, he’s sitting watching TV and drinking a beer. It’s an old set, black and white with rabbit ears, definitely pre-2002. He sees a shadow outside his window, and turns off the television, picking up a baseball bat as he heads to the door. There’s a knock. He looks through the peephole, and puts the bat down, opening the door. It’s a bunch of cops, two in uniform, two not. Mike looks at the one who knocked, saying, “Long way from home, aren’t you?” The cop replies, “You and me both.”

This brief foray into Mike’s life and motivations sets us up for an episode that will most likely be focused around him next week – after all, cops from your previous job don’t show up unannounced unless there’s something pretty big going on.

Again, the filming angles and shot choices bespeak of a great deal of care and precision in the shooting of this series. Gilligan and Gould have recognized the benefit of quirky – yet complete – filming choices in order to better highlight the imperfect nature of life in a real, breathing world.

McKean again absolutely shines as Chuck, giving a human face to the debilitating mental illness that has kept him off the job for 18 months. And both Kim and Howard are excellent supporting characters that really seem to inhabit their roles, and are available for Jimmy to play against while developing his own character. Tonight there were no overt and current criminals a la Tuco, Nacho, or the Kettlemans; instead, we got some wonderful character development, both in the main character and with the supporting cast. Chuck brings out the human side of Jimmy, and tends to keep him grounded. I’d hate to see what might happen to Albuquerque if Jimmy were to let loose in a pre-Heisenbergian orgy of self-immolation. But then again, we know this story, or at least the aftermath seven years later, when Walter White and Jesse Pinkman first walk into Saul’s office.

Steve’s Grade: A-
Another excellent episode to continue this very strong start. Loads of storylines slowly beginning to take shape, but no sense that Gilligan and Gould are rushing things; they know that slow and steady wins the race.

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  1. dave says:

    Enjoying this also. Thanks for the review.

  2. dave says:

    I do watch Game of Thrones, but on DVD so I’m a season behind. Since we don’t watch it when it premiers we’re in no rush and get it from the library. That means a waiting list a mile long. Hopefully we’ll watch season 4 some time early summer! I’ve read a couple of your reviews from the last couple episodes of season 3 but could not find any from before that. Is that when you started?

    • Yes – I started this blog in order to review books, initially, and then thought I’d add in a few TV shows I enjoy. “Rains of Castamere” was the first episode I covered. It was largely the response that review got (almost 300 readers on its first day, as opposed to fewer than 20 with books) that convinced me to continue with the television articles.

      Season 4 was quite strong – I think you’ll enjoy it when you get the DVDs this summer!

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