Review: 'Better Call Saul' - 'Alpine Shepherd Boy': Electric company
A review of tonight's "Better Call Saul" coming up just as soon as I'm the one with the sex toilet...
"I'm on the up-and-up. I will be good." -Jimmy
Jimmy spends much of "Alpine Shepherd Boy" trying to find a professional niche, and the episode itself feels like the "Better Call Saul" creative team is still figuring out what exactly the series is, beyond a showcase for Bob Odenkirk and a chance to bring so much of the "Breaking Bad" team together again.
Like the series' second episode, the hour is made up of a bunch of interesting individual pieces that don't entirely feel like part of the same whole. After a prologue detailing the immediate, traumatic aftermath of Chuck's sprint to steal his neighbor's newspaper, we spend a long time on Jimmy trying to cash in on the notoriety that came with his billboard "heroics," then get an interlude with Jimmy and Kim dealing with Chuck's hospitalization, then a bit more of Jimmy scrambling for business (inspired by Kim's advice and the only success he had earlier in the hour), followed by Jimmy tagging in Mike to close out the episode with a glimpse of his estrangement from both his family and his former Philly co-workers.
Piece-by-piece, there was a lot to like here. Each of Jimmy's house calls played out in that leisurely fashion this creative team does so well with. You know, for instance, that there's no way he's actually going to make a small fortune pursuing this wealthy lunatic's desire to secede from America, but that scene takes its time getting to the payoff with the fake money, which only makes the whole thing funnier. (I kept assuming that a phone call about Chuck's situation would distract Jimmy and ruin things with a guy who wanted to be his lawyer's one and only priority.) The sex toilet was a marvelous dirty joke that kept going and going, and in a way where you could understand why the dad thought all the language was appropriate for his sons to hear, and the visit to the woman whose figurines gave the episode its title was all about Jimmy watching the very slow march of time.
The hospital scene, meanwhile, made clear that Chuck's condition is largely psychosomatic (or else Dr. Cruz turning on the monitor when he wasn't looking would have given him another attack) while also buttressing the sense of protectiveness Jimmy feels for Chuck. If he just cared about the money, he would have his brother committed and cash him out of the firm, but he wants what's best for Chuck, and putting him in a mental hospital still feels cruel to him, even if it's where he should arguably be. And that was followed by a strong scene between the two brothers, where it's clear Jimmy is making a promise of goodness for the umpteenth time, and Chuck is going along with it for the umpteenth time, because that's what you do with family. We know that Jimmy isn't long for the world of elder care, but the nursing home sequence was a reminder that he's a champion schmoozer, as well as someone who understands the importance of "Matlock" to a certain demographic(*).
(*) Though he always seemed like a tacky dresser as Saul Goodman, this show is suggesting that he has a very clear sense of how he wants to style himself, even if that sense often involves him copying someone else. By the time he becomes Saul, I assume we'll see that those suits and loud shirts are just as curated as the Howard Hamlin lookalike suit was last week.
The Mike sequence had nothing to do with anything that came before it, save that Mike is theoretically part of Jimmy's new target audience, but it was also a welcome opportunity to finally watch Jonathan Banks do something besides roll his eyes at Bob Odenkirk. (He eye-rolls as good as anyone in the business, don't get me wrong; we just know how much more he can do.) This was mostly (excellent) silent acting, depicting the very sad and lonely life in exile Mike has made for himself — he and Jimmy are both huge disappointments to their families — all setting up for a cliffhanger suggesting Mike may need to use Jimmy's business card sooner rather than later. Is he a fugitive from his days in Philly, or is it something more benign? We'll see, but it's definitely time to give the show's other "Breaking Bad" actor alum something to play.
So, yeah, "Alpine Shepherd Boy" was a bit of a jumble — though I appreciated the episode beginning and ending with characters unhappily greeting policemen at their door — but I can't help think of what Kim tells Jimmy in the midst of their pedicure date at the nail salon: "Even your lousy days are more interesting than my good ones." At this point, even the more disjointed "Better Call Saul" episodes are more entertaining than many of the more polished shows I watch.
Some other thoughts:
* That's Clea DuVall as Dr. Cruz and Kerry Condon (one of the jockeys from "Luck") as what I'm assuming is Mike's daughter. I'm sure we haven't seen the last of Condon, and I could imagine them hiring DuVall (as opposed to just using a local actor) because they intended to have Dr. Cruz return to help Jimmy deal with Chuck's condition.
* I am congenitally incapable of watching a TV character use a motorized chair lift to get up and down stairs without thinking of Livia Soprano.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org