Better Call Saul: 1.05 Alpine Shepherd Boy
After a few episodes of being the down-on-his luck David to big-shot lawyer Hamlin’s Goliath, Jimmy McGill has gotten lucky. With a crafty stunt involving a billboard, in the last episode Jimmy managed to earn himself the reputation he’d always desired – and when Jimmy sat down to check his voice messages from potential clients, there were seven waiting for him.
This week’s episode, Alpine Shepherd Boy, began with Jimmy’s tour of his clients, who all had one thing in common: bizarre cases. From a man seeking to secede from the US and offering Jimmy payment in his own currency, to a special toilet a man made for his children, to an old lady and her labyrinthine instructions on how to distribute her figurines, these opening scenes were all genuinely hilarious, once again providing the laughs that Better Call Saul has proven to be extremely adept at delivering. It’s the sort of light-hearted sequence that would have been even better in a less tonally variable episode, but taken on its own the scenes are another example of Better Call Saul’s terrific comedy.
However, these light-hearted scenes ended up sitting somewhat awkwardly with the other plot of the episode – Chuck’s illness. While the chance to learn about Chuck’s almost-certainly-mental ‘allergy to electricity’ was enlightening and provided a suitably thought-provoking answer to questions posed by the concluding scenes last week, the emotional conflict over Chuck sat awkwardly next to the light-hearted montages of Jimmy at work sandwiching the set of scenes in the hospital, creating a feeling of tonal dissonance throughout the episode. However, the scenes at least provide some strong emotional work for Bob Odenkirk to get his teeth into – I’ve praised his versatility before, but it’s particularly clear in this episode that Odenkirk is far more than a comic actor.
However, the concluding scenes this week almost made up for the tonal awkwardness earlier in the episode – as we tracked parking attendant Mike from his booth to a suburban neighbourhood, where he makes fairly hostile eye contact with a younger woman before she drives away. It’s a great example of the virtues of including Mike – the character was one of Breaking Bad’s most interesting and well-developed characters, so to actually see part of his backstory unfold is a clever move that promises unearth some unexpected new sides to an already terrific character. Likewise, his arrest by an oddly familiar cop intriguingly indicates that Mike’s oft-mentioned Philadelphia past is coming back to haunt him so while Alpine Shepherd Boy is a less accomplished outing than usual, the conclusion makes it very clear that Better Call Saul still has plenty left in the tank.