For the serious Better Call Saul fans, there is humor to be found even within the titles of the episodes.
- Episode 1: Uno
- Episode 2: Mijo
- Episode 3: Nacho
- Episode 4: Hero
- Episode 5: Alpine Shepherd Boy
…wait, what? I thought we were cooking with this simple, one-word episode titles and now we’re on “Alpine Shepherd Boy”? This is the sort of dry, wise-ass subversion of expectations I’ve come to expect from the episodes, and now even the episode titles are getting in on the fun.
The title of the fifth episode refers to an ostensibly valuable figurine that one of Saul’s new clients wishes to bequeath to one of her heirs, which tells me that this episode is about Jimmy McGill’s gradual conversion to “consistent loser” to “fitfully successful,” and that’s great, even if Jimmy’s new clients appreciate him more for his televised billboard-climbing skills than they do for his scintillating legal prowess.
We open with a fresh batch of trouble: Saul’s brother Chuck is in big trouble after stealing his neighbor’s newspaper, which is a crime he only committed because Jimmy hid Chuck’s newspaper in the first place — because he had to keep the billboard lunacy away from his brother’s inevitably disapproving eyes. It’s the little things that seem to cause so much trouble: so far in Better Call Saul we’ve dealt with nasty violence, intimidating thugs, and blatant embezzlers, and yet the theft of a newspaper is the incident that kick-starts the most problems.
We’ll get back to the relationship between Jimmy and his brother toward the end of the episode, which gives us plenty of time to join the suddenly popular attorney on a series of house calls to new clients: a wealthy kook who wants to secede from the United States; a creepy dad who invented a talking toilet and needs some advice on patent law; and that cute old lady who initially comes off like an attorney’s worst nightmare of a client — but actually provides our hero with two things he desperately needs: a handful of pocket money, and a nice dash of self-respect.
After a long day with those new clients, Jimmy (very wisely) decides to spend a little downtime with Kim, which is when her boss (that slimy Howard Hamlin!) interrupts a potentially sweet moment with the news about Chuck: he’s in the hospital after being tasered by the cops. Uh oh. So just as Jimmy is starting to feel better about himself (and considerably more confident in a professional sense), he has to deal with this: not only is his beloved brother now strapped in a hospital bed, but it’s all Jimmy’s fault. All because of that damn newspaper.
Unfortunately you won’t find any traces of Nacho in episode 5, nor do the adorably stupid Kettlemans make an appearance, but if you’ve been waiting to see how Jimmy took his first few steps towards being a relatively successful attorney, then you’ll find a lot to enjoy in “Alpine Shepherd Boy.” The internal tug-of-war that Chuck represents for Jimmy’s character is one of the most fascinating aspects of Better Call Saul, and that’s mostly what episode 5 is all about: a decent man with a great talent for bullshit tries to stay afloat in a consistently brutal profession. We get the idea that Jimmy could just go “full asshole” if Chuck wasn’t around to provide him with a true moral compass, a role model, and a reason to actually feel guilty about lying.
Fortunately Chuck is still around.
Bonus points to Alpine Shepherd Boy for A) giving Mike some mysterious stuff to do in Act III, B) a great performance from Clea DuVall as a clever doctor who sees right through Jimmy’s facade and delivers some hard facts, and C) a great exchange in which Jimmy tells that sweet old woman how much he “prides himself on his moxie.”
As well he should.
Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 10pm on AMC.