Better Call Saul season 2 premiere countdown: 6 days left!
Episode 1×05: In which Jimmy meets some interesting clients, Chuck gets a real shock, and Mike comes out of the parking booth.
Episode 1×05: “Alpine Shepherd Boy” (written by Bradley Paul; directed by Nicole Kassell)
Confession time: this is my favorite episode.
Secessionists, sex toilets, romantic pedicures, an impressive collection of Hummels— but best of all, we see Jimmy building a legitimate business. The billboard scheme worked—the clients are rolling in—but it wasn’t without some collateral damage.
In the teaser we see the cops come for Chuck. The neighbor lady was apparently none too pleased with him for snatching her paper. Now, if that were me, I might try going over there and asking for it back before I called the cops, but hey—she probably thinks Chuck is the neighborhood loon. The cops arrive at Chuck’s door and, at first, he doesn’t answer; he just goes to the peephole. He’s busted when the cops see the shadow and he knows he’s not getting out of this easy. I was surprised that Chuck McGill, champion of the law, was maybe not going to open up for the police, but I should have known he wasn’t going to give up completely.
Chuck speaks to the cops through the door. He tells them about his condition, that he can’t go outside, and they remind him that he was able to go outside to steal the newspaper. Chuck says he didn’t steal it (because Charles McGill doesn’t steal), that he left more money than it was worth, but the cops hit him with the law:
Chuck knows full well the answer is no, but he’s Charles McGill, so he starts lawyering at them. “Let’s talk about something called probable cause…” The cops look at each other like, “Ugh, he’s one of THESE,” and one of them goes around to the other door as Chuck rattles off all the legal requirements for entry, and it’s basically the upstanding citizen’s version of this:
When the cop peers in Chuck’s window, he sees the wrecked breaker box and Chuck’s stash of camp fuel. He radios his partner and they decide that Chuck (who is still talking) is almost definitely a tweaker. They go back to the front door and tell Chuck the jig is up—that he’s coming out or they’re coming in. Chuck tries to explain his entry requirements, and he’s very emphatic about tasers, which was probably a bad choice because the cops decide that, yes, a taser is exactly what the doctor ordered. They bust in the door and take Chuck out.
The theme plays over Saul’s bus bench advertisement.
Somewhere around the time Chuck is getting tasered to an electromagnetic crisp, Jimmy is at his first consult of the day. He meets Richard “Big Ricky” Sipes at his home—a mansion on 1,100 acres of property out by the Sandia Mountains. It’s a big game hunter’s dream house, and Ricky sits down with Jimmy and tells him how he saw him on TV and just knew he was someone who believed in “the Real America.” Big Ricky thinks that the U.S. government is “crushing the spirit of entrepreneurship” with too many regulations, and he has an interesting proposition for Jimmy.
Jimmy knows the guy is a whack-job, but he’s obviously a rich whack-job, so Jimmy takes his case with an enthusiastic, “Yee Haw!” He knows that it’s absurd, but he plays along, telling Ricky they’ll have to fight the government all the way to the Supreme Court. Jimmy quotes him a $450/hour rate, but Big Ricky wants him on retainer. He offers him $1 million, with $500,000 in cash, up front. Jimmy looks like he can’t believe his luck, and he shouldn’t, because big Ricky comes out with a stack of “money” from the sovereign Sandia Republic.
Suffice it to say that Jimmy will not be taking Big Ricky’s case. He takes off in the Esteem and heads to his next appointment: Roland Jaycocks, an inventor looking for a patent lawyer for his “idea of a lifetime.” Roland is worried that the big toy companies will steal his idea so he makes Jimmy sign a non-disclosure before they get started. Roland pulls a tarp off the invention to reveal a toilet, but it’s not just any toilet. No, this toilet has a special unit attached that Roland believes is the key to helping kids toilet train. “It’s all about positive reinforcement,” he tells Jimmy, and then he gives him a demonstration of Tony the Toilet Buddy.
The unit attached to the toilet has a voice chip wired to a sensor, and each time Roland drops a block in there, it gives some, shall we say, “encouragement.” There’s a string of responses that most people might find a bit suggestive, but which Roland seems to think are perfectly normal and child-friendly. Consider such gems as, “Gosh, you’re big! You’re sooo big!” and “Fill me up, Chandler! Put it in me!” And who could forget:
Roland’s youngest, Chandler, absolutely loved Tony the Toilet Buddy, but Jimmy’s not convinced. But, hey, work with what you’ve got, right? Jimmy suggests that maybe the kiddie market isn’t the best route. “Some of your wealthier Pacific Rim nations,” however, would probably eat the sex toilet up. Roland, who is clearly too pure for this world, can’t understand why Jimmy finds the toilet sexually suggestive, and he kicks him out of the house.
Jimmy pulls up to another house, already exhausted from the crazies he’s already dealt with and wondering what kind of nonsense is next. We find him with a little old lady. Her stair chair is moving glacially slow as Jimmy sits in the living room, surrounded on all sides by Hummel figurines. Jimmy is waiting impatiently, and lord knows how long he’s already been there, and when she finally gets back to the couch he is eager to get it over with.
He’s doing a will for little old Mrs. Strauss, who wants to bequeath her extensive Hummel collection to various friends and family members. It’s not that simple, though. There are contingencies in place based on the life choices of the recipients (her nephew Clarence better finish college if he wants that Alpine Shepherd Boy, and god help Raylene if she remarries Frederick). Despite the day Jimmy’s had, he is following along perfectly, even correcting Mrs. Strauss when she confuses the grandsons of her favorite pastors. Mrs. Strauss is quite impressed with him.
Say what you want about Jimmy McGill, but he is fabulous with old people. He’s charming Mrs. Strauss with some witty banter and she’s eating it up Jimmy’s moxie.
When it comes time to talk payment, Jimmy prepares for the worst. After the day he’s had, he wouldn’t be surprised if Mrs. Strauss wanted to use Hummels as currency. When he quotes her $140 she digs a coin purse out of her bag, and to Jimmy’s utter delight, Mrs. Strauss pulls out a wad of twenties and counts up to the full fee. He snatches that money up quick and continues on his work with his first legit client.
That evening we find Jimmy at the salon, painting Kim’s toenails as some soft jazz plays in the background. Now, I’m not much of a romantic. I’d rather burn a Nicholas Sparks book for heat than read one (no offense, dude). But there’s something about this moderately platonic pedicure situation that I find very appealing. Jimmy is in the process of telling Kim about his adventurous day, doing a stellar imitation of Tony the Sex Toilet for Kim, who is cracking up. We don’t see Kim smile that often. In fact, we’ve only ever seen her smile around Jimmy. But here she is relaxed and enjoying Jimmy’s company and it’s nice to see her unwind a bit.
Jimmy isn’t impressed with his day’s work but Kim sees real potential in what he’s doing. She encourages him to specialize in elder law, that she’s even thought about getting into it, and then we get a bit of backstory involving her dying grandmother being ripped off by her thieving, drug addict cousins. She says, “Getting old sucks. Seniors need someone on their side.” It’s clear she thinks that person should be James M. McGill, A Lawyer You Can Trust, and Jimmy looks at her like he’s actually taking it seriously.
And then Howard calls Kim with some news and he ruins everything.
Jimmy and Kim rush to the hospital to find Chuck seemingly unconscious. The nurse calls security on Jimmy, who is frantically turning off all the hospital machines and the lights in the room. When the doctor comes in he tries to explain to her about Chuck’s “allergy” to electricity but she’s not really buying it. Jimmy promises to take it down a couple notches and Dr. Cruz tells the security guard to let Jimmy go.
Jimmy learns about the newspaper incident, that the police found Chuck agitated and incoherent. Her recommendation is that Chuck be transferred to a psych facility for a 30-day evaluation. This brings Chuck out of his stupor. He tries to convince the doctor that he has a physical condition, not a mental one, and he gives her a laundry list of his symptoms. Dr. Cruz doesn’t believe him but she knows how to handle him. She asks some seemingly innocuous questions about how long its been going on (and we learn Chuck has been sick for 2 years, 6 months of which he was still working at HHM). She says, “That’s a long time to live with discomfort,” and now Chuck knows he’s being handled.
Knowing he’s up against a doctor who is convinced he’s mentally unstable, Chuck looks to Kim for some support, asking her if she’s ever seen him exhibit signs of mental illness in the 10-or-so years she’s known him. It’s clear Kim doesn’t want to get involved, and even though she shakes her head “no” she seems incredibly uncomfortable.
Dr. Cruz is still insistent on psychiatric treatment and Chuck tries to lawyer his way out of it, but for the second time that day, it’s not working. Dr. Cruz knows that she’s not going to convince Chuck, so she goes for Jimmy instead. She distracts Chuck with questions while she turns on his hospital bed to prove her point to Jimmy.
She asks Chuck if she can speak to Jimmy out in the hall and he agrees, but before Jimmy leaves the room Chuck pleads with him to take him home. We see Chuck at his most vulnerable: he is powerless to stop the commitment himself and his entire life is in Jimmy’s hands. It’s a real role-reversal from what we saw when Chuck visited Slippin’ Jimmy in prison all those years ago. This time, Chuck is the one who has to beg.
Out in the hallway, Jimmy accuses Dr. Cruz of playing a dirty trick but she’s confident in her diagnosis. Jimmy admits to her that he’s not sure the physical condition is 100% real and we see his frustration come out as he tells her that he’s the one who takes care of all of Chuck’s needs. She tells him he’s an enabler and tries to get him to see the danger Chuck actually does pose to himself and others. He could easily set his house on fire, but the more likely scenario (and the one that actually gets through to Jimmy on some level) is that, if he hurt himself home, he would have no way to call for help. Chuck’s no spring chicken; he’s probably in his prime heart attack years (especially eating all that damn bacon). Jimmy knows that Dr. Cruz is right about Chuck needing help, but he’s simply not willing to have his brother committed against his will.
Enter Howard Hamlin, the literal last person in the world Jimmy wants to see. Kim watches Howard come down the hall (impeccably dressed in Hamlindigo casual) and she knows there’s going to be trouble. Howard tells Jimmy that he’s already been in contact with the district attorney, who will not sign off on any commitment papers, and Jimmy accuses him of having self-serving motives. Jimmy thinks Hamlin doesn’t want Chuck committed because it would mean that Jimmy, as Chuck’s legal guardian, would cash him out of HHM. There may be some truth to this, but Hamlin is insistent that his motives are pure—that he just wants what is right for Chuck.
Then Jimmy loses it and tells Hamlin, “Wave bye-bye to your cash cow ‘cause it’s leaving the pasture.” He tells Hamlin he’s committing him and walks away. Kim runs after him and tries to tell him that, while committing Chuck may actually be the right thing to do, he can’t do it out of spite. But Jimmy just wanted to see Hamlin squirm. He has no intention of committing his brother.
Back at Chuck’s house, Jimmy is gently getting Chuck settled back into the house, even fetching him his space blanket and wrapping it around him, but he wants answers about the newspaper situation. He tells Chuck that he thinks he got sick because he saw the billboard story in the paper, and that whenever he does something “questionable,” Chuck gets worse. Chuck is tired of the same old argument, but Jimmy isn’t going to let it go.
It turns out that not only does Chuck completely disapprove of the billboard promotion stunt, he doesn’t even think that it should be legal for lawyers to advertise. He seems to adamantly disagree with the Supreme Court decision in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona that made it legal, and I’m left wondering exactly what century Chuck is living in. This is maybe the most pretentious and elitist thing we’ve seen from Chuck to date. Of course he wouldn’t see the importance of small business advertising when he works (or rather, worked) in the Hamlindigo Tower that is HHM—a multi-million dollar operation that doesn’t really need to advertise.
Jimmy tries to convince Chuck he’s going legit, and he rips off almost word-for-word what Kim told him about the importance of elder law. He tells Chuck he’s starting to specialize and he just needed a bit of “razzmatazz” to get the ball rolling. He assures him that Slippin’ Jimmy is “back in Cicero, dead and buried,” and Chuck says, “We’ll see.” He’s not convinced, but he sheds the space blanket and walks to the kitchen to make some coffee, leaving Jimmy looking pleased to see him up and about, and somewhat back to normal. Of course, the fact that Chuck’s “normal” is condescension and distrust is a whole different issue, but let’s move on.
Later on, Jimmy is in his office watching Matlock and designing a suit based on Andy Griffith’s classic courtroom look. Ever attentive to detail, Jimmy sketches it out just as he wants it, making notes on material and color. He’s not too shabby at sketching, either (compared to someone like me who, on a good day, can maybe draw a stick figure flipping the bird).
And now we find ourselves at a familiar-looking nursing home: Casa Tranquila, home to Hector Salamanca in Breaking Bad. The staff is handing out Jell-O cups to the residents. As one woman gets to the bottom of her cup we see that Jimmy’s advertising strategy has shifted gears.
(Fun fact: this episode was supposed to be called “Jell-O,” in keeping with all the season’s episode titles ending in “o,” but there were legal complications with using the brand name.)
Enter Jimmy in the Matlock suit, chatting up all the elders he can find. They all seem to love him and I find myself hoping that Jimmy’s elder law practice will work out. Just look at Matlock Jimmy charming these lovely old ladies and try not to smile:
And this is part of what I love about Better Call Saul. I know it doesn’t work out well for him in the end, so it actually kind of hurts to feel hopeful for Jimmy in this scene. The show is basically an exercise in masochism for anyone who loves Jimmy McGill, and yet I’m still here. Not sure exactly what that says about me (or the rest of this fandom) but it is what is.
Jimmy pulls up to the parking booth at night and greets Mike, who seems only slightly less hostile than usual (but it’s Mike, so that’s something).
For once, Jimmy has the right amount of stickers, and he hands him his ticket as well as one of his new business cards. He tells him he’s running an elder law practice now—“Need a will? Call McGill!”—and Mike is not particularly keen on being referred to as an elder. Exhibit A:
He takes the card anyway, though, and Jimmy leaves Mike to the rest of his night shift. At dawn, when he is relieved, we finally see Mike leave the booth. He goes to Loyola’s for breakfast, looking like he’s got something on his mind, and then we see him parked across the street from a young woman’s house. She gets in her car and pulls out of the driveway, but she stops next to Mike’s car. The two stare at each other for a while, and for a second it looks as if she might speak to him, but she just drives away.
Mike goes home to unwind in front of the TV with a beer but he’s interrupted when he sees a man outside the house. He grabs a baseball bat, as one does, and looks through the peephole (and now I’m wondering what Mike is up to these days besides for counting stickers in the parking booth). He puts the bat down when he sees who it is, and when he opens the door we find two detectives with APD backup on his doorstep. As always, Mike’s face betrays nothing. He says, “Long way from home, aren’t you?” and one of the detectives replies, “You and me both.”
The episode ends and seriously leaves me hanging. Why are the cops after Mike? Is he already deep into the criminal underworld of Albuquerque? Did he do something back in Philly that’s catching up to him? I get no answers yet, but that’s okay, because with Mike out of the booth and getting his own storyline, I’m bound to learn more about his past, which is something that always intrigued me during the Breaking Bad days. Better Call Saul may be about how Jimmy McGill becomes Saul Goodman, but “Alpine Shepherd Boy” left me wondering how Mike Ehrmantraut the cop became Mike Ehrmantraut the criminal.