Netflix UK TV review: Better Call Saul Episode 5 (Alpine Shepherd Boy)
Ivan Radford | On 03, Mar 2015
Better Call Saul tackles Chuck’s condition head on in Episode 5 – and ends up with the show’s weakest outing to date.
Things start off well for Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk), as he finds himself with a wave of new business following his billboard stunt. Rich men, entrepreneurs, the kind of guys who can pay the big bucks. But before you can say ‘titillating toilet’ – “Put it in me!” – it all goes down the U-bend and that promising air descends into a montage of crackpot clients.
It’s the customer with the Alpine Shepherd Boy of the title that gives Jimmy his best shot at a successful career: an old lady with lots of porcelain trinkets to distribute among her heirs. It’s not funny, it’s not exciting and it doesn’t pay very well. But, damn it, it’s honest. And so we find Jimmy toying with the idea of elder law.
It’s a theme that continues to work well for the Breaking Bad prequel, as the soon-to-be Saul Goodman tries to decide who he is and what kind of lawyer he wants to be – something that the costume department cleverly underscore with a cute running gag about him buying new suits to look the part. Sporting a Matlock-esque outfit and carrying catchy business cards (“Need a will? Call McGill!”) it’s another reminder of how important appearance is to him: he’s at his best when being a showman.
But it’s not long before that front is taken away, as he hears that Chuck has been arrested and taken into hospital. If you thought Michael McKean’s older brother was weird after last week’s newspaper theft, he’s even crazier here. That’s certainly the conclusion reached by the doctors and we find ourselves in the middle of debate about whether his condition – an apparent allergy to electromagnetic devices – is real or imagined.
McKean does his part well, talking calmy through the symptoms with the logic (and legal references) of a lucid man. Director Nicole Kassell, meanwhile, gives us a taste of his suffering with disorienting camera moves and crackling sound effects. The problem remains, though, that he’s not a very sympathetic character: Better Call Saul’s emotional engagement partly hinges on Chuck and Jimmy’s relationship and it’s one that has little heft.
Jimmy himself is likeable, thanks to his put-upon, everyman charm: Odenkirk remains resolutely upbeat and alert, no matter how badly things (inevitably) go. When Hamlin (the ever-loathsome Patrick Fabian) turns up at the hospital, Jimmy faces a choice: commit his brother to a psychiatric ward and become custodian of the money Hamlin effectively owes Chuck, or keep him out of hospital to avoid causing him discomfort.
It’s telling that this decision – and, indeed, the news of Chuck’s arrest – are conveyed via Rhea Seehorn’s semi-romantic interest, Kimberly; Bradley Paul’s script tries to tie all of the show’s emotional beats together to drum up one weighty bag of sympathy. But while Seehorn and Jimmy’s relationship is genuinely interesting, the McGill siblings are still struggling to snag on the old heartstrings. And, if Chuck is being used to give our protagonist a conscience-wrangling dilemma, that needs to happen for us to really care.
“Whenever I do something wrong or questionable, you get worse,” McGill the younger says at one point, an argument that doesn’t quite ring true. Does he genuinely think that? Is he rationalising to make Chuck feel better about his delusion? With Jimmy destined to keep on doing wrong or questionable things – while ultimately wearing a very different suit – the bond between these two remains the weak point in an otherwise accomplished series.
Fortunately, even at its weakest, Better Call Saul still knows when to play to its strengths: something that Jonathan Banks’ Mike demonstrates, as he delivers the most intriguing cliffhanger since the opening episode.
New episodes of Better Call Saul will arrive on Netflix UK every Tuesday at 7am.