In which Saul Goodman/Jimmy McGill finds in Matlock “elder law” business suit inspiration, we realize Chuck and his space blanket are pretty much inseparable, and it becomes clear that the biggest PR stunt in town doesn’t change McGill’s run of luck for legal cases that pay in food stamps and monopoly money.
Episode 5 ties the knot cleanly and neatly for what has been a swift, reliable movement over this past month of great TV: Better Call Saul is, at once, successfully nostalgic and innovative. While leaving breadcrumbs for the devoted, Gilligan and company take care not to alienate the new viewers, who can assuredly enjoy this on its own (or as a starter).
McGill is reaping the rewards of the new business he’s drummed up from last week’s hero move, and behind each strange new door is a Coen-Brothers-esque new freak with a nice exterior. In the titular scene of “Alpine Shepherd Boy” (a deliciously slow scene that the A.V. Club pegs as “86 seconds to the sofa”) a nice little old lady is almost as slow to pay Jimmy from her change purse as she is via her walking difficulties, and the two sit surrounded in Hummel figurines, mapping out a complex schematic for the allotment of each treasured figure in her estate plan. Bob Odenkirk has carried this show so capably and with ease this season on his shoulders, and here, he uses yet another colour from his palette as he demonstrates, indeed, a lovely patience and kindness for old people, their particular worries and needs, and for their dignity. It’s going to be difficult to watch him fall from such great heights as the ABQ’s Matlock-at-large. (Hands up if you’d also watch that show.)
Telegraphed in this scene is the tacit understanding that’s been gleaned for viewers over 5 weeks of Better Call Saul: the man is already an expert in elder care, in empathy and dignity, and in patience. He’s been nursing his older brother through some questionable, yet very real to him, ailments over the past 18 months as Chuck’s (Michael McKean) been a shut-in from his law practice living a life of the pre-electricity age, if the people back then had a subservient lackey to bring them food, ice, propane, and all the news of the day, every day. The McGill brothers share some deep co-dependency issues, and Jimmy tries for a moment to cut through the shit to confront Chuck about the connection between Jimmy’s lifetime drive (talent, love?) of being a small time con man and Chuck’s “getting sick” but is shut down by orders and a suspicious improvement in Chuck’s state that occurs whenever he’s compelled to lecture and assert his dominance, his space blanket all a flutter of imperious anger. It’s a twisted, beautiful, truthful little family knot that is riveting to try to unravel (with tantalizing questions stacking up about both what preceded this state of affairs and what’s to come for this family and their private drama).
Jimmy pursues his new business plan to corner the robust elder law field with aplomb, visiting a familiar nursing home’s activities* with both some creatively branded jell-o and a genuine-seeming comfort level full of true charm with his prospective clients that is bound to be a benefit to all involved. He also confronts his nemesis in the hospital over his brother’s condition, fitness, financial worth and future. Jimmy’s at his best when he’s given the chance to help the weak or confront a bully (this time the bully struts his casual wear, which is yet, HAMLINDIGO BLUE.)
While the episode covers a lot of ground with a respite from the usual sort of violence and desert scenes, there are a few nitpicks that arise out of Chuck’s NO ELECTRICTY, EVER rule of law. How did they get home from the hospital? Horse and buggy? And what is the deal with Kelly and Jimmy? Oh never mind, she’s a lot more tolerable than the female leads we’re used to in the ABQ. And in a nice departure, the camera finally stays with Mike Ehrmantraut for a while, showing at last a bit more about how he spends his quirky, boring/ oddly fascinating (because it’s MIKE!) days outside of that toll booth, under that bridge. We’ll follow him, though that way, darkness lies.