Remember a few years ago when Hollywood was ALL ABOUT prequels? It seemed that just about every popular franchise was looking to tell an origin story. That’s not to say the “story before” is a novel concept, or near extinction, it’s just fallen out of favor recently. Prequels are neat and can be a lot of fun. They make the viewer inherently and instantly feel part of the story, intimate with it even. They’re just hella restricting. Unless the story employs some extremely inventive narrative devices it’s very unlikely these types of tales will ever shock you to the raw core. They’re designed to be safe, which is good for business but not so good for art. Better Call Saul is a prequel with a tinge of sequel. You have to believe that the producers and writers are very aware of the restrictions of the show’s format as they opened up the series with a distant flash-forward of the main character emasculated and noided, trapped in the Midwest for backing the wrong drug kingpin. This scene is a treat for the viewers but also smartly injects the exact antidote for the prequel syndrome: consequence. It’s simple; if you tell a prequel story about a character, you are guaranteeing nothing fatal or irrevocably damaging can happen to that character. The burden of telling a story without a corporal cause and effect is great because when it’s all said and done the 2002 version of Jimmy McGill aka Saul Goodman needs to be in good enough health to assist/annoy Walter White in 2006. That’s why I’ve been lobbying for the secondary characters of Better Call Saul to get more screen time. Sure, Jimmy is great, and Bob Odenkirk is doing a fine job so far playing a quick-witted, hard-luck lawyer, but we know he makes it through the fires of Albuquerque essentially unscathed. Nothing will change that. On the other hand, the fates of side players Chuck, Kim, and Nacho are not only unknown, but accented by the fact that Saul never mentioned them in any capacity before. Much to its benefit, “Alpine Sheppard Boy” spends a lot of time getting to know two auxiliary characters and so grows the show’s potential. First up is Chuck McGill (Michael McKean) who let us peek in on his instability at the finish of the previous episode and fittingly, the beginning of this hour invites us in for a full look. And by “invites us in” I mean screams through the door to leave all electrical devices outside, and please, no tasers. (Cue tasers) The writers know better than to be too clandestine about certain elements and right up there is the nature of Chuck’s illness. We get a nice rundown from the man himself after he’s arrested and hospitalized following a confrontation with police over an illegally-purchased newspaper. From his hospital bed, Chuck details the nauseating, intense, and debilitating pain he feels caused by anything giving off an electromagnetic charge. Or more simply, he’s “allergic to electricity”. The resident doctor (Clea DuVall) is skeptical of his claim, enacting a “demonstration” to show Jimmy and Kim (Rhea Seehorn) that Chuck’s illness are the early signs of mental decay. She explains to Jimmy that he must take action immediately to ensure Chuck gets the best treatment. It’s evident in Jimmy’s words and actions he is both concerned and conflicted. He knows well that Chuck’s ailment is most likely based in psychosis however that doesn’t cheapen the actual discomfort he’s feeling. Moreover, and perhaps more prudent, Chuck is still as sharp as he ever was and getting him treatment will be an uphill endeavor. As the scene winds down kinda-sorta-antagonist Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) shows up to express his concern for his business partner and Jimmy isn’t having any of it. He accuses Howard of trying to sway the situation as he knows that if Chuck is deemed unfit to care for himself Jimmy will be granted custodianship and he will then “cash out” Chuck’s portion of Hamlin, Hamlin and McGill — a move which could cripple the firm. Let me digress a little bit to say I really don’t get how we’re supposed to feel about Howard Hamlin. Sure, he comes off a little douchey and supercilious, but I’m still waiting for an evil act that pushes him squarely into a bad guy role. So far he’s only done things to protect his rightful interest, like order a cease and desist for copyright issues, and vaguely try to avoid the liquidation of a third of his firm. Are we supposed to hate Howard? Just like with Kim, there seems to be some as-of-yet undisclosed history between he and Jimmy. Get to it already, show. In between all the Chuck stuff is the Jimmy M. McGill Client Tour 2002. After last week’s billboard scheme, our hero has managed to get several leads, but alas, luck doesn’t switch that quickly for Mr. McGill and he finds himself conversing with a few duds. A lot of comedy is injected in a trio of scenes, the first dealing with an anti-government nut looking to secede from the union who offers to pay Jim a retainer of a million dollars. The catch? The cash has the guy’s face printed on it. Bummer. The next scene takes Jimmy to the home of a young inventor who reveals his inspired creation: a talking toilet that encourages potty-trainees to do the deed. The catch? The toilet’s phrases (“Oh Chandler, put it in me!”; “Fill me up!”) are a bit sexual. Weird. The final potential client is a sweet, though painfully torpid elderly lady who hires Jimmy to smooth out the details of her will. Specifically, who exactly in her extended familial and social circles will be gifted with her impressive Hummels figurine collection. The catch? Well, there is no catch, it’s just honest, boring legal work, the type that would make Chuck proud. In fact, news of Jimmy’s venture into “Elder Law” seems to improve Chuck’s condition after the protagonist tells his bro about this new career path (as per suggested by Kim). There are heavy implications that Chuck’s condition derives at least in part from his worry about his sometimes wayward sibling which really ratchets up a dramatic element the show needs. The next scene demonstrates this need. Just when things are nice and tense the audience is whisked away to a nursing home where an elongated scene allows us to witness the majesty of our silver folk eating Jell-O (originally the title of the episode, following the “O” theme of course. I’d imagine it was changed due to copyright problems). In a Matlock-inspired outfit Jimmy makes his rounds, affable as ever as he tries to fill his rolodex with new names of people with old names. Does this show have nothing else to do but meanderer in assisted-living communities? Apparently. So like a sprinter, Jimmy passes the story baton to another in the race and it rectifies things to a degree. Yes, the second side character I mentioned way, way above moseys into the frame at just the right time. Mike (Jonathan Banks), everyone’s favorite grump, has an interaction with Jimmy at his toll booth about end-of-life legal stuff that seems to prompt a smoldering reaction. For the first time in the show, the perspective shifts, a welcomed rattle, and we peep in on Mike as he idles outside of a young woman’s house. The two exchange a long, sad glance and she takes off without a word exchanged. Now, Mike is another character suffering from prequel-itis. We are well-aware of his final fate and that limits a lot in storytelling terms. However, if you think about it, we know jack all about him aside from a few small deets regarding his former occupation and family. In fact, there are some huge holes in his backstory and it appears the out-of-town police that arrive on his doorstep at episode’s end will change that. Is it possible to be excited and bored by a show at the same time? No, it isn’t, I’m just an ass with high standards. Better Call Saul has soul, it has passion and finesse, but it’s missing grit. A few more layers and we might have an Emmy-caliber program. Not yet, but perhaps soon. Better Call Saul 1.05 "Alpine Shepherd Boy"Jamil's Rating3.5Overall ScoreReader Rating: (0 Votes)Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.