Better Call Saul: “Alpine Shepherd Boy” Season 1 Episode 5 Review

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It only took five episodes for Better Call Saul to officially break free from its roots and become independently worth watching.

The first four episodes varied in quality, with several bordering on great, but the show still felt very much like and extension of Breaking Bad. Well, “Alpine Shepherd Boy” is the episode where Saul stopped living in Bad‘s shadow.

Opening with the direct aftermath of Chuck’s horrifying trip across the street, it’s clear that it’s time to address his issues more openly than we have so far. Just as police start breaking down his door because he won’t cooperate, we cut to the intro, which is then followed by three extended scenes of Saul visiting potential new clients.

These scenes were a masterclass in comedy, each client presenting something hilarious for Jimmy to have to deal with, from rich moguls who want to secede, to talking sexual toilets for kids, to old people. Each scene was written with finesse, but it was Bob Odenkirk’s comedic timing that pushed them beyond the limits of the page. All of them were just hilarious.

With so much humor in the first 20 minutes, it’s no surprise that things get depressing quick when we catch back up with Chuck. Jimmy and Kim get called to the hospital, where Chuck lies there paralyzed by the lights and electronics around him. “He’s allergic to electricity!” Jimmy yells to the staff as he unplugs everything. With the billboard scheme last week, Jimmy began taking steps toward Saul Goodman. If “Alpine Shepherd Boy” made anything clear, it’s that Saul probably won’t exist until Chuck’s role in Jimmy’s life is minimal or nonexistent. Jimmy cares too much about his brother’s opinion. But the doctors have presented him with an out: Jimmy can commit Chuck to a mental hospital.

He’s warned that Chuck may be a danger to himself if he isn’t committed, but Jimmy still refuses. This conversation most certainly set the stage for Chuck to do something extreme by the season’s end. It won’t be long before his brother isn’t around to keep Jimmy morally grounded. That’s when Saul will come out. Based on the demonstration we saw this week of how much Jimmy cares for his brother, this evolution will likely be laced with more tragedy than you’d expect from watching Saul in Breaking Bad. There’s tension and pathos here, which is how Better Call Saul broke free of its iconic cousin.

The only spot where “Alpine Shepherd Boy” faltered was the somewhat awkward inclusion of Mike’s personal life right on the end. This felt more like the beginning of the next episode than a cap to this one. The material wasn’t bad, just out of place. Was that Mike’s daughter who stared him down outside the house? Why were those cops looking for him? The mysteries surrounding Mike are getting fleshed out, which is something to be excited about. It just didn’t feel like an appropriate end to this episode.

Other than that, this was pretty easily the best entry of Saul yet. It delivered on the show’s promises of comedy and the humanization of Saul Goodman spectacularly. The pacing was on point, aside from the cliffhanger. Better yet, Saul now feels like it’s own show with it’s own stories to tell. The Breaking Bad crutch is no longer needed. Grade: A-

By Matt Dougherty

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