[Review] - Better Call Saul, Season 1 Episodes 5 And 6, "Alpine Shepherd Boy" And "Five-O"

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Television
With Jimmy established, these two episodes, the middle two of the season, took the opportunity to better flesh out the other main characters of the series. Because, until now, it's been the Jimmy show. Odenkirk has been in nearly every scene, and the appearances and development of every other character has been through Jimmy's interactions with them. And since Jimmy either 1) already knows more than we do or B) doesn't care about other people, that means the audience hasn't had a chance to know what these folk are about.

So, after a wonderful first half of the season, the perspective shifts away from Jimmy, and we get to know the wider world a bit better. First we deal with Chuck, then we get to know Mike. And after being on Breaking Bad for a full half of it's run, you'd think that we'd know all there is to know about Mike. We certainly know how his story ends. But Five-O proved that we really didn't know anything about this gruff, unemotional ex-cop. We do now.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that have never been out west before.

Let's talk about pacing, again. And why? Because it's my favourite element to this series. The pacing is so deliciously deliberate, and with such wonderful payoffs, that for me it has become the defining characteristic of the series. The sense of time is practically it's own character. the meticulous detail in which this series must be plotted out, for everything to happen exactly when it needs to, and how it needs to, is exhilarating. If other shows attempts to be this caging with events, there would be a level of frustration. Other shows aren't patient. They'd feel the need to tease. They'd keep pushing against themselves, in an effort to get to what they think is going to be something big and spectacular. Better Call Saul is mellow in it's attitude. It let's thinks unfold.

Like Mike. Jonathan Banks name has been number two on the cast list since day one. And he's been in nearly every episode, starting from one, putting in a single scene where he and Jimmy bicker over parking validation. In that first episode, we all got excited when we saw Mike, the one man who could really stand up to Walter White. And he was working a toll booth. And then Jimmy drove away. Next episode, same thing. Instead of getting antsy, I trusted the writers, that Mike was going to be a part of things, but that they were working up to it. That his introduction into Jimmy's business had to come naturally; had to feel organic.

 If it felt forced in anyway, it would spoil the rest of the series by tainting the story with the perception of fate, instead of as a function of the way things are. It took six episodes, and they stuck the landing. Everything came together seamlessly. Over the course of episodes, Mike and Jimmy's interactions had revealed scant details about themselves to one another, enough that they each resorted to using the other's skills when it suited them best. They've both done one another a solid now, and proven to one another that they can be of use, if not trusted. This is the foundation for what is to come. This is perfectly poured and laid cement, on which everything that comes next will stand strong.

Mike's story was told is a somewhat new way, an extended flashback. Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul have never shied away form flashbacks, but they are usually short, cold-open scenes. Enough to inform a particular character trait that will be relevant in the coming episode(s). Five-O was a solid third a flash back, spelling out in clear detail what brought Mike to this place. We knew he was a cop, we knew he had a granddaughter that he doted on. Now we know why he is an ex-cop, and why his granddaughter was his whole world. We're left with the impression is that Mike's soul had been slowly eaten away long ago, that his gruff exterior was the result of years of having his morals eroded by the system. Losing his son broke him in a deeper way. He wasn't a laughing, happy-go-lucky guy before. But after, he went from being passive to active. His belief that his advice lead to his son getting killed, and extracting some Liam Neeson-style revenge, was enough to take a generally good man and turn him into a killer.

This had two upsides. One, within the confines of this series, we got an excellent amount of backstory and character development, hoisted by a stellar performance from Banks, especially his episode closing confession scene with his daughter-in-law. And, as part of the larger picture, we know where this takes Mike. We know that his granddaughter keeps him grounded, but that a harder, harsher Mike is a man capable of anything. It also backwards informs the relationship he was building with Jesse, which at the time felt like he was training a partner and a replacement. Now, we can view it as a man attempting to put right the mistakes he made with his son.

Mike the Fixer is literally that, a man who for the rest of his life, is trying to fix himself, to make up for the moment that everything went bad for him. The downside is, we cared about Mike before, and we care about him even more now. And because this is a prequel, we know that it still ends badly for him. Mike's story is even more tragic than Jimmy's, because Mike doesn't have the opportunity for redemption. Jimmy loses everything in his life. Mike loses his life. Better Call Saul is making Walter White an even greater villain than he was before.

Then there is Chuck, whose backstory remains mostly uncertain. I expect at some point we'll learn exactly what the circumstances were, two years past, that made Chuck's brain snap, and how Jimmy was likely responsible. I'm content to wait. For now, we got our first good look at the psychosis that Chuck is dealing with. His Electromagnetic sensitivity is completely bogus, obviously, and brought on at least by stress (getting tased counts as stress). Jimmy, of course, is the greatest source of stress in his life. So, he is both enabling Chuck's continued decline, and causing it. What remains less clear is Jimmy's motivation. It would be easy enough to say it is begrudging brotherhood loyalty. I'm beginning to wonder how much of it guilt. Guilt about a specific incident, or the accumulation of a lifetime of Chuck looking after Jimmy, and Jimmy feeling that he now has to return the favour. All in good time, I would hope.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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