When we left the McGill brothers at the end of last week’s Better Call Saul, things were looking up for Jimmy and not so much for Chuck, who risked going to outside long enough to make an unauthorized purchase of his neighbor’s paper only to be further traumatized by what he found on the front page.
And that is where we pick up in this week’s episode, “Alpine Shepherd Boy.”
When a pair of cops appear on Chuck’s doorstep to investigate the “crime,” Chuck points out that the neighbor actually made a tidy profit on the exchange and then attempts to engage them in a discussion of probably cause. One cop heads around back, peers in the window and calls his partner to join him. Wires are pulled from their fuse boxes and cases of campfire fuel line the floor. Concluding that Chuck is manufacturing drugs, they return to the front door and threaten to kick it in if Chuck doesn’t open up. And fast.
Chuck says he will let them in if they promise to leave everything electronic out there. Especially their Tasers. They don’t take the deal.
In the meantime, Jimmy is enjoying the spoils of the notoriety his canned heroics on the billboard brought about. Or trying to, anyway.
Potential client No. 1 is Ricky Sipes, a wealthy desert cowboy who lives in a gated estate surrounded by his taxidermied trophies. In his Foghorn Leghorn style, Ricky tells Jimmy he has two insights about him — one is that Jimmy isn’t afraid to put himself out there. Correct. Obviously. Insight No. 2 is that Jimmy believes in the real America. Which is all about freedom. Self-sufficiency. Oh, and one more thing: Ricky plans to secede from said America, real or otherwise, and become, he explains, “America’s Vatican City.”
Makes sense to Ricky and Jimmy is perfectly willing to let it make sense to him, too, if the price is right. How about a cool mil, his host offers. Half now, half when it’s all over? Cash OK? Ricky excuses himself briefly, then serves Jimmy his retainer on a platter. Jimmy picks up a bundle, slides the paper binding out of the way … and finds himself gazing at Ricky’s face.
“Tax-free and backed by the full faith and credit of the Sovereign Sandia Republic!” Sipes crows triumphantly. “You’re getting in on the ground floor.”
Close. So close.
Jimmy doesn’t fare much better with potential client No. 2, an enthusiastic suburban sort named Roland who is looking for the perfect patent attorney before Fisher-Price or Playskool get wind of his newest invention. He leads Jimmy to the garage and pulls a blue tarp from his creation; it’s your basic white commode.
“I may have seen one of these before,” says Jimmy, realizing this appointment is headed straight into one of these, too.
It’s not the toilet, says Roland. It’s the attachment: Tony the Toilet Buddy, his potty-training son Chandler’s new best pal. Whenever the user, er, completes a transaction, Tony offers a particular brand of encouragement and praise. Roland drops a block in the bowl to demonstrate. Then another. And another. And, sure enough, a vaguely Tony the Tigerish voice offers up an assessment of what just went down in ways that would suggest Tony the Toilet Buddy moonlights as a 1-900 operator. “I want all it, Chandler!” says the toilet. “Fill me up right now.”
Maybe Chuck isn’t so crazy after all.
And maybe the third time is the charm. Especially since Potential Client No. 3 is — in one of the best visual moments of an episode packed with them — cheerfully descending the stairs in a stair lift, while Jimmy waits in the company of Hummel figurines.
For his efforts, Jimmy lands an honest $140 sorting out who among the elderly woman’s relatives gets which cherubic child statuette — including the coveted Alpine Shepard Boy peacefully minding his little sheep — even though watching her mine her purse for the bills clearly twinges him. Jimmy knows the pinch of a tight budget, even if it does buy you peace of mind.
Back at the salon (and again in the glow on the fish tank which makes these scenes among my favorites) Jimmy polishes Kim’s toes a nice shade of turquoise and entertains her with impressions of Tony the Toilet Buddy and the rest of his day’s adventures. “Even your lousy days are more interesting than my good ones,” she complains good-naturedly, lending further evidence that come hell, high water, HHM drama and whatever caused their romance to cool, these two genuinely see each other as a port in myriad storms. It’s a nice, honest — and altogether too rare — moment between a male and female TV character and I’m a little sad when Kim’s phone rings and interrupts their easy exchange.
Howard is on the other line. Turns out his business card was the only contact information the officers could find in Chuck’s house. And Chuck is lying catatonic in a hospital room in which everything is electrified. A fate worse than death for Jimmy’s big brother.
Jimmy storms in and darkens the room, unplugging the bed and the monitors and chucking all of his personal electronics in the chart holder outside the door. He convinces Dr. Cruz (Clea DuVall) to do the same, explaining that Chuck is allergic to electricity. Dr. Cruz doesn’t believe that’s the case. A psych evaluation might prove useful. “I’d prefer not to,” says the newly revived Chuck.
He explains his “electromagnetic hypersensitivity” and the physical torment it causes him. Dr. Cruz asks about its onset. Two years. Chuck asks Kim if she’s ever seen him display signs of mental illness before that and she shakes her head — but it is clear she doesn’t exactly mean no. In the meantime, Dr. Cruz has switched his bed back on in full view of Jimmy and Kim, but unbeknownst to Chuck. Chuck doesn’t flinch. Jimmy is pained, but — one suspects — hardly surprised.
Dr. Cruz asks to speak with Jimmy out of Chuck’s earshot, explaining that there is a not so fine line between protecting and enabling, and if Chuck can be cured of this situation and go back to gainfully employing his full and impressive intellect, why would Jimmy not want that?
Down the hall comes Howard sporting a Hamlindigo polo and an air of concern. He tells Jimmy he will do whatever it takes to prevent Chuck from being committed and Jimmy fully understands his intentions. “Your cash cow is leaving the pasture,” he tells Howard. But he really just wants Howard to twist in the wind a little; he only plans to take his brother home.
And when they get there, Jimmy suggests that Chuck only seems to suffer setbacks whenever he thinks Jimmy is slipping back into Slippin’ Jimmy ways. He assures Chuck that all that the billboard was about was showmanship — no harm, no foul and a nice little burgeoning business in elder law.
He intends to make good on the statement. Back at his office, Jimmy tunes into Matlock, earnestly making notes and sketches about the folksy jurist’s senior-pleasing sartorial style. Never mind the Hamlindigo — Jimmy’s swathing his future success in shades of baby blue and oatmeal.
And also in Jello. It’s snack time at a local nursing home — gelatin cups and juice boxes all around. And at the bottom of those cups is the face of Jimmy McGill. As the seniors puzzle over it, the real James M. McGill appears in a nice beige Matlock suit, charming the residents with compliments, backslaps and schmooze.
High on a day gone right for a change, Jimmy pulls up to the parking booth and greets his frenemy Mike. AKA “John Wilkes Booth. Booth Tarkington. No?” Mike is not amused. But he is relieved that Jimmy finally has the appropriate number of stickers, be still his heart.
Night turns to dawn and Mike hands the booth over to the first shifter, heading to a diner for breakfast and making one more stop on his way home. He watches from his car as a young woman in scrubs leaves her little house and backs out of the driveway. She spots him and slows to a stop, making eye contact, but neither saying a word. They are clearly not strangers. A shadow of pain passes over Mike’s otherwise emotionless face.
Breaking Bad fans know that Mike is — was — a doting grandfather, so is this our first look at the child’s mother? Whomever she is, she pulls away.
Bad fans also know the circumstances that brought about the end of Mike’s policing career. And when Mike heads home to watch TV in his darkened living room, and when a shadow passes in front of the crack in the curtains and there’s a forceful rap at the door, he picks up a bat and answers. “You’re a long way from home,” he says the detective on his doorstep. “You and me both,” says the cop.
Ready to hypothesize? What do you think really sent Chuck into a electromagnetically-sensitized spiral? What’s keeping Jimmy from getting help for Chuck? Revenge on HHM? The chance to be the stand-up brother for once? A deeper understanding of who his brother really is? Who is the girl in the Subaru? Why are the cops calling for Mike? And would the Toilet Buddy make the best addition to a house party ever? Sound off in the comments section below.
New episodes of Better Call Saul premiere Monday nights at 10/9CT on AMC.
Photos AMC/Gene Page