A prequel, when done correctly, isn’t a series of not-so-subtle winks and nods and “Hey, remember this?” moments (looking at you, Gotham). When successful, a prequel not only helps us to better understand a character and his/her motivations, but adds additional and perhaps needed shading, taking them from a character with maybe only one or a few dimensions, to a more fully-formed being. Better Call Saul may not have the same sense of urgency or momentum as its predecessor, but its study of character is no less interesting, proving some of that aforementioned shading to a guy we mainly knew as a sly lawyer and sometimes sleaze.

It remains to be seen if Better Call Saul can sustain itself for more than one season, but spending time with Jimmy McGill before he became Saul Goodman is enjoyable for the most part. I’m still not entirely sure that the series has earned those lingering, extended shots that were one of the hallmarks of Breaking Bad, and for a show that’s done well to separate itself from its predecessor, those shots feel unnecessary—and they subtly encourage comparisons that aren’t needed.

But “Alpine Shepherd Boy” is another step in the right direction for a series that feels like it’s only improving incrementally with each episode, building on a pretty solid premiere. Through the electromagnetic-hypersensitivity of Chuck, we get to know Jimmy better as a human being. After a run-in with the law over that stolen newspaper and a resulting freak-out, Chuck winds up in the hospital, where the doctor is reasonably skeptical about his “condition,” suggesting that Jimmy have him committed against his will. We learn that Jimmy isn’t the type of man to betray the one person who ever had faith him, returning the favor by having faith in Chuck’s disability.

For a brief moment, the Saul Goodman we know and enjoy peeked his head out, threatening to have Chuck committed if it meant that he could take financial responsibility for his older brother and cash him out of the law firm. But this isn’t Saul Goodman—this is Jimmy McGill, and his threat is an empty one intended only to agitate.

The concept of will is one explored in tonight’s hour, from the wills Jimmy makes a business out of composing for the elderly, to his enduring will to care for his brother. Where there is a will, there is a way, and Jimmy finds that the elderly provide a nice little business opportunity, a feeling of gratification that is undercut by his self-doubt when it comes to Chuck, whose disability seems more and more like all-consuming anxiety—this is evidenced by the conversation the brothers share upon Chuck’s return home; once Jimmy explains the billboard situation and assures his brother that he’s not backsliding, Chuck seems to recuperate almost instantly. The doctor turning on Chuck’s electric bed functions in the hospital without his knowledge, which predictably elicited zero response, is yet another piece of evidence.

Jimmy is also hindered somewhat by his billboard shenanigans. Thanks to news coverage, he’s getting a ton of calls from prospective clients, but like most media coverage, this event is bringing a bunch of well-meaning kooks out of the woodwork: A man who engineers a talking toilet, which utters unintentionally suggestive phrases to children, and a wealthy southerner who wishes to secede his entire property from America and create his own country (and who tries to pay Jimmy in his own useless manufactured money).

Pairing these interactions with Chuck’s health scare allows us to understand how and why Jimmy is so patient and kind with these weirdo clients—he’s been dealing with the eccentricities of his brother for a long, long time. During that time, he’s become empathetic and non-judgmental, qualities that make for a good lawyer. Couple that with his con-man past and you’ve got a real winner of an attorney, albeit not the most ethical. We’ve yet to see Jimmy move beyond clever schemes into anything resembling the criminal, but Saul never was an outright criminal, anyway. He skirted the law, but never really broke it, deluding himself into thinking he was still a morally upright guy.

We’re already seeing hints of that delusion, as Better Call Saul is more concerned with providing a prequel story that explores character and psychology rather than one that explores more tangible connective elements. Smart choice.

Additional Thoughts:

  • “Hey buddy, you’re the one with the sex toilet.” Sex Toilet, coming this fall to AMC.
  • Of course Saul models his suit off of Matlock to appeal to the elderly.
  • I am beginning to think that maybe Golden Girls would have been more delightful if they just sat around eating Jell-O all the time.
  • If Jimmy doesn’t manage to pick up a career in elder law, he’s got a future in Hummel figurine law, for sure.
  • Tonight, we see what happens when good ol’ grouchy Mike gets off of work: he has coffee at a diner before parking outside of a woman’s home—a woman who stops her car to glare at him for an uncomfortable moment before rolling on by. So, we can assume this is his daughter, yes?