March 2, 2015, 10:00 p.m. (EST), AMC
What does being a local hero earn you? How much are your 15 minutes of fame really worth? Jimmy McGill’s scheme to become locally famous for an act of kindness pays off in “Alpine Shepherd Boy” exactly as one might expect. Jimmy attracts clients, but the sort of clients who wouldn’t know how to get a lawyer otherwise, or who wouldn’t think to hire someone who didn’t appear on the front page of their paper. He gets nutball secessionists like Ricky Sipes, eccentric inventors like the man who has invented a fetish toilet that assures users they are “so big” and asks them to “fill me up,” and the elderly, people who have nowhere to turn for their last wishes except to the smiling young man who appears on the front page of their newspaper or at the bottom of their Jell-O cup.
What Jimmy learns in “Alpine Shepherd Boy” is that screaming “lawyer” at the top of his lungs to the widest possible audience isn’t going to get the job done. Only by identifying a market and honing in on particular areas within that market can he hope to target his advertising for success. And so Jimmy McGill gets into elder law, aiming all of his energies at aping Matlock and charming seniors with the catch phrase “Need a will? Call McGill!” Jimmy is learning what it takes to make a name for yourself in the law, even as he quickly adjusts the sort of name he hopes to make to fit convenience.
Jimmy’s efforts to shape the world to his image are juxtaposed against Chuck’s impotent failure to make his vision of the world a reality, and blatant refusal to accept the facts as they are. That his condition is purely psychological is something we’ve known before tonight, but something Chuck cannot admit to himself. He’s too smart to see the real problem, too self-assured to admit the issues are all in his perception. Chuck can’t make people see things the way he wants them too, but in “Alpine Shepherd Boy” Jimmy has the power to do that for him. Jimmy cannot change the world. He cannot move Heaven and Earth and make Chuck’s condition a purely physical one. But what he can do is refuse to give in and commit his brother. It would be to his benefit to do so (he could then cash out Chuck’s share in the firm), but to do that is to take Chuck’s vision of himself as a bastion of sanity felled by a rare and crippling disorder away from him. All Chuck has is his sense of self, and Jimmy refuses to strip him of that, no matter the cost.
This theme of the power to alter others’ perception of you runs throughout the episode, even if Jimmy’s series of crackpot clients doesn’t really mesh with Chuck’s harrowing experience as well as it might. Chuck has always been the solid figure in Jimmy’s life, the accomplished older brother who could guide him but also judge him and find him wanting. “Alpine Shepherd Boy” suggests Chuck’s fall may be juxtaposed with Jimmy’s rise to prominence, the idea that we are watching a man of dignity and integrity crumble away as we see a slick operator take center stage. This is the struggle we are witnessing occur internally, as Jimmy’s better angels are shouted down, but the episode literalizes it by showing us how far Chuck has fallen even as Jimmy begins to see some hints of success.
Jimmy McGill is finding success, not through good, honest lawyering, but through cheap tricks and gimmickry. It isn’t the dignified path to profit that Chuck prefers, but it is an effective one, a way for Jimmy to break into a legal market that has kept him out in the cold. It’s also, though he may be loathe to admit it, what Jimmy is best at. Slippin’ Jimmy isn’t dead. He’ll never be dead. Slippin’ Jimmy is who James McGill is, at bottom, when the chips are down. He’s good with a grift, smart enough to see all the angles and take the best shot. He’s not an upstanding figure of poise and propriety; he doesn’t have the privilege of Chuck’s self-righteousness. He just has a desire to get by, and a way to make some money in the process. He has the power to make people buy what he’s selling, to make them see the picture he is painting. It’s a power placed in dubious hands, but Jimmy has to play the cards he’s been dealt. And slowly but surely, he’s learning to play them well.
- “I want to secede from the United States.”
- “Fill me up, Chandler! Put it in me!”
- “You’re completely disgusting, you know that?” “Hey buddy, you’re the one with the sex toilet…”
- “Moxie is in such short supply these days.” “Well, I pride myself on my moxie.”
- Nice touch to score Jimmy’s visit to the retirement home to the theme from The Third Man.
"Alpine Shepherd Boy” suggests Chuck’s fall may be juxtaposed with Jimmy’s rise to prominence, the idea that we are watching a man of dignity and integrity crumble away as we see a slick operator take center stage.