Better Call Saul S1E6: “Five-O”
Between his numerous seasons appearing in Breaking Bad and likely being in Better Call Saul for the duration of his run since we know he can’t die in this prequel show, we actually do not know a ton about Mike Ehrmantraut. I was of the line of thinking that if we were ever going to learn more about Mike, it was going to be through small little tidbits sprinkled out over the course of a small but spread out course of episodes. If you were like me, we thought wrong. The show is still called Better Call Saul but it would be a disservice to go on at lengths about Jimmy and his limited airtime in this episode, so he’ll take a backseat and we’ll focus on Mike, seeing as this is for all intents and purposes, his episode.
As we often do, the episode starts with a flashback, this time we get Mike just arriving on from a train, likely from his home town of Philadelphia, to Albuquerque. His daughter in law, Stacey, who we caught a glimpse of last episode, comes to pick him up at the train station. The big takeaway here is Mike showing us a large wound, likely a bullet wound on his left shoulder. After getting it patched up later, he pays Stacey a visit and through a rather cute but out of his tough man mold, display of affection, we learn that Mike has a granddaughter. So that’s granddaughter, daughter in law, where’s Mikes son? We learn that Mike’s son, Matty is dead, being killed in the line of duty and not too long after, two fellow cops from his precinct also turn up dead. That’s where the Philadelphia police department comes in. They’ve made the long trek to the land of enchantment to ask Mike if he knows anything at all that could help them.
Mike is adamant to say anything, anything other than the word “lawyer” to be precise. Enter Jimmy in his extremely limited role. Mike asks for an assist and points out that Jimmy owes him one for his help on the missing Kettleman’s case. This assist makes Jimmy feel a bit sketchy as Mike flat out says that the only reason Jimmy is here is so he can “accidentally” spill some coffee on one of the officers so Mike can pickpocket his notebook to see what they know. I have little doubt Jimmy would do this no questions asked if we jumped forward and changed the time to somewhere during Breaking Bad but he’s still not there yet. Jimmy doesn’t want to entertain the thought and tells Mike he has his back but as a lawyer playing it by the books. That doesn’t prove to be very helpful as Mike doesn’t tell him anything going into the questioning. After that relatively uneventful interrogation, Jimmy decides to go through with Mike’s favor with the coffee. Bob Odenkirk does a tremendous job showing Jimmy’s guilt over this while he confesses that he was going to go through with it and Mike knew it. Jimmy may say the right things but I don’t think he has it in him to be a lawyer the right way. That’s it for Jimmy now though and I’m sure we will get much much more of him next time.
Mike heads home and takes a look at the notebook and finds out that Stacey asked the Philadelphia police to come here after she found a boatload of cash in the lining of one of her suitcases. Mike immediately heads over to talk to her. Stacey guesses that Matty may have been dirty and got into hot water because of it. Mike angrily defends his him saying that his son was absolutely not dirty.
The story flashes back to a very fateful night after Matty’s death. Mike stealthily opens a police car from the outside and places a gun in the backseat though we don’t find that out until later. He then walks into a cop bar and gets his inebriation game on. Mike walks over to two of Matty’s friends from the force and drunkenly says that he knows they did it. Leaving them confused he walks away and gets drinks all the way to last call. The two cops see him drunkenly walking home and offer him a ride, during which Mike clarifies his statement saying that he knows they killed Matty. After that, instead of driving Mike home, they take him to an empty part of town to end his misery. As they argue over how to frame the story, Mike pulls out the gun he had hidden it in the backseat when he broke in to the car. One of the cops takes out the gun they took off of Mike’s person only to find it was unloaded. Advantage to the then revealed completely sober Mike. He kills both of them and walks away with a bullet in the shoulder.
The flash forward back to the present is one of the best scenes we’ve seen up to this point in Better Call Saul. The acting by Jonathan Banks is simply brilliant here. He fills us in on the finer details. Those cops and everyone in that precinct was dirty. Matty didn’t want to play that way though but was confused how to proceed. He asked his father Mike who he idolized what he should do. In absolute heart breaking fashion he confesses he himself was dirty and told his son that he should take the money for the safety of himself and his family. He listens to his father but hesitates and that was enough for him cop friends to kill him. My heart aches as Mike says “I broke my boy, I made him lesser, I made him like me”. Not enough can be said for how well Banks’ acting was in this episode, words do not do it justice.
I do wonder how this episode comes across to someone who hasn’t seen Breaking Bad. Up to this point you really haven’t needed to watch it to understand everything. This is the first time where I would say watching Breaking Bad enhances the episode. Mike strictly from Better Call Saul doesn’t have the entire context that made this episode work so well
Phrase of the Day, Bon Vivant: A person having cultivated, refined, and sociable tastes especially with respect to food and drink. Jimmy uses that to describe Mike albeit sarcastically. I would have cracked up if I knew the definition off the top of my head when Jimmy said that.
Quote of the day, after Stacey asks Mike who killed the two cops. “You know what happened, the question is, can you live with it”?
After so much airtime across two shows, Mike Ehrmantraut finally gets the backstory we crave and the wait is worth it. Jonathan Banks’ tremendous acting makes this already sad story, gut wrenching.