Give me a minute to pick my heart up off the floor and reassemble it into something resembling an internal organ again. Tonight’s Better Call Saul could more aptly be titled All About Mike and I’d be completely okay with that. “5-0” added a heavy dose of drama, the likes of which we hadn’t yet seen on the show, and gave us a long awaited for backstory for fans of Breaking Bad. Poor Mike.
Hit the jump for the full recap and review.
We open in a flashback. After a moment of pretty scenery we catch up with Mike (Jonathan Banks), getting off a train in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where a woman named Stacy, who doesn’t exactly appear overjoyed, is there to meet him. After an awkward exchange of greetings, and a more awkward hug, he tells her he has to use the bathroom and will meet her out front.
We follow Mike to the women’s restroom… where he buys himself a maxi pad before going into the men’s. Turns out, he’s got a nasty looking bullet hole in his shoulder and he’s in need of a little first aid.
And roll the credits. Man, that theme is catchy.
At Stacey’s house, Mike is pushing a girl on the swings and it’s the happiest, most comfortable we’ve probably ever seen him. At least on this show. We find out her name is Kaylee and Breaking Bad fans all say a collective “Ahhhh.” Her father Matt has recently died, and Stacey wants some answers from Mike. Had Matt been acting any differently? Did Mike notice anything unusual? And so on.
Mike denies any knowledge of changes in Matt but Stacy is clearly not buying it. She heard Matt on the phone, days before he died, angry. Matt never got angry.
“I think he was talking to you,” she says to Mike.
Mike claims she’s looking for someone to blame and they part ways as awkwardly as they met. Worse, actually, Stacey is mad. By now it’s fairly clear Matt was Mike’s son. But in case you missed the clues, haven’t seen Breaking Bad, nor this episode… well actually, no, I won’t apologize for spoiling. What on earth are you doing here, reading a recap? Go! Go now and watch!
Mike leaves, waits for a cab, hops in, and sizes the driver up. Apparently deciding he can trust the guy, Mike has himself delivered to a local vet who stiches up his bullet wound. All patched up by the shady vet, Mike declines an offer of “work” and we jump to the present.
The detectives who knocked on his door at the end of last week’s episode are questioning Mike. He’s not particularly chatty. At all. He’ll say only one word: “Lawyer.”
Better Call Saul!
And he does. I knew that business card from last week would come in handy.
“You wanna tell me what we’re doing here?” Jimmy asks. Mike explains he needs Jimmy to pull a little scam on the cops. When they come back in, he wants him to toss his coffee over the cop’s jacket so Mike can lift his notebook.
Jimmy refuses to play along with this scheme. He’s on the level now!
In case the scene with Stacey wasn’t clear enough, it’s time for a little exposition.
"Don't let Mr. Ehrmantraut's dancing eyes and bubbly bon vivant personality fool you, he's actually, believe it or not, somewhat taciturn."
Snort. It was the one light moment of the episode and it was a good one.
Jimmy wants to know what Mike is being questioned about and the cops provide his answer. Matt, Mike’s son, was also on the police force in Philly, same as Mike. He, his partner, and a third officer responded to a call about shots fired and Matt didn’t make it out alive. There were no suspects, and the other cops have turned up murdered two months ago.
Right about the time Mike moved to Albuquerque…
But the cops aren’t fingering Mike; they claim they just want “to help catch the bastards.”
Mike claims he knows nothing. He saw them the night they died, and that it was simply coincidence that he moved to Albuquerque the next day.
Is anyone buying this? Not really, but the interview ends and surprise, surprise, Jimmy pulls the “bump and dump”, spilling the coffee on the officer like Mike had asked.
Out of the courthouse and in Jimmy’s car, Mike contemplates the stolen notepad. Jimmy is riled up. “In case you missed it, your friends from Philly back there think you killed two cops.”
“Yup,” Mike replies.
Well then. That wasn’t exactly a denial. The plot thickens.
Back at Mike’s place, he studies the contents of the notepad. He doesn’t seem to find much but he does see Stacey’s name and he calls her up. “We need to talk,” he says.
He shows up at her house and accuses her of calling the cops. She admits she had. She’d found $5,000 stashed away after Matt’s death. Stacy believes Matt was dirty but she doesn’t care. She just wants whoever killed him to pay. Mike can barely restrain his anger at her claims about him being dirty, and finally he snaps.
“My son wasn’t dirty,” he barks before storming out.
Back to the past and we are in Philly again. Mike breaks into a cop car parked outside a bar and though we don’t see what he’s up to, clearly he’s got a plan.
Inside the bar, later on, Mike is rip roaring drunk. He walks up to the two cops, and greets them like friends. “I know it was you,” he whispers.
Closing time and Mike is beyond tanked. He tells the bartender he’s walking home, adding that he’s moving to New Mexico, and we follow him as he stumbles along the street.
The two cops pull up next to him, asking him if he wants a ride. He refuses, but they won’t take no for an answer. They put him into the car, first searching him and removing his weapon.
“You killed him. You killed Matty,” Mike says from the back seat when they question what he was talking about earlier. “You killed him for nothing. You killed him because you were scared of what you thought he might do. You got him in that crack house and you staged it. You made it look like a junkie with a gun. But it was you. I know it was you, and I’m gonna prove it.”
The cops are clearly guilty and the drive doesn’t end at Mike’s house but at an abandoned looking lot.
They pull Mike out of the car and tell him to wait, they’re gonna work this thing out. The cops walk away and arrange their story but Mike isn’t the drunk they think he is; he’s very much sober. Indeed, Mike had a plan and the whole night has been a ruse. He’s planted himself another gun when he broke into the car, and he uses it to take the dirty cops down. He takes a bullet to his shoulder for his trouble. I can’t say I feel bad for these cops.
“You let some things slide. You look the other way. You bust a drug dealer with more cash than you’ll ever earn in a lifetime. Some of it doesn’t make it back into evidence? So what? You took a taste. So did everyone else. That’s how you knew you were safe. It’s like killing Caesar; everyone’s guilty. Matt wasn’t guilty. I was. Everyone was in that precinct.”
And so Mike finally confesses his sins to Stacey.
The scene is heartbreaking and Jonathan Banks nails it. Matt refused to play dirty, wanted to go to Internal Affairs, and he was going to get himself killed. Mike convinced him to take the money, thinking it would keep him safe from the cops on the take. Then, two days later, he was killed anyway.
“I broke my boy,” he cries. “I broke my boy.”
And this episode broke my heart.
“5-0” was a complete departure in tone from what we’ve seen so far from Better Call Saul. Jimmy made an appearance in only one scene and though it was a needed moment of lightness, I didn’t miss him for the rest of the episode, which solely focused on Mike and his backstory. The episode flew by, and though the story was fairly simple, I found myself checking the time at the end to make sure it wasn’t a shorter episode. It wasn’t. It was just that good.
I cannot praise Jonathan Banks enough for his performance. This beloved character of so few words was suddenly given almost all of them and they were delivered with a masterful touch.
I can’t wait to see what next week brings, especially now that the bonds between Mike and Jimmy have surely been strengthened after their courthouse escapade.
Better Call Saul airs at 10pm/9c on AMC.