When Better Call Saul first dropped I was impressed but also skeptical. I was impressed with the depth that the writers had put into Jimmy McGill AKA Saul Goodman. I felt like the show had a real star that was both entertaining and intense. Kind of like what they had in Walter White except more charismatic.
My skepticism arose from doubting they could team Jimmy up with someone equally as entertaining as himself. My logic was that you don’t have Breaking Bad without Walter White and Jesse Pinkman. Both Walt and Jesse brought the darkness and intensity that fueled the series to success. But Jesse also brought some lightness through his innocence and his occasional humor. My thought was if Jimmy was bringing the lightness, humor and half the intensity, who will bring the darkness? Well it looks like episode six of the young series has finally answered the question.
We first met Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) in the mind-blowing season two finale episode titled “ABQ” in Breaking Bad. He introduced himself to Jesse Pinkman by stating, “Saul Goodman sent me” before helping Jesse clean up all evidence of drug usage in the house.
As the series progressed Mike became a fan favorite. He always showed up when everything was going wrong for Walt, Jesse or Saul. With him he brought a sort of calm. Once we saw Mike we knew he would find a way out of whatever mess was going on.
Throughout time we learned a little about Mike. He was a quiet guy who kept to himself. He was Liam Neeson level skilled in combat and he had a sweet spot for his granddaughter. If he got angry he did so quietly. Almost like a disappointed parent more than an angry parent.
Mike always had an intrigue about him. We knew something wasn’t right with his past but hell if he was going to whine about it. But viewers wanted to know his story. This episode finally provides what we sought. And it isn’t pretty.
In the present day Mike is getting questioned about some former cops in Philadelphia that his son, Matty, worked with. Before Mike allows this questioning to go any further he pushes over a business card with Jimmy McGill’s name on it (imagine if Jimmy had given Mike a Jell-O business card) and coldly stated, “Lawyer”.
McGill is called and wants answers from Mike. Mike refuses and even asks for his help in getting a notebook off of one of the officers. Slippin’ Jimmy refuses to agree to do the con but eventually he actually does go through with it. A classic Slippin’ Jimmy move.
As we move into the past we find out that Mike’s son, Matty, died while on duty in mysterious circumstances. Matty left behind an alcoholic father, a young wife, a baby and two crooked cops that used to be his partners.
Mike drinks himself into an apparent dizzy. He struggles his way towards the two crooked cops and states, in his best J.K. Simmons impression, “I know it was you”, which the guilty cops have absolutely no response to.
At the end of the night Mike leaves barely managing to walk. The two crooked cops pick him up and drive him to a dark corner of Philadelphia with the plans of disposing of Mike. Suddenly sober, Mike takes action into his own hands and shoots the two officers.
The next day Mike finds himself in Albuquerque, New Mexico visiting his granddaughter and his daughter-in-law. Fast forward a bit and his daughter-in-law (Stacey) accuses her dead husband of being a crooked cop. Mike does not take this kindly and reveals the truth. The entire Philadelphia P.D., including Mike, was crooked with the exception of Matty.
Mike then stops just short of admitting to the murders of Matty’s ex-partners and states, “You know what happened, the question is, can you live with it?”
The brilliance of Jonathan Banks cannot be overstated. Through sheer patience and skill, Banks laid the groundwork of the calm and quiet character in 28 episodes of Breaking Bad. We waited another 5 episodes of Better Call Saul before we learned of his angry, dark, alcoholic, and brutal past. We saw him cry and scream. We saw a side of Mike Ehrmantraut that we had never seen before. And Banks made it all work.
Think of it as an origin story for Mike. Or think of it as character development for an important character to the Breaking Bad universe. Most importantly though, think of this episode as the primary reason why we should be grateful and excited for Better Call Saul.