Alex Casey recaps the sixth episode of Lightbox’s much anticipated Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul.
Can I just that this episode is so bloody beautiful and heart wrenching and perfect. It is easily my favourite so far, felt incredibly reminiscent of the Breaking Bad bottle episode “Fly”. Standing apart from the rest of Better Call Saul so far, “5-0” feels more like a short film, steering away from the titular character to pull focus on Mystery Mike.
The episode takes us out of Albuquerque immediately, on a time travelling train between Mike’s past and his present. A brief reminder: last week’s episode ended with Mike being apprehended at his front door by a mob of police officers. Mike gets off the train and meets a woman, then heads quickly to the (women’s) toilet to purchase a sanitary pad. What is it with this week and unconventional uses for sanitary pads?! He’s been shot in the shoulder, and is using it to cover the wound.
At home with his granddaughter, the lead weights start to descend upon my heart. I remember her from Breaking Bad. Knowing Mike’s ultimate fate, and the hellish spiral that awaits him, makes every scene so crushingly foreboding. We learn that his son was a policeman, and was killed fairly recently. That’s why he tried so hard to provide for her in Breaking Bad. It’s funny how much of this otherwise grimy and crime-ridden world is actually hung on the sweet and simple idea of providing for family. If only everyone could just get a paper run or something.
The pace slows down dramatically into the episode, facts slowly leaking through the conversation not unlike Mike’s still bleeding wound seeping through his shirt. Leaving his daughter-in-law’s house, he visits a vet to patch him up. The vet offers to put a cone around his neck, but Mike politely declines.
From here we cut to the present (well, er, the past…but you know what I mean), with Mike in questioning. He refuses to say anything else other than “lawyer”, and I have a feeling he might have one in mind. Low and behold, Jimmy McGill turns up looking like a “young Paul Newman” or at least the Colonel from KFC. Mike wants Jimmy to spill coffee over the policeman’s notes, a technique which I believe you cover in your second semester at law school.
The cops think that Mike is involved in the killing of two police officers. What they don’t know yet is:
a) he did and
b) the two dead cops were responsible for the death of his son
Jimmy and Mike are the ultimate double act, the stoic silent statue and the hyperactive guy in a tailored suit. It’s so exciting to see the pivotal moments in their partnership unfold, and even better to have it all make perfect sense. Mike needs Jimmy to be his professional coffee-spilling duffer – literally and metaphorically. They complete each other.
With another seamless transition back into Mike’s heavy-drinking past, the smothering sound design captures exactly what the world sounds like when you are really, really drunk. Although intoxicated, Mike’s task is clear – he’s ready to avenge his son’s death. As if the tone could get any darker, we are thrown into the blackest pit as Mike puts his arms around the two cops and whispers “I know it was you.” Chills. Galore.
Faking a drunk walk out of the bar, the cops follow Mike and decide to pick him up (dispose of him). Unlucky for them, Mike whips out his own gun when they aren’t looking and shoots both of them, managing to sustain only one bullet to the shoulder (cue the sanitary pad). It’s the cold, swift execution from the Mike that we’ve come to know and love, but this one hits so much harder than the silent killings of Breaking Bad yesteryear. This is Mike acting on behalf of Mike – to bring his own form of justice to his family.
The final scene almost drowned me in torrential tears. The conversation, spanning what feels like a million lifetimes, is between Mike and his daughter-in-law, revealing why he did what he did. An incredible gravelly voiceover (that sounds like something out of a Steinlager commercial) bridges us to Mike’s final monologue. “You let some things slide, you let some things go the other way,” he explains, head in his hands. The lack of music, distractions, anything else in the scene made my mouth as dry as the Sahara. “I try, I try,” Mike laments to just off-camera “my boy was stubborn, my boy was strong.”
From someone who has shown almost zero emotion throughout the course of six episodes, nothing has ever been more powerful than this revelation about his son falling off the tracks, “I made him lesser, I made him like me.”
The episode ends with Mike posing a simple question to his son’s widow, himself and even the audience about the nature of morality and forgiveness:
“You know what happened, the question is: can you live with it?”
Holy crap. What an episode.