Better Call Saul: 1.06 Five-O

We’ve seen several glimpses of soon-to-be-enforcer Mike during Better Call Saul so far – working in a parking ticket booth, this incarnation of Mike is both a mystery to Jimmy and the viewer. Even in Breaking Bad, we never really had too much backstory on Mike aside from the fact that he worked as a cop in Philidelphia – so what made Mike the man he is today?

This week’s episode, Five-O, centred heavily on Mike – with Jimmy only appearing in what amounted to an extended cameo. Through a set of flashbacks, we saw Mike’s tragic past unfurl, as it was revealed that he forced his son to become corrupt only for it to backfire on him – it’s a genuinely unexpected backstory that was barely hinted at before, but it works perfectly in fleshing out the reasoning behind Mike’s actions. His guilt, his father/son relationship with Jesse in Breaking Bad and his obsession with providing for his granddaughter – it all elegantly slots into place after this episode. It’s the sort of thing that entirely justifies the spin-off’s existence – not only do we get to witness Jimmy’s journey to becoming criminal lawyer Saul Goodman, but we get to discover new information and back-story on fan favourite characters from the parent show that would never have been revealed otherwise.

While credit must be given to the show’s writers for crafting a back-story that smoothly retroactively contextualizes many of Mike’s actions, a great deal of this episode’s success goes down to Jonathan Banks. Banks has always been a reliable performer; his eye-rolling straight-man act was an enjoyable part of Breaking Bad and has provided plenty of amusing moments in Better Call Saul, but Mike has usually been a fairly stoic and emotionless character. That tough exterior finally cracked this week as Mike lamented his choice to force his son to take part in some illegal goings-on, crying out ‘I broke my boy’ – and Banks utterly nails the moment, delivering an extremely moving performance that expertly conveys Mike’s guilt and internal suffering without feeling overwrought or straying from the Mike that we know and love. It’s been stated before by plenty of reviewers, but it bears repeating: it’s a performance that’s easily worthy of an awards nod.

The short scenes we do get with Jimmy are great fun, as the lawyer tries desperately to hold onto his image of legitimacy. Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks make an excellent funny man/straight man double act, and unlike last week, these light-hearted scenes feel rooted in genuine conflict. The scenes with Jimmy and Mike may be more straightforwardly comedic, but there’s drama there that keeps the scenes tonally in line with the tragic flashbacks we see of Mike, and prevents last week’s problem of tonal whiplash between sections of the episode.

Five-O was possibly Better Call Saul’s strongest element yet, displaying a commendable performance from Jonathan Banks and some compelling background for the character – and it barely features the show’s main character. Not bad for episode six.

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