Better Call Saul 1.06: Five-O

 Posted by on March 10, 2015 at 12:01 am  Better Call Saul
Mar 102015
Photo Credit:Ursula Coyote/AMC

Photo Credit:Ursula Coyote/AMC

How did you know that I would spill that coffee?

Better Call Saul episode 1.06, Five-O, is a total game changer in terms of what this show can be. It was a captivating hour that raced by…you know television is compelling when you’re shocked to see closing credits.

Let me quickly apologize to any fan I insulted when I doubted, last week, that episode titles are all one word (or hyphenated phrase, I guess) ending in “o”. Apparently Alpine Shepherd Boy was originally titled Jello, and I can only imagine the corporate shenanigans that led to a quick renaming.

The titles are glib, as Saul/Jimmy is glib. But Mike is the opposite. Taciturn, to Jimmy’s loquacious. But there’s also something else going on here, which is that the show itself risks being too glib when it’s all Jimmy, and Mike balances that, with deeply felt drama that gave me chills.

Chuck is interesting. Kim is interesting. But none of the other characters provide any gravitas. Without Mike, Better Call Saul lacks soul. Fortunately, Jonathan Banks is more than up to the task.

Who knew the guy had this performance in him? Not me. I’ve loved him as an actor since his first episode of Breaking Bad, but he had a very finite range on that show.

The flashback that we open with—Mike arriving in New Mexico by train—takes place about three months before our main 2002 timeline. Mike has just left Philadelphia, and the rest of the episode will move back and forth in time, telling us the story of how it all happened.

Mike’s voice is different, more melodic. There’s less gravel, less of a monotone. It’s not that he’s sweeter because he’s not yet wounded—he’s deeply wounded. But it hasn’t all settled in yet, and he’s talking to family. He has feeling in this voice, and later in the episode, we’ll see how much feeling. (Emmy reel-level feeling, frankly.)

You look like Matlock.

Meanwhile, Jimmy is still Jimmy, and we see another contrast between Mike and him. Mike knows who and what he is, and who and what other people are. He knows Jimmy will spill the coffee, while Jimmy still thinks he’s Matlock. Now, I’m thinking that Mike will soon be in need of a crooked lawyer, and one who doesn’t know he’s crooked can have uses as well, but I’m also thinking that Mike has just lost his son, and might find it appealing to take a hapless fool who is nonetheless really damn smart under his wing.

Professor Spouse and I argued the whole time that Mike was staggering out of the bar. Is he faking? Is he really drunk? I kept going back and forth, but she was sure it was fake and that he’d broken into the cop car to stash a gun under the seat. In all my life, I’ve never seen anyone quite so good at figuring out exactly what’s going to happen on a television show as my Professor.

It’s a perfect setup, actually. He knows they’re murderers, so he doesn’t doubt they’re capable of it. They provide him with an alibi, because they need one themselves. They leave before he does, no one sees them pick him up, and they take him somewhere isolated—all this because they need the defense, thereby giving Mike his own. It’s an amazing little setup. The only thing is, what do the Philly cops investigating him know, and what will they discover? Tune in next week.


  26 Responses to “Better Call Saul 1.06: Five-O”

  1. And now for something completely different…
    Stray observations:
    I thought the same thing about the Emmys during Mike’s final monologue.
    If only Matty’s killers had seen Godfather II (“I know it was you Fredo”).
    I remember thinking that it was a mistake not to leave Mike’s background and what happened in Philadelphia mysterious and that it would probably be a disappointment. I was wrong.
    Now we know what a smirking Hank and Steve Gomez were told by “some people we know’ on the Philly P.D.
    As to the “amazing little setup” it reminds me of the comment that Jack the Ripper’s victims led him to secluded places because they thought he was their next trick.

  2. I’ve known a couple of big time cops in my day. Captains, inspectors, etc… The one thing they had in common was this AURA. Not merely a commanding presence, but something about them that makes other people bend to their will, through sheer charisma, (the old bullshit and experience routine). You can feel them see through you.
    Cause cops walk around with the awful knowledge that people lie. The best ones do, anyway.
    I knew Saul was gonna do it, cause Mike IS that guy.
    A great bit of inside baseball.
    The liar Ehrmentraut fessed-up at the end, and his aura was broken. He was a cop no more.
    He’s left with the awful truth that he’s part of the rabble that hides behind a lie.
    That is what Mike lost just as much as his son.
    He isn’t the hero to his son, cause his Matt was a better man.
    The view from above was removed, along with a crucial piece of his soul.
    A genuinely great episode. Almost as good as the fabled Ozymandias.

  3. Vince Gilligan and company love to throw in film references. For example, two Breaking Bad episodes from Season One, “Cat’s in the Bag…” and “…and The Bag’s in the River” paid homage to 1957’s SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS.

    So, I’m inclined to think that Mike’s use of an “interesting” dressing for his shoulder wound taken from the Ladies room gave a nod to James Caan’s similiar choice after being wounded in the 1974 cop/buddy movie FREEBIE AND THE BEAN (co-starring Alan Arkin).

    • Could be. It’s also just plain smart. You’re looking at a guy who is going, “What’s the best way to stop blood?” and figures it out. As smart as the choice of Kotex was the simple, “Hey, Janitor” to make sure the coast was clear.

      • I listened to the podcast for this episode (from the link ruthie posted below). No mention of Mike’s wound dressing being inspired by FREEBIE AND THE BEAN. So, I was full of crap on that (as often is the case).

        One thing they all did discuss at great length was the care they took to stage the scene so the audience clearly knew that Mike was going into the Ladies room (hence, shouting “Hey, Janitor”). AND Vince Gilligan specifically wanted a shot of the pad dispenser machine itself because he felt “50 percent of the viewers” (i.e. men) could easily miss it (coming from a household with five women, I personally didn’t need that extra prompting).

        Interestingly enough, having Mike arrive by train WAS a deliberate homage to BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK.

        • Interestingly enough, having Mike arrive by train WAS a deliberate homage to BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK.

          Really? I flashed on that (Spencer Tracy looking grim and mysterious as he got off the train at that movie’s opening) while watching Five-O. (Point for me! 🙂 )

          Something amazing I just discovered among the unanimous great reviews: Five-O was the VERY FIRST television episode Gordon Smith has written. He broke in as Gilligan’s assistant on Breaking Bad, who brought him along to BCS, but this was the first time he was entrusted with an episode.

          • That’s a really good thing about the Gilligan method: staffers have the opportunity for promotion. Editor Kelley Dixon was an assistant to Lynne Willingham during the first season and was able to progress to being the editor. Now she is a member of A.C.E., which is a big honor to be nominated.

            Ginny Hutchinson was a writer’s assistant who became writer of some of the best later season episodes.

            And I’m sure there are others deserving of mention.

    • I wondered, given that I’ve been sent on the errand before, why Mike woudn’t get his dressings from a grocery store. Then I thought the scene was better using the ladies’. Then I thought that his way there would be a bit less exposure for himself.

      Banks’ grimaces, when changing the dressings, were just so grimacy.

      • He needed the dressing right away and didn’t want the daughter in law to know he was shot.

  4. This is a story I’ve been anticipating almost since we first met Mike, but it far surpassed even my high expectations. This was a small tragic masterpiece.

    How much does Mike hate himself? Not just because he was a dirty cop, or that he killed, or even because his son was killed. But he made his son dirty. “I made him like me!” God, the depth of self-hatred in that line! It has me in tears just to think about it again.

    I’ve been a fan of Jonathan Banks ever since he was on the 1980’s series “Wiseguy” (even 30 years younger he was a master of sardonic world-weariness), but this hour was the performance of his lifetime. It was just … titanic. Everything is a highlight: the raging self-deception as he roars “he wasn’t dirty,” the frightening chill coming off him as he dispatches then walks away from his son’s killers. the terrible self-revelation at the end. “Can you live with it?” Just send this episode to the Emmy people. Nothing else is necessary.

    I had a friend (lost touch with her over the years) who had the same gift as Professor Spouse. She could spot which character was going to die on any TV show or movie we were watching, singing out “dead meat” as soon as she figured it out. She was always right.

    • It’s a little disturbing. We were out Sunday afternoon and she suddenly announced, “Hey, I figured it out. Daryl is going to be asked to take over for Eric recruiting people.”


  5. “Five-O. YO, FIVE-O”. That’s what the West Baltimore drug-ring lookouts would call out when the police were coming in (The Wire). Of course this is a reference to the Hawaii Five-O TV series starring Jack Lord.

    That was a bold move Mike pulled. Mopping up with right hand, slipping the notebook with left – with no grimace. Great self-control when interrogated (maybe Mike took that canine Vicodine beforehand). The cops fine the wound, they’ve got probable cause and Mike gets a free trip to Philly.

  6. Silly me to think I was the only one who thought “Emmy nomination”!

  7. There have been rumblings emanating from some viewers of Better Call Saul recently, complaining that the show’s plot has been plodding along at too slow a pace, compared to Breaking Bad. I agreed with that take somewhat, but I’ve kept faith with Vince Gilligan & Company’s ability to tell a story properly. These, after all, are a collection of storytellers who have demonstrated to us previously, that they are more than fully equipped to transport the viewers, from the mind numbing mundane — to white knuckle, edge of your seat, hold your breath television drama. With Monday’s episode, all patience has been rewarded – and then some.

    We were treated a close, clear look at the murky back story of Mike Ehrmantraut. His character has been the most closed and mysterious one in this new show and in Breaking Bad. Last night, much was finally revealed and brilliantly so, with an Emmy-worthy performance by Jonathan Banks! Mike has never been what you’d call “a sympathetic character.” All along, he’s been a distant, calculating, ruthless cypher to the viewers and to the other characters in Breaking Bad & in Better Call Saul. That all changed with this episode and it was more than worth the wait!

    • Mike was a well-liked character on BB. Don’t know how much sympathy he engendered, but he was always a welcome presence.
      After Saul, he was my favorite.
      You need rough guys to make things go smooth in the game.
      Mike is a classy guy, especially for considering what he will do later on.

      • I meant that the details about the death of Mike’s son generated a little viewer sympathy – from me, anyway.

        Perhaps I should’ve said that this disclosure about Mike’s backstory served to add to his humanity or expanded it, really, as in BB, we’ve already seen that when it comes to his granddaughter, he’s a moosh.

  8. I was about to give up on this show. Last night I saw some of the true BB artistic creativity. I’ll keep watching.

  9. 1) Just watched Five-O last night and must say it was phenomenal … definitely up to the raves I’ve seen on Twitter;

    2) Jonathan Banks can pick his Emmy tux now;

    3) One production nit, if I may: Philly bar; Philly cops … not one Philly accent. Not even close. It was Philly by way of Orange County. The lack of grating, nasally DelVal speaking voices was grating unto itself.

  10. The best background on episodes of Better Call Saul is the Better Call Saul Insider Podcast available on Itunes (maybe other sources as well). The podcast is hosted by Kelley Dixon, Emmy-award winner for her work on Breaking Bad. And maybe she will win again for BCS. There’s one posted for every episode of BCS, late on the day after the episode airs. These podcasts are a treasure trove of information.

    or also available on

    The podcast on Five-O is over one hour long and includes commentary from the writers, Vince Gilligan and. Jonathan Banks, who speaks at length about his career, his philosophy of acting and his interpretation of the character of Mike Ehrmentraut.

    I now have even greater respect for Jonathan Banks as an actor and as a man.

    • Thanks for the tip! I’m gonna definitely check that out.

      • Kelley also hosted podcasts on every episode of Breaking Bad, starting with the second season. Fascinating.

        • Those were always good. BB had wonderful commentary tracks and extras on the DVDs. I hope BCS continues that fine tradition.

  11. We’re really enjoying this show — and it has the same subtle brilliance that BB did. Didn’t see too much of Saul in this ep, but understandable to establish Mike’s tragic back story.
    The other new show I love is “Last Man on Earthl very funny!

  12. Ooof! Right in the gut. Did not see that coming … but everything makes better sense now. When Mike’s rookie cop son balked too long about touching dirty money, Mike was trying to protect him from being killed by fellow cops, so he told him to ‘go along to get along.’ “And the bastards killed him anyway!”

    Mike’s revenge plan was clever – he may have even faked being drunk after a couple of months, maybe setting them up … and he wanted to make sure Matt’s murderers were Hoffman and Fensky. That’s why when he hugged their necks and said, “I know it was you.” He knew he was 100% right when they put him in the cruiser and drove out to the boonies to discuss killing him.

    Loved watching his eyes go from hazy-drunk to crisp clarity in the back seat of that cruiser.

    I, for one, did not give a damn as they lay there dying.

    Mike knew he would be a suspect, so made sure he acted drunk when he told the bartender that he sold his car, and he was going to ABQ. A normal thing to do because his daughter-in-law and Kaylee had moved there.

    At first it was hard for me to keep the ‘present’ separate from a flashback …Mike took taxi cabs and carried the traveling bag when he first arrived in ABQ. When his daughter-in-law came to the station to pick him up she was pleasant enough.

    So when he was sitting in his car across the street from her house, and she stared at him ‘funny,’ it must’ve been her being upset after he had fessed up, after his ‘I broke my boy’ confession. She, maybe thinking over whether she could live with it …and he, looking for a sign to be let back in to Kaylee’s life.

    I thought the coffee-spilling notebook-lifting was a little hokey … any sharp detective should’ve seen through that. But it was a way for Mike to find out what the cops knew, and that she had called them. I don’t know if she told them about the money.

    “You know what happened,” Mike says to his daughter-in-law at the end of the episode. “The question is, can you live with it?” He then turns and faces toward the camera, as if asking the audience too …

    That was one powerful monologue and some unbelievably good acting from Jonathon Banks. Yep, Emmy worthy.

    Variety said “Better Call Saul’ Turns Corner From Good Toward Greatness…” I agree.

    Most memorable line – “I broke my boy.”

    My favorite lines – “So what happened, the Mayor didn’t give you enough stickers?” … and, “Don’t let Mr. Ehrmantraut’s dancing eyes and bubbly bon vivant personality fool you. He’s actually, believe it or not, somewhat taciturn.”

    • You have the time sequence wrong.

      1) Mike kills the cops and arrives in ABQ.
      2) Daughter-in-law confronts him about the phone call, Mike refuses to speak with her about it.
      3) Eventually (we don’t see this happen) she’s done with him. She’s angry at his refusal to speak with her about what happened and knows he’s keeping secrets from her, so he cuts her off.
      4) The Philly cops come to town.
      5) He calls her and says “we need to talk.”
      6) He confronts her, asking if she was the one who called the cops. She was. That’s what opens up the conversation about what really happened.

      • Thanks DL, that helps … I thought Mike saw in the notebook that Stacey had called the detectives.

        Sooo … last week when she drove by Mike parked across the street, and stopped to stare at him, it was *after* he’d stormed out of her house angry that she asked if Matt was ‘dirty.’

        Got it…can’t wait until next week.

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