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Better Call Saul Episode 6 Review – ‘Five-O’

“Mattie’s gone, that’s all there is to it.” Well, it appears there’s a lot more to it.

Mike got his own spin off this week, albeit one a lot darker than that of Jimmy McGill, but it was a great change in pace and tone from the past episodes’ more knockabout nature. Episode 6 was like a high quality crime procedural or series finale where the main character finally realizes his mistakes and flaws and comes to terms with them. Seeing Mike battle his moral demons would have been a little more compelling viewing for Breaking Bad fans I must admit: we saw Mike turn into a fully fleshed out character through his origin story. It hit me harder than Mike’s bullet to the shoulder, a masterpiece in mystery storytelling.

I’m going to kick off by talking about the first and last scenes of this episode because they are such a perfect juxtaposition and show what we thought of Mike as a macho, no-nonsense, ex-cop, to find us completely wrong as he reveals that actually he can be as fragile as the rest of us, as his desperately sad past comes to fruition.

When Mike is talking to his daughter-in-law Stacey (who is played by a different actress from the one in Breaking Bad as the actress in that was just an extra) about his son Mattie’s death, the writers kept us engaged even if they couldn’t spill too much information on what happened. They led us to believe Mike would keep it bottled up inside of him when he was downplaying everything and telling Stacey “Mattie’s gone, that’s all there is to it.” But in the final scene, when he does reveal that he effectively corrupted his own son, it comes as a surprise to see Mike finally break out and show what lurks beneath those deadpan eyes. The way he told the story of corrupting his son gives Mike a kind of tragic quality. He is now trapped by his own guilt, but he won’t let that get to him, he’s a smart guy. Mike knows now that there’s only one thing he can do to ensure he can go on the right moral path, and it is to look after Stacey and her kid. It’s a kind of soul trade which Gilligan and Gould love using in their plots.

Jonathan Banks had to showcase so many different sides to Mike in the space of 45 minutes, and you know what: he nailed it.

This episode also played out at just the right pace, even though the scenes were longer than usual, with fewer scenes in the episode; each one meant something different and showcased the many different sides of Mike. You’ve got grandpa Mike, looking after Stacey’s child, you’ve got the vengeful, brooding Mike when he takes out Hoffman and Fenske, and then cool calculated Mike when he asks Jimmy to spill over the detective jacket pocket. That scene with Jimmy in the police questioning room showed us the side of Mike we all know him for – the deadpan, no-nonsense, always two steps ahead guy. He tested Jimmy’s conscience when asking him to spill coffee on the police officer.  It was a test to see if Jimmy had listened to Chuck and was still set on going straight, but old slippin’ Jimmy couldn’t help himself. I thought it was a neat way of advancing Mike’s plot and a way of testing Jimmy’s moral center, effectively killing two birds with one stone.

The directing by Breaking Bad vet Adam Bernstein was the unsung hero of this episode. He used changes in color to express whether the scene we were watching was in flashback or not. For the darker scenes he created a darker mood by using shadows in the corners of the screen to show Mike’s dire situation.

Plus, the writing in this episode took an original way of unraveling Mike’s back-story. Instead of drip feeding it over several episodes, they structured it in a murder mystery where it misled us all until Mike’s final harrowing final speech to Stacey.

But enough about unsung heroes, this episode was about Mike – while not a hero, we have come to understand how human he really is. His choices in the past haven’t been the best, but he’s a man, as Gilligan has said in the past “a man who knows his strengths and weaknesses.” So with that, Mike moves on.  Breaking Bad fans now know his origin, while Better Call Saul fans have the moody parking attendant put into context.

The next episode is titled ‘Bingo’ – after being given the opportunity to do the right thing, Jimmy cashes in a favor.