Mike Ehrmantraut was always a terrific character on Breaking Bad so it’s not too surprising that he quickly becomes the most interesting part of Better Call Saul now that he’s given a little screen time. Jimmy McGill is good, but there’s something darker and more complex about Mike, and the glimpse we got into his past in last night’s episode, “Five-O”, just made him more compelling.
At the end of last week’s episode, Better Call Saul finally shifted its focus to Mike after four episodes and most of a fifth focusing on Jimmy. Who was the woman Mike waited for and how big a trouble was he in with the cops who suddenly showed up at his door? The woman (Kerry Condon) turns out to be Mike’s daughter-in-law Stacey. In a quick flashback, we see Mike arriving by train to Albuquerque and patching up a bullet wound in his shoulder in the train station men’s room before riding back with Stacey to see his beloved granddaughter Kaylee. We find out that Mike’s son was also a Philadelphia cop, that he was killed on duty some months before, that Stacey is suspicious about his behavior in the weeks leading up to his death and that until recently Mike had been hitting the bottle hard.
The Philadelphia police meanwhile are in town to ask Mike some questions about the recent deaths of his son’s former partner and his sergeant. Mike hires Jimmy to represent him despite calming assurances by the cops that they just want to talk. Mike is not a guy who would lawyer up generally, but he figures he can use Jimmy as a decoy (the old spilled cup of coffee trick) so Mike can snatch the cop’s notebook and find out what they know when the interview is finished.
When Mike discovers that Stacey called the police, he confronts her and she explains she was just trying to help them find Mike’s killer, assuming they were the same ones who later killed his partner and sergeant. When Stacey admits that she’s troubled by her husband’s behavior and worries he might have been a bad cop, Mike comes clean. He admits that the whole precinct was a bit dirty, taking money from criminals, but that his son was clean. The mere threat that he would go to Internal Affairs was enough to get him killed by his dirty sergeant and partner. Mike found out and in turn took revenge on them before fleeing to Albuquerque.
We’ve known since Breaking Bad that Mike was a former Philly cop and that something went wrong leading him to a life of crime, but now we know the exact circumstances. He’s a shady character as you’d expect, but not quite as hard core as you might have assumed. He doesn’t excuse his grifting, but he explains it as a small part of a larger corrupt system and this seems reasonable. He also clearly feels a huge guilt and sadness over his son as evidenced by his heavy drinking. At the same time, he has the fortitude to white-knuckle himself back to sobriety. That fits with the stubbornness and determination we’ve repeatedly seen with the character.
Now it remains to be seen how Mike takes the next step down the criminal path and how he takes Jimmy with him… or is it the other way around? Mike already received an offer from the sketchy veterinarian who stitched him up his bullet wound, but for now Mike seems to want to stay on the straight and narrow. We know he won’t remain a parking lot attendant forever, however.