Better Call Saul Recap: Living With It

Bob Odenkirk (center). Photo: Ursula Coyote/AMC
Better Call Saul
Episode Title
Editor’s Rating

It makes sense that Mike finally got his own episode — of all the characters at the margins of Breaking Bad, none carried their baggage so obviously. So we see him at the Albuquerque train station, walking around with a bullet in his shoulder that he has to keep hidden from the world — as seamless a metaphor as the show has given us yet. If BB avoided clichés by twisting them into new forms, “Five-O” plows through them with grace and confidence: Dirty cops, vulnerable widows, the sins of the father and the innocence of the son he misled — the architecture is downright institutional. But after watching Mike walk around like a dormant volcano for the last five years, it provided good catharsis: Finally, we get a sense of what made him who he is.

Nearly the whole episode consists of Mike telling his son’s widow how his son came to die. A rookie cop, he wanted to do good. A veteran cop, Mike told him it was okay to do a little bad now and then to grease social wheels. His son Matty abided, but not convincingly enough, and so was led like a lamb to a crackhouse in Philadelphia and shot by the same cops he’d agreed to take money with in the first place. “I broke my boy,” Mike says, tears in his eyes. In context, the word is incandescent: What you do to a wild horse to make it fit for riding, or a dog to make it suitable for a house — a reprogramming of its nature.

Importantly, this isn’t a flashback but the present moment, the story as presented to Stacey as it percolates through Mike’s conscience. In other words, a confession: something that hurts to talk about but will hurt more not to. No surprise that earlier in the episode, we see him getting that bullet removed from his shoulder. As vivid as the story’s scenes are — the cop bar, the empty alley, the cop’s gurgling plea as Mike raises the gun to his face — I never quite feel like I leave that room in Albuquerque, with Mike on the couch, unburdening himself in real time.

As heavy and tortured and show-stealing as Mike’s revelation is, it’s the earlier part of the episode that feels most complex. Mike can’t even bring himself to tell Jimmy what happened to him; Jimmy has to get it secondhand from the cops while Mike sits silently at his side. The scene plays out like the prospective father learning that his wife is pregnant from a doctor — a third-party admission whose detachment paradoxically makes it more intimate, more surprising. Whether Mike lets the Philadelphia cop tell Jimmy his story in order to validate it or because he can’t bring himself to tell Jimmy himself doesn’t matter — the grief is apparent, the distance between them strangely uncrossable. So when Jimmy asks, earlier in the episode, why Mike knew he was going to spill the coffee on that cop from Philadelphia, giving Mike his window to steal the notebook that precipitates the whole episode’s events, we know it’s because Jimmy has seen something in Mike he didn’t expect: a soul.