Mike? Mike Ehrmantraut? Is that you? Hey, man, how’ve you been? Ain’t seen you around too much lately. What have you been up to? Oh, just the parking booth thing, huh? I sent you a Facebook invite to my birthday party last mon … oh, you’re not on Facebook? Ok cool, well apparently you get an entire episode this week, so we’re gonna need to you to say more than five words. Aaand Go.
Mike gets his true introduction to the world of “Better Call Saul” in the only way the show apparently knows how–a series of interlocking, overlapping flashbacks. Ahem. Sadly, my high horse is in the shop for repairs this week, and I left my backup soapbox at Oklahoma University, so we’re just gonna have to play this one as it lies.
Anydangway, we open with Mike’s arrival in Albuquerque for the first time. He arrives by train because the man is so old-school he drives a yellow bus with gothic arch windows. He’s greeted by the same lady who gave him the stinkeye at the end of the previous episode, except we’re in a flashback so it’s pre-stinkeye. I hope this episode explains why she will later be so mad at him! I HOPE THAT HAPPENS YOU GUYS.
Also he has a gunshot wound. He keeps this from the lady because it is not nice to show a lady your gunshot wound out in public. That is a private affair.
Through dialogue that consists of literally more words than we have ever seen Mike say to anyone over the entire course of both “Better Call Saul” and “Breaking Bad,” we establish that Mike’s future stinkeye provider is Mike’s daughter-in-law Stace. Mike’s son / Stace’s husband is Matty, who is a dead cop. Both Mike and Stace are pretty broken up about it, but at least Mike isn’t drinking himself to pieces anymore. So Mike’s in town to help out Stace and her daughter, Kaylee.
Stace is still all sad and stuff, but she also decides to take some time to give Mike the third fucking degree about a conversation that *maybe* Mike had with Matty like four days before Matty died. Mike’s gotten pretty good at stonewalling people, though, so a grieving lady who used to be married to a cop ain’t really a thing for him.
But first he has that gunshot wound to attend to. So he finds the nearest ethnic person to direct him to a shady, no-questions-asked veterinarian. No, seriously, he gets into a cab, looks at the dude’s name tag and says, “Francisco, eh? You know this town? How well?” and then is whisked off / smash-cutted to the skeeviest location we’ve yet seen. Just. I mean. Egh.
Okay back to the present. When last we heard from Present-Day Mike (henceforth known as Mike Prime), he was being visited in his Albuquerque home by some Philly cops. The next time we see Mike Prime, he’s at a police station, telling these same cops two cops–big one and a little one–that he wants his lawyer, over and over again. The cops all try to be like, “I really thought you’d be nicer about this kinda thing, what with you having previously been a cop and all,” but we all know that Mike Prime fucking hates cops, so eventually we’re graced with the presence of one James M. McGill, Attorney At Law.
Jimmy only actually gets one scene in this show, which (a) was kind of a nice break and (b) was a fantastic scene that made me miss the character. Do with that information what you will, but when a cop tells Jimmy he looks like Matlock and he says, “No, I look like a young Paul Newman, dressed as Matlock,” just try not to fall in love a little bit, you heartless son of a bitch.
Jimmy and Mike Prime are talking in an interrogation room, and Jimmy’s wondering what’s going on, but Mike Prime doesn’t have time to give a shit about that. What he wants Jimmy to do is spill coffee on the little cop so Mike can lift the dude’s notebook. Jimmy totally balks because he is a straight shootin’ Matlock now, and Mike Prime is just all “yeah sure bro.”
So now the cops get to start talking, and here comes another avalanche of backstory. Ready? Deep breath:
About nine months ago, Matty, Mike’s son, went into a crack den with two of his cop buddies, names of Hoffman and Fenski. H&F made it out alive, Matty did not. Then about three months ago, H&F turn up dead in a deserted parking lot. That’s three cops dead in the space of six months. Mike was at the same bar as H&F the night they died, mainlining Jack Daniels, so the cops want to prod Mike Prime’s hazy, drunken memory, about any memories from that night. Oh also, interesting tidbit: Past-Tense Mike (henceforth known as Mike Alpha) left Philly for Albuquerque the morning after H&F were found dead. Neat!
Mike Prime says he was drunk and doesn’t remember anything from back when he was Mike Alpha, and he apologizes for wasting the Phily cops’ time, and then they all stand up and Jimmy spills coffee on the little one like we all knew he was gonna. Later, Jimmy wants to know why he knew he was going to go through with “that third-rate Marx Brothers routine,” and Mike Prime just snorts. Great stuff, guys.
Mike Prime looks through the notebook and realizes they’re building a case against him for the murders of Hoffman and Fenski, and then makes a mysteeeeerious phooooone call: “Hey. It’s me. We need to talk.”
But before that conversation happens, we’re sucked back through the timestream, with Mike Alpha pounding on Stace’s door at ass o’clock in the morning. Stace was looking through some of Matty’s old things and found like $6,000 bucks, so she called the Philly cops because she’s a beautiful naif in a cold, cruel world. This pisses off Mike royally because that probably means that Matty was a crooked cop and died for crooked cop reasons. Mike’s all “MATTY WASN’T DIRTY god DAMN YOU” and storms out. The chronology gets weird here, but I think that this brings us to the stinkeye moment. You’ll see in a second, I think. Fucking time travel, I swear.
And it gets even worse now because in the next scene, we’re flashing even FURTHER back to where a far-past-tense Mike (henceforth known as Mike Bravo) is hatching a plan on the cold streets of Philadelphia[ref]One of my favorite pieces of this show’s visual shorthand is where every scene not set in Albuquerque has snow on the ground.[/ref]. Mike Bravo walks to a bar and sees a particular cop car of interest and decides to break into it for spooky reasons. He then proceeds to go get heroically drunk before spotting two cops who look at him all bro-style. Could it be? Hoffman and Fenski? Only one way to find out. Mike Bravo stumbles over to them, wraps them both up in a big hug and slurs, “I KNOW IT WAS YOU” and then proceeds to close down the bar.
He’s busy wobbling home when H&F pull up beside Mike Bravo and offer him a ride home. When he refuses, they manhandle him into the car, take his gun away and set off on a drive. Mike burbles some unseemly things about how he knows they killed his son and how he’s gonna prove it, and they get that Scaredy Cop look on their faces and pull into a deserted parking lot.
Mike Bravo plays it straight drunk until they get out of the car, at which point he snaps to and pulls out the gun he hid under the cushions when he broke into their cruiser earlier. Then it’s back to stumbleville. The cops lean Mike against a pole while they consider what they’re doing. “He couldn’t take it anymore, so he decides to eat his gun. Tragic, but anyone could see this coming. We’re doing him a favor!” says one idiot cop to the other … until Mike, perfectly sober, says, “Yeah, that’s what I would have done” and then it turns into the motherfucking OK Corral. Mike gets one in the shoulder (duh) but the cops both get got hard and fast. And then Mike walks off to find a train station.
This leads into the best Mike Ehrmantraut scene yet. The episode doesn’t give us too many clues about the chronology–this could either be Mike Alpha or Mike Prime having a conversation with either a pre-stinkeye or post-stinkeye Stace, but who knows? It’s great either way because here’s the deal: Matty wasn’t crooked, but everybody else at that Philly precinct was, and so when Matty got offered a taste by H&F, he didn’t know what to do. He called Mike, telling Mike he wanted to go to Internal Affairs and blow the whole thing open, but the thing about Mike is that he’s crooked too. So he told Matty to take the money. Matty took the money, but he hesitated a little bit, and so they killed him anyway. This ends with Mke saying, “I was the only one who could get him to debase himself like that. And it was for nothin’. I made him lesser. I made him like me. And the bastards killed him anyway.” Jonathan Banks totally cries during this scene, too, if you’re into hard men shedding tears.
Stace seems pretty forgiving of Mike basically getting his son killed, but she’s still gotta get everything out in the open, so she says, “Hoffman and Fenski. If they killed Matty, who killed them? What happened?” And Mike says, “You know what happened. Question is, can you live with it?”
Despite the stupid chronology, this is a clear sign that this show has a good yarn to spin no matter which characters it chooses to focus on. That’s why I’m giving this week’s episode a rating of…