You know that feeling you get after watching a gut wrenching, emotional, downright brilliant episode of television? They way you have goose bumps on your arms, your heart is slightly racing, and when it is over, the snap back to reality is a little unnerving? If you don’t, then you haven’t seen Better Call Saul’s “Five-O”. I highly suggest you go watch it now before this review spoils you.
Mike!: We haven’t even heard his last name until this episode, but we finally get a Mike-centric episode. If you haven’t seen Breaking Bad, “Five-O” may not hold that much gravity for you, but Mike was arguably the best character in Saul‘s parent show, so it was great to get a real backstory to the man of few words.
All the camera angles: From the get-go we are set up for a beautifully shot episode. From the train entering Albuquerque (those majestic mountains of the West), to the transitions from past to present, to the climax scene that felt very noir, to the final scene where Mike makes his confession against a row of blinds which resembled a set of bars behind him. I could gush about this alone, but hey, that would be boring.
Pacing: The first half of the episode had a clear theme: denial. Mike never verbally admitted that he killed the two cops in Philadelphia. As Jimmy put it, he is pretty taciturn. It is so obvious though that he is asked twice by two different people how long he plans on staying in Albuquerque. All we know is that Mike’s son, Matty, is dead, and later his partner and sergeant came up dead, too. We also know that Stacey thinks Mike called Matty a few nights before his death, which he also denies. The second half is almost entirely the confession of what happened and why. It is rare when a show can pull off two opposite themes in one-hour and create the feeling this episode did.
The Story Unfolds: This goes along with pacing, but they way we are told the story is pretty damn clever. Jimmy is barely in this episode, but his scenes put him in the same position as the audience. He is only hired to spill the coffee, and therefore in the dark. He is let in on Mike’s past at the same time we are, and is able to put two and two together.
In the second half we get a very long scene taking us back to the night Mike killed his son’s partner and sergeant, Hoffman and Fensky respectively. His plan plays out and we see him kill the men (which I’ll expand on later), and then we see him tell Stacey the truth about the phone call and that he was the dirty cop. Unveiling this revelation through storytelling is brilliant for this character because of the acting power behind it and because of the first time we saw Mike tell a story in about his past in BrBa “Half Measures”, which was also directed by Adam Bernstein.
The Vet: Mike’s entrance into the seedy underground of Albuquerque took less than a day. He gets a cabbie to take him to a vet who will take the bullet out of his left shoulder. The Vet not only takes out the bullet for a hefty price, but then he offers to sell Vicodin illegally. It’s possible we will never see him or the cabbie again, but I would keep my eyes peeled for them in the future, especially since the vet offered to get Mike work in the good ole ABQ.
Subtlety: Because the first half of the episode was all about denial, there were only subtle references to Mike’s past, particularly his addiction problem. He denies the Vicodin saying he is an aspirin man. His daughter-in-law Stacey asks about it and so do the detectives from Philadelphia. It isn’t until the second half we hear and see what Mike’s problem with alcohol really was like, especially after the death of his son.
Acting: Holy crap, Jonathan Banks can act. The man can act with an eyebrow and a slight turn of his eye. But this was a whole new ball game. The way his voice changed when he was talking about Matty was enough to induce tears. This emotional side brought the gravity of this event home for Mike and the audience. It is pretty rare when I, a 20-something woman who is not a parent can feel what an elderly man who lost his son feels. Honestly, it’s never happened. Until now.
The Admission: The admission that Mike was the dirty one, that his son was clean, and that Mike “broke his boy” is a hard revelation to take. Honestly, we knew Mike was dirty. He takes full measures. And this is the proof in the pudding. But for the first time in Better Call Saul, we get to see how bad-ass this dirty ex-cop is. He figures out what happened to his son, who he loved more than life, kills the two cops who did it, gets shot in the process, takes it like a boss, and moves. That whole scene was beautiful, even down to the sound direction. The music becoming muffled at the bar, then very loud, the loud echoing gunshots in the alley way, and the dead silence after the murders. When Mike tells Stacey that he was the one who convinced Matty to take dirty money from a gang and then Matty died two days later, it is hard not to feel the raw emotion of what Mike must feel and the silence adds this greatly. The pan out at the end of the episode of Mike and Stacey after Mike says, “You know what happened. The question is, can you live with it?” was absolute perfection. There were a lot of elements going into this moment, but the fact that Mike never actually admits to her that he killed them fully defines his way of doing things.
The Swing: There weren’t Easter Eggs as much as there were things that made me reminisce about moments from Breaking Bad. Mike aka Pop Pop pushing his granddaughter Kaylee on the swing reminded me of a key moment when he pushes her in BrBa. The episode this happens in is significant, too because it is in “Say My Name,” in which SPOILER, Mike is killed. It was a nice parallel to have this scene to bookend the beginning of Mike’s story and the end.
Bug: Not much of an Easter Egg, but when Mike tells the bartender that he is moving to Albuquerque, the bartender replies that there are tarantulas there. Bugs were a common theme in BrBa and should always be noted.
Sugar in the Coffee: In BrBa, Lydia was known to put Stevia in her chamomile tea, which wound up being the death of her. We get many shots of her putting her sweetener in her cup. We get a nice shot of Jimmy putting sugar in his coffee in this episode, where the coffee ends up meaning a lot – and will mean a lot in the future, too. The coffee certainly doesn’t mean the end of Jimmy, but it could mean trouble.
Mike isn’t in the clear: We know from the previews for next week’s episode that the cops know Mike swiped the notebook. He could be in more trouble than just murder charges, although those are pretty bad, too. My question is, what finagling will Jimmy have to do to get Mike out of murder? And will it even be Jimmy who does the finagling?
The Train: The train that Mike comes in on to Albuquerque is 106. Also, it makes sense to take a train because it is transportation you can pay for with cash, and thus no paper trail. Of course, the Philly cops end up finding him anyway.
Matlock: One of the best lines of the episode is when Jimmy approaches the Philly cops and they comments on his Matlock outfit. His response is: “No, I look like a young Paul Newman dressed as Matlock.” He also does not appreciate the comparison to Barney Fife, the idiot sidekick on Andy Griffith’s other show, ya know, The Andy Griffith Show.
Juan Valdez: Jimmy says he won’t do the Juan Valdez bump and dump on the cop. Juan Valdez is the fictional character used to advertise the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Columbia starting in 1958.
The Notebook: Mike was able to swipe the notebook from one of the detectives with the coffee spill. Throughout the book, there are maps of the different crime scenes, time tables of the night and the months following both murders, and a not about a cop named Paul Grant who was too drunk to remember anything.
Music from the Episode:
This week’s episode featured “Hold On Loosely” by 38 Special.
Hush Comics gives “Five-O” an A+ because really could not have been any better. Everything mattered in this episode, the acting was spot-on, and I cried. Yup.
All images belong to AMC and are credited to Ursula Coyote.