In the latest Better Call Saul recap, Mike Ehrmantraut takes center stage as we find out what brought him to Albuquerque in the first place and the skeletons he left behind in Philadelphia…
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
The first five episodes of ‘Better Call Saul’ have quickly rocketed this series up to the top of the list for television shows currently on air. A large dose of humor mixed in with a splash of morality as Jimmy McGill tries to build a law practice in Albuquerque while trying to leave the ghosts of his past life in Chicago behind. A life that often times landed him in jail and the worst offense of all nearly put him down for good until his older brother Chuck went to bat for him under the pretence that he would never break bad again.
Except Jimmy continues to find newer and better ways to walk on the other side of the law because that’s what’s in his nature and with each new scheme he pulls and shortcut he takes, the lawyer who we know right now as New Mexico’s answer to Matlock is slowly becoming the shady, strip mall attorney known as Saul Goodman.
But just as Jimmy tried to leave a live behind when he started fresh in Albuquerque, the latest episode titled ‘Five-O’ went in a completely different and more somber direction as the back story and narrative shifted to Mike Ehrmantraut for the first time really since the show began. The first five episodes barely featured Mike at all outside of his toll booth run ins with Jimmy and a near assault case that ended with him helping out his parking stickerless friend instead of putting him in jail. But last week, Mike’s story finally started to come into focus as two cops from Philadelphia came knocking on his door looking for answers.
As we pick up this week, Mike is down at the police station with the two cops he knows from his days as a beat cop in Philly and while they continue to tell him that they just want to ask a few questions, the only response he has for them is ‘lawyer’. Like a broken record, Mike continuously asks for a lawyer until they give in and when they want to know who, the only thing he does is slide a business card across the table and that’s where Jimmy McGill — Albuquerque’s No. 1 elder care lawyer — comes into play.
But Jimmy is just window dressing this episode because Mike is the central story.
Just before the cops came to visit Mike last week, he was staked outside a house where a woman got into her car and drove away before locking eyes with the former cop. The assumption was that maybe she was Mike’s daughter and there was a restraining order against him, thus the cops showing up on his doorstep a few minutes later. Not a bad theory, but still not even close to the truth.
It seems Mike arrived in Albuquerque about three months ago where this same woman named Stacy picked him up at the train station. Before they could leave, Mike first had to tend to a gunshot wound in his shoulder thanks to bathroom vending machine maxi-pad and then he was off to spend time with Stacy and her lovely daughter Kaylee. Yes boys and girls, this is Mike’s beloved granddaughter and Stacy is his daughter-in-law by way of his son Mattie, who was just recently killed in the line of duty as a cop in Philadelphia alongside dear old dad.
Stacy wants answers as to why her husband died especially after she heard Mattie in an intense phone call late one night where he nearly raised his voice and apparently the younger Ehrmantraut was just as controlled and calculated as his father. Stacy wonders was it Mike on the other end of that line, but he denies knowing anything about the phone call.
Mike is here for as long as needed because he wants to be there for Stacy and Kaylee. He heads off in a taxi before asking the cab driver just how well he knows Albuquerque. That’s the sign for needing a service on the down low and who better to know about it than the local cabbie?
Next thing you know Mike is getting stitched up at a veterinarian’s office and being handed a couple of pain killers that are good enough for humans, kind of like Vicodins. The vet even asks Mike if he’s interested in some work because this pet doctor is also connected to the mob? Well regardless Mike says thanks but no thanks and heads off on his merry way.
Back in the present day — Jimmy arrives to meet with his new client, but it seems Mike didn’t want a real lawyer as much as he wanted someone to play along with his new plan. Mike wants to get his hands on the notebook the detective from Philly is carrying and the way he’ll grab it is when Jimmy “accidentally” spills coffee on him after they get done with their questions. Jimmy immediately shuts him down and says he’s not risking a run in with the cops just to help out the guy who he knows best as the troll from the booth who always needs more goddamn stickers.
Mike just smirks and as the cops come in the story starts to come together. It seems two cops from Philly — Hoffman and Fenske — were found shot to death a day after Mike high tailed it to New Mexico. Now they aren’t exactly accusing him of anything, but they have reason to believe the two cops who were Matt Ehrmantraut’s partner and sergeant were somehow dirty and they want to find out how what Mike might know about their sudden deaths. The situation is compounded when we find out that Mattie was himself gunned down after somebody got the drop on him at a crack house when his backup was — yep you guessed it — Hoffman and Fenske.
Unfortunately, the only thing Mike knows is that he saw them in the bar the night before he left for Albuquerque but can’t remember much else because he was so drunk at the time. It appears Mike was really struggling with his son’s death and needed a change of scenery so he left to Albuquerque to be with his daughter-in-law and granddaughter.
The officers are satisfied (not really) with the answers and they thank Mike for his cooperation. On the way out, everybody shakes hands except Jimmy who goes and spills an entire cup of coffee on one of the cops from Philly. Sure enough, Mike lifts the notepad and business just picked up.
Outside in Jimmy’s car, he asks Mike how he was so sure that the morally incorruptible lawyer would actually go through with spilling the coffee. Mike just smirks like he always does and this is yet another sign that Jimmy — despite all his effort to prove otherwise — is still slipping further and further around that moral compass until Saul Goodman is the only one left standing. It’s the classic case of a bad guy trying to go good and doing everything in his power to prove he can do great things, but eventually the true character starts to seep through the cracks and the bad tendencies rise to the surface. Jimmy McGill is quietly breaking bad before our very eyes and his transformation really does seem to be the centerpiece for the show. Just not in this episode.
Mike gets the information he needs from the notebook — the fact that his daughter-in-law Stacy is the one who called the cops in the first place — and now he has to come clean about everything.
Mike visits Stacy where she admits to calling the cops because after Mattie’s death, she found a few thousand dollars tucked away in the lining of a suitcase and she was convinced that maybe he was dirty and got killed because of it. Mike freaks out and proclaims that his son wasn’t dirty and then the whole story comes out.
It seems the phone call Mattie made that fateful night just before his death was to his father and on that call Mike implored his son to play by the rules that cops abide by in this town. You have to go along and get along — in other words you have to take money alongside your fellow officers or other guys are going to suspect that one day you’ll rat them out. The money belonged to drug dealers who were never going to get it back anyways, but those few thousand dollars mean mortgage payments and college tuitions for beat cops. But Mattie wanted no part of it. He was ready to go to Internal Affairs and drop dime on everybody but the phone call with his dad convinced him to take a taste and lay low if for no other reason that it was in his best interest if he wanted to stay alive.
So on his dad’s orders Mattie took the money — and two days later Hoffman and Fenske lured him to the crack den and opened fire on him anyways because at that point they already believed he was a risk to their operation.
Mike fell in to a supposed depression after his son’s death, but in reality he was just plotting his revenge.
One night at a bar — the night before he left for Albuquerque — Mike broke into the cop’s cruiser in the parking lot and stashed a gun in the backseat. Inside, Mike started pounding whiskey while Hoffman and Fenske sat a couple of tables away. Finally, Mike stumbles over to the uniformed cops and embraces them before muttering under his breath ‘I know it was you’. The cops are taken back by the quiet accusation and right then and there they decide something has to be done.
Later the same night when Mike staggers out of the bar, three sheets to the wind, the cops pull up beside him and offer a ride home. They put him in the car, but not before taking his piece from inside his jacket. In the backseat, Mike is still mumbling about how Hoffman and Fenske killed his son and he’s out to prove it. He knows they were dirty and they set him up and now he’s on a mission to take them down.
So Hoffman and Fenske have no other choice but to park in a dark alley, put Mike outside, and use his gun to make it look like a troubled father committed suicide after losing his son. Before the two cops can finish coming up with a plan, Mike snaps to and has the gun he hid in the backseat pointed and cocked at the two cops.
Smart he tells them. Faking a suicide is exactly what he would have done. The cops are shocked but only for a second before one of them points the gun at Mike and pulls the trigger. Only problem — no bullets. Mike knew what he was doing the entire time.
He fires off rounds taking down both cops but before one dies, a single shot comes back and nails Mike in the shoulder (thus the wound we found earlier in the episode). Mike finishes them off and leaves them in the alley like dogs. Just like they did to his son.
Back in Albuquerque, Mike is coming clean to Stacy and telling her that the only way Mattie was ever going to take that money was if his father told him to do it. Mattie was the good cop and his father was the one who convinced him to do the exact opposite. Mike made his son follow in his footsteps, down in the gutter, and even though he tried to do it with the best of intentions to save Mattie’s life, the dirty cops killed him anyways. Mattie Erhmantraut died days after doing something he never wanted to do in the first place and that’s been stained on Mike’s soul ever since.
After all this, Stacy has to know what happened to Hoffman and Fenske. Mike tells her she already knows what happened to them, but then wonders if she can live with it?
Fade to black.
A powerfully potent episode and by far the most emotionally packed hour of ‘Better Call Saul’ to date. There were no laughs and Jimmy McGill was nothing more than a side player, but the best part was that it worked. ‘Better Call Saul’ just managed to completely change course midway through the season and while this may go down as a one episode hiccup in an otherwise jovial season, the chance to see where Mike Ehrmantraut came from and how he got here was just brilliant. Awards all around for this outstanding episode.
Make sure to tune into another episode of ‘Better Call Saul’ next Monday night at 9pm ET on AMC.