Better Call Saul, Season 1, Episode 6: “Five-O”
Written by Adam Bernstein
Directed by Gordon Smith
Airs Mondays at 10PM EST on AMC
After a wild left turn at the end of last weeks episode, “Five-O” is left to follow through on a very sudden change of pace, and elaborate on why it should matter—outside of basic fan-service, that is. Luckily, it succeeds most assuredly.
The episode begins with a standard cold-open, one of Vince Gilligan’s most patented tricks, as Mike exits a train that has just taken him to Albuquerque. There he visits with his daughter-in-law after using a quick little trick (as usual, Mike Ehrmantraut is full of quick little tricks) to procure a tampon and take care of his gunshot wound. We can already see that there’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye, and despite Mike’s best efforts, so can his daughter-in-law.
The mystery at hand, one that unravels over the course of three different timelines, is a marvelously robust turn for this new series, and a move that shows just how high the ambitions are behind Better Call Saul. Just consider, for a moment, that Saul only really appears in one isolated section of the entire episode. “Better call who?” a first time watcher might quip between commercials, but already it’s clear that is not a show for so-called “casual viewers”. Rather, this is serialized story-telling at its finest, and Gilligan and co. have no time to spare for wheel-spinning or cases-of-the-week. When it comes to a show like this, you’re either all in or not at all, and Gilligan clearly knows which side of the fence his audience is more likely to dwell.
The pieces come together slowly, but the measured pace of the episode is deliberate in its structure, much like Mike’s calculated manner of speech, the latter never releasing even a single syllable from his lips without thinking it through. Back and forth it moves, from the timely exchanges with his daughter-in-law Stacey, to his carefully contrived planning in an interrogation room, to a grisly shootout toward the end of the hour, all the while keeping the audience enraptured and inquisitive about the full extent of the equation.
An above mentioned blurb concerns Saul/Jimmy’s only real scene in the episode, but boy does Bob Odenkirk shine in it. Here he showcases what made him such a valuable member of the Breaking Bad cast, where he manages to lighten the suffocating dark of the episode’s tone without ever being too overt or obvious about it. A particularly impressive moment is showcased early in the scene where he casually asks for more information about Mike’s current legal situation, even as he mocks Jonathan Banks’ notoriously monotone delivery. Even if it’s the only moment he’s featured in the hour, it clearly reminds us of Odenkirk’s talent and charisma, and only further cements how easily he can balance out a show with so much dramatic weight.
However, the real star here is obviously Banks, and the range he shows in “Five-O” easily outweighs anything he has done in the past. He manages to pull a sort of magic trick with this character, splitting him into several different facets, even as he coalesces Mike into a cohesive whole. He is a loving grandfather and a grieving father, a stumbling drunk and a calculating opportunist, a loyal ally and a dangerous enforcer. This is a mirror shattered into a thousand pieces, and then magically reassembled before our very eyes. This is a human being.
The tour-de-force performance comes together unsurprisingly during the episode’s closing moments. Mike finally spills the whole story after a telling flashback sequence in which he enacts vengeance upon the dirty cops who killed his boy. His son, Mattie, was basically Serpico, or Ned Stark, for a more broad parallel. Like them, he was not celebrated for his honor and virtue, but punished utterly. Not before he went to his father though, in a heated conversation where he sought reassurance for his course, a plan to nail a couple of dirty cops, and was dissuaded instead by his father’s own guilt and cynicism. In the end he sold out, at Mike’s behest, and was killed anyway.
It’s a grueling and tragic confession, one that is made only more effective by Mike’s uncharacteristic emotional outbursts, scenes that the writers wisely save for Stacey, a character outside of the show’s main circle.
“Five-O” is a weighty and necessary hour, one that could easily lead to an Emmy nomination for Banks. What this leaves for next week remains to be seen, but Mike’s legal troubles are far from over, and with Saul as the only man in his corner, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.