Considering that it’s writer Gordon Smith’s debut script for television, “Five-O” is a remarkable achievement. It’s also Better Call Saul’s first masterpiece.
Finally revealing the circumstances that led to Breaking Bad regular Mike Ehrmantraut leaving both the police force and the path of the straight and narrow, it’s a gripping, self-contained thriller, with some very emotionally affecting scenes.
Actor Jonathan Banks had his own ideas about Mike’s backstory – apparently, at one point he pitched the idea that his son was a boxer who’d been killed in the ring. But the personal history that plays out in flashback here – Mike’s son Matty, also a cop, was killed for his partners for refusing to take kickbacks, and his father took a bloody revenge – was a much better choice. It’s a tragedy that adds depth not only to Better Call Saul, but also, retrospectively, to its parent series. Watching those BB episodes where Mike takes his granddaughter to the park will never be quite the same again.
Heard playing in the cop bar Mike visits: “It Came Out Of The Sky” by Creedence Clearwater Revival and “Hold On Loosely” by 38 Special. Playing over the end credits: “Tune Down” by Chris Joss.
Given a chance to show that there are more strings to his bow than taciturn menace and world-weary laconicism, Banks bats it out of the park. The two-hander scenes between him and Kerry Condon (Mike’s widow, Stacey) are compelling, and as this seemingly unstoppable force chokes back the tears and declares, “I broke my boy”, you may come very close to breaking yourself.
A great episode, then, even though it puts the star of the show in the shadow. If we have one reservation, it’s that Better Call Saul’s first classic focuses on a character from Breaking Bad. Hopefully, one day we’ll be just as emotionally invested in a new character like Kim or Chuck McGill, but right now it doesn’t seem all that likely.
“Five-O” is, as you may know, is a slang term for the police; it gained popularity thanks to long-running cop show Hawaii Five-0, which was so-called because it was set in the 50th state of the union.
A Change Of Face
When we first saw Stacey, glimpsed briefly in Breaking Bad season three finale “Full Measure”, she was played by a different (uncredited) actor. (Well, presuming that’s meant to be Stacey…)
The taxi driver who picks up Mike is called Francisco Fernandez… which was also the name of an assistant to the producers on Breaking Bad. Given that writer Gordon Smith was formerly Vince Gilligan’s assistant on that series, that’s surely not a coincidence…
In what feels like a callback to Breaking Bad, a barman mentions to Mike that they’ve got tarantulas in New Mexico. BB fans know that only too well, of course, thanks to the young boy who collected one in a jar in season five classic “Dead Freight”…
|The one where||We learn all about the personal tragedy driving Mike Ehrmentrauts character.|