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The Full Measure: Better Call Saul Five-O, the Origins of Mike Ehrmantraut, and a Side Man’s Shine

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Those who enjoyed Breaking Bad get bonus enjoyment out of Better a Call Saul.

“I think the dark path that Mike has taken has to do with whatever happened to his son,” Banks, who is 68, told Rolling Stone during the fifth season of Breaking Bad. “Now that’s just an actor’s opinion. The audience probably will never find out. But I think that’s one of the things that happened to him.”

On the sixth episode of Saul, titled “Five-O,” we did find out, and Banks’s theory was verified. We see flashes of Mike’s old life in Philadelphia, as a sloshing-drunk cop mourning the death of his fellow-cop son. “Five-O” shifts back and forth in time — from the present day1 to the investigation of the deaths of two police officers who worked closely with his murdered son, and back to their eventual murders, at Mike’s hands. It’s an actor’s showcase, pulling the attention almost completely away from Odenkirk — who has been brilliant on the often superb Saul all season — and onto Mike, a fan favorite, though often “taciturn,” as Odenkirk’s Jimmy McGill gleefully describes him at one point.

Mike does a lot of talking here, mostly to the actress Kerry Condon of Rome and Luck fame. Condon plays his daughter-in-law and the mother of his granddaughter, whom we first met on Breaking Bad — she is essentially the figure for whom Mike does all of those terrible things for Gus Fring and later Walter White. The episode ultimately culminates in a wrenching soliloquy from Mike, delivering the truth about what happened to his son — who refused to take money on the job — and why.

“I broke my boy,” Banks says, his eyes welling. “I was the only one who could get him to debase himself like that, and it was for nothing. I made him like me. And the bastards killed him anyway.”

It was the most devastating, guttural moment in a career often marked by raised eyebrows and grumbled remarks — like someone got the VCR to stop flashing 12:00 and instead project 3-D Blu-rays onto the wall. Mike’s speech recalled “Half Measures,” the 12th episode of the third season of Breaking Bad. [see video above]

That episode — directed by Adam Bernstein, the man who helmed last night’s “Five-O” — ended with a similarly hard-nosed and chilling story about a broken family and the cost of not going all the way. For many, “Half Measures” was the announcement of Mike as an essential part of the Breaking Bad story — a leaping out from the sideline into the scrum. “Five-O” was a logical bookend, a breaking bad all its own. Mike Ehrmantraut is dead, long live Mike Ehrmantraut.

Mike looks older in the prequel Better Call Saul; which is not noticeable, until you watch old Breaking Bad episodes.

Yeah, we have to suspend our disbelief a little to allow that.

Especially since he will likely be a part of Better Call Saul for several seasons.

Such a good actor!

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