Five weeks into Better Call Saul’s first season on AMC, we may have encountered the series’ strongest episode yet — ironically, with almost no Jimmy McGill in sight.
“Five-O” focuses exclusively on Mike, his abrupt move to New Mexico, and his dubious past as a cop in Philadelphia. The episode begins in a flashback, with Mike arriving by train in Albuquerque with little more than a duffle bag — and a hidden gunshot wound — to his name.
The woman who drove by Mike with a suspect look in the previous episode appears, picking Mike up from the Albuquerque train station (after he discreetly changes his bandage, replacing the old gauze with a sanitary napkin from the restroom).
We learn that this woman is Stacey, his daughter-in-law, and that Mike is a grandfather to little Kayleigh. Mike spends a bit of time playing with his granddaughter upon his arrival out west, but Stacey is standoffish toward her father-in-law. Mike assures her: he is sober now, and wants to help take care of Kayleigh. And, like them, he’s staying in Albuquerque for good.
But Stacey has questions — specifically, about her the death of Matt, her husband, Mike’s son. Like Mike, Matt was a cop in Philadelphia. Unlike Mike, Matt was killed in the line of duty, shot dead in a crack house by what looked to be a junkie interaction gone awry. Stacey can’t let one thing go: a tense call that Matt made late one night before his death …
A call to his father, Mike.
Flash forward to the present day, where Mike is questioned by Philadelphia police who have made a special trip to Albuquerque just to see Mike. Though not in custody, Mike refuses to answer any questions until he has a lawyer. The attorney he requests? He pushes a blue business card, which he was handed at the end of last episode, across the table: It’s Jimmy McGill.
Jimmy arrives at the interrogation room (still in “Matlock” attire) and asks Mike, what’s the deal? Mike states that he needs one thing, and one thing only: for Jimmy to spill coffee on one of the Philly cop’s pants as they wrap up questioning. Jimmy, trying to stay on the straight and narrow, refuses to obstruct any justice in the name of parking-attendant-Mike. Our personal Matlock will do his job as Mike’s lawyer, by the book, and nothing else.
The out-of-towners begin their friendly chit-chat with Mike, Jimmy by his side. The men are investigating the death of two fellow Philadelphia cops — Hoffman and Fansky — who worked closely with Mike’s son Matt. Apparently Matt had been on duty with Hoffman and Fansky when they all responded to a “shots fired” call. At the scene, things got out of hand, and Matt didn’t make it out alive. Later, Hoffman and Fansky turned up dead in an abandoned lot. The day after Hoffman and Fanksy were killed, Mike fled Philadelphia for Albuquerque (with a bullet hole still needing to be stitched up).
The question remains: Who put bullets in Hoffman and Fansky?
Despite Jimmy’s righteous zeal, he does end up spilling coffee on one of the Philly cops after the session. In the hubbub, Mike gets away with the cop’s notepad, and confirms his suspicion — despite the niceties, those two policemen are indeed in Albuquerque to investigate him for double homicide.
Mike goes to Stacey’s home, and demands to know why she called the Philadelphia cops after seeing him. She insists that it had nothing to do with their drive-by, but rather her finding a heap of cash lining an old suitcase of Matt’s. Stacey wants the person who killed Matt to be locked up, and does not care if her husband was a dirty cop or not. This enrages Mike — “My son wasn’t dirty!” he snaps at his daughter-in-law, protecting Matt’s posthumous honor.
From there, we flash back again — this time, to Philadelphia, on a cold night outside a watering hole for local cops. Mike jimmies a cop car open, and plants something inside. Then, he heads into the bar and proceeds to get plastered — or, he sure looks that way. He spots two policemen at the bar — Hoffman and Fansky — and wobbles over to them. After a brief buddy-buddy moment, Mike hisses in their ear, “I know it was you,” referring to his son’s death.
Mike leaves the bar looking the part of a skunk-drunk man. Hoffman and Fansky tail him in their patrol car and eventually load him in, strip him of his gun, and offer him a ride home. In the car, Mike calls the two men out on killing his son. “I know it was you,” Mike slurs out again in emphasis, “And I’m gonna prove it.”
Hoffman and Fansky now have a problem on their hands — or, more specifically, in their backseat. They drive Mike to an abandoned lot, unload him, and discuss their options. Should they kill him? Make it look like a suicide? Right as the two men seem to agree on a plan, Mike pulls a hidden gun (planted in the car earlier) on the cops — he’s stone cold sober, and ready to exact revenge.
A few bullets fly, and Mike takes out Hoffman and Fansky, killing both men in the dead of winter’s night. Having avenged his son’s death, he leaves the scene, and from there, hops a train to Albuquerque …
“Five-O” ends with Mike finishing a tough conversation with Stacey in present day. He explains to her that everyone at the Philadelphia precinct was dirty — everyone except Matt. In a powerful performance by Jonathan Banks, Mike emotionally tells Stacey that his son did not want to accept cash from a dirty deal with Hoffman and Fansky.
As one of the only clean cops around, Matt wanted to report the two policemen — do the “right” thing. During that 2:30 a.m. phone call, however, Mike had railed into his son, telling him to accept the money. Don’t turn anyone in. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Simply take the dirty money, and get on with your life. Matt finally relented and did take the money; but he hesitated when he did, which ultimately led Hoffman and Fansky to kill him in an effort to keep their circle of trust airtight.
But that wasn’t the hardest part of the phone call with his son. For Mike, the most gut-wrenching part was explaining to his son who “put him on a pedestal’ that he was “down in the gutter like the rest of them” — that his dad was a dirty cop, just trying to get by. “I broke my boy,” he chokes out. “I made him lesser, I made him like me. And the bastards killed him anyway.”
As Mike comes to grips with how he “debased” his son before his murder, Stacey asks: who killed Hoffman and Fansky, then? Mike replies, “You know what happened. The question is …
“Can you live with it?”