…in which Saul/Jimmy is a bit player in the Mike-centric episode Breaking Bad fans have waited years for.
Mike Ehrmantraut quickly became a fan favourite as soon as he joined the cast of Breaking Bad in Season 2 and the affection (and need for his calm) grew as Heisenberg’s exploits went beyond the RV and into the world of Gus Fring in seasons 3-4. This world-weary head of (underworld) security, P.I. and bag man was also a believable ex-cop. He carried himself like an old time cop and his eyes carried the bags of someone who’d seen it all on both sides of the line. His earth-bound, shatterproof stoicism and personal code (whatever it was- it wouldn’t be melted by force or tears) made him one of the most intriguing characters ever to spin in that universe, and he brought a necessary counter-balance to both Jesse’s in-over-his-head fragility and need for acceptance and Walter’s brutal, voracious Alpha Male Heisenberg vision.
The actor, Jonathan Banks, has played this part with the same quiet stoicism throughout the years, doing his thing behind his eyes without any big dramatic acting moments, carried all in his look and his intelligence and with the limitations designated to the character who is, as Jimmy notes in Episode 6 with gleeful sarcasm, shall we say, “taciturn”.
This back and forth assessment of two shows over multiple years does not help illustrate the truth that Better Call Saul is a great new show that stands on its own merits and without all this obsessing. But I’m sure I’m not alone as a planet of viewers are celebrating this satisfying and rich moment for Mike, full of Mike’s life over multiple key points in his backstory, and we’ve symbolically opened a great vintage and let it breathe in real celebration of all the patience and devotion of the true collector (who is not about the price but is going to drink it all now). Better Call Saul gives us all this with an episode that allows the actor to extend to his full range at last, to stretch into that actorly space that is a thing of rare beauty made even more enjoyable by the both the long wait for this story to unfurl and by the true, legit toughness of this character and the actor who plays him. To see this face stricken with grief and regret and to hear this voice choking in barely suppressed cries is simply stunning. To know a few whys even as it tumbles open more questions about the long, dark road these two men are starting on together is a moment to cheer about.
The long, comic interplay over 6 episodes between Mike the parking attendant (and, it’s now revealed, a troubled man who has been silently in purgatory under that bridge and buried his heart in all that concrete) and Jimmy, who he’s gotten to know as the worst most stubborn offender of parking validation rules that has ever crossed this line, has been a delightful clash of Jimmy’s slip-and-fall true love of chaos and and Mike’s stubborn need to find order and control in his small and monk-like world. They are two totally different animals. Yet, Breaking Bad will reveal them to be underworld collaborators serving common goals, sharing life and death silent agreements and working for some truly scary people.
Here, we see them for the first time on the same side of an interrogation table against their opponents, knowing very little about each other yet reading something in each other that is instinctive and unspoken: that they see the world not in black and white terms, not in legal or illegal or good and evil but in me vs you, survival of the fittest, the laws of the jungle. This jungle is strange and barren and dry and so, mostly solitary, but it’s one where like sees like and instinct is one’s best, or maybe one’s only, weapon. It’s a jungle where camouflage requires nursing bullet wounds with sanitary napkins and knowing a Vet who’ll stitch you up and leave you alone, while you grit through the pain before what is left of your troubled, grieving family. It’s one where another form of camouflage is being a chameleon who mimics the enemy’s Hamelindigo Blue coat one day, and sheds that for a “young Paul Newman as Matlock” the next, as temporary as this mimicry of an upstanding white suited straight arrow hero will undoubtedly be.
Special thanks to breakingbadfriends.tumblr.com for the photos.