“Breaking Bad” fans find solace in new AMC series “Better Call Saul”



Eddie Brancale


With only six episodes under its belt, AMC’s “Better Call Saul” has shaken its “inferior spin-off” stigma to enter the top tier of today’s television programs. The show, a spin-off prequel to the immensely popular “Breaking Bad,” chronicles the trials and tribulations of Walter White’s future lawyer, Saul Goodman, played by Bob Odenkirk. With the burden of living up to “Breaking Bad’s” popularity weighing on its shoulders, the show has been able to establish itself as its own powerful standalone program, with its own engaging stories to tell. 

While still treating audiences to minor Easter eggs in its initial episodes, “Saul” has exited the shadow of its parent program and has woven a compelling narrative with the help of fan favorites Saul Goodman and Mike Ehrmantraut. 

This week’s episode, “Five-O,” upped the ante yet again, as Mike Ehrmantraut’s secretive backstory is finally revealed, boosted by an all-time performance from Jonathon Banks.

When it was first announced that Banks would be reprising his role as the taciturn yet imposing hitman Mike Ehrmantraut, fans could hardly contain their excitement, as Mike had proven to be a fan favorite ever since his introduction during season two of “Breaking Bad.” 

Going even further, fans were enamored with the prospect of finally learning Mike’s backstory, and why he became the man who would later serve as Gustavo Fring’s most trusted ally. This week’s “Five-O” sheds significant light on this idea and makes for an engaging narrative and an emotional turn by Banks. Jumping between present day and past, the episode takes us on a journey through Mike’s conscience and the subsequent dissolution of his humanity. 

The nonlinear structure of the narrative puts the audience in an anxious mindset as the unfolding of Mike’s past begins to put his characterization in perspective. 

The episode begins with Mike’s arrival in New Mexico. He had previously been a cop in the Philadelphia police department alongside his son Matt, and Matt’s subsequent murder led Mike down a dark path from which he would never return. 

The title character, Saul Goodman, has his role reduced to that of Mike’s attorney after Philadelphia cops arrive in Albuquerque to question Mike. With Saul’s backstory the focus of the overall narrative, the change of pace is a welcome one, as Mike’s character development has always felt like something that could be expanded upon. 

Throughout the episode, Banks shows off his severely underrated acting chops by transforming Mike from stern hitman to devastated father. 

His final monologue echoes even the best episodes of “Breaking Bad” and should draw considerable recognition come awards season. 

Hidden beneath the excitement of a return to Albuquerque and an expansion of Saul Goodman’s story was an apprehension that “Saul” would flop, damaging the reputation of one of television’s greatest all-time dramas. Episodes like “Five-O,” however, put these worries to shame, with Odenkirk and Banks’ compelling and powerful performances evoking memories of Bryan Cranston as Walter White. 

With a successful turn in establishing Mike Ehrmantraut’s mysterious past, “Better Call Saul” proves that it’s here to stay and that even without Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, the “Breaking Bad” universe is in good hands.