Wow, the Netflix description of this episode is…almost misleading. It’s all about Jimmy going to further lengths than he thought he would to help Mike. While this is technically true I suppose, it amounts to spilling a cup of coffee. And very little screen time for Jimmy.
This episode is all about Mike. After knowing him from the Breaking Bad Season Two finale onward throughout his time on that show, now in this prequel, we finally get Mike’s backstory.
It opens with Mike getting off a train in Albuquerque. Inside the train station (which is so fancy it took me quite awhile to figure out it was the train station), he meets Stacey, his daughter-in-law, who seems, well, not exactly thrilled to see him. Before leaving, Mike indicates without outright saying it that he needs to use the bathroom. He goes into the women’s room and gets a maxipad from the dispenser and then goes into the men’s room, where he reveals a bullet hole in his shoulder. He changes the dressing, using the maxipad to redress the wound.
Then Mike is at Stacey’s house, outside, playing with h is granddaughter Kaylee on the swings. Eventually, she goes inside while Mike and Stacey sit down and talk outside. She wants to know how long he’s staying. “For the duration,” he says. They talk a bit about Mattie, Mike’s son, Stacey’s husband, Kaylee’s dad, who died. Mike says he’s here now, he wants to help. He’s better than he was, he says. This is the first hint that Mike had quite the drinking problem after his son’s death.
Stacey is reticent. She says she’s glad he’s better. Then she asks him about a phone call she overheard with Mattie shortly before he died, a phone call she suspects was with Mike. He denies it fully, and changes the subject subtly, to tell Stacey to stop beating herself up or thinking if she’d done x or y differently, Mattie might be alive still. He talks about moving on. Stacey still isn’t having it. She tells Mike to leave without ever saying it. He does.
Then we see Mike taking a cab to an animal shelter, where a vet attends to his bullet wound and asks Mike if he wants any work. Mike declines.
Back where last week’s episode cut off, with Mike being picked up by the Philly cops, Mike is refusing to talk. He just says “lawyer.” the cops try to cajole him into talking but he’s Mike, and talking’s never been his thing, and he’s too smart to fall for any of that. He won’t talk without a lawyer present, and of course, that lawyer is Jimmy.
Jimmy comes into the interrogation room after the cops give him some shit for being dressed like Matlock, and brings Mike a coffee he’s requested. Once the door is shut on the cops, Mike says the coffee’s for Jimmy. Mike wants him to spill it on the cop who’s taking notes in a little notebook and Jimmy says no. Mike argues that Jimmy owes him one from the help he gave Jimmy two episodes back that helped him find the Kettlemans. Jimmy still refuses. He’s going to be an above-board, by-the-books lawyer to Mike, he says.
The cops come back in and Jimmy makes them catch him up to speed. They tell him that Mike worked for the Philly PD for thirty years, and that his son Mattie had been a rookie cop. Matt and his two partners went into a crackhouse and got ambushed and Mattie was killed. Now, the two other cops who were Mattie’s partners have also been killed. The cops want to know if Mike knows anything. They make it sound like they think the same person who killed Mattie might’ve killed the other two, Fenske and Hoffman, and they want to know if Mike has any insight into who might’ve wanted to go after them.
Mike denies any knowledge of anything. The cops press, start asking about the timing of Mike’s move to ABQ and its coincidental timing with the death of Fenske and Hoffman. Mike says he didn’t even hear about their deaths until he was already on his way to New Mexico. It’s clear who they really suspect but also that they don’t have enough to hold Mike for anything.
As they’re getting up to go, Jimmy does exactly what he said he wouldn’t, what Mike asks him to do, the stunt of spilling coffee on the cop to distract him while they get his little notebook.
In the car, Jimmy wants answers but Mike won’t give any. Jimmy tells him, as if he weren’t already aware, that those cops think Mike killed two cops. Mike doesn’t give anything. Jimmy asks, “How did you know?” I wasn’t sure know what, that the cops suspected him, what was in the notebook, something like that. But no, Jimmy means how did Mike know that Jimmy would do the stunt, even after he said he wouldn’t?
Mike confronts Stacey about calling the cops (he saw in the stolen notebook that she did). She admits she did. She heard about the death of Mattie’s partners and thinks the same person might’ve killed all three of them and was hoping for answers. They fight about whether Mattie was a dirty cop or not. Stacey doesn’t want to think that, but when they were moving, she found $5-6k in the lining of a suitcase. Mike gets irate and screams that Mattie wasn’t dirty.
Then we go back in time to Mike in Philly. He breaks into a cop car, then goes into a bar and gets wasted. He sees Mattie’s partners Fenske and Hoffman. He drunkenly puts his arms around them and tells them he knows it was them. He keeps drinking, and announces to the bartender that he’s leaving for ABQ. Mike is obviously, clearly wasted off his gourd. The bartender’s worried but Mike says he’s walking and stumbles out, and starts shuffling along toward home when Fenskesta and Hoffman pull up in their cop car.
They wrestle a drunken Mike into the back of the cop car and one of them takes Mike’s gun from him. In the car, Mike grunts and slurs. One of the cops asks him what he meant about “I knew it was you,” and he tells them, through slurred words as if drifting off, what he knows. That they killed Mattie. They arrive in the middle of nowhere, and the two cops discuss killing Mike, making it look like suicide, no one would suspect otherwise given what a downward spiral he’s been in since Mattie’s death.
But wait! Mike gets out of the car with a gun (probably what he was planting when he broke into the car) and he’s not drunk at all! The one cop who took Mike’s gun off him while they put him in the back of the car tries to shoot it but it’s empty. Mike kills both of the cops but takes a bullet to the shoulder in so doing, and as we know from earlier in the episode, he then books it to ABQ.
We next move to Mike telling Stacey the truth about Mattie. He wasn’t the dirty cop, Mike was. Matt’s partners were dirty (the implication is that most of the Philly PD was dirty, Mike may even say that outright) and tried to get him involved too. He was thinking of going to IA to report them, to do the right thing, but Mike knew they would kill him faster for that than anything else because they’d be more afraid of prison than anything. So he tells Mattie to just do it, get dirty with his partners. That was the phone call Stacey overheard.
And Mattie did it, he took the money (that Stacey found after his death when she was moving to ABQ) but he hesitated and that scared his partners, so they killed him and staged it as an ambush. And Mike did what he did out of revenge. He tells Stacey that he broke Mattie. “I broke my boy,” he says, in the most heartbreaking line in the series so far. Matt had him on a pedestal and learning that his father was a dirty cop broke him and Mike knows it.
It ends with Mike asking Stacey if she can live with it. The “it” being all of it, including what Mike did out of vengeance, and the credits roll before we get an answer, which somehow felt just right.
Thoughts on the Episode
This is the most emotional we have ever or will ever see Mike, who is, as Jimmy put it earlier in the episode, taciturn, and he emotes even less than he speaks. Even at critical moments like the end of episode 7 of Season Five of Breaking Bad. His “I broke my boy!” made me cry, and though I cry pretty easily at TV shows, I can’t remember that ever happening otherwise with this one.
I’m more convinced than ever that I only watched this season once. I remembered the broad outlines of Mike’s backstory, at least the part about his being a dirty cop, his son being clean, his son getting killed because of it, and Mike killing the killers. But I didn’t remember the coffee spill ruse, how much Stacey was in the episode and that she knows what happened with Mike in Philly, or that this is where we meet the dirty vet, who will come back in future episodes.
It’s interesting that both Mike and Jimmy are presented with temptations to get involved in dirty business. Mike is offered dirty work by the vet while Jimmy is propositioned with the coffee spilling stunt. Both decline at first. Mike’s refusal stands as is, he walked away from the vet without seeming tempted to turn around and say on second thought maybe. Jimmy eventually gives in and does the stunt and wants to know how Mike knew he’d do it when Jimmy himself didn’t.
It would be easy to say the contrast shows that Mike has a stronger will than Jimmy, and though that’s probably true, I think it’s worth considering the magnitude of the thing being asked of each of them. Jimmy’s was way lower stakes, just do a dumb stunt and spill some coffee on a guy so Mike can grab the notebook. There’s very little risk in it.
In contrast, Mike taking on dirty work right after going on the run from killing two cops, yeah that’s a lot of risk. So I don’t think it’s just the content of the two men’s characters that separates their responses to requests of them to veer, in big or little ways, off the straight and narrow.
But still, it raises the question if Jimmy, since he continues to say he won’t do things–take a bribe from the Kettlemans, do this coffee stunt–and then do them, is slipping back into Slippin’ Jimmy.
One thing I paid a lot of attention to in this episode was exposition. There’s a lot of it, since we have this whole backstory to learn about a character we’ve known for years who had a whole other life long before we met him. A good amount of the most crucial parts of it are shown in the scene where Mike kills his son’s killers, but we never see Mattie. That feels right to me, like it highlights his absence that we don’t see him even in a flashback.
A lot of the exposition is also done in dialogue between Mike and Stacey. That’s how we first learn that his son has died, that he had a drinking problem, and about some of the world-setting of Mike’s backstory.
The other major avenue of exposition is via Jimmy. When he comes in as Mike’s lawyer. Since he doesn’t know anything about Mike other than his job as a parking attendant and that he used to be a cop, it’s a perfect opening for Jimmy to straight-up ask for exposition. From the beginning, he says. “We’re talking Genesis here.”
And while the cops fill him in on the story of Mattie, Jimmy looks at Mike the whole time, not the cops who’re talking. He continues to just look at Mike.
It’s interesting that these two men who will eventually share screen time as protagonists in the series, sometimes in stories that don’t intersect much, are so opposite in terms of talkativeness. Mike is taciturn and Jimmy is a chatterbox, always using words to obscure and enchant and entertain and argue his case, in court or life.
Although he doesn’t get a lot of screen time this episode, Jimmy’s world continues to be full of people who suspect him of not playing by the rules. It’s the reason Mike gives the cops Jimmy’s card. It’s the reason the Kettlemans wouldn’t hire him as their lawyer even after he caught them red-handed with stolen county treasury trash raining down. It’s the reason Nacho thought Jimmy would help him rob the Kettlemans, and it’s the reason Chuck was spiraling. Everyone is telling Jimmy who he is, and that’s not a by-the-books type guy.
We didn’t see any of the other regular characters–no Chuck or Kim or Howard. This episode was squarely in Mike’s world, and it feels like now that we’ve lived in his world a little, met his family, learned his story, he’s fully in the fold of the show universe.
Until next week,
PD: The picture up top is Jimmy looking intently at Mike as the two Philly cops who’ve come to ABQ to question Mike about the deaths of the other two Philly cops tell Jimmy the story, from the beginning, like Genesis, and he learns about Mike’s dead son.
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