Warning: This contains minor spoilers.
Mike is back with a vengeance in Episode 4 of Better Call Saul’s second season – and how.
Jonathan Banks’ enforcer stole the show in the first season of AMC’s Breaking Bad spin-off, with an episode devoted entirely to his back-story, and he makes another convincing stab here. We last saw Mike when Nacho was offering him a job – and we follow almost immediately on from that, as Michael Mando’s henchman hires him to take out (spoiler alert) Tuco.
Yes, Mr. Salamanca is back in town and Raymond Cruz is enjoying the hell out of his reprised role as the unbalanced drug lord – even as he just sits in a taco joint and stares at his clients, he’s a wild enough presence to do something dangerous at any second.
When it comes to simple looks, though, Banks is way ahead of him, and the actor seems even more stoic than usual in comparison to the earnest Nacho and the reckless Tuco. Conversations about how the hit might play out only reinforce Mike’s caution and smarts, as he prefers to size something up before wading in – and Banks nails that calm, assured authority with the world’s quietest hammer.
Writer Gordon Smith, who’s got more than his fair share of credits on the show, builds up the situation at a suitably glacial pace, with even a scene involving the purchase of a gun taking its time, as Mike weighs up each decision; even halfway through the episode, there’s no guarantee that he’s even going to go through with it.
That careful pacing is a wonderful contrast to Jimmy’s side of the story, which hurtles past with barely a sliver of screentime: Bob Odenkirk seems to become more and more and animated, as the proverbial brown stuff hits the fan in the wake of his advert for Davis & Main. As the company comes down on him for his rash behaviour, the ripples extend to Kim (Rhea Seehorn) too – as we learned last week, her reputation is as much on the line as Jimmy’s. And their relationship is hardly in a sweet spot right now.
And so McGill naturally directs himself towards Chuck (Michael McKean), half trying to care for his brother as a form of atonement and half wanting to berate him for any role he had to play in the repercussions for Kim – but it’s Jimmy’s confrontation with Cliff Main (Ed Begley Jr.) that really carries the most weight in the episode. Jimmy claims he doesn’t see what he did wrong, because the ends (a successful client response) justify the means, but Odenkirk’s twitching delivery makes it clear that he knows all too well that he’s not a team player. He can’t resist bending the rules.
“Stop selling,” Cliff tells him, as Jimmy launches into another piece of showmanship spiel – listen to the number of times he uses the word “experiment” – but McGill can’t help himself. It’s one big game of make a deal to him.
Mike, on the other hand, is the complete opposite: he doesn’t even begin to buy something until he’s completely sold on the matter. While Jimmy’s and Mike’s solutions both involve putting themselves on the line, Mike’s actions are carefully thought-through and meticulously planned; Jimmy’s a loose cannon, but Mike is a steady ship, knowing exactly where the boundary between good and bad is and how to push everyone else over it. One is a hive of stupid actions, but the other is defined by his inaction – a fact that leaves both of them bloodied, either physically or emotionally, but only one of them still standing. Just as we know that Tuco can’t die in this prequel, as he will eventually go on to face off against Walter White, we know where both Jimmy and Mike will end up by the time the show ends. Better Call Saul’s second run, though, has the confidence to explore their paths in relation to each other; their destinations are fixed, but Mike’s the one with control over his. Perhaps the most intriguing question now belongs to the other coming-of-age narrative we’re being served: what will Nacho do next?
Better Call Saul Season 2 is available exclusively on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription. New episodes arrive every Tuesday at 8.01am.