“Five-O” is a complicated, twisty narrative that shifts between at least three different time periods, so for the sake of this plot summary, let’s lay things out chronologically. The series of events that eventually brought Mike to New Mexico began in Philadelphia, where Mike and his son Matt were both cops — Matt just a rookie. While their precinct was full of corruption (which extended to Mike), Matt wasn’t on board with it, and while he never turned anyone in, his partner and sergeant got nervous and staged his murder anyway.
Mike, who had convinced Matt to play along for the sake of his family, became a fall-down drunk after Matt’s death. Until, that is, he was able to get his revenge. A clever plan gets Mike alone with Matt’s murderers in an empty lot, where he shoots them to death. He then hops a cross-country train ride for an uneasy reunion with daughter-in-law Stacey and and granddaughter Kaylee; he’s not invited to stay with them, but promises to stay in touch.
A few months later, Philly cops show up at Mike’s door, investigating the deaths of Hoffman and Fensky. Mike knows they suspect him, but have no proof. Exercising his right to legal representation, Mike gets Jimmy McGill’s help with swiping their notebook, and reading their notes, he learns that Stacey had called them, having found some money. In the closest thing to a tearful confession that Mike is capable of, he reveals the full truth to Stacey. “The question is, can you live with it?”
Opening Credits Extreme Close-Up
Hey, a phone booth! Complete with phone book! We remember those things, those of us who were alive during the 1990s. Not particularly fondly, but we remember them.
The Least Legal Move
In general, murder is frowned upon.
Remembering What Hasn’t Happened Yet (The “Breaking Bad” Tie-In)
Whatever exactly it was that Mike did back in Philly was always one of “Breaking Bad’s” stillest pools of water, and true to the cliche it ran pretty deep. We might have known he was a cop who went bad, but knowing the full extent of the tragedies that brought him to New Mexico — his alcoholism, his son’s death — cast an interesting light on his later actions. Perhaps it’s why Mike eventually finds himself ensconced in the Albuquerque criminal element; his guilt over what happened to Matt left him believing that he belongs there.
Oh, That’s Right, It’s a Period Piece
Much like the series premiere, “Saul” once again used different color tones to indicate flashbacks — this time, to Mike arriving in New Mexico for the first time, with a bullet wound he’s bandaging with maxi pads, as well as his time in Philly. Everything occurs approximately within the same year, though, so everything feels relatively contemporary, perhaps to the greatest extent so far this entire series.
On The Journey From Jimmy to Saul
“A young Paul Newman dressed as Matlock” is how Jimmy describes his latest look, formulated last week as part of his new attempt to cater to a more mature clientele. But while focusing on elder law is supposed to be Jimmy’s move towards respectability, he still helps Mike with his scheme to steal the notebook. “Five-O” was almost entirely Odenkirk-free, but it did feature that one incredible scene between Jimmy and Mike in the car. How did Mike know that Jimmy would play along? Because maybe the journey from Jimmy to Saul isn’t as long as we might think.
During the dark days, it seems that Mike was a whiskey man. Though when you’re drinking to forget your pain, or at least numb it, it doesn’t really matter that much.
“I broke my boy.”
Mike’s entire monologue at the end of the episode, coming from a man who’s always been more action than words, was pretty jaw-dropping, but it’s sometimes the simplest of phrases that are the most affecting. So much of Mike’s grief over his son’s death is tied up in his guilt, and that line just says it all.
In Conclusion, Your Honor
Jonathan Banks, in carrying this hour, has perhaps the acting challenge of a lifetime, and nails it. While, as an actor, he has always been a very reliable “type,” but here he digs into Mike’s very real grief and shame, creating a very real person as a result. It’s a performance that in less delicate hands could have dipped into ham territory. Instead, Banks reveals so much with the subtlest twitch and look, finding a way to reveal that being stoic doesn’t strip away vulnerability.
On balance, “Five-O” is a puzzle box on first viewing, with multiple narrative tracks threaded together (within what is already a prequel to another story). And sometimes, that sort of confusion isn’t the most enjoyable viewing experience. But the episode is a game-changer for the series, opening up the world of “Better Call Saul” beyond Jimmy’s nail salon (which was honestly starting to feel a little claustrophobic) as well as broader themes, about corruption and culpability, that should prove full of dramatic potential.
It also balances its complicated structure with some real meat; not just a few exposition-heavy scenes that lay out crucial plot points, but a sequence almost disturbingly cathartic: Mike’s deftly planned revenge. We never see Matt on screen, but the merciless execution of his killers is a classic Mike moment: smart, satisfying and unsettling. The sort of thing that’s made him one of the franchise’s most fascinating characters.
There’s no cliffhanger this week, beyond an unanswered question. But if you weren’t hooked before, you probably are now.