Welcome back to our weekly breakdown of the minutia of Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s Better Call Saul. While Alan Sepinwall provides his always excellent coverage of the series (here’s his write-up of the most recent episode), this space is typically reserved for exploring callbacks, Easter eggs, and pop-culture references in each episode.
With this week’s episode, however, instead of focusing on callbacks to Breaking Bad, I’d like to call-forward to a couple of scenes in Breaking Bad that help to put this entire universe in context, and remind us all of what exactly is at stake in Better Call Saul.
I rewatch a lot of Breaking Bad in putting together this column each week, but more than almost any other episode, “Expenses,” made me think more about the ultimate fate of these characters. This week, watching Mike pour concrete for a playground, attempt to help Nacho escape a bad situation, and seeing him console a woman who had lost her husband, I was struck by what a profoundly decent man Mike Ehrmantraut is. He’s good people, and seeing him genuinely smile at Anita, I found myself feeling incredibly angry with Walter White for killing Mike. What was the saddest scene in the entire run of Breaking Bad suddenly felt so much sadder.
Watching that scene the first time back in 2013, it was heartbreaking, but I knew only enough about Mike at the time to understand that, in a way, he had it coming. He was the right-hand man to a drug kingpin. He was a cleaner. He was part of a criminal enterprise. He’d murdered people. Being murdered by Walter White felt like a natural consequence of his actions.