In “Gloves Off,” this week’s episode of Better Call Saul, Mike Ehrmantraut gets a featured role. And in this week’s episode of the Better Call Saul Insider podcast, we learn about the origins of Mike Ehrmantraut’s character on Breaking Bad. We also get some insight into several other Breaking Bad characters and details that worked their way into this week’s stellar episode of Better Call Saul written by Gordon Smith, who also wrote last season’s Mike episode, “Five-O.”
The Scheduling Conflict Responsible for Better Call Saul
The best story from Kelly Dixon’s Better Call Saul Insider Podcast this week had nothing to do with this episode, in particular, but a scheduling conflict from Breaking Bad that ultimately made it possible for Better Call Saul to happen. In the podcast, Rhea Seehorn (who plays Kim) asked if Vince Gilligan and co. ever broke a story with a particular actor in mind (such as this week’s episode with Ray Cruz’s Tuco) only to find out that the actor wasn’t available.
In fact, that had happened back in Breaking Bad. In the series, after Krysten Ritter’s character Jane dies, a character known only as “The Cleaner” at the time is called in to clean up the scene. That “Cleaner,” of course, was our first introduction to Jonathan Banks, whose character would later get a name, Mike Ehrmantraut, and a co-starring role in the spin-off series, Better Call Saul.
However, as originally envisioned, it was Saul Goodman who was called in to clean up the mess, and had the scene been shot as written, the distance between Jimmy McGill and the Saul Goodman who cleans up after characters die from overdoses might have been too great a transformation for Better Call Saul to cover. Fortunately, Bob Odenkirk wasn’t available to film that scene on that day, so they had to rewrite it and Gilligan jumped at the opportunity to cast an actor he loved from Wiseguy. That actor, of course, was Jonathan Banks, and many years later, he’s the featured co-star in another strong episode of Saul.
In the off-chance that viewers didn’t recognize the boxing charms Mike was holding in the teaser, we saw Tuco wearing those when his character was introduced back in the sixth episode of the first season of Breaking Bad. That was the writers tipping us off to the fact that Mike had been beaten by Tuco before we’d even gotten a glimpse of him in the episode.
We have met Lawson before, of course, and in this scene with Mike Ehrmantraut — their first together — we also find out that Mike is a Vietnam veteran. Interestingly, Jim Beaver, who plays Lawson, is a real-life Vietnam veteran, and he expressed appreciation to the writers for the attention to detail they paid to the guns. The scene was given his seal of approval. Vince Gilligan and co. also talked about how that character evolved on the page based on the actor playing him. Because Jim Beaver is such a kind, gentle guy, the man who sells the guns used to kill people ended up being written as an honorable man with a code, of sorts.
The writers also spoke about how their fondness for particular actors can sometimes color the way they write them. For instance, they said, some accused them of being too kind to Jesse Pinkman because they liked Aaron Paul so much. They didn’t deny those accusations.
I’m embarrassed to admit it took me a few beats before I recognized that Tuco was counting Krazy 8’s money. I suspect we’ll see him again later in the series, and maybe even find out what led him into becoming a DEA informant.
The beating that Mike took from Tuco was inspired by Raging Bull, and a scene where Robert De Niro’s Jake LaMotta stands in a corner and takes a beating as penance for what he did to his brother. Mike is still paying penance for his role in the death of his son.
You’d never know it, but Jonathan Banks couldn’t wear prosthetics for technical reasons, so his messed-up face was created entirely by a computer. All Banks had on his face during filming were a couple of tracking dots. Everything else was digitally added in later. Impressive job.
And now we also know how Tuco ended up in prison before appearing in Breaking Bad.
Dollar Bills, Y’all
I never would’ve noticed this, but OKC-Rai on Reddit, admiring the attention to detail, recognized that all the dollar bills used in this scene were the dollar bills used during the time in which Better Call Saul took place, rather than the dollar bills regularly in circulation today.
That did not, however, stop about 30 nitpickers from pointing out that the Kroger bag in this scene was only just released last year. You’re slippin’, Gilligan!
That entire story that Nacho told about Dawg Paulson being shot in the face was pulled from one little throwaway detail from Breaking Bad (via the Story Sync). Holy Crap.
(Via BCS Insider Podcast)