Toward the end of last night’s episode of Better Call Saul, titled “Gloves Off,” Mike warned Nacho that having his business partner killed is a bell that can’t be unrung. While in the moment that came off like some combination of Mike being cautious and playing devil’s advocate, as the episode went on, it started to feel as much like he was saying that to himself. We know from last season that Mike has killed to protect his family, and we learned last night that he’s also killed for his country, but what he hasn’t done yet — as far as we know — is kill for money. He’ll ring that bell eventually, obviously, but he wasn’t ready to last night, and the result was costly to both his wallet and his face.
Let’s talk about Mike’s plan for a second. The operation originally sketched out by Nacho would have paid $50,000 to pull up next to Tuco after the meeting and blow him away in his car, but that was problematic because 1) it would draw Salamancas like flies, and 2) it could be foiled by anyone who likes tacos, which is something approaching 100% of the dining public. It was a bad plan. So, Mike’s first thought was to turn it into a sniper situation, which probably would have worked if not for his crisis of conscience while meeting with the gun dealer who will eventually hook up with Walt in Breaking Bad (shout out to Jim Beaver). But with that plan out, too, he moved to option three: getting Tuco thrown in jail for beating the hell out of him, and taking a $25,000 pay cut in the process. It wasn’t a great plan, either.
One of the many benefits of having Mike on Better Call Saul, and having periodic Mike-centric episodes like this one, is that he provides a nice counterbalance to Jimmy. On one side, we’ve got a reluctant criminal with a set of principles, and on the other we’ve got a morally flexible attorney who is at least attempting — sometimes, with occasional lapses, some of which involve people sitting in pies for the alleged sexual gratification of others — to obey the law. One character who is dipping his toes into the underworld to benefit people he cares about, one who is bringing down people he cares about because he can’t help himself.
If you zoom out a bit and look at the entire board the producers are playing with, there’s a parallel to Breaking Bad here, and to the two justifications Walter White gave for his diving into a life of crime. At first, he said it was to provide for his family. By the end, he revealed that he did it for himself. We’re just getting that split in two characters instead of one. The formula works.