Minor spoilers for Better Call Saul are ahead.
A lot of TV characters have passed across our screens already in 2016, some of which we’d previously met and some of which were new to our eyes and ears. But one absolutely stands above all, catching everyone else’s attention with a bald head that reflects the nonjudgmental New Mexico sun, and I can’t think of a single person on television right now more worthy of being championed than Better Call Saul tough guy Mike Ehrmantraut, played with sublimely exhausted intensity by Jonathan Banks.
While the heart and soul of Better Call Saul lie within Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy McGill and his quest to lend his signature stylings to Southwestern law, the real emotional muscle and action come from Mike and his mostly selfless mission to keep his daughter-in-law and granddaughter protected while also doing his part to put a sizeable dent in the Salamanca family’s place of power within the drug business. There’s some heart and soul there, too, making him the show’s most well-rounded and important character, which automatically sets him apart from 99% of the sub-standard TV folks out there. And it's really hard to pull focus from the titular guy wearing the orange tie.
The equivalent of a two-dimensional public figure whose engaging life story later comes out through an autobiographical work, Mike spent years as a fan favorite badass in Breaking Bad, where most of his appeal came from his hardcore and seemingly impenetrable nature. And honestly, I wasn’t sure if his backstory getting expanded could make him a more interesting guy, so imagine my surprise when Mike became such an integral piece of the puzzle by the time Season 1 ended. And that role only got more expansive and satisfying in Season 2.
Mike’s frustration with his post-cop life is ever-present on his weathered face, and he really starts to hit back at the world around him as Season 2 moves forward. His interests, first and foremost, are Stacey and Kaylee, and making sure they have a proper place to live and a sense of security while there. The moves he makes to make that happen are morally unsound, regardless of his intention to not use lethal violence in solving any of his problems, and this wavering look at Mike’s values is another layer of intrigue on an already complex character. He clearly thinks he’s on the right side of the coin as opposed to Hector and Tuco Salamanca, but he doesn’t really view himself all that highly in the first place, which allows him to take a brutal face-smashing to get a job done, rather than being the one doing the punching. How can anyone not be fascinated by this guy?
After all, Mike is the guy that got every single job done the right way on Breaking Bad, in which “right” means “necessary.” We’re not really used to seeing him feel the need to back down from a mission simply because it means blood will be shed. (In the way that Banks maybe should have backed down from his Community stint.) All of that means there are big expectations that something singularly horrifying is going to happen to Mike in the seasons that connect this part of his story to his years as an enforcer alongside Gus Fring. And there are few characters whose dramatic downfalls sound more worthy of televised introspection than Mike Ehrmantraut. One would think that wouldn’t be the case, considering we know where his story ends, but that’s nowhere near as captivating as everything we still don’t know.
As highly regarded a drama as Breaking Bad is, it’s still hard to believe that Better Call Saul has been able to match that level of storytelling and character development, albeit with less of an egomaniac at its center. And while that show had Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman to steal the biggest piece of the spotlight away from Bryan Cranston’s Walter White, we can thank Better Call Saul for giving us another side of Mike that adds the perfect balance to Jimmy’s slimeball transition. We’re always interesting in seeing what other Breaking bad characters might show up on the follow-up drama, but it’s never going to get better than Mike, so we might as well just stop looking.
Better Call Saul will air its Season 2 finale on Monday, April 18, on AMC. And don’t worry, because Season 3 is coming next year.