Note: this is the fourth post in a multi-part series.
Season 3 of “Better Call Saul” reconstructs the origins of the long-lasting illicit partnership between a dirty ex-cop, Micheal “Mike” Ehrmantraut, and the owner of the Los Pollos Hermanos fast-food chain (logo pictured below), Gustavo “Gus” Fring, who uses his business as a front to operate an illegal drug cartel. [Gus and Mike’s illicit alliance is also one of the central plot lines in the original “Breaking Bad” series.] In summary, after Mike’s attempt to assassinate Hector Salamanca is mysteriously thwarted at the end of Season 2, Mike eventually discovers in Season 3 that it is Gustavo Fring who has been tracking him (Mike) all along and who had foiled the assassination attempt on Hector. [See “Sunk Costs” (Season 3, Episode 3).] Although Gus has his own nefarious reasons for wanting to keep Hector Salamanca alive, he allows Mike to interfere with Hector’s drug-smuggling operations, and with this informal arrangement in place, Gus and Mike develop an uneasy truce: Gus agrees to stop tracking Mike’s whereabouts, while Mike agrees to leave Hector Salamanca alone.
Subsequently, this loose arrangement develops into a full-blown and mutually-beneficial criminal partnership when Gus arranges for Mike to be hired by Madrigal Electromotive as a “security consultant.” [See “Slip” (Season 3, Episode 8) and “Fall” (Season 3, Episode 9.] Mike needs a steady source of employment in order to launder a large amount of money that he had previously stolen from one of Hector Salamanca’s trucks–ill-gotten gains that Mike wants to leave to his family–while Gus could use an ex-policeman and someone as reliable and knowledgeable as Mike to help him carry out his underworld affairs. The rest will become “Breaking Bad” history. Gus will compensate Mike for his illicit services; Mike will do Gus’s bidding as his full-time fixer.
Thus far, I have sampled and highlighted a wide variety of illicit agreements in the series “Better Call Saul”, beginning with the staged car accident in the series premiere and with Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman’s conman past in Cicerto, Illinois and then continuing with several criminal conspiracies from the first three seasons of the series. In addition to the Pollos Hermanos Conspiracy described above, we have described Nacho Varga and Mike Ehrmantraut’s hitman contract (“The Tuco Salamanca Conspiracy”) and the illicit dealings between Jimmy and Craig and Betsy Kettlemans (“The Kettleman Conspiracy”).
Broadly speaking, these sundry illicit promises should be of philosophical and jurisprudential interest to us because they pose a kind of moral paradox. On the one hand, we have a moral duty to keep our promises, but on the other hand, we also have a moral obligation to avoid harming third parties. As a result, there are two competing moral principles in direct conflict with each other whenever someone makes an illegal or immoral promise. The philosophical and jurisprudential question is: how should we resolve this moral contradiction? Starting next week (Monday, Nov. 1), I will further explore this paradox and explain why previous attempts to resolve this moral contradiction fall short.