Note: this is the third post in a multi-part series.
As I see it, the “Better Call Saul” character who exemplifies the moral paradox of illicit promises the most (aside from Saul/Jimmy) is retired ex-cop Michael “Mike” Ehrmantraut. [As an aside, Mike is my favorite character of the entire series!] Season 2 of “Better Call Saul”, for example, features an illicit alliance between Ignacio “Nacho” Varga and Mike Ehrmantraut, who conspire against Nacho’s boss, a powerful drug lord named Tuco Salamanca. Nacho works for Tuco, helping him run his illegal drug operations in Albuquerque, and is one of Tuco’s most trusted men. But when Tuco repeatedly violates the number one rule of the drug trade—”don’t get high off your own supply”—Nacho hires Mike, who he trusts from their multifarious previous dealings, to assassinate Tuco. [Or as Nacho puts it in “Amarillo” (Season 2, Episode 3), “There’s a guy. And I need him to go away.”] Mike then formulates a fail-proof assassination plan—the use of a discreet and expert sniper—and he offers to be that sniper in exchange for $50,000.
Although this hitman deal is no doubt an illegal one—and possibly immoral too—Mike, a man of his word, refuses to accept the full $50,000 payment when he is unable to follow through on his original assassination plan. Specifically, when Mike modifies the plan–instead of killing Tuco, he decides to stage an altercation with him in order to get Tuco arrested for assault with a deadly weapon, which carries a mandatory prison sentence of five to ten years—Mike reduces his original fee down to $25,000. [“Gloves Off” (Season 2, Episode 4).] Furthermore, when Mike’s illicit plot backfires altogether, Mike gives Nacho a full refund(!), returning the 25K to Nacho in its entirety. [“Bali Ha’i” (Season 2, Episode 6).] That Mike would feel obligated to return money paid based on an illegal promise is, to me, the most striking and morally-salient aspect of this entire ordeal: despite his best efforts, and through no fault of his own, Mike feels morally compelled to return his payment because has failed to uphold his part of the original deal with Nacho.
But Mike dealings with Nacho are not his only illicit agreements; for thus far in the series Mike has yet to meet the enigmatic Gustavo Fring. I will further explore the illicit relationship between Mike and Gus in my next post …