The Ballad of Mike Ehrmantraut on Breaking Bad

The sight of Gus Fring’s missing the right side of his face was a seminal moment in one of the most visually mesmerizing shows of all-time. However, the death of Gus Fring also left us with a glaring question heading into the final season(s?): Who was going to emerge as the primary foil to Walt and Jessie? Fortunately for us all, a candidate has emerged: the perpetually annoyed Mike Ehmrantraut.

Originally, Mike was slated to be in one episode of Breaking Bad. Vince Gilligan soon realized that he had something special on his hands. Much like he did with Jessie, Gilligan abandoned his original plan for the character after seeing what Jonathan Banks could do in front of a camera. Now, Mike has become a fan favorite thanks to his steely demeanor and almost superhero qualities as a fixer/muscle/private investigator.

While Gilligan was smart enough to keep the character around, a ton of credit has to go to Jonathan Banks for his portrayal of Mike. If not for Jonathan Banks’ grounded, human portrayal of the character, Mike’s exploits would make him seem like a comic book superhero. He’s a dead-eye shot, knows everybody and everything, and is an expert chicken feeder. Some of the things that Mike pulls off would seem slightly ridiculous for a man most likely in or around his 60s, but viewers don’t care because Jonathan Banks is awesome in the role.

While the fans enjoyed the bit role played by Banks in his earlier work, it was good to see him get a showcase episode this week. As expected, Banks didn’t disappoint. He mixed Mike’s usual superhero qualities with a actions of man who is tired of this entire situation. Banks does a fantastic job of capturing the essence of deep-down good-hearted man who is forced to do bad things. Simple moments like asking his guy “Are you ready?” before shooting him in the head show the two sides of Mike. The fact that he can’t stand to shoot a woman who has a child around the same age as his granddaughter show a man with true pathos. It’s easy to see why he’s drawn to a guy like Jessie and despises a man like Walt.

There is undoubtedly lots of standout performances on Breaking Bad. We have already heaped hosannas on most the main characters. Even if he wouldn’t want it, it’s time for Mike Ehrmantraut to get his due.