Before we plow ahead into the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad, it seems like a good time to pause and say a fond farewell to a character who will not be continuing with us. I’m referring, of course, to clean-up expert, hired gun, and business advisor Mike Ehrmantraut, whose exit at the end of “Say My Name” was a sad moment for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that he provided a strong balancing force against Walter.
Mike was one of the show’s most likable characters; even though he was often cast in the role of the antagonist, called upon by his duty to oppose- or even eliminate- Walt and Jesse, we could never hold it against him.
He was a consummate professional, keeping a cool head in the hairiest situations and never allowing personal feelings to affect his work. His actions were always carefully considered, carried out with economy and efficiency, and free from bravado or flourish. He had no need to prove himself; his skill did that for him, and anyone who doubted his capabilities would not do so for long- nor would they be likely to live long enough to do so again.
Cold-blooded killer that he was, though, there was another side to his personality that was evident not only in his obvious love for his granddaughter but in the grudging affection he developed for Jesse, despite his own self-imposed professional boundaries. He made choices he might not have made had he not become Walt’s rival as a surrogate father to the young man; if not for his fondness for Jesse, he would surely have put a bullet in Walt’s head as soon as he came back from Mexico, without a second thought, and that would have been the end of it. It’s true, of course, that this lapse of his usual professional ethic was to be the beginning of his downfall, but even so, we admire him all the more for it.
It’s not Mike’s cool efficiency on the job that we will miss the most, however, nor is it is secret sentimental streak. What made Mike such an important part of the series was his personality. Not just a typical tough guy, he was as intelligent as any of the major players he worked with, possessed with a dry wit that resulted in some of the most memorable lines on the show, as well as a keen understanding of human nature that allowed him to see through Walt from the very beginning- something nobody else, not even Gus, was truly able to do. Perhaps his most admirable trait, though, was his candor. Never afraid to tell it like it was, his honesty stood out amidst the constant deception and betrayal that surrounded him; though we may not have always been “on his side,” at least as far as the story was concerned, this quality earned him our respect. Though his final exit may not have been what he deserved, he held onto that rock-solid dignity until the end, striking back at Walt with that unforgettable demand to “shut the f*** up and let me die in peace.”
Of course, Breaking Bad is full of great characters, and main drive of the story- Walt’s simultaneous rise to power and fall from grace, the tension in his family relations, his complicated bond with Jesse- never really depended on Mike in any crucial way. Even so, he added an important flavor to the mix, a grounding influence, and he will be sorely missed. Salut, Mr. Ehrmantraut!