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Breaking Bad as Literature
In a show full of high-potency, DEA-disapproved bald badboys, Mike is the baldest and the breaking baddest—tougher than Walt, Gus, and Hank combined, in our humble opinion. Walt may be the one who knocks, but Gus literally shoots through walls.
Here's just a short list of the utterly righteous things he's capable of. His seedy résumé, if you will:
- Vanish a dead body and drug paraphernalia from a house in minutes (Season 2 Finale, Mike's first appearance)
- Inject a professional killer with poison in a police-filled hospital (Season 3, Episode 8, "I See You"—get it?)
- Perform background checks deeper than the DEA's (Season 4, Episode 8)
- Short-circuit a security system with his granddaughter's Mylar balloons to infiltrate a building and singlehandedly ice four Cartel assassins—one of them through a stinkin' wall (Season 3, Finale)
- Do all of the above, and then look totally innocent even when the DEA kicks down his door and tears apart his house for evidence ("Buyout," Season 5, Episode 6)
- Do all of the above and still look like a tough guy even though he has ears like Alfalfa from The Little Rascals.
In this lesson, we're going to get into the head of this bald assassin and try to answer this question: on a deeply shady show like Breaking Bad, is a serial-killing druglord's henchman the voice of morality?
And a more important question: is he standing right behind you?
We Like Mike
Sometimes you get the feeling that Breaking Bad positions Mike as the real "hero" of the show: the guy who knows his place in the world and doesn't fall victim to destructive ambition.
It's a little tougher to talk about Mike than the other four principal characters; he's only in three and a half of the five seasons, and he's the character we know least about on a biographical level. Vince Gilligan said, "Mike is a man who knows he's lost a good chunk of his soul, and seems sad and world-weary about it. But he goes on nonetheless because he knows his strengths as well as his weaknesses."
If Hank is a good cop who occasionally goes a little bad, Mike is a cop who went so far over the line that good and bad aren't even on the table.
Still, we like the guy an awful lot. Let's think about some of this hardened, ice-cold killer's better qualities.
He does it all for the love. Mike is not a fancy dude. He's not a blood-steeped kingpin like Gus Fring, an ambitious Macbeth-wannabe like Walt, an ordering-fancy-teas-at-a-diner snob like Lydia, or even a bachelor with high-culture hobbies like Gale. As far as we know, Mike likes to hang out with his granddaughter and watch old movies on TV—that's it.
So why does a retirement-age ex-cop who hauls in big money keep risking his life and bloodying his hands even more? We only get two motives for his work:
- To provide for Kaylee's future on her 18th birthday ($2 million in an offshore account—not bad, pop-pop).
- To pay the legacy fees for his nine incarcerated henchmen who used to work for him.
Sure, you could argue that the latter is selfish—he doesn't want any of his guys to turn against him and rat him out to the cops. But even after he skips town in "Say My Name," never to be found again, he drops cash to take care of his guys. And anyway, he could've made things a lot easier for himself any day of the week by grabbing the go-bag from the trunk of his car and skipping town. But instead, he sticks to his duties.
Plus, he's just a good pop-pop—check out how he plays Hungry Hungry Hippos with his granddaughter Kaylee in "Madrigal" (Season 5, Episode 2). So stinkin' sweet.
He's a man of his word. Mike's the only one in the series who isn't driven by fear, ambition, or revenge. Instead, he's just a straight-up man of his word; if he says something, you know it's true. He's so rock-steady and trustworthy that Gus—you know, that dude who slit his own henchman's throat with a box cutter—trusts him and lets him come and go around the lab and Los Pollos Hermanos pretty much as he pleases.
Like we said, it's not about good or bad with Mike; it's about loyalty, plain and simple. In "Thirty-Eight Snub" (Season 4, Episode 2), he punches out Walt after Walt suggests that they should overthrow Gus Fring, even though they probably could get away with it.
No matter what he's up to, there isn't an ounce of Walt-style deceit or manipulativeness in him. He may be up to shady business, but he's never in denial about it—and just as importantly, he never lets other people get away with deluding themselves, especially Walt. He's the only one to set Walt totally straight, without any fear, in their final confrontation in "Say My Name" (Season 5, Episode 7):
We had a good thing, you stupid son of a b****! We had Fring, we had a lab, we had everything we needed, and it all ran like clockwork! You could have shut your mouth, cooked, and made as much money as you ever needed! It was perfect! But no! You just had to blow it up! You, and your pride and your ego! You just had to be the man! If you'd known your place, we'd all be fine right now!
Of course, this righteousness drives the arrogant Walt completely b-a-n-a-n-a-s, probably because he knows, deep down, that Mike's right. And we know how it ends: with Walt killing Mike in a fit of pointless, humiliated, pride-driven rage.Go to Lesson: The Other Guys, Part 1