By: Paul Andreacchi and Daniel Reynolds
Back in season two of Breaking Bad, when Jesse was in his doomed relationship with Jane, and that ominous eye ball was floating in the pool, Mike appeared. I guess I didn’t think too much of him at first. He was just another bald, mean looking guy, summoned out of the underworld, paid to do the dirty work. Though, upon reflection, I suppose that was the point of the whole character. From beginning to end, even while displaying some amazingly terrifying skills, Mike was always remarkably unremarkable.
Much like Mike’s work methods, it feels almost routine now to talk about the latest weekly disaster show that is Walter White, but this time we got to see the full range of affectations. There was Walter the friendly husband (“I’m working with a new guy!”), Walter the cuckold (“Oh we’ve both made mistakes,” through sniffles), Walter the kingpin (“say my name”), Walter the manipulator (“and how long before you start using again?”), even the return of Walter the teacher (“it’ll take a few times before you get it right”). Finally, we get the Walter that Mike always saw: the dangerous, proud Walter, the one who always has to get his way while dropping the last word.
Of the underworld characters on Walt’s team (so to speak), I guess it had to be Mike who’d go first. I mean, it’d be no fun watching Saul die (mostly because we’d miss all the one-liners) and Jesse still operates as if he has nothing really to lose. The nine legacy people and Lydia are obvious key future plot hooks. So, yeah, of course, Mike is left holding the bag, done in by the very thing he had been trying to avoid.
He had two great moments this episode, though; one tragic and one moving. The sad moment was of course, his desperate escape from the park, watching the law close in, wanting to cry out to his granddaughter, but staying in control right until the end. And, what an end it was. If our previous favourite cool character was Gus, who had to go out in the most dramatic way possible, then it makes sense for Mike to find serenity and peace in death at the water’s edge.
But now, the plot implications. Yes, in a rash moment, an impulsive, ever proud, Walt, stalked to Mike Ehrmantraut and shot him. The real sad thing about this wild moment (one increasingly dangerous, evil man shooting a calm, murderous, morally compromised man) is that Walt realizes right afterwards his mistake. You spend enough time in your own head you begin to believe the things you say. Walt could not let Mike get that kind of closure, he would not be shrugged off and dismissed. We know that Walt will no longer be treated indifferently or condescended to. He’s in charge now! The ticking time bomb technically hasn’t gone boom, yet Mike has already been caught in the blast. Fortunately, he got the last word in after all.
With our second last episode for nearly a year, ‘Say My Name’ shifts back the focus to matters of identity with a mesmerizing opening scene.
Walter no longer defines himself as a loving father, a provider, a chemistry teacher, or even a failed billionaire. He defines himself by his product and his criminal actions. As we’ve seen before, he is not content to know his success; others must know it as well, revealing his own hubris in the process. He tells his new partners that his name is Heisenberg, and most importantly, he is PROUD of what he has become. With this opening scene, Walt affirms that he is proud to be a murderer, proud to no longer be bound by a moral code. Walter White is proud to announce himself as Heisenberg because Walter White as we knew him no longer exists. He has found an identity he is NOT ashamed of for the first time. Ironically, now is the time he should feel more shame than ever before. The corrupting influence of power is key to this new identity.
Up until this episode I naïvely believed that a soul-searching and saving redemption awaited Walt before the end of this captivating series. However, ‘Say My Name’ reveals the real tragedy: Walter White sees the creation of Heisenberg as his redemption.
Walt’s newest murder gives us another glimpse into his newly assumed identity as Heisenberg. He is no longer a man flirting with a criminal existence and using his intellect to remain one step ahead of all those around him. He admits to simply forgetting that Lydia can supply him the names as the desperation, aggression, temper, and paranoia of criminality have blinded him to logic and reason. The same logic and reason that rooted him for so long and that he entered the meth business fully in control of. Walt’s existence is now purely wrapped in the violent and immoral criminal identity of Heisenberg. Say his name indeed.
In a form of poetic justice that Mike can only achieve right before death, his last request to Walt is to allow him to die in peace. Mike knows that when the mighty Heisenberg meets his demise it will definitely not be peaceful. Perhaps then Mike will get the last words and hopefully they will be: “you’re goddamn right.”