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Breaking Bad Season 5: "Say My Name"

Written by Royal Nonesuch on Monday, August 27 2012 and posted in Features
Breaking Bad Season 5:

Remember when we thought Walter White was getting in over his head by getting involved with Gus Fring and Mike the Cleaner? Yeah, never mind. (SPOILERS AHEAD)

"You, and your pride, and your ego...You just had to be the man, didn't you?  If you'd just done your job, known your place, we'd all be fine!"

Farewell to a legend.  Mike Ehrmentraut, affectionately known around these and other parts as Mike the Cleaner, is no more.  You can't help but wonder, as Mike sat with a bullet in his gut on a scenic riverbank, if he was recounting in his mind exactly how he got to that place?  He seems to know exactly how it happened.  The look of resignation on his face just before he hit the ground seems to make that clear.  In fact, just before his fatal shooting, he lays all out for Walter, calling him out on the effect his pride has.  That's pretty much exactly the premise of the show, but hearing it come out of Mike's mouth was still a great moment in "What's My Name."  More than that, it served as the climax to the episode, one which traveled in a straight line from Point A to Point B.  

Point A, of course, being that confrontation that opened the episode, in which Walt decides to lay out his plan to get his group paid.  He faces down Declan and his thugs, and recruits them as "distribution," asserting the superiority of his product over theirs ("You're grade-school Tee Ball, and I'm the New York Yankees!").  Declan refuses at first, but Walt doesn't give up.  He pushes the issue until Declan comes to the realization that Walt is really Heisenberg.  "You're goddamn right," snarls Walt.  So Mike gets his $5 million, which is what he wants, and he's out of the business, which is what Walt wants.  Walt seems to be having trouble letting go of Jesse, though.  He just wants his little protége standing next to him and looking up to him.  When Walt spots Mike and Jesse shaking hands and going their separate ways, he seems to feel a pang of jealousy.  It creeps up again later in the episode when Mike is asking for Saul's help, but Jesse jumps at the chance to lend a hand (not long after insisting that Mike would never inform on them to the DEA).  Is this what Walt was thinking when he decided to take Mike's gun and shoot him with it?  Sure, Walt talks a lot about the lack of expressed gratitude he gets from Mike (a sarcastic and angry "You're welcome" really sets Mike off) but that seems to be window dressing for Walt's desire to keep Jesse for himself.  

No dice, from Jesse's end, though.  He repeatedly asserts that he wants out, and Walt continues to give him the gentle brush off.  When Jesse gets more forceful about the issue (after catching a glimpse of what Skyler is going through by being tied to Walt, and not wanting that for himself), Walt at first tries to appeal to his sense of accomplishment.  He tells Jesse that "you're every bit as good as I am" and even talks about squandering talent, sounding like the father of a teenage tennis prodigy.  When that doesn't work, he goes on the offensive and challenges Jesse, asking him what he's going to do with his $5 million, distilling his life to nothing more than "video games and go-karts."  Typical Walt.  First he massages, then he hits below the belt.  It's the same tactic he used with Skyler in "Fifty-One."  It doesn't work here, though, as Jesse just forgoes the money and chooses to leave, leaving Walt alone and shouting.  It really is wonderful to see Walt and Jesse have their confrontations again.  Since Jesse decided to follow Walt unquestioningly earlier this season, those two haven't really had a ton of interaction, just bits here and there.  Walt still had all that great material with Mike and Skyler and Hank, but the Walt/Jesse stuff is where the heart of this show lies, and seeing them argue again these last two episodes really takes us back to when we first fell in love with this show, back when these two couldn't not bicker and butt heads.  In any case, Walt doesn't have a partner, so he decides to recruit child-murdering, spider-stealin' Todd as his new cooking buddy.  In another lavishly filmed and edited cooking montage, Walt takes Todd through the steps of making crystal meth, with nary a word from Todd (who even studies his notes during his break).  Teaching eager young Todd, who just wants to please and doesn't even want to talk money until he gets the hang of cooking meth, is a far cry from working with loud mouthed, obnoxious Jesse back in the old days.  The contrast is not lost on Walt.  

There is a lot of screen time spent on the distribution of the "legacy costs" to Mike's famous "Nine Guys."  The lawyer for the Nine Guys distributes equal payments into safety deposit boxes, which are then picked up by their families.  Hank, after getting chewed out by his boss for focusing too much on Mike and not enough on being the boss of the Albuquerque office, figures that following the lawyer might reveal something usable.  Sure enough, Dan the Lawyer looks is caught filling up deposit boxes by Gomez and his hilarious shit-eating grin.  Before long, he's willing to "flip" on Mike, a fact picked up by Walt who is in Hank's office to once again pretend to cry on his brother-in-law's shoulder about his failing marriage (he's really there to remove the bugs so they're not found in a sweep).  Walt is able to warn Mike, who gets away from the approaching cops using his ninja powers, and then calls Saul to tell him to get him the duffel bag he has stashed that's full of money, passports, and everything he needs to skip town.  Saul figures he's being watched too, so Walt decides to bring him the bag.  Before giving Mike the bag, Walt demands that Mike tell him the names of the Nine Guys, but it just leads to the confrontation where Mike lets Walt have it.  Seeing Jonathan Banks finally explode like this was eye-opening and incredible.  He reads Walt the riot act, and Walt is so angered that he pulls out a gun and shoots him.  It looks as though Mike was going to get away again, but as it turns out, he knows when he's beat, so he ends up just taking a seat on the riverbank waiting for death.  The futility hits Walt pretty late.  "I just realized Lydia has the names.  I could have just gotten them from her."  Mike's last words, in response: "Shut the ____ up so I can die in peace (marking the return of the blanked out F-word, which can be found in early episodes of this series, and has shown up once or twice in Mad Men)." 

So we say goodbye to everyone's favorite lovable badass mob enforcer, Mike.  His presence was as welcome as it was endlessly rational and professional.  While we're at it, let's say goodbye to Jonathan Banks, who played Mike with such resilience and quiet intensity.  It's an absolute shame that he won't be seen again, but what a great character he brought to life, and what wonderful work he did.  


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About the Author - Royal Nonesuch

As Senior Media Correspondent (which may be a made-up title), Royal Nonesuch tends to spearhead a lot of film and television content on The Outhouse. He's still a very active participant in the comic book section of the site, though. Nonesuch writes reviews of film, television, and comics, and conducts interviews for the site as well.  You can reach out to him on Twitter or with Email.


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