You had to know that Mike wouldn't make it to the end of the series. He's a great character, played masterfully by Jonathan Banks, who redefines grizzled. He's exactly the kind of criminal we like in our fiction: decent yet villainous, ruthless yet soft in the right spots, and most of all smart and calculating. He is, in short, everything Walter White is not.
Which is why Walt killed him. That moment where Mike confronted Walt with the truth of what a fuck up he is - the Walt who has been fancying himself an empire builder, a criminal mastermind, a kingpin in the making - something childish and petulant in Walt lashed out. Mike's biggest fault had been that he underestimated Walt's stubborn shittiness before, and now he'll never do it again.
I know that a lot of you jumped off the Walter White bandwagon a long time ago. I was on until the last few episodes; as awful as he can be, I liked Walt. In some ways I got Walt, a man driven by regret and a constant, nagging feeling of being undervalued and ignored. Vince Gilligan and his team (especially Bryan Cranston) created a character whose descent into crime felt at first like a liberation, but now it has turned dark and ugly. With the killing of Mike the show has firmly, finally, fully morphed Walt from an antihero into a sheer villain.
A supervillain, even. The episode opens with Walt fully stepping into his alter identity of Heisenberg, using his sheer force of will to subjugate other gangsters. Who would have imagined the Walter White of episode one, standing in his underwear in the desert, being capable of this? What I liked this episode is that this Walter isn't totally gone; besides his grotesque need to keep up the image of a family life, Walt still talks like a teacher. "All I could ask if that you apply yourself," he tells Todd, such a teacher line.
One small sour note for me: I've had it with Jesse and Walt arguing. It's pretty samey every week. There's a scene every week where Jesse gets slowly intellectually beaten down by Walt's double talk. The notable thing this episode is that it doesn't work - Jesse leaves - but I can't help but think we're going to have another argument again next week. And then another when we come back for the final half of the season. I'm hoping that I'm wrong and the fact that Walt's spiel did nothing for Jesse means we're entering a period where things get a bit more direct between these two.
But beyond that everything else this week was terrific, and the show has obviously entered the endgame stage. What happens next? I've never felt so unsure; I don't know that Gilligan is looking to punish Walt in any traditional sense. The show has made Walt a true villain, and I am beginning to suspect the series will end with him triumphant, seated on a throne of the bones of his loved ones.