Breaking Bad is the story of a transformation. Creator Vince Gilligan’s roadmap for the show was to carry viewers downward alongside Walter White’s moral descent — from everyman to evil, “from Mr. Chips to Scarface.” But the show itself has also been changing right along with Walter. When Breaking Bad debuted, it felt like a noir-ish crime thriller. But the show’s atmosphere has evolved into something grander and more mythic — a spaghetti western with better dialogue. That was true of the first scene of last night’s episode, a tense standoff in the middle of nowhere. And it was even more true of the final sequence, which featured [SPOILER ALERT] the final showdown between Walter White and Mike Ehrmantraut, the brutal tough-guy enforcer who gradually became the show’s bruised conscience. Mike gave Walt a serious dressing-down; Walt, in response, shot Mike in the chest, leading to a death scene along a river that looked like a direct visual quote from Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. We got on the phone with Jonathan Banks, the man who was Mike, to talk about his character’s demise…and where Mike would have ended up, if he’d been a bit luckier.
Did you have a sense that Mike was eventually going to come to a bad end?
I always knew. I always thought, “Mike’s a bad guy. Mike’s gonna die.” So did it come as a surprise? Not at all.
There’s a moment when Mike is walking away from Walter and is about to get in the car, but instead he turns around and delivers that great speech about Walt’s ego. Why do you think Mike felt the need to do that?
If you’re asking me as the actor…Vince gives me the script, and I do what’s in the script. Jonathan the actor would have turned around and beaten him into the ground. And then driven away.
Was it hard to say goodbye to this character?
I think Mike is one of the great television characters of all time. It’s hard not to do a great character when something is written that well. What a joy! The whole thing was a joy, you know? What a gift Vince Gilligan gave me. What a gift!
You’ve worked in television for a long time. What was different about Breaking Bad, for you? What sets it apart?
First of all, it’s written within an inch of its life. And, sounding totally sappy, that crew, those actors, those producers, those writers, were so in love with each other. There’s no other way to put it. We truly enjoyed each other. It was, it was, it was… a lifetime, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Aaron and Bryan and I would sit in the make-up trailer early in the morning. Somebody would say, “Let’s do these lines.” And we would have done the scene five, six times before we ever got to the set.
In this episode, we saw that Mike had planned meticulously for the day when the cops would come for him. Where do you think he would have gone, if he had gotten away with the money?
You ready? This is where Mike was going. He was going to the Costa Blanca. He has a beautiful Spanish woman about nine years younger than he is. There’s a piano bar in Javea – and that is spelled J-A-V-E-A. At three o’clock in the morning, there’s only a few stools, but it’s open right onto the Mediterranean. It’s just a walk across the street down to a rock beach, and you hear the water come. And the air is so soft at three o’clock in the morning, and you hear these wonderful strands in the air of soft jazz. And that’s where Mike would’ve spent the rest of his life.
I’ll tell you the great thing about the Costa Blanca. The Costa del Norte in the north is up around Barcelona, the Costa del Sol’s down South where all the rich people are. It’s been discovered. But the Costa Blanca: There’s still more Spain there. Javea’s a two thousand year old town. Two thousand years. There’s Roman ruins in it. In all honesty, in the next ten years, that’s probably where Jonathan Banks will end up.
Are you going to open up a piano bar?
That’s too much work. But that beautiful Spanish woman that’s nine years younger is my wife, and we’ve been married for twenty-five years.
So you’ve planned this out a bit better than Mike.
Yeah, I think I did okay.
Follow Darren on Twitter: @DarrenFranich
Read More Breaking Bad on EW.com:
‘Breaking Bad’ recap: The Ripple Effect
‘Breaking Bad’ ‘Say My Name’ review: The new classic Walter, all-rotten, all the time
‘Breaking Bad’ art show celebrates the ones who knock (and paint) — PHOTOS