A recent analysis of Breaking Bad’s characters brought out a few golden insights into the psychological motivations of people like Walter White. The show was more than about White, though. Many of the sideline characters were equally complex, if one being somewhat similar: Mike Ehrmantraut. As played by Jonathan Banks with extra gravitas, Mike is sometimes compared in personality to Walt. At the same time, they were very different in their ultimate trajectories.
It certainly started out looking like both would have similar paths. What might be surprising in hindsight is that Ehrmantraut looks like a saint compared to things Walter White did. Comparing the two is an interesting psychological examination in contrast.
Walt and Mike clashed in their views on power
As someone noted recently on Quora, Mike and Walt initially seemed to be in the meth business for the same reasons. Both were intending to make enough money to help their families live better lives. Conversely, Mike and Walt were both in predicaments where they knew their lives would soon end.
With Walt, it was inevitable death from cancer. Mike was different in that he simply had lost all meaning to his life, mostly in feeling disconcerted after being fired from his police job. Adding to this was the death of his son.
There was also something admirable about Mike: He was known for his generosity before going into the underground world of meth production. At his core, he had a heart, and there was never any record of Walt ever having as much largess.
Nevertheless, they were both men who cared deeply for the welfare of their families. Only their differing views on power ultimately created a very lopsided chess match between the two.
Mike Ehrmantraut underestimated Walter White’s intentions
One can easily say Mike stayed a little more human, despite his descent into criminality. Most would define this as knowing the limits of power and not abusing it to a point where everything falls apart.
Walt started taking bolder risks with power as he became more powerful in the meth world. His general demeanor, though, seemed to indicate he still had some sense of right and wrong, until he started brutally murdering people who got in his way.
Once that began, it stripped continual layers of humanity away from Walt, something Mike kept intact. When the moment came when Walt senselessly killed Mike, fans now say the latter died more nobly because he never became quite as ruthless.
Then again, nobody should make Mike out into an angel. He still took out people, even if they were usually nefarious. Yet, in a lineup against Walt, both start to look very different in how they eventually viewed life.
Did Walt have serial killer tendencies?
More recent analysis of Walt shows he might have had a serial killer mindset from the beginning and was unleashed when becoming a drug kingpin. Evidence of this comes in how he kept mementos of his victims, including eerily acquiring their personality traits.
If that theory holds up, it gives the most marked contrast between Walt and Mike. Plus, it makes the entire series of Breaking Bad more chilling than it already was. Considering many serial killers seem to successfully hide their personalities to those close to them, it may prove Mike had no idea what was lurking beneath the surface.
Having this kind of naïveté as a criminal (and a former cop) proves how cunning Walter White really was. Nowadays, one can see Walt and Mike are now miles apart in what they were willing to do in stepping over certain lines. All the details on how this slowly played out in each episode will likely still be studied years from now in TV writing classes.
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