Mike From Better Call Saul Was In Star Trek, See Who He Played
Jonathan Banks, best known as Mike on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, played the unforgiving warlord Shel-la in the first season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
You likely know Jonathan Banks best in his role of ex-cop Mike working for drug lord Gustavo Fring in Breaking Bad and its recently concluded spinoff, Better Call Saul. But long before he was absolutely defining the phrase “walk quietly and carry a big stick” in Vince Gilligan’s narrative, Jonathan Banks made a memorable appearance in the inaugural season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Banks played Shel-la, a guy–not unlike the man who would eventually murder Banks’s character on Breaking Bad–who doesn’t know when to give up, and because of that may very well still be alive in franchise.
Jonathan Banks’s one and only (so far) Star Trek appearance is in “Battle Lines”, the 12th episode of Deep Space Nine. We meet him because Commander Sisko (Avery Brooks) gives in to the urgings of Kai Opaka (Camille Saviola) who wants to see the other side of the Bajoran Wormhole. Joined by Dr. Bashir (Alexander Siddig) and Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor), the group travels to the distant Gamma Quadrant, and–predictably, since why tell the story otherwise–their runabout crashes on a moon.
We never learn the name of the moon upon which we find Jonathan Banks, but we learn enough to know his character doesn’t want to be there any more than the Star Trek heroes do. The future Breaking Bad star plays Golin Shel-la–the leader of the Ennis, one of the moon’s two warring factions. Shel-la’s people have been at war with their rivals the Nol for longer than anyone can remember.
Jonathan Banks’s Star Trek character isn’t really a villain or a hero–he’s a victim as are all of his people and his enemies. Because the Ennis and the Nol refused to end their wars, they were imprisoned on the moon with a particularly cruel punishment attached; no one on the moon can stay dead. Anyone who dies on the moon is brought back to life by nanites.
In spite of their shared immortality–which neither side wants–the Ennis and Nol refuse to stop fighting each other. While Sisko wins Shel-la’s trust and manages to coordinate peace talks between the two sides, the talks eventually break down into violence.
“Battle Lines” isn’t one of the best episodes of Deep Space Nine, though for reasons that have nothing to do with Jonathan Banks, its events make it one of the most pivotal episodes of the Star Trek spinoff in terms of the larger narrative. Kai Opaka dies during the crash landing on the moon but is revived by the same nanites resurrecting the Ennis and Nol. Dr. Bashir discovers, however, that if she–or any of the moon’s inhabitants who have died and been revived–leaves the moon, she will die.
Seeing her condition as a matter of fate delivered by the Prophets, Opaka chooses to stay on the moon and minister to the warring prisoners. Her departure opens up the door to a long storyline which eventually sees Winn Adami (Louise Fletcher)–one of the most chilling and entertaining recurring villains in Deep Space Nine–become the new Kai. Opaka only appears in psychic visions in later episodes.
It could very well be that Jonathan Banks’s Shel-la, along with Kai Opaka, is still alive in Star Trek. Other than visions received by certain characters, we never hear any kind of concrete word from Opaka or anyone else on the penal moon. We don’t know if the nanites were ever dealt with, or if even in the distant 32nd century in which Discovery is set, the Ennis and Nol continue their futile war.
We also never find out exactly who it was who put the warring clans on the penal moon in the first place. It seems possible, maybe even likely, that the character Jonathan Banks played was a victim of Star Trek’s The Dominion. The villains aren’t mentioned until Season 2 of Deep Space Nine, but a number of later episodes reveal the Dominion was known for its always cruel and sometimes creative forms of punishment.