This BETTER CALL SAUL review contains spoilers.
Better Call Saul Season 5 Episode 8
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Two men are stranded together in the New Mexico desert without water due to vehicle trouble. The men are of very different backgrounds and temperaments. The staggering, wide-shots of the beautiful, yet unforgiven desert that surrounds them looks like it could swallow them both up. The men may be involved in some nefarious and highly treacherous lines of work, but right now, the biggest threat to their safety is the vast, arid landscape they’re trapped in. Sound familiar?
Better Call Saul’s latest and perhaps one of its greatest episodes, “Bagman,” directly recalls Breaking Bad’s Season 2 highlight “Four Days Out,” but somehow manages to be bleaker and more suspenseful. That’s doubly impressive considering that we know our marooned Jesse and Walt stand-ins Jimmy and Mike will survive this perilous affair. Returning director and Breaking Bad auteur Vince Gilligan pulls out his old playbook and pumps “Bagman” up with high-octane shootouts, tense, face-to-face showdowns, and his penchant for dark comedy. From the minute the episode begins, and we see two cartel lackeys splashing bloody water at one another, there’s no doubt about who’s behind the wheel of this instant classic.
As notable as it is to restage and one-up “Four Days Out,” “Bagman” also finally bridges the gap between Jimmy’s new “friend of the cartel” world and Kim’s, a moment Better Call Saul fans have been anticipating and dreading with equal measure. It’s one thing for Kim to know about Jimmy’s business with Lalo and other criminals, it’s a different thing entirely for her to sit directly across from these figures. Kim already didn’t want Jimmy involved with something so obviously dangerous and he was just barely able to quell her fears before his “simple” money pick-up; once he inevitably returns, something tells me their full disclosure policy will be changing.
Seeing Kim sit across from Lalo, trying to pry information so she can safely locate Jimmy, really is a trip. I don’t think I’ve written enough about fantastic Tony Dalton has been as Lalo. Lalo arrived on the scene as such a distinct, fully formed character, dripping with swagger, bemused detachment, and genuine menace. Between Dalton’s cackling over the news of the burnt down Los Pollos Hermanos, surprise at Kim being “Mrs. Goodman,” and his lack of concern for “la cucaracha,” Lalo is a pure delight, even when he’s being stomach-churningly awful. If he harms or threatens a hair on Kim’s head, I’ll destroy him.
But Kim is now involved in this in a very real way that she wasn’t before. Mike empirically knows this. “She’s in the game now,” he tells Jimmy after he learns that Jimmy told her about his whereabouts prior to heading toward the border to pick up the money. Whether he wants to admit it to himself or not, Kim will now be used as a pawn to motivate and control Jimmy. The walls separating the two worlds have dissolved forever; the parallel storylines of Mike and Jimmy/Kim have now intersected. It doesn’t look like there’s any going back now.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of the whole episode is that Jimmy is once again offered an out. Like last week when Howard extended Jimmy one final lifeline, Jimmy could have chosen not to head down to the border in his Suzuki Esteem. Lalo granted him that privilege. He could have left that holding room and waited for a call from Lalo when he actually needed legal advice. But just as Jimmy was about to walk out that door, Saul Goodman’s voice broke through with a weasely, inquisitive counteroffer. “!00,000?” he almost involuntarily croaked, not being able to resist seeing how far he could press his luck. Well, now he knows exactly how far his luck will go.
I suppose his luck didn’t entirely run out. Mike was there to save his ass, for reasons we don’t quite know at the moment. Mike may not have the best bedside manner, but he’s a great shot and probably the only person on this show you’d want to be stranded out in the desert with. When Jimmy has finally had enough, pierced in the foot by a cactus and at peak exhaustion, Mike keeps him going by mentioning his own reasons for carrying on. Breaking Bad fans are familiar with the speech that Mike delivers, but it doesn’t make it any less impactful. It motivates Jimmy to play the decoy in attempt to dispatch of the roving vehicle that’s searching for them, but Mike’s shots are a little too effective, causing the vehicle to crash beyond use. The episode ends without a neat resolution, meaning we’ll be starting the penultimate episode of Season 5 out in the chromatic, sweltering desert.
“Bagman” is a thrilling, highly consequential installment that is as equally introspective as it is explosive. I tend to bristle at episodes that so clearly ape Breaking Bad’s style and rhythms, but with Vince Gilligan at the helm, “Bagman” is purely undeniable. It even manages to spill in interesting references and allusions to the show’s past, like Mike offering Jimmy a space blanket, which obviously reminds him of Chuck, and Jimmy keeping his piss in the Davis & Main bottle. Each episode of Better Call Saul seems more engrossing than the last, and now that the show’s separate storylines are collapsing in on each other, it truly feels like the endgame has started.