As good as – hell, maybe better – than any of the best of the best Breaking Bad episodes, the latest Better Call Saul is an all-timer. This is up there with “Ozymandias”, or “Crawlspace.” Or “Fly” (yes, “Fly” is one of the best Breaking Bad episodes, don’t @ me). “Bagman” seems to be a culmination of what this season is all about: destroying every last trace of Jimmy Mcgill and replacing him entirely with Saul Goodman. Like Jesus, or Moses, our hero wanders into the desert, and comes back changed.
Jimmy and Mike
It would be wrong to call “Bagman” a “bottle episode”, because it does go to multiple locations – although they all kind of look the same: like the desert. But unlike most other episodes of Better Call Saul, “Bagman” doesn’t cut around to the many characters. Instead, it stays almost entirely with Jimmy and Mike as they stagger through the desert, like exiles from a remake of Lawrence of Arabia.
That may not sound very engaging, or entertaining. But “Bagman” is directed by Vince Gilligan, and it features what might just be the best directing ever seen on both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul combined. Gilligan doesn’t resort to a lot of tricks – well, there is one involving clouds that move at fast speed while everything below moves along normally. Instead, he finds ways to make Jimmy and Mike’s trek cinematic – and also quite physical. We can feel the pain and dehydration Jimmy is experiencing just by looking at his burnt, peeling face.
Before we get there, though, Jimmy almost gets away clean. Almost. Lalo has tasked him with going to the border to pick up his bail money – $7 million. Jimmy is hesitant to do this – it’s potentially very dangerous. And surprisingly, Lalo actually gives him a way out. Or at least pretends to – I have a feeling Lalo is just play-acting here, knowing that deep down, Jimmy can’t resist his true nature.
And he’s right. Because before he walks out the door, Jimmy throws out a number: $100,000. He’ll do the job for 100K. And Lalo accepts those terms. It’s a potential windfall for Jimmy. But he’s remaining true to his word with Kim, and therefore tells her what he’s going to do. Kim is understandably alarmed, and, for what I think is the first time ever, she flat-out asks him to not do something. Kim has expressed distaste and displeasure with Jimmy’s actions before, but she’s never acted like this. With pain and despair and worry in her voice, she practically begs him not to do it.
But he does. Because he can’t help himself.
Picking up the money actually goes off without a hitch. Jimmy grabs it from those silent, imposing Salamanca cousins. But everything that follows is a disaster. Jimmy is ambushed by gun-toting heavies – it’s not entirely clear who they are, or who they’re working for. But they want the money, and they come very close to killing Jimmy. But he’s saved at the last minute by Mike, who has been tracking Jimmy via his old gas cap tracking device trick. The shootout leaves all but one of the bandits dead, and Mike and Jimmy without adequate transportation. So now they have to stagger through the desert, lugging heavy bags of money, and hope the surviving robber doesn’t come looking for them.
Of course, he does. But Jimmy and Mike have to deal primarily with the elements, which proves to be almost too much for Jimmy. But not Mike, and he explains why: he’s doing what he does because he has people that depend on him. He loves his surviving family, and so he does dangerous things to make enough money to keep them safe. And that’s all he cares about. It’s a rousing speech, and Jonathan Banks kills it – the same way he knocked the now-classic “I broke my boy!” speech out of the park in season 1.
Mike’s arc this season has been about accepting who he is now – a criminal. And the experience in the desert seems to have the same transformative effect on Jimmy, because he intentionally baits the surviving thief so that Mike can gun him down. And just like that, Jimmy McGill might be finally dead. The time of Saul Goodman is at hand.
- Kim doesn’t have a whole lot to do this week, but her two big scenes are great. First she pleads with Jimmy, then she actually goes to see Lalo in prison to ask for help. It’s a risky move, but it proves how much she cares about Jimmy, even after everything that’s happened.
- Mike, upon learning that Jimmy tells Kim about his shady dealings: “She’s in the game now.” Uh-oh.
- Mike causing the lone robber’s truck to flip over, and then finding that the crash destroyed a huge jug of water that both he and Jimmy really could’ve used, is a great touch.
- Mike also gets to have the ultimate dad joke this week – after a shootout, he surveys the damage to Jimmy’s car, and says: “The alternator’s shot. Literally.”
- Speaking of which, R.I.P. Jimmy’s Suzuki Esteem. You will be missed.
- When a fire isn’t possible to protect against the cold desert night, Mike whips out two emergency thermal blankets – which look just like the “space blanket” Chuck used to wear.
- In Breaking Bad, Saul was operating under the (incorrect) assumption that Mike was working directly for him – it was only later that he learned about Gus. I’m guessing this time in the desert is going to serve as a bonding experience between Jimmy and Mike, and form that bond/partnership.
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