Where to Watch: AMC
I learned to stop trying to predict what would happen in shows a long time ago. Solving a mystery box show like Westworld, or even trying to ascertain the final fate of Walter White in Breaking Bad, never seemed like a compelling use of my time; I’d rather sit down and let the show just wash over me completely.
Yet, sometimes you can’t help yourself.
Every now and again, you get a general sense that an upcoming episode of a show has the DNA to be something special. A few factors had already aligned to make this week’s episode of Better Call Saul, “Bagman,” draw my attention. For one, this marked the first episode back for Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan since El Camino; regardless of whether or not you felt that story was necessary, Gilligan undeniably elevated his directorial talents with the project. Add in the increasing darkness around the show, a factor I keyed into last week, and the general plot behind this episode (Jimmy having to go and pick up Lalo’s $7 million bail money from the Cousins), and all the elements were there: “Bagman” was primed to be a capital “I” important episode.
And man, did it deliver. “Bagman” is a pantheon-level episode of the Breaking Bad universe, worthy of being mentioned alongside classics like “Fly,” "To'hajiilee,” “Gliding All Over,” and even “Ozymandias.” [Ed Note: Spoiler warning from here on out.]
What unfolds after Jimmy almost literally fumbles the bag is a two-hander between Mike (Jonathan Banks) and Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) that feels like a spiritual successor to Breaking Bad’s “4 Days Out” by way of Lawrence of Arabia. (In fact, the Lawrence influence was so overt that Gilligan and co-creator Peter Gould actively considered renting the exact camera lens used to shoot the Peter O’Toole-led classic.) The thrilling desert shootout makes this episode feel the closest Better Call Saul has gotten to directly evoking the action and intensity of Breaking Bad, fitting as Jimmy’s full-friend-of-the-cartel status puts him in a far more dangerous position than if he’d continued to work at Davis and Main. Furthermore, Gilligan’s direction has always been at its most cinematic when he’s photographing the sweeping New Mexico desert landscapes—each and every frame an exquisite picture—making the overall look of the episode more expansive than the show’s typical courtroom set-locales. And, of course, those sequences conjure up feelings of Breaking Bad’s own desert-filled moments.
“Bagman” does more to further tie the two disparate halves of the show together by literally binding Mike and Jimmy together as they look to survive. Mike’s gruff nature is critical to survival, but his bedside manner leaves a lot to be desired. Jimmy’s overall buffoonery is a nuisance to Mike until he puts it to effective use. Jimmy’s space-blanket run, of course, is meant to evoke echoes of Chuck’s own space-blanket-clad moments.
As I sat enthralled through “Bagman,” I was reminded of Mad Men’s “The Suitcase” in the way it manages to show a deeper understanding of two characters we already have a rich history with. We know from Breaking Bad that Jimmy and Mike have a relationship and understanding between one another, and “Bagman” serves to further underscore not only that relationship but why they’re in the game to begin with. Walter White tried to fool others into thinking he was helping his family, but that’s truly the case with Mike—making his departure in Breaking Bad all the more tragic. Here we learn Jimmy, above all else, loves Kim (Rhea Seehorn), to the point where he’s willing to die for her.
Despite that love, Jimmy’s hubris has gotten him in too deep now. I was struck by the simple image of using water, a soon-to-be eventual lifeline, to clean the dirt off his shoes. The visual of trading life—in this case, the life of Jimmy McGill—to preserve the “image” of Saul Goodman, feels like Better Call Saul’s Macbeth moment. And, of course, it didn’t make a difference: Jimmy still ends up with blood all over his shirt after getting caught in the gunfight. He tries to plug the bullet holes in his Suzuki Esteem and his trusty coffee mug to no avail. No matter how hard Jimmy McGill tries, the spot will never be clean again. —William Goodman