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Better Call Saul S5E8: “Bagman” Is Borderline Unwatchable

Photo Credit: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

This week’s episode wasn’t bad, but it did have bad timing. Better Call Saul S5E8 delivers almost nonstop, white-knuckle tension—and with the powerhouse team of writer Gordon Smith and director Vince Gilligan, that was bound to be the case—but that kind of anxiety-inducing hour of television was just not what I needed at this particular point in time. As some of my loyal readers may know, I have clinical anxiety issues, so “Bagman”—while an excellent episode—is just simply not for me right now, the state of the world being what it is. I’m sure I’ll watch it again in the future, but not for a while. Gotta let the dust settle on this one.

The vast majority of the episode follows Jimmy and Mike through their harrowing ordeal in the desert. There’s not a whole lot to it, plot-wise: Jimmy picks up the $7 million from The Cousins, thinks he’s gonna get out of there no problem but is ambushed, a firefight ensues with a hidden party (Mike), and then the two of them traverse the desert on foot while trying to avoid the remaining guy looking for them (and the money). Laid out like this it doesn’t seem to have all that much going on, but the experience of watching it is a whole different ballgame.

The whole thing was incredibly visceral, to the point where I literally gagged during several of the urine-related parts. I found it exhausting to watch Jimmy and Mike’s exhaustion as they ran out of steam. The makeup on Odenkirk as he fried in the sun was actually horrifying to look at by the end. It was all incredibly well done, but—like I said—it was a bit too much for me right now. I think it’s very much to the credit of Smith and Gilligan that they could have me so out of my mind with tension when we all know for a fact that both Jimmy/Saul and Mike make it through their desert ordeal alive, but they managed to create an experience so stressful that I literally cannot rewatch it.

The show has been edging closer and closer to the Breaking Bad timeline, the stakes are growing ever higher, and there have been more action sequences as we get deeper and deeper into the cartel side of things. But while we have been approaching Breaking Bad territory, the episodes we’ve seen lately have retained their Better Call Saul identity. Better Call Saul S5E8 was a Breaking Bad episode. It just was. Maybe that’s just because of the amount of action involved, coupled with those iconic Vince Gilligan desert shots, but it was a Breaking Bad episode in Better Call Saul clothing—and that’s not a bad thing, just not what I want right now.

The only thing that made it Better Call Saul-adjacent is Kim—who really is the heart of the show—but even Kim in this episode was giving me later season Skyler White vibes. As Mike made abundantly clear to Jimmy, Kim is in the game now—so much so that she goes to see Lalo Salamanca in jail to try to locate Jimmy. She had basically begged Jimmy not to go be the cartel bagman. She knew it would break bad. But, even though he did try to get out of it when he met with Lalo, the allure of the $100K he could get for his troubles outweighed the dangers that he ignored (but that Kim saw coming). So when Jimmy didn’t come home, Kim didn’t do what Mike assumed she would do (go to the cops), because Mike doesn’t understand Kim Wexler and what she is capable of. But she didn’t just sit around doing nothing. She’s in the game now, so she went to talk to the main player.

Kim tried to get Lalo to tell her where he sent Jimmy, and Lalo was shocked that Saul would tell his wife anything about his involvement. He didn’t seem angry about it, especially after Kim explained marital privilege, but he wasn’t about to give her any information either. It was a valiant effort on her part, but ultimately unsuccessful, and now Lalo Salamanca knows who she is and how close she is to Saul, and that cannot be a good thing. Lalo may still be locked up, but his most dangerous weapon is and has always been information.

While I am choosing not to revisit every excruciating detail of the desert portion of Better Call Saul S5E8 at this time, I think it’s worth noting what Mike said to Jimmy to get him to keep going. Jimmy had completely given up, was laying on the ground ready to die, but Mike gave him the pep-talk he needed. He told Jimmy, in a roundabout way, that his family is what gives him the strength to push through horrible situations like the one they currently find themselves in. Mike doesn’t care about himself or his own safety; for him, it’s all about making sure that Stacy and Kaylee are taken care of.

Jimmy’s raison d’être is and has always been Kim. While he doesn’t know that she’s been to see Lalo, Jimmy has to know that his cartel involvement leaves her vulnerable if anything were to happen to him (or rather, to the money he’s supposed to be delivering to Lalo). I think at this point, though, Jimmy just wants to go home to his wife. He can’t lay down and die in the desert on the bagman run she told him not to go on. He needs to make it out of there, and he finds the strength to keep going (and finally take out the guy who’s been chasing them). There’s not a doubt in my mind that without Kim, Jimmy gives up and dies in that desert. She is his strength, just as Stacey (and especially Kaylee) are Mike’s strength.

“Bagman” didn’t even do us the courtesy of letting Jimmy and Mike make it out of the desert. Smith and Gilligan left them there. Of course, we know they get out so it isn’t strictly necessary, but it would have been nice to give the viewer some closure after the ordeal they put us through. It’s clear, though, that Better Call Saul has no intention of letting us breathe. We are approaching the end of Season 5 (and Season 6 will be the show’s last), so things aren’t going to get any easier from here. I just hope I can muster the mental fortitude to get through whatever nightmare fuel the writing team has in store for me in the coming weeks.

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Written by Ali Sciarabba

In addition to her position as TV Editor and Writer for 25YL, Ali Sciarabba is a freelance editorial consultant and author of numerous nonfiction reference books for middle school and high school students. In her spare time she enjoys obsessing over various television shows, especially Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. When not overanalyzing TV shows, she is wrangling her Corgi, Cassidy, who is inarguably the cutest dog that has ever existed.

7 Comments

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  1. I thought it was a phenomenal episode, so your headline for the article had me scratching my head until I clicked in and read your review. My only question about the episode is, who were the people who ambushed Jimmy? How did they know where to be and when to ambush him? Why didn’t he have any backup or protection aside from Mike?
    Otherwise this episode was harrowing and incredibly well done. I felt for Jimmy and could imagine myself in his shoes, something this show does extremely well. I haven’t seen Breaking Bad past season 1, so a lot of what is to come is still a surprise for me, which is really fun.

  2. I thought this episode was also edging the style closer to BB. One thing that ran through it was the sight of a trio of people normally very confident in their abilities, all brought out of their comfort zones. Jimmy is unbalanced by the violence around him, and rendered speechless for a change and, eventually, motionless. Kim fails to work her usual authoritative vibe on Lalo, and can neither persuade him gently nor even threaten him with any legal consequences. Even Mike is feeling the pinch of the desert hike, purely down to his age, of course. Great episode – but they all are.

    • I think it’s pretty clear that Ali said that the episode was brilliant, just extremely hard to watch. Perhaps try reading the article before you make assumptions.

  3. Why didnt they check any of the other vehicles to check their condition for driving and what about Mike’s car, really?

  4. Why would Kim think that Lalo would tell her where he sent Jimmy? He could just tell Nacho or someone else from his crew where the drop occurred and they could drive into the desert looking for him. So why didn’t Lalo do that as soon as Jimmy failed to turn up on time? It seems like a perfectly logical move, and if he had made it, whoever was sent on the search would have come upon Mike and Jimmy and the whole Gus Fring scheme would be exposed. Seems like a pretty major plot hole.

  5. Everyone is getting squeezed hard now. As much as Mike wanted to believe he could always adhere to a “code” was always foolish, and since he was forced to do what he did in last year’s finale, he’s reeling. Jimmy is getting drawn into the cartel stuff despite him knowing it’s something to stay away from, and now Kim is sucked in as well, due in part of Jimmy trying to be honest with her.
    I love how this show does the slow burn thing Breaking Bad, and shows like Bates Motel, did. I am however fully invested in Kim, and foolishly hope she’s somehow alive, perhaps bought a special vacuum, and will aid Jimmy/Gene in Cinnabon World. But I doubt it.
    Excellent review as always, Ali.

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