After last week’s nonstop barrage of anxiety, I was dreading what was to come this week. “Bad Choice Road” (written and directed by Thomas Schnauz), while still intense at points, was a bit of a palate cleanser for me. Better Call Saul S5E9 finally let Jimmy out of his desert hellscape while also letting Kim Wexler shine (and steal every scene she’s in). With his enemy almost out of the picture, Gus is looking to the future, but getting rid of Lalo does not prove to be as simple as they’d all hoped.
The cold open of “Bad Choice Road” echoes that of “Something Stupid” (S4E7)—with the same use of a split-screen and a variation of the same song (Lola Marsh’s “Something Stupid”). In that Season 4 episode, we saw Kim and Jimmy going about their daily routines over the course of several months. The montage began as Kim was just starting at Schweikart & Cokely, and the Saul Goodman burner phone enterprise was picking up steam. At this point, they were living together, but they were living very different, often separate lives. The Jimmy and Kim we see in the Better Call Saul S5E9 opener are in a very different place.
We’ve still got a burned and battered Jimmy desperately trying to make his way out of the desert, while a terrified Kim chain-smokes and just waits. We have not seen Kim smoking in a while, so I have to wonder if she was attempting to quit but the stress of the whole not knowing if her husband is alive or dead situation caused her to light up again, and who could blame her? There’s such a contrast here between the place they were in during the “Something Stupid” montage and their current predicament. They are so much closer now than they were before, when it seemed as if they were drifting apart as their career trajectories were going in wildly different directions. Now, they are married, both “in the game” (as much as neither may want to admit that), and both are just desperate to be together again.
I was so relieved when Jimmy finally got some cell service and they are able to get the hell out of there. I, like Jimmy and Mike, really could not stand one more second out in the desert. Kim is, of course, Jimmy’s first call, and she is so relieved that she can’t help but cry. Knowing what we know about Kim, I feel like she has not allowed herself to cry up until this point. Of course the idea that Jimmy was dead had been on her mind, but I don’t think she allowed herself to let it out until she knew for sure, one way or another.
After making it to a nearby gas station, where they picked up a change of clothes and lots of hydrating beverages, they are picked up by Tyrus and Victor. Gus’s guys are already on their way to the site of the shootout to clean everything up, so all that remains is for Saul Goodman to get his story straight for Lalo. We don’t see the conversation, but we learn soon enough that the story is that Jimmy’s car broke down six or so miles from the pickup site and he had to walk out of the desert. It’s pretty simple and straightforward, and it shouldn’t really give Lalo any pause considering that Saul did everything that was asked of him—including delivering the $7 million in cash and deflecting the many questions of the prosecutor—but (as we later learn), there was a significant detail overlooked. During the cleanup effort, Gus’s guys left the Esteem in the ditch (complete with bullet holes). I’m sure Gus is well aware of the story that Saul was supposed to tell Lalo, so why wouldn’t he make sure that the car was towed out of there? It would make sense that Jimmy would have his car retrieved once he got back to civilization, so why was it left out there when everything else was cleaned up? Is this just an oversight on Gus’s part, or part of a larger plan?
Whatever Gus’s plan is, when Lalo is released, Saul sticks to the script. The always suspicious Lalo has a few questions, but he seems satisfied enough with Saul’s answers. He tells him that, to no one’s surprise, he’s headed back to Mexico. What does surprise Jimmy is the fact that Lalo still has plans for them to work together. He is, after all, “a friend of the cartel” now (and—in addition to PTSD—he’s got a bunch of extra cash to show for it). Another unpleasant surprise comes when Lalo tells him that Kim stopped by to see him while he was MIA. I always love scenes with Jimmy and Lalo, and this one was no different as Lalo points out to Jimmy just how out of his league Kim is and how he’s got respect that he was able to marry so far above himself. Ain’t that the truth.
Jimmy is finally back at home with Kim, who is tending to his injuries. This isn’t the first time Kim has taken care of a bruised and battered Jimmy. In “Quite a Ride” (S4E5), after Jimmy is mugged and beaten outside the Dog House, Kim also cares for him tenderly. When Jimmy is physically injured, Kim has a maternal way about her that she does not exhibit at other times. Kim is not the type of woman who mothers her partner, but when she sees that he has come to physical harm, it triggers the response to nurture and protect. She is always concerned for him, but there is an incredibly soft side that comes out when he is hurt, and we see that here to the Nth degree.
While Jimmy is too traumatized by his experience to be honest with Kim about what happened, he already knows that she saw Lalo and feels like he needs to talk to her about it. He’s still desperately clinging to the wish that her association with him does not mean that she is “in the game,” and so he makes it clear that she can’t have anything to do with Lalo Salamanca. Of course, Kim would never have willingly sought out a meeting with Lalo had she not been in the most desperate of circumstances, but Jimmy knows—a little too well now—exactly how dangerous it is to be in the game, and he wants her as far away from it as possible. It is, as we soon find out, totally naïve of him to believe that they could live their lives together without his business touching her in any way. When you share your life with someone, their problems are your problems. If one of you is in the game, the other is, too.
Kim asks Jimmy the obvious question: “was it worth it?” and he tells her to go look in his bag. There she finds the very large sum of money that Jimmy earned for his trouble—but she also finds his coffee mug with a bullet hole in it. I think part of her already knew that Jimmy wasn’t telling her the whole story. Maybe she wanted to believe that he was keeping his promise to always tell her the truth, but even faced with evidence that he’s not being honest about his experience in the desert, she doesn’t press him. She can sense that he is completely traumatized by the experience (and this is hammered home when he’s triggered by her using the juicer), but she trusts that he will tell her the truth whenever he is ready to do so. To Kim, this is less a lie than the fact that Jimmy is simply not ready or able to talk about what really happened to him, so she doesn’t force it. It is the greatest kindness she could do him at this moment—more helpful that any oatmeal bath or freshly squeezed orange juice could ever be.
Kim tries to get him to take a day off with her, but Jimmy can’t sit still. He needs to occupy his mind and try to take it off of what happened, so he answers the call of a client in need and goes to work. Of course, he’s in no position to be at work, and he loses something that he should have easily won (much to the delight of DDA Oakley, who teases him mercilessly for his terrible performance in court). We don’t see what happened in court, but knowing the state that Jimmy is in mentally combined with Oakley’s mocking gives us a pretty good idea of how much of a mess he was.
The only person that Jimmy can turn to at this point is Mike, who knows exactly what he went through. The two sit in Mike’s car, where Jimmy gets the Mike Ehrmantraut version of a pep talk. This is one of those classic Mike monologues where he tells someone exactly how it is in no uncertain terms. In this case, he tells Jimmy, who is desperate to know when the whole trauma thing is going to go away, that you really just have to wait for it. There’s nothing to be done except wait for the day when you just don’t think about it. He’s not wrong there, and he’s also not wrong when he tells Jimmy that they are where they are because of choices they both made. You don’t just randomly end up in a shootout and wandering around the desert half-dead. You make choices that put you there, and that’s what he did. He has to learn to live with that and, eventually, he will be able to weather things as Mike can.
What Jimmy can’t understand, and what has been bothering him ever since he took on Lalo as a client, is why he’s been tasked with helping someone who murdered an innocent person. It’s one thing if people are “in the game,” but Lalo killed a regular person, and Jimmy is having a hard time living with that. Mike knows that there are larger forces at work, and that getting Lalo out of prison is serving a larger purpose, but he acknowledges the injustice there. Though he won’t tell Jimmy what the plan is, he does hint that getting Lalo out of prison is not the real endgame.
Kim decides to go to work as well, but she’s not there for long. We’ve known for a while that she finds the work on Mesa Verde unfulfilling and would much rather be working on her pro bono cases. Her recent experience with Jimmy’s disappearance has, among other things, reminded her that life is short, and she no longer wants to do things that don’t make her happy. She abruptly quits her job at Schweikart and Cokely (taking only the Zafiro Añejo bottle top—a memento of her first scam with Jimmy), and just like that, her time as a partner at S&C (and her work on Mesa Verde) is over. I have to wonder if her decision to only do things that make her happy will include not just more work with clients in need but also more of that Slippin’ Kimmy behavior. Doing good for people makes her happy, but so does the thrill of the scam.
Unlike Jimmy, who is still walking around in shock, Mike is business as usual as he debriefs Gus on what happened out in the desert. Mike’s theory is that the guys involved in the ambush trailed The Cousins but, knowing how dangerous the pair are even when outnumbered, waited until they were gone to make a move for the money. Mike draws the tattoo he saw on the men, which he has seen before and identifies as a Columbian gang symbol. Gus believes that the men were hired by Juan Bolsa in an attempt to protect the business, but because Bolsa is unaware of their plan to remove Lalo from the equation, things took an unexpected turn.
Mike decides it is time to bring up the question of letting Nacho out of the game, but Gus is not about to let go of an asset—especially since, with Lalo gone, Nacho will be the only one left to run the Salamanca operation north of the border. He’s too valuable to Gus to let him go, and when Mike tells him that the fact that he’s threatening Nacho’s father doesn’t sit well with him, Gus compares Nacho to a dog who bites every owner it’s had. The only options, as far as Gus is concerned, are a firm hand or to put him down. Mike doesn’t like it, but Gus’s mind is made up and there’s nothing he can do about it.
Lalo goes to visit Hector at Casa Tranquila one last time before he heads for Mexico. Hector is not thrilled that Lalo isn’t going to be able to run operations in New Mexico, but Lalo assures him that he’ll still be able to make moves against Fring from home. He will have the ear of Don Eladio and he plans to try and turn him against Gus. This seems to placate Hector a bit, since as we all know, Lalo Salamanca can be very persuasive. If anyone can sway the opinion of the cartel boss, it’s Lalo. We also learn that Tuco will be out of jail and back on the scene in 11 months, so there will be a Salamanca running things again within the year. Until then, Lalo trusts Nacho to take care of business, and he promises Hector that he’ll make sure that Tuco stays clean when he gets out of prison (although we all know that is not going to happen).
There is a really touching moment as Lalo is leaving. He tells Hector that “family is everything,” and you can sense that it really does pain Lalo to have to leave Hector alone in Albuquerque with no family, especially with his mortal enemy Gus Fring still kicking around. Until Tuco gets out, Hector is the last Salamanca standing north of the border, which is a precarious position and not one that Lalo wants to leave him in.
Nacho takes Lalo to the pickup spot, which just so happens to be where Jimmy made the pickup from The Cousins. Lalo is about to send Nacho on his way when it occurs to him that he did not see Jimmy’s car on the way in, where it should have been if his story was true. He finds the Esteem in the ditch where Mike and Jimmy left it, and when he examines it he finds bullet holes that tell a much different story from the Saul Goodman version. He tells Nacho to take him back to Albuquerque for some unfinished business with Saul.
Before a certain unwanted guest shows up at their door, Kim returns home and breaks the news to Jimmy that she quit her job. He doesn’t take it particularly well and can’t understand why she would leave a partner position. She tries to explain that it was enough for her to have achieved those things and had that experience, but in the end it didn’t make her happy. Pro bono work makes her happy, but Jimmy can’t help but jump directly to the financial implications of this (and I would probably do the same thing, to be honest). It could be argued that the fact that Saul Goodman is flush with cartel cash was a factor in Kim feeling like she had the freedom to quit her job, but I don’t think that’s really it. Maybe in the back of her mind she knew that, at least for the immediate future, money would not be an issue, but I don’t think the financials of it occurred to her in the moment. It was about living a more satisfying life away from the stuffy S&C offices and the whims of clients like Kevin Wachtell.
Jimmy thinks that Kim is making a bad choice, and he recycles Mike’s monologue about choices (although the Jimmy version is not nearly as effective). Kim rightly points out that, though she didn’t understand his choice to become Saul Goodman, she supported him. She’s supported Jimmy through so many questionable choices that it is kind of laughable that he would question her. Kim makes it clear that her career choices are her own and it’s really none of Jimmy’s business, and this is true to some extent. All she did was leave a job that didn’t make her happy; it’s not like she decided to get in bed with a Mexican drug cartel without telling her partner first… While I understand Jimmy’s concerns, he really has no legs to stand on lecturing Kim about bad choices.
They are interrupted by a knock at the door, and as Kim goes to answer it Jimmy finally picks up his phone (which had been ringing throughout his conversation with Kim). Mike is on the line, on his way to Jimmy and Kim’s place, and tells Jimmy to keep his phone on and hide it so he can hear the conversation. Jimmy has no idea what he’s talking about until he goes to the door to find Lalo. He invites himself in with his usual brand of chaotic energy, that sort of casual menace that he’s so incredibly good at, but Kim and Jimmy both know that nothing good can come from a Lalo Salamanca house call.
Lalo wants answers, and he forces Jimmy to tell and retell the story of what happened in the desert. The last ten minutes of Better Call Saul S5E9 ratchet up the anxiety level (though it’s not nearly as hard to watch as “Bagman” was). Lalo is such a great villain and manages to be effortlessly terrifying. Jimmy is completely ineffectual in his attempts to stick to the story Mike gave him because it’s becoming increasingly clear that the story simply isn’t good enough. Mike finally gets on the scene and has a clear shot at Lalo, but we don’t know if/when he’s going to take it. The whole thing builds up so slowly and perfectly to the conclusion: Kim Wexler saving the day.
Kim is terrified of Lalo, but she doesn’t let this show as she speaks truth to power. Lalo Salamanca is smart, but Kim Wexler is smarter, and she has a plausible explanation for every issue Lalo takes with Jimmy’s version of the story. More importantly, she turns the tables on Lalo and points out that he’s got a big-picture problem if Saul Goodman is the only person he can trust. Kim’s words are enough to get Lalo to leave, though who knows if that’s the last they will see of him.
As we head into the Better Call Saul season finale next week, the stakes are higher than they have ever been. The Lalo threat remains, whether or not he ends up in Mexico. As long as he’s still breathing, no one without the last name Salamanca is safe. He may have accepted what Kim said, but I don’t think he fully believes any of it other than the fact that he does not have his house in order. While Gus remains an enemy and a threat, Kim’s demonstration of her intelligence and persuasiveness may have worked in the short-term, but will Lalo decide that she would make another great asset and friend to the cartel? Would Kim maybe accept that role if it means she could focus on her pro bono work? Kim’s future is uncertain, but what Better Call Saul S5E9 made absolutely clear is that, like it or not, she is definitely in the game.