‘Better Call Saul’ Season 5, Episode 8 Recap: A Little Drive Through the Desert

It takes nerve and skill to tell a story as grueling as the one told in “Bagman,” an episode which consists largely of two men trudging through the desert, dragging $7 million in cash and some high powered weaponry. The nerviest choice made by the writers is surely the one made at the end.

There is no end. At least there is no end to the suffering. We close with Mike and Jimmy, more parched than ever, walking on a desolate dirt road, no closer to salvation than when that Suzuki Esteem sputtered and died. Well, slightly closer. At least no one is trying to kill them now.

Any other show would have written the last scene like this: Mike shoots the driver in the head. Driver crashes, but in a way that leaves the car intact. Also, there’s a jug of water on the passenger seat.

In the merciless universe of this show — much as with the merciless universe we live in — good luck is doled out sparingly. Jimmy had the superb fortune to be tailed by Mike as he ran his $7 million errand, which saved his life. That, in tandem with Mike’s astounding chops as a sniper, is plenty of luck, when you consider the alternatives.

Vince Gilligan takes a turn as director, and his debt to “No Country for Old Men” is evident throughout. It’s especially evident during the shootout, a spectacle that owes much to the unseen massacre that ignites the action of that great Coen Brothers movie, which leaves in its aftermath a gruesome menagerie of Mexican corpses, bullet-riddled vehicles and the notable absence of a large pile of loot.

Gilligan is not just borrowing “No Country’s” plot, setting and color palette. Jimmy is a quintessential Coen Brothers character in “Bagman.” He’s a guy who pursues money, gets it and then finds it is both a physical burden and an existential threat. The bag of money in this episode weighs a little more than 154 pounds, according to the internet. I’d be tempted to bury it, too. By the time Mike explains why that is a lousy idea, it’s fair to assume that Jimmy would have gladly passed on his $100,000 commission for this “little drive through the desert,” as Lalo described it.

By the time Jimmy walks down the road, a piece of shiny bait for a homicidal driver, odds are he would have gladly paid $100,000 to be anywhere else.

Kim called it. Not surprisingly, she is the voice of sanity in this couple, and already the spousal immunity that was the rationale for taking Jimmy as a husband is paying off. At least, rhetorically. She gets to tell Lalo that she doesn’t pose a legal threat to him because she can’t be compelled to testify against her husband.

Fine. But she could be compelled to testify against Lalo, couldn’t she? Not that she knows much at this point. She knows only that the guy is part of a Mexican cartel and sent her husband to retrieve $7 million in a desert.

Which, now that I type it, sounds bad. Mike has a point when he says that Kim is now in the game. We now understand why the writers made such a big deal out of Kim’s insistence on full disclosure from Jimmy as a condition for marriage. It is borderline insane for him to have told her anything about her client, let alone this early morning mission.

In “The Sopranos,” Carmella was wise enough to make sure she knew as little as possible about her husband’s mafia life, and when she asked too many questions, Tony reminded her of the value of her ignorance. The difference is that Carmella knew she had married into the mob. Saul, on the other hand, is becoming a criminal in real time, right before our eyes.

Anyone else fear for Kim?

Odds and Ends:

  • Tony Dalton’s performance as Lalo is one of the standouts of this season. Were you to read the script alone, you wouldn’t find a lot of charm on the page. Yet Dalton has managed to infuse this rascal with devil-may-care charisma, which somehow makes him even more frightening.

    “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” have set a high bar for the creation of villains and Lalo is a worthy addition to a Hall of Fame that includes such sociopaths as Tuco, Leonel and Marco Salamanca (the shark-skinned twins who make symmetry seem chilling every time they show up) and Gus Fring.

    But to the extent that the show’s writers are setting up a battle between Lalo and Gus, they have a problem: We know already that Gus wins. Actually, we know simply that Gus doesn’t lose. (Maybe Lalo becomes a telenovela actor in Mexico during the “Breaking Bad” era. It could happen!) In these circumstances, how will the writers wring suspense out of the coming battle?

    It’s a pickle. Gilligan and his staff love to put their characters in predicaments out of which they seemingly can’t escape, so maybe they are the right people for this job.

  • Did you think that Eminen’s “My Name Is” was playing during part of the forced march through the desert? I did. Briefly. That’s because I had never heard Labi Siffre’s “I Got the,” a 1975 soul track which the rapper, born Marshall Mathers, sampled for his breakout hit in 1999.

  • Plot question: When Lalo shows up at court with $7 million, as I presume he will, won’t that seem suspicious? I mean, very, very suspicious?

    Answers in the comment section, please.

    I’ve got people waiting for me. They don’t know what I do, and they never will.

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