REVIEW: Better Call Saul – “Bagman”

The following is a recap and review of the eighth episode of the fifth season of Better Call Saul, available on AMC in the U. S. and on Netflix internationally. Expect story spoilers. 

In the eighth episode of the fifth season — Bagman — Jimmy McGill (played by Bob Odenkirk) travels south of the border to pick up Lalo Salamanca’s bail money. Bagman was written by Gordon Smith and directed by Breaking Bad creator, Better Call Saul co-creator, and El Camino-director Vince Gilligan.

When Vince Gilligan, this Breaking Bad universe’s creator, directs an episode of Better Call Saul, you pay attention. I think the same is fair to say about Gordon Smith’s writing. Smith has cemented himself as one of the show’s most gifted writers, and his episodes never disappoint. Bagman, the eighth episode of the fifth season of Better Call Saul, could be Smith’s best, and it is another reminder that Vince Gilligan’s talents are very cinematic.

This episode’s premise is fairly straightforward. Jimmy has to go past the border to get Lalo‘s bail money, and he also has to try to get back in one piece. It’s a simple premise, and, according to Jimmy, the mission sounds simple enough. It’s going to be easy, isn’t it? It really isn’t. This is a nice reminder that even though Jimmy has come a long way in his transformation to becoming Saul Goodman, he is not yet as experienced in working with the cartel. Always the schemer, he is blind to the real danger the mission poses. Alas, there is nothing simple about this job, which the episode’s bloody cartel-focused cold open suggests. Jimmy is out of his depths in this episode.

Lalo (played by Tony Dalton) is calm enough about it. And why wouldn’t he be? The money represents his freedom, but I’m sure he could get out another way if he so desired. And if Jimmy fails, he can always get another lawyer. To add to that, he knows that he has Jimmy under his thumb — he would never think of running away with the money. But Jimmy does press his luck in their meeting. Lalo is fine with it. Now Jimmy can’t complain, and the fee he demands is mere crumbs to Lalo. Kim (played by Rhea Seehorn) doesn’t take the news as easily. Being a ‘bagman’ changes things. That’s more than being a friend of the cartel. Now they’ll have something on him. Kim is right to spell out her concerns to Jimmy, and, as a viewer that cares about these characters, you’re thinking the same thing. But her plea isn’t enough to sway him.

“Yo soy Abogado,” Jimmy says to himself over and over again in the desert. He’s preparing for his meeting with the twins. The cousins. But maybe he’s also trying to convince himself. No, Jimmy, you’re not just a lawyer anymore. And, of course, nothing goes according to plan. As Mike (played by Jonathan Banks) tries to get Jimmy back across the border and into safety, Jimmy is starting to realize what this job really costs, and he’s also finding out that he’s not in control. Being a friend of the cartel doesn’t mean he’ll be free from harm. Sometimes it means you have to be prepared to drink your own piss when you’re stuck in the desert.

While Mike transports Jimmy and the bail money to safety, Kim makes a move out of love that is — like Jimmy’s mission was to him — far more dangerous than she initially realizes. Confronting Lalo is a decision that I fear is going to come back to haunt her in ways that we don’t like to imagine. Like Mike tells Jimmy, it was a terrible mistake to involve Kim in all of this. She knows. She’s in the game now. Lalo and Kim’s meeting is very direct. While Kim shows strength, Lalo is unfazed. It doesn’t take him long to realize that she’s just scared. Lalo’s comment about Jimmy being a survivor – “la Cucaracha,” as he says – is an interesting comment. He’ll outlive most of the characters on this show. He doesn’t know how right he is.

Gilligan really does a good job of capturing the shell-shocked terror and disorientation of the scene in which Mike narrowly saves Jimmy’s life. Odenkirk is also in top form here, as he always is. I love the symbolism of Jimmy’s coffee mug having been shot. Jimmy is desperate to retrieve it. It’s almost as if the show’s writers are trying to show us that Jimmy is trying to cling on to his former cozy lawyer life, and now he comes to find out that it’s long gone. It has a gaping hole in its center. Mike and Jimmy’s trek through the desert (sometimes shown through Better Call Saul’s uniformly great and sometimes really cinematic montages) is a point of no return for the show and for Jimmy. It’s an eye-opener to him. Things will never be the same.

The Better Call Saul team of writers, directors, editors, cinematographers, and its cast continue to amaze. This episode entitled Bagman might be the most cinematic episode of the series. It features a straightforward and fairly simple story but incredible visual technique, strong suspense, and top-notch acting from the series’ best actors. Bagman is one of the best episodes in the entire series. Everyone’s in the game now.


– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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