A review of the week You better call Saul, “Bagman”, to come as soon as my steak is marinating in a secret mixture of herbs and spices that I call Old El Paso …
“This is the price. -Jimmy
If last week’s “JMM” You better call Saul the equivalent of Walter White “I’m the knocker! “Speech, then” Bagman “is a spiritual prequel to one of the most beloved breaking Bad episodes of all, “4 Days Out” of season two. Once again, we have the two male roles in the series in a fight for survival in the desert after unexpected circumstances put their vehicle out of service, getting nervous along the way. The context is very different, as is the degree of danger, as Jimmy and Mike are not only fighting against the elements, but trying to escape the only bandit who survived Mike’s sniper shot. But in each case, our anti-hero saves the day by playing on his mental strength. For Walter White, it is his knowledge of science; for Jimmy McGill, it’s his ease with a jerk and his absolute belief that he can rip off anyone.
I often flag “4 Days Out” as the episode where you can show abreaking Bad viewer because it’s as autonomous as a drama like this is capable of being. Saul appears early to discuss the state of Walt’s finances, and potentially bad new developments with Walt’s cancer loom all the time, but for the most part, it’s a wild, fun, and beautifully pulled self-contained adventure that puts worth the huge chemistry between Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul. It doesn’t go too far into the obscurity that ultimately characterized this series (although Walt’s response to cancer in remission gives a taste), but in some ways, it’s a better selling tool for uninitiated as the pilot episode.
“Bagman” wouldn’t work as well for someone who had never looked You better call Saul. But this is a feature, not a bug (*). While it is thrilling and scary and sometimes hilarious to watch Jimmy and Mike attempt to get out of the living desert with all of Lalo’s money intact, the power of the episode ultimately comes from where it exists in the history of the transformation of Jimmy into Saul Goodman, of the already precarious state of his marriage to Kim, and of our knowledge of what space coverage really means. It’s not as instantly quotable as “4 Days Out” – although the sight of Jimmy drinking his own urine will surely inspire fan jokes and memes for years to come – but it is a more emotionally powerful experience.
(*) Although now I wonder what Saul the equivalent of “Fly” would be. An entire episode taking place in the nail salon?
This is also the most recent and clearest evidence in an argument that I have been building in my head for a while: breaking Bad tells the more fundamentally interesting (or, at least, more exciting) story, but Gould, Gilligan and company are better at telling stories in this world right now after so much time. Saul may be hampered by the demands of being a prequel, especially on the drug side (which has recently become the majority of the show), but its individual moments can feel even deeper and more skillfully designed. Which was not something I could have imagined when this show started. (As they admitted, neither did Gilligan and Gould.)
In terms of events, “Bagman” is a fairly simple episode. Jimmy goes to get the money, he is attacked by bandits, Mike saves him, then the two must find a way to return to civilization without being killed by the guy who fled. The only characters to note are Jimmy, Mike, Kim and Lalo, with the bandits and cousins (who bring the money to Jimmy and then leave) operating as conspiracies. There are no sub-plots, no check-ins with Mesa Verde or Nacho’s father or what Lyle thinks about the explosion in his workplace. Once Jimmy and Mike’s odyssey begins, we leave the desert only to see Kim ask Lalo to help him find her husband. It’s this story and only this story is told. We just said it at an astonishing level of execution.
Vince Gilligan has retired from this series in recent years to make El Camino and work on other projects, but it always helps develop the story arcs of each season, and it always does one episode per season. Luckily for the draw he got “Bagman” because the episodes are sometimes attributed to writers and directors before anyone knows what they will contain. It is therefore decisive that the best director of the desert scenes franchise (*) ended up with the chance to film an hour’s hell almost entirely on the hard, bright and dusty terrain. Gilligan and director of photography Marshall Adams have never worked better together, with one spectacular composition after another. Even before the real mishap begins, we have Jimmy’s legs framing the arrival of the Cousins’ car, followed by his head like a sort of mirror to show how Leonel and Marco move in unison on each side of this one. There’s this great eye-catching sight of Mike’s God walking around the bodies of the men he killed to save Jimmy and the money. “JMM” ended with Jimmy telling Howard about the lightning bolts he could shoot with his fingertips; this photo reveals him for the helpless little spot he is in this world. Even when the screen doesn’t flicker from the heat, Gilligan and Adams make you feel embarrassed every minute of each scene. And I didn’t even get to the breathtaking climax in the climax, where Jimmy stands in the middle of a road as the bandit’s truck turns over and over again after sniper fire from Mike. Where Gus or the cousins could have continued to walk without flinching in such a circumstance, Jimmy is rooted in this place, too exhausted and terrified to move, wincing while waiting to see if this thing falls on him despite the best efforts of Mike. It’s incredible.
(*) It’s Gilligan or Michelle MacLaren (who joined breaking Bad with “4 Days Out”), and the desert sequence in El Camino probably puts him in mind. These rankings are subject to change if she or (if the stars line up improbably) Rian Johnson directs an episode of the last season.
But Gilligan has always been as good with character as he is with visuals, and he and Gordon Smith (*) do a masterful job of making it not only a physical test, but also an emotional one. If the real Saul Goodman has finally come to the surface in “JMM”, then the heat of the desert and the indignities that accompany it greatly contribute to forging it into a permanent and inflexible form.
(*) Smith started on breaking Bad as an assistant to Gilligan, and is now one of the best writers on this show. But because Gilligan directs so rarely, it is the first time that mentor and protégé have been directly associated with the same episode.
After a teaser where cousins collect bail money from a Salamanca warehouse, we cut Lalo in an interview room at the prison, barefooted while he enjoys reading a report of the destruction of Los Pollos Hermanos. (He doesn’t know that the restaurant’s burning end and his impending bail are the result of Gus Fring’s plan to wipe it out of the planet.) He then explains to Jimmy how to find the well where the cousins will hand over the money – which he knows the exact mileage along the dirt road is a revealing reminder that this is a smarter and more detail-oriented Salamanca – and explains that the anonymity of his lawyer in the game of drugs makes him the ideal messenger for such a precious package. Jimmy’s alarm bells are rightly sounding about it, and he’s about to walk away, but two things seem to stop him. The first is the indifferent, almost heartbreaking tone of Lalo, which suggests that the cartel can just as easily find another friend if this poses too much of a problem for Saul Goodman, Esq. The second is an impetus that we have seen Jimmy drive in the past under different names: there is money to be made – a lot of money – and it would be silly not to try. So, where he was significantly undervalued the first time Lalo hired him, Jimmy is asking for a commission of $ 100,000 here. We know when we see the warehouse safe that Lalo could easily pay Jimmy 20 percent, or 100 percent, without putting a sizable crimp in his operating funds, but it’s still a figure that is worth it for our man.
“This is the price,” he said to Lalo, not knowing how much he would pay the $ 100,000 in turn.
We then return to Kim and Jimmy’s, where he announces the news of Friend of the Cartel for which she is preparing, but it is worse because of the madness he does to reach this status. Jimmy tries to minimize the risk, but Kim is not one of Jimmy’s brands, and the only times he was able to trick her (as with his speech on Chuck to get his suspension lifted) were when she wanted to be tricked. Not here. Not now. This development rightly terrifies her, and she exposes her feelings as clearly as she can: “I don’t like it. I don’t want you to do it. Each word in this second sentence springs from her in a painful staccato, looking as much like the lonely 12-year-old girl with the cello and the alcoholic mom as the adult woman who made a new family with another type of addict. He hugs her and assures her that everything will be fine, but she is no longer listening as she begins to realize how this story will probably end for the two.
From there, we are in the desert, for the aforementioned transfer with the Cousins (which begins with a magnificent snapshot underwater in the well), followed by Jimmy heading north as he sings a variation of ” 99 bottles of beer ”on fortune in his trunk. This is when the ambush occurs, followed by Mike the sniper’s counter ambush. The scene initially keeps the identity of Jimmy’s savior secret, but who else could it be? It’s Mike who finally works at the power level that we’ve witnessed a few times breaking Bad, taking half a dozen heavily armed men alone. But as he later admits to Jimmy, he should have brought more guys to watch. His excessive confidence leads to the destruction of his truck and the escape of one of the bandits, and places Mike and a shocked Jimmy in the front seat of the car riddled with Jimmy’s bullets, trying and failing to return to civilization before his dead. their.
Although Saul Goodman was driving a Cadillac on breaking Bad, the Suzuki Esteem was the iconic vehicle for Jimmy McGill – an ugly and mismatched old junker who makes people underestimate its driver. By helping Mike push the unusable car into a ravine – and realizing that a lost round destroyed the second best lawyer in the world travel cup Kim gave him – he says goodbye to part of him – even. He can get a much nicer car with part of the commission – or maybe Lalo will give him this Cadillac that we see washed in blood in the teaser – but, little by little, the things that clearly demarcate Jimmy de Saul fall far from him .
From there, we embark on a complete endurance challenge for our two unlikely partners, Mike forcing Jimmy to carry the two bags of money. Jimmy is still too stunned to almost die, and Mike too taciturn as always, for it to be the gabfest that Walt and Jesse had in similar conditions. However, the two go through a lot together during these two days, in a way that seems to go against their relationship on breaking Bad. Besides, the Jimmy / Saul who is baited in the climax of the episode seems far from the coward Saul who pleaded for his life and blamed Ignacio when Walt and Jesse took him into the desert during his first appearance .
Or maybe everything is fine together. When I interviewed Peter Gould at the end of season four, he said what he had in mind when he wrote this original desert scene where Saul mentioned Lalo and Ignacio:
We wanted to indicate that Saul Goodman had already been in life and death situations, and that he had left a trace of people who were angry with him, who perhaps he had done wrong. And also that he could have ties to the cartel, which of course becomes important on breaking Bad.
The “life and death situations” part of this quote is the most interesting for me. (As I wrote last week, there is still a long way to go before Jimmy’s relationship with the cartel ends abruptly and leaves him desperate for a new white whale.) We have already seen him in danger in this broadcast, going back to another Salamanca-inspired trip to the desert in the second episode of all time. He kept a cool head at the time, and he does so mostly throughout “Bagman”, immediately realizing that he must give these bandits access to his trunk, and finally understand that the only one way to scare off their chaser is to play bait so Mike can kill the guy. Our man is an actor, and he could very easily have played a role for Walt and Jesse.
As for Mike, remember that he was featured in the breaking Bad End of season 2 only because Bob Odenkirk was busy that week recording an episode of How I Met Your Mother, and no one on the editorial staff knew until the start of next season that Saul’s investigator / repairman secretly had a more powerful employer. The question of why Gus Fring’s right arm would have a side job for a shyster he doesn’t even seem to like is one of the few that persist breaking Bad mysteries that Saul has not yet resolved. Things may get more complicated down the road – perhaps implying Gus’ early information about the science professor cooking pure blue methamphetamine – but “Bagman” suggests a simpler explanation. Mike, as we know, is a man who believes in paying the karmic debts he owes. He’s the one who puppeted Jimmy to get bail for Lalo, and Jimmy goes through a horrible ordeal as a result. At the same time, Mike witnesses Jimmy’s unexpected burst of bravery with the space cover, and must surely be impressed by it. Maybe it’s as simple as Mike developing reluctantly a respect for the guy, while still feeling like Jimmy owed it to him to put him in danger – and for any flashbacks to come with Kim.
It’s more of a transformative episode for Jimmy than for Mike, but Mike always gets one of his most emotional scenes, where he explains to his traveling companion why he always tries to go home, and why he partnered with such lethal criminals. “I have people waiting for me,” he says. “They don’t know what I’m doing, they never will. They are protected. But I do what I do so they can have a better life. And if I live or die, it really makes no difference to me, as long as they have what they need. So when it is my time, I will go knowing that I have done everything I can for them. This is a great speech, delivered with seriousness but also vulnerability by Jonathan Banks, and made all the more poignant by us how Mike will fail Kaylee and Stacey in the end (*). And thanks in part to Jimmy, Mike can return the house to them again.
(*) Speeches like this are the reason why I tell people that if they come into the franchise and intend to watch the two series, to start breaking Bad. Things on this show often mean more because we know what’s going on later. Part of the reverse may be true if you look Saul first, but due to the order in which the two were written and the fact that everyone knows more now than from 2007 to 2013, the impact certainly seems to be greater this way.
Earlier, Mike is dismayed to learn that Jimmy spoke to Kim about the fundraiser, fearing that she might tell the police, or at least a friend or relative, and then he will have another ending cowardly to attach reluctantly. Of course, he has never met Kim and does not know her like Jimmy. She has no one else – no family to which she is still related, no friend we have ever met, and no colleague whom she would trust with this information – and is smart enough to know how it would go. bad if she spoke to law enforcement. So his only option, once Jimmy doesn’t come home that night, is to go see the man who sent him on a trip. And as Lalo enters the interview room to find this awesome woman waiting for him, the last barrier between the Jimmy show and the Mike show breaks down for good. At that time, I was more afraid for her than for Jimmy during the ambush. It is not only that I know he will survive for years, but that he has chosen this path, where Kim was reluctantly dragged. It’s not her world and she has a lot more to lose by entering it than Slippin ‘Jimmy. And she doesn’t even take anything from this risk, because Lalo refuses to tell her where to look for her husband. “If he’s alive, he’ll show,” says Lalo. Kim begins to finish the thought for him by saying, “And if he is …” but it hurts too much to think, and his voice is already broken on the “he”. For the moment, she is not getting anything out of the meeting but more pain and fear. But now Lalo Salamanca knows she exists and that she’s also a lawyer, and I can’t imagine this is the last time the two will be linked in any way, damn it.
While Mike and Jimmy chat about Kim and camp, Mike pulls out a blanket to warm up in the midnight cold of the desert. He offers Jimmy a spare part, not realizing what the object means to the late Chuck McGill’s brother. For Jimmy, this thing practically East Chuck: a shining symbol of everything his brother tried to deny him, and the madness of trying to live like a straight arrow. He would rather shiver against a rock than find physical comfort in this cursed mylar leaf.
Finally, the weight of the duffel bags and the physical impact of being in the heat with so little hydration seems too much for Jimmy. Mike only talks about his family to encourage the collapsed and defeated Jimmy to get up and keep moving. Instead, it’s the return of the bandit’s truck that gets the job done. Jimmy gets up, wraps the blanket around his shoulders and starts walking slowly toward the road. At first it seems like he is now following Chuck’s example, wrapping himself in this ridiculous thing before committing suicide. Instead, he surprises Mike by telling him to have his rifle ready, and we realize that he’s using a crook’s favorite thing: the wrong direction. Because when civilized thinking and alternators and travel mugs and everything in his life have failed him, Jimmy McGill always knows how to look good and still believes he can outwit any opponent.
And it does. Mike does it on the second try, the truck rolls off the road before it gets closer to Jimmy, and our heroes live to bicker another day. Jimmy is sitting on the road, head in hands, clearly on the verge of tears if only his body was able to produce liquid after two days under the anvil of the sun. Then Saul takes a long, provocative sip of his own pee – a mortification of being stupid enough to go out here as much as it is a life-saving rehydration medium – gets up and moves, without even stopping to let Mike take the lead. He is now a friend of the cartel. He paid a heavy price for accomplishing this, but he is alive, and his chapped lips and other wounds will heal with his injured ego. He’s Saul Goodman, damn it, and if lightning isn’t at hand yet, he still has other powers at his disposal.
What an hour from everyone involved, but especially from Bob Odenkirk. These last few episodes have been huge in terms of the show’s main character arc, and he’s been more than ready to take on this challenge. We have long since passed the stage where his gifts as a dramatic actor are surprising, but the raw physics of what he does here seems to surpass everything he has done in the past, even to what he seemed to be. the best.
The final plan of the episode can be read like any other breaking Bad reminder, or as something unique You better call Saul. As Jimmy resumes walking on the road, the spatial coverage fades. Is this a tribute to the khakis that Walter White lost in his very first episode? Or is it supposed to be one of the last vestiges of James Morgan McGill floating in the unknown, which is no longer a concern of Saul Goodman? Or is it just the last example of You better call Saul succeed in doing fan service and exquisite character work at the same time?
It is not fair to compare an episode of the last part of the preseason of a series with an episode of another series which had not yet been fully explained. ((breaking Bad Season two is great, but it wasn’t until the following year that it was a clearly defined Hall of Famer.) And “4 Days Out” and “Bagman” finally try to accomplish different things in terms of tone and characterization. But the old episode has long been one of my favorite episodes of any drama. To “Bagman” cover similar ground and come out on the other side looking so much richer, I didn’t expect this series to start. Hell, this is not necessarily something I have been waiting for before this month.
Yet here we are. What a piss.
Some other thoughts:
* It may get lost in the Odenkirk, Banks and Rhea Seehorn reshuffle this week, but Tony Dalton has been really impressive recently as Lalo. It would be very easy to go above with such a flamboyant and self-satisfied character, but Dalton has a tight enough reign over his performance that Lalo’s control over any room he enters is all the more credible.
* The song played on the montage of Jimmy and Mike walking through the desert on their second day is Labi Siffre’s 1975 song “I Got The”. If the instrumental sounds familiar to you, it’s because the song has been widely sampled by many rappers, including Eminem with “My Name Is”, but also Jay-Z and even, if you consider him a rapper, Shaquille O ‘Neal.
* How did Mike keep an eye on Jimmy’s location while staying out of sight in an environment where it would be impossible to go unnoticed by following him directly? We get our response as they remove the identification details from the estimate, including the fuel cap. It’s been a while since we’ve seen the Fring implants tracking devices in gas caps, but, like most commercial devices on this show and breaking Bad, once you’ve taught the public how it works, it’s easy to come back to it later in shorthand.
* When the Cousins entered the safe to collect Lalo’s bail money, I couldn’t help but take a note about “Chekhov’s Gatling Gun” regarding one of the other items in the room. We may see that this monster will be used later in the series, but for now, Chekhov’s pistol that is ultimately fired is the sniper rifle that Mike bought from Lawson in season two.
* Finally, the destruction of the Esteem made one think of the last time in this series that Jimmy got out of it when Davis & Main gave him a Mercedes as a company car. So it’s a nice touch that the bottle of water he uses on this trip is a piece of Davis & Main brand loot that he kept from his brief stay there.