“Bagman” looks and feels like something out of Blood Simple or No Country for Old Men, a taut but decompressed Southwestern thriller with minimal plot, striking scenery, and few moving pieces. Its colors, however, are in a league of their own. The dry reddish-brown of scrub brush and creosote. The vibrant undersides of the leaves of the tree under which Mike and Jimmy take shelter. The dark, concentrated yellow of Jimmy’s urine sloshing in his water bottle. Every shot is a feast of desaturated grays, browns, reds, and yellows held against the sharp, unyielding blue of the desert sky. In an earlier overhead shot of a shootout’s aftermath, the wash of the crumbling dirt road actually looks like a single long, elegant brush stroke.
When the episode does dip briefly into visual chaos or extremity, the effect is startling. Take the hectic activity of the Salamanca hideout where gun racks cover the walls, men thumb through stacks of bills at scarred and dirty desks, and vintage cars lurk in the gloom, waiting to be scrubbed clean of the blood of the men who died driving them. Later, as Mike and Jimmy camp in the desert, the darkness closes in so completely that only Jimmy’s dull yellow-orange glow stick, its reflection in Mike’s foil blanket, and individual planes of the two actors’ hands and faces remain visible. It’s an impressive technical feat, and a moving depiction of the characters’ desolation and directionlessness.
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The Sound of Silence
Foley mixer Stacey Michaels and the rest of Better Call Saul’s sound team do some of their best work yet here. From the rolling crash of the iron vault door at the Salamanca depot from the opening sequence, a booming effect which melds seamlessly with the propulsive score, to the dry rasp of gym bags sliding over hardpan, the episode’s Foley work is richly granular. When it falls away during a montage of Mike and Jimmy slogging across open desert to a remastered cut of Labi Siffre’s ‘I Got the…’, the effect is of sinking into the characters’ experience, becoming so immersed in the desert that sensations blur and run together.
The industrial/ambient piece by series composer Dave Porter that plays over the episode’s final confrontation, by contrast, feels like hanging off the edge of the world by your fingernails. As Jimmy — wrapped in a foil survival blanket like the specter of his brother Chuck — uses himself as bait to lure Lalo’s would-be rivals into range of Mike’s rifle, the music glides and sighs like a high wind over open country. It’s a dusty soundscape, neither jangling nor conventionally tense, but in building on itself it creates a sensation of unreality, of existence suspended between two opposing states. Everything comes back together with Mike’s final kill shot, the music fading out seamlessly as the oncoming car flips and comes apart in a storm of flying metal. For the last few moments of the episode we’re left with only the feeble sound of the car’s engine wearing itself out, and then there’s nothing at all.