So much of Better Call Saul is about trying to wield power without leaving fingerprints. The narcos and their stateside operations have incredible wealth, but the merest hint of it might get them crushed by the DEA. Mike Ehrmantraut is a deadly shot, but every bullet makes a body someone will have to disappear. Gus Fring and Lalo Salamanca stand at the head of skilled and ruthless criminal enterprises, but if either tips their hand to the other they run the risk of being swept aside by the cartel’s higher-ups. Everything and everyone exists in a permanent state of stalemate, pressing for the tiniest advantage under constant threat of mutual destruction.
‘Bad Choice Road’ pushes that tension as far as it will go, pulling the twin plot threads of Jimmy’s relationship with Kim and Saul’s connection to the cartel back until they fairly thrum with restrained menace. Its final sequence, in which a suspicious Lalo strolls into Kim and Jimmy’s apartment with a gun in his jeans and instructs Jimmy to repeat his story of walking through the desert, then to repeat it again, and again, and again, is almost unbearably taut. Every character, from the desperate, fast-talking Kim to the watchful Mike perched across the street in a sniper’s nest, trying to line up a clean shot, feels like a single component in an engine running so hot that it could rip itself apart at any moment.
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Cost of Doing Business
The episode lingers insightfully but without sentimentality on Jimmy’s post-traumatic stress symptoms. A juicer whirring drags him back into the gunfight in the desert. The deep, echoing glug — the show’s Foley team does typically excellent work here — of fresh orange juice pouring into a glass recalls both the blood spattered across the front of Jimmy’s shirt and the piss he was forced to drink to survive his trek through the desert. Jimmy retreats from all of it like he retreated from Chuck’s death, pushing deeper into the desert of his own emotional repression, breaking his pledge of honesty to Kim before dust has time to gather on it even as she washes the abrasion wounds worn into his shoulders by the straps of the drug money-filled duffel bags he carried.
Jimmy’s wounds are a potent visual metaphor for his personality. They’re almost penitential in nature, like a flagellant’s scars, but incurred for the dullest, most grasping possible reason. “This is what it’s all about,” he tells Kim in a broken, croaking voice as she stares at his cash payoff from the cartel. He pushed himself to the brink of death for that money. He incurred substantial trauma for it. He participated in the killing of a man, even if that man was out to kill him. Jimmy appears to be pushing toward something he doesn’t understand, stretching himself like the show can stretch a thriller sequence, until he grows thin, almost transparent, with the strain of trying to get away from himself.