BETTER CALL SAUL, 5.9 – ‘Bad Choice Road’

better call saul - bad choice road
In the wake of Saul's traumatic misadventure, Kim takes stock of what is important and Gus and Mike set a plan in motion.
4 out of 5 stars

Following on from last week’s superb “Bagman”, “Bad Choice Road” found Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) failing to realise just how dangerous his life’s become. He’s suffering from PTSD after his desert experience, keeping wife Kim (Rhea Seehorn) in the dark, and ultimately making things worse than they needed to be. The saying ‘once you’re in, you’re in’ has never been more apt, and we know Saul won’t escape this criminal lifestyle. And we also know it will eventually rob him of everything (his brother, his marriage, his career, his life, his identity), so this hour felt like a real line in the sand moment.

Picking up events, Saul and Mike (Jonathan Banks) eventually made their way to civilisation after Saul’s phone got a signal, and they called for two of Gus Fring’s goons, Tyrus (Ray Campbell) and Victor (Jeremiah Bitsui), to collect them from a truck stop. “Bad Choice Road” was all about Saul making the wrong decision, as he agreed with Mike to concoct a story that would convince Kim and Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton) that his cross-country trip on foot had nothing to do with almost being robbed and murdered by a rival outfit. Saul deposits the $7M in cash to the bail bond office, which inevitably arouses suspicion that Saul’s client could somehow lay his hands on a fortune, but nevertheless it means Lalo is able to walk free and be told Saul’s lie: that his car broke down and he continued on foot instead of risk hitch-hiking with $7M in cash. A lie Kim is also told and believes until she finds Saul’s coffee mug with a bullet hole through its middle, resting inside the duffel bag containing his $100,000 in payment.

One mystery last week was who sent the men to rob Saul of Lalo’s bail money, and we go our answer this week once Mike debriefed Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) about recent events. It seems Juan Bolsa (Javier Grajeda) was behind it all, attempting to help Gus’s operation by protecting his business and the cartel’s. I wasn’t quite sure why he’d do this, as it always seemed to me that Juan Bolsa was Don Eladio’s middle-man helping manage both Fring and the Salamanca’s over the border, but perhaps this is a sign Don Eladio’s had enough of the less professional Salamanca’s and has decided to put his trust more in what Gus can achieve for them? There was also a nice moment with Mike trying his best to convince Gus to let Nacho (Michael Mando) go free, once Lalo’s gone, as letting him vanish would likely result in the Salamanca’s drug operation collapsing. Unfortunately, Gus hasn’t the heart and still thinks Nacho is a valuable asset it’s worth keeping around.

The heart of this episode was seeing Saul now decide to keep Kim at a distance, with good reason, even if she’s aware of his deception unbeknownst to him. She gives him a good opening to tell her what really happened in the desert (strongly suspecting his life was in danger thanks to her coffee mug discovery), but despite their marriage vows Saul is no longer willing to be open and honest. He’s taken Mike’s advice to heart that loved ones can only be protected from “the game” if they’re unaware it’s being played. So he pretends the “true story” was just more embarrassing and involved him drinking his own urine, attempting to also lighten the mood, but Kim’s clearly just upset her husband can’t level with her. Surprisingly, this leads to her quitting her job at Schweikart and Cokeley, handing over the lucrative Mesa Verde account (but keeping her pro bono clients), in order to now give Saul her full attention.

Saul himself is shell-shocked by his experience and has lost consequently lost mojo in the courtroom, which forces him to have an uneasy heart-to-heart with Mike — the only person he can speak to about recent events. Mike’s not the most tender of men, but he does assure Saul that his bad memories will fade to the point everything will become easier because you know there’s always light at the end of the tunnel. You effectively become accustomed to things that are unimaginably stressful, perhaps even numb to it after so many years like Mike’s? But does Saul really want to travel that same path? Does he want to be the lawyer to a drug dealer working for a cartel, who killed an innocent man, and has done his dirty work to ensure this murderer gets out and will likely continue to hurt and kill others? (We obviously know the answer.)

Kim realising Saul is lying to her was an interesting wrinkle in this week’s episode, but it was topped by Lalo starting to doubt what he’s been told. After getting Nacho to drive him back over the border, intending to melt away before the authorities realise who he really is, Lalo reconsiders and goes in search of Saul’s broken car instead. And he finds it in a ravine full of bullet holes, which suggests there’s more to Saul’s story than just a simple breakdown and overnight trek through a desert.

The centrepiece of “Bad Choice Road” is the extended climactic scene, of course, which aired on AMC uninterrupted by adverts. Better Call Saul has always been great at ratcheting up the tension, which was never more evident than here. As Saul and Kim argued about her quitting a high-paying job, their evening’s interrupted by Lalo on their doorstep, who comes swaggering in to tap rudely on their fish tank and man-spread on their sofa with a handgun visible under his belt. And what made things even more interesting is that Mike (acting on a tip-off from Nacho maybe?), is right outside with a sniper trained on Lalo in case he does anything to harm Saul or Kim, listening in on the conversation through the open line on Saul’s phone.

Tony Dalton’s been fantastic as Lalo this season, and this scene was one of his best — seeing him unsettle Saul and Kim by continually asking to hear the story of how Saul got his $7M bail money back across the desert. The way he kept asking for a repeat of the story, pressuring Saul into revealing the truth or face terrible consequences, gave the scene an unbearable tension. And it was made worse by the fact we know Kim isn’t aware of the truth either, and would herself love to know what happened, but has to play things like she’s the oblivious wife who doesn’t know what her husband’s up to. Which is only half true!

Also, considering Saul didn’t know Mike has his back with a sniper trained on Lalo, seeing him stick to his cover story under intense psychological pressure was unexpected and brave. But what made the scene truly memorable is how it resolved, with Kim coming to Saul’s rescue by making Lalo reconsider his assumptions about seeing bullet holes in her husband’s abandoned car. Some kids probably shot at it for fun and pushed it into the ravine, right? Makes sense. Why would Saul lie about what happened anyway? Rhea Seehorn is often hailed as the unsung hero of the series, and she made a clear case for that here by standing up to Lalo and convincing him to trust Saul’s story and leave them in peace. 

Overall, “Bad Choice Road” was another reverting highlight of a terrific season that is reaping the rewards of the earlier build-up, which tends to happen with Better Call Saul each year. It’s a character drama that gets you under the skin of everyone, full grasp everyone’s point of view and motivations, then cranks up the pressure and lets things explode. It’s unclear what next week’s finale will revolve around, too, which is good — but I’m guessing Kim will be told the truth about what happened and attempt to get her husband untangled from the cartel. Mike and Gus will likely have to make a move on Lalo, and I’m still not convinced Nacho (or his father) is going to make it out of this season alive. But, then again, I’ve been predicting that since season 3…

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