Better Call Saul Reviews: “Bad Choice Road” (season 5, episode 9)

First of all, kudos to “Bad Choice Road” for actually ending. Eduardo showing up at Jimmy’s door must have been a very tempting “Executive Producer: Vince Gilligan” moment, but we got to see the entirety of the confrontation that followed. I know I praised “Bagman” for withholding the ending of its story, and I stand by that as being the correct decision, but it’s not something this or any show should do weekly.

It’s tempting to talk about nothing but that ending, but I’ll try to hold off as long as I can.

The rest of the episode was pretty good. Not great, but after “Bagman” I think any episode would have difficulty looking great.

We got a lovely opening sequence showing the contrast between Jimmy and Kim — at least for now — set to a hummed version of “Something Stupid.” Which I found hilarious, because saying “I love you” can’t even register on the stupidity scale for Jimmy anymore.

Then we’re back. Eduardo gets his bail, Jimmy gets his money. It’s not an easy return to normalcy but it’s a necessary one and it’s going to happen. The most interesting thing for me is something the episode didn’t fully explore: Jimmy’s PTSD.

“Bagman” introduced and explored it a bit, we got some flashes of it here and had a great conversation with Mike (“I can’t believe there’s, like, over a billion people on this planet and the only person I have to talk about this to is you.”), but not much else. That’s okay; later episodes may explore it. At the very least, the day Jimmy wakes up and goes about his routine and realizes he hasn’t thought about it will be a crucial, possibly final step on his journey to becoming Saul Goodman full time.

Jimmy quickly breaks his oath of honesty to Kim, which he believes he’s doing to protect her. I think he has a good argument there, but it’s an important moment. Ditto Kim letting him withhold the truth. She tells him that she knows he’s lying, and that’s it. She doesn’t press him. Even during the ending — when she has a valid and well-deserved reason to press him — she doesn’t. He broke his promise and she let him do it. That’s important.

Does she need his protection, though? Jimmy lashes out at her when he learns she visited Eduardo in jail, because it puts her in danger. He’s proven correct when Eduardo shows up at their apartment late in the episode. But, in the end, it’s she who is protecting Jimmy.

See, here’s the thing. We’ve seen Jimmy working criminals before, but he’s usually in a position of some kind of control. Not always, but usually. He has his confidence, his wit, and his charm to fall back on. He’s within reasonable distance of having the upper hand. Here, though, with Eduardo literally breathing down his neck, he flounders. He stumbles. He can’t come up with any kind of way to gain control of the situation and he talks himself uselessly in circles.

That’s important, too. Jimmy can’t immerse himself in the criminal underworld if this is the way he deals with implicit threats. Saul Goodman, as we’ve seen in Breaking Bad, is much better at it. So what gets Jimmy to Saul in this regard? What helps him evolve from a frightened victim to one who can at least maintain the illusion of control?

We might have seen it. If he were paying attention, Kim just showed him how to do it. You push back. You don’t allow them to intimidate you. You force them back into line.

And that confrontation — between Kim and Eduardo — was Better Call Saul’s clash of the titans. The show’s two best actors and most interesting characters staring each other down, while Jimmy stands silently, letting the consequences of his actions unfold (and possibly resolve) without him. He goes from being a target to a bystander as Kim fights his battle for him.

What a battle, too. I’ve spoken about Eduardo before, regarding the way he upsets the unspoken rules of the game. He’s frequently given answers that are meant to shut down further questioning, and he questions further anyway. He speaks openly about that which everyone would prefer he’d remain quiet. He refuses to accept that the answer he gets is the only answer he can get. And he does it all with a big, goofy smile and an undying flair that keeps everyone off guard. He’s not an idiot, but he can play off his breaking of the rules as though he were one.

We see it a few times in this episode, from personally checking the veracity of Jimmy’s car-trouble story to disregarding the aide in the nursing home who wants to bring Hector into a birthday celebration. (The sight gag of the aging kingpin in a party hat was marvelous.) And then, of course, with his tapping on the fishtank.

That’s who Eduardo is, in one sentence. Eduardo is the guy who taps on the fishtank.

He knows he isn’t supposed to do it, and he does it anyway. He knows that tapping on the fishtank gets a response. Maybe it’s a negative one, sure, but it’s a response, and that’s more than he would get if he didn’t tap. Everyone around him silently agrees not to tap the fishtank. That’s fine for them. He’s the one who taps anyway.

Kim is the only one so far who doesn’t take that shit.

We’ve seen Eduardo bend powerful men when he breaks the rules. He’s given an answer. He asks for more. He’s told the same thing. He asks for more again. He gets more.

It’s Kim who wrangles him, and she does it so successfully and unexpectedly that he’s left speechless. Eduardo is not a man left easily speechless. He’s met his match, at least for now. He doesn’t like it, but I think there’s some degree of actual respect there. How do I know? Because he doesn’t pretend to have respect. He doesn’t toss off an, “I like this one!” or a, “She’s feisty,” sort of platitude.

He shuts his fucking mouth and walks out the door. No stomping. No slamming.

He gives Kim what she wants. He leaves without incident.

At least, once again, for now.

This would have been, I think, a pretty decent season finale, but there’s still one episode to go. That’s good news, precisely because I don’t know what to expect.

“Bad Choice Road” leaves these characters at what I think are perfect, clean, end-of-season terminal points. Eduardo is free and heading to Mexico. Nacho is still trapped, and Gus makes a genuinely good argument for keeping him there. Mike reveals himself once again to be a big softie, which never, ever ends well. Jimmy is freed from facing repercussion for what he’s done. Kim is back to pro bono work and has established herself as the show’s secret badass.

This is where the next story for each of them can begin.

But the show still has one last set of curveballs to throw us. These are just endings…for now.

I have no idea what to expect, but Better Call Saul didn’t give us a series of false endings here for nothing. It did it for what I’m confident was a very good reason. I’m excited and anxious to learn what that will turn out to be.

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