Every now and then, a long-running TV show hits it’s stride, and has two fantastic episodes in a row. That has just what has happened with Better Call Saul, firstly with it’s eighth episode, “Bagman” and now with it’s ninth episode, “Bad Choice Road”. The title refers to Mike (Jonathan Banks) lecturing Jimmy/ Saul (Bob Odenkirk) about the choices we make in life, and how Mike and Jimmy are on the “Bad Choice Road”.
In this episode, Jimmy and Mike get saved from the desert, which they were stranded. Jimmy is suffering from almost PTSD after the gun attack, and Kim (Rhea Seehorn) is helping him through it. Kim is slowly discovering that possibly Jimmy is getting more and more involved with criminals. Meanwhile, Lalo (Tony Dalton) discovers that Jimmy’s car was shot at, and becoming suspicious, orders Nacho (Michael Mando) to driver him to confront both Jimmy.
This episode is so brilliant as it paints a taunting portrait of Jimmy and Kim’s struggles. Both characters are going through some hard-hitting things – Jimmy is struggling with PTSD, and adjusting to his new life working outside the law, while Kim is struggling with the realisation that her husband is a criminal. Sometimes, Better Call Saul can feel like a series of small (albeit, really great) set-pieces, but, here, writer-drector, Thomas Schnauz does a great job at staying purely focuses on the characters’ struggles.
One of the best ways he does this is through the brilliant cold-open, in which we see a split-screen of what both Jimmy and Kim are going through, which is all dubbed over by the classic love song, “Something Stupid”. This does a great job at setting the stage for Kim and Jimmy’s tragic love story, and make a ironic (and slightly, blackly comic) way of opening the episode. Also, who doesn’t love it when Better Call Saul does a split-screen montage?
There are many other small details that also really invoke the couple’s struggles. A great scene is when Jimmy is confronted by a rival lawyer, Bill Oakley (Peter Diseth) – a recurrent character through the series – who boasts about winning a court case against him. Jimmy does not reply with his usual witty comeback, and all we see him do is walk away quickly, and this really clearly paints a picture of how badly the ordeal has effected him.
This is continued in a moment when Kim discovers Jimmy’s coffee cup, which has a bullet hole through it. As Kim bought the cup for him, we understand how distraught she is at seeing it ruined. Another great moment of this is when Kim is juicing all the fruit for a shake, and Jimmy is traumatised by it. The sound and the editing are really great at highlighting the sound of blade, and there we understand just how traumatised he it. This has been a highlight of the show since it began, in how it practises a lot of “show, don’t tell” storytelling. I mean, that is the main reason why film and television is such a wonderful medium, as it can focus sorely on visual storytelling.
This whole episode paints a vivid picture of this couple, and how they are struggling to cope in his criminal world. This was a refreshing element of both Breaking Bad, and Better Call Saul, in how it focuses on human reaction to the crimes. Often, TV shows can gloss over these, but it is crucial as it makes us feel and sympathise with these characters.
All of this comes to a head in the heart-stopping and pulsating climax, in which Kim and Jimmy get a menacing visit from Lalo. Lalo, being suspicious that Jimmy’s car has a bullet hole in it, continues to interrogate him, asking him to repeat the story of what happened. He refuses to let Kim leave, and this makes all the audience extremely nervous as Kim’s fate is ultimately unknown.
The scene is extremely tense, so much to the point that it feels like a scene from Breaking Bad – it is up there with the train sequence from “Dead Freight” and the crawl space scene from “Crawl Space”. The music and the direction particularly make this scene so tense – it was so tense that when broadcast in the US, they played it without any breaks to increase the impact.
The scene comes to it’s conclusion, when Kim turns around the interrogation, and begins debunking Lalo for letting Jimmy get the money in the first place. She had real echoes of Walter White in his scene, in how bold and fearless she was, and manipulating a bad situation to work in her favour. Despite how brilliant the scene is, especially in how they subvert what we think will happen, it does leave us nervous for Kim’s fate. It seems increasingly like many her ultimate fate will be dangerous – maybe she ends up dead or in prison.
The episode is left of a slight cliff-hanger, in which Lalo leaves with Nacho, with Mike in hot pursuit. Will Mike or Nacho kill Lalo, or will Lalo kill Nacho? What leaves the most lingering feeling, however, is the taunting portrayal of Kim and Jimmy and their personal struggles. It is a really stunning episodes, and much like Bagman, it is one of the best episodes of television to come out in a while.