I’ve always thought of His Girl Friday as a tragedy. When Kim (Rhea Seehorn) and Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) sit down to watch the film in “Bad Choice Road”, they’re watching the story of someone who nearly breaks free of a life and a job she excels at, but which doesn’t make her happy. But then she’s lured back into it through the dirty tricks of her conniving former paramour and the inexorable pull it has over her. (The movie is also, not coincidentally, the story of a talented and dogged female professional who ends up hitched to a manipulative, morally-dubious huckster.) That subtle call out to the 1940 classic carries meaning for both Jimmy and Kim.
Because “Bad Choice Road” is an episode about the decisions we make and the places they lead us. Mike (Jonathan Banks) lays it out for Jimmy in a speech in another signature, series-defining monologue. Little choices add up to big ones. Eventually, they set you on a path, and try as you might, sometimes the inertia of those choices is too much to escape. Despite the name change, Jimmy McGill has not fully become Saul Goodman yet. But regardless of his latest wake up call, the die is cast. His destiny is set. The path has been cut.
That notion of choice is the prism for “Bad Choice Road”. The episode frames Mike as someone who tried to buck against the collective force of so many little decisions along the way, only to end up accepting the hand he was dealt and making a quiet sort of peace with it. It depicts Jimmy as someone whose several small steps in this direction led him inexorably to this regrettable destination, even if he’s made a few promising but ill-fated detours along the way. And it casts Nacho (Michael Mando) in the same terms, as someone who became a “part of the game” despite his father’s warnings, until that life turned into his prison.
But it presents Kim Wexler as the one person in this show — maybe the one person in the whole Breaking Bad universe — with the courage of her convictions to turn away from that path when she realizes it won’t fulfill, but will only leave her empty and unsatisfied. Kim’s entire ethos over the course of Better Call Saul has been to bet on herself, to go after what she wants, and to work like hell to get it. “Bad Choice Road” highlights her as the lone individual who sees where this is heading soon enough to chart a new course for herself.
Because Kim knows what’s important. She calls in sick because she wants to take care of the man she loves. She sees that Jimmy is struggling and tells him to forget about their martial pact of mutual candor because she just wants to be there for him. She quits her job at a prestigious law firm and leaves behind a client she fought hard to win, because she wants to do something that matters, something that helps people in need, rather than just dictating dull-but-lucrative letters to secure zoning variances. In sum, she wants to break good, in a franchise where so many people break the other way, with the chutzpah and the mental fortitude to see it through.
Everyone else is stuck. Mike has accepted his role as Fring’s hatchetman, even when, given his history, he grumbles to his boss about young men trying to protect their fathers. Nacho wants to leave this life behind, but Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) declares him an unruly dog who either needs to be treated with a firm hand or put down. And Jimmy? Jimmy received the latest in a long line of warnings from the universe that what he’s doing isn’t right or good, except now he’s too deep in the muck to pull himself out.
One of the most admirable choices “Bad Choice Road” makes is to leave Jimmy still noticeably shaken from the events of last week but in no position to do anything about it. The episode takes the lingering PTSD from his traumatic experience seriously. A Dexter-esque sequence of Kim pulping oranges reminds him too much of the spurts of blood and the hum of a car bearing down on him for Jimmy to stomach. He botches a lay-up in court. And he walks around with the look of a man who’s broken, not magic.
In short, he is not only haunted by what he went through, but also by what he’s a part of. The Saul Goodman fans have known for years now is unflappable, unstoppable, and as he told Howard Hamlin, a veritable god in his circles. But he’s also been insulated from the worst this world has to offer.
One taste of genuine peril, one extended glimpse at the prospect of grievous bodily harm, is enough to disturb him out of his complacency and overconfidence. It’s a magnified, heightened version of the same way that the snapping of breadsticks called to mind another Salamanca boss breaking the legs of his confederates, leaving him nauseous in the series’ second episode. Jimmy’s been headed down this road at least that long, and despite his fleeting hesitations, nothing’s been enough for him to veer off toward an alternate path.
Only now he realizes how far along that path he’s ventured. He’s no longer just making a buck, or advocating for some petty lowlifes, or even getting back at a brother who claimed never to have cared about him. Now, he’s helping a cold-blooded killer, one who murdered a total innocent, escape from justice and putting the one person in the world he loves at risk. Jimmy’s time in the desert shook him, left him much less than his usual uber-confident, silver-tongued self. But as Mike tries to calm his traumatized partner-by-necessity, he knows that for Jimmy, it’s still too late for that realization to change him.
So Jimmy lies about what happened to protect Kim, to protect himself, and to protect Mike and his mysterious benefactor. But the people he’s trying to fool are smart enough to see through his usual fibs and fabrications. When Jimmy tells Kim to examine his hard-won bankroll, she finds his Second Best Lawyer mug and, more importantly, the bullet hole that gazes back at her within it.
Director and longtime franchise vet Thomas Schnauz frames Kim through the gaping evidence of Jimmy’s lies. And he mirrors that shot later in the episode, when Lalo (Tony Dalton) discovers Saul’s ravine-ditched car, sporting the same type vehicular exit wound that tells him “the lawyer” isn’t giving him the full story. Lalo’s also someone with the confidence and power to make his own course corrections when something doesn’t seem right, and that spells trouble for his erstwhile advocate.
What follows is an absolute masterclass in tension. Lalo shows up announced at Kim and Jimmy’s apartment, conspicuously packing heat and insinuating his threatening presence into the comparative peace of their domestic life. Schnauz (also the episode’s writer), doesn’t rush the confrontation. Instead, he lets the suspense ratchet up as Lalo gradually builds from his usual, vaguely intimidating gregariousness, to outright menace, as he forces Saul to repeat his story over and over again.
It’s a sequence that seems destined to end in blood. We’ve already seen Lalo’s willingness to murder a civilian when it’s necessary for his business interests. He now has reason to believe that Saul’s misled him in ways that might have compromised him. Fans of the show have lamented the possibility of Kim’s demise through Saul’s mistakes for years now and the peril seems closer than ever. If that weren’t enough, the camera periodically cuts to Mike in his makeshift sniper’s nest, with a rifle trained on Lalo’s heart, as both Jimmy and Kim step in the way and the argument heats up. The whole confrontation is a tinderbox just waiting for a spark.
But the thing that ends the tense stand-off is not gunfire, or more blood, or more death. It’s Kim Wexler and her unquenchable supply of boldness and courage. Saul Goodman’s way with words is in remission. Mike’s rifle can’t find a clear line of sight. But thank god for Kim. Once again, she saves herself, and the person she loves, because Kim Wexler makes her own choices, owns them, and sees them through like no one else.
She knows that Jimmy is lying, but she convincingly defends him to someone ready to doom him, just as she once did with Chuck. She brushes off Lalo’s evidence of a junked car riddled with bullet holes as the natural endpoint for any piece of scrap metal in Albuquerque. She goes so far as to challenge the crime boss, calling him out for having no one he can trust except someone like Saul. She chastises him for how he runs his business, for his own bad choices that let things reach this point, just like she did with Kevin Wachtell two episodes ago. She stands up for Jimmy, persuasively framing him as a bastion of honesty who went through hell for Lalo, and she saves the day in the process.
In the end, Kim does the same thing that the protagonist of His Girl Friday did — she talks down a man with a gun using only her wits and her guile and her guts. Despite my preferred read of that film, there’s two ways to interpret it. The first is in tragic terms, about someone who’s great at a calling which wounds them spiritually, whose talent pulls them toward that life despite its harmful aftereffects, and people with bad intentions drag them down despite noble attempts to reach escape velocity. That is Jimmy’s story — the story of a man who had plenty of chances to break away, but who just kept heading down that same road, with epiphanies that were either too little or too late.
But the second read of His Girl Friday is as a story of triumph, about a woman who tried to do what she thought she was supposed to, what was expected of her, until she realized that it wasn’t what she truly wanted, who then chose to pursue her true passion, no matter the costs, and won what the things that made her happy in the process. Unlike so many characters in this series whose futures we know, Kim’s path is still uncharted. But maybe, with enough of those good and brave choices, that can be her story too.