Better Call Saul's 'Bagman' Put The Cast In Just As Much Potential Danger As The Characters

"Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul" are many things: meticulously plotted out, nerve-wracking, exquisitely acted and directed, critically acclaimed. But one thing they are not: a great advertisement for tourism in the New Mexico desert.

From the very first episode of "Breaking Bad," and the second episode of "Better Call Saul," the desert became a place of danger, one for sketchy meetings at gunpoint, execution threats, actual executions. If an episode involves a scene in the desert, you know there is trouble, even if there is some comedy involved.

But when it came time for "Bagman," the eighth episode of the fifth season of "Better Call Saul," the desert became a dangerous threat to both the characters and the cast and crew, too.

A land where anything and everything can kill you

"Bagman" comes at the height of Jimmy McGill's journey to becoming a "friend of the Cartel," as he agrees to travel to the desert and pick up $7 million in cash to bail out Lalo Salamanca. This being Jimmy, things are not so simple, and the job starts out with a shootout that leaves him stranded in the middle of the desert with Mike.

"Just the idea that we're going to be shooting out in this location in murderously hot weather, miles away from the nearest source of water, in a land where there are tarantulas and scorpions," co-creator and director of the episode Vince Gilligan said during a Q&A for AMC Talk following the premiere of the episode, adding: 

"You could roast to death and then die of heat stroke and dehydration because this is a land that — if you were plopped down into this place without a canteen, without a hat with a big brim on it — you'd probably be dead within an hour and a half. I'm not overstating it."

The episode is Gilligan at his best, capturing the utter discomfort of the desert on camera, making you feel the scorching sun, the dehydration, and the isolation as if you were on set. Likewise, Bob Odenkirk gives maybe the best performance of his career, giving us Jimmy at one of his lowest points, drinking his old urine, being forced to use a thermal blanket that looks just like the space blankets Chuck used to wear, and dragging the incredibly heavy money bags around.

Fear the cholla

One of the best things about this episode is that it is a rare example of a piece of media actually taking into consideration the crushing weight of a bag full of cash. Most heist movies and shows have the robbers get away with multiple bags full of millions of dollars in cash, or at times even full of solid gold, and then run around like the bags completely empty. One of the rare exceptions is the excellent and underseen movie "Widows," and another is the episode "Bagman," which makes it a point to show the struggle Jimmy goes through to carry the bags around.

But none of this is what scared Vince Gilligan during filming.

"But the thing I'm most scared of out there is the cholla. That particular cactus out there has prickly spines longer than a toothpick and needle-sharp, and that's what Jimmy rams his toe into by accident. Those things are so scary. I'd rather be covered with tarantulas than fall into one of those chollas. It would be unbelievably dangerous."

"Better Call Saul" premieres on April 18, 2022.