Earlier in this season, Mike Ehrmantraut is so disturbed at the way his life is going — at the decisions he has made, and the people he’s connected to — that, working over his troubles in his head, he lashes out (verbally) at his young granddaughter, which leads his daughter-in-law to suggest, as gently as she can, that maybe Mike shouldn’t be around that granddaughter any more. This drives Mike to certain self-destructive actions that result in his waking up in a tiny Mexican village with a stab wound in his side.
Gus Fring — who has transported Mike there — visits him and initiates a conversation. He says, “It seems to me that you are at a crossroads. You can continue as you are … drinking, estranged from your family, brawling with street hoods. We both know how that ends.”
And to this Mike says: “Yeah.” (Jonathan Banks should get an Emmy just for that one line reading.) Ultimately, Mike agrees to continue to work with Gus. Later, when he visits his daughter-in-law again, he tells her that he is better, and when she asks why he is better, he says, “I decided to play the hand I was dealt.”
I decided to play the hand I was dealt. It’s this hard-earned and bitterly worldly wisdom that Mike shares with Jimmy in Episode 9. “Look. We all make our choices. And those choices, they put us on a road. Sometimes those choices seem small, but they put you on the road. You think about getting off … but eventually, you’re back on it. And the road we’re on led us out to the desert, and everything that happened there, and straight back to where we are right now … and nothing — nothing — can be done about that. Do you understand that?”
But Jimmy doesn’t want to understand that. He doesn’t want to believe it. He wants to think that there is always a way out, that if you’re clever enough and resourceful enough you can slip out of the consequences of your actions, and play a better hand that the one that you’ve been dealt. (Or that you’ve dealt yourself.) And yet, confronted by an angry Lalo Salamanca who knows that Jimmy has been lying to him, he’s helpless. He has no answers, no strategy — he can’t even muster evasive action.
It’s Kim who saves Jimmy’s ass. It’s Kim who has the brains and the resourcefulness and the sheer guts to confront a terrifying man, a drug cartel kingpin, a cold-blooded murderer — and to send him away in silence, defeated. It’s Kim who can find a way out of playing the hand she’s been dealt, if anyone can.
But can anyone so escape? Can anyone get off that road that Mike tells Jimmy you can’t get off? It’s the theme of this season, and in some ways of the whole series. Earlier in the season, Jimmy is talking with Nacho about the consequences of some work he’s doing for the Salamancas: “I mean, if there’s gonna be blowback, I don’t wanna be in the middle of it.” To which Nacho: “It’s not about what you want. When you’re in — you’re in.”
Kim is cracking under the strain of trying to get out. Kim, who always keeps herself together, is on the verge of collapse at the beginning and the end of this episode. And it’s all because she got drawn into the world of Jimmy effing McGill.