This article is about Kim, but first, we need to talk about Jimmy.
From the start, we knew where Better Call Saul was headed. Into Breaking Bad, sure, but also to a lonely Cinnabon somewhere in Omaha. In other words, nowhere good for Jimmy McGill. Though it was hard to call him Jimmy at first, given that we knew him so iconically as Saul Goodman, Jimmy is the more interesting character. Saul is a mask, one we’ve waited through four full seasons for him to put on, and it has represented Jimmy’s own journey of “breaking bad.” For most of the show, we’ve seen him struggle to go legit even though his instincts have always pulled him towards conman territory. Yet with no one giving him a chance to go straight, and him just being so damn good at lying, why not lean into it?
Still, the Season 4 finale, “Winner,” was one of the most absolutely devastating hours of television I’ve seen. That season was built around Jimmy processing the death of his brother Chuck, a man he loved deeply and yet fought and schemed against (and was met in kind) for decades. In what felt like a very well-earned moment of truth and catharsis at the hearing for his legal reinstatement, Jimmy invokes Chuck to talk about why he wanted to be a lawyer in the first place. It was genuinely moving; Kim had tears in her eyes, and so did I. And yet, what fools we were—it was a con (even if Jimmy was pulling from acknowledged or buried truths). That’s when he made the turn: S’all good, man.
Though Jimmy’s descent into the Saul persona has been a known spectre haunting the series, one that has grown even more frightening is the fate of Kim Wexler, who does not appear in Breaking Bad. There have been a few times throughout this prequel series, including her horrendous car wreck, where viewers were tempted to think that this was the end of Kim. The events of “Winner” would have been a very fair final straw for Kim to distance herself from Jimmy, unable to trust anything he says. But she doesn’t; Season 5 finds them still together, still both frustrated with work and the world, and Jimmy’s influence starting to corrupt Kim’s own sense of justice.
I had been prepared to write a piece on how Better Call Saul puts Jimmy’s soul on trial, but after watching the first few episodes of Season 5, I realized Jimmy is already gone. I mean sure, he does struggle with the fact that if you deal with clients who are constantly in and out of prison, you’re going to get caught up in some unsavory things (including getting pulled, unwillingly, into the Salamaca / Gus Fring feud). But he has chosen this path, he’s genuinely great at it, and for all of its flaws it does somehow fit him. Jimmy represents the struggle for normalcy, while Saul lets his freak flag fly (and it is wonderfully entertaining to watch).
Then there’s Kim.
Kim has remained with Jimmy; she doesn’t really like the Saul persona but accepts it. More than that, she continues to engage with his schemes, mostly when she’s hit a wall. Early in the season, Jimmy suggests tricking her pro bono client into taking a plea deal instead of going to trial, because it’s in the client’s best interest. Kim refuses, but when the door is accidentally open for it she walks on through and gets the better outcome. At the end of the day, Jimmy may use questionable methods, but he’s genuinely acting in the best interest of his clients. That’s Kim’s desire, too.
In “The Guy for This” when Kim is called out to deal with a lone standout whose house is on a lot that Mesa Verde wants for a call center (Mesa being a company Kim has tried to distance herself from, perhaps because of the cost of how she came to that position), she starts off nice and then turns stern with the stubborn occupant. She’s within her legal rights, and yet, it doesn’t sit well with her. The man calls her out for styling herself as “one of the good rich people,” donating to charity or visiting a soup kitchen every once in awhile to offset her more nefarious deeds. And Kim knows he’s not too far off; it’s not a soup kitchen, but there is her intense dedication to her pro bono work. Something doesn’t feel quite right with the way she handled things, so she goes back later to try and court the occupant with a bevy of other real estate options, even volunteering to help him move. When that doesn’t work, she tells a story about her family never owning a house and her mother only being one step ahead of the landlord, as she was dragged out into cold nights on the run.
There could be some truth to this; we don’t know much about Kim’s background. She’s been vague about her upbringing, and like Jimmy’s use of the truth in his con to the board of lawyers at his reinstatement, she could be using her real story to her planned advantage. Regardless, the man doesn’t buy it. “You’ll say anything to get what you want, won’t you?” he says. Kim doesn’t disagree, but she does go find comfort with someone who most certainly does.
In true Better Call Saul fashion, the most compelling scene in “The Guy for This” is when Kim and Jimmy stand on their balcony together chucking beer bottles into the parking lot, something Kim improbably initiates. But it goes to show just how frustrated she is with her job in general and this quandary in particular. In “Namaste,” though, she’s back to being a Kim who simply gets things done—or tries to. She cleans up the broken bottles herself (despite Jimmy saying building maintenance would take care of it), and then does her best to get Mesa Verde to move to another plot of land that she has (of course) meticulously researched to make sure if would make everyone happy. It would be better, but they don’t go for it: The Kim Wexler Story.
Kim and Jimmy have both been thwarted more often than they catch breaks, and Jimmy has always dealt with it by retaliating through elaborate schemes. Kim usually puts her head down and just keeps going. In Season 5, though, she really seems like she is about to lose it. She has always played by the rules, and it hasn’t gotten her anything. She’s put her head down and done the work, but she’s treading water at best. Kim works to do what’s right, but she has no power to really make it happen. By enlisting Jimmy’s help now to fight against Mesa Verde, she’s acknowledging that working outside of the rules may be the only way to get things done. That’s a huge change from the first few seasons, where Kim has acted as the conscience Jimmy can’t always find. If Jimmy had come to her with this plan, she would have balked. Now not only has she planned it, she celebrates when he succeeds in their mischief (that is, to be clear, trying to ultimately do what’s right).
Where it’s leading is uncertain. The haunting idea of Kim’s Breaking Bad absence makes my imagination wander into the possibility that she starts taking on more of Jimmy’s cavalier traits and ends up somehow endangering herself. Or perhaps she makes a miscalculation and gets disbarred. The beer bottle scene was a result of the erosion of her clear-cut morals—even though she does repent and clean it all up the next day. Things are changing.
As Jimmy pulls another (incredibly funny) courtroom stunt and is called to the judge’s chambers, Kim watches with what has become her trademark impassivity. The camera lingers on her perfect ponytail and she sits, still and quiet, waiting for Jimmy. “You’re still here?” he exclaims as he bursts out of the chambers some time later full of vivre and a celebratory attitude over getting a mistrial. “Yeah,” Kim says. For now.
Better Call Saul airs Monday nights on AMC.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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