Visits to the past, present, and future for the couple mark the clearest differences between Kim Wexler and Saul Goodman.
What courage it takes to stand by your convictions to the bitter end, to have the wits and talent to evade any consequences you so richly deserve, and instead choose to face the music. There are so few admirable people in the world of writer-director Vince Gilligan. Almost everyone of note in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul either aids or commits horrid wrongs against their fellow man. Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) is no exception. But she is one of the few, maybe the only, to not only accept justice, but willingly seek it out, rather than have it thrust upon her. And, by god, that’s admirable.
Back in “Fun and Games,” she couldn’t live with the harm she and Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) had inflicted. In the series’ penultimate episode, the audience finally catches a glimpse of the life she chose instead. It’s an existence as colorless as Gene’s. Kim sleepwalks through a nondescript existence in a place devoid of any thrill or excitement to tempt her. She mulls over the proper verbiage for sprinkler sales guides. She listens to friends and coworkers debate mundanities like mayonnaise, pacifiers, and reality television. She signs office birthday cards that would make Bob Belcher blush.
It is, if not a punishment, certainly the most anodyne sort of purgatory imaginable for someone like Kim to live out her days. This is a bland, flavorless life, as far removed from the colorful chicanery of Saul Goodman as one could conceive.
Until he calls and punctures her safe, placid doldrums. A lonely man wants to know that someone still cares about him if only a little. Instead, the only cold comfort a justifiably aghast Kim offers is a warning to give himself up. What she hears from her ex-husband, like so many people who dared judge Jimmy, is nothing but deflections and recriminations. He challenges her to turn herself in if she’s haughty enough to think he has something to answer for, a funhouse mirror reflection of her own “Get your house in order” speech.
Only she does. After years and years away, Kim returns to Albuquerque for one reason — to accept the legal and ethical responsibility for her sins. These scenes are soft but harrowing, framed to isolate her amid such unassuming but portentous surroundings. Her walk through the courthouse, where she once helped others and made magic with Jimmy, is laden with conspicuous absences. Her sit down with Howard’s wife is restrained but devastating — reflecting an admission of guilt both to the law and to one of the few people still alive to suffer for her crimes — with no effort to minimize or rationalize.
Gilligan and company laudably draw out the slow solitude of these moments. The pace practically invites the audience to marinate in the now-faint specter of the grave misdeeds the show anchored itself around at the same time Kim does. And Seehorn owns each breath and expression, conveying the layers of regret and conviction that lurk beneath an otherwise sanguine individual doing what so few people in this universe have done — turn herself in.
Gilligan and company laudably draw out the slow solitude of these moments.
It’s the advice that the unshakable Manuel Varga gave his son when it was already too late, the thrust of consequences that Jimmy has been avoiding his entire life. It’s a Molotov cocktail Kim throws into her dull but secure existence, not because she has to, but because she chooses to. Therein lies something remarkable: honesty, a forthrightness, an unvarnished moral acceptance that is painful but taken on without excuse or evasion, even when both are readily available.
There’s a reason Gilligan pairs Kim with none other than Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) in the episode’s flashback to a pre-Breaking Bad era. Each is the accomplice to the central figure of their respective shows. Neither Kim nor Jesse were the impetus for the turns to darkness that consumed both series. But each eased, abetted, and participated in them. And by the end, each felt the moral weight of the sins committed in their names.
Jesse, not Walt, found himself wracked with guilt and tried to regain his soul however he could. Kim, not Saul, could not bear to move past the death and destruction in their wake and aims to make amends however she can. They are extraordinarily different people, as the amusing conversation about desert rain and purloined bambinos can attest. But in this unique burden, they are also very much the same.
When Jesse asks Kim if Saul is “any good,” she answers simply, “When I knew him, he was.” The answer comes partly as a reflection of pain. In private, Saul is torn up about finalizing their divorce. But when Kim arrives to sign the documents, he projects the image of an untroubled, unfeeling shark, one who is too successful to be bothered by the woman he loved firmly and finally severing their connection. The unfortunate thing is that the canard works. As Kim stands there smoking one last cigarette in honor of their star-crossed relationship, she pronounces to a stranger, in so few words, that the man she once knew is gone.
But it’s also a statement that it didn’t have to be this way. Jimmy McGill was good. She saw something real in him, a genuinely kind individual who had been given a raw deal by a brother who didn’t love him. Gilligan and his collaborators affirmed that there was something worth holding onto in Jimmy, the angels of his better nature that could have made him a force for good, that have since been resolutely jettisoned in the years between Kim’s departure and Walt’s arrival.
“Waterworks” affirms that with the lows that Gene Takovic sinks to in his black-and-white future. Gilligan returns to his Hitchcockian influences as the episode catches up with his home invasion of a cancer-ridden mark that ended the prior episode. And for a moment, it feels as though Jimmy might be engaging in the conman’s equivalent of suicide by cop. He has what he came for, spots his getaway ride, and yet still ups the tension by going for bonus luxuries like cigars and fancy watches. It’s almost as though he wants to get caught.
Except when he’s actually in danger of detection, he resorts to the worst means imaginable to save his skin. He’s ready to bash a sick man over the head with his own dog’s ashes before the mark thankfully passes out on his own. He leaves Jeff (Pat Healy) to the cops and makes a quiet exit on foot rather than taking an extra second to see if his confederate needs help. And when discovered by none other than Marion (Carol Burnett), he intimidates her, threatens her, and seems ready to strangle her with a telephone cord rather than face arrest and the maneuvers of the legal system he spent so long dodging and abusing.
There is poetry in that. It’s ironic, yet appropriate, that Gene seems set to be taken down by a senior citizen savvy to his scams. The glimmer of hope for Jimmy came from helping elderly folks like Irene draft their wills and recover from corrupt nursing homes. It was, in fact, an inability to stomach poor Irene suffering on his behalf that kept him from going all the way with the Sandpiper case even earlier.
Kim faces down her past in the way her one-time beau categorically refuses to.
If there was anything that reflected the good Kim once saw in her former husband, it was that conscience, that willingness to help such vulnerable people who badly needed his assistance, even if he colored outside the lines to give it to them. Now, he’s threatening old ladies in their kitchens to save himself, humming along to pop songs on his way to enact one more fraud, unbothered and unfeeling in all of it.
But Kim does feel. The life Kim led in Florida kept her cushioned in styrofoam. She sanded herself down amid the softer edges of that world. She’s ever-deferential over questions as inconsequential as whether to use miracle whip in tuna salad or which flavor of ice cream to buy for a coworker’s birthday. It’s as though she doesn’t trust herself to make even the slightest of decisions anymore like she’s insulated herself emotionally from every connection or experience possible. Kim didn’t move on like Saul, but she ran away to a place where she wouldn’t have to think or feel again.
So when she returns to the scene of the crime, when she confesses and accepts the enmity of the people she’s hurt and surveys the ghosts she left behind, it all comes flooding back in one crushing emotional wave. Seehorn’s signature scene, in a series full of her signature scenes, involves the simple act of breaking down on an airport bus. The years of cons, frauds, and harsh consequences can no longer be compartmentalized. The moral weight of that can be denied no longer. The unstoppable Kim Wexler finally cracks.
It’s what distinguishes her from her contemptible counterpart. Jimmy evades. Saul connives. Gene sinks to the lowest depths out of pure self-interest and feels no shred of remorse for what he’s done or what he’ll do. But Kim faces down her past in the way her one-time beau categorically refuses to — a testament to her character, honor, and decency under unimaginable circumstances. And after so long, after so much, Kim still feels.