Saturday, June 22, 2024

Better Call Saul Visits The Shadow Of Kim Wexler

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While the previous two episodes of Better Call Saul showed us what became of Jimmy McGill’s life as Gene, we had the very pressing question of what happened to Kim. The last we saw of her was the moment she walked out of Jimmy’s apartment, crushed by the guilt of what happened to Howard Hamlin and choosing to leave the person she was with Jimmy behind. Obviously, with four episodes left at the time, we knew we would see Kim again. She has, at minimum, been a co-main character to Jimmy since Chuck’s death back in season 3.

Now I kind of wish we never saw her again. Maybe I could have imagined a better life for her.

Kim on the bus from Better Call Saul

It’s funny because, really, Kim’s new life is not so bad. She has a good job, a decent home, a dating life, and good friends. The circumstances themselves seem okay, and are surely better than what Gene has in Omaha. Better Call Saul did not shove her into a lonely, lacking existence.

But, as Kim said on her way out Jimmy’s door, so what? It does not change that we did not see Kim Wexler in this episode. We saw what was left of her, trying desperately to claw her way from the guilt that eats her alive. We saw a shadow of that brilliant, driven lawyer who dreamed of doing so much good for the world. She is sapped dry by an unfulfilled life so similar to that which she describes running from in Kansas.

This is a woman who refuses to make decisions as harmless as the type of ice cream to pick for an office birthday party. She struggles through banal group lunches with seemingly nice friends she does not find interesting. Her boyfriend is some nobody who “yeps” constantly while having sex with her.

(This is a fate worse than death considering how similar it is to the “yup” commercials Jimmy made to mock Mesa Verde.)

Kim is endlessly haunted by who she is and what she did with Jimmy. It has ruined her self-image and made her unable to trust herself. And it hurts even more when Better Call Saul shows those glimpses of the old Kim still breaking through.

While Better Call Saul had Gene spend the past two episodes fighting his way back to Saul Goodman, we see Kim doing everything she can to run away from the woman she used to be. The lack of color in the Gene timeline has always felt like the life being visibly drained from him, hiding everything that once made him bright, but it somehow felt even worse for Kim. Maybe it was because she actively chose to remove all the color and life which defined her, where Gene was forced to leave it behind to hide himself. She accepted this dull life while Gene keeps fighting it.

There has always been this difference between them, where Kim retreats back to her moral center in the aftermath of trauma while Jimmy runs from it. Howard’s death made them react very differently, and this episode shows how it still does. Gene thought he was appealing to someone who thinks the same way he does when he responded to her pleas for him to confess by suggesting she do so instead. He thought he was appealing to Kim’s “intelligence” and she would reach the same conclusion he did.

Instead, he pushed Kim to make the long, hard, emotionally draining trip back to Albuquerque, where she delivered written confessions to the DA and Howard’s ex-wife about Howard’s fate. As Kim told Cheryl Hamlin, maybe she never faces legal consequences. That was not the point. This is something Kim had to do before the guilt buried her alive.

Rhea Seehorn predictably owns this episode, and her mastery of Kim Wexler’s character arguably peaked in her breakdown aboard the bus. She spends the entire episode so blank, so obviously trying to hold it back, and confessing everything finally forced that emotional release on her. It was not a good emotional release. Kim ugly cries, in public, with nothing really having changed and an unsatisfying life waiting for her at trip’s end.

Seehorn is so good in this scene, and throughout the entire episode. She does so much with a single facial twitch, a shifting of the shoulders, a glance one way or another. When her emotions do overwhelm her, it tends to result in some of the most memorable scenes Better Call Saul ever manages, and the bus crying scene definitely ranks highly among the amazing work Seehorn has done on this show.

If nothing else, at least Kim will face her past, and hopefully one day be better for it. Meanwhile, Gene running from his past has ruined his life yet again.

Everyone knew nothing good would come of Gene entering that house at the end of the last episode. There was no good scenario available. At best, he walks away with yet another piece of his soul gone and a taste for escalating his identify fraud scheme even further. Something worse happens, and because of his procrastination, Jeff gets spooked by a cop car, he is arrested, and Gene’s attempts to avoid visiting the station himself leads to Marion finding out who he is.

Those few moments basking in the risk now have Gene/Saul/Jimmy literally on the run, with seemingly no real options to escape, no idea who he is, who he will be, or what there even is for him if he escapes.

We are set up for a truly painful finale to Better Call Saul. There is no good path for Jimmy McGill. Last time, he was able to escape due punishment by getting ahead of law enforcement once Walt was exposed. He was also far from the biggest target available. Now everyone’s dead. Saul Goodman is the biggest name left for federal law enforcement to prosecute. He has an unreliable accomplice in police custody, his cover is blown, and the cops know where he is. Gene does not have a vacuum repair guy to disappear him again, either. He was caught with his pants down and now he has to waddle away.

One thing I learned early and often with the Heisenberg-verse is to never be too confident about what you think will happen. Gene might be able to sneak out of this one. I just cannot see how. Ultimately, I think Better Call Saul is setting up a hard, karmic ending for the empty shadow of Jimmy McGill.

Images Courtesy of AMC

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