Why I love Kim Wexler on Better Call Saul
There’s one scene from this season of Better Call Saul that I can’t get out of my head. It’s in episode 403, “Something Beautiful,” the scene where Rhea Seehorn’s Kim Wexler goes in for a meeting at Mesa Verde.
Now, Mesa Verde has been a thing on Better Call Saul practically as long as Gus Fring was a thing on Breaking Bad. I guess you’d describe Mesa Verde as “a recurrent subplot,” but it has an uncanny way of suddenly dominating the show around it. Avuncular CEO Kevin Wachtell (Rex Linn) and his senior counsel Paige Novick (Cara Pifko) are familiar faces in Saul’s Albuquerque, in what I guess you could call the “white people in suits” side of the show. And Kim’s stewardship of Mesa Verde has carried her legal career through three major evolutions, from oldboy firm Howard, Hamlin & McGill to the startup cooperative Wexler McGill to her current role as the head of Schweikert and Cokely’s banking division.
So Mesa Verde is an idea rooted deep into Better Call Saul’s foundation, even if we don’t tend to talk about Better Call Saul as “a show about the gradual expansion of a local bank into a regional institution.” But episode 3 suddenly, spectacularly foregrounds Mesa Verde, and its role in Kim’s story, and Kim’s role in whatever story Better Call Saul is telling. Kevin shows Kim a room full of model buildings. The bank is opening up new franchises, across the Southwest and beyond: Salt Lake City, Cheyenne, Ogden, Tucumcari. And Lubbock, man, Lubbock!
Kim walks around the room, a bit speechless. Director Daniel Sackheim shoots with a dreamy stillness, the white room lit a 1992 shade of purple. And Seehorn has a brilliant way of communicating a lot of clashing thoughts. Kim looks mesmerized, intimidated, perplexed. She seems to be realizing something, though it’s hard to sort out whether she’s realizing something personal, professional, or existential. In the sequence’s stunner shot, tiny purply people fade into Kim’s gaze; she looks fascinated and maybe a bit horrified, and credit to director of photography Marshall Adams for very casually implying multiple sets of prison-y bars between us and her.
There’s been some incredible Kim Wexler material throughout this season of Better Call Saul. She’s the one main character who regularly interacts in any meaningful way with Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy McGill. (Jimmy and Jonathan Banks’ Mike had coffee once.) And the series has lately played up the Jimmy-Kim coupling as the defining dynamic of the series. Episode 6 opened with a flashback to their early days paper-chasing through HHM, back when Kim was a law student and Jimmy was the man in the mailroom. Their conversation vibrates futurequakes of premonition: See Kim, praising the cosmic possibilities of “the power of obscure case law!” while careless Jimmy begs her to “big-picture it” for his can’t-be-bothered brain.
Episode 7 opened with Kim and Jimmy again, passing long months of regular life in a split-screen montage. Kim joined her new law firm, set up a new office, found time to dedicate herself to pro bono public defense. Jimmy wasted time at his nominal job, built brand equity on his side hustle, selling burner phones one tracksuit at a time. They’re both getting to work was the sequence’s text, they’re moving in different directions its subtext.
Then suddenly, Jimmy needed Kim’s help. His associate Huell (Lavell Crawford) had been arrested on seemingly unimpeachable charges; he literally hit a policeman. Called to win an unwinnable case, Kim brought the Full Wexler, squadding through the courthouse with her attendant Schweikert Cokelys laying motions and pleas and general private mega-law-firm realness at the assistant district attorney’s feet.
There was a running tension throughout the episode. Jimmy didn’t entirely know what Kim thought about all this: His side hustle, his obvious backsliding into casual skullduggery, the basic fact that he was asking her to help him cheat justice. Kim got Huell his freedom, took Jimmy into a stairway — and kissed him. “Let’s do it again,” she said, ending the whole adventure on a note of eerie celebration. Seehorn can make Kim swagger like a business badass, but there’s something whimsical about her performance; you always believe that she likes Jimmy, even gets inspired by him, even as she wearily recognizes all his flaws.
Part of the magic of the Jimmy and Kim pairing, I think, is how difficult it can be to pin down. Kim’s a great lawyer. Jimmy’s a brilliant operator. In a darkly funny way, Better Call Saul assumes those two things are precisely the same. (“What Better Call Saul Says — And Doesn’t Say — About The Legal Profession” will be a fun class someday at the University of American Samoa.) On Monday’s penultimate episode, “Wiedersehen,” they worked an elaborate scam on Lubbock’s City Hall, requiring a barrelful of lies about a phantom child, spoilt breast milk, and one very prominent Jimmy Buffett T-shirt. But Kim’s aiming in a different direction than Jimmy. “We should only use our powers for good,” she says, though it’s obviously unclear what “good” was done ensuring the Lubbock branch of Mesa Verde looks as eye-catching as the Tucumcari branch.
Kim is the one main character left on Better Call Saul with no obvious basis in the predecessor series. Which is interesting, because any time traveler Manifesting from 2013 to 2018 would find a lot of familiar Breaking Bad notions in this season. Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) hovers in the shadows, surrounded by various accomplices, plotting devious long-term drugspionage adjacent to Don Eladio and the Salamancas. Actually, if you saw the original series, it’s almost funny how many eventually-dead characters have been resurrected in Saul’s cartel subplot, more fun with the Cousins, hey Gale!
And some of this material feels… a little off? Where Saul has deepened our understanding of the origins of Saul Goodman, it’s frozen Gus Fring in a state of eternal shadowy planning. At one point, he delivers a long soliloquy to Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis) — long soliloquies delivered to Hector being just such a vintage Gus thing to do. This was a scene which was shot beautifully and still wound up looking a bit goofy, the general message summed up by Gus theatrically proclaiming, “And Yet… I Wait.”
Meanwhile, Mike’s been very patiently working on a special Fring project, the miraculous superlab that centralized Breaking Bad’s middle years. I guess someone out there in this great big world of ours always wanted to know how they built the superlab. I always assumed the story was, “It was built,” and admit to little interest in the ongoing Parable of the Lonely German Engineer. Better Call Saul’s crime stuff is skillfully made TV crime stuff, no doubt. But its embrace of the Darth Vader-iest aspects of Breaking Bad still feels a bit like downloadable content, cool scenes of Gus Fring looming for anyone left cold by Saul’s seasons-long flirtation with elder care law.
All these divergent strands could be merging together. The arrival of Lalo (Tony Dalton) is a deep-canon nudge that Jimmy’s storyline is circling toward the drug trade. But nothing in the literally explosive superlab subplot felt as dramatically fiery as Kim’s rooftop conversation with Jimmy in “Wiedersehen.” Everything came out all at once: Jimmy’s inability to be sincere, his ongoing strange relationship with dead brother Chuck, the possibility that Kim will always see him as (sigh) Slippin’ Jimmy, the more obvious fact that Kim drops everything for Jimmy all the time. Here she was, Jimmy declared, kicking a man while he was down. “Jimmy, you are always down,” Kim shot back.
It felt like a reckoning, a final schism for this couple after a season of glacier-shifting apart. Jimmy returned to their apartment, ready to pack. And then… Kim seemed ready to help him again, kinda! It was an ambiguous lead-in to the finale, but also a reminder of one essential truth about Better Call Saul: We already know where everyone else is going. But Kim Wexler can always surprise us.
Saul Goodman, first introduced in Breaking Bad, gets his own Vince Gilligan prequel.