Better Call Saul “Wexler v. Goodman” (S5E06)

“You never listen!” – Kim’s mother

How does Kim go from a teenager who knows better than to get in the car with her intoxicated mom, to present day Kim proposing marriage to Saul after he betrays her by turning her into a sucker (once again) along with Mesa Verde? Nine times out of ten, Kim knows what’s best. She knew she was better off upping Mr. Acker’s settlement to $75,000 and pay the difference out of pocket from Mesa Verde’s share.  For her, it’s better to take the financial hit and put this mess behind her rather than risk her career and reputation over a scam that entails dragging her most depended client through the mud.  Best case scenario, the scam makes her feel good that Mr. Acker keeps his home and Jimmy feel good for working his magic as a con man.

From the beginning of the episode, Kim comes to the conclusion that the thrill is not worth it and musters up the courage to call it off, despite Jimmy’s much expected disappointment.  She has good reason, considering her boss Rich Schweikart has already declared his suspicions of what’s truly going on.  Jimmy argues that nobody will ever find out they’re in cahoots but he knows he’s at a loss.  As much as he hates to see a walk-off homerun dribble foul, he agrees to call off the scam.  He does this, guilting Kim in the process by stressing how deflated the student film crew will be after how hard they worked in preparation. Jimmy is a tad manipulative here, similar to Walter White making Skyler feel like the party pooper when she orders him to take Walt Jr.’s Dodge Challenger back to the dealership to avoid suspicions.  Jimmy honors Kim’s wishes, but only until he can turn her words of caution and reasoning into an invitation to go against them.

The question for Jimmy here is…why?  What drives Jimmy’s need to go forward with the scam to the point where he figures using Kim’s genuine surprise and anger as a means to clear Rich of any suspicion is in any way excusable to the act of steamrolling her to begin with?  Is he this desperate to mask his grief with Chuck by getting a rise out of screwing people over, even if it includes deceiving someone he cares about?  By not going forward with defaming Mesa Verde and accusing them of every absurd, scandalous offense under the sun (including a claim of copyright infringement which would actually hold water), Jimmy’s goal to turn the world upside-down would result in an anti-climax.  Anti-climax is the exact thing Jimmy strives to avoid because under Chuck’s watch, it’s all Jimmy was ever advised to endure.

Jimmy is gun-ho to put his talents to use on his own terms.  He doesn’t want to hear reasons not to, no matter how valid or sound, because he’s eager to prove that his way of doing things was always the way they should have been done long ago.  Perhaps he feels an incessant need to go through with it because he’s been held back for so long and needs to make up for the lost time of making choices for him and him alone.  It’s something Chuck never allowed him to do as it causes a fallout of damage at the expense of others.  Problem is, Jimmy still cares for Kim and wants to be a couple, therefore his needs are going to clash and the consequences of his actions still need to be considered if he wants to maintain the relationship.  But what does Kim actually want? Because one episode she’s mocking the air of arrogance and greed Kevin Wachtell carries and the next she’s come to her logical senses, arguing not to bat the beehive.

As I go on to explore Kim’s mindset in this episode’s review, I discover that I already hit most of the nail on the head back in last season’s “Coushatta” write-up.  The same analysis applies:

“If the proceedings for Mesa Verde weren’t such a drag for Kim, she probably would never make this worrisome choice. I think back to the younger, eager version of herself in the cold open of “Pinata” where she’s Jimmy’s #1 buddy but her admiration for Chuck and aspiration for becoming the rockstar lawyer is her real draw. You have to consider what happened to her along the way where Howard locked her in doc review and Chuck proved to be more of a disappointing role model. Even though she never achieved Mesa Verde properly (because of Jimmy), she still owned it through her hard work, but even that pales in comparison to what Jimmy has always consistently offered her in which Howard, Chuck, and even Kevin Wachtell have failed to. And that’s the rockstar, home run moment. Between her scamming ‘Ken Wins’ out of buying the most expensive tequila, fighting in Jimmy’s corner in the case against Chuck, or pulling off a Hail Mary in getting Huell no jail time, Jimmy has always been the guy that granted her the rewarding satisfaction of winning.

There’s always been a corruptible blot on Kim’s x-ray and she’s overcome that with the firm belief that working within the lines of legitimacy was her ticket for gratification. She wore this like a badge of honor to the point where she even warned Jimmy in season 2 that fabricating evidence in his cobbler scheme was not worth sacrificing the more lucrative, straight and narrow road he’s built for himself. However, Jimmy has proved time and time again that through the same willpower in which Kim possesses, he can run each side of the law like a ski slalom in his favor. It’s that exhilarating feeling of coming out on top that triumphs over the lawful standards Chuck reveled in, where currently for her it’s all tunnel and no light. That said, I don’t think Kim is stupid. By telling Jimmy “Let’s do it again”, it’s not that she’s willing to unnecessarily bend the law when there’s no present hurdle giving them a reason to, but a message to Jimmy that she’s willing to fight dirty in his corner when the next situation calls for it. It’s too much of a stretch that she would join Jimmy as a criminal partner (she still has higher morals), but she certainly seems eager to be a disciplined asset to him.”

Everything transpiring this season leading up to “Wexler v. Goodman” expands on this line of thinking with new information and developments.  It’s not so much that Kim is bored with helping Mesa Verde’s campaign to expand their territories but the corporate evil to the process that’s impeding on the lives of unsuspecting citizens is wearing on her.  She’s learned that the law isn’t her neat and tidy road to salvation and in fact, by following it she’ll continue to be the loser who’s ordered around by Kevin and who’s made to look like a chump by Jimmy.  Jimmy called Kim out in last season’s episode “Wiedersehen”, addressing how she always has her feet in both camps when it comes to embracing and rejecting him as a partner.  He’s always been hurt by this even if he always kept it to himself.  It’s probably what drove him to reject Kim’s wishes not to go forward with blackmailing Mesa Verde here.  By doing it, he kills two birds with one stone.  One stone sets to prove that his colorful way of doing things goes off without a hitch and therefore Kim should have trusted Jimmy, while the other punishes her as the added sucker for not listening.

Obviously there’s a level of delusion at play there when it comes to justifying the act of sideswiping her and believing his original con with Rich’s suspicions in tow, to be such a shoe-in, but this is essentially his way of putting his foot down.  This is who Jimmy is and if Kim doesn’t want to continue to be made the sucker picking up the pieces, then it’s time for her to finally make the choice she’s been dreading all season.  She can either wash her hands of Jimmy and leave him (which is what she acknowledges in the episode’s closing scene) or commit to him fully as a partner.  Both feet in one camp. It sounds crazy when you consider how much sense Kim possesses, but this choice is derived from a much more complicated, existential dilemma than most logical reasoning can sway.  It’s about living.  Not just surviving and playing it safe while the rest of the world gets the better of you, but living on the edge.  I think Kim would rather live a riskier life that works in her and her partner’s favor, as well as the moral favor of others (Mr. Acker being the prime example), than to tow the line, get pushed around, and lose someone she loves over reservations of the legal right and wrong.  She put the law and the act of ‘going about things the right way’ on a pedestal all her life and it’s been known to fail her.

Young Kim knew that the right decision to make when her mom showed up late and under the influence of alcohol, was that she shouldn’t get in the car with her.  She was put in a position to reject her mother’s offer to drive her home, no matter how much context Kim may have (that we don’t) as to why her mom drinks.  We don’t know how hard Kim’s mom has it other than their family growing up poor to the point of dodging payments with multiple landlords.  For all we know, Kim’s mother means well and although struggles with certain vices, ultimately aims to give Kim the best upbringing she possibly can.  You can see on her mom’s face that she isn’t proud of her problem or lying to her daughter to reassure her safety, but the last thing she wants is her kid walking three miles home by herself carrying a cello.  That said, she drives off nearly insulted that Kim doesn’t believe her despite Kim being in the right.  It’s a tough scene, but it brings up the notion of possible abandonment issues that Kim holds towards her mom.  Not so much that Kim’s mother might have abandoned her, but that Kim might have pushed her mother further and further away in favor of doing what’s right.

It’s possible that this became a pattern of choices Kim dedicated herself to which would have resulted in a wider divide between mother and daughter.  There’s no telling what may have resulted from that but perhaps whatever unfolded is the very thing Kim doesn’t want to repeat at all cost when it comes to Jimmy.  The difference between Jimmy’s hang-ups and lies compared to Kim’s mother’s, is Kim has undergone deeper understanding and sympathy as to why Jimmy is the way he is.  Being a kid, she may never have had a chance to give her mom the same consideration.  “You never listen!” might be the guilty echo of her mother’s words that still bounces in Kim’s head.  A haunting mantra she could redeem herself from in the case of her relationship with Jimmy.

 

By proposing that they get married, it’s her way of saying “I’m going to listen, embrace you, and live life.” If it means Kim can be on the same team with Jimmy going forward and not get caught off guard in the whirlwind of his actions, then that’s a life decision she might find more important and valuable than anything else.  Even if it’s the more dangerous route that could result in a horrible wreck like getting in the car with her mom, a life with Saul promises something richer than the life she currently leads. Not just money or even winning, but maintaining the smaller things in life that she pushed away from her mom like splitting a box of McNuggets, seeing what’s on TV, and embracing the warmth of two people who love each other.  She’ll take that at the risk of losing someone over walking alone again in the cold. Because what is Kim’s life without Jimmy and what has it already become from estranging herself from her mom and family?  This breaking point pushes her closer to her role as a criminal partner, rather than just a disciplined asset to Jimmy.  Kim still has her morals but at what point do they become further compromised after fully committing to Saul Goodman? Will those morals deteriorate along with his or does she come to another breaking point?

Mike has also committed himself to a partner in Gus despite the moral conflict that may come from it. Gus apparently has sold Mike on an empathetic life pursuit of revenge made more preferable than the dead-end path Mike’s grief was taking him.  As one of Gus’ right-hand men, Mike is now tasked with getting Lalo out of Gus’ hair for good.  According to Nacho, Lalo plans to do whatever it takes to hurt Gus, such as hitting their supply trucks, getting their customers sick, or cutting off power before eventually damaging Gus’ operation enough where his connection down South is severed.  Lalo already has Krazy 8 informing on Gus’ men, in which Gus responds they get replaced with low-level dealers or new hires in order to protect their most essential members.  The war has started and Mike is going along for the ride but it’s Nacho who remains the moral compass who tries to persuade Mike of how evil the people he’s getting involved with, are.  Mike doesn’t want to hear it until Nacho informs him of his father’s life being on the line depending on whether Nacho follows Gus’ orders or not.  It’s reassuring to see there’s still a line Mike draws with what’s okay and what’s not, but he tells Nacho once they solve the Lalo issue, he’ll get back to him on that topic.

This is the most hopeful moment for Nacho in a long time as he finally has someone on the inside of Gus’ operation who could possibly help free him from his enslavement and save his father’s life, but there’s something off about the scene as well.  For one, it’s very glaring that Nacho was unaware or forgetful of Mike’s initial warning to be careful of higher figures being at risk of being affected if Nacho is to go forward with swapping Hector’s pills.  This far in, it’s the lack of reflection over the fact that he got into this mess with both eyes open that makes me, as part of the audience, worried of what else he can’t see. When or if death comes for him, which is more likely than anything, will he be ready to avoid it?  Nacho is in very deep right now and he’s not without options just yet, but I at least hope he’s ready for whatever happens in the end, regardless if it’s death or not.  When we first meet Lalo, he hands Nacho a meal he prepared, promising, “You’re gonna die,” and Nacho replies “No, thank you”.  His fate remains ambiguous, but Nacho is definitely closer to his than anyone in this show.

A close second would be Kim after the leap of faith she’s prepared to take with Saul and the fact that we know she’s not, to our knowledge, in the picture of Breaking Bad. We may be seeing the beginning of a possible explanation as to Kim’s future absence when Mike (under the false identity Detective Dave Clark as used in the former show) speeds up the investigation of who’s responsible to the arson and murder at TravelWire by convincing a witness to “remember” Lalo’s car being at the scene.  It’s the same car that would match the hit and run that happened within the vicinity and timeline of the fateful events at TravelWire.  Mike even goes through the trouble of blending in at the APD to ensure the developing information gets to the desk of Breaking Bad’s Detective Tim Roberts.  The final nail in the sabotage of Lalo is to masquerade as a police officer who has spotted the make and model of Lalo’s Chevy Monte Carlo. Nacho informs Mike on Lalo’s whereabouts and Mike relays this over the police squad radio.  As four patrol cars surround Lalo and order him to take his keys from the ignition and drop them out the window, he begrudgingly surrenders.

We can fully expect what happens next (now that a violent shootout is off the table) is Lalo will be calling the guy with the mouth, Saul Goodman, to work any angle he can to save him.  Knowing what Lalo is capable of, he’s going to expect freedom at any cost and if that doesn’t work out, what dangers await and for who?  Everyone’s connected now in this dangerous line of hellfire.  If Lalo isn’t the reason for Kim or Nacho’s absence, it could be Gus or Mike or law enforcement or Saul.  Anyone! There’s no telling what tricks the writers have up their sleeve, but there’s no denying we’re entering the end times before the final season.  There’s no way the connection of both the show’s parallel worlds can maintain itself safely now that it’s merged.  Not all characters will be coming out the other side by the time its over. Even the souls of the characters we know survive are at risk depending on what transpires.  At a certain point, the plot was going to catch up to a show that is intriguingly based on character-driven choices, and that plot can only end badly.  We can only hope that these characters stand by or understand the choices that lead them to the conclusions they face.

Lingering thoughts:

“Freedom. Freedom to ride. Freedom to explore. Freedom to bank the way you want to”.  The old commercial for Mesa Verde seems to be selling more than just a bank but the exact thing Kim desires in life.  To live free of principle and explore new horizons without restriction or limitations.  By proposing to Jimmy, she’s banking on a life she can lead on her own terms, full of thrills.  “Let our family help find your freedom at Mesa Verde!” (Mesa Verde being the catalyst to her decision to embrace Jimmy).  On an unrelated note, Kevin’s father, Don Wachtell is played by Mr. Show alum Jay Johnston.  It’s more than appropriate that the scene he gets involves a Mr. Show-esque edit as it’s turned into a classic Saul Goodman commercial.  It even features the old phone number used in Breaking Bad.

Kim apologizes to Rich and Rich reassures her it’s okay to call him out on something but to never do it in front of the troops, as it affects morale and confidence.  Rich inviting Kim to walk with him out to lunch so as to show the office that they’re back on good terms was a sweet moment between them before everything goes to hell.  It felt very Twin Peaks in regards to the show’s ability to lighten itself up amidst all the doom and gloom that lies in wait.  I admire how Rich, like Howard, was initially presented as an antagonist to the audience in season 1, but has proven to be one of the more gracious and endearing characters in the show.

Saul unleashes two prostitutes on Howard making them embarrass him publicly in front of Cliff Main, acting like Howard owes them for some dirty sex arrangement.  This show doesn’t do anything by accident which is why last week we saw Howard call Jimmy again regarding his offer to join HHM.  The more Howard can’t take a hint, the more Jimmy is willing to destroy him.  It’s funny but it’s hard to watch and I can’t imagine Howard isn’t going to have suspicions as to what might be going on now.  The vandalism against his car could have been chalked up to the workings of no-good punk teens, but prostitutes being sent to the hotspot restaurant the lawyer community is known to congregate at is way too specific for a second sabotage.  Howard isn’t that dumb.  He’ll narrow down the suspects to who’s behind this.

Also it’s important to note that Jimmy finally giving in to the prostitutes services was meant to lead us on to the possibility of Jimmy betraying Kim.  He doesn’t cheat on her, but he does indeed betray her when going ahead to call Olivia Bitsui (the owner of the photo that inspired the Mesa Verde logo) in the same scene where he’s enjoying the sabotage of Howard.

Finally, I’m a sucker for the long Kubrick-esque zoom-in on Kevin fuming in silence as everyone tries to get a handle on the situation in the aftermath of Jimmy’s blackmail.  Wonderful directing by Michael Morris.

What’s everyone else’s thoughts?

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