Better Call Saul “Axe and Grind” (S6E06)

“Nip it in the bud.”

When it comes to flashbacks, it seems young Kim and young Jimmy contrast with one another differently. Jimmy was raised by his honest hardworking parents. A father who believed the best in everyone and was overtly gracious to his community to the point where he’d get taken advantage of. Jimmy saw his father as a sucker from very early on and strived to never grow up to become that man. Kim was a daughter to a mother who always left her picking up the pieces. In Kim’s world, she is constantly made the “sucker” with a conscience as her mom leads the charge in skipping out from paying her landlords and scheming shop owners. In this scenario, Kim is caught stealing a pair of earrings and a necklace. She does not seem remotely proud or enthused over what she’s done, even when her mom bails her out and celebrates when they get to walk away without consequence. Whether Kim’s mom put her up to this or Kim stole the jewelry independently, it’s clear that her mother’s bad behavior has made a significant impression on her.

One thing that seems apparent is that Kim does not wish to become her mother. Young Kim relinquishes holding hands when her mom begins to gloat and cackle over getting away with the theft. Whether Kim likes it or not, this is the world she’s growing up in. She may have been wise to protest getting in the car when her mom showed up late and under the influence of alcohol back in last season’s “Wexler v. Goodman”, but there’s only so many times a child can ward off their own mother. The song that plays on the radio when car starts is 1983’s “The Reflex” by Duran Duran. One key lyric of many goes, “I’m on a ride and I want to get off. But they won’t slow down the roundabout”. This is Kim’s life and she can’t help it. The earrings that her mother stole for her are the same we’ve seen her wear most of the time as an adult. Even when it’s a different color, it’s always the same shape and style earring. She wears these earrings similar to how Jimmy wears Marco’s ring. It’s symbolic to her. The relationship between Kim and her mom is mysterious, if not a little confounding. We see that young Kim is not happy with the person her mother tends to be, but the fact that adult Kim wears the earrings in honor of her helps paints a more complicated picture.

The following chorus line in the “The Reflex” which plays as young Kim stares out the car window is “So, why don’t you use it? Try not to bruise it. Buy time, don’t lose it.”  This is essentially the show’s way of getting into a silent Kim’s headspace. She can’t help how she grows up and what impressions are left on her so why not learn from them? Hone the craft that’s been bestowed upon her and only use it when absolutely necessary. Don’t abuse the power and bide your time. Given the chance of independence, it seems Kim would strive to get off the reckless road her mother takes her down so she can instead pursue the straight and narrow. This is the road we’ve seen her on since the beginning of the show. It doesn’t mean she’s free from being her mother’s daughter in terms of what she’s capable of, but she has more room to embrace a life she feels is right. Essentially, Kim’s willingness to be better was instilled very early on, whereas Jimmy’s willingness to be better in season 1, while a genuine pursuit, was too late in his life, especially when held under Chuck’s thumb.

Jimmy and Kim will grow up to cross paths with one another, awakening an undefined beast. At the start of their relationship, it seemed to lean more towards Jimmy being the bad influence. Kim had worked hard to bury the reckless part of herself and keep it there. Jimmy’s bad behavior and skewed justifications for how he carries himself were strong enough to eventually unearth Kim’s dark side, but what’s left of Jimmy’s conscience is not strong enough to tame it. What they bring out in each other is a tug and pull which is not as easy to illustrate. All we can see is the inevitable result it’s leading towards. As the ‘how’ to Kim’s downfall becomes a more clear avenue to envision, the ‘why’ is still something to figure out. An interesting exchange occurs between Dr. Caldera (the vet) and Jimmy and Kim as they await the result of a drug they are testing which is crucial for their plan against Howard. The vet shares how he’s planning to leave town and hang up his business of providing Albuquerque with underground, criminal contacts. He reveals his encrypted contact book which we saw revealed to be in Saul Goodman’s possession in the season’s flashforward cold open. That very book also has the business card to Best Quality Vaccuum which now makes one outcome to Kim’s disappearance in Breaking Bad a plausible possibility.

Dr. Caldera explains that helping animals is the real reward but tending to New Mexico’s criminal underbelly is what wears on him. From Jimmy’s perspective, walking away from passive income with minimal risk is a waste. Kim responds in the vet’s defense, “Well, he knows what he wants.” This is the same line of thinking that dictated her decision to give up Mesa Verde and quit Schweikart and Cokely. She wants to go her own way and pursue a career that will give her pro-bono clients the defense only millionaires can afford. It’s a more noble pursuit that would grant the same fulfillment as Dr. Caldera’s board of ‘thank you’ cards and pictures of pets he’s treated. At the same time, it’s also the mindset that causes Kim to make a wild U-turn across the median back to Albuquerque after being well on her way to a lucrative job opportunity in Santa Fe. A major job opportunity that will actually make a humane difference in the world. The Jackson Mercer Foundation is a justice reform program that would fight against excessive punishment, racial profiling, recidivism, mass incarceration and the many shortcomings that exist within the structural justice system. Being a key member of this organization is the Mesa Verde to what Kim actually wants.

So why is hurting Howard more important when glaring pitfalls in the plan are presented to her by Jimmy of all people? Why can’t she live to fight another day when she is fully capable of doing so? Before Cliff offers Kim the job opportunity, he picks her brain as to how she left things with Howard upon HHM. Kim notes how she wouldn’t be where she is today without Howard and that she owes him and HHM alot. This is certainly true, but perhaps it’s also what drives her resentment? Having to credit someone for what she views as her own success is one thing, but crediting someone who she views as a villain is another. Ever since growing up with a destructive mother, Kim has craved independence. Perhaps ruining Howard is her way of telling the world off as she reaps the financial reward to help people from what she built on her own. Maybe it doesn’t matter that the Jackson Mercer Foundation can help make a difference in the world compared to Mesa Verde’s soulless bank expansion efforts. It’s still an offered opportunity that is connected through a contact of Howard. A man who attempted to rob her from the personal achievement in landing Mesa Verde as a client. As soon as Howard becomes a travesty to the law community, she can stop crediting him for her own success.

It’s now clear that Kim is not interested in the outcome of what she wants but the execution of that outcome. The Sandpiper case getting settled is what’s most important for her to pursue her equivalent of what the Jackson Mercer Foundation can provide her. And who’s to say her taking that dangerous turn back to Albuquerque will tarnish the Santa Fe opportunity completely? As a penultimate episode to the midseason finale, this ending feels like Kim has sealed her fate. As elaborate and carefully orchestrated as their plan is, there’s so many moving parts to the point where even the audience can tell anything’s bound to go wrong. Jimmy discovers that the retired Judge they wish to impersonate has a broken arm which directly conflicts with the narrative they are trying to push. If this isn’t the universe’s last chance to warn them of unforeseen consequences, then anything that goes wrong from here is solely owed to the choice Kim has made. And let’s not forget that Howard’s P.I. is watching their every move, as well as their little picnic on the lawn of HHM before “D-Day”. Their egos are getting the best of them.

Jimmy knew better to call things off, but it’s Kim who is pulling them along. It’s reminiscent to “Wexler v Goodman” where she knew better to get in the car with her intoxicated mom, but by episode’s end she still proposed the idea of marriage to the reckless Saul Goodman after he blackmailed Mesa Verde against her wishes. In “Axe and Grind”, young Kim seems to desire an alternate life from the road her mother takes her down and comes to terms with playing the cards she’s been dealt for the time being. Now that she’s out from under her mom’s dependence (however that unfolded) and is behind the wheel, she repeats the same poor, reckless decisions. Is Kim channeling her mother’s spirit in this scene by nipping the problem in the bud? Is Kim’s mother’s absence in the present Better Call Saul timeline a bad omen as to why Kim herself is absent from Breaking Bad’s? Can Jimmy put his foot down and stop her before it’s too late or is that what causes a rift between them? One thing to note as Jimmy and Kim part ways before “D-Day” commences, is the intentional shot from across the parking lot. It shows a steel grate fence drawing a giant X over their entire apartment building. Things are about to change drastically.

As Kim writes the script to her own future, the toxic dynamic between Saul and Francesca which we’ve come to know in Breaking Bad is already underway. Forcing Francesca to impersonate a relative to a Sandpiper client is another moving part to a plan the audience has been left in the dark with. The inclusion of Francesca, the film students, the Judge impersonator (played by Mr. Show alum John Ennis), Wendy, and Dr. Caldera is putting a lot of trust on outside players to ensure the sabotage against Howard goes off without a hitch. That’s not to mention the manipulation of Cliff and the Kettlemans. There’s so many variables to the point where an end result triumphs over Saul abusing Francesca into getting what he wants out of her. Say what you want about Howard’s treatment of Kim as an employee but Saul berating Francesca to commit fraud and demanding she clean a client’s urine is who a real villainous boss truly is. It’s no wonder she comes off scatter-brained and desperate to talk to a familiar level-headed person by the end of her work day. Kim’s presence in Saul’s office is like the light at the end of a dark tunnel for Francesca, but little does she know, Kim is far from the saint she thinks she is.

The most unpredictable, overbearing factor which looms over Jimmy and Kim’s intentions to sabotage Howard is the surveillance for Lalo by Mike’s men. It’s one thing that Kim has yet to tell Jimmy that Lalo is alive and that they’re being watched, but Howard’s P.I. can carry on undetected by Kim because of this. What if there’s a major misunderstanding or accident conducted between the two parties and it creates a perfect storm for any possible character? So much is at stake to the point where even if you know which characters survive and which don’t, determining how this giant ball of yarn unravels is frustrating enough. One can’t blame Mike for using this web of uncertainty as a means to look after his granddaughter. This is who Mike is and the world he’s been dealt. If it means he had to murder a hopeless romantic like Werner Ziegler in order to get along, then the least he can do is share the same starry night with Kaylee which Werner praised before he met his end. It’s a sad thought, but a saving grace to world where Mike is meant to lead the life of a lone, morally compromised man. Mike will take solace in watching over Stacey and Kaylee regardless of what Gus or Tyrus want from their war game. Gus went to great lengths to save Mike’s life when he spiraled in the aftermath of Werner’s death and had already been in the crosshairs of Tyrus’ gun when he protested the direct order of abducting Nacho’s father. Mike isn’t going anywhere.

Lalo on the other hand is going everywhere. He’s tracked down the company Voelkers which is where the gift to Margarethe Zielgler was ordered from. This has lead him to the whereabouts of Casper, the hulking German engineer who we haven’t seen since last season’s premiere “Magic Man”. In the aftermath of Werner’s murder, Casper called Mike out, declaring Werner Ziegler to be worth fifty of him. It was the final sting before Mike went over the deep end. Now Casper chops wood on his private property surrounded by forest and before you know it, Lalo is zooming along and skulking towards him acting  as his oddly charismatic self. Casper detects foul play and darts, axe in hand, into his tool barn as Lalo chases after him with his gun drawn. It’s a sequence so dark and gritty that would feel right at home in The Last of Us universe. The way Giancarlo Esposito directs Lalo’s perspective when hunting Casper, being aware of every angle and crevice of the shed until Lalo backs up blind to where Casper actually is, provides weight and reality before he takes a blow to the gut from the brunt of Casper’s axe. Tony Dalton’s performance of having the wind knocked out of him is phenomenal and to turn that into achieving the upperhand over Casper is impressively executed.

The interrogation to the truth of what Gus Fring has built is underway and it’s not pretty as Casper’s foot is nearly chopped off. With Lalo now having gained a broken rib, things are about to get quite real. In the very least, it’s safe to say Lalo won’t be back in New Mexico by the time Kim and Jimmy’s “D-Day” sounds off. I’m sure Kim and Jimmy won’t need any help from Lalo for things to go to hell. That’s the thing about war though. It bleeds into the following days and gets worse and worse, before escalating into absolute horror. The idea that Kim and Jimmy glamourize this concept and consider Omaha Beach as a paradise to clink wine glasses on, is telling of what’s in store for them…

Final thoughts:

We finally meet Cheryl, Howard’s wife. It’s easy to chalk her up as a cold, unloving partner, but we don’t know what the context to their relationship is and why things became so stiff between them. From our perspective, she comes off ungrateful when pouring her coffee haphazardly into a travel mug when Howard worked hard to form a thoughtful peace sign with the cream. Perhaps this is the problem between them in a nutshell though. Maybe Howard comes off desperate to uphold appearances but fails to meet her practical needs. After all, she does thank him for it, but her walking off to grab a travel mug might suggest that he never listens. Perhaps she’s told him over and over how she likes her coffee.

We know Howard is concerned with how he appears on the surface and while the coffee still holds its substance no matter what form it’s in, perhaps the outer shell of Howard is not what’s important to her. Even when he’s upfront about disclosing what’s going on with Jimmy McGill, he doesn’t delve into the details. She’s just assured by him that it will be taken care of. For all we know, Jimmy scandalizing Howard with prostitutes helped put a dent in their marriage. Or perhaps she just simply doesn’t find the nonsense he deals with exciting. They clearly lead parallel lives within their own home, but if this show has taught us anything, nothing is ever black and white.

Thoughts before the midseason finale?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s