Like its predecessor series Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul operates in a moral universe where every action has consequences, and karma becomes its counterbalance. Both shows are also set in the same dangerous world of drug kingpins and underbelly crimes, and each focuses on the gradual descent of a working-class white male into his worst possible self. But where the antihero of Breaking Bad, Walter White (Bryan Cranston) begins his transformation into the terrifying Heisenberg as a morally good guy who’s diagnosed with lung cancer, the titular character Saul Goodman-cum-Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), in the other hand, starts off as an already morally corrupt con artist. Even after he’s become a lawyer, and to be honest, a pretty good one, the conman in him remains there waiting to come out at any moment.
These two different starting points are what eventually sets both shows apart despite their shared DNA. In Breaking Bad, the pleasure of watching Walter’s transformation lies in the dramatic unpredictability of his actions. And considering how good he is when the show begins, there’s always a little hope that somehow he’ll change in the end. But with its prequel Better Call Saul, we already know that to hope things might change for Jimmy is just futile. And it’s not because deep down he’s a sleazy, unethical man who’s passed any kind of redemption. But also because we know that the inevitable tragedy Jimmy’s heading towards has been preordained by Breaking Bad. So no matter what he does, or what other people do to help him, Jimmy will always end up as Saul Goodman, and eventually, as Gene Takovic — the unfortunate Cinnabon manager whom Jimmy is going to end up as after the final events of Breaking Bad.
One could easily say that to know the final fate of a character will strip a story of its dramatic impulses, and that is indeed true. But Better Call Saul has never aimed for drama. Rather, what the show offers is a tragic portrait of the inevitable loss that its characters will experience due to them falling from grace. And that’s what in the end makes Better Call Saul much richer and sadder than its parent show. We witness how Jimmy’s devolution into Saul Goodman hurts those in his orbit. We witness how Mike’s (Jonathan Banks) desire to be with his granddaughter gets stripped away once he keeps getting involved in Gus Fring’s (Giancarlo Esposito) drug business. However, there’s still one secret weapon whose unknown fate in the future of this universe becomes the ticking time bomb of the show, and her name is Kim Wexler.
When the first season of Better Call Saul began in 2015, Kim (Rhea Seehorn) was supposed to only be Jimmy’s love interest and moral compass — a role that Seehorn inhabits brilliantly. She’s the one who keeps trying to pull Jimmy back towards the ground anytime he’s crossing a line he shouldn’t have. She’s basically both the beating heart of the show, and the good side to Jimmy’s bad. But because Better Call Saul is a story about how one man’s devolution affects those around him, Kim morphs from just a measure to Jimmy’s transformation to become the character of her own. And as the series progresses and more layers about Kim are unveiled, Better Call Saul becomes her story as much as it is Jimmy’s. Yes, until the season five finale last Monday, her story is still tied to Jimmy. But she’s no longer just a love interest whose action is meant to push Jimmy’s arc forward. Instead, she’s her own woman in charge of her own story. She chooses Jimmy not just because she loves her, or wants to be her moral compass who guides her to stay away from the dark side, but rather because it’s simply her choice to be with Jimmy in spite of his flaws.
To see a female character holding her own fort and owning her decision in a show dominated by complicated and strong male characters is certainly empowering. But more than that, what makes Kim even more fascinating is that she’s not just portrayed as someone who keeps her morals intact and is tough all the time; rather, she is also someone who is flawed and at times even problematic. And no, it’s not just about her penchant for conning rich assholes at a hotel bar for an expensive bottle of tequila —which, by the way, she’s really good at. It’s also about her determination to always do things without any help from others that has become a boomerang of itself. Before becoming a lawyer, both Jimmy and Kim start off from the bottom; they work together at HHM’s mailroom. But while Jimmy is all about cutting corners and having the easiest shortcuts, Kim believes that she can get to where she’s at right now by doing things herself and ethically. And this mindset has become her guidance until now. She outworks others and even herself to get a big client. She works extra times to pay the office rent after Jimmy is getting disbarred from practicing law. Basically, she has a really big belief that if she can do great things herself, why should she need help from others, or do things the way Jimmy does?
For quite some time, Kim’s resolve to do all things by herself works in her favour. She becomes a very trustworthy lawyer, and big clients want to hire her. But there’s also times when she demonstrates this resilience in circumstances that she shouldn’t, like in the aforementioned overtime that leads her to exhaustion and eventually to a car crash. Worse, in the last few episodes of season five, Kim also begins to demonstrate her drive to control the situation around her in Jimmy’s world as well, which in the end puts her inside the radar of the dangerous game of drug cartel that both Jimmy and Mike are involved in.
It’s really easy to blame Jimmy for putting Kim in danger. And as much as it’s true that Jimmy has some responsibility for it, in the end, it’s all Kim’s own doing. As shown from Kim’s final scene with Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian), who’s probably the only character in the show who still has his morals secure, it’s insulting to even think that what Kim’s going through is all because of Jimmy, and not her. Even in a less dangerous situation of lying to her clients or orchestrating unethical things to win her case, it’s not just because Jimmy suggests her, but more because she chooses to do it even though she doesn’t have to.
Better Call Saul has done a terrific job at slowly revealing who Kim actually is. And her transformation to become who she is at the end of season five is as jarring, if not more jarring, as Jimmy. Perhaps like Jimmy, Kim has always had a monster inside her waiting to get unleashed, and her relationship with Jimmy is what triggers it. Also perhaps, it is the reason why she marries Jimmy in the first place; to be with someone whom she could really be herself around and allows her to feel the thrill that’s been unmasked behind her suit and ponytail for a very long time. This may not be a good sign of how Kim’s fate will end when Better Call Saul wraps up (probably) next year. But tragic as it might get, it’s her own story and decision. And at least until the very end, she still doesn’t need to call Saul and can always say, “You don’t save me. I save me.”
by Reyzando Nawara
Reyzando Nawara (he/him) is a passionate film and TV writer based in Indonesia. He’s a big fan of Noah Baumbach, Mia Hansen-Løve, and Alex Ross Perry. When he’s not watching or writing about movies and TV, he likes to spend his day cooking, making sorbet, and taking beautiful photos.