Kim, Jimmy and the moral sandwich-making of "Better Call Saul"

Kim Wexler and Jimmy McGill may have been made for each other, but their future selves are unalike enough to notice

By Melanie McFarland

Senior Critic

Published August 8, 2022 10:25PM (EDT)

Bob Odenkirk as Gene in "Better Call Saul" (Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television)
Bob Odenkirk as Gene in "Better Call Saul" (Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television)

The following contains spoilers from "Better Call Saul" Season 6, Episode 12, "Waterworks."

Condiment purists may disagree with this, but to the average person's tastebuds, Miracle Whip and mayonnaise are fundamentally interchangeable. The penultimate hour of "Better Call Saul," "Waterworks," hints at this when Vince Gilligan, who wrote and directed the episode, transports us inside the colorless post-Albuquerque life of Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn).

Kim may have fled from Jimmy, but her life in Florida is only a shade or two less lackluster than her ex-husband's Omaha purgatory. She's traded her sensible work suits for drab bargain bin separates and ugly, puffy gym shoes, crowned by a lifeless, curl-free brunette mop.

Kim may still go by her legal name, but this is not the same woman we've grown to admire. This Kim Wexler designs boring catalogs and brochures for Palm Coast Sprinklers and passes the time in her off-hours by assembling an all-white puzzle. She seems cured of daring and danger, to the point of tolerating missionary sex from a boyfriend who punctuates each sad pump with  "Yep . . . yep . . . yep . . ." as if he were sipping beer with Hank Hill and Dale Gribble.

Only when she gets a call at work from Viktor Saint Claire and reacts like a dried-out addict white-knuckling their recovery on their own does her truest self shine through. This is the other side of the conversation that was seen from Gene/Jimmy's phone booth point of view in the previous episode, "Breaking Bad," which drove him into a berserker's rage.

Kim, on the other hand, quietly hyperventilates before picking up the phone to silently listen to her ex-husband's bull. Gene/Jimmy tries to sound casual, saying he's just checking in after realizing "it's been six years," ostensibly referring to the day they signed their divorce papers, scenes from which play throughout this hour.

He brags about still having gotten away with everything, which Kim meets with stony silence.  Then asks her to say something.

"You want me to say something?" she replies. "You should turn yourself in. You heard me. I don't know what kind of life you've been living, but it can't be much."

The black-and-white future where Gene/Jimmy and Kim separately exist is much quieter than their garishly bright past. Or perhaps it's a matter of the principal characters having less dialogue, although the verbosity of Bob Odenkirk's con man has ramped up in recent episodes as his various personalities messily squish together.

Whatever the case may be, this episode vividly demonstrates the "Better Call Saul" writers' and directors' aptitude for creating pointillist portraits of Kim and whoever Odenkirk's Jimmy is at any moment by assigning significance to the smallest details. Some of these are purely for fun, like Gilligan's choice for the last name of Jimmy's Victor alias: St. Clare is the patron saint of television.

For the benefit of those set on establishing the series' time frame, a glimpse at Kim and Jimmy's divorce documents shows they were married on May 6, 2004.

Others hint about who someone thinks they are or what drives them to do what they eventually choose to do. Take the scene meet Florida Kim in her kitchen as she's trying to make Aunt Foshee's Classic Potato Salad. The recipe is a page taken from a 2008 copy of "Salt & Earth" magazine, a title that implies goodness and honesty.

This episode vividly demonstrates the "Better Call Saul" writers and director's aptitude for creating pointillist portraits of Kim and whoever Jimmy is at any moment.

The ideal reader of such a publication wouldn't countenance using Miracle Whip instead of mayonnaise, which Kim's boyfriend bought in place of the suggested ingredient since his favorite brand wasn't available. He asks her whether she thinks it'll suffice as a substitute, and she bats the question right back at him.

Florida Kim is agreeable that way, never saying what she thinks and always reflecting others' opinions. If someone says it looks like it's going to rain, it sure is. Asked to choose between vanilla and strawberry ice cream, she can't – both are so good.

At the cookout, she serves the not-quite-authentically dressed potato salad without saying anything about the Miracle Whip substitution. Later when her boyfriend declares that nobody noticed the difference, she says nothing.

Even so, Kim's deception bothers her enough to mention while she's having lunch with her fellow "basic" chatty co-workers that she used Miracle Whip in her tuna salad sandwich instead of mayonnaise. Nobody cares. But she does.

That's why when Gene/Jimmy fires back at her assertion that he should surrender by asking what's stopping her from turning herself in, she realizes the answer is nothing. After mouthing her way through a lifeless office birthday celebration, the episode cuts to the Albuquerque airport.

From there Kim heads to the Bernalillo County courthouse, and then to visit Howard Hamlin's widow Cheryl (Sandrine Holt) to show her the typed affidavit she filed detailing her and Jimmy's scam to ruin Howard's legacy, along with the details of his murder by Lalo.

Better Call SaulSandrine Holt as Cheryl Hamlin in "Better Call Saul" (Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television)

This does not grant Cheryl any closure or Kim a mote of absolution. As Kim tells Cheryl, it's up to the district attorney to prosecute her, but without any physical evidence, the only corroboration to her story would be Jimmy's. "Why are you doing this?" Cheryl frustratedly asks. We don't see Kim's response, and her spontaneous burst into loud sobs on the airport shuttle to her return flight could be explained in any number of ways.

Maybe she decided it was time for the assertive, courageous Kim Wexler to resurface from the façade of bland agreeability she's been hiding behind, regardless of the price.

The man masquerading as Gene Takavic is not so direct, as we see after he breaks into his cancer-suffering mark's house to finish his team's dropped identity theft caper.

Gene finds the man (played by Kevin Sussman) still asleep, and harvests his banking information and passwords, as usual. But then Gene gets cocky. He heads upstairs and casually helps himself to a few of his watches . . . only to realize the man has awakened and headed to his bathroom.

Gene's mark stumbles out, still groggy, and slumps down on the stairs to look at his phone, blocking Gene's exit. As this is happening Jeff pulls up in his cab to provide Gene's getaway. Not long after that, two cops pull up behind him. The policemen are simply on a break, but Jeff is spooked enough to lurch his taxi into drive, screeching through a stop sign and crashing into a parked car on the next block.

The cops sigh and flip on their lights.

Gene, meanwhile, calmly exits his target's house and walks back to his place, where he waits for Jeff to call his burner. Once that happens Gene flips into Saul Goodman mode, assuring Jeff that if he holds tight and doesn't say anything he'll get him the best legal defense available.

He plans to send Jeff's mother Marion (Carol Burnett) to the station and calls her immediately to tell Marion about Jeff's arrest. At first, she's horrified and anxious about what's going to happen. Jeff's criminal history in Albuquerque left her with a pile of bills, you see. But when Gene attempts to soothe her worries by detailing the differences between the laws in New Mexico and Nebraska, Marion correctly becomes suspicious.

Better Call SaulBob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman in "Better Call Saul" (Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television)

Some may have thought that the producers of "Better Call Saul" titled the prior episode "Breaking Bad" to acknowledge the long-awaited appearance of Bryan Cranston's Walter White and Aaron Paul's Jesse Pinkman. That's not necessarily so; from what we can tell the title refers to Jimmy, as Gene, deciding to get his hands dirty by directly committing a crime instead of facilitating crimes for others.

Jesse also appears in this episode, right after Kim and Jimmy sign their divorce papers and he taunts Kim for refusing her share of the Sandpiper settlement money. A beat later, Jimmy condescendingly refers to Francesca (Tina Parker) as "sweet cheeks." That's all Kim can stomach.

She stalks out the entrance to Saul Goodman's office, only to find that it's pouring down rain outside. She waits under the eaves to stay dry and lights a cigarette. Jesse emerges from the darkness to bum one from her. Recognizing her from the courthouse, Jesse tells Kim he's waiting for a friend of his who's visiting Saul for the first time. It is not Walter, but a guy he runs with called Emilio.

Prefacing his question by saying to Kim that he knows she's a good lawyer, Jesse asks, "This guy . . . any good?"

"When I knew him, he was," she says, before running into the rainstorm to wash off the last smudges of Saul Goodman.

Jimmy's drug is getting away with his crimes.

That scene comes before Gene sets his play in motion with Jeff and, he thinks, with Marion. But when he arrives at the old woman's house, she's already made him, having typed "con man in Albuquerque" into Ask Jeeves to see his name pop up, "big as day."

Gilligan allows two squares of gold to appear Gene's Omaha life for an instant as Saul Goodman's commercial, immortalized on YouTube, reflects in the Cinnabon manager's glasses. But the man who emerges next is someone else. He rips the phone cord out of Marion's wall and wraps it around his hands like a garrote when she threatens to activate her Life Alert button.

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And this is Gene/Jimmy/Saul's moment of truth. When he was in the house of his con's target, Gilligan laced Odenkirk's dance between the awake-but-very-out-of-it victim and Gene with sharp tension while still incorporating plenty of humor. Even Jeff's panicked car crash is farcical, on top of marking yet another ignored opportunity where Gene could have cut bait and vanished.

His drug is getting away with his crimes, another version of the empty high he used to enjoy in helping other criminals skate by punishment. And that addiction has a very strong pull on his soul. But threatening to murder an old woman is another level of wrongdoing, he realizes. Gene relents and runs away as Marion pushes her button, alerting the cops about what's happening in her kitchen and identifying her assailant as Saul Goodman.

That persona isn't Jimmy's true flavor any more than Florida Kim could stand in for the Kim Wexler who used to be a formidable attorney.  At least Kim may have found a way to come clean in a way that enables her to forgive herself and be forgiven. But Jimmy has wandered too far from the ingredients that made up the man he used to be for his efforts to be salvaged now.

The "Bettter Call Saul" series finale airs Monday, Aug. 15 on AMC.



By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's award-winning senior culture critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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