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Spoilers for Better Call Saul Season 5
There is no stronger contender for the title of breakout star in Better Call Saul than Rhea Seehorn’s Kim Wexler.
We are introduced to Kim in the show’s pilot “Uno”. Over the following five seasons, we see the character grow into her skin as a tough as nails, versatile and strong individual, one that’s arguably the hardest working person on the show and the perfect moral counterpart to Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy McGill / Saul Goodman.
Kim initially starts out as the voice of reason for Jimmy. The viewer gets the sense that the only opinion that truly matters to Jimmy is Kim’s and she keeps him grounded in the early seasons of the show. However, as the series progresses, we see Jimmy “break bad” but there’s also a change in Kim’s direction. Kim goes from being the workhorse head lawyer for big financial institution Mesa Verde to taking on pro bono cases on the side.
The question is then, why is she deciding to do this?
One theory is that Kim is trying to balance the shady lawyer work done by Jimmy throughout the show – the type that will lead him to becoming a friend of the cartel by the time he’s introduced in Breaking Bad. She’s working hard to bring justice to those accused and victimized by the world that Jimmy is increasingly stepping into.
We see how seriously Kim takes this role on board in Season 5 as she goes as far as to lend clothes to one of her public defence cases while arguing tirelessly with the prosecutor to spare the defendant any more jail time. This comes on the back of a car accident that left an overworked and under rested Kim badly injured, highlighting her dedication to doing the right thing in the face of Jimmy doing wrong.
But Kim Wexler is more than just the moral compass for the series protagonist. She is unquestionably the second lead on the show and runs her own parallel story of breaking bad. Much like how in Breaking Bad we were treated to flashbacks of the pre-show Walter White as a means to further explain how that character reached his breaking point, Season 5 of Better Call Saul gives us glimpses into Ms Wexler’s history. In these moments, we see why she can now endure Jimmy’s increasingly erratic behaviour. On top of this, the scenes may also explain her own actions as she reaches her tipping point.
In Season 5, Episode 6 “Wexler vs Goodman”, a flashback is shown of a young Kim waiting in a dark parking lot for a ride home. Her mother turns up intoxicated admitting to having been drinking and, though only a teenager, the always level-headed and tough Kim opts to walk home rather than share a car ride with her troubled matriarch.
This isn’t the first example of Kim’s upbringing we see in the show. Kim as a teenager is shown to have become self-reliant due to her mother’s alcoholism. In Season 5 Episode 3 “The Guy for This”, she claims that as a child, her mother frequently moved them from place to place to keep one step ahead of landlords to whom they owed back rent, and never had a place to call home herself.
Kim further claims she moved to Albuquerque because of the limited opportunities available in her hometown. This highlights the world she comes from and allows the viewer to understand that, much like Walter White and Jimmy McGill, life has not always been kind to the character. It explains not only why Kim stands by Jimmy, as she relates to his pre-show troubles and in-show insecurity, but also sheds light on Kim’s own potential to break bad.
There are two things that are certain about Kim Wexler. She is trying her best to do the right thing and she is determined to let nothing stand in her way. Both of those qualities can be linked to her self-raised childhood and the example set by her mother.
The same can be said for Jimmy who, at least for the first three seasons and arguably into the fourth season, is just trying to do what right he can in the world of the show. Unlike Kim, however, Jimmy’s transition to Saul Goodman happens more obviously. We see him go from a lawyer trying to do right, to an unstable angry man who destroys cars with bowling balls and runs money for the cartel. Kim meanwhile is going through her own metamorphosis albeit quieter than her louder than life husband.
What could be the reason for this? Occam’s razor would suggest it is simply because Kim loves Jimmy. She can sense the duality in his personality and the inner conflict he faces on a daily basis as he slips ever further into his alter ego Saul Goodman. Perhaps Kim loves Jimmy because in her heart she feels he can be steered to the side of light by her guidance. One could argue Kim stands by Jimmy despite everything he does because Kim’s moral compass indicates to her that there are good people that can be helped and reasoned with inside of us all.
The biggest downfall for Kim is her rooted belief that she can talk people to the right side of the law. This is seen in every legal negotiation she has in the show and also every time she talks to Jimmy and decides to go along with his plans. A case could be made that Kim puts extra effort into trying to counterbalance Saul’s legal actions with her own because she sees the same duality in herself that she sees in Jimmy. After all Kim has admitted on many occasions that she enjoyed some of the scams and tricks she and Jimmy pulled together in the earlier seasons.
Going back to Kim taking on pro bono cases, she begins taking on felony cases in the final episode of Season 5 as a way to counter Saul Goodman’s arrival in the felony game as a “friend of the cartel”. At first, the viewer can interpret this as Kim accepting Jimmy’s new persona and life and continuing to do her part to fight for her own moral beliefs. However, the tone of her character shifts as she learns about Hamiln’s secret one-sided feud with Jimmy and the aforementioned bowling balls.
Rather than being horrified to find out her husband has been sending prostitutes to Howard’s meetings and destroying his property, Kim sides with Jimmy, angrily lashing out at Hamlin. Later in the episode, Saul and Kim are discussing ways to take Hamlin down for good. Kim suggests ruining his reputation and destroying the esteem of his firm by framing Hamlin for misconduct and forcing a settlement of the Sandpiper Case.
For the first time the roles are reversed. Kim is leading here, trying to convince Saul to destroy the reputation of a colleague. It’s clear that Kim has now broken bad and while she may never run money for the cartel, she has embraced her own inner demon and is willing to exploit her knowledge of the law to bring down a key player in a major firm.
It’s difficult to fully assess what caused Kim to break bad like this. You can see throughout the season that Kim is grappling with the workload of her big money cases for Mesa Verde and her morally upright cases from her pro bono work. This is the same dilemma Jimmy faces. While he clearly does love the law, the allure of money keeps bringing him further into the criminal underworld of New Mexico.
Kim, meanwhile, chooses morals over money and resigns from her post as Mesa Verde’s top lawyer in order to focus on doing what makes her feel good. The pressure of reaching this decision boils over for Kim throughout Season 4 and Season 5. Perhaps, due to the strain of this, her love for Jimmy and her own inner duality that he brings out in her, Kim breaks bad. Much like Walter and Saul, she feels that doing so is necessary to continue doing what she feels is best for her.
So the question as season 5 ends is, what happens to Kim Wexler? There’s one season left in Better Call Saul and the character is not in Breaking Bad.
Better Call Saul much like Breaking Bad is a tragedy. You see how the choices of characters have long lasting and broadly applied impacts such as Walter White causing a plane crash. Jimmy, up until now, seems immune to this. As Lalo Salamanca puts it, Jimmy is a cockroach who always lands on his feet. While Walter dies, flash forwards in Better Call Saul show Jimmy continues living in hiding under a new name. Conspicuous by her absence is Kim.
I don’t believe Kim is as equipped for the world of Breaking Bad as Jimmy and Walter are, simply because her moral compass is stronger than theirs. So since Breaking Bad shows us the consequences of our actions and the tragedy that comes with that, I believe the ultimate fate of Kim Wexler will be this. Her plot to take out Howard will backfire, the first ploy she and Saul have ever unsuccessfully pulled off. While Saul will find his way to make it through this, Kim will be convicted and sentenced.
No longer trying to balance Saul Goodman via pro bono work and her own moral dilemmas, Kim will fall victim to her own impulses. She will also become a victim of the system she so tirelessly worked to aid.
Breaking Bad was a story of a man who wanted greatness, came close, failed and then let that anger boil over as the world continued to emasculate him. Better Call Saul is two stories of people pushing upward trying to do better than the world they inhabited. As Season 5 of Better Call Saul wraps up, we’re left wondering the fate of the cast we have grown to love over the past five years.
While there’s no way to know right now where most of these characters end up, it is looking likely that Kim will be Saul’s final victim. She will be the one remaining good person that believed in Jimmy McGill, only for Saul Goodman to push them away – highlighting that the best way Kim could truly have helped balance out her husband’s criminal behavior would have been to leave him to face those dangers alone.
Could it be possible that Saul Goodman will turn out to be the one case Kim can’t win and will ultimately ruin her reputation and career, much like how she and Saul plan on ruining Howard Hamlin? We will have to wait until the final sixth season to find out.