I had intended to review every episode of this final block of Better Call Saul episodes. I enjoyed the Gene flashforward ‘Nippy’ which caught up with Jimmy/Saul/Gene in Omaha still playing the long con and dreaming up elaborate schemes to con deplorable rich men out of their livelihoods. Nippy introduced Marion, played by TV legend Carol Burnett a cantankerous older lady who falls for Gene’s charms when he helps her get home when the battery on her electric scooter fails. Of course, we know it’s part of an elaborate plan he has to get in with Marion and her son Jeff (Pat Healy) – the menacing cab driver first seen in the fifth season.
Seeing how Gene has ingratiated himself with his mother Jeff fears Gene and agrees to go along with a plan to steal items from the shopping mall Gene has been working in while he distracts the security guards with complimentary Cinnabon. The Gene side of the story has always intrigued me because the show had only given us tiny snapshots of Jimmy’s life after the events of the Breaking Bad finale. Shot entirely in black and white. Nippy revealed that Gene is still very much Saul and that Jimmy is long gone. Gene is arguably more dangerous than Saul ever was. You’d think he’d be keeping a low profile, being a wanted man, but Jimmy was always smarter than most around him and even as Gene he can’t help but find an interesting angle to swindle people.
The episode proved divisive, particularly as it followed one of the most powerful episodes of the entire series with Kim leaving Jimmy which led to his quick transformation into Saul Goodman. The sudden jump into Gene with its grey colour pallet and slower pacing did take me by surprise but that was the point and the more I had time to process it, the more I appreciated it. Peter Gould, Vince Gilligan and the wider team know the world they’ve created so well they can take leaps forward because they know which path they’re heading down. There is, of course, not that big of a reason to spend much time with the ‘Better Call Saul’ portion of Saul’s life, that was all part of Breaking Bad, and you have to admire the guts of naming the show after a character, or this case, an alter ego that the show hasn’t let us spend a great deal of time with.
The show had originally planned for sad sack Jimmy McGill to transform into his familiar alter-ego by the end of the first season. It’s only because the writers were having fun exploring Jimmy and figuring out what would turn this genuinely nice guy into the obnoxious, brash and scheming lawyer who profits from Albuquerque’s underground. So It’s some miracle we got five seasons out of the show without the jump to Saul.
Ironically, it was the third to last episode, Breaking Bad that I struggled with the most. I had, with no reasoning behind these thoughts, assumed the detour to Gene’s shenanigans would be a one-off. A chance to fully open the black and white world before returning to Saul’s garish office. Breaking Bad, an episode that signalled the returns of Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) felt slightly disjointed. Obviously. as a HUGE Breaking Bad fan I will always get a thrill out of seeing Walt and Jesse bickering in the RV, but it was a testament to the level of investment I have in ‘BCS’ that I just wanted the story to keep moving forward. The episode, though fun, didn’t, in my opinion, blend the worlds of Breaking Bad, and Gene’s plot to take money from drugged-up businessmen that successfully. In truth, I felt the show had lost its spark. I realised afterwards, that I was really missing Kim. Gene isn’t a particularly nice person to spend time with. He’s shed Jimmy’s skin so completely that it’s hard to see the man he used to be. His moral compass has eroded away, and it felt very little watching him methodically plan out his latest plot to rip people off, however awful those people may be themselves.
Thankfully, though I’m not sure why I ever doubted such a thing, the penultimate episode of the series ‘Waterworks‘ written and directed by Vince Gilligan, was an utter masterpiece that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. Still in black and white, and still spending time with Gene we get to see things from Kim’s perspective. I was hoping against hope that we hadn’t seen the last of Kim Wexler and more importantly Rhea Seehorn. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Gilligan revealed it was never really the plan to kill off Kim. It was just something we fans had been expecting/dreading the more we fell in love with her. The show had conditioned us to expect her to meet a grisly end. Nacho, Lalo and Howard have all met their end this season and as utterly earth-shattering as it would have been, it seemed inevitable. Even though, thinking about it, I couldn’t see a reason for Jimmy to embrace the Saul persona if he’s lost the one person in his life he cares about. The only way he would go ‘full Saul’ would be if he felt no hope.
When we meet Kim again, she’s working for a Sprinkler Company in Florida. It’s mundane and menial work. She has settled down with a boring man and has inane conversations with her colleagues. I wondered if Kim is still punishing herself for her part in Howard’s death.
Where Jimmy was wreckless, Kim was always measured. Every action is carefully thought out, every word perfectly chosen. Lalo bursting through their door and shooting Howard was an eventuality she couldn’t plan for and one she hasn’t been able to rectify. She knows she set the wheels in motion long before, telling Jimmy to keep the cartel close and she kept the fact that Lalo was alive from Jimmy. But even Kim, couldn’t have possibly foreseen the events that would follow and that Howard would pay the ultimate price for those decisions she made.
The title of the episode, Waterworks has a clever double meaning. It’s a nod to Kim’s new workplace but also teases a scene from the episode that was so mesmerizing I’ve watched it three times. If we need proof that Kim was still the decent person we knew her to be, it comes when she travels and sits across the table from Cheryl, Howard’s widow. She sits in silence as Cheryl reads her confession of the con they were running on Howard and the truth about his death. Gilligan has the camera scan the letter, picking out key phrases explaining how his body was taken away and his suicide faked. Shaken, Cheryl stares at Kim who is still sitting calmly. She threatens to take her court, but Kim says, again, calmly, that it wouldn’t get very far as there’s no physical evidence. Alone, on the airport shuttle bus, Kim breaks down. Wailing uncontrollably, as all the emotions she kept down sat at the table across from the woman whose husband she saw murdered come spilling out. Rhea Seehorn has been remarkable throughout the series and it’s incredible that she’s only just received awards recognition for the role, but this is a step up. Gilligan keeps his camera fixated on her as she breaks down, her cries getting louder and more out of her control. This is Kim at her least controlled. You wonder if she’s ever done this since leaving the apartment. If she’d ever really allowed herself the opportunity to process what she had been through.
The Art of Acting.
– Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler
– Better Call Saul – Waterworks pic.twitter.com/Np2zaRz7Io
— BetterCallPeet (@Peet_Pink) August 10, 2022
Kim is forever changed by what happened when Lalo came through their front door and if her new life is the price she pays for it, it doesn’t quite seem enough for her to feel at rest. In a clever return to Saul’s office, we see Kim visiting his Albuquerque office to sign the divorce papers. Saul sits unmoved, fiddling with his phone whilst they fill out papers. It’s revealed that Kim declined her half of the Sandpiper settlement in the divorce, even though the money arrived while she was still married to Jimmy. She was well-compensated from her brief time at Schweikart & Cokely, and that was likely all she needed to start over and buy that little house in Florida. At this point, Saul has fully embraced his new persona and is cold towards Kim. It’s hard to believe the pair ever worked as a married couple.
Is He any good?”
“When I knew him he was.”
In a further moment that felt like a nice nod to the fandom, as Kim composes herself outside in the rain, she meets a potential client of Saul’s. As Jesse Pinkman asks for one of her cigarettes. The conversation they have is mostly Jesse talking AT Kim, who is still clearly reeling from her interaction with the full Saul Goodman, but it feels more organic and built into the show’s DNA than the scene between Jimmy, Jesse and Walt in the previous episode. As Kim walks away from Saul’s office it feels as if she’s washed her hands of Jimmy and who could blame her? The scene between Jesse and Kim binds the worlds together. Both would suffer for the man they chose to partner up with, compared to Jesse Kim gets away unscathed. When Jesse asks Kim if Saul is any good, he is only referring to his legal credentials. Kim knows he knows his stuff, but she doesn’t recognise the man he is anymore.
We return to Gene’s escapade in Omaha. His team have all but abandoned him because he wants to fleece a man who is dying of cancer (a further nice nod to Breaking Bad) undeterred, Gene decides to enter the man’s house anyway, with Jeff waiting outside the house in his cab. The scam involves ploughing the men with alcohol and giving them water laced with a sedative which sees them pass them out at home giving Gene’s men the time to snoop around their homes taking photographs of key financial paperwork and passwords all without the victims ever knowing it’s happening. With the man still sleeping on the living room floor, Gene snoops and gets the information he needs. Just as he’s about to leave, he turns and goes back upstairs to find something else, helping himself to a watch. A nervous Jeff crashes his cab in front of two policemen and is sent to jail for the robbery. This sends Gene into overdrive. He has escaped the house and is talking Jeff through how to handle the police.
When Gene goes over to warn Marion, he, in a rare moment, slips up and mentions Albuquerque, an already suspicious Marion plays it cool and tells Gene to come over to collect her and they’ll both bail Jeff out. Jimmy/Saul/Gene they never really slip up. The show always goes to great lengths to show the minute detail he goes through to pull off his elaborate plans. And yet, in that moment, he chooses the wrong word and Marion’s suspicions are raised. in the same interview, Vince Gilligan talks about how he and the team are bad at planning ahead. And yet, everything feels set in stone. One action seamlessly leads to the next.
When Gene arrives at Marion’s she doesn’t answer his knocks. When he does get through the door, she is sat staring directly at her laptop screen. Gene, still very much in character, doesn’t suspect a thing until he turns the laptop around, and hears ‘Better Call Saul’!’ Marion tells him, “Ask Jeeves told me, I typed in con man and Albuquerque and up you popped big as day!”
For the first time ever, Gene has lost control. The pins are falling. Even when he was working as Saul and he found himself in the desert with Walt or Gus he was able to weasel his way out of even the most dangerous of situations. Now, cornered, with his alter ego unmasked, he has nowhere to go. He rips the phone out of the wall when she threatens to call the police, he warns her not to press the ‘life alert’ button that alerts authorities if she’s in trouble. The pair stares at each other, “I trusted you.” She presses it and tells them about Saul, who heads for the back door in complete panic.
This episode had everything. The jeopardy that I thought the previous two were lacking. The return of Rhea Seehorn was everything I had hoped for. It’s hard to see how she can play a part in the finale, but I’m happy to be proven wrong there. IF Gene is talked he’ll be the first character in this universe to be properly punished for his crimes. There’s a wonderful irony that this all really started with Jimmy fighting for Senior Citizens in the Sandpiper case and his downfall comes at the hands of an old woman and her ‘lifeline’. It’s hard to know what I want from this finale, I’ve long learnt not to try to second guess the geniuses at work here. After a minor wobble with the storytelling, this episode blew me away. It was quietly devastating, character-driven with moments I’ll remember for a long time. Kim’s face on the shuttle bus is etched into my brain now. Vince Gilligan has said Saul will be the last in his Breaking Bad universe for a long time. When Better Call Saul was first announced I wasn’t sure what form the show would take, and the team have said they weren’t sure either but it has turned into something magical, a detailed character study that stands right next to Breaking Bad as one of the most important and compelling dramas in the history of television.
Better Call Saul Concludes Monday 15th August on AMC and Tuesday 16th August on Netflix.