SPOILERS ahead for Monday night's season 5 finale of Better Call Saul.
Ahead of this year's Season 5 premiere of Better Call Saul, the show's producers announced that the sixth season will be the series' last, amping speculation about what's ahead for Rhea Seehorn's Kim Wexler. As the show's most significant character never to have appeared in Breaking Bad, the fifth season has seen Kim's fate become Saul's greatest question mark.
Anyone who's seen Breaking Bad, which is set after the events depicted in Better Call Saul, already knows that many of Saul's players will survive even their most perilous exploits: Gus (Giancarlo Esposito), Mike (Jonathan Banks), Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis), and Huell (Lavell Crawford) all make it through to play supporting roles in the Heisenberg saga. But we have no indication that by the time Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) takes Walter White (Bryan Cranston) on as a client, Kim is still in his life.
From the start, Better Call Saul has made Jimmy and Kim feel more three-dimensional through opposition and identity. At first, it was all contrasts: Slippin' Jimmy the con man, taking the easy way through law school at the University of American Samoa, while Kim toiled at UNM and spent years at HHM (the firm co-founded by Jimmy's older brother) to work off her student loans. As the series went on, we saw how Kim and Jimmy shared a talent for cons and a love of the game. What started in hotel bars as low-stakes short cons — getting strangers to spring for exorbitantly-priced tequila, followed by adrenaline-fueled sex (strangers not included) — escalated to forging documents to snake Kim's big bank client, Mesa Verde, back from Jimmy's brother Chuck (Michael McKean). Of course, Chuck was a scumbag, so Kim could easily justify that one to herself as a one-time thing.
Cut to Season 5. Kim is ensconced in a respectable firm, doing meticulous work for Mesa Verde while contributing to the greater good by taking on pro bono cases as a public defender. And here comes Jimmy, acquiring a wardrobe of cheap suits in pimp-adjacent colors, and setting up a tent to give low-level criminals free cell phones and business cards featuring his new name: Saul Goodman. Faintly disgusted by the vulgarity of this rebrand, Kim tries to encourage Jimmy to conduct his career more like she is hers, to no avail. Then, when she runs into him at the courthouse just as she's failing to convince an obviously guilty pro bono client to accept a great deal she's negotiated for him, Jimmy offers to pose as the hard-ass prosecutor to convince the client he'd be better off not taking his chances in court. Kim is aghast: she doesn't intend to handle cases by "scamming [her] clients" — or so she says, only to eventually do exactly that. It's another wrong thing done for the right reason.
Perhaps because of how easily she gets away with it, Kim stretches the bounds of legal ethics even more on her next assignment from Mesa Verde. The bank is preparing to open a new call center and has acquired almost all of the land it needs, except from one holdout homeowner, Everett Acker (Barry Corbin). Since Kim can see his point, she tries going back to Mesa Verde to pitch another parcel of land it had acquired as a backup, and which has no such encumbrances, but Mesa Verde executive Kevin (Rex Linn) is just as stubborn as Mr. Acker and is determined to prevail in the Battle of the Bald Boomers. Thus, Slippin' Kim is forced to enlist Jimmy to represent Mr. Acker, using every transparently crooked tactic at his disposal to stall the demolition of Mr. Acker's house. The problem is that while Kim had just hoped to force Mesa Verde to increase their offer so much that Mr. Acker could no longer justify refusing it, Jimmy goes much further, essentially blackmailing Kevin into an exponentially higher offer by presenting evidence that Kevin's father, the bank's original founder, adapted a photo for its logo without compensating the artist. In this case, the wrong thing Kim did (violating legal ethics by sharing her knowledge of the case with Jimmy, to the detriment of her wealthy client) for the right reason (to benefit her client's relatively powerless victim) was dwarfed in scope by the actions Jimmy was willing to take (including breaking into Kevin's house to find material with which to extort him). Does Kim need to stop doing wrong things, or does she need to get more ambitious?
In the short term, furious at Jimmy for duping her and everyone at Mesa Verde, Kim tells Jimmy they have two options: either they break up, or they get married, so that all their schemes fall under the umbrella of spousal privilege. The change in their marital status has ripple effects on the plotlines that have always been, for me, less interesting: the ones revolving around the cartel. First, there's "Bagman," the season's eighth episode, in which Jimmy heads into the desert to pick up $7 million cash to bail out his client, Lalo (Tony Dalton), gets set upon by rival gangsters, is rescued by Mike and his sniper rifle, and has to walk back through the desert carrying two huge bags of money. With no idea where Jimmy is after he doesn't come home, and no way to reach him since he has no cell reception, Kim does the wrong thing for the right reason: she passes herself off as a member of Lalo's legal team to get one-on-one time with him in jail and ask where Jimmy is; she even volunteers that she and Jimmy are married and thus anything Lalo tells her will be protected by their spousal privilege. It doesn't work, with an unconcerned Lalo arguing that if Jimmy's alive, he'll come home. But his attitude toward her seems to confirm what Mike tells Jimmy in the desert: that he hasn't done Kim any favors by telling her the truth about his activities as "a friend of the cartel."
In the next episode, "Bad Choice Road," it seems as though Jimmy has gotten out clean: he's delivered the cash to bail out Lalo, retained his $100,000 courier fee, and heard from Mike that Lalo is on his way toward his own assassination. (Jimmy's showing symptoms of PTSD from the shootout in which he was almost killed, and in which several other men were killed in front of him, but Mike has assured him those will pass.) Unfortunately, on his way back to Mexico, Lalo identifies a hole in the story Jimmy told him about the delay in returning with the cash, and goes looking for the car Jimmy claimed had broken down, finding it nose-down in a ditch. Back to Albuquerque he goes to confront Jimmy, with Mike barely ahead of his arrival, calling Jimmy to warn him and ordering him to keep the phone line live so that Mike can listen. Lalo demands that Jimmy tell him the story of his trip again...and again...and again. Jimmy is not up for this in his current mental state, and as we watch Lalo move into the line of sight of Mike's sniper rifle, Kim breaks in to rescue Jimmy, barking at Lalo that it's not Jimmy's problem if Lalo can't trust his own guys with a simple courier job: "Jesus, get your shit together!" Duly chastened, Lalo heads back out. Even though Jimmy hadn't even told Kim the truth about what happened — she figured it out after finding his "World's 2nd Best Lawyer" cup with a bullet hole in it, but didn't say anything — the combination of her quick thinking and ferocity should have reminded him that, somehow, he lucked into marrying his perfect match.
Instead, the season finale, "Something Unforgivable," finds Jimmy not just failing to appreciate the amazing partner by his side, but trying to ooze out of her life the way unworthy men have for millennia: by trying to talk her into dumping him — specifically, mumbling, "Am I bad for you?" Now: by any objective real-life measure, of course he is. But in the context of the show, the question of whether Jimmy's bad for Kim is harder to answer, because maybe he's helped her become the person she was meant to be. His safe return from the desert seems to have catalyzed her decision to quit Schweikart & Cokely and devote herself to the Public Defender work she knows is actually meaningful; unspoken is the expectation that what will underwrite such work is whatever dirty money Saul Goodman makes defending drug kingpins.
Proof of exactly where Kim stands on Jimmy, however, comes when their former boss Howard (Patrick Fabian) pulls her aside at the courthouse to concern-troll her about spending her time with Jimmy given all the literal trolling (and probably actionable vandalism and harassment) Jimmy has been inflicting upon Howard since Howard had the temerity to offer him a job at HHM earlier in the season. Instead of respecting Howard's advice, Kim laughs in his face. Then she has to go back to the hotel room she and Jimmy fled to after Lalo left their condo and deal with Jimmy's crap again. He's heard from Mike that Lalo's scheduled to be killed that night, which Kim is fine with since it means they're safe, but she doesn't know why, in that case, they should go straight home again rather than enjoy a hotel room they've already paid for, even if an extremely mopey Jimmy already packed their stuff. She convinces him to order room service, over which she recaps her encounter with Howard. She has no problem with anything Jimmy did: "He needed to be taken down a peg. So. What's next?" She suggests slipping Howard a mickey and shaving his head. Reluctantly joining in, Jimmy counters, "Nair."
From what we can see, this brainstorming goes on for hours, until Kim muses, "We'd never do it, but...what if - What if Howard does something terrible?...Like misconduct. You know, misappropriating funds, or bribing witnesses. Something like that. You know what that'd mean for the Sandpiper case?" This takes us all the way back to Season 1, when Jimmy lucked into a real class-action suit involving a crooked chain of seniors' residences — a case that is still ongoing, involving multiple law firms. Kim talks it through: if Howard is found to have done something scandalous, there would be more motivation to settle quickly, which would be better for the seniors, who might actually live to benefit from the funds they'd be awarded, but would also benefit Jimmy, who is entitled to 20% of the common fund.
We learn later why this scheme is on Kim's mind: with the $2 million Jimmy could potentially clear from the settlement, she would poach great lawyers away from all the firms where she's worked, and bring them into practice with her, taking cases that matter for clients who can't pay. As she and Jimmy talk it through, they agree the scheme would be enormously injurious to Howard — he might never be able to practice law again. Jimmy states, "It's not you. Okay? You would not be okay with it. Not in the cold light of day." Kim, perfectly steady, replies, "Wouldn't I?"
For Slippin' Kim, this is The Trolley Problem, and the indigent clients she could possibly help with that kind of endowment are far more deserving of her concern than "a career setback for one lawyer." Some might say there is no difference between Kim's ease in violating her professional ethics and Jimmy's willingness to do anything he can get away with on behalf of his clients. But maybe what Kim has learned from her years of (mostly) practicing law by the book is that the clients who can least afford it are the ones who need slippery lawyers the most. Or, perhaps the clients she just hand-picked from the Public Defenders' office's jaundiced file room are merely the pretext for her getting revenge on Howard for all the shit he's pulled on her and Jimmy. Does it matter what her true motivation is if her vigorous defense on said clients' behalves is the result? As scared as I am for where things are going to end for Kim in Better Call Saul's final season, I love that a show that started with a small-time, generally unsuccessful short-con artist has brought us to this point: rooting for a ruthless Robin Hood.
People are talking about Better Call Saul in our forums. Join the conversation.
Writer, editor, and snack enthusiast Tara Ariano is the co-founder of Television Without Pity and Fametracker (RIP). She co-hosts the podcasts Extra Hot Great and Again With This (a compulsively detailed episode-by-episode breakdown of Beverly Hills, 90210), and has contributed to New York, the New York Times magazine, Vulture, Decider, Salon, and Slate, among many others. She lives in Austin.