This article contains spoilers for Better Call Saul S6E12 (“Waterworks”), written and directed by Vince Gilligan.
There are some episodes of television that stay with you for a long time after you finish watching them—and not in a good way. “Waterworks” is one of those episodes, and if I had my way, I would have gone a long time without watching it again. That’s not to say it wasn’t an amazing episode of television; it’s to say it was a little too good at what it set out to do, which was disturb and depress viewers of Better Call Saul who were still clinging to any hope of a happy(ish) ending for Kim Wexler.
Since Kim left Jimmy at the end of “Fun and Games” (S6E9) we’ve been wondering where she ended up. Last week’s “Breaking Bad” (S6E11) gave us a tiny hint of Kim’s whereabouts, telling us she was in Florida and letting us in on one side of a phone call between Gene and Kim (which did not go well). But this week, we spend a lot of time with Kim in her new life, and I don’t think it’s what anyone imagined it would be. The fact that I’ve been on Team Kim Lives from the beginning and it gives me absolutely zero joy to see the life she’s living is a testament to how dismal her circumstances are. There truly are fates worse than death, and about half of them probably involve the state of Florida.
But before we get to 2010 Kim, let’s discuss the last time Jimmy and Kim see each other before she leaves her Albuquerque life behind. Kim has served Jimmy with divorce papers—an actual Wexler v. Goodman—and we see him in his office. He’s in full Saul mode, wearing his garish suit of armor and keeping her waiting out with the rabble in the waiting room. And it makes sense: the final form of Saul Goodman—the one we met in Breaking Bad—was born from his breakup with Kim. Saul is his defense mechanism against the pain he feels from losing her because if there’s one thing Jimmy McGill isn’t going to do, it’s work through his emotional trauma and pain in a healthy, productive way.
And so, when he finally lets Kim into his office, he’s putting on an act and pretending to be completely unbothered by the fact that the love of his life is leaving him. We’ve seen this before, after Chuck’s death—something he also refused to process and express emotion about. When he says, “Have a nice life, Kim,” it’s cold, sure, but he doesn’t say it to hurt her—at least not consciously; there are shades of Chuck’s final words to him in there, there’s definitely a “you never mattered all that much to me” vibe, but I don’t think he’s doing it on purpose. He says what he says because, really, what is there left to say? Don’t get me wrong—they both still love each other, but there’s absolutely nothing Jimmy could say to change Kim’s mind so I honestly can’t blame him for not bothering. I would probably do the same thing.
I think it’s worth revisiting Jimmy and Chuck’s final moments together here, and the speech Chuck gives Jimmy, because it turned out to be far more prescient than anyone (including Chuck) would have wanted it to be. When Jimmy goes to see Chuck in “Lantern” (S3E10), Jimmy tries to express his regrets for everything that went down between them, but Chuck doesn’t accept this:
Why have regrets at all? What’s the point? Look at you. You’re in so much pain. Why are you putting yourself through all this? You have regrets? And I’m telling you: don’t bother. What’s the point? You’re just going to keep hurting people. Jimmy, this is what you do. You hurt people, over and over. And then there’s this show of remorse. I know you don’t think it’s a show. I don’t doubt your emotions are real. But what’s the point of all the sad faces and the gnashing of teeth? If you’re not going to change your behavior, and you won’t, why don’t you skip the whole exercise? In the end, you’re going to hurt everyone around you. You can’t help it. So stop apologizing and accept it. Embrace it. Frankly, I’d have more respect for you if you did. Let me put your mind at ease, Jimmy. You don’t have to make up with me. We don’t have to understand each other. Things are fine the way they are… I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but the truth is, you’ve never mattered all that much to me.
Here, signing his divorce papers with Kim, we see the apotheosis of Jimmy taking Chuck’s advice and just embracing it. The “Have a nice life, Kim” is a Chuck-style kiss-off, but it isn’t because Kim never mattered to him. It’s the opposite: she is the only thing that matters to him, and now that she’s gone for good, all he has left is to be unapologetically Saul Goodman, to embrace this caricature that they created together, because in some ways it’s the last piece of her he can carry with him into his life without her.
As for Kim, I don’t know exactly what she was expecting given that she knows how Jimmy refuses to deal with emotional pain and she’s seen him process (or rather refuse to process) Chuck’s death. I’m sure she would have liked there to be at least something of her Jimmy in the man in front of her, but she was greeted by a complete stranger. This isn’t Jimmy and it isn’t even the Saul Goodman she knew; this is Breaking Bad Saul, and I think it only reaffirms her decision to leave. She looks at him and she sees this man as something that she had a part in creating, and it’s just another reason for her to punish herself.
When Kim leaves Saul’s office, we are thrown back into the world of Breaking Bad as we see a familiar face, Emilio Koyama, show up for his appointment with Saul. We know from Breaking Bad that Emilio was Jesse’s first partner, and we saw him getting arrested in the pilot during the DEA raid/ridealong that first set Walt on the path to becoming Heisenberg (Emilio was also Walt’s first kill). Later, when looking for a lawyer after Badger’s arrest in “Better Call Saul” (BrBa, S2E8), Jesse takes Walt to Saul’s, telling him that he’s the guy to hire because he got Emilio off twice. Here, we see one of those meetings, and we also get an appearance by Jesse Pinkman himself as he bums a cigarette off of Kim outside Saul’s office.
It’s pouring rain and the two of them stand together under the awning. Jesse recognizes Kim as the lawyer who defended Combo as a juvenile after he stole a baby Jesus from a nativity scene. Breaking Bad fans know Combo as one of Jesse and Walt’s dealers who provided them with the RV they started cooking in and who later gets killed by young Tomas Cantillo as initiation into a rival gang working for Gus Fring. Kim tells Jesse that she hopes that Combo is keeping his nose clean, but of course we know he doesn’t, and it’s interesting to think about how things might have unfolded had a lesser attorney defended Combo. If Kim hadn’t gotten him off, Walt and Jesse may have never found themselves a “safe” place to cook, he may never have been on the streets to get killed on Gus’s behalf, and all the things that escalated from there may never have happened. I refuse to place any of the events of Breaking Bad on Kim Wexler’s shoulders, but knowing what we now know from Better Call Saul, it’s hard not to see her fingerprints all over the place.
Jesse tells Kim that his friend is facing serious time and asks her whether Saul Goodman is a good lawyer. Even Jesse Pinkman can tell that Saul’s commercials are a joke and he doesn’t think that they are a sound basis on which to make an important decision. Kim takes a moment before responding, “When I knew him, he was,” which is all the evidence we need to know that Kim no longer views the man inside as the man she loves. Whoever this version of Saul Goodman is, she doesn’t know him, and she doesn’t know what he’s capable of or what he will become. It will take a few years for her to find out, but by then it is far too late for either of them.
Which brings us to the version of Kim we meet in 2010 who is almost unrecognizable, and not just because of her bad clothes and mousy brown hair (complete with terrible bangs). She’s living this milquetoast existence that is essentially half a life. On paper, she has everything one might need to be happy—-a house, a job, a boyfriend (however douchey), and a few friends—-but it is all of it so very un-Kim. She has no personality, no life to her—-even her jigsaw puzzle is blank. It was like a horror film, some Invasion of the Body Snatchers situation that was excruciating to watch (and I’m not even going to discuss the world’s most disturbing consensual sex scene).
Sure, you could argue that she’s getting away with it and living a perfectly comfortable existence in Florida (and she has a lot more than many people have), but it’s important to remember that this is actually Kim’s nightmare. It’s essentially the life she told Rich Schweikart that she didn’t want when she first interviewed with S&C in “Inflatable” (S2E7). During that interview, Kim described growing up in small-town middle America and how she wanted more out of life than her small town could provide, but part of the tragedy of Kim Wexler’s fate is that we find her living the life she worked so hard to escape.
But the worst thing about Kim’s shadow self in Florida is that she’s incapable of making even the smallest decision or having an opinion on anything. From the use of Miracle Whip instead of mayo to preference of ice cream flavors, she can’t express any sort of preference or decision and passes those choices on to others. She doesn’t trust her own judgment anymore, and it’s so pervasive that it affects every single aspect of her life, however minute. As writer/director Vince Gilligan states in an interview with AMC:
She’s suffering for her sins… I think she still feels terrible about Howard Hamlin’s death and her share of responsibility for it, and I think she’s living this weird life where throughout the episode she refuses to make a decision. Even when it comes down to what do you like better, chocolate or strawberry ice cream, she will not commit. She will not make a decision because some of her previous decisions when she was full of spit and vinegar led to the death of an innocent man and led to a lot of people suffering.
We get a little slice of Kim’s life when she and her boyfriend Glenn have a few couples over for a barbecue. The “Piña Colada Song” plays—-and I can’t help but remember Jimmy’s rendition of the song from “Nailed” (S2E9)—-as Kim’s guests ramble on about deviled eggs and other completely mundane things. She does regular, boring, couple things with Glenn but there is none of the same intimacy as there was between her and Jimmy. Even when they were at home eating takeout and watching classic movies, there was always that spark between them. Kim and Glenn have nothing, and it’s hard to imagine that Kim feels anything for him at all (or at least not anything real). He seems like someone she’s with just so she’s not alone—-like maybe playing the role of his girlfriend distracts her from thinking too much about the past and who she used to be (and still is deep down). Kim was never a person who had a problem being alone or living an independent life so it’s hard to watch her deteriorate into someone who is in a relationship just to be in something because it’s just one more reminder of how much of herself she has lost.
But we feel the absence of Jimmy (or perhaps more accurately the loss of McWexler) when we see Kim brushing her teeth alone with an electric toothbrush. The playful tooth-brushing banter they engaged in after the first time they were together in “Switch” (S2E1) is such an iconic moment in their relationship, and we’ve seen them brushing teeth together in later episodes like “Something Stupid” (S4E7). Sharing a bathroom with someone is very intimate, and it’s just another way we can see that intimacy missing from Kim’s relationship. Glenn doesn’t even spend the night; he goes home and we see Kim alone in a big bed, sleeping on the same side she always did, with Jimmy’s spot empty.
A day in the life of Kim Wexler at work is just as bland. She works creating catalogs and brochures for Palm Coast Sprinklers, and her office is your traditional American office setting. It’s an office I’ve worked in and you’ve probably worked in; it’s familiar to most people in its sameness and predictability. It would seem almost stereotypical if I didn’t know firsthand how painfully accurate it is. It’s interesting that the only time Kim seems even remotely like the Kim Wexler we know is when she’s focused on work, even though her job is so incredibly meaningless in comparison to the public defense work we all know she should be doing. Kim’s work ethic is still there, though, even if the work itself contributes nothing of note to society or the greater good.
This particular day at the office is not like the others, though, because Kim gets a call out of the blue from one Viktor St. Claire (but if Viktor expected his Giselle to pick up, he was sorely mistaken). We know from “Breaking Bad” that it was Gene’s phone call with Francesca that prompted him to reach out to Kim, having just found out that she asked about him, but for Kim this must seem like the last thing on earth she’d ever expect to happen. It’s been six years since they spoke (I’m assuming they haven’t spoken since the day they signed the divorce papers), and Kim is shocked and even a bit scared when she picks up the phone. Gene (or is it Jimmy?) tries to initiate a normal conversation with her, telling her he’s just calling to catch up, but that doesn’t really fly with Kim who is mostly silent.
There is a moment, when Kim asks him what he wants, where you can see him flip a switch and get more aggressive with her. The phone call he wanted—the joyful reunion where she tells him how glad she is to hear from him—is not going to happen, and you can see him put on the Saul persona. He throws it in her face that he’s still out in the world “getting away with it” and tries to get a rise out of her, but the only thing she has to say to him is that he should turn himself in. There’s a brief moment, when she tells him that whatever life he’s living can’t be much, where we can see that she still cares for him deep down, and she of all people knows what a not-much life looks like and how unsatisfying it is, but that only serves to make him angry.
He throws it back at her and tells her that, if she’s got such a guilty conscience, that she should turn herself in. He tells her that all the dangerous men who might come after her—Gus, Mike, Lalo—are dead (and it’s worth nothing that he says “apparently” when it comes to Lalo because he will never truly believe that man is gone), and that she shouldn’t hold back on his account. He makes her out to be a hypocrite for keeping her own crimes a secret and telling him to own up to his, and you can see that she takes this to heart. He can tell he’s gone too far, though, and he tries to backpedal and soften a bit when he says, “We’re both too smart to throw our lives away for no reason.” For Kim, though, there is a reason—she really has no life to throw away, and speaking to Jimmy after all this time is the push she needed to finally try to make things right (or as right as they can be with Howard dead). She tells him that she’s glad he’s alive—because, despite everything, she is—and then she hangs up. Having finally heard Kim’s side of their conversation, Gene going berserk on the phone booth in last week’s episode makes a lot more sense, and it gives a better context for why he was so willing to dive into the increasingly dangerous and reckless identity theft scam.
Kim’s takeaway from the phone call is the polar opposite. Much like her reaction to Howard’s death, she chooses to do what she thinks is right instead of doubling down on the wrong thing like Jimmy did (and like Gene does here). Kim goes back to Albuquerque to confess her sins and she encounters many ghosts of her past. As she enters the courthouse parking lot, she notices that Mike’s old position in the booth has been replaced by an automated machine. She passes by the bench outside where she sat with Jimmy before they got married in “JMM” (S5E7) and stops briefly to look at it. She sees a young woman public defender with a client, no doubt remembering that that is what she was supposed to be doing—what she was born to do, really, and what she was so incredibly close to achieving before she kept going down her bad choice road.
She goes to see Cheryl Hamlin with a copy of the full confession she’s given to the DA, explaining in detail the scam and the circumstances surrounding Howard’s murder. To her credit, she’s not there looking for forgiveness but instead hopes to give Cheryl whatever closure she can, even though she knows they will never recover his body. After what Kim pulled with Cheryl at Howard’s funeral service in “Fun and Games”—convincing Cheryl that she had somehow missed all the signs that her husband was a suicidal drug addict—there is something cathartic here about watching Kim do the right thing just because what she did with Cheryl was so incredibly wrong. It doesn’t make up for the years of suffering, but it’s the only thing Kim has left to give.
She tries to ease Cheryl’s mind by telling her he didn’t suffer, but while that is technically true when it comes to his death—it was very quick and likely painless—it’s absurd for her to claim that he didn’t suffer when he suffered greatly at the hands of Kim and Jimmy (and she’s just handed Cheryl a document outlining exactly how much). All Kim can do now is hope that her confession will restore Howard’s good name. It’s not likely that she will be tried or imprisoned, although it is out of her hands, but as she tells Cheryl, the DA likely won’t choose to prosecute because of lack of physical evidence.
It’s interesting to note that she’s come all this way, confessed her sins, and placed herself at the mercy of the district attorney, but the one lie she continues to tell is that she doesn’t know whether Jimmy is still alive. She has turned herself in, but she can’t bring herself to turn him over despite all the terrible things that Saul Goodman has done. I don’t think she wants him to get away with it, but I do think that she can’t be the one to bring him down. Kim already feels like she’s created this monster. I think she must feel at least partly responsible for what Saul Goodman turned into because it was her leaving him that killed all that remained of Jimmy McGill.
After meeting with Cheryl, it’s time for Kim to head back to Florida, but as she rides toward the terminal on the bus, Kim—who is always so controlled and composed, who doesn’t ever let her emotions show—has a complete breakdown. Rhea Seehorn should win the Emmy for this scene alone because I felt every single second of it—first the rising panic as she tried to keep her composure, then the anguish as she gave in and sobbed uncontrollably. This is the last we see of Kim Wexler in the 2010 timeline in this episode, and if this is Kim’s last scene in Better Call Saul, I would be ok with that because it’s just so incredibly powerful and it says so much without saying a word.
Kim has done everything she possibly can to try to make things right. In addition to turning herself in and coming clean to Cheryl, she’s given up the love of her life, left the career she loved and worked so hard for, rejected the Sandpiper blood money, erased her entire personality and turned herself into an indecisive wallflower to avoid making any choice that might potentially hurt someone. Her life is completely destroyed and she’s on her way back to her depressing Florida existence to continue to live indefinitely as this lifeless, shadow version of herself who is completely unrecognizable. Kim Wexler is as dead as Jimmy McGill. And so she loses it, because none of it made a bit of difference: Howard is still dead, Jimmy is still wanted fugitive Saul Goodman, and nothing she can do will ever change what’s happened—-events that she set in motion and that she is partially responsible for. She did the right thing, sure, but so what?
We pick up where we left off with Gene last week as he breaks into the Cancer Man’s house to finish the job that Buddy abandoned. It’s a completely reckless decision and it screams “I want to get caught,” especially the way he goes about it. Perhaps this is Gene’s subconscious way of following Kim’s advice and turning himself in or perhaps it’s him doubling down on being a bad guy after the phone call with Kim didn’t go the way he wanted it to—much the same way he hid inside the cartoonish shell of Saul Goodman after Kim left him. Either way, we are seeing a completely different man than any of the versions of Jimmy McGill we’ve come to know. This is a guy who, not long ago, sat next to a dumpster for hours because he was too scared to trigger an emergency alarm. Even Saul Goodman was more risk-averse than this in the sense that he was willing to put other people in dangerous situations but tried to avoid them himself. But the Gene we’ve seen recently is on a self-sabotage spree. As Vince Gilligan puts it in an interview with Entertainment Weekly:
This is the craziest cry for help I’ve ever seen or ever been witness to. You know, [this is] a guy who purposely goes into a ridiculously dangerous situation—the same guy who fainted from fright just a few weeks before, in terms of story time, because a policeman was looking at him and he spoke up—and now, boy, sure looks like he wants to get caught. He’s just behaving like a maniac here and he is robbing a guy that doesn’t deserve it. I mean, I don’t know who deserves to get robbed, but still this guy particularly makes for a bad victim. It looks to me like there’s a certain level of self-abuse going on here. Not in the classic teenage sense, but it’s like he’s trying to do harm to himself here. And maybe it’s because he feels bad about that conversation with Kim. I think in Gene Takavic’s world, anger and self-loathing are pretty closely aligned here, and maybe the results of that are what we’re seeing in this scene.
And so with seemingly no regard for the inherent dangers of the situation, Gene goes about collecting Cancer Man’s financial information. We get a sneaky little callback to Breaking Bad when we see that Cancer Man has a portfolio worth just over $747K—the exact same amount that Walt claimed to need at the beginning of his partnership with Jesse in order to provide for his family once the cancer killed him. Gene actually finishes the job successfully and Jeff pulls up in his cab and he’s still getting away with it, but it’s not enough for him and he decides not to leave. He goes upstairs to Cancer Man’s den and helps himself to a cigar, a drink, and some expensive watches—violating his own rule that they not actually take anything from their victims so that they don’t know they’ve been robbed.
And Cancer Man wakes up, because of course he does, and we get a harrowing sequence in which I legitimately believed that Gene was going to crush a man’s skull with an urn full of his dead dog’s ashes. If you asked me if this is something I would think Jimmy McGill—hell, even Saul Goodman—was capable of, I would have said absolutely not (although Saul would have sent someone else to do it for him if need be). It’s clear by this point that Gene is absolutely off the rails, and it only gets worse as the episode progresses. In a show where we have (mostly) known where the characters end up, having reached the point in the narrative where we don’t know, it’s so much more anxiety-inducing to see how unhinged Gene is becoming—especially in contrast to how we’ve just seen Kim handle her situation. They are both suffering, but Kim turns it in on herself where Gene is turning it out onto others.
Gene manages to get out after Cancer Man passes back out and the police, who just happen to be parked outside behind Jeff’s cab, are distracted when Jeff (I have to think at Gene’s instruction) drives straight into a nearby car right in front of the cops. This solves Gene’s immediate problem—getting out of the house without being seen—but creates a whole new issue. Jeff is in jail, arrested for B&E and robbery because Cancer Man stumbled out of the house after his “accident” and told the police that he’d been robbed. Gene, who is pretending to be Jeff’s dad, listens to the information Jeff provides and tells him there’s nothing to worry about since he didn’t have any stolen goods on him when he was arrested. You can tell that Jeff is irritated because he knows that it was Gene that stole from the house—breaking the rules of their scam—but he keeps it together and listens when Gene tells him to sit tight, that his mother will be coming to post bail and get him out.
Gene calls Marion to give her the news and she’s very upset because she’s been down this road with Jeff before, back when he lived in Albuquerque and was getting himself in all sorts fo trouble. But when Gene assures her that Nebraska doesn’t use bail bondsmen like Albuquerque, Marion’s spidey senses start to tingle. Remembering that she’d seen Gene, Jeff, and Buddy the night before, she starts wondering why Jeff called Gene instead of her and whether Buddy was involved. Gene plays it off and tells her he will come pick her up and bring her to the station, but when she gets off the phone you can see that the pieces aren’t quite adding up for her.
Marion is a smart cookie and she trusts her gut instincts, which are telling her that something isn’t quite right with this situation, and we see her boot up her laptop. Gene drives over to Marion’s singing along to “The Tide Is High,” which is on the surface the one moment of levity in an otherwise bleak episode because Bob Odenkirk singing off-key is always funny. When you think about it, though, the fact that Gene is just cruising along without a care in the world when he’s almost just killed a man makes him kind of a psychopath, and things only get worse when he arrives at Marion’s and discovers that he’s been made.
From the very first scene when we met Marion, it was clear that she’s a tough old bird, and even though she knows that the man standing in her kitchen is a wanted criminal, she still stands up to him and tells him she knows exactly who he is and that she’s calling the police. When Gene sees that he’s not going to be able to fool her any longer, a switch flips and we see a legitimately terrifying version of him as he rips the phone cord out of the wall and wraps it around his hands, stalking toward Marion and threatening her. Marion pulls out her Life Alert necklace, and the fact that I actually believed in this moment that Gene would strangle an old woman to death with a phone cord shows how absolutely unhinged he has become. It’s only when she looks at him and says, “I trusted you,” that Gene seems to snap back to himself (or at least a version of himself that isn’t willing to kill an old woman to get away with his crimes). He gives the Life Alert back to her and allows her to push the button, at which point she tells them to call the police because Saul Goodman is in her house.
With Jimmy’s history with the elderly, especially his heinous crimes against poor Irene Landry, I can’t help but think that Marion’s resigned disappointment in him must have triggered that long-buried part of him that actually cared. You can see the exact moment where he’s asking himself, “What have I become?” and his decision to not be that person, whatever the consequences. At Cancer Man’s house, he had an out; he wasn’t forced to make a choice between murdering someone and getting caught. Here, he doesn’t have that option, and (even though he runs) he makes the choice to save his soul at the cost of his freedom.
Because it’s inevitable, now, right? His cover is totally blown, the cops know where he is, he doesn’t have enough money to get disappeared again (and he’s so hot that the Disappearer likely wouldn’t do it in the first place). Just like Kim, there’s nothing left for him to do but face the consequences. And maybe this is what all of his recklessness was for, because (whatever else he is) he’s a very smart guy and he’s well versed in risk versus reward. All the things he’s been doing lately, the increasingly dangerous and dark path he’s been on, was only ever going to lead to him being caught. Kim wanted him to turn himself in, but he was never going to do it the way she wanted him to.
With one episode remaining, I trust the Better Call Saul writers to wrap things up in a satisfying way, but I have no idea what that even looks like. Season 6 has been shocking and surprising from start to finish, especially these last few episodes, and I’m not even going to try to speculate about how it all comes to an end. All I can hope for is that there is some sort of catharsis in store, that things are not completely bleak and depressing, because while Saul Goodman deserves what’s coming to him, I can’t help but think about Jimmy McGill and Kim Wexler and how much I wanted the both of them to succeed. There’s really no happy ending to be had here—I doubt we’re getting an El Camino-style ending where McWexler rides off into the sunset to start anew in Alaska—but I have to hold out hope that, whatever is coming, it doesn’t leave me completely traumatized.
See you next week for the final chapter in the Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul saga!