Photo: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television
We have now had two cold opens of Better Call Saul that flashback to young Kim Wexler and her mother, and together, they tell a story. The first was last season, when a teenage Kim was a middle-schooler in Nebraska, waiting outside the school after band practice with her cello. It’s dark outside and there’s no one else around, so it’s clear her mother from her is not late for minutes but hours. When she finally turns up in the junker, Kim scrutinizes her intensely, determines that she’s been drinking, and refuses to get in the car. She would rather lug the most unwieldy instrument in the school orchestra for the long walk home than obey her mother dela, who scolds her for never listening. She’s stubborn but principled.
This week opens with young Kim in the manager’s office at a department store, having been caught trying to shoplift a necklace and a pair of earrings. This time, her mother, puts on an incredible performance for the manager’s benefit, pouring on the theatrical disappointment and threatening to allow the store to summon the police to “nip it in the bud.” Kim quietly absorbs the fake abuse, as well as advice from the manager, who tells her she shouldn’t disappoint such a fine mother again. But her mom can’t even make it back to the car before laughing about the whole exchange, and she’s rewarded her Kim’s initiative by plucking the necklace she wanted. “I didn’t know you had it in you,” she says with an incredulous grin.
“I didn’t know you had it in you” is the perfect encapsulation of Kim as a character who’s never quite who we expect her to be. She is capable of drawing firm moral boundaries, and her humble background dela as the child of a single mother, evicted from one apartment to the next, has made her a stalwart champion of the little guy in a legal system that’s leveraged against them. But she’s also Jimmy McGill’s wife, having proposed marriage to him after being victimized by one of his scams against her own client, Mesa Verde. As the sixth season has unfolded, we think we see the beginning of the end of Kim and Jimmy’s relationship because we know that’s a heartbreaking inevitability. Yet she has not budgeted in her commitment to the long con of undermining Howard and bringing a quicker end to the Sandpiper lawsuit. It always seems like she did not have it in her dela, but she does.
In another carefully plotted hour ahead of next week’s half-season finale, the pieces are coming together for a “D-Day” confrontation on two major fronts. Back in Germany, Lalo has finally tracked down one of Werner Ziegler’s men after going to incredible lengths to get information from his widow about what the Germans were doing in New Mexico. The scene appears to play out, hilariously, like Scatman Crothers’ arc in The Shining, when Crothers’ caretaker gets a telepathic distress signal from a child and travels hundreds of miles (the last few through a blizzard) to a mountaintop hotel resort only to get murdered with an ax. Surely the makers of Better Call Saul had that exact scenario in mind when Lalo pulls off his ruse on the German and gets the upper hand. Now he will learn that Gus intends to cut the middle man out of his meth business.
Meanwhile, the wait for Lalo back in Albuquerque continues and takes on a more poignant dimension. After last week established the lengths with which Gus is going to protect himself from an inevitable attack by a wily adversary, this week focuses on Mike protecting his own. Gus is apparently unhappy that Mike has pulled security from his own home and it’s proposed that men get shifted over from Alameda Street, but Mike will hear none of it. That’s where Stacey and Kaylee, his daughter-in-law and his granddaughter, live, and there’s a remarkable sequence here where Mike watches them through binoculars as Kaylee looks at the stars through a telescope in the yard. He’s told them he’s in Chattanooga on business, but he talks to them on a cell phone, sincere in his grandfatherly affection for him. It’s a reminder of the difference between his criminality dele and Walter White’s on breaking bad: Both men talked about doing it for their families, but Mike meant it. Lalo won’t get to them, even if he gets to him.
The “D-Day” approaches to the Howard plan, the show offers up more pieces of the puzzle without revealing the overall picture. It’s not for nothing that the board of post-it notes Kim and Jimmy have in their home resembles something you would find in a writer’s room or a film production office, whether it’s a shot list or storyboards or plot points to be scripted later. The pieces this week lay to rest the notion that Howard’s hiring of a private investigator in any way threatens the operation. Quite the contrary. There’s going to be a cash exchange between Jimmy and an actor playing the Sandpiper judge. There’s also some business involving the call-in line for the mediation and a drug (obtained through a veterinarian with black-market connections) that alters a person’s complexion. But when Jimmy runs into the real judge at a liquor store and discovers he has a cast on his right arm, the entire scheme is thrown up in the air — which, if this is an allegory for film and TV production, is also what happens to the script when conditions on a shoot go awry.
Which brings us back to Kim. As she’s driving to Santa Fe for an important meeting to secure financing for her important defense work, Jimmy gives her the news about the judge and says they have to go back to square one. Ever her stubborn self, Kim refuses to accept that. Her choice for her her could not be starker: What part of herself does she prioritize? The woman who wants to practice the right kind of law? Or the one who wants to follow through on an I-didn’t-think-you-had-it-in-you scheme?
She crosses the median of no return.
• Outstanding needle-drop in the opener with Duran Duran’s great 1983 single “The Reflex.” Plenty of grist in the lyrics if you’re looking for connections to Kim’s impulsiveness in this moment (“Every little thing the reflex does / Leaves you answered with a question mark”), but the song still kicks ass. (As a kid, I remember being wowed by the effect of a waterfall cascading from a JumboTron screen at the 3:22 mark in the video, but let’s say digital technology has advanced a bit since then.)
• Does the show hate Howard as much as Kim and Jimmy do? That early scene with his wife seems to suggest so. The two are on the outs, but Howard pitifully labors as a home barista anyway, artfully crafting a cappuccino that his wife dumps into a mug like a Sanka off the drip. His comically vague warning him about Jimmy (“It’s possible you might hear or see something. I could n’t say what.) Makes little impression.
• The Best Quality Vacuum card! I try not to get excited about breaking bad Easter eggs, but as a fan of the late Robert Forster and his performance in the final episodes of that show, the reference landed hard.
• Put a pin in that exchange between Kim and Jimmy over the vet saying he “cannot wait to be done with all this.” The “all this” is not his veterinary work, which he loves, but the black book business, which Jimmy speculates must earn him a fortune. “He knows what he wants,” says Kim. Does she?
• The cut from Kim and Jimmy excitedly talking about her Santa Fe meeting to the ax violently falling in Germany? That folks is cinema.