Discover more from hit me with some more lame tautology, socrates
on kim wexler and crying on public transportation
subtitle Give Rhea Seehorn Her Emmy Please God
As a person who’s spent the past few months of her life bursting into tears on the subway without much warning, you can understand how the penultimate episode of Better Call Saul positively wrecked me. We witnessed the complete unraveling of Jimmy McGill and Kim Wexler, individually and as a couple, and it couldn’t have been more painful or better-told.
Bob Odenkirk, tactfully toeing the line between insecure, stunted Jimmy McGill and showboating stuntman Saul Goodman for six years, deserves every ounce of praise and accolade he’s received for the role. I guess I’m writing this as a free For Your Consideration campaign for Rhea Seehorn’s long-deserved Emmy — because, good as Odenkirk is, we couldn’t have gotten to know Jimmy in the way we did without Kim. Saul didn’t hit its stride until the show figured out the heavy hitter they had in Seehorn, who gave an equally superlative, expertly-crafted performance for six years.
Constantly changing identities and names, Jimmy/Saul/Gene does not know who he is, only what makes him feel fulfilled. That’s pulling stunts with Kim. He breaks bad, but not because he’s power hungry in the Walter White way. It’s because he misattributes where his serotonin comes from, thinking pulling off any con is just as good as pulling off a con with the person he loves.
Where Odenkirk delights in lying and charming, Seehorn’s greatest strength as an actor is her commitment to truth. The brilliance of Kim Wexler starts with the calculations we see behind her eyes, completely different from Jimmy’s hyper-verbal, quick-witted snakiness. They’re at their best when their opposite energies balance each other out.
Kim’s breaking point comes when she’s forced to tell a lie so enormous and cruel that she throws off the very balance of their relationship, delicately held together by the established roles each of them plays in a scheme. Usually, Kim plans, Jimmy executes; Kim strategizes, Jimmy lies. But lying, perfectly, to Howard Hamlin’s widow about his alleged drug problem at his memorial service crossed a line that Kim had been straddling for a while. Seeing Jimmy thrilled by a statement so hurtful and heinous tells Kim it’s time to go. It’s time to leave Jimmy, it’s time to leave the law, and it’s time to live a life so antiseptic that it could never hurt another innocent person.
It’s painful to watch someone as smart, capable, and adept at helping the world as Kim in the Stepford Wives, 9-5, Florida reality we experienced in “Waterworks.” Her boyfriend sits on the sofa and watches The Amazing Race; he doesn’t want life to be one.
This life does not make her happy, on purpose. The big difference between Jimmy and Kim’s post-”Fun and Games” existence is Jimmy continues to search for fulfillment where Kim knows she’s never going to find it.
Hearing from Jimmy for the first time in six years (!!!) sets her off and sends her back to Albuquerque to confess wrongdoing to Howard’s widow. Keeping everything inside, as always, Kim watches as Cheryl reads the deposition she’s already handed over to the police. Her guilt does not melt away, but you can see it change form in her face. Having made the decision to hold herself and Jimmy accountable for the harm they caused, Kim can finally take her first deep breath in years.
It’s not a relieved deep breath; it’s a ragged one, one that opens the floodgates for all of the emotion she’d kept inside to survive and keep her big secrets. She’s on a bus back to the airport when she finally bursts into huge, heavy sobs, trying at first to keep it to herself, but quickly realizing the enormity of her feeling cannot be contained. A woman puts her hand on her shoulder and Kim ignores it, needing this to be a solitary experience in order to feel comfortable letting it all out.
Crying on public transportation is funny and safe. You’re never going to see any of these people again, so it truly doesn’t matter what they think of you. It’s as good as being alone, and, at least on the New York subway system, people tend to leave you alone to your feelings. That’s nice. But it’s also lonelier than crying alone. Whatever you’re feeling suddenly belongs to everyone around you, and most of them will choose to do nothing rather than involve themselves in a more voluntary way.
It’s that tension — between public and private pain, between external desire and internal shame and guilt for feeling that desire, between connection and distance — that has fueled Kim Wexler’s character and her relationship with Jimmy McGill for the past six seasons.
For all its high drama and intelligence, and for all its reckoning with the cartel and the ethics of law, Better Call Saul could have started with a Fleabag-esque declaration: this is a love story. Jimmy is not Jimmy without Kim (he quite literally becomes full-time Saul in her absence), and Kim is not Kim without Jimmy. They are good with each other, but they are not good for each other.
Jimmy and Kim both love a good con, but her morality bumped up against his desire to take things too far until their love became dangerous and untenable. Their separation sends them on diametrically opposed post-relationship journeys, tumbling through the world partnerless and trying to find themselves using only their worst instincts. I think a lot about their last conversation before Kim leaves. He tells her he loves her, begging her to stay. “I love you too,” she says. “But so what?” That “so what” speaks volumes — Jimmy doesn’t care who they hurt as long as they’re together, and Kim can’t stay with Jimmy so long as they’re hurting people.
The dynamic shift happens quickly. By the time they’re signing their divorce papers, Jimmy has fully mutated into his Saul persona and spends the whole experience talking and joking and pretending he doesn’t care. Kim has nothing to say to him beyond the hurt in her expression, leaving without being able to get a word in. It’s a devastating reversal when you consider how easily they communicated before the break. Now, all of a sudden, they need to perform for each other the way they’ve always performed for the world.
Without each other there for balance, Kim holds herself back, and Jimmy becomes unhinged. Both avenues — the safe and the dangerous — ensure they will each live meaningless, colorless lives. The black-and-white post-Breaking Bad scenes in “Waterworks” show us that it’s not just Jimmy whose life is devoid of meaning without his former partner; in law, in crime, and in love.
When I miss Better Call Saul after next week’s series finale, I’ll mostly be missing Kim, Jimmy, and their incredible chemistry. Part of what makes the end of this story so sad is we know they’ll never again be able to meet in the middle.
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