REVIEW: Better Call Saul – “Wexler v. Goodman”

The following is a recap and review of the sixth episode of the fifth season of Better Call Saul, available on AMC in the U. S. and on Netflix internationally. Expect story spoilers. 

In the sixth episode of the fifth season — Wexler v. Goodman — Mike Ehrmantraut (played by Jonathan Banks) decides to do something about Fring’s Salamanca-problem, while Jimmy McGill (played by Bob Odenkirk) and Kim Wexler (played by Rhea Seehorn) go head-to-head. Wexler v. Goodman was written by Thomas Schnauz and directed by Michael Morris.

A couple of episodes ago, we saw Kim Wexler, in an attempt to help the less fortunate, open up about her childhood and her past. Though Mr. Acker, who she was (and still is) trying to help, said that she would say anything to get what she wants, his assessment of Kim rang hollow. Kim Wexler normally has a good moral compass. Though she likes to have fun with Jimmy from time to time, she generally always reverts back to her normal ways. She is normally the upstanding lawyer with good intentions, which is a description that Jimmy McGill is actively trying to distance himself from. Nevertheless, we have never known a lot about Kim Wexler, the heartbeat of the prequel series, and her past. Thankfully, in Wexler v. Goodman, that changed.

“You never listen!”

In the episode’s cold open, we got to see how neglected Kim was in her childhood, and how she, even then, stubbornly tried to steer the people that she loved in the right direction. In this teaser sequence, we see a teenaged Kim Wexler standing by herself at night outside her high school in Nebraska. There are no cars in the parking lot, and Kim is clearly freezing. That’s when we suddenly see her mother race up to her daughter to, finally, pick her up. Her mother had lost track of time while drinking at a bar, and Kim can smell the distinctive smell of alcohol. Against her mother’s wishes, the young Kim (played exceptionally well by Katie Beth Hall in a short appearance) decides against getting in the car. She decides to walk all the way home with her cello on her back, perhaps with the hope that this will finally be the wake-up call that her mother needs. No matter what her mother says, Kim will absolutely not get into the car with her drunk mother. Although she may love her mother, she doesn’t trust her enough to get into the car with her. She doesn’t trust her enough to put her life in her mother’s hands. It’s a great cold open that reminds us that Kim knows what it is like to be abandoned, dismissed, and ignored, and we know now that she is perfectly capable of doing it on her own. It beautifully sets up the final moments of this tremendous episode.

“But what about the play here? The play is beautiful. God, this is like watching a walk-off home run just drift foul… It’s your play. If you wanna walk, we’ll walk.”

In the previous episode, Dedicado a Max, Jimmy suggested to Kim that she should just accept that she cannot get the optimal deal for Mr. Acker. It’s a dangerous, slippery slope to work against your own client, and it was Jimmy who, in the previous episode, tried to make Kim see the light. “There’s no reason on God’s green earth to take this further,” Jimmy told Kim. She didn’t listen, and so Jimmy put on another colorful suit and went to work. As was made somewhat clear from the previous episode, Mesa Verde Bank & Trust may be vulnerable due to their logo. As it turns out, the Wachtell family paid for a painting that they based their logo on, but they did not pay for the right to use it as their logo. The ‘Saul’ in Jimmy knows that this can actually work. Jimmy can manhandle and irritate Kevin Wachtell even more, and Jimmy doesn’t have it in him to quit now. He has hired his trusted camera crew to shoot a shocking and slightly comedic commercial, and it looks like he is actually going to be able to win the case that Kim asked him to take. And that’s when Kim, who has finally come to her senses again, arrives to burst his bubble. Their master plan is off. Over. Done. Finito. It’s too dangerous. They’ve done enough. Though he claims to go along with her decision, Saul Goodman doesn’t know how to quit when he is this far ahead.

“Well, it’s a four, with six zeroes, and it is preceded by a dollar sign.”

And therefore, Jimmy as Saul Goodman arrives unfashionably late, makes outrageous demands, presents a vilifying commercial meant to damage Mesa Verde’s reputation and the Wachtell family pride, and, finally, threatens Kevin with another costly lawsuit over their logo. This totally blindsides Kim, who, since Jimmy agreed to call it off, has apologized to her boss in an attempt to undo the damage of Kim and Jimmy’s scheme. It is a scene that would’ve been hilarious and wildly entertaining to watch had Kim not been in direct confrontation with Jimmy, but now that someone you care about is being hurt by Jimmy’s gimmick it is almost difficult to watch without having your jaw drop to the ground or shake your head due to nervous tension. What Jimmy does here is devious, and it seemingly works, but it is also disrespectful and hurtful to Kim, whose trust in Jimmy has now been shattered. He has done something unforgivable. Not since he outed his brother in court has Jimmy McGill, who also continues to try to ruin Howard Hamlin’s life in this episode, shown such an unsympathetic side of himself. While Kim was busy worrying about her client and her career, Jimmy was more interested in enjoying the deviousness of his gimmick.

“Look me in the eye and tell me it’ll never happen again. You can’t. I don’t believe you. You don’t believe yourself. It is a lie. You lie. I lie. This has to end. I cannot keep living like this. Shut up, Jimmy. You know this has to change. If you don’t see it, I don’t know what to say, because we are at a breaking point. Either we end this now and enjoy the time we had and go our separate ways, or we’re… I mean. Or maybe… Maybe we get married?”

When Kim returns home to find Jimmy playing “Smoke on the Water,” on his guitar, she is in a fighting mood. She takes off her high heels, she rolls up her sleeves, and she prepares to confront the man that she has loved. It’s a great physical performance from Rhea Seehorn who commands the scene even before she actually confronts her character’s partner. Jimmy doesn’t walk on egg-shells. He is playful, and he ignores the warning signs. He runs right into what should’ve been a break-up. It’s a heartbreaking and engrossing scene to watch, and it ends in a way that blindsides viewers. Her marriage proposal, as it were, is sudden. It comes after she has told off her boyfriend. Instead of walking on her own, like she did when faced with her alcoholic mother, she suggests that they can become something more. It is a relationship that will now be built on a clear and obvious lack of trust. It is a cold and shocking proposal that knocks the wind out of you, just like it leaves Jimmy speechless as the episode cuts to the closing credits. It is another masterful scene from Rhea Seehorn who time and time again has delivered awards-worthy performances. It leaves our characters in a tricky place. There is very little love here. If they become husband and wife, then they are joined in marriage out of necessity. If they do become husband and wife, they do it only for Kim to be protected from Jimmy’s gimmicks due to spousal privilege. This, a natural breaking point, may bring them closer together, or it can shatter their relationship completely. Time will tell.

“Look, first things first, we take care of Lalo, then we’ll talk.”

Meanwhile, Mike, now, once again, a trusted right-hand man of Gus Fring, has a plan that he can and will execute to inconvenience Lalo Salamanca, who has done more than enough to anger Gus Fring. While providing Fring with new information about his cartel boss, Nacho, still an informant for Gus Fring, now finally understands that it is his good friend Mike who has piqued the interest of Tony Dalton’s Lalo Salamanca. Nacho knows that Michael is a reasonable man and that perhaps he, more than anyone else, would be willing to help him with his problem. Nacho is hanging on by a thread with the Salamancas, and, at some point, he will surely become useless to Gus Fring. Nacho is in danger and, frankly, so is his father, who both Fring and the Salamancas threaten. Mike understands the predicament, and, although we don’t see much more in this episode, it seems clear that Mike will help Nacho and his father to the best of his abilities.

But, as the quote above suggests, it all depends on Mike’s ability to take care of Lalo in the first place. Thankfully, of course, Mike is almost always the right man for the job. While pretending to be a private investigator, Mike pushes a witness towards law enforcement with information that he has fed her. This witness is the only one who can speak to what happened at the money wire agency, where Lalo killed a clerk and burned down the building. With her help, Mike has now positioned Lalo perfectly to be apprehended by the police and charged with the murder of the aforementioned money wire clerk. It’s all going according to plan. And when Lalo eventually needs a lawyer, you just know whose number he is going to call.

Wexler v. Goodman is as exciting of an episode as the title suggested. It featured a truly awards-worthy performance from Rhea Seehorn and some of the most crushingly devious schemes that Jimmy McGill has ever pulled of. This is probably the best episode of the fifth season thus far, and it even sets up a lot of dangerous situations in future episodes.

A+

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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