Better Call Saul Season 2, Episode 2:

Let’s Be Honest

A frequent discussion point among my colleagues about Better Call Saul is the question of why Kim isn’t in Breaking Bad. She’s such an important character to Jimmy McGill, and indeed has been central so far in season two, and yet all trace of her is missing by the time we get to Breaking Bad. She isn’t even mentioned in all those season by Saul — or at least not mentioned to any of the main Breaking Bad characters. That fact alone might be a big hint. Saul Goodman is someone who has built formidable barricades around the various parts of his life. His penchant for multiple cell phones and his constant worry about being overheard or technically within the bounds of the law all demonstrate a man who parcels out information very carefully. Even if Kim were still somehow a part of his life, it’s entirely possible that he wouldn’t tell someone like Walter White about her, let alone Jesse Pinkman or Gustavo Fring. But the way he accepts his fate at the end of the series, jettisoning his (latest) identity and entering his own pre-arranged “non-witness” protection program, suggest that by the time we get to 2013, Kim is gone. Perhaps she’s no longer living, perhaps she’s in prison, or perhaps she’s just not speaking to Slippin’ Jimmy anymore. The fate of their relationship is as inevitable as anything on Better Call Saul.

Kim is so patient with Jimmy and so genuinely affectionate that the key question seems to be how he could possibly alienate her so thoroughly. In this second episode of season two, we get possibly the first hint of that process. As could have been expected, the character pivot is all about identity, specifically which persona of Jimmy McGill Kim truly loves, and which persona (or personae) she cannot abide. The core question of Better Call Saul is really which persona can Jimmy abide, and it seems as if his favourite version of himself doesn’t align with Kim’s. That may very well be what comes between them.

One slightly tangential note about Kim before we get to the Squat Cobbler: she isn’t Skyler. What I mean by that is, she isn’t portrayed as a “No Woman”, the old trope that the boys just want to have fun and it’s the woman who has to say, from that outrageously sexist and patriarchal box, “No, you can’t do that,” or “Now wash your hands and come in for dinner.” Skyler, in Breaking Bad, came perilously close to that trope for the first few seasons, which I have argued elsewhere was a truly clever trick that show’s creators played on the audience, getting us in the process to sympathize with Walter White and impulsively take his side, momentarily forgetting that he is a complete psychopath. It’s fair to say that the level of trust in the Jimmy-Kim relationship is a bit higher than in the Walter-Skyler relationship, and a big part of that is because Jimmy is simply more honest. Up to this point in the story, Kim has essentially accepted all of Jimmy’s faults as part of the package, and loves the sweet, funny guy inside. She may not approve of everything he does, but she doesn’t have to — and he doesn’t ask for her approval (with some exceptions). She even comes with him on some of his little confidence schemes, and finds his clever tricks endearing. She doesn’t ask Jimmy to be anything other than the “best” version of himself, and so she sidesteps the whole “No Woman” cliche by simply saying “yes” to what she likes and ignoring the rest. It makes Kim a thoroughly appealing character, but still allows her to occupy the moral high ground.

Jimmy himself gets at least one opportunity in this episode to occupy that moral high ground, and it’s such an unusual experience for him that he goes somewhat over the top. We see Chuck for the first time in the episode’s cold open, playing piano alone in his house, clearly not entirely cured of his “electromagnetic hypersensitivity”. (It’s also a special thrill to see Spinal Tap’s front-man playing classical music. Alas, the tune is not “Lick My Love Pump”, but rather a piece designed to be a duet between piano and flute. Even the musical selection underlines the thematic point: Chuck is alone.) After learning that Jimmy has accepted a job at a rival law firm and is impressively active in their joint case (which Chuck ultimately decided Jimmy was a bit to “slipping” to be a part of), Chuck’s jealousy and curiosity spring back into action. The brothers encounter each other in the board room, with Jimmy (assisted by Kim’s hand on his thigh) outlining exactly what he can bring to bear on the case of the senior’s home network that overcharges its residents. Old ladies love Jimmy, with all his charm, and while Chuck might be biased about it, the other lawyers recognize how much help he can be. Every time Jimmy is acknowledged, it’s a slap in the face for Chuck, who specifically rejected him. The share a profoundly uncomfortable moment after the meeting and Jimmy is clearly still furious at his brother. They fight like only brothers can: for keeps. Most of the people around them just step away and give them their space. Chuck isn’t exactly Jimmy’s nemesis, but he isn’t an ally.

What happens next is really what sends Jimmy into high gear. Mike Ehrmantraut, assisting a hapless amateur criminal dealing drugs to a small-time Mexican gang, needs Jimmy’s help. He isn’t a man who asks for help lightly, and Jimmy knows enough about Mike to respect his abilities and knowledge, so for a brief, wonderful scene, Saul Goodman appears for the first time on Better Call Saul. There in that interrogation room, with Police, who are obviously no fools, asking whether or not the dim-witted Mr Pryce is in some business other than baseball card collection, Saul Goodman does his masterful dance. Pryce is guilty. They have him dead to rights. But Saul specializes in defending the indefensible, and in fact Jimmy used to do just that, grinding it out in lower courts for quick cash in the series opener. His laid-back but quick-witted patter is the real music in this episode, and unlike Chuck, Jimmy can play this piece from top to bottom with no mistakes. Saul/Jimmy has a knack for getting victims off the hook at their own expense. In this case, he dreams up an alibi so outrageous and humiliating for Pryce that he’s almost giggling at his own boldness as he pitches it to the cops. Pryce, he explains, is being evasive because he’s hiding a video of him sitting naked in a pie crying — a “Squat Cobbler” fetish. Jimmy commits to the story, the cops buy it, and Pryce is free. It must occur to Jimmy in moments like this that, as Kim always tells him, he’s good at it. But in this case, Kim draws an important line.

In order to complete the illusion for the authorities, Jimmy decides that poor old Pryce must actually make a squat cobbler video for the police to find. We don’t see it — we don’t even see Pryce’s reaction to the idea — but Jimmy gloats to Kim about making it as they share an extra pie. Kim, wearing Jimmy’s University of American Samoa sweatshirt and pretty much nothing else, laughs along with him at first, until Jimmy admits that he made the video. Kim points out that doing so is creating false evidence, a serious offense that could get him disbarred. The mood gets quieter. She finally says, “Don’t tell me about things like that again.”

And therein lies the moment, it seems, when Jimmy realizes he can’t be with Kim forever, because he can’t be completely honest with her. Kim says “No” to Jimmy so rarely that, coming from her, it gives him pause, but let’s face it: Jimmy loved who he was in that interrogation room. It was the part he was born to play. It’s his favourite version of Jimmy. But it isn’t Kim’s. There doesn’t seem to be enough room in the world for Kim Wexler and Saul Goodman. Eventually Jimmy will have to make a choice, and of course, we all know what choice he makes. It’s just one of the many tragic clouds gathering in the sunny New Mexico skies of Better Call Saul.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Independent scholar Ian Dawe has been writing for Sequart since November 2013. Before that, he had a mixed background, initially in science (Molecular Biology and Biochemistry), where he earned an MSc from Simon Fraser University and then an MA in Film from the University of Exeter in the UK. He spent a decade teaching at the college level, delivering courses in Genetics, Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Biological Anthropology and Film History. His academic work includes peer-reviewed papers on the work of Alan Moore, Harvey Pekar for Studies in Comics and a dissertation on Terry Gilliam for the University of Exeter. He has presented papers at several major academic conferences including Slayage 2014, Magus: Transdisciplinary Approaches to the Work of Alan Moore in 2010 (in the wizard's hometown of Northampton), Comics Rock and the International Conference of the Humanities in 2012, and at the Southwest Popular Culture Association Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2014 and 2015. He has contributed to several books, including a chapter about the TV show Archer in "James Bond and Popular Culture" and two chapters on Breaking Bad for "Breaking Bad and Masculinity", both now available from McFarland. At Sequart, he has authored a chapter for New Life and New Civiliations: Exploring Star Trek Comics, A Long Time Ago and two more upcoming books on Star Wars comics. He has also contributed to books on Alan Moore and 1970s Horror Comics. He is currently planning a full-length book on Better Call Saul. Ian currently lives in Vancouver, BC.

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