Kim Wexler, the moral compass of Better Call Saul: How she will break bad.
by "babyface" Brian Glynn
Perhaps there is no stronger contender for the title of “breakout star” in Better Call Saul than Rhea Seehorn’s Kim Wexler.
We are introduced to Kim in season one premier episode “Uno”. Over the following five seasons we see the character grow into her skin as tough as nails, versatile and strong individual, arguably the hardest working person on the show and the perfect moral counterpart to Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy McGill / Saul Goodman. Kim initially starts out as the voice of reason for Jimmy, the viewer gets the sense that the only opinion that truly matters to Jimmy is Kim’s and she keeps him grounded in the early seasons of the show. However, as the series progresses we see Jimmy “break bad” but we also see a change in Kim’s direction. Kim goes from being the workhorse head lawyer for Mesa Verde to taking on pro bono cases on the side.
The question becomes, why is she deciding to do this?
One theory that I’ve been kicking around is that Kim is trying to balance the shady lawyer work done by Jimmy throughout the show by taking on smaller pro bono cases and working hard to bring justice to those accused and those who have been victimized by the world that Jimmy is increasingly stepping into.
We see how seriously Kim takes this role on board in season 5 as she goes as far as to lend clothes to one of her public defense cases while arguing tirelessly with the prosecutor to spare the defendant any more jail time. This comes on the back of a car accident that left an overworked and under rested Kim badly injured, highlighting her dedication to doing the right thing in the face of Jimmy doing wrong.
But Kim Wexler is more than just the moral compass for the series protagonist, she is unquestionably the second lead on the show and runs her own parallel story of breaking bad. Much like how in Breaking Bad we were treated to flashbacks of the pre-show Walter White as a means to further explain how that character reached his breaking point, season 5 of Better Call Saul gives us a more glimpses into Ms Wexler’s history and how she not only could endure Jimmy’s increasingly erratic behavior but may also explain her own actions as she reaches her own tipping point.
In season 5 episode 6 “Wexler vs Goodman” a flashback is shown of a young Kim waiting in a dark parking lot for a ride home, her mother turns up intoxicated admitting to having been drinking and though only a teenager the always level headed and tough Kim opts to walk home rather than share a car ride with her troubled matriarch. This isn’t the first example of Kim’s upbringing we see in the show; Kim as a teenager is shown to have become self-reliant due to her mother's alcoholism. In season 5 episode 3 "The Guy for This", she claims that as a child, her mother frequently moved them from place to place to keep one step ahead of landlords to whom they owed back rent, and never had a place to call home herself.
Kim further claims she moved to Albuquerque because of the limited opportunities available in her hometown. This highlights the world Kim comes from and allows the viewer to understand that, much like Walter White and Jimmy McGill, life has not always been kind to Kim Wexler. This can be seen to explain not only why Kim stands by Jimmy as she relates to his pre-show troubles and in-show insecurity, but also shedding light on Kim’s own potential to break bad.
There are two things that are certain about Kim Wexler, she is trying her best to do the right thing in this world and she is determined to let nothing stand in her way. Both of those qualities can be linked to her self-raised childhood and the example set by the world her mother introduced her to.
The same can be said for Jimmy/ Saul Goodman who at least for the first three seasons and arguably into the fourth season is just trying to do what right he can in the world the show has created. Unlike Kim however, Jimmy’s transition to Saul Goodman happens more obviously. We see him go from a lawyer trying to do right, to an unstable angry man who destroys cars with bowling balls and runs money for the cartel. Kim meanwhile is going through her own metamorphosis albeit quieter than her louder than life husband.
What could be the reason for this? Occam's razor would suggest it is simply because Kim loves Jimmy. She can sense the duality in Jimmy’s personality and the inner conflict he faces on a daily basis as he slips ever further into his alter ego Saul Goodman. Perhaps Kim loves Jimmy because in her heart she feels he can be steered to the side of light by her guidance. One could argue Kim stands by Jimmy despite everything he does because Kim’s moral compass indicates to her that there are good people that can be helped and reasoned with, inside of us all.
The biggest downfall for Kim is her rooted belief that she can talk people through to the right side of the law as seen in every legal negotiation she has in the show and also every time she talks to Jimmy and decides to go along with Saul’s plans. A case could be made that Kim puts extra effort into trying to counterbalance Saul’s legal actions with her own because she sees the same duality in herself that she sees in Jimmy. After all Kim has admitted on many occasions that she enjoyed some of the scams and tricks she and Jimmy pulled together in the earlier seasons.
Going back to Kim taking on pro bono cases and how she does this to counter-balance Jimmy’s wrong deeds. Kim begins taking on Felony cases in the final episode of season 6 as a way to counter Saul Goodman’s arrival in the felony game as a “friend of the cartel”. At first the viewer can see this as Kim accepting Jimmy’s new persona and new life and continuing to do her part to fight for her own moral beliefs. However the tone of her character shifts as she learns about Hamiln’s secret one sided feud with Jimmy and the aforementioned bowling balls.
Rather than being horrified to find out her husband has been sending prostitutes to Howard’’s meetings and destroying his property, Kim sides with Jimmy, angrily lashing out at Hamlin. Later in the episode Saul and Kim are discussing ways to take Hamlin down for good. Kim suggests ruining his reputation and destroying the esteem of his firm by framing Hamlin for misconduct and forcing a settlement of the Sandpiper Case.
For the first time the roles are reversed. Kim is leading here, trying to convince Saul to destroy the reputation of a colleague as a lawyer. It's clear that Kim has now broken bad and while she may never run money for the cartel she has embraced her own inner demon and is willing to exploit her knowledge of the law to bring down a key player in a major firm.
It's difficult to fully assess what caused Kim to break bad like this. You can see throughout the season that Kim is grappling with the workload of her big money cases such as Mesa Verde and her morally upright cases such as her pro bono work. This is the same dilemma Jimmy faces. While he clearly does love the law the allure of money keeps bringing him further into the criminal underworld of New Mexico.
Kim meanwhile chooses morals over money and resigns from her post as Mesa Verde’s top lawyer in order to focus on doing what makes her feel good. The pressure of reaching this decision boils over for Kim throughout season 4 and season 5. This combined with her love of Jimmy, her desire to counter Saul and her own inner duality. Kim breaks bad as she, much like Walter and Saul, feels that this is necessary to continue doing what she feels is best for her.
So the question as season 5 ends is, what happens to Kim Wexler?
Better Call Saul much like Breaking Bad is a tragedy. You see how the choices of characters have long lasting and broadly applied impacts such as Walter White causing a plane crash, Jimmy however seems immune to this. As Lalo Salamanca puts it, Jimmy is a cockroach who always lands on his feet. While Walter dies, Jimmy continues living in hiding under a new name. Conspicuous by her absence is Kim.
I don’t believe that Kim is as equipped for the world of Breaking Bad as Jimmy and Walter are simply because her moral compass is stronger than theirs. So since Breaking Bad shows us the consequences of our actions and the tragedy that comes with that, I believe the ultimate fate of Kim Wexler will be this. Her plot to take out Howard will backfire, the first ploy she and Saul have ever unsuccessfully pulled off and while Saul will find his way to make it through this, Kim will be sentenced and convicted.
No longer trying to balance Saul Goodman via pro bono work, no longer trying to balance her own moral dilemmas, Kim will fall victim to her own impulses and will become a victim of the system she so tirelessly worked to aid.
Breaking Bad was a story of a man who wanted greatness, came close, failed and then let that anger boil over as the world continued to emasculate him. Better Call Saul is two stories of people pushing upward trying to do better than the world they inhabited. As season 5 of Better Call Saul wraps up we’re left wondering the fate of the cast we have grown to love over the past five seasons. While there’s no way to know right now where most of these characters end up, it is looking likely that Kim will be Saul’s final victim, the one remaining good person that believed in Jimmy McGill only for Saul Goodman to push them away. Highlighting perhaps for Kim that the best way she could truly have helped balance out her husband’s criminal behavior would have been to leave him to face those dangers alone.
Could it be possible that Saul Goodman will turn out to be the one case Kim can't win and will ultimately ruin her reputation and career much like how she and Saul plan on ruining Howard Hamlin?
This article originally featured on headstuff.org