One of the tricky parts for just about all of the big fancy prestige dramas of the past 10 to 15 years, Better Call Saul included, has been what, exactly, to do with their female characters. Most of the shows — Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Sopranos, etc. — have focused on troubled, conflicted dudes doing self-destructive, but occasionally cool stuff, which left the women in their lives in the thankless, but entirely reasonable position of asking them to, like, knock it off. The problem with that is that their goal — a stable, non-violent situation where they aren’t repeatedly cheated on by borderline sociopaths — makes for far less exciting television, which means portions of the audience end up rooting against them. The best example of this is probably Skylar White from Breaking Bad. Most of the audience tuned in to watch Walt do all his drug dealer stuff, making deals and double crossing people and using magnets and whatnot, which meant that Skylar acting like a normal human in the situation by asking her chemistry teacher husband to please not become a meth kingpin became an obstacle to that cool stuff happening.
Better Call Saul runs into this problem in two ways, because not only is it a lot of fun to watch Jimmy do his various Squat Cobbler soft shoes, but we also know his journey ends with him becoming Saul Goodman. Anything or anyone that tries to slow that down — even for very good reasons — runs the risk of teetering into the double buzzkill zone, depriving the audience of fun in the short term and delaying the inevitable in the long term. It’s a tough spot to be in.
All of which is why last night’s episode of Better Call Saul was so great. Rhea Seehorn has done a terrific job as Kim Wexler pretty much from the beginning, but this was the first time the series gave her a showcase episode, and she really delivered. The line “You don’t save me. I save me” alone undid about 20% of the troubled history female characters have on these shows. Kim Wexler does not need you to be a martyr (and a misguided one at that, because despite Jimmy’s insistence that Chuck is behind her punishment, this is actually a season one Evil Howard throwback), Kim Wexler is gonna get some multi-colored Post-Its and a telephone and go handle her sh*t. And she’s getting a montage, too.
It might not have worked out quite the way she intended (aaaaannnd welcome back to doc review), but that’s not even the point, really. The point is that she dug herself out of a hole by being the anti-Jimmy (long hours, hard work, no schemes), which was refreshing on a show where most of the characters are looking for an angle or a sucker. It probably won’t work out great for her long-term, just because the moral and honest on shows like this usually end up getting steamrolled eventually, but last night, in a vacuum, it was a tiny triumph for a character who needed one.
And about that eventual steamrolling: How great was that scene between Kim and Chuck, where Chuck told her about the store his father ran? I’ve made the case a few times now that Chuck is actually doing the right thing, sort of, by trying to derail his brother’s legal career, and if you don’t understand his motivation after that story, you never will. And this line…
“My brother is not a bad person. He has a good heart. It’s just… he can’t help himself. And everyone’s left picking up the pieces.
…takes on extra significance when you realize it was said by a character we never see or hear from in Breaking Bad to a character we never see or hear from in Breaking Bad. All this probably doesn’t end well for either of them.