This Better Call Saul review contains spoilers.
Better Call Saul Season 6 Episode 12
Jimmy McGill used to be good. Morally dubious? Sure, but at his core, Jimmy McGill was good. You could see it in the way he treated his best and ultimately most fruitful clients — the elderly. Jimmy McGill had a heart.
When Jimmy McGill traveled to Sandpiper Crossing way back in Season 1, his intentions may not have been the purest, but when he notices that defenseless Mrs. Landry is being conned out of money, he springs into action and takes legal action. Later in the series, when he realizes his machinations have hurt Mrs. Landry personally, he pulls back and keeps the Sandpiper case going despite the potential windfall he could receive in its settlement. Faced with hurting an elderly woman for personal gain, Jimmy McGill couldn’t stomach it.
There’s something poetic then about the fact that an elderly woman is the one to take down Saul Goodman. Saul Goodman was wrapping a telephone cord around his hands seemingly intent on doing whatever it took to flee the police again. Not being caught by the feds is the only aspect of his life that he could brag about at this point. Marian had discovered his past using a computer that his cons had paid for, and to keep the game alive, Saul Goodman was ready to do the unthinkable. It was the second time in only a few hours he considered such violence. The terror on Marian’s face was the only thing that broke through the anger and desperation that started driving Saul Goodman the day Kim Wexler began packing her things, the ugly feelings that only grew larger and more unwieldy. Jimmy McGill used to be good, and this is the moment that underlined that that goodness was gone, both for the audience and Jimmy himself.
“Waterworks,” the penultimate episode of Better Call Saul, is masterful. It’s full of emotionally walloping moments, black comedy, and satisfying reveals. “Waterworks” is among the very best Vince Gilligan-verse hours assembled, full stop. The fact that the man himself wrote and directed the hour is unsurprising considering the immaculate quality. Gilligan gets almost as much out of the things he chooses not to show us as he does with what he chooses to highlight, including the stunning close-up, unbroken look of Kim crying on the bus and Jimmy looming at the top of the stairs with his mark stirring below him. The score and black and white coloring add to the paranoid noir vibe that Gilligan imbues in every scene.
Where do we even start? Chronologically, we find Saul Goodman stalling in his office, the monument of justice that the woman who is waiting in his lobby conceived of. He’s restlessly wasting time because Kim Wexler has returned to get him to sign divorce papers. The Saul Goodman persona was forged out of anger and disappointment, a mask that Jimmy McGill hid behind to cover up the hurt he felt over Kim leaving him. Now that she’s back asking for a divorce, he leans into Saul harder than ever. He’s rude, obnoxious, and purposely cruel, and Kim takes it on the chin and leaves. Outside, she smokes a cigarette and bums one to what looks like a typical Saul Goodman client.
I was critical of the appearance of Walt and Jesse in last week’s episode. Though it was clear what Walt represented in the episode, the scene itself felt needlessly like playing the hits. This week’s interaction between Kim and Jesse was infinitely better. Not only do we reunite with Jesse Pinkman, but we get this interesting moment with two characters in very different places in their journeys with Albuquerque’s underworld. Kim has information that could potentially change the course of Jesse’s life, but when he asks about the blowhard television lawyer that he’s about to employ and if he’s any good, she simply replies, “When I knew him, he was.” It’s heartbreaking and final in a way that even surpasses their last scene together.
Since Kim left with those divorce papers, she’s been living a quiet, boring life of domesticity in Florida. Signing office birthday cards, discussing the similarities between mayo and Miracle Whip, and doing a nightly puzzle, Kim’s life is just as colorless as Gene’s is in Omaha. It’s immediately clear that Kim has turned a part of herself off. Having seen her “perform” in her job as a lawyer and as “Giselle,” we know what it looks like when Kim is faking things. The façade finally drops when a familiar voice calls.
We get to hear the conversation from last week’s episode, and Kim is shocked and scared to hear the voice on the other end. Once again, Jimmy is masking his real feelings by being aggressive and pushy with Kim, and when she suggests that he turn himself in, he immediately goes on the defensive and asks Kim why she never did the same thing. Rhea Seehorn has always been this show’s secret weapon, but she is transcendent here. Her fear, disgust, and rage are just barely contained in Kim’s quivering lip. After she mutters “I’m glad you’re alive” to a groveling Jimmy, it’s as if the suburban haze that has held Kim’s guilt and sorrow inside is lifted. Sure enough, she travels back to Albuquerque to confess. She turns in her confession to the courthouse and in the process, she walks past a young defense attorney that appears as if it could be a specter of the person she once was. She then travels to deliver the truth to Howard’s widow.
The scene with Kim and Cheryl is tough to watch but brilliantly acted. Kim maintains the stone-faced, steel-nerved demeanor that she utilized as an attorney. Her answers are forthright and honest. Cheryl asks why Kim is telling her this now, and there’s a hard cut to the next scene. But we don’t need to see the answer to that question because we already know why — Kim told Cheryl the truth because she had to do it. The truth was eating her alive in Florida, causing her to live the smallest, hollowest version of her life. When she finally gets it all off her chest, she emotionally unloads on a public bus, sobbing as if she had been waiting years to finally let it out. It’s like the guilt and self-hatred are leaving her body.
Meanwhile, back in Omaha, Gene lingers too long in his mark’s house and narrowly escapes being discovered by pure luck and Jeff’s stupidity. Gene almost resorts to violence to escape, but is spared when his mark falls back asleep before he can alert the authorities. It’s a suspenseful sequence only outdone by the scene where Jeff is nervously eyeballing the cops parked behind him only for it then to be revealed that the cops are innocuously eating some takeout. It’s a classic, brilliant bit of tension-cutting Gilligan comedy. Jeff tries to speed off and haplessly slams into a parked card. It allows Gene to escape, but Jeff is locked up in the process. When he calls Gene for help, Gene seems giddy at the fact that he’ll get to flex his powers some more to get Jeff off scot-free. He’s still subconsciously running his hand threw the flame just waiting to get burned.
That’s really what’s so satisfying about Marian catching Jimmy/Saul/Gene. Jimmy is being smug and feels that he’s invincible. It’s all just a prolonged reaction to his call with Kim. Once again, just like back in his office in 2008, he’s puffing out his chest and trying to show off. He never even considers that Marian could take him down. He forgets that you should never make someone like Marian the mark. She trusted him. (Another brilliant touch is having the Saul commercial in color reflected in Gene’s glasses, as Saul realizes he’s busted.)
After writing about this world for so long, it really hasn’t sunk in that next week is the end of the ride. It feels like we will get a definitive end to Jimmy McGill’s story and I cannot wait to see what Peter Gould cooks up. For as much credit Vince Gilligan deserves for creating this universe and these characters, this show has always been Gould’s passion project and he should be the one to write the final chapter and close the book. However, “Waterworks” will be difficult to top. I’m trusting him.