This article contains spoilers for Better Call Saul season 6 episode 12.
One way or another, everyone pays for their sins in the Breaking Bad universe. There are very few, if any, happy endings for the citizens of Vince Gilligan’s Albuquerque. Usually these endings are of the violent variety. Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) is killed by the ghost of revenge’s past. Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) is killed by the hotheaded amateur he knew he should have never trusted. In one last act of hubris, Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is killed by gunfire from his own device, robbing the cancer in his body of its chance to end his journey just as it started it.
While all of these endings are dramatically satisfying, the penultimate episode of Better Call Saul reminds us that not every “bad” ending has to feature gunfire, guts, or glory. Sometimes simple boredom can penetrate deeper than any bullet can. We see this in “Waterworks” where Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) receives perhaps the bleakest fate that any Breaking Bad universe character has ever endured: Florida.
Like Breaking Bad before it, Better Call Saul is a visually dynamic show. The series’ directors adopt a cinematic flair in depicting the criminal underworld of the Southwestern United States and in the process turn the outskirts of New Mexico into something out of a lush spaghetti Western. In his confirmed final dispatch in this universe, Breaking Bad creator and “Waterworks” writer/director Vince Gilligan takes all of the show’s usual visual flair and applies it to depict some of the most soul-crushing moments of boredom ever captured on screen.
Kim Wexler’s life in 2010 Florida is profoundly unremarkable and boring. “Waterworks” makes this clear through an opening 15 minutes that follow the meaningless ins and outs of Kim’s life in excruciating detail. There is no soundtrack and barely any ambient noise – just the black and white imagery of Kim, her brunette bangs, and her regrettable corduroy skirt as she lives her unexamined life.
The details are so thoughtfully, painfully done. The biggest crisis in Kim’s new life is the substitution of Miracle Whip for traditional mayonnaise. We watch as she suffers through a lifeless backyard Florida State barbecue where her dopey husband mistakes Sweden for Switzerland. Then that same dopey husband gracelessly climbs atop her for a love-making session punctuated by his cries of “Yup! Yup! Yup!” The only thing she has to look forward to is the new Outback location down at Satellite Beach.
Somehow things are even more boring at her job as an ad copywriter for Palm Coast Sprinkler. A fellow co-worker has a birthday but no one can remember if she prefers vanilla or strawberry ice cream. Eh, strawberry’s fine. As Kim has her lunch consisting of a tuna salad sandwich with the dreaded Miracle Whip, her coworker begins to talk about something inane involving peanut butter and the scene immediately cuts away as if it can’t bear to hear any of this anymore.
All of the stylistic flourishes that Better Call Saul usually applies to its saga of crooked lawyers and bloodthirsty gangsters are applied here to the story of one quiet day in the quiet life of a quiet woman and it makes for an unexpectedly riveting experience. By the time Jimmy a.k.a. Saul a.k.a. Gene (Bob Odenkirk) re-enters Kim’s life in the phone call we saw in last week’s episode, it’s almost a drag. Because boredom really does look good on Kim. And that’s because we’re seeing her attempt to slowly absolve herself for her previous lifetime of sins.
Every major character in the Breaking Bad universe has a fatal flaw, whether it’s pride or … you know what, it’s usually just pride. Kim’s flaw is unique, however. She merely wants to be entertained. The subtle ennui clawing away at Kim from the inside out is present from her very first moment in the series. It’s well-established now that Gilligan, Saul showrunner Peter Gould, and the rest of the writing staff didn’t know what Kim’s character arc would be when she was first introduced. But ultimately, they could not have retrofitted Kim’s end to fit her beginning more perfectly.
When we first see Kim, she is casually leaning against a wall in a dimly lit parking garage, taking drags from her cigarette. It’s like at that moment she’s just waiting for something…anything to take the boredom away. Then Jimmy McGill enters the scene as the man who will make sure they never experience a dull moment ever again right up until Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton) shoots Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) in the head. Through six seasons of Better Call Saul, Jimmy and Kim have all the “fun and games” they can handle and then some.
After Howard is killed and Kim makes the decision to leave Jimmy/Saul, she is sure to tell him how much fun she had.
“Jimmy, I have had the time of my life with you. But we are bad for everyone around us. Other people suffer because of us. Apart, we’re okay, but… together? We’re poison.”
That’s why Kim does something highly unusual for Better Call Saul: she makes a selfless choice. She sacrifices her fun for the good of humanity. Her boredom in Florida is not a coincidental byproduct of that choice but rather the whole point. It’s her punishment, her penance. Every day that she spends eating Miracle Whip is a day that someone else isn’t getting hurt.
Of course, avoiding new tragedies is just part of the healing process. To truly become whole, one has to rectify the tragedies they’ve already created. And that’s what brings Kim back to Albuquerque one last time to set things right. After she confesses to the Bernalillo County Court (which is having a HELL of a year), Kim heads off to meet Howard’s widow Cheryl (Sandrine Holt) to tell her what really happened to her estranged husband.
Cheryl isn’t particularly satisfied with the confession. No matter how quickly Lalo’s bullet scrambled his brain, Howard and his legacy still suffered massive indignity and it was all Kim’s fault. His body won’t be found and the state of New Mexico might not end up even pursuing the case for lack of evidence. There should be no catharsis here for anyone involved. And yet…Kim’s final moments in this episode (and maybe her final moments in the whole series) seem pretty damn cathartic.
On a late night ABQ airport tram (which Vince Gilligan says Better Call Saul fans who visit ABQ are likely to encounter since there are only two of them) Kim finally unleashes six seasons worth of emotions. Several years of boredom was a worthwhile punishment for the woman who craved action but in the end, only confession can cleanse one’s soul.
The Better Call Saul series finale premieres Monday, Aug. 15 at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.