Better Call Saul co-creator Vince Gilligan breaks down Kim's fate and Gene's chilling moves

·13 min read
Better Call Saul co-creator Vince Gilligan breaks down Kim's fate and Gene's chilling moves

Warning: This episode contains plot details from Monday's episode of Better Call Saul, titled "Waterworks."

Let's get this out of the way first: Kim Wexler is alive. How alive is she, though? That was one of the questions explored in the unsettling and mesmerizing penultimate installment of Better Call Saul. Written and directed by co-creator Vince Gilligan, "Waterworks" transported viewers to Titusville, Fla., where self-disgraced lawyer Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) has been working at Palm Coast Sprinkler in the catalog and brochure department, attending bland BBQs with her bland boyfriend, and concerning herself with the merits of Miracle Whip as a mayonnaise substitute.

She was laying low (with a new hair color) and living her milquetoast life — a glaringly silent tragedy given her promising legal career — when Gene (Bob Odenkirk) called her at work to "catch up" after six years, tell her that he's alive, and to press her buttons when he was not getting the reaction he had hoped for. Startled and chilled by his unapologetic demeanor, she told him to turn himself in and mumbled that she was glad that he was alive before she hung up. (No 50th birthday wishes.)

The tatters of their relationship and the soul rot of Jimmy/Saul/Gene were also on full display in a flashback to 2004, when Kim came into Saul's cathedral of justice to sign off on the divorce that she had initiated and witnessed his latest and greatest devolution. He weaponized his hurt by pretending he wasn't, expressing dismay that she didn't take her cut of the Sandpiper settlement, cutting her off before she could answer his question about moving to Florida and sending her off with a dismissive "Have a nice life." (Cue: A chance encounter and smoke with Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). (Jesse on Saul: "This guy, any good?" Kim: "When I knew him, he was." Oof.)

Kim was certainly not having the nice life she'd imagined — and she was about to both cleanse and complicate her situation. What was stopping Kim from turning herself in?, taunted Gene on their call. Well, nothing anymore. Kim flew to Albuquerque and submitted an affidavit in which she came clean on the whole Howard (Patrick Fabian)-Lalo (Tony Dalton) tragedy, and then she visited Howard's widow, Cheryl (Sandrine Holt), to face more music (though not telling the truth about Jimmy).

Meanwhile, reeling from his end of the call, Gene was now taking huge risks with his identity theft game, returning to the cancer victim's house even though he was warned that the guy might wake up. Instead of making a clean getaway, Gene journeyed upstairs and stole his watches, while Jeff (Pat Healy) and his getaway vehicle had an unfortunate run-in with the police. In drafting Marion (Carol Burnett) to bail out Jeff, Gene tripped the wrong curiosity wires in that sharp, not-to-be-underestimated Marion. With the help of Ask Jeeves, she realized that he was actually Albuquerque conman Saul Goodman. After more menacing behavior by Gene, she called for help, and this most wanted fugitive was last seen running away from her house.

Let's be Sweden Switzerland, wonder what happened to crack, disparage some fish tacos, and press our Life Alert button to summon Vince Gilligan to cue the "Waterworks" all over again.

Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler, Alvin Cowan as Glenn - Better Call Saul _ Season 6, Episode 12 - Photo Credit: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television
Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler, Alvin Cowan as Glenn - Better Call Saul _ Season 6, Episode 12 - Photo Credit: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler and Alvin Cowan as Glenn on 'Better Call Saul'

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Kim is alive! Mostly. She's living her most mediocre Florida life, pondering Miracle Whip questions and writing sprinkler brochures. And when we see the other end of that phone call with Gene, she's perhaps more restrained than we might have guessed. Gene tries to reignite a spark in her and says some upsetting things — "We're both too smart to throw our lives away for no reason" and "Why don't you turn yourself in? Seeing that you're the one with the guilty conscience" — that can explain why she finally took action and confessed. Was there one particular line? Is she just so troubled by the fact that he's showing no remorse, bragging about getting away with it, and taunting her that it spurs her to action?

VINCE GILLIGAN: If that phone call spurs her to action — this is a person she used to love, and she still has some feelings for. This scene is an important scene, but the scene that may be just as key in this episode is the one where they sign their divorce decree. He is willfully nonchalant; he's barely looking at her. And she's a smart person. We've all been there where you break up with someone and then you gotta suddenly be an Oscar-winning actor or actress [laughs]. You gotta put on the performance of a lifetime and act like you don't care. And she's smart enough to realize in that moment that then he is pretending that he doesn't care that he doesn't love her. But there's something else that's disturbing in that scene. He's already transformed himself into this Saul Goodman caricature of a lawyer, this caricature of the good-hearted person he used to be. I mean, he always was Jimmy McGill, cutter of corners and bender of rules. But now it's like he's calcified into this caricature, this legal clown, and it's just grotesque. And it's disturbing. And you can see — I mean, they're both so great in this scene, as is Tina Parker, who plays Francesca. But in particular, you can see how disturbed Kim is just in Rhea's silence. He's turned into this person she doesn't even recognize. And she says that to Jesse Pinkman outside. She says, "When I knew him, he used to be a good lawyer."

That's maybe as big a key scene as any, but here in the moment where they're on the phone together, she has turned into something else, too. She's kind of dead from the neck up, purposely so. And by the way, there's nothing wrong living down in Florida working for a sprinkler factory; there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that. It's just [that] she has a legal calling and she's denied herself that calling. She's denied herself a great many things. And when this grotesque caricature of the person she used to love calls her up and berates her, I think she thinks about it for a few days, and then she thinks, "You know what? As unpleasant as the messenger may be, the message is probably correct. I need to pull the Band-aid off here. I need to atone for my sins. I need to come to life here and do the right thing." So I think that's where that comes from.

Kim files this confession affidavit in Albuquerque, and she didn't have to face down Cheryl, but she did. Did she feel that penance had to run through Cheryl, especially given that moment at Howard's memorial where Kim stooped so low as to prey on Cheryl's guilt about their troubled marriage when she said, "You saw him every day, you knew him better than anyone"?

Yeah. It's so hard to watch. It's so beautifully quiet. That's such a great episode and it's so tough. You gotta atone, you gotta apologize. I may be misquoting the way it works, but it's in the 12-step program, and basically it's not true atonement if she doesn't face this woman and look her in the eye and tell her. And I don't think she ever apologizes in that scene, and she doesn't tear up. And that was all on purpose, too. The feeling was not for her to seem hard-edged about it, but just if she commiserated and cried along with Cheryl, it would've felt like she was asking for forgiveness. And she's not. She's just got to say this. She realizes after all these years, she has to tell the truth. But it'd be too much, it'd be too self-serving for her to ask for forgiveness. And therefore she doesn't.

Until she makes it to the bus, when a years-in-the-making cry comes. I wonder if that's the first time she let herself transact with the grief and guilt, and if there was some relief in the unburdening of the soul.

I think that was the first time. And man, the way Rhea Seehorn plays it is just amazing because I see all of those colors of the emotional rainbow in her performance there. There's horror and there's guilt, but it's cathartic too. And I see just a little bit of relief and it just had to come out after the better part of a decade. It just had to come out.

When she went to sign the divorce documents, viewers get a Jesse Pinkman cameo and they learn that Jesse knows Kim because she represented the baby Jesus-stealing Combo [Rodney Rush] back in the day. And now Jesse's original meth-making buddy Emilio [John Koyama] needs help. Jesse has some wise words about why one would seek legal help from a funny TV commercial. What appealed to you about bringing Jesse back in this context? It is a cool colliding of two worlds. Jesse and Walt were back in last week's episode, with Saul, but we saw that combination in Breaking Bad. This is Kim Wexler sharing the screen with Jesse Pinkman.

It was just delightful! And listen, anytime I spend time with Aaron Paul, I'm gonna do it. And anytime I can spend time with Rhea Seehorn, I'm gonna do it. And then I figure, "Gosh, if I love both of them individually so much, what would it be like to put the peanut butter together with the chocolate?" [Laughs] It'd be even better still. It was really just a delightful scene to write and to direct. And it's not strictly necessary in terms of plot, I would guess, but it just felt like something we would be poorer for if we didn't do. And I can't even remember who came up with it in the writers' room. But Peter and the writers, and certainly I were all very excited at the prospect to have these two worlds collide and seeing these two characters together.

Gene is headed down a very bad choice road. He shouldn't have gone into the house after Buddy warned him the guy could wake up.  He starts to leave after finishing, but goes upstairs and steals his watches, when the whole point of the theft is that the victims are not supposed to be able to figure it out for months later. What part of Gene wants to get caught because he just can't keep living this less-than life, after that phone call with Kim? There's a lot of self-sabotage going on there.

This is the craziest cry for help I've ever seen or ever been witness to. You know, [this is] a guy who purposely goes into a ridiculously dangerous situation — the same guy who fainted from fright just a few weeks before, in terms of story time, because a policeman was looking at him and he spoke up — and now, boy, sure looks like he wants to get caught. He's just behaving like a maniac here and he is robbing a guy that doesn't deserve it. I mean, I don't know who deserves to get robbed, but still this guy particularly makes for a bad victim. It looks to me like there's a certain level of self-abuse going on here. Not in the classic teenage sense, but it's like he's trying to do harm to himself here. And maybe it's because he feels bad about that conversation with Kim. I think in Gene Takovic's world, anger and self-loathing are pretty closely aligned here, and maybe the results of that are what we're seeing in this scene.

Carol Burnett as Marion, Bob Odenkirk as Gene - Better Call Saul _ Season 6, Episode 12 - Photo Credit: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television
Carol Burnett as Marion, Bob Odenkirk as Gene - Better Call Saul _ Season 6, Episode 12 - Photo Credit: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television Carol Burnett as Marion and Bob Odenkirk as Gene on 'Better Call Saul'

Speaking of his behavior, he almost bashes that guy over the head with his dead dog's ashes. And later, when Marion discovers who he is and goes to call for help, he grabs the phone wire and looks like he's going to menace or kill her. Then he's holding that medic alert button necklace tightly around her neck. When she says, "I trusted you," something in him changes and he drops it. Were Kim's words of, "You should turn yourself in, I don't know what kind of life you've been living, but it can't be much" possibly ringing in his head in that moment? Does he just realize, "Wait, was I going to hurt her?" Is he questioning how far he was going to go?

I think that's exactly what it is. We talk a lot about classic movies in the writers' room. And a fabulous movie we've talked a lot about over the years is Bridge Over the River Kwai. And at the end of that, it's a very different setup obviously, but Sir Alec Guinness realizes what he's done. He's built a railroad bridge for the enemy and he has one of the most wonderful moments of self-realization in movie history. He says, "My God, what have I done?" This is not that exactly, and the setup for it couldn't be more different. But I was thinking of Alec Guinness in this moment when we were shooting the scene with Bob and Carol. I was thinking, "I want that look in his face without him saying it: 'My God, what have I done?'"

It's a moment where the clouds parted and sanity returned —  albeit perhaps briefly, we don't know yet, not until we see [the finale]. It looks like sanity prevailed there for a moment. And really, how could you seriously think you're going to menace and hurt Carol Burnett? Marion has been nothing but kind to him. How did he get so far down this terrible path that he was going to whack some poor cancer victim in the head with his dead dog's ashes? As a viewer, I'm just watching this thing and I'm thinking, "God, when is sanity going to prevail here?" When is this guy going to snap the hell out of it and become a normal human being again? Because I don't like this guy at all. I want nothing to do with this guy. He's a bastard!

What cryptic hint would you give viewers for the final episode of Better Call Saul? How much danger is this fugitive in?

I mean, it looks to me like Gene Takovic/Saul Goodman/Jimmy McGill's world is crashing down around his ears. It's gonna be dramatic. [Laughs] It's gonna be a big one. Buckle your seat belts.

What adjective would you use to describe this finale?

Earned. Well-earned.

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