Better Call Saul Review: The Wrong Place at the Wrong Time

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[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Better Call Saul, Season 6 Episode 12, “Waterworks.”]

As we reach the finish line on Better Call Saul, a theme has emerged from these final episodes: How tragic it is, and the tragedies that can result, when someone lives in fear. That at least seems to be Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn)’s takeaway from the last several years of her life, as we see how making contact with her ex-husband Jimmy/Saul/Gene (Bob Odenkirk) caused her to return to the scene of her crimes — even if she may not end up actually having to pay the price for them.

Written and directed by Vince Gilligan, “Waterworks” is a masterclass in making the mundane seem both important and suspenseful. The action begins with a tour through Kim’s black-and-white state of existence — a nice-enough boyfriend who thinks Miracle Whip is a good substitute for mayo and a bland, boring, but otherwise pleasant enough office job. It might be a vast overcorrection from her previous life of dabbling in cons with Jimmy McGill, but she seems content enough, applying her trademark Kim Wexler discipline and meticulousness to everything, even making a new pot of office coffee.

Then comes the call from “Viktor St. Claire” (the alias Jimmy occasionally used while he and “Gisele” were together). After telling her ex that he should turn himself in, the hypocrisy clearly overwhelms her, and she hops a plane to Albuquerque to confess her crimes to law enforcement — and perhaps more importantly, Cheryl (Sandrine Holt), Howard Hamlin’s widow, who finally learns the truth surrounding Howard’s death.

It’s all heart-wrenching, but when Kim breaks down crying on the airport shuttle, her tasks completed, one can’t help but hope that she finds a little peace in her actions. Because while she’s facing her past, Gene Takovic is willfully avoiding his, a little bit tipsy in a passed-out cancer victim’s home, robbing the place in Buddy’s stead and not really caring who he hurts.

Even when his accomplice Jeff (Pat Healy) gets arrested, Gene’s still in full-blown con mode, but gets a little too sloppy with Marion (Carol Burnett) after Jeff’s arrest, saying enough to make her Ask Jeeves (a brilliant vintage internet touch) about con men from Albuquerque. “And up you popped big as day,” she tells Gene, in a concluding scene that for a real moment entertained the possibility that while it’s hard to imagine Jimmy McGill physically assaulting an elderly woman, we don’t really know what Gene Takovic is capable of. Despite the phone cord wrapped around his hands, though, he doesn’t strike, and Marion is able to call for the police, leading Gene to once again run.

We know what he’s running from, and the series finale, entitled “Saul Gone,” will reveal where, exactly, he ends up. But that’s not all there is to this story, because we get more bursts of color from the past in “Waterworks,” as scattered throughout the episode are flashbacks to the night that Kim and Jimmy Saul signed their divorce papers, which also leads to more appearances from familiar faces.

Time for your weekly dose of Breaking Bad lore: Emilio “I Don’t Do Paperwork” Koyama (John Koyama) first appeared in the pilot of the show, as he was Jesse’s original partner in manufacturing and selling meth — he was the one who got arrested by the DEA while Jesse made his escape.

Later in the pilot, he’s killed by a chemical explosion set off by Walter White (Bryan Cranston) — we learned in the Breaking Bad Season 2 episode “Better Call Saul” (not to be confused, of course, with the Better Call Saul episode “Breaking Bad”) that prior to Emilio’s death Saul served as his legal representation on two occasions. As Jesse tells Walt, “You remember Emilio? This dude got Emilio off, like, twice. Both times, they had him dead to rights, yo. And then poof! Dude’s like Houdini.”

Better Call Saul Season 6 Episode 12 Recap
Better Call Saul Season 6 Episode 12 Recap

We were all so innocent then. Better Call Saul (AMC)

After bumming a cigarette from Kim in “Waterworks,” Jesse asks her what she thinks of Saul Goodman’s legal abilities, an indication that this is his first trip to the “criminal attorney”‘s office. This would date the night that Kim and Jimmy signed their divorce papers as taking place a decent amount of time before the events of the Breaking Bad pilot, which is set in 2008. (This would also mean that Jesse is meant to be somewhere between the ages of 20 and 24, if you were looking for an explanation as to why the 42-year-old Paul was filmed mostly in shadow, and when not in shadow, his face boasted the finest facelift CGI can buy.)

We know how things go for young Jesse, and Emilio, and so many other people whose chance at happy, fulfilled lives were torn apart in the name of money, drugs, and most importantly — power. It’s worth, in this moment, recalling the last Better Call Saul scene featuring Gustavo Fring (to date, of course — this show is capable of bigger surprises than bringing back Giancarlo Esposito in the series finale).

We last saw Gus in Season 6 Episode 9, “Fun and Games” — a relatively innocuous scene, on the surface, in which Gus goes to a fancy restaurant and orders a glass of wine from the bar, and then has a conversation about wine with a very enthusiastic, perhaps even flirtatious, manager named David (Reed Diamond).

Clearly showing Gus favored customer privilege, David pours him a tasting portion of an even better wine than what he ordered, and Gus enjoys it — but leaves the bar before David can return with a new wine-related treat to share. Gus’s sexuality is one of the franchise’s notable confirmed-yet-unconfirmed secrets, but it’s easy to interpret this scene as a glimpse at the happiness that Gus could have had, very easily — if not for his internal rules (and dangerous occupation). He walks away before anything real could happen with David.

Watching Kim lead her purposefully quiet and ordinary Florida life — and more importantly telling her ex-husband that “I don’t know what kind of life you’ve been living but it can’t be much” — brings this concept into sharp relief. This is the cost of running away from your problems, or finding a way to hide in plain sight: No matter what the strategy, it all leads to a half-lived life. Maybe redemption is impossible for certain crimes, but that doesn’t negate the power of confession, or atonement. And it’s better than living in a prison of your own making.

The series finale of Better Call Saul airs Monday, August 15th at 9:00 p.m. ET on AMC.

Better Call Saul Review: The Wrong Place at the Wrong Time
Liz Shannon Miller

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