This week’s episode, “Dedicado a Max” (written by Heather Marion and directed by Jim McKay) showed us a side of Kim that I didn’t think I would see. She’s been pretty deep in the dirt with Jimmy lately, and we have seen her struggle with that, but Better Call Saul S5E5 showed us Kim crossing a line I really did not think she would cross.
Mike also has some choices of his own to make, although he is currently limited in his ability to make choices for himself. His location at the end of last week’s episode has been revealed to be a tiny town/compound down in Mexico funded by Gus Fring as a memorial to his lost partner, Max (hence the episode title). Mike is initially reluctant to stay there because his anger at Gus is outweighing logic and reason. He has a very bad injury and needs to recuperate, but he insists on leaving and opens his wound on the long walk to the middle of nowhere. He stops for a rest, still miles away from the nearest highway, and he tries (and fails) to make a call since his cellphone is dead. He’s bleeding through his shirt, but he’s determined to get out from under Gus’s thumb.
Dr. Barry Goodman appears to save the day. Mike is familiar with Gus’s doctor of choice as he was the one to supply Mike with the cocaine he used to sabotage one of Hector Salamanca’s drug shipments (“Sunk Costs,” S3E3). Breaking Bad fans will know that this is the first time the doctor saves Mike’s life, but it won’t be the last. Mike wants to know what Gus is planning for him but the doctor only knows that he has been tasked with keeping Mike alive. “Will you allow this?” he asks, and Mike says nothing—just lets out a classic Mike Ehrmantraut grunt—and takes his hand. For now, it would appear that Mike is choosing life, though he’s not at all happy about it.
As Dr. Goodman sews Mike back up, Mike tries to get some information from him about where he is and what the place is. The doctor tells him that the place is not connected to Gus’s drug business in any way, that there are no armed guards there—basically, that no one will try to stop him if he chooses to leave. Dr. Goodman even tells him exactly where to go and how to get back home, but he advises against it since Mike can only walk a few steps without tearing his sutures open and would almost certainly die on the journey. He recommends that Mike just rest up and heal, but Mike Ehrmantraut isn’t the type who can just lay around and do nothing. He’s also not the type who appreciates being essentially kidnapped and trapped with no way out and at the mercy of Gus Fring.
His inability to sit still (and inability to make long-distance calls) gets Mike all worked up and he tries to MacGyver up something. The señora of the house takes pity on him, though, and just gives him a cellphone charger. He calls Gus and tries to get some answers out of him, noting correctly that Gus doesn’t do anything without a reason. Gus won’t give him any answers yet, though. Mike eventually settles into life down in Mexico, being friendly to the señora and helping to fix the window. Mike needs to be doing some task to occupy his mind because when he has too much time to think, his mind goes to dark places. Despite the sketchy circumstances, this time in Mexico is actually doing him a lot of good. He’s dried out from his bender, and he’s unable to engage in any other sort of self-destructive behavior. This doesn’t mean he’s not still angry (if not angrier) at Gus, but at least he seems to have been saved from himself for now.
When Gus finally travels to Mexico, Mike meets him out in the courtyard where he is looking at the memorial fountain to Max. Gus doesn’t want anyone there to know that Mike is an associate of his—to separate his business from the place that is good and clean. Mike questions him about the place and whether, as its anonymous benefactor, it makes Gus feel like the slate is wiped clean for all the bad things he does. This is not the case, however. Gus knows exactly who and what he is. While Mike doesn’t understand the significance of the place as a memorial to Max, Breaking Bad viewers understand that Gus’s life and the man he has become since Max’s murder explains every choice that he makes.
Gus presents Mike with a choice: keep going down his self-destructive path and end up dead, or come and work for him as a soldier to take down the Salamancas. At this point, Mike doesn’t see Gus as any different from the Salamancas, but he doesn’t know the full story. What Gus can see that Mike can’t see yet is that they have something in common: an understanding of the need for revenge. I have been wondering how Gus was going to get Mike to come back given how dead-set Mike was on having nothing to do with him, but the whole idea of revenge is really the one thing that Mike can relate to when it comes to Gus. Mike isn’t a huge fan of the Salamancas to begin with, either, so it’s not a stretch to assume he will have zero problem taking them out. Lalo was in a pretty good position before this, but Mike Ehrmantraut is not an enemy anyone wants to have.
On the Jimmy and Kim side of things, Better Call Saul S5E5 was a huge turning point. This week, I saw much more of Jimmy than I did of Saul. The wide variety of shenanigans he pulls to get Mr. Acker’s eviction postponed is much more Jimmy McGill’s style than Saul’s. To me, Saul Goodman is low down and dirty; his whole shtick is keeping criminals and drug dealers out of prison and profiting off of it. This whole thing with Mr. Acker has a much lighter feel to it. Sure, he’s trying to pull a scam, but he’s not hurting anyone. In fact, one could argue that Mesa Verde (Kevin Wachtell’s massive ego in particular) are really on the wrong side of this thing ethically speaking, and so the Jimmy McGill style of creatively and cleverly working around the law is another case of the ends justifying the means. Of course, Jimmy would do anything to help Kim, but this is pretty tame compared to the things we know Saul Goodman is capable of.
Meanwhile, Kim is lying her ass off to Kevin and Paige to try to explain the “coincidence” that Mr. Acker just so happened to hire her boyfriend as his lawyer. Her argument—that Saul Goodman’s aggressive marketing strategy led Mr. Acker to him—is pretty weak, and Kevin knows that it’s no coincidence. However, he thinks that it is Mr. Acker who is trying to pull one over on them, and that Kim just so happens to be in the middle of it. Kim tries to pull out of everything having to do with Tucumcari due to Jimmy’s involvement and what could be perceived as a conflict of interest, but Kevin won’t allow it.
Howard calls Jimmy to see if he’s thought any more about the job offer, and it doesn’t appear that Howard suspects Jimmy as the culprit of the vandalism to his Jaguar. He’s still itching for Jimmy to take him up on his offer to come work for him at HHM, and Jimmy is still totally uninterested in that move, which he considers going backwards instead of forwards. For now, he seems to be keeping Howard on the hook waiting for his decision.
When Kim returns home, Jimmy wants to hear every last detail about how things went with Kevin. What Jimmy understands (and Kim is only starting to understand) is that in the art of the grift, no detail is unimportant. The fact that Kevin is a side sitter tells Jimmy something about who Kevin is as a person (which in turn helps him to better formulate a plan tailored exactly to Kevin). While Kim notes the way that Kevin was sitting, it didn’t occur to her that it held any real significance. Through Jimmy’s tutelage, though, she is starting to understand these things.
Jimmy has her do a reenactment of the whole conversation, in which she is playing the role of Kevin and he is playing the role of Kim. Initially, she is uncomfortable with it but she gets into it more and more as she goes. Her impression of Kevin is actually pretty decent, if a bit exaggerated, but the general sentiment is there: he is a stubborn, demanding blowhard who just wants to get his way (and for Kim to get if for him). Not surprisingly, Jimmy gets turned on by the whole performance. If there’s one thing you can count on with Jimmy and Kim, it’s that scamming and roleplaying will usually lead to some sort of intimate moment.
Saul Goodman is throwing everything he can at Mesa Verde, and while none of it will actually stick, it is accomplishing its purpose: to delay construction of the call center. Things finally come to a head in a board meeting where everyone (including Paige and Rich Schweikart) is on the same page about the fact that, at this point, it makes more financial sense to use the alternate location that Kim had previously suggested—everyone except Kevin, that is. Kevin is more interested in winning the fight against Mr. Acker and Saul than he is in actually getting the Tucumcari call center built. He’s far too emotional in his decision to continue to try and get Acker off the land. Were he making a real business decision, he would have just gone with the alternate location to save time and money, but at this point Kevin is so obsessed with winning the fight that he’s lost sight of the real end goal.
Watching Kevin lose his cool in the meeting is interesting after we’ve seen Kim’s impression of him. Up until this Tucumcari situation, Kevin has always been presented as a mostly decent guy who likes getting his way. The situation with Mr. Acker is showing him in a different light. This is partially because we are really seeing him through Kim’s eyes here—and Kevin’s many wants and needs have been increasingly a source of frustration for her as she wants to focus on her pro bono work—but also because he is being especially stubborn and borderline irrational. Yes, it is his land. Yes, he has the legal right to kick Mr. Acker off the property. But at this point, the smart thing to do for his business is to just move on. He refuses to do it because his ego won’t allow it, not because it is the right or smart thing to do.
Kevin won’t back down from a fight and he refuses to lose, but Kim won’t accept a loss either. Jimmy is ready to call it after Kevin’s refusal to change locations, but Kim can’t let it go. Better Call Saul S5E5 shows us Jimmy actually being the rational and sensible one for once. He tells Kim that it’s time to just let it go, that she did everything she could for Mr. Acker, and that she actually risked too much to help him. At the end of the day, though, Kim didn’t do this for Mr. Acker. She did it for herself, and she is not so dissimilar from Kevin in not being able to take a loss. Kim spent most of her life powerless. As a child, she had no stability. As an adult, until fairly recently, she was always beholden to HHM and under Howard’s thumb. Now she has power and position, and she wants to flex that.
She’s not behaving rationally at all here, and it’s actually fascinating to see Jimmy being the rational one in the relationship. Of course, he’s always willing to keep pushing things, and he has the means and connections to do so, but he actively tries to stop her from going further. When she absolutely insists, he tells her that the next play is to go after Kevin personally, but he warns her that that going down that road is dangerous. But she wants to proceed, and this is a Kim we haven’t seen before: a Kim who is actively instigating something she knows will hurt someone for her own personal gain. This is the moment where Kim crosses a line that she won’t be able to come back from. This is the moment when Kim breaks bad.
After an unsuccessful attempt to recruit Mike (who probably wouldn’t go along with it even if he wasn’t down in Mexico) Jimmy turns to one of Dr. Caldera’s guys to dig up some dirt on Kevin. While he doesn’t give Kim any specifics about where he gets his guys, she is asking some questions about the whole thing. This is the type of thing that, in the past, she would not want to know about, but Better Call Saul S5E5 shows us that she is curious as to how it all works. They meet the PI (“Mr. X”) at the nail salon (with Kim as “Giselle”), and he tells them that Kevin is totally clean except for a DUI when he was in college.
When Jimmy questions how thoroughly he did his job, Mr. X says that he went through Kevin’s house, and this gives Kim pause. Up until that point, she had been able to rationalize that they were just hiring a private investigator to look into Kevin—which is perfectly legal—but now she is forced to confront the fact that the methods their guy is using are not at all above board. She must have known this on some level, but to hear it blatantly spoken out loud is a bit of a shock to her. Jimmy tries to change the subject, but Kim wants to know exactly what Mr. X did. If she’s going to be involved with this—and she is very much involved—she needs to know all the details of what is happening.
Being in the dark on the details won’t do much for her if something goes wrong and she has to figure out how to cover their asses. I also think that there is a part of her—the Slippin’ Kimmy part—that is fascinated by the criminal aspect of the thing and how these things actually work. She’s no stranger to working with criminals, of course, but it’s usually on the other side of the law. She’s way outside her comfort zone here, but this is all of her own choosing, and I think that the part of her that loves the thrill of the scam is incredibly interested in the details of how criminals operate. Knowledge is power, after all.
Mr. X has a bunch of photographs that he gives to Kim, and Jimmy asks him if he can break into Kevin’s office downtown. Kim doesn’t say anything about this, but she does give Jimmy a look. Still, she would have been OK with it. It’s only when Mr. X suggests dragging Kevin out to the desert that Kim draws the line. Jimmy, who has his own experience with being dragged out into the desert, is also a hard no on that tactic. Luckily, Kim is able to find something in one of the pictures. Although exactly what she sees and how it will play out is not yet clear, it obviously has something to do with the Mesa Verde logo.
Whatever she’s got cooking regarding Kevin is interrupted when Rich comes to her office to try and get her off of Mesa Verde. He was never buying Kim’s whole story about how Jimmy just happened to become Acker’s lawyer, and he can see straight through her whole plan. He is hesitant to say any of this, but she forces him to. He wants to just leave it at that and have Kim step away from Mesa Verde, but Kim is in way too deep at this point. Even though she knows that Rich is 100% correct in his assumptions, she refuses to let it go and actively makes a scene in the middle of the office. She demands to know exactly what he is accusing her of and tries to argue that she would have no reason to sabotage everything she has worked so hard to get, yet that is exactly what she’s doing and she knows it.
Kim’s behavior throughout Better Call Saul S5E5 is different from anything we’ve seen from her before. She is taking huge risks that have very little actual reward. She’s working against her own best interest, and for what? She was in a very good position, both career-wise and financially, but her dissatisfaction with the Mesa Verde work and the fact that she still has to answer to other people (Kevin and Rich in particular) has awakened that part of her that doesn’t want to play by the rules. When you really think about it, playing by the rules never really got Kim anywhere. When she played by the rules at HHM, she got banished to the basement for it. When she started playing by Jimmy’s rules, she got Mesa Verde and a partnership at Schweikart and Cokely. So while we can see that she’s making horrible choices at the moment, on some level it does make sense.
We all knew that Jimmy was going to become Saul. What we don’t know is what Kim is going to become. If “Dedicado a Max” is any indication, she may turn out to be much more like Saul Goodman than any of us expected. I always root for Kim in any situation, and I will go out of my way to rationalize all her bad behavior, but this week I am really struggling to give her a pass because she is making enormously bad choices and putting herself at risk. Usually, it’s Jimmy who is getting her into messes and she is the one that has to get them both out of it. At this point, I have to wonder whether Kim is the one that is going to need Saul Goodman to get her out of a mess of her own making and whether he will even be able to do it.