The ending of Better Call Saul S5E6 was a jaw-dropper, and I’m honestly still recovering. There are some episodes of this show that you have to sit with for a while to really process what you’ve just seen, and “Wexler v. Goodman” (written by Thomas Schnauz and directed by Michael Morris) is one of them. While the saga of Kim and Jimmy provides the most tense portions of the episode, there’s also a lot of moves being made on the cartel side of things, so let’s start there.
We knew that Mike would make the choice to return to Gus’s employ, and Better Call Saul S5E6 shows us that the Mike we know is back. Gus and Mike go to meet with Nacho to get the latest intel on Lalo. Nacho (who has his own history with Mike and the Salamancas) is surprised to see him working with Gus, especially because even though Lalo doesn’t seem to know Mike’s history with the family, he’s on the radar of Hector and the Cousins.
Nacho fills them in on the latest developments: Lalo is using Krazy-8’s status as an informant to feed the DEA information that will mess with Gus’s operation, including getting his dealers arrested. Gus makes the call to promote low-level guys and find new people so that his best people don’t end up in the hands of the DEA. But Gus has bigger problems, because Lalo has plans to target Gus’s legitimate business operations as well. Lalo’s endgame is to get Don Eladio and Juan Bolsa believing that Gus is not worth the trouble, which would leave the Salamancas fully in control of the drug operation north of the border.
Gus tells Nacho that he is now to report to Mike, which allows him to put some distance between himself and his mole. Before Mike leaves, Nacho has a conversation with him in which he tells Mike several of the awful things that Gus has done. Nacho knows that Mike hates the Salamancas, and he’s trying to explain to him that (as Mike himself believed at the end of last week’s episode) Gus is really no different from the Salamancas. Mike has no sympathy for Nacho at first, because Nacho made his own choices that led him to the point he’s at. But when Nacho tells Mike that Gus threatened his father’s life, it hits a little different. Mike is especially sensitive when it comes to innocent people (especially family members) being dragged down by the choices that others make for themselves, and he promises Nacho that they will have a conversation about it—after they deal with Lalo Salamanca.
Mike’s task is to get some form of evidence to the police that will lead them straight to Lalo. Posing as a private investigator working for the family of the Travelwire employee Lalo killed in “Winner” (S4E10), he visits a librarian who attempted to enter the store while Lalo was there. Though it was locked and she did not get a good look at him, Mike is able to jog her memory (i.e. lead her) enough that she identifies Lalo’s car as the one she saw in the parking lot. Using the grieving family angle, Mike subtly guilts her into calling the police to say she “remembered” the exact details of the car she saw.
Mike then manages to get a report of the hit-and-run Lalo got into while he was trying to tail Mike onto the desk of the investigating officer for the Travelwire case, and Detective Roberts makes the connection. Knowing that the police will be on the lookout for Lalo’s car, Mike has Nacho give him an update on his location and Mike, pretending to be an officer, calls it in. Lalo is stopped and reaches for his gun, but he is soon surrounded and has no choice but to give in. He could have killed one cop and gotten away, but he’d never make it out alive in a shootout with a dozen officers.
It would seem that, after losing several battles, Gus has won the war, although I can’t entirely count Lalo out yet. It remains to be seen whether Lalo’s arrest will actually stick, but even if it doesn’t, the fact that Lalo will be on the police’s radar will cripple the Salamanca operation.
Just from the episode title “Wexler v. Goodman,” I should have known that things were going to get ugly, but I was still entirely unprepared for what we saw in Better Call Saul S5E6. Things start out pretty business as usual, with Jimmy working on the scam for Kim. He screens an old Mesa Verde commercial for the UNM film squad. The commercial features Don Wachtell, Kevin’s father (with young Kevin making an appearance as well), selling his bank’s services using the whole family values and freedom angle that would have (and still does) appeal to many Americans. The signature cowboy on a horse rides around in the background, and the commercial ends with the Mesa Verde logo. It’s all very wholesome Western Americana, which is on-brand for Mesa Verde.
Jimmy has a very set plan for what he wants to create but, as Joey Dixon (Josh Fadem) points out, his desires are unrealistic given the time frame. He is forced to adapt, using a green screen after hours at the nail salon for the entire shoot. There’s a montage of Jimmy directing various people, though we don’t yet know what the plan is when it all comes together. Obviously it’s something to do with the plot against Kevin, and we can see (through his very specific direction) that Jimmy has the whole thing planned out to the frame, but we viewers are kept in the dark until the exact right moment. This choice works to perfect effect later on because the reveal of what exactly Jimmy has done here (and the circumstances in which it is revealed) was almost excruciating to watch.
After her shocking behavior and questionable decision making last week, Kim seems to have come to her senses a bit. She shows up at the salon to tell Jimmy she doesn’t want to move forward with the plan. As Kim watches Jimmy doing his thing through the window of the salon, we can see a little smile on her face, but as much as she may enjoy it (and perhaps she is even proud of him for his commitment and the amount of work he’s putting in), she has made a decision and she’s determined to stick to it. Although it does pain her to do it—she is, after all, the one who decided to do this in the first place (against Jimmy’s recommendation, I might add)—she has now realized that it is a very bad idea.
Kim wants Jimmy to bring to Mr. Acker a settlement offer of $75,000. Though Kevin will never agree to go that high, Kim believes she can negotiate a reasonably high amount and then wants to pay the rest out of her own pocket. Her confrontation with Rich (and her aggressively unprofessional response) was enough to make her realize that this whole power struggle with Kevin—her need to win this battle over the Tucumcari call center—is misguided and actually dangerous for her career. She’s willing to pay out of pocket just to have the whole thing over and done with and move on with her life. She has finally come to see what everyone else has seen from the beginning: she’s risking everything for no real reward.
Even though Jimmy was the one that told Kim that she should just give it up, now that they have got the plan in place and in motion it pains him to have to shut it all down. He considers a well-crafted scam a work of art (with himself as the artist), and once he’s in it, the thrill and the rush he gets is like a drug. He doesn’t want to give up that high, but he tells him “it’s her play” and he’ll shut it down if that’s what she wants.
Kim takes him at his word and informs Paige that Mr. Acker has decided to settle, with the details to be hammered out at a meeting with Saul. After the call with Paige, Kim apologizes to Rich for her outburst, but Rich is much more concerned with the fact that she did it in front of their colleagues than he is that she lost her cool. He sets up a lunch designed to show everyone that everything is fine and dandy between them. Rich is a smart guy; he knows he’s right about Jimmy’s (and Kim’s) involvement in the whole Tucumcari ordeal. But his first priority, much like Howard’s, is his firm. However, unlike Howard, he understands that people make mistakes and he doesn’t punish Kim for hers. For Kim’s part, she promises that nothing like this will ever happen again, and she actually means it. But things are out of Kim’s hands at this point, though she doesn’t know it yet.
Meanwhile, Saul Goodman is doing his thing in court and helps two of his sex worker clients beat their charges with the help of Judge Papadoumian, who Breaking Bad fans may remember as a fan of Saul Goodman’s colorful wardrobe (“Buyout,” S5E6). Saul respectfully declines to take them up on their offer of a little freebie as a thank you, but he does think of a way that he can use their services to his own benefit. His quest to torture Howard continues and he sends the two women to interrupt Howard’s lunch with Cliff Main at Forque and pretend that he’s a client of theirs. If there’s one thing Howard Hamlin fears, it’s anything that may tarnish his reputation (either personally or professionally), and the very public embarrassment he suffers here absolutely delights Jimmy, who is watching from his car parked outside the restaurant.
With his little plot against Howard a success, Jimmy is momentarily pleased with himself. “Oh God, I’m good,” he says, but the fact that this plan has come together so well reminds him of another good plan he had—one that Kim put the brakes on. After a brief moment of hesitation, he makes a call to Olivia Bitsui, a 92-year-old Navajo woman, and sets events in motion that will have potentially disastrous consequences. There are some moments in this series that are truly hard to watch, but Better Call Saul S5E6 provides us with what is quite possibly the most excruciating—or at the very least is tied with Jimmy’s betrayal of poor Mrs. Landry in “Lantern” (S3E10). We see a betrayal here as well, but it’s far worse.
Kim, Rich, Kevin, and Paige wait for Jimmy to show up to resolve the Mr. Acker issue, with Kim confident that it is mostly a done deal (with the exception of some minor monetary negotiations). Kim was expecting Jimmy to throw out the number they had previously discussed, but instead he says that Mr. Acker wants $4 million. The number is laughable to everyone in the room, but Kim isn’t laughing because she knows that Jimmy is about to go forward with the plan she thought she had derailed. She desperately tries to end the meeting before Jimmy can go any further, but Jimmy gets things rolling before Kim can get Kevin and Paige out of the room.
We finally see the end product of all of Jimmy’s hard work: a series of libelous “PSAs” designed to slander Mesa Verde (and mock Kevin’s father in the process). The endgame is more complex than just ruining Mesa Verde’s reputation, though. The real meat of the plan is a copyright infringement lawsuit—something Mesa Verde is actually guilty of. Kim knows exactly what is coming and she tries to keep Kevin from saying anything incriminating. She is perhaps a little too blatant here, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Rich picks up on the fact that she seems to be one step ahead of everyone in this meeting.
The Mesa Verde logo is identical to a photograph taken by Olivia Bitsui—the photograph that Kim saw in the pictures of Kevin’s home office—and their real play was to get them to roll over on Acker to avoid a long, drawn-out court battle over copyright (which they would likely lose). The PSAs, while they would be an annoyance to deal with and still take up time and resources, would likely never see the light of day, but the copyright issue is a real problem for Mesa Verde.
Kevin is fuming and he decides to go have a one-on-one with Jimmy to try to put everything to bed once and for all. He knows that he’s stuck and he has no choice but to go along with Saul Goodman’s demands, which are not honestly all that unreasonable. Jimmy tells Kevin (in a roundabout way) that everything will go away if he lets Acker keep his house and pays him the $45K, pays Olivia Bitsui $200K for the rights to her intellectual property and credits her for it, and publicly apologizes to both of them. Financially speaking, this isn’t much of a hit for Mesa Verde, and (as has been established in earlier episodes) they can move the location of the Tucumcari call center fairly easily and without losing that much time and money. The extra $45K for Acker is a bit of a stretch, but I’d be willing to bet that some if not all of that is going straight into Saul Goodman’s pocket. Kevin is completely backed into a corner, and as much as it pains him to lose to a guy like Saul Goodman, he has no choice but to agree to the proposal.
In Jimmy’s mind, everybody has won, but Kim doesn’t see it this way. Jimmy may have followed their original plan, but he betrayed her trust. Kim has had to deal with Jimmy’s lies (and lies by omission) before, but this one stung more than any of the rest because, as she tells him when she gets home, he made her into the sucker. He ran a scam on her. It doesn’t matter to her that he claims to have done it to protect her from scrutiny from Rich and the others. She simply doesn’t trust him anymore, and in a relationship like theirs, trust is absolutely crucial. They are both accomplished liars, but the unspoken rule was that they lie to other people but never each other.
Jimmy swears it’ll never happen again, but neither of them actually believes that. At the end of the day, Jimmy is incapable of changing his ways. It has always been Kim adapting herself (and her morals) to fit Jimmy and never the other way around. She has reached her breaking point, and while she knows that the smart thing to do is to end things with Jimmy once and for all, she just can’t bring herself to do it. Kim loves Jimmy despite everything, and even though this betrayal is a wound that may never fully heal, she has invested so much into their relationship; she’s done things and crossed lines that she can never undo or uncross. The idea of all of it having been for nothing is absolutely heartbreaking to her, and in one of the most shocking moments in recent Better Call Saul history, she suggests that perhaps they should get married.
To be honest, I’m still processing this. Initially, it made absolutely no sense to me. It seemed like just another one of the irrational, spur-of-the-moment decisions which Kim has been making a lot of lately. But then I got to thinking about it, and it made a bit more sense to me. Kim is operating under the sunk cost fallacy here, to be sure, but it’s a bit deeper and more complicated than that.
If we take a look at what we saw in the cold open of Better Call Saul S5E6, we can get a better picture of why Kim sees marriage to Jimmy as a viable step forward. This show never shows us anything without a reason, and it’s no coincidence that we get our first Kim Wexler childhood flashback at the beginning of this episode. A young Kim waits outside her Red Cloud Junior High School in Nebraska with a cello, waiting to be picked up. Her mother eventually shows up drunk. While she insists she’s only had one beer, Kim can tell that she’s lying and refuses to get in the car with her, opting instead to walk three miles home in the cold and dark. Her mom tries to get her in the car but she refuses, and her mother eventually drives away, yelling at Kim, “You never listen!”—as if the entire situation is Kim’s fault and not her drunk mother’s.
Even from a young age, Kim was always on her own. Her mother was unreliable and, if this vignette is any indication, if not a full-blown alcoholic then at the very least someone who frequently chose herself and her wants over her daughter’s well-being. We’ve already heard Kim tell Mr. Acker the story of her itinerant childhood, and we’ve heard bits and pieces in the past that, taken all together, paint a picture of Kim’s formative years as one of instability, insecurity, hopelessness, and loneliness.
Now, think about where she is now and everything that she has: a successful career, financial stability, and a relationship—albeit a complicated one—with a man she loves and who loves her. The real issue here is not what Jimmy did regarding Mesa Verde—she was part of the plan and was fine with it until she wasn’t—but that he broke her trust. She could care less about Acker or Mesa Verde or Olivia Bitsui. What has truly broken her about this is that Jimmy has taken away one piece of the security she has been trying for her entire life. She could never trust her mother (and I would imagine her father wasn’t any better), but despite all Jimmy’s faults and how messy he is, she always felt like she could trust him. Now she is faced with the fact that he is capable of betraying her trust and that he may not be able to stop himself from doing it again.
Jimmy doesn’t want to hurt Kim. It’s the last thing he wants, actually, but he’s addicted to the thrill of the grift. He couldn’t help himself from going through with their perfectly formulated plan, and he was able to rationalize going against Kim’s wishes because he knew that, in the end, she would be protected and they would both get what they wanted. What he did not account for was the fact that, for Kim, the ends did not justify the means in this particular case. She’s been going along with his mess for quite some time now, and she’s now actively making her own messes alongside him, but the bedrock of all of it was trust between them, and that’s gone now.
So why, in her mind, are the only two options to break up or get married? My only guess is that she’s still yearning for that stability and, perhaps more importantly, the acceptance she never had growing up. Having unreliable and/or absentee parents makes a person grow up feeling like they weren’t good enough to be loved, like they were unwanted. Jimmy is the only person in the world that Kim can be her true and entire self around. Imagine being Kim and finally finding someone who can tease out that side of you that you’ve suppressed your entire life—the side that wants to be a little bad and get away with it. Now imagine giving that up and knowing you’ll never have it again with anyone else—that you’ll have to go back to playing it straight your entire life and yearning for something that you just can’t have. She can’t imagine her life without Jimmy now, and in a last-ditch effort to keep their relationship from going completely off the rails, marriage seems like her only option.
Of course, as a viewer, it’s an absolute trainwreck to behold. Marriage isn’t going to change Saul Goodman back into Jimmy McGill. It’s not going to make him trustworthy overnight. But to Kim, marriage (and maybe moving into that nice big house together) may signify stability and trust. Perhaps she thinks that the only way she can get Jimmy to remain loyal and trustworthy is to completely commit to him and have him completely commit to her. Or maybe she’s just no longer thinking at all.
Regardless, the ending of Better Call Saul S5E6 was a shocking cliffhanger and I still can’t entirely wrap my mind around it. I’m actually dreading what comes next, because if Kim can go through that experience and come out of it thinking that marrying this guy is the best way forward, things are going to get very complicated very quickly.