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Jimmy McGill Hits Rock Bottom As ‘Better Call Saul’ Nears the End

With the series finale on the horizon, Jimmy McGill continues down a path of self-destruction—while Kim Wexler starts on the long, difficult road to redemption

AMC/Ringer illustration
Spoiler warning

When Carol Burnett was announced as a guest star toward the end of Better Call Saul, it was hard to imagine what the role would entail. Initially, her appearance seemed like nothing more than a clever bit of stunt casting. (If Carol Burnett says she’s a fan of your show, you do everything in your power to put her on it.) Burnett’s character, Marion, appears late in the game with seemingly little consequence outside of reminding viewers that the man once known as Jimmy McGill has a warm rapport with the elderly. But as it turns out, you don’t employ a television legend just to have her sit back to watch cat videos on a laptop: You get her to blow up the Gene Takovic alias and once again send Saul Goodman on the run.

Ever since his cryptic phone call with Kim Wexler in Better Call Saul’s antepenultimate episode, Gene has been uncharacteristically reckless with his new identity theft scam, culminating in the ill-fated decision to break into a man’s home. Instead of redeeming himself after years of misdeeds in Albuquerque, Gene has doubled down on his worst impulses—the fact that he’s in obvious pain from whatever was said over the phone with his ex-wife doesn’t make his behavior any less repulsive. Conversely, Kim has been trying to clear her conscience since the events of Better Call Saul’s prequel timeline led to Howard Hamlin’s death. And while Kim’s approach feels more like self-inflicted torture than actual penance in Monday night’s penultimate episode, “Waterworks,” the show could be setting her up for genuine atonement at Gene’s expense in next week’s series finale.

After she was off screen for a couple of episodes, “Waterworks” picks up with Kim living her new life in Titusville, Florida. It’s a sad state of affairs: She’s got a dopey boyfriend, an uninspiring job at a sprinkler company, and an entirely new look that’s the antithesis of the woman we knew in Albuquerque. (Gone are the ponytail and the high heels; in their place are bangs and knee-length denim skirts.) In this new status quo, it’s as if Kim is trying to ensure she’s free of any possible temptations, even if it means the rest of her existence is effectively on autopilot. Perhaps the saddest little detail is when her boyfriend is watching The Amazing Race on TV while she works on a colorless puzzle: a tiny reprieve to keep her brain stimulated amid all the banality she’s surrounded herself with.

Kim’s new life was upended when Gene called her from a payphone in last week’s episode, and now we get to hear what was actually said during their conversation. It’s not exactly a warm reunion: Gene is mostly gloating that he hasn’t been caught, not so subtly reminding her that she used to be in league with a monster. But eventually Kim begins to speak up and the conversation takes a real turn for the worse. “You should turn yourself in,” Kim says, prompting Gene to berate her for trying to absolve her guilt by moving to Florida instead of heeding her own advice. In the moment, all Gene is trying to do is twist the knife against the woman he once loved—and probably still loves, given his theatrics—but Kim takes those words to heart and heads back to Albuquerque.

As Kim returns to her old stomping grounds at the courthouse, signs of the changing times are all around her. The parking lot attendant—Mike Ehrmantraut’s job in the early days of the series—has been replaced with an automated machine, and she spots a new lawyer with a familiar-looking ponytail giving a pep talk to her client ahead of a hearing. It doesn’t take long for the audience to be clued into Kim’s motives: After going to the courthouse, she meets with Howard’s widow, Cheryl, and presents her with an affidavit revealing what really happened to her husband.

Kim has taken the long-overdue step of professing her guilt to Cheryl, but the problem is that the affidavit can do only so much. There’s no physical evidence to support her statement—Kim has no idea where Howard was even buried—and potential witnesses like Mike, Gus Fring, and Lalo Salamanca are all dead. Essentially, there wouldn’t be any legal ramifications to Kim’s confession—unless she can rope in her ex-husband as a witness. That sets up the tantalizing possibility of Kim working to bring down Jimmy-cum-Saul-cum-Gene in the series finale, forcing him to face the consequences of his actions after a lifetime of ignoring them. Given the weight of what she’s prepared to do, and all the steps that have led her to this moment, the typically steely Kim has an emotional breakdown on a shuttle bus. It’s a devastating scene—the titular waterworks of the episode—and a series highlight for Rhea Seehorn, who continues to give one of the greatest small-screen performances of the century. (If Seehorn doesn’t win an Emmy in the next two years, we riot.)

But while Kim has started on the long and difficult road to redemption, Gene remains on a path of self-destruction. After breaking into the cancer-stricken man’s home to steal his personal information—the man is, miraculously, still asleep hours after drinking a combination of booze and sedative-laced water—Gene casually takes his time without any worry of repercussions. He told his accomplice, Jeff, to circle back with the cab in 20 minutes, but Gene takes even longer going through the man’s personal effects on the second floor, swiping a trio of fancy watches. (The whole point of the identity theft scheme is that the victims have no idea anybody has entered their home; Gene is already flouting his own rules.) It’s only fitting, then, that the man wakes up to sit on the foot of the stairs and groggily browse his phone. In Gene’s mind, his only recourse is to find an object to knock out the guy with. He ends up settling on an urn dedicated to the man’s late dog.

The sight of Gene preparing to smash a guy’s head in with his own urn—a man with cancer, no less—is arguably the lowest he’s ever stooped on the show. Thankfully, the man nods off again before Gene does the deed, but he doesn’t have quite the same luck with Jeff waiting for him outside. As Jeff idles in the cab, a cop car pulls up behind him. Knowing that he and Gene are in the midst of a robbery, Jeff begins to freak out. Incredibly, the cops had merely pulled over to have a meal and couldn’t have cared less about the cab—until Jeff tries to make a quick escape and immediately crashes into a parked SUV. It’s the easiest arrest the cops will make all year.

Jeff’s self-own does allow Gene to sneak out of the house and take a bus back to his place, where he awaits a phone call from his clumsy accomplice. It’s here that Gene’s legal background proves handy, as Jeff was arrested on suspicion that he committed a home robbery. (Amid all the commotion outside, apparently the man woke up again and discovered that someone had broken into his home.) But without physical evidence that Jeff stole anything, Gene assures him that he can get out on bail. All Gene needs to do is call Marion and get Jeff’s mother up to speed.

In her previous appearances, Marion lamented that her son fell in with a bad crowd when he lived in Albuquerque—so even as Gene insists that Jeff did nothing wrong, she assumes the worst. Perhaps sensing that history is repeating itself, she uses that new laptop of hers to execute a three-word search on Ask Jeeves: “con man Albuquerque.” (Since we can no longer ask Jeeves anything, this turn of events was downright nostalgic.) Sure enough, the SEO Gods gift her with a familiar sight: old Saul Goodman commercials featuring a huckster who looks a lot like Jeff’s new pal. By the time Gene arrives at Marion’s home to take her to the station, she’s already put all the pieces together. The only step remaining is to get the authorities up to speed.

Gene being felled by an old woman feels appropriate, considering Jimmy’s legal practice originally attracted Albuquerque’s senior citizens. Even though he had some of his conman DNA when working with the elderly, it seemed like Jimmy had a real connection with some of his clients—going so far as to back out of a cushy Sandpiper Crossing payday early in the series because it meant sweet Irene Landry would be iced out by the rest of her retirement community. But there is none of the old Jimmy present as Gene corners Marion in her kitchen, tearing the phone line from the wall and wrapping the cord around his hands. Make no mistake, Gene is preparing to murder American icon Carol Burnett—sorry, Marion—to protect himself.

Thankfully, Gene stops himself from crossing that ethical line at the last moment, which provides Marion an opening to trigger her Life Alert fob to call police to her home. (She also outs the intruder in her home as one Saul Goodman.) But Gene not strangling an old lady with a phone cord is hardly a consolation. Throughout “Waterworks,” we see the true depths of the character’s depravity, whether it’s his callous treatment of Kim in the midst of signing divorce papers during the Breaking Bad timeline—a sequence that leads to her giving a cigarette to one Jesse Pinkman outside Saul’s law office—or the way he cruelly chastises his guilt-stricken ex-wife in the present.

After Walter White’s ugly transformation into Heisenberg in Breaking Bad, there was hope that Jimmy McGill could atone for his actions in Better Call Saul—if only because the series established from the very first episode that he was living under a new identity in Nebraska. But as we approach the series finale, it’s become increasingly clear that, much like Walt, Jimmy is beyond saving. The Saul mask he once wore to get over the pain of losing Kim is all that remains. But even if Jimmy doesn’t want to face the music, Kim could still force his hand. With Jimmy and Kim on opposite sides of the law, we’ll soon find out which way the scales of justice ultimately tip.