One of the stranger pleasures of the Better Call Saul universe is how much cocreators Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan care about the tiny details that other shows would likely leave unexplored or unexplained. It’s not enough just to know that Gus Fring’s meth empire is hidden within a fast food chain—we see exactly what it takes to run the joint. We also see the effort required to practice law while fighting for the little guy, and the mundane life of a parking lot attendant (which is what Mike Ehrmantraut did before he became a full-time Fring employee for, ahem, his other business). All these explorations of less explosive occupations add up to make Better Call Saul feel like a real, lived-in world, full of characters who you think would still go about their lives if the cameras weren’t fixed on them.
But what if the camera was watching these characters and they had to perform for it? What would we see? Yes, this is a TV show—please don’t mistake me for a total doofus—but there is a meta element to Better Call Saul that exists, of all places, on AMC’s YouTube channel. In addition to the usual things you’d find on a cable network’s YouTube channel—clips from the respective shows, trailers, previews, behind-the-scenes featurettes with casts and crew—Better Call Saul has repeatedly released videos that seem to expand its universe past the meticulously detailed boundaries of the show itself. Take, for instance, the series of winking videos released during the third season, where Giancarlo Esposito’s Gus Fring leads some Los Pollos Hermanos employee training videos.
The best part is that these videos wouldn’t feel out of place in the Better Call Saul universe; it feels totally plausible that Los Pollos Hermanos employees would actually have to sit through these videos before working for a secret drug lord for minimum wage. But then, in one of the videos, Fring does something he would never actually do in-universe: He talks about not getting distracted at work by things like your “side business,” as a graphic pops up with test tubes and cash:
Similar Better Call Saul videos have become a mainstay on AMC’s YouTube channel when the series is on air; the Season 5 videos have characters from the show doing “how to” tutorials—along with a recurring “Ethics Training” series led by Rhea Seehorn’s Kim Wexler and “produced” by Saul Goodman Productions. The effect of these videos is oddly surreal—true enough to the characters to feel like Better Call Saul canon, but with enough knowing humor that it isn’t. Not that it matters; they’re really fun to watch even if they aren’t actually part of the show’s story.
There is something oddly soothing about watching Tony Dalton’s Lalo Salamanca—the latest and most interesting member of the seemingly endless Salamanca family—telling you how to make a good carne asada taco, or Fring doling out steps on how to best iron a shirt, or Nacho Varga’s tips for spotting counterfeit money. While watching these videos, I find myself trusting these three characters’ tips because it feels intrinsic to their behavior. I definitely want Lalo’s taco advice, since, when he isn’t conspiring to take down Fring’s empire, he’s often seen preparing something in a kitchen that passes the eye test. (The “eye test” being “things I would like to put in my stomach, post-haste.”)
But the best of the bunch are Kim’s “Ethics Training” videos and other legal-adjacent pieces of content, which have included appearances from Patrick Fabian’s Howard Hamlin and Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman. They’re impressive showcases for the performers, who understand how their characters would act if they knew they were in front of a camera. It makes sense that Howard is the most natural lawyer on camera given his usual corporate facade, or how Kim feels awkward and stilted, or how Saul hams it up with a very [clears throat] liberal interpretation of things like jury duty.
The weekly “Ethics Training” videos are also beginning to feel like a tragedy playing out in slow-motion for one of the saddest shows on TV. The longer the excellent fifth season goes on, the more Kim Wexler compromises her own morals—she’s heading down a slippery slope, or perhaps Saul Goodman is dragging her down with him. By the time the penultimate season wraps up, these “Ethics Training” videos might be hard to revisit; an ironic and tragic reminder of a time when Kim’s moral compass was still pointing north.
At least we’ll always have the tutorial for Lalo’s tasty tacos.
Kim Wexler Anxiety Watch
Wondering whether I’m worried about Kim Wexler is the same as asking whether a bear shits in the woods: The answer is yes, always. My Kim Anxiety Levels have been high for the entire fifth season, particularly now that Jimmy has fully embraced Saul Goodman and his questionable clientele. But Monday night’s fifth episode, “Dedicado a Max,” ratchets things up to a new extreme because, in a shocking turn of events, Saul started acting as the voice of reason in his and Kim’s relationship.
Kim is committed to preventing her client, Mesa Verde, from kicking a man off his property in Tucumcari, New Mexico, so that the company can build a new call center—going so far as to have Saul enlist him as a client as subterfuge. The dynamic between the stubborn old man and Mesa Verde represents the two sides of Kim’s professional career: the desire to stick up for the kind of people who don’t otherwise have a voice, and the type of well-paying corporate client-work that allows Kim to pursue pro bono cases on the side. (In an added wrinkle, the company bought the land where the old dude’s house is; they’re legally within their right to begin construction.)
Bless Saul Goodman, who in “Dedicado a Max” finds increasingly creative ways to delay the construction team from evicting the old guy and tearing down his property. Here are some of the ridiculous things he does to stop Mesa Verse’s call center in its tracks: putting fake mail in the house’s mailbox and claiming the construction company has the wrong house number for the address; burying pottery shards to bolster a bogus claim that necessitates an archaeological survey; claiming that the head contractor is an escaped felon; leaking (very light) radioactive dust from smoke detectors at the front of the property; spray-painting Jesus’s face on the side of the house and bringing hordes of Christians who believe it to be some kind of miracle on the property. Whatever the old man is paying Saul, he’s getting his money’s worth.
Kim assumes this will be enough to convince Mesa Verde’s chief executive, Kevin Wachtell (a delightfully sneery Rex Linn), to move the call center to a different location that wouldn’t require evicting anybody and causing a PR firestorm. Alas, Kevin’s ego won’t allow him to let the old man “win” in this dispute—he’s adamant Saul will run out of delay tactics and the company will soon be able to begin construction. (Yes, Kevin also knows that Kim and Saul/Jimmy are in a relationship, but is too vain to believe this would be a conflict of interest, or that the two of them are conspiring against him and Mesa Verde.)
But Saul admits this should be the end of the line—Kim went above and beyond to help this man she barely knows, and the longer they keep this going the more she risks getting in serious trouble, like being accused of malfeasance. But Kim doesn’t seem driven by the greater good in this conflict as much as sticking it to a person and corporate entity she despises—she’s not being driven by the same morality that guides what we’ve seen from her pro bono work. The longer this keeps going—and the more her own employer tries to diplomatically take her off the Mesa Verde case, perhaps knowing that she and Jimmy are trying to scam the company together—the more risk there is that Kim’s entire life implodes.
You hate to see it. Better Call Saul’s own braintrust has talked about Kim Wexler in rather depressing terms, and we know that something bad happening to her is as much a foregone conclusion as Mike working for Gus Fring, or Saul becoming New Mexico’s best criminal lawyer. Perhaps the biggest tragedy is knowing that, for as much as Saul’s shady behavior can bring out the worst in Kim, much of what she’s been doing this season is also self-inflicted. It’s time for Kim to heed her own advice from those “Ethics Training” videos before it’s too late.