It may be surprising for nonviewers to learn that Better Call Saul, a prequel focused on the sleazy lawyer from Breaking Bad who advertised his services with these batshit commercials, is a front-runner for the saddest show on TV. But the series’ brain trust is devastatingly effective at mining pathos—so much so that the lawyer’s scenes from Breaking Bad no longer feel like comic relief, as initially intended, but a bleak look at a brash persona meant to mask the character’s internal pain. And in Better Call Saul’s fifth season, we’ve seen significant—and depressing—strides in Jimmy McGill’s devolution into Saul Goodman.
The opening sequence of the penultimate episode, “Bad Choice Road,” is cruel in the best possible way. It begins with a split-screen montage—that calls back to the cold open of Season 4’s “Something Stupid,” which showed how Jimmy and Kim Wexler slowly drifted apart over several months to a cover of C. Carson Parks’s “Somethin’ Stupid” by the band Lola Marsh. That montage was, even for a show that is the lord of montages, an all-timer. (For whatever reason, the scene isn’t on YouTube, but you can listen to the cover with the episode’s audio if you were really missing the sound of brushing teeth and cold-pressed juice; alternatively, the season is streaming on Netflix.) This time, though, we don’t see the characters’ daily routines, but rather Jimmy dragging his way out of the desert while Kim is worried sick at home. The clever juxtapositions are still there—Kim drinks a glass of water; Jimmy chugs enough of his own piss to make Bear Grylls proud—and the “Somethin’ Stupid” cover that plays over the scene sounds like it’s being delivered at 0.25 speed, with mournful humming in place of lyrics. Jimmy finally gets a signal so that he can call Kim, but even then we have to watch her break down and cry. You truly hate to see it.
Cocreators Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan have repeatedly admitted that they’ve delayed getting to the full Saul Goodman heel turn because they’ve grown to love Jimmy McGill so much—something that has fundamentally changed the series for the better. Ironically, that adoration for the character has prolonged Jimmy’s suffering. The same is true for Kim. Much like Breaking Bad pivoted from intending to kill off Jesse Pinkman in Season 1 to making him the conflicted moral center of the series, Kim has gone from a character meant to help flesh out Jimmy to Better Call Saul’s beating heart and MVP. (Also helping matters is Rhea Seehorn giving the single best performance on television.)
The affection for Kim is real; not just from everyone involved on the show, but Better Call Saul’s fandom. Seriously, Kim is so beloved that a superfan admitted to hacking our TV Character Bracket because the character lost in the first round to Parks and Recreation’s Ron Swanson, and because there are so many Kim zealots at The Ringer—myself included—some colleagues wondered whether the hack was an inside job. (I’ll never tell, your honor!) It’s easy to understand why Gould and Co. have made Kim such an integral part of the series—but again, the longer she’s a part of Better Call Saul, the more we’ll worry about the fallout. Now that Kim has officially crossed over to the gangland half of the series—confronting Lalo Salamanca in jail over Jimmy’s disappearance in last week’s episode—she’s in the game.
There is perhaps an underlying assumption that, for as crafty as she’s been as a part of the New Mexico legal scene, Kim would be outmatched in its criminal underworld. But the intense, somewhat gratifying events of “Bad Choice Road” recall the character’s best line, and the Kim Wexler mantra: “You don’t save me. I save me.”
While “Bagman,” the brutal, Vince Gilligan–directed desert odyssey, appeared to symbolize the end of Jimmy and the full emergence of Saul, our lawyer isn’t close to getting his mojo back in “Bad Choice Road.” The shoot-out has left Jimmy a husk of a person, understandably traumatized by his near-death experience. When Kim presses juice and a little bit of orange splatters on her clothes, his PTSD is triggered. And despite promising when they got married that he would never withhold the truth from Kim, Jimmy’s not exactly being forthcoming about what happened out in the desert—telling her that his Suzuki Esteem (RIP!) broke down and he had to walk the rest of the way back to civilization. Kim’s aware he’s lying because she found his thermos with a bullet hole straight through it. “I know something terrible happened in the desert,” she tells Jimmy, hoping he’ll come clean. But all Jimmy confesses to is the indignity of drinking his own urine.
But that isn’t the only lie Jimmy tries to maintain in “Bad Choice Road.” He also has to avoid arousing suspicion from Lalo that anything but car trouble in the middle of nowhere almost got in the way of his $7 million bail being posted. Lalo is nearly ready to head back to Mexico via the same desert road where everything went terribly wrong, but as he retraces Jimmy’s path and arrives where he claims the car crapped out, Lalo finds the Suzuki Esteem in a ditch with a bullet hole through it—enough for him to put a pause on his return to Mexico. If it were any other member of the seemingly endless Salamanca family, maybe Jimmy could’ve gotten away with it, but Lalo’s proved to be a wily and formidable foil on the series—Better Call Saul’s equivalent to Gus Fring who just so happens to be in a shadow war with the Los Pollos Hermanos owner.
When Lalo then shows up at Kim’s apartment to confront Jimmy, it’s maybe the single most excruciating sequence on the show to date. Tony Dalton does a terrific job switching from charming to menacing on a dime as Lalo refuses to let Jimmy off the hook—making him repeat the story again and again with more granular details. (Once again, Jimmy cops to drinking his pee.) On his best day, Jimmy would have a hard time covering up the truth, but this version of Jimmy, the hollowed-out person who came back from the desert, is unable to keep the lie going. Immediately, the worst comes to mind: We know Jimmy’s coming out of this to survive through Breaking Bad, so is Lalo going to shoot Kim to teach him a lesson? Or will Mike Ehrmantraut, who’s watching this unfold from a nearby rooftop with a sniper rifle, act quickly enough to save the day?
But Kim Wexler doesn’t need saving—better yet, she’s the one who saves Jimmy. “Seven million dollars of your money,” she says to Lalo. “He hauled it across a goddamn desert without one penny missing and he got you out of jail for a murder that, let’s face it, you’re definitely guilty of. He did everything you asked and went way beyond what any other lawyer would ever do, so what exactly is it that you’re getting at? What do you want?” My Ringer colleague Sean Yoo likes to use basketball metaphors to describe the character’s ridiculously good performances on Better Call Saul—this was Kim going for 81 points.
“Get your shit together and stop torturing the one man who went through hell to save your ass,” Kim concludes. If you floated “Kim shit-talks a Salamanca and gets him to leave her apartment” a couple of seasons ago, it would’ve come across like Kim Wexler fan fiction. (Which, for the record, I would read.) But all the time Better Call Saul has spent fleshing out Jimmy and Kim—and the reluctance to tear apart these characters who clearly aren’t together in Breaking Bad—makes this kind of revelation and god-tier heat check feel earned. Kim isn’t just a principled, hard-working lawyer: She might be a better Saul Goodman than Saul Goodman. It’s easy to envision a version of Kim—a Chaotic Good Saul, if you will—that uses these tactics to help the little guy.
And that is still the great unanswered question as this penultimate season wraps up next week: What will become of Kim? It seems that Lalo will be out of Jimmy and Kim’s hair for the rest of the series—this tense exchange is enough to explain Jimmy’s fear of the character in Breaking Bad. Jimmy and Kim have escaped Lalo’s wrath, but this episode still contained meaningful decisions that will have lingering effects, like Kim spontaneously quitting her job at Schweikart and Cokely after Jimmy came back from the desert. “We all make our own choices, and those choices, they put us on a road,” Mike tells Jimmy earlier in the episode, lending “Bad Choice Road” its title and what amounts to a Breaking Bad–universe thesis statement. “Sometimes those choices seem small, but they put you on the road. You think about getting off, but eventually you’re back on it. And the road we’re on led us out to the desert and everything that happened there and straight back to where we are right now. And nothing—nothing—can be done about that.”
For Jimmy, all roads lead to Saul Goodman—just as all roads lead to him and Mike crossing paths with Walter White. The thrill and anxiety of Kim Wexler is that we still don’t know where her bad choice road will lead—berating Lalo Salamanca into submission is another mark for what has been an unpredictable, gripping, GOAT-level character arc. The best we can hope for is that Kim avoids an early grave, but for a series in which all actions have karmic consequences, it could still mean she’s destined to meet a fate that isn’t much better than a Cinnabon.