Photo Credit: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television
We now had two cold openings from Better call Saul this throwback to young Kim Wexler and her mother, and together they tell a story. The first was last season when a teenage girl, Kim, was a middle school student in Nebraska and waited outside the school with her cello after band rehearsal. It’s dark outside and nobody else is around, so it’s clear that her mother is hours late, not minutes. When she finally shows up at the Junker, Kim scrutinizes her intensely, realizing she’s been drinking, and refusing to get in the car. She would rather lug the school band’s unwieldy instrument all the way home than obey her mother, who scolds her for never listening. She is stubborn but principled.
This week begins with young Kim in the manager’s office of a department store who was caught trying to steal a necklace and a pair of earrings. This time, her mother puts on an incredible feat on behalf of the manager, pouring out the theatrical disappointment and threatening to allow the store to call the police to “nip it in the bud.” Kim takes the fake abuse and advice from the manager telling her not to disappoint such a good mother again. But her mom doesn’t even make it back to the car before laughing at the whole exchange, and she’s rewarded for Kim’s initiative by pulling the chain she wanted. “I didn’t know you had it in you,” she says with an incredulous grin.
“I Didn’t Know You Had It” is the perfect summary of Kim as a character who is never quite what we expect her to be. Capable of setting firm moral boundaries, her humble background as the child of a single mother who was displaced from apartment to apartment has made her a staunch champion of the little man in a legal system used against her . But she’s also Jimmy McGill’s wife, who proposed to him after she became the victim of one of his scams against her own client, Mesa Verde. As season six has unfolded, we think we’re seeing the beginning of the end for Kim and Jimmy’s relationship because we know it’s a heartbreaking inevitability. Still, she hasn’t budged from her commitment to the long scam to undermine Howard and bring an accelerated end to the Sandpiper trial. It always seems like she doesn’t have it in her, but she has it.
In another carefully planned hour before next week’s semi-season finale, the pieces come together for a “D-Day” confrontation on two major fronts. Back in Germany, Lalo has finally tracked down one of Werner Ziegler’s men after going to incredible lengths to get information from his widow about what the Germans were doing in New Mexico. The scene seems to play out hilariously as Scatman Crother’s arc in The glow, when the Crothers caretaker receives a telepathic distress signal from a child and travels hundreds of miles (the last few through a snowstorm) to a mountaintop hotel resort, only to be murdered with an axe. Certainly the makers of Better call Saul had exactly this scenario in mind when Lalo pulls off his ruse against the German and gains the upper hand. Now he learns that Gus intends to cut the middle man out of his meth business.
Meanwhile, the wait for Lalo in Albuquerque continues and takes on a more poignant dimension. After last week determining how far Gus will protect himself from an inevitable attack from a cunning opponent, this week’s focus is on Mike protecting his own. Gus is apparently unhappy that Mike has pulled security from his own home and is being proposed to transfer men off Alameda Street, but Mike won’t hear about it. That’s where Stacey and Kaylee, his daughter-in-law and granddaughter, live, and there’s a notable sequence where Mike watches them through binoculars while Kaylee watches the stars through a telescope in the garden. He has told them he is in Chattanooga on business, but he is on the phone with them sincerely in his grandfatherly affection. It’s a reminder of the difference between his criminal record and Walter White’s breaking Bad: Both men talked about doing it for their families, but Mike meant business. Lalo won’t reach her even if he does reach him.
As “D-Day” approaches for the Howard Plan, the show offers more pieces of the puzzle without revealing the bigger picture. It’s not for nothing that Kim and Jimmy’s board of sticky notes at home resembles something you’d find in a writer’s room or film production office, whether it’s a shot list, storyboards, or plot points to be written later. This week’s plays reinforce the notion that Howard’s hiring of a private investigator is in some way jeopardizing the operation. But on the contrary. There will be a cash swap between Jimmy and an actor playing the Sandpiper judge. There are also some deals with the operator’s call line and a drug (obtained from a veterinarian with ties to the black market) that changes a person’s complexion. But when Jimmy runs into the real judge in a liquor store and discovers he has a cast on his right arm, the entire plan is thrown up in the air – which, if this is an allegory for film and television productions, also happens to the script, when conditions go wrong on a shoot.
Which brings us back to Kim. When she heads to Santa Fe for an important meeting to secure funding for her important defense work, Jimmy breaks her the news about the judge and says they have to start over. Kim refuses to accept that. The choice for her couldn’t be more stark: what part of herself does she prioritize? The woman who wants to practice the right law? Or the one who has an I-didn’t-think-you-want-to-do-it-in-your-scheme?
It exceeds the median of no return.
• Outstanding needle drop on the opener with Duran Duran’s great 1983 single “The Reflex”. There’s plenty of substance in the lyrics if you’re looking for connections to Kim’s impulsiveness at this moment (“Every little thing the reflex does/ Leaves you answered with a question mark”), but the song still kicks ass. (I remember as a kid being struck by the effect of a waterfall cascading down from a JumboTron screen at the 3:22 mark in the video, but let’s say digital technology has progressed a bit since then.)
• Does Howard hate the series as much as Kim and Jimmy? This early scene with his wife seems to suggest it. The two are on the run, but Howard works miserably as a barista at home anyway, artfully creating a cappuccino that his wife pours from the drip into a mug like a Sanka. His comically vague warning about Jimmy (“It’s possible you’ll hear or see something. I can’t tell what.) makes little impression.
• A vacuum card of the best quality! I try not to get upset breaking Bad Easter eggs, but as a fan of the late Robert Forster and his performance in the final episodes of that show, the reference landed hard.
• Put a needle in this exchange between Kim and Jimmy about the vet saying he “can’t wait to get through all of this.” The “all this” isn’t his vet work, which he loves, but the black book business that Jimmy speculates must make him a fortune. “He knows what he wants,” says Kim. Does she?
• The cut from Kim and Jimmy excitedly discussing their Santa Fe meeting to the violently falling ax in Germany? This, folks, is cinema.
https://www.vulture.com/article/better-call-saul-season-6-ep-6-recap-axe-and-grind.html “Better Call Saul” Season 6 Ep. 6 Synopsis: Ax and Grind