The Case for Kim Wexler to Live
As Better Call Saul enters its sixth and final season, let’s explore the question imprinted on everyone’s mind: What happened to Kim?
The original concept for Better Call Saul was a half-hour comedy akin to Dr. Katz, in which legal problems would be explored with stand-up comics each week. It didn’t gel, and they soon pivoted to an hour—like Breaking Bad—but reversed the mix.
In Breaking Bad, 25% of the plot was comedy, 75% drama. Saul (Bob Odenkirk) would be more comedy than conflict. Still no Bueno. They eventually cracked the code with one question, “Who was Saul Goodman before he was Saul Goodman?” and an epic exploration of the character and conduct of Jimmy McGill was born.
No character cements that bridge from Jimmy McGill to Saul Goodman more than his ride-or-die confidante, Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), a supporting player not seen in the Breaking Bad universe.
And as Better Call Saul enters its sixth and final season, the question on everyone’s mind is: What happened to Kim?
As brilliant as creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have been, Better Call Saul was not planned while Breaking Bad was conceived. Given her absence, some speculate the most logical explanation is that she met a violent end by living in an increasingly violent world.
However, just because Kim Wexler doesn’t appear on Breaking Bad doesn’t mean her death makes narrative sense. Simply put, she doesn’t deserve to die.
Yes, some of our favorite characters are killed off, and it’s often shocking. But their death is either personally earned or sacrificed for the growth of another character.
Take Pulp Fiction. The film introduces us to Jules Winnfield (Samuel L Jackson) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta), two hitmen. While they kill people, they’re charming and seem not to take pleasure in others’ suffering—it’s just a job. They discuss how ruthless their boss is for tossing a man off the roof for a minor transgression to drive home this point. They have standards.
A seminal event where they survive a spray of bullets makes Jules realize it’s a sign for him to leave the killing business behind. Vincent laughs it off. In the end, Vincent dies and Jules lives. Both have done bad deeds, but Jackson has a transformative moment. For him to grow and evolve and then get killed would feel wrong. We may adore Vincent (and we do), but we also feel his fate is earned by his actions and lack of remorse.
Sometimes, a character’s own weaknesses create situations in which they’re powerless to defend themselves, and the world around them is too formidable for them to handle. Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) in Brokeback Mountain and Adriana La Cerva (Drea De Matteo) in The Sopranos come to mind.
For Jack, being openly gay in 1960’s cowboy culture wasn’t possible. As a result of his unfulfilled desire for both the love of Ennis and lust for other men, he engages in risky behavior. His death is tragic but inevitable. A happy ending would not have been a truthful ending.
Adriana’s complicity in living in a criminal world and enabling/loving an addict was always destined for tragedy. Once Adriana cooperated with the FBI, her fate was sealed. Her death was an essential reminder that the only thing more important than family in this world was loyalty.
In contrast, Kim Wexler occasionally is the match-to-the-flame that ignites Jimmy’s ill-advised instincts, but she would never betray him. And, although she has engaged in risky behavior and grifter games as Giselle to his Viktor, the check attained is never cashed. She may target someone like Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) for embarrassment and professional ruin, but only if she feels you earned that humiliation and need to be brought down a peg.
Conversely, her true nature is to lend a hand to those in need. Weakness in the face of adversity is not her style. She stands up to Lalo (Tony Dalton) when he threatens Jimmy. She stands up for what she wants when, at her emotional breaking point and on the brink of ending their relationship, she pivots to a marriage proposal. She’s a freaking superhero. And you don’t kill Batman.
But what about characters that don’t deserve to die? There are good, decent people that have only brought joy and healing to the main protagonist. Characters such as Rita (Julie Benz) from Dexter or Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) from Titanic. Why are their deaths, although appalling, accepted? They embody the sacrificial lamb.
In Dexter, Rita’s murder was the only way to demonstrate how the Trinity Killer (John Lithgow) was able to one-up Dexter (Michael C. Hall), even after he was killed. It also galvanized the series to continue. A domesticated Dexter is not a threat and since we’d never want to see Dexter himself harm her, she was taken from him to keep the conflict alive.
In Titanic, Rose’s (Kate Winslet) journey isn’t to escape the servitude of an impending inharmonious marriage by falling in love with another. Yes, she is in love with Jack and it’s through their affair, she finds the courage to end the strained relationship. However, the real lesson is that she can go on by herself and have a long, meaningful life.
Kim Wexler is a lion, not a sacrificial lamb. It’s precisely the humanizing qualities she brings to Jimmy/Saul that fuels his growth. Getting the girl would not diminish his sociological agency. To paraphrase Jerry McGuire, she completes him.
If killing off Kim Wexler makes no narrative sense, what does? There are many possibilities that could pay off the promise of Gould and Gilligan’s beautiful setup. A Shawshank Redemption type ending? Where Jimmy and Kim played the long game and stayed apart during the Breaking Bad period, always intending to be reunited when things get less hot.
Perhaps Ed Galbraith (the late Robert Forester) makes her disappear into a new life due to the cartel becoming a threat to her life. Or is Kim always a shadow figure through the Breaking Bad years, unseen on camera, but the silent partner behind Ice Station Zebra Associates?
Whatever her fate, the final season will flesh out her character in unexpected ways. Producer Gould teased, “You will learn more about Kim’s life before we met her this season. There may be some clues about where her head is really at.” All this implies that Kim is even more enigmatic and compelling a character than was explored in the first five seasons.
So buckle up—it’s hard to imagine Gould and Gilligan have not put Wexler in the narrative driver’s seat. With the stunning, nuanced performance that Rhea Seehorn consistently delivers, it’s bound to be a glorious, bumpy ride.
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Cover image via AMC.
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