Why ‘Better Call Saul’ is One of the Most Feminist Shows on Television

Why 'Better Call Saul' is One of the Most Feminist Shows on Television

“You don’t save me. I save me.”

After more than a season of development via brief, intriguing glimpses, Rhea Seehorn’s Kim Wexler had her first spotlight episode this week on “Better Call Saul.” Watching Kim hustle her way out of the professional hole she’d dug for herself, in exactly the kind of jauntily-scored montage of phone calls we’ve seen so often from the show’s titular hero, clarified what makes this character so quietly unusual.

READ MORE: Review: ‘Better Call Saul’ Season 2 Episode 5, ‘Rebecca’ Gives Kim the Spotlight

Vouching for Jimmy at Davis & Main has come back to bite Kim just as we — and probably she — knew it would. As of Episode 5, “Rebecca,” she’s spent weeks relegated to endless grunt work in the Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill basement, the same punishment Howard meted out to her after she lost the Kettlemans last season.

It’s patently unfair treatment, and when Jimmy comes roaring up to the HHM parking lot in his Mercedes at midnight, there’s a moment where you’ll feel the impulse to cheer. We want him to bust Kim out of that miserable basement with some kind of trademark Slippin’ Jimmy masterplan, if only because watching her kick off her heels and keep on working after even the junior associates have left is just so depressing. But Kim is not a princess, and HHM is not a tower, and this is not a story about getting rescued.

Ever since her first moments in “Better Call Saul” — that atmospheric, largely silent smoke break with Jimmy — Kim’s been tangibly more than a love interest. Little is revealed about her past, except that she and Jimmy started out in the mailroom together at a similarly late age, and she got picked for the career fast-track where he didn’t. She shares his scrappy moxie, his ambition, his work ethic, but not his moral flexibility or eagerness to cut corners.

Here’s something about Kim that shouldn’t be remarkable, but is: Since her introduction, there have been precisely zero moments of screen time devoted to the fact that she is single, childless, and unconcerned by her biological clock. As a general rule, a thirty- or forty-something woman on screen is allowed to be single only if she’s unhappy about it, or else if she’s an icy, withholding career woman who’s sacrificed everything for her work. Kim is neither.

In “Rebecca,” Kim is working her ass off. She’s not trying to wiggle out of the work Hamlin has assigned her — she’s pulling 20-hour days down in that terrible basement — but she’s also smart enough to know that there’s a way out of any corner. And so she hustles. She hits up every contact she’s made over the past year, making cold calls all around town trying to drum up new business for HHM, and these two montages really are deliberately cut just like Jimmy’s from last season.

Because in many ways, Kim this season is Jimmy from last season. Where Jimmy has walked right into a partner track gig at Davis & Main, Kim is still uncertain of her future at HHM. She’s like Jimmy in Season 1’s “Rico,” facing down a haystack of shredded Sandpiper documents and piecing them back together one by one, tackling an impossible task one step at a time — and then getting slapped in the face for her hard work.

Hamlin sending Kim back to doc review after she brought in the bank contract has the same sting as Hamlin refusing to make Jimmy a partner after he brought in Sandpiper. “Better Call Saul” is the definition of a feminist show in this regard — though it’s named after its male lead, the plight of its female lead is treated with all of the same style, precision and nuance.

Kim’s treatment on “Better Call Saul” stands in direct contrast to what’s commonly known as “the Skyler White problem.” Much of the now-infamous fan backlash against Walter White’s wife in “Breaking Bad” during the show’s last seasons was flat-out misogyny, particularly as the show progressed and she so clearly became the lesser of two evils. But some of it was a legitimate response to the way in which Skyler was portrayed, deliberately or otherwise, as an emasculating wife to a downtrodden husband.

Both of “Breaking Bad’s” major female characters were wives, defined in relation to their husbands rather than their own careers or ambitions, and it’s significant that Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan steered in the opposite direction with “Better Call Saul.” Saul Goodman has at least two ex-wives, and it would have been easy to start out “Better Call Saul” with Jimmy married to one of them. Instead we have Kim, who is many things to Jimmy, but certainly not his wife.

Their relationship is all the richer for not being defined, and so clearly rooted in deep mutual respect and love that it’s almost unbearable to think about their inevitably rough future. But whatever circumstances lead to Kim being out of the picture by the time Saul Goodman’s operating in 2009, we can rest assured that she’s not about to be vilified, or sidelined, or fridged for the sake of motivating Jimmy.

Kim is the hero of her own story, not a supporting character in Jimmy’s, and as the show gets bleaker she may end up being our ray of light, the hopeful contrast to Jimmy’s moral decline. She has all of his best qualities — scrappy, smart, charismatic, ferociously driven — without his essential weakness, and she can succeed where we know he will fail. “Better Call Saul” is doing a lot of unusual things exceptionally well, not least of them successfully expanding the universe of a show as revered as “Breaking Bad.” And as a wholly original creation, Kim Wexler is one of its greatest triumphs.

“Better Call Saul” airs Mondays at 10pm on AMC.

READ MORE: ‘Better Call Saul’ Star Rhea Seehorn On What Exactly Is Going on With Kim and Jimmy In Season 2

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Comments

Fan of Both Shows

Just stop with the reflexive ”misogyny” slag. Breaking Bad, having killed Tuco far too early, was veering into boring domestic drama in Season 2. The writers were fumbling it. And they were hacks when it came to developing Skyler into anthing more than Walter’s scold. That’s a legitimate criticism of the show and has nothing to do with gender and esp nothing to do with Anna Gunn’s portrayal of the character.
The magic of Kim Wexler is the writers have created a fully formed female character, strong in her own right and an excellent counter-point to Jimmy. As a bonus, she is brought to life by an actor in Rhea Seehorn who can express layers of emotion with the movement of her eyes.
If this is a just world, Seehorn will one day headline her own show. She’s mesmerizing,

Tex Wyn

Please give us more Mike, Jimmy, and Nacho –and less of the Kim Wexler show! I was so excited to see how great S1 of BCS turned out to be. Drinks on me, well done. But was concerned that it would lose focus and become centered on pushing social ideals down our throats as happens to so many series.
Specifically, that the writers/producers would succumb to what’s fashionably chic of late and let a ‘feminist focus’ seep into this once promising show. Sure enough, this season all eyes are increasingly on Kim (sigh)…and Jimmy doing all he can to gain her approval, not make her mad and otherwise be subservient to her wishes–YAWN.

This is a show about the journey of JIMMY INTO SAUL, not Kim. If the producers/writers want a Kim Wexler show, featuring her in all her heroic-ness, then by golly MAKE ONE. But dang it, don’t hijack BCS to explore feminist tropes of strong women putting men in their place, etc…ug, just no.

But hey, who are we to argue with producers who seem hell bent on letting the BCS train jump the tracks. I don’t watch BCS to see wimmins empowered, I watch BCS for Bob and Mike’s amazing talent, stunning directors, and writers who make me wish I was doing what they do…and the entertainment that ensues. Please get back to that. ~and I thankyakindly.

Mark

Only 13 y.o. and dudebros use the word "feminazi"

Woman

Omg, stop, you’re just making the character seem worse (Even though I really like her). If a movie/ tv series has a strong female character it doesn’t mean that it’s automatically a feminist movie/series. It’s not like if some kind of movie has a joke in it, it is automatically comedy…

MxB

Just because a female has a lead role in a show you cal it a feminist show? Stupid. Also Wrong. It’s not a feminist show.. yeesh.

Dakota Perry

Just because the show has a female lead, it doesn’t make it feminist. Stop pushing your ridiculous propaganda.

Lolita

Fred,I agree with you. I love BCS but Season 2, Show 5 was terrible. Not only was it very slow moving but the whole show looked like they forgot to pay the electric bill. I hate it when lighting is so poor you can hardly make out what is going on.

Equality

This is an article made by a crying girl

JC

As a woman, I’m getting annoyed that any good female character we see in movies/films is automatically contributed toward feminism: it’s not. It’s called good character development and allowing the story to unfold in an organic sense. When you force a misogyny view in the story, you get a film from the 80s starring some beefy guy saving a damsel-in-distress who rewards him with a blowjob. However, by that same token, when you force feminism into a story, you get PC-material like the Ghostbusters reboot. But what happens when you let the story speak for itself and let the characters play off each other? You get Aliens, Working Girl, Elizabeth, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, X-Files, Better Call Saul, etc.

These stories (and their respective writers) have one thing in common: they put character and story first – not gender politics. That, to me, is a more honest approach toward gender equality. Rather than isolate female characters and treat them as pure magical unicorns, these stories compel us to appreciate them as individuals with little regard to what’s between their legs.

The entire point on gender equality is for everyone to stand on equal footing – not to separate us from ‘them’. Unfortunately, this article takes on an ‘us versus them’ approach.

You’ve putt Kim on high a pedestal without even acknowledge her OWN flaws. She’s stubborn. She’s heavily concerned with her reputation and how others perceive her. She’s a work-alcoholic. And when she learns about Jimmy’s unethical ways, she turns the other cheek. All of these flaws. But all of these flaws make her human. Why is this important to mention? Because as much as feminism-thought demands gender equality, it still has this terrible tendency to treat female characters as the other – typically as God-like characters who can do no wrong (as if the very notion of ‘flaws’ will belittle our gender). But it won’t. It’ll only bring us closer to our male counterparts and demonstrate we all share the same things in common – no matter gender.

John Gallen

On the contrary; I’ve the majority of female characters on BCS (not to mention BB) one-dimensional and annoying.

Otectus

Only feminazis use the term ‘misogyny’.

Fred C Dobbs

That’s all very nice. And they’ve done a terrific job in getting us to all care about the characters and what happens to them. However, this episode really dragged. At one extreme, the Kim-fighting-her-way-out-of-the-basement theme could have been too perfunctory. But This was pulling teeth. There were 5 minutes of plot in 45 minutes of time. in the interest of good theatre, it could have been stretched to 15 minutes. But not 45. Almost unwatchable.

jfm

Love this character, and Rhea never hits a false note. Knowing that she and Jimmy are doomed is quietly heartbreaking.

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