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‘Better Call Saul’ Review: ‘Waterworks’ Is an Hour-Long Case Study in Knowing Where to Leave Off

The last deep breath before the series finale, this hour written and directed by Vince Gilligan is filled with plenty of its own crucial, devastating goodbyes.

Bob Odenkirk as Gene - Better Call Saul _ Season 6, Episode 12 - Photo Credit: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

“Better Call Saul”

Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Better Call Saul” Season 6, Episode 12, “Waterworks.”]

On the surface, knowing what you can live with and what you can walk away from feel like connected ideas. In hindsight, that combination is a big part of what kept Kim and Jimmy together for most of “Better Call Saul.” Matching acceptance and satisfaction made them an effective team, regardless of their intentions. Whether by persuasion or coercion, they were two characters joined by a common understanding of what was worth it, to them. They fueled each other’s pursuits, even the parts that they couldn’t share. One key difference only became clear when they split: Kim’s way was heading out, while Jimmy’s was heading through. One of his primary means of transformation into Saul (Bob Odenkirk) was his insistence on standing alone. In “Waterworks,” he gets his wish.

But not before finally catching up with Kim (Rhea Seehorn), who reappears after a two-episode absence. Before writer/director Vince Gilligan offers up the other side of the phone call that drove Saul into a rage-fueled morality spiral, he presents a modest few days of the life of Floridian Kim Wexler. It’s not that “Waterworks” makes Palm Coast life feel less-than. There’s no harsh judgment levied against her new job or her new location or even her “Amazing Race”-loving boyfriend. All of these component parts are instead presented as pure neutrals, to the point where even the most flowery language ever written about sprinkler tubes disappears into the rest of Kim’s ad copy. The only thing “wrong” with her boyfriend’s promised night out at the Outback is that we’ve seen Kim be at her most fulfilled at the El Camino Dining Room. No blooming onion is ever going to quite fill that void.

So, spurred on by the confirmation that 72 months have done absolutely nothing to dampen Saul’s unfeeling vindictive streak, Kim hops on a plane to Albuquerque for a delayed bit of conscience-clearing. What makes it easier to potentially ditch Florida and throw herself at the mercy of Cheryl Hamlin (Sandrine Holt) and the Albuquerque DA’s office isn’t the brunette hairdo or the mayo or the life she’s faced for a half-dozen years. It’s the realization that the two people she’s been protecting — Jimmy McGill and Kim Wexler — disappeared the moment she signed divorce papers in Saul Goodman’s office. That came with a healthy dose of pity for the cold-hearted, Preamble-flanked lawyer with the fancy bluetooth headset. Hearing Saul talk about the parade of victims who are “in the ground,” almost all of them in part because of the Kim-Jimmy machinations, is enough to wipe that emotion away.

Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman - Better Call Saul _ Season 6, Episode 12 - Photo Credit: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

“Better Call Saul”

Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Having made peace with the fact that her confession puts both her and Saul in potential legal jeopardy, she seeks some tiny bit of amends from Cheryl, the late Howard Hamlin’s wife. The insert shots of the word in Kim’s affidavit are a tiny bit at odds with the patience in the rest of the episode. All you need is Seehorn’s face and Holt’s reaction to know that what Kim put on that page is the truth. Yet, there’s an elegance in every other detail of that encounter, all the way down to how they’re placed on opposite sides of the table. The combination of Gilligan, production designer Denise Pizzini, and DP Paul Donachie produce a cross-table standoff that makes Kim feel like she’s in another state. As much as Kim wants this to be an honest unburdening of guilt, all she can really offer is print on a page, handed over from the other side of a table much too far away to do anything but pick at old wounds.

Her “He didn’t suffer” slip-up isn’t meant to be a conscious one, but it’s a nod to the idea that all these years later, Kim still doesn’t yet see what she and Jimmy did as an attack on a person. The stated target was always Howard’s reputation. (To the extent that highlighting those typed-out words makes sense, singling out “impeach” and “character” hits this home.) Cheryl calling her out on her own oversight is just another in a cluster of forces that push her over the edge. Whatever is the final one to do it, Seehorn does an astounding job of building to what happens at the airport upon her Sunshine State return. Kim may be singular in her Albuquerque goals, not bothering to bring any luggage. But each one of those steps in the confession process, starting with Kim considering the ringing phone in her office (in a way that somehow still reads on camera from the opposite side of the building) is just as impressive as the 15 different choices Seehorn makes in that unbroken shuttle catharsis, something as devastating as anything that Season 6 has unleashed so far.

So, in addition to making that last flashback a neat “Better Call Saul”/“Breaking Bad” handshake, there’s the added knowledge that both Kim and Jesse (Aaron Paul), on opposite sides of the Saul Goodman turnstile, each have their own opportunities to atone for their mistakes. Sure, Jesse is a stone’s throw away from helping to dissolve Emilio (John Koyama) in acid and Kim is off to assuage her guilt and funnel it into FSU-themed barbecues and single-toned puzzles. (Kim, always finding ways to dial up the degree of difficultly on her life in the slightest of ways.) But just as that beanie-wearing philosophical rambler will one day do enough to earn some Alaskan serenity, Kim chooses to do more to break the Saul Goodman cycle of destruction than offer someone a cryptic warning.

As much as Kim’s efforts might be leading a flank from the Southwest, Saul’s misadventures in Omaha prove that he’s his own worst liability. Before he sips his Dewar’s double on the rocks and waits for his B&E symphony to play out as he assumes it will, Saul again breaks the “get in and get out” rules he laid down to Jeff (Pat Healy) about not overstaying one’s welcome in The Game. Going through with the break-in at his identity fraud target’s (Kevin Sussman) house, it would be enough that he goes through with swiping a dying man’s financial info and adds a few watches to the collection. Picking up a dead dog’s ashes as his means of survival is Gilligan’s last bit of showing the interlocking tragedy and dark comedy at the heart of Saul’s demise. That, paired with Sussman’s nodding off at the bottom of the stairs and Healy crawling out of the diversionary taxi wreck, might be the literal last laughs of “Better Call Saul.” (Coming on the heels of the noir-worthy cuts between Jeff’s scared eyes and shaky hand on the gearshift, this show continues to excel at juggling two ideas at once.)

Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler, Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman - Better Call Saul _ Season 6, Episode 12 - Photo Credit: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

“Better Call Saul”

Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Though he escapes, Saul invokes Albuquerque enough to set off Marion’s (Carol Burnett) personal alarm bells. Faster than you can say Debbie Harry, she’s stumbled down the rare helpful internet rabbit hole and found that YouTube has more than just funny animal videos. It’s a beautiful bit of writing that it was a Saul Goodman choice from years before that doomed Gene Takavic. His drive to be so ubiquitous as a lawyer made it impossible for him to truly disappear and still reap the rewards of his petty crime skills elsewhere. It’s a colorful TV ad that’s reflected in those thick Gene glasses, but it’s also proof that Saul is now officially ensconced in the Valhalla of Albuquerque figures who became the victim of their own hubris.

Walt ended up on his back and completely alone. Gus met his end not knowing that his longtime rival would be willing to incinerate himself to ensure the board was cleared. For Saul, judgment comes at the end of a LifeAlert necklace. The mix of terror, anger, and utter disappointment in Marion’s eyes (conjured beautifully by Burnett), coupled with the “I trusted you” moment, is enough to give Saul pause. Either he’d assumed his cash-chasing Saul instincts had smothered any embers of decency in the man he once was or he’d assumed that doing the bare minimum of sparing Marion’s life would be enough to earn him the goodwill to paper over a robbery gone wrong. In either case, by naming Saul for who he is, Marion sends “Better Call Saul” right into its final chapter.

There’s just enough of a pause when Saul tells Kim from a payphone — mere minutes before clobbering the receiver into shards of plastic — that “It’s been 6 years.” That’s just as much Gilligan’s goodbye to the show, too. As it is Donachie’s, who’s traded off episode DP duties with Marshall Adams all season long. It could be the last we’ve seen of Seehorn and Odenkirk in color. Unless the series finale goes back to 2004, that single shot of the tollbooth will be the closest we get to a final Mike appearance, and it might well be Paul’s last Jesse moment. Maybe a reckoning is its own kind of goodbye. The last one is definitely now in motion, and it’s not happening on the terms of the person whose name is in the title of the show. See you next week for one last ride.

Grade: A-

“Better Call Saul” airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC and is available on AMC+.

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