Watching that scene in 2020, I squawked a loud “what?” at the TV. Because that was the singular magic of Better Call Saul; its uncanny ability to let you think you know what will happen next then hit you with an out-of-nowhere curveball that, once you’ve recovered, you realize was the only possible way this could have gone.
That marriage proposal stands as the perfect example. Better Call Saul fans, myself included, had been predicting the end of Jimmy and Kim’s relationship since … well, it started. There was no way Kim would stay with him. She was responsible; characterized by ambition, integrity, and an unparalleled work ethic. He, in the spiteful but not-untrue words of his brother Chuck (Michael McKean), was “like a chimp with a machine gun.” And there had been so many breaking points: Jimmy’s photocopy fraud designed to humiliate Chuck and net Kim a career-making client, the car crash brought about by Kim working herself to the bone (in part to support a suspended Jimmy), and of course the drama that precipitated the marriage proposal – a colluded upon scam that Kim pulled the plug on but Jimmy decided to continue, jeopardizing his partner’s career due to a mix of spite towards the bigwigs she worked for and sheer ‘look-at-me-go arrogance’. Surely, we thought, enough had to be enough?
Except what Better Call Saul had hidden in plain sight, all along, was the why of this odd couple’s relationship. The two indulged in elaborate scam after elaborate scam, sometimes for nominally good reasons, sometimes just because they could. And the better they got the more addictive the rush became, elevated to dizzying heights by the fact that they were sharing it with a partner just as brilliant and hungry and wounded as themselves. Neither of them were going to give that up – so Kim’s proposal was the only solution, a way to ensure that in a worst case scenario they would never have to testify against each other. At the moment it was a brilliant twist, but in retrospect it looks like a sinister warning. “If this isn’t enough to break them,” the show seemed to ask “what will be?”
The answer, of course, arrived in the final season’s seventh episode (and the last before an agonizing six-week wait). Jimmy and Kim’s vicious and extremely clever scheme to discredit Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) and in the process force an early settlement in the long gestating Sandpiper suit was classic Better Call Saul – we understood how the characters were justifying it to themselves even as we knew how wrong it was even as we were desperate to see exactly how it all came together. But as the scheme progressed, with more time and detail and obfuscation than was typical for a show that never shied away from any of the above, a sense started to build that this one was not going to go the same way as the others. Something had to go wrong. And many somethings threatened to in the lead up to the grand unveiling. Would they be undone by the unexpected broken arm of the judge they were trying to fake photos of? Would an already suspicious Howard expose them? Would he have a bad reaction to the drug they dosed him with?
None of the above. The scam went off without a hitch. The settlement was forced. Howard was “brought down a peg” but would likely not lose his career. Jimmy and Kim’s tracks were covered. They won. They were still together. After the constant ominous thrum of worry that this would destroy them, the scheme’s perfect landing was its own kind of shock. Even Howard, turning up disheveled and a little drunk to confront his tormentors, had to admit they pulled it off brilliantly. His warnings of ruining them rang as hollow as his accusations of sociopathy did uncomfortably true. Our heroes might have done something ugly, but they’d gotten away with it.
Then the candle flickered.
Disqus Shortname not set. Please check settings