Better Call Saul Season 5, Episode 6 ‘Wexler v. Goodman’ Review

“Wexler v. Goodman” is dominated by empty spaces. The abandoned factory where Nacho waits for Gus, pale light filtering through its few unpapered window panes. The clear blue sky around a cornered Lalo Salamanca’s hand as he drops his keys out of his car. Like the green screen Jimmy’s frequent film major accomplices whip up out of spray paint and card stock, these spaces aren’t empty without artistic purpose — they frame and enlarge the emotions unfolding within them. Jimmy and Kim’s fight at the episode’s close occurs within the concentric rectangles of Kim’s apartment’s main hall, a visual representation of the compartmentalization which has allowed their relationship to persist even as Jimmy’s lying and evasion have grown steadily worse.

The episode’s opening, too, trades in this same sense of negative space. Somewhere in the Midwest, a young Kim stands with her cello on the curb outside her school. It’s dark. The night sky and parking lot yawn hungrily around her. When her mother pulls up, her drunken expansiveness instantly throwing the adult Kim’s reserve and focus into a new light, director Michael Morris begins to pull in, cutting closer and closer as the two women argue until finally we’re left to close in on Kim’s face as she walks home alone in the cold. The isolation of the scene narrows its focus, pulling in with the shot until it is located entirely within Kim’s stoic expression. It’s thoughtful symbolist filmmaking of the sort that drove Mad Men and The Sopranos, lucid and intelligent.

Previously:

Better Call Saul

Fake It Til You Make It

That a show about lawyers and organized crime deals heavily in doubletalk and deceit should come as no surprise, but “Wexler v. Goodman” takes it to a new level. At no point during the entire episode is anyone doing anything but lying. Even the confrontation at its end spirals back into denial and self-delusion. Mike impersonates a private eye, then a cop. Nacho meets with his handlers to rat out his boss, who’s ratting out their dealers. Kim and Rich put a brave face on their argument in last week’s ‘Dedicado a Max’ by publicly going out to lunch together as a PR move. Everything is a play. Everyone’s selling something.

“I don’t trust you,” Kim tells Jimmy as they stand facing one another across the kitchen counter. Even after that blunt declaration, he tries to sell her on a line. He blindsided her in the matter of Acker versus Mesa Verde to protect her, to give her plausible deniability. When she presses home that he made her into one of his suckers, a mark like they’ve defrauded together in the past, he can’t even promise her that he won’t do it again. It’s a heartbreaking moment, and in it the importance of the cold open from Kim’s childhood becomes immediately apparent. She knows as surely as the cold that pierced her bones as she walked home alone, left behind by the mother whose drunk driving she dared to question, that to be honest with a liar is to risk abandonment. She can’t do it again.

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