[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the Season 5 finale of Better Call Saul, "Something Unforgivable." Read at your own risk!]
For years it seemed like the scariest question anyone could ask about Better Call Saul was What happens to Kim (Rhea Seehorn)? In retrospect, how insulting. As if the show's greatest character -- the best character on TV right now -- could end up a passive figure in someone else's story. The AMC drama's spectacular Season 5 finale, titled "Something Unforgivable," was a rebuke to the entire framework of that question, revealing that what fans should have been asking is what Kim is capable of. Nothing happens to Kim Wexler. Kim Wexler happens to everyone else.
Monday's game-changing season ender sent Kim and Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) into hiding at a posh hotel, where they worried they would always be looking over their shoulders after their tense confrontation with Lalo (Tony Dalton). When Jimmy got word from Mike (Jonathan Banks) that Lalo shouldn't be alive much longer (not so fast), he looked ready to break up with Kim if it meant she would never have to be in danger like that again. But Kim steered Jimmy away from self-pity and toward fantasies of revenge against another common enemy: Howard (Patrick Fabian). By the time she proposed, with a confidence that could only come from premeditation, that they frame Howard for something "terrible" in order to settle the Sandpiper case, it was obvious she wasn't joking.
The idea that Kim could think seriously about ruining her former boss's career is chilling. She talks a good game about her motives: They could finally put Sandpiper to rest, giving those sweet elderly victims their money while they're still alive. And Kim could use her share of the profits to open the pro bono practice of her dreams -- to "give regular people the kind of representation usually only millionaires get." Kim has a righteous anger at people who didn't have to work their own way up the ladder, and this season's one flashback to her childhood made it personal; growing up with an alcoholic mother taught her to do everything for herself. But her self-reliance has also made her believe that she is her only judge and jury. It was Jimmy who said earlier this season that he's like a god to Howard, but Kim is the one prepared to follow through. The lightning bolts shoot from her fingertips.
By making Howard hers to humiliate, Kim has stolen the show from Jimmy: Better Call Saul is the story of her transformation, or at least the gradual unfolding of a frightening potential that's been there all along. Her shift into the role of the show's main protagonist -- or is it antihero? -- has been in the works for a few seasons, but it plays like a shock because she's so much stealthier than he is. Jimmy, a showman, signals his place in the world with surface-level changes: He gets a new name, he buys gaudy suits, he yells at Howard. Kim plots in secret. She's silent until the moment she's ready to draw her weapon.
The most unsettling line of the episode comes after Jimmy suggests that Kim wouldn't be OK with destroying Howard in the light of day. Kim tells him to think again: "Wouldn't I?" she asks. She's totally clear-eyed. Kim doesn't appreciate being told who she is or what she can't do. (She wouldn't be scheming against Howard at all if he hadn't insulted her earlier by implying she only quit Mesa Verde because of Jimmy.) Seehorn and Odenkirk bring out fascinating layers in the scene: Kim and Jimmy are testing each other, but it's not playful, as much as they'd both like it to be. Jimmy is too shaken, and Kim is too desperate for him to accept what she's planning.
The dirty truth they both know is that Kim has fun tearing people down when she decides they deserve it. As much as she bristles at being defined in relation to anyone else, it's hard not to look at her in comparison to Walter White (Bryan Cranston), who took five seasons to admit that he did what he did because he liked it. He was good at it. Kim -- at a wildly different scale -- shares those reasons, and the smaller, less murderous scope of her descent makes her story more tragic, not less. Kim is Better Call Saul's proof of how hard it is to be good: In a broken legal system, the thrill of helping people is indistinguishable from the thrill of cutting corners. Kim wants to make a difference. She just wants to make Howard suffer even more.
Kim and Jimmy have been conning suckers on the side for years, but the fifth season went the furthest to warp her faith in "justice" as defined by the law. I keep thinking about how deadly sure of herself she is in the finale compared to how sick she made herself in the season premiere when she lied to her pro bono client for his own good. Kim spent all season moving the line, finding ways to justify what she wanted to do by framing it as the right thing to do -- even if it really was the right thing. Quitting Mesa Verde could have brought Kim back to her moral center, but by now, her motives for her pro bono work aren't altruistic. Kim wants to make a splash. She wants a high that the endless slog of public defense work will never give her.
In that sense, Kim and Jimmy are more alike than they've ever seemed: She's finally become as disillusioned as he is with coloring inside the lines. It would be reductive to say that Jimmy is just Kim in a few years' time; he may be a cautionary tale for her in some respects, but Kim, as she insists to Howard, makes her own choices for her own reasons, and they'll probably have their own consequences. Still, it's interesting to see them essentially switch roles, as Jimmy casts himself as the sad voice of reason opposite Kim, the eager grifter with a ruthlessness that overshadows his. They end the season on an inversion of the Season 4 finale, when Jimmy decided to practice law as Saul and devastated Kim with the old two-handed finger point. Here, Kim one-ups him with a pair of finger guns -- the fastest draw in the West, ready for a duel.
When Jimmy and Kim got married, they swore to be honest with each other about the things they were most afraid to say. "I just didn't want to tell you," Jimmy said in bed, "so I thought that I should tell you." Kim and Jimmy are bonded by whatever is forbidden between them; what brings them together is also what makes them dangerous for each other. But even if neither one of them would be exactly where they are without the other, their individual choices are theirs alone, and Kim refuses to stand by while Jimmy blames himself or gets blamed for her decisions. The tragedy of Jimmy McGill is that even at his most Saul Goodman he still has his conscience, even if he's willing to ignore it. But Jimmy believes his conscience is Kim. What happens -- to him, to her, and to the show -- when Kim refuses to play the part he assigns her?
It isn't often that Better Call Saul feels like it's in direct communication with its audience, except when it's dropping Breaking Bad Easter eggs. But this is a franchise that knows too well how some fans respond to female characters who get involved in their husbands' business. "Something Unforgivable" sends the unmistakable message that Kim is not being corrupted by Jimmy, and she isn't just the catalyst for his moral descent. (If anything, it's looking less likely that Jimmy would be able to carry on as Saul Goodman if anything happens to Kim before the Breaking Bad timeline.) Kim's downfall will be her own; the bad man has not ruined the nice young lady. In Season 2 she memorably shut down Jimmy with a crisp, "You don't save me. I save me." Kim Wexler still doesn't need Jimmy McGill to save her. She doesn't need him to damn her, either.
Seasons 1-4 of Better Call Saul are available to stream on Netflix.