Is Better Call Saul's Kim A Winning Partner, Or Just Another 'Wet Blanket Wife'?
Jimmy is doing a lot of things he shouldn't. Is it automatically problematic for a feminist viewer if one of the people pointing this out to him is a woman he wants to continue dating?
The brilliant/depressing thing about the TV trope "Wet Blanket Wife" is that even if you've never seen the phrase in a trope-ish context, you not only immediately understood what it meant and probably came up with a half-dozen examples. Debra of Everybody Loves Raymond. Abby of Ray Donovan. Marge of The Simpsons (and Lisa too, while we're at it). And if not: it's officially a thing. Our hero wants to do something cool/dangerous, but his shrewish nag of a wife would prefer it if he didn't. It's not that she's wrong; it's that if he listens to her, we will have no reason to continue watching his story, in that there won't be one. After "Amarillo," though, I can't help wondering whether Kim meets the "wet blanket" criteria with regard to Jimmy -- or whether being his actual conscience is a different job entirely.
In the last episode, we watched as an unpleasant exchange with the ever-judgmental Chuck pushed Jimmy -- who, to that point, had been working the Sandpiper case by the book and earning the approval of his colleagues. But just four disapproving words from Chuck trigger Jimmy to go straight from the HHM office to...well, probably to a bakery to buy a whole bunch of pies, and then to the police station to sell a couple of detectives the fraudulent tale of what Daniel Wormald was keeping in the compartment behind his couch. Chuck's (currently) groundless suspicions about Jimmy's activities spur Jimmy to punish Chuck -- in absentia -- not just by being as sneaky as he knows Chuck believes him to be, but more inventively sneaky than Chuck could ever conceive. Jimmy spent years, literally, working as hard and as honestly as he was able to try to earn Chuck's respect, and learning that it was all for naught has curdled Jimmy's craving for Chuck's validation into defiance of Chuck's sanctimony.
But there is another attorney in Jimmy's life who has the opposite effect on him, and that's Kim. We saw in the season premiere that once she made it clear that she wasn't interested in joining him in full-time grifting, he accepted the job at Davis & Main so that they could continue working together in what she regards to be an important and respectable pursuit. But while he can't stop seeing opportunities to bring the skills he learned at his old job to bear in his new one, Kim has to keep pointing out to him that trying to see how much shit he can get away with is not the smartest way to practise law. He could get fired. He could get disbarred. He could bring the wrong kind of attention to the Sandpiper case and hurt a lot of sweet old ladies in the process. Kim may have felt a tiny fraction of the thrill of pulling off a con in that hotel bar in the season premiere, but it wasn't enough to make her reconsider the guiding principles not just of her profession but of her life. We can tell she's still the same person we've known this whole time by the way she told Jimmy in the last episode, after he'd regaled her with the tale of the squat cobbler caper, "I cannot hear about this sort of thing ever again" -- if more of Jimmy's loophole-exploiting instincts had rubbed off on her, she'd have known she needed to phrase that sentiment in a way that Jimmy wouldn't see as an open invitation for him to keep doing shady shit behind her back. (I'm already dreading the fight -- which feels inevitable -- over that exchange and Jimmy's willful misreading of Kim's fairly straightforward warning.)
In this week's episode, the two people who have the most influence over Jimmy got to demonstrate how they affect him within a single meeting. Jimmy's just returned from Amarillo, where a check-in on one of the Sandpiper residents who'd responded to the firm's direct mail solicitation turned into his signing an additional couple dozen more residents to join the case. Chuck challenges this performance on the grounds that opposing counsel would characterize Jimmy's efforts as solicitation, which is not permitted. Jimmy doesn't argue the point with Chuck, instead letting everyone else defend him -- chiefly Cliff, his new boss.
But when Kim cools, Jimmy knows he can't ignore the criticism. For the sake of keeping the case airtight, he volunteers to stop doing meet-and-greets with potential plaintiffs, and based on his behaviour after the meeting, he seems to think this means he's solved their dispute and quelled her fears, allowing footsie to continue going forward. What Jimmy doesn't get -- maybe because he never stayed anywhere long enough to earn a reputation with anyone who mattered -- is that his slippery grasp on ethics doesn't just put his own future in jeopardy; he's also risking hers: "I put myself on the line to get you this job....You know I believe in you. But then I made my beliefs known to them, and now everything you do reflects back on me -- with Howard, 'cause ultimately I talked him into going out on a limb for you too. Do you understand? It's-- It's-- It's my word, it's my judgment. "
Jimmy's tactics might be effective in the short term, as long as they aren't under too much scrutiny; given his history, it scans that he would value immediate gains without considering long-term consequences, which puts him at a disadvantage working on a case like Sandpiper, which everyone else seems pretty sure could take years to build. But Kim can't be connected to a total sketchball who seems to think the cover of an established law firm gives him license to keep pushing the boundaries of lawyerly practices. Kim's trying to have a career. We keep seeing more and more evidence that Jimmy -- when he's made to see reason, and reality -- will alter his behaviour in order to preserve his relationship with Kim. But while it's clear that Kim is quite fond of Jimmy, it seems unlikely that she would give up her career for him.
But here's the thing that makes their pairing so challenging in the context of the story they're both in: Kim shouldn't choose Jimmy over her career! Even if we hadn't already gone all the way through Breaking Bad and seen Jimmy's Saul Goodman future, it's pretty clear that he's not a good bet for someone like Kim. She's on the partner track at a white shoe law firm. He was, until recently, living in the back of a nail salon and drinking the business's cucumber water only when the manager couldn't see him do it. And even now that his fortunes have changed and he has the space and the resources to be the kind of lawyer she's used to working with -- the kind of lawyer she is herself -- he's still doing the job as if there will never be a reckoning in the future, because there will never be a future. Jimmy might think there's no such thing as unacceptable risk, but Kim knows better, and if he doesn't start actually hearing what she's been trying to tell him about it pretty much since we met her, she's going to have no choice but to decide that there's no risk more unacceptable than Jimmy himself.
As with so much of this story, we already know how it ends; we're watching to find out how that ending became inevitable. As far as we know, Kim isn't part of Saul's life; we may soon see she's not going to be part of Jimmy's for much longer either, and as much fun as it can be to watch Jimmy's proto-Saul antics, Kim is important to the show in that she keeps reminding us that, the odd scammed bottle of top-shelf tequila aside, it would not be fun to worry about how they might splash back on a person in his life. For now, being Jimmy's conscience is something Kim can handle, as long as she believes that Jimmy's legal ethics just need the occasional corrective U-turn and that she can be his GPS (and essentially threatening to withhold sex, while not so ethical its own self, is demonstrably effective). Telling Jimmy she believes in him is meaningful to them both. But we're starting to see signs that Kim is starting to have real doubts about Jimmy -- mostly, maybe, because Jimmy doubts himself. After explaining why he has to safeguard her reputation, she tells him, "You and I both know you can do this job." But this is the look that passes between them immediately afterward:
Jimmy wants to be able to, in order to reward Kim's trust; Kim wants him to be able to, not just for the sake of her professional prospects but so that the effort she's expended on him wasn't wasted. But Kim is neither a wet blanket wife nor an idiot: she's a sensible woman trying to avoid danger. And, as we know, Jimmy won't stop chasing danger until it leaves him in a locked back hallway in a mall in Nebraska.