Not only is Vince Gilligan’s Better Call Saul every bit as good as Breaking Bad, it also has the one thing Breaking Bad lacked: a strong, kickass female character. Kim Wexler is an accomplished, independent lawyer. But season 2 episode 5, “Rebecca,” showed us how real her struggle, and the struggle of professional women everywhere, really is.
Before we even get to sexism, we get a glimpse of the minor annoyances women deal with on a daily basis that make their jobs harder, and that men simply don’t have to think about. In the episode, Kim’s boss, Howard, is punishing her in a particularly degrading way, by removing her from her office and putting her in doc review for long and tedious hours that completely waste her talents. She stays even longer than she needs to, working past midnight to prove to her boss what a hard worker she is, and that she will quickly climb out of this hole. When the other HHM employees go home for the night and Kim is the only one left, she removes her heels, letting out a sigh of relief, and gets back to work.
If you have ever worn heels, then you know they’re uncomfortable. Moreso if you’re standing, walking, and working in them all day. Heels go from uncomfortable to painful. The longer you wear them, the worse it gets. By midnight one can only imagine the stabbing pain that would shoot through her feet and up her legs every time she took a step. Men, in their flat dress shoes, are never distracted by this pain on the job. Women must simultaneously deal with this everyday pain and ignore it, keeping up a level of excellence in spite of it.
I suppose Kim could wear flats, but we learn early on that HHM is all about appearances. When we see Kim Wexler, we see what we envision a professional woman to look like. She wears a business-practical knee length skirt, and wearing anything but heels with it would look sloppy. The skirt also allows us to see her legs, which we know she has to get up earlier than her male coworkers to shave, and to do her hair, and makeup. And let’s just have a moment of silence in respect for the underwire we know is digging into her rib cage.
Though this wasn’t in any way a part of the episode, it did lead me to think about women having their periods on the job. We have no idea what time of month this is for Kim, but I couldn’t help but wonder how much harder this week would have been for her if she had her period on top of everything else. It would be just one more little thing for her to worry about, and one she clearly didn’t have time for since she didn’t even have time to eat lunch. In the back of a woman’s mind during her period, she’s always planning and spacing out her extra trips to the bathroom (which is especially fun when she just can’t get away from whatever she’s doing) and worrying that she’ll forget about it and leave a stain on her expensive suit skirt or those fancy HHM chairs. Not to mention the cramps and headaches that would add to the foot pain, and make simply doing her job that much harder. And people still try to say women aren’t tough enough for certain jobs. Ha!
Then we get to the even worse challenges women face in the workplace on a daily basis. Working through lunch, because doc review takes up all the rest of her time, Kim works frantically and tirelessly to bring in new high-profile clients to her boss’s firm. She believes this will get her out of the hole. She makes phone calls from the stairwell (standing in her heels) because she no longer has an office. On one call, Kim has to explain that she is seeing someone, and we can infer that the man on the other end hit on her and probably told her that she sounded sexy. On another call, Kim is forced to explain that she’s not Howard’s secretarty, but an attorney, just like him.
Eventually, Kim snags a toast-worthy client, and is so proud of herself that she cheers into an empty garage. When she and Howard meet the female client and a male who accompanies her, Kim and the female client book it up the stairs–a comment on how women are always moving faster and working harder because they have to just to break even–while Howard and the male take a leisurely stroll, because they can.
The worst part is, after all this working her ass off, Howard gives her case to Francis, leaving Kim once again with the grunt work.
Though Francis is a gender neutral name, we can assume he’s yet another man getting the assignment Kim deserves because as Jimmy says in the beginning of the episode recounting his first days with HHM: “Met some nice guys and gals. Well, gal. Singular.” This line shows how so many high-profile careers are still male dominated, due in no small part to the previously mentioned challenges and sexism.
At the end of the episode, Chuck asks Kim: “Coffee?” She says no thank you, and he says “Can you make me some?” While because of Chuck’s “condition,” he thinks can’t make coffee himself, this is also another intentional comment by the show to illustrate how women are asked to do these kinds of “traditional women’s work” tasks around the office. Asking this implies that Kim’s time is somehow less valuable than his. She can make the coffee (or the copies, or insert other menial task here) while he gets important work done.
As the show wears on, Howard’s proclivity towards exercising power and control over Kim is becoming more and more apparent. And I was so impressed with how Better Call Saul showed workplace sexism and the other challenges women face, I wonder if they won’t eventually go for the biggest one: sexual harassment. Maybe Howard is too smart for that, or maybe I’m reading him wrong. But I know if he is stupid enough to try that on Kim, he’ll be sorry.
Which brings me to my favorite line of the episode and a perfect one to close with. To Jimmy, who has been trying to devise ways to get Kim out of doc review, Kim says, “You don’t save me. I save me.”