Better Call Saul’s “Rebecca” Perfectly Captures Workplace Sexism and Gender Inequality

  
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.”

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Jimmy McGill’s Colossal Wreck? Thoughts on the Season One Finale of Better Call Saul

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It’s no secret to regular readers that I’ve been this show’s most enthusiastic advocate, not for being well-written or providing well-developed characters, or keeping me in suspense–all of which it does–but for investing me emotionally in the journey of Jimmy McGill. I’ve loved every episode of Better Call Saul in this pilot season, but I have to say, I enjoyed last week’s show much more than this finale.

I just wasn’t buying Jimmy’s epiphany in the final minutes that seemed to come from nowhere. He didn’t hit rock bottom, he didn’t get desperate. Sure he got screwed by his brother, but Kim and his clients still believed in him. In fact, Jimmy had everywhere to go but down. He was excited when Kim called and told him about the job. He was on his way inside. Prestige, money, respect, proving his brother wrong, proving to himself that he is a good lawyer–he would have had all of these things.

I don’t care if as a writer, you want Jimmy to have an epiphany and literally walk in the opposite direction, but there has to be something in the story to support that decision, and something in his character that makes the audience say, “Yes, that’s the Saul we know from Breaking Bad.” As of now, I’m not sure why Jimmy is in that place. I can see that in the season finale, you might want Jimmy taking a step toward the dark side, but it seemed rushed, and forced.

In this episode, Jimmy returns to Chicago to find his old friend Marco literally sitting on the same bar stool where Jimmy left him a decade ago. During that time, Jimmy has of course graduated from law school while working in the mail room at HHM, developed a great relationship with Kim, and passed the bar exam. Jimmy and Marco have a fun week together scamming rubes, and then duty calls Jimmy back to New Mexico. Marco, however, calls this the “best week of his life” with his dying breath. Really? If this was the best week of your life, and these are your last words to Jimmy McGill, I’m thinking something has gone horribly wrong in your life.

And Jimmy is thinking….what? That’s the problem. Is he thinking “I gotta get me some of that amazing life that Marco described?” Why? For what reason? I’m not buying it. I need a reason. And I need a better one than Jimmy suddenly deciding that he and Mike should have taken the Kettlemans’ money. I’m disappointed. I was expecting more.

Remember during the final season of Breaking Bad, where they ran promos of Bryan Cranston reading Shelley’s “Ozymandias?” I’m getting chills just thinking about it. Essentially, these ads featured Walter White describing a “colossal wreck” where once stood a great king.

Where is Jimmy’s colossal wreck? Where is the great, insurmountable, depressing, fiasco that starts Jimmy on a downslide into Saul? We saw the beginnings of such a downfall when chuck betrayed him, but with so much still going so right in his life, what we saw last night cannot be it. So why, why didn’t Jimmy go into that meeting? What are your thoughts?

On a side note, Kudos to the writers for the Belize reference, and for the Kevin Costner scene. Both were nice touches for fans of Breaking Bad.

How Better Call Saul Surprised Me

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When I first learned there would be a Breaking Bad spinoff about Saul, I was mildly interested. Breaking Bad isn’t what I normally look for in a T.V. show, but if Vince Gilligan writes it, I’ll watch whatever. Breaking Bad turned out to be one of the best-written shows I’ve ever seen. Still I thought, there’s no way a spinoff could possibly live up to it. Why should I be emotionally invested in Saul, the sleezebag lawyer, like I was in say, Jessie Pinkman? Better Call Saul offers the “why” in abundance.

I expected to find humor in this show, good writing, drama, and suspense. I did not expect to become so emotionally invested in Jimmy McGill’s character that my heart breaks over and over every week, or that when Jimmy cries, I want to too. I like him more than I ever liked Walt over the course of Breaking Bad and it’s only been one short season.

Jimmy is so utterly and painfully human, you can’t help but love him. Here’s someone who’s been so beaten down while trying to change his flawed character and walk the straight and narrow, but who still tries to do the right thing. Yes, he gives into temptation, like he did with the Kettlemans’ bribe, but that was understandable. He couldn’t make ends meat being good, so he opted for making a lot of money by being a little bit bad. That part wasn’t surprising to me at all. What did shock me was that he gave the money back, turned the Kettlemans back over to Kim and HHM, and completely righted his moral misstep by taking $20,000 of his own will money to make the county whole again.

So in true Gilliganian fashion, we see rewards for bad behavior in this working world (a sad commentary on the working world, quite the opposite for his writing) and pain and poverty in return for doing the right thing. Jimmy does the right thing and loses his shiny new office, loses $20,000 and his dream desk, loses Kim whom he is still so obviously in love with (ow, there’s that pain in my heart again) but at least he’s done the right thing. The right thing leaves him crying in his would-be office–one of the most heart wrenching scenes I’ve ever witnessed.

Still, Jimmy is trying to be the good guy–the guy Chuck is proud of and a guy good enough to earn Kim’s affection. He works his ass off in the mail room at HHM where he receives no respect and Kim seems to be his only friend, and receives an online law degree and passes the bar. How can you not respect the hell out of that? Still he gets beaten down. HHM won’t hire him.

Well, we found out last night that the reason why is Chuck. It turns out Chuck isn’t proud of Jimmy at all, and doesn’t even consider him a “real” lawyer. When Jimmy finds out (and not because Chuck confessed, mind you) he is crushed, and so am I. Jimmy has been taking care of Chuck, bringing him everything he needs, checking up on him regularly, grounding himself, rescuing him from the hospital with so much genuine care it made my heart swell, defending Chuck’s claim that the condition is physical and not psychological, not committing him, not cashing out with HHM by becoming his legal guardian, and rooting Chuck to get back outside and back to work. In the beginning I saw two brothers with fundamental differences, who at the end of the day, were really there for each other. I am so disappointed. What a great show, that it can evoke all these emotions.

Mark my words, the difference between Jimmy being good, and Saul being bad is ultimately going to amount to the fact that Chuck doesn’t believe in his brother. You live up to people’s expectations of you (at least those you care about). When Jimmy thought Chuck was proud of him, and encouraging him, he was working hard and doing so well–going so far as to dive into dumpsters and reassemble shredded documents, pulling all nighters. Now that he knows how Chuck really feels about him, he will be what Chuck accused him of: Slippin’ Jimmy. Why not? That’s all he’ll ever get credit for. The pain…my God, the pain…

Speaking of emotions, I rarely ship characters outside of SciFi, but I just want Jimmy to apologize to Kim and kiss her. At first I thought she sold him out to be partner (I’ll make you partner if you get your friend to take the deal) But she didn’t do anything wrong. She stood up for him. I still have a bad feeling (but I really hope I’m wrong) that Kim is involved with Hamlin in more than just a professional way. If that happens, then Hamlin will have everything Jimmy wants, and Jimmy will have nothing and no reason not to become Saul. Kim never appears in Breaking Bad. Why? What happens to her? I really like her. There’s finally a cool female character in this world who doesn’t suck like Skylar, Jane, and Marie did. She too has me emotionally invested. Why does she stay with a firm that treats her like garbage, threatening to fire her, and moving her to a closet office? Way to show loyalty, Hamlin. I’ll tell you why: for the almighty dollar. She wants to be partner, and that means more to her than accepting Jimmy’s offer. They’d have less money, but they would have both been happy, respected, and really enjoyed their job together. She also might have rejected Jimmy’s offer (ow, the stabbing pain is back) because of my Kim/Hamlin theory. Again, I really hope not.

There’s only one episode left in this first season and I’m already bracing myself for the inevitability of Jimmy’s downfall into Saul. What do you think? Please share your thoughts below.

Eight Shows Every Story Lover Should Be Watching

As part of the campaign to replace reality shows with more stories that we as humans so desperately need, I’m constantly on the lookout for the most well-written and best told stories on the air. From veteran programs in their tenth season, to struggling new fledglings, these are the eight best T.V. shows that story lovers should be watching.

1. The Walking Dead

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“We are the walking dead.” This quote from main character Rick Grimes in a recent episode of the show’s fifth season pretty much says it all. When watching the early episodes, the title seems obviously attributed to the zombies that have destroyed civilized society—“walkers” or “roamers” as they’re known in the show and comics. The group of survivors the series follows, greatly diminished in numbers since they began their journey, has been through so much, and has been so beaten down, that they have all but lost hope in anything beyond their horrid mere existence. They have become the walking dead, trudging along sun-soaked highways with no food or water, depleted ammo, walkers on their trail, and the haunting memories of loved ones lost, and far worse dangers than walkers. You’d like to think that if the apocalypse really did come, the last remaining humans would band together and help one another survive. The Walking Dead gives us a more realistic and much sadder portrayal of human nature. As Rick says, “People measure you by what they can take from you, by how they can use you to live.” If you think the show is too far along for you to catch up, I’m telling you, the time to start watching is now. The group just found a supposed safe haven, but they’ve been burned before, and fans know by now to trust no one. The latest episode left me craving more, and the season finale in a few short episodes will be one not to be missed. The Walking Dead airs on Sundays at 9pm on AMC.

2. Gotham

What’s that you say? You’ve had your fill of Batman from the Nolan trilogy and the New 52? Don’t have room in your life for a sub-par T.V. show where Bruce Wayne is just a kid? Wrong. You are so wrong. Yes, that’s what I said at first too. But then I actually watched an episode. This is a dark, and truly disturbing take on the inhabitants of Gotham while they’re still young and haven’t yet evolved into the super villains or heroes we are familiar with. It features a young Bruce, whose parents die in episode one, Alfred, Harvey Dent, Jim Gordon and the GCPD crew, as well as a host of young villains-to-be including Selina Kyle, Oswald Cobblepot, and Edward Nygma who fans will recognize as Catwoman, The Penguin, and The Riddler. We’ve even met a young Joker, and while I’m always a little biased toward Heath Ledger, I have to say: where do they keep getting these awesomely insane, creepy actors to play the joker? But the one who really steals the show is Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney. I can’t even satisfactorily describe her character’s storyline right now; you have to see it to believe it. And if you’re worried the dark and disturbing factor won’t be on par with what we’ve seen from Christopher Nolan or the New 52, stop worrying. Gotham airs on Fox, Mondays at 8pm.

3. Better Call Saul

If you are hesitant to watch this because a spinoff of Breaking Bad could never live up to that show’s genius, then let me just remind you of one critical factor: Vince Gilligan. I’ve got enough evidence by now to know that I’ll watch anything this guy is involved with and like it. He’s just a brilliant writer and storyteller. Anything he has a hand in is going to be stellar. The way he develops his characters, examining them through a moral lens, is unique on television. I’d never before seen a character transformation like Walter White’s, and Saul’s, while different, is just as fascinating. This show follows beaten-down lawyer Jimmy McGill on his descent into dishonesty. Sure, he’s not a saint to begin with, but he does struggle to do the right thing. The audience is already seeing a common Gilliganian© theme: you can be good and suffer, or do one bad thing and live a little easier. The problem is, that easily justified one, small, bad thing inevitably snowballs down a dark path there’s no coming back from. Saul’s journey down this road is packed with humor, suspense, and drama. Don’t miss it. Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 10pm on AMC.

4. The Flash

What a glorious time we live in when there’s a comic book adaptation on various networks almost every day of the week. If the disturbing terror and corruption of Gotham isn’t your cup of tea, you might enjoy the delightfully cheesy antics of The Flash. The show, despite having its sad moments, is more upbeat, colorful, and pleasant. Besides the awesome visual effects of Flash speeding around the city in a blur, saving the day, there are really engaging stories being told that are ripped from the comics and expanded. Even more interesting are the character dynamics. The cast of characters is a numerous and complex one. Each character is well developed, has their own agenda, and has different complex relationships with some characters than others. On The Flash you’ll get a moderated dose of unrequited love, romance, action, and mystery. Check it out. The Flash airs on the CW on Tuesdays at 8pm. It’s on break now, which gives you a chance to catch up, and will return March 17th.

5. Criminal Minds

This one has been on awhile, and I’ve been a fan since almost the beginning. When new, it was described as another procedural crime drama, albeit a good procedural, but so what? Here’s what sets it apart: this show has a fandom as strong as any superhero or comic book one. The characters are all memorable and lovable individuals, and work together as a team for justice. They are heroes, sacrificing their time, personal happiness, and often safety, to bring home lost children and save innocent lives from nightmares no one should ever have to live through. In fact, they are so heroic that team leader Aaron Hotchner’s son opts out of dressing like Spiderman for Halloween and instead:

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The stories are well-crafted, disturbing tales guaranteed to make you think, and keep you on the edge of your seat rooting for the BAU (Behavioral Analysis Unit) to catch the real monsters of the world. This show is currently in its tenth season, and by now the reluctant viewer should be saying “Okay, I’ll watch it. It’s been on for ten years. Maybe it’s good.” Criminal Minds airs on Wednesdays at 9pm on CBS.

6. 12 Monkeys

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This latest SyFy endeavor is a remake of the 1995 movie starring Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis, and is so much better than I expected it to be. Cole comes from an apocalyptic world where a man-made virus has eradicated nearly all life on Earth. He travels back in time (“splinters”) to enlist the help of Dr. Cassandra Railly to find the source of the virus and stop it before it can be unleashed on humanity. Of course, the implications of this are already huge. If Cole is successful, won’t he disappear or at least create a different version of himself? But if you were living in Cole’s time, 2043, you would take the risk to change it too. Cole and Cassie trace the virus to a creepy conspiracy known as the Army of the 12 Monkeys, but are so far (early in season one) no closer to changing the future, though the latest episode left me hanging and biting my nails on that front. What I love most about this show is it not only attempts to preserve human life, but human art and history. What is the point of survival, if that’s all we have? You can watch 12 Monkeys on SyFy, Fridays at 9pm.

7. Agent Carter

While Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. left me underwhelmed, its Agent Carter is the antithesis. Not only do I love a female hero in a lead role independent of Captain America to carry her, and with no super powers to speak of other than physical strength, brains, and wit, but the stories are action packed and suspenseful. I suggest going to ABC.com to watch 10 must see moments from the season finale, and then hope it gets renewed.

8. Constantine

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This show is currently floating in the limbo between cancellation and renewal, the decision being made in May. To lose this show would be a travesty, and I urge you to watch the first 13 episodes online, and if you like it, to show your support using #saveconstantine. The possibility of cancellation stems more from a poor timeslot on Friday nights when its main demographic is out of the house, and less from lack of interest in the show which already has a devoted cult following including over 2 million followers on Facebook. Constantine is based on a DC comic about a smoking, drinking “antihero” exorcist trying to save his own soul from a haunting mistake in his past, and it’s one of the coolest, creepiest shows I’ve seen on T.V. since The X-Files. It’s smart, sexy, story-driven, character-driven, dark, engaging and most importantly, different from anything else on T.V. right now. If these writers are given a chance to hit their stride, this show could be big. As part of the enthusiastic fan response to save the show, they’ve been writing professional messages to NBC and signing petitions. If you do watch the show, and like it, you can join the movement here: Remember, a vote for Constantine is a vote for less reality and more stories.