Will someone please get this woman an Emmy?!
With everything going on in the world, I understand that it may seem trivial to do what we do. Getting emotionally invested in film and television may seem silly, but I make the case that sometimes humans need distractions from the intense, existential threats of daily life like pandemics, political division, climate crisis, war, and gun violence. Everybody finds some way to cope. Some people drink, and some do drugs. I just happen to obsess over why the Emmys have ignored the brilliance that is Rhea Seehorn.
I have had a little bit of a break from my obsession in the past few months, but with the final season of Better Call Saul just around the corner, that beast has emerged again from the dark recesses of my psyche. That angry, confused monster that demands answers to the only mystery that matters: how on earth has Better Call Saul garnered 39 Emmy nominations over five seasons yet not a single one for the actress who plays Kim Wexler, Rhea Seehorn?
Every other major lead and supporting actor in the show has been nominated, including Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Michael McKean, and Giancarlo Esposito, but, so far, none for Seehorn. There seems to be a staggering blind spot for the Emmy voters for Seehorn’s performance, despite being the co-lead and her character serving as the emotional and narrative engine of the show. There simply is no Better Call Saul without Kim Wexler. So, if you love this show, which, obviously, Emmy voters do, how can you not love her?
After years of struggling to find an answer, I may have finally figured it out.
It may just come down to the simple fact that nobody knows what to make of her. As written by the genius team led by creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, and performed by Seehorn, the character of Kim Wexler is indefinable. While she is the genuine co-lead of the show, it is Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman’s story. We know Bob Odenkirk’s Saul (referred to in this show as Jimmy), and the point of the entire series is to tell his story, particularly how he transforms into the charming criminal lawyer we all fell in love with in Gilligan and Gould’s series Breaking Bad, arguably the best television series ever. We are invested in his journey; we root for him; we care about him.
Meanwhile, we’ve never laid eyes on Kim before. Her character wasn’t in Breaking Bad, nor was there even any mention of her. Seehorn has the unenviable task of trying to build a character in the shadow of this already-established fan favorite with no foundation of her own to work from.
Add to that the fact that Kim Wexler doesn’t fit into any standard box. She is Jimmy’s girlfriend, but their relationship is like none we’ve ever seen before. There are no standard romance tropes here. In fact, there is barely any overt affection at all between Kim and Jimmy. And yet there is still a deep love between them, and clearly a physical relationship. But without all the roses and candy, our Hollywood-trained brains have trouble understanding their adult relationship. A big part of this confusion also stems from the fact that Kim isn’t a standard girlfriend. She is unemotional, pragmatic, even-keeled, and logical. She’s more interested in practicing law than spending time with her boyfriend (mon dieu!). It’s often Jimmy pleading for more together time, not the other way around.
And it’s not that she’s a ball-busting career woman, either. She is driven, yes, but she is driven by her own internal moral compass, goals, and personal demons. The only one she needs to prove anything to is herself. She serves as an effective counterbalance to Jimmy in that she’s much more restrained and calculating. She has boundaries and rules. She prefers to watch and absorb before making a decision, rather than Jimmy’s from-the-hip and from-the-heart approach to life. And yet, even with all of this, Kim is utterly unpredictable. She’s flawed, mysterious, and intelligent. She pursues her career, but not at all costs. In fact, she has made bad career decisions and has learned to live with them. In the end, the only thing she entirely relies on is her own inner voice, accountable to no one but herself.
But it is in her restraint where perhaps Seehorn’s performance is lost on those not closely paying attention to the texture she is weaving in her character. Her quiet, composed, and magnificently leveled performance belies the turbulent machinations behind each of Kim’s choices. Seehorn doesn’t chew the scenery. Instead, she keeps her performance small, holding her cards close to her vest, characterized by an elegant reticence that is sometimes betrayed by her attraction to mischief. In being with Jimmy, she is daring herself to follow her heart and allows herself this one vice, damn the consequences.
Seehorn’s is not a performance easily captured in just one episode, which is a liability for Emmy consideration. She doesn’t have that one episode that can be submitted where her character explodes dramatically or has a really turbulent breakdown. Her work can only fully be appreciated over the course of an entire season, let alone the series, not in a 30-second clip.
Kim Wexler is not a character you usually see written for a woman, which is probably why voters don’t know how to evaluate what they are seeing. Who can you even compare Kim to? Jimmy? Walter White? Skyler? While there may be elements of each of these characters in Kim, she truly has no peer in either Breaking Bad or in Better Call Saul. She is a character who breaks new ground and doesn’t come from any pre-existing mold. This is not her story, and yet Jimmy’s character arc is as much influenced and shaped by her as anything else. Her character is so much more than a supporting partner to Jimmy. She challenges and questions him yet supports and loves him, almost unconditionally—almost to a fault.
But, unlike most other female supporting characters, she is not there because of or for him. She has her own clearly defined life, profession, and aspirations. It’s more than just being independent. It’s about being confident in that independence. Kim’s purpose in life is to find self-fulfillment, professionally and personally. Find me another significant female character on television who is not motivated by greed, anger, love, or revenge. It is rare, indeed. And even rarer to allow her to maintain and completely inhabit her femininity, not being forced to dress down or hide her intelligence or beauty. Kim Wexler is perhaps one of the most feminist characters ever seen on television. In this day and age where we call out roles and performances that break the mold, the fact that this performance has been unrecognized by her peers is tragic.
And anyone who downplays Kim Wexler’s role in the trajectory and evolution of both the main character and the storyline of Better Call Saul is just not paying attention. Kim is Jimmy’s emotional fulcrum, his spirit guide. Their partnership is based on a deep trust that goes much further back than our time with them. There is a shorthand, an understanding, a genuine friendship there that forms the foundation for everything else, including the romance. Odenkirk and Seehorn play off each other with precision, but it all looks easy and comfortable. They are each other’s comfortable pair of slippers, yet they each know the dangers they face together. While I absolutely adore Bob Odenkirk’s performance and am thrilled for his recognition, he is made better by Rhea Seehorn, and she deserves her time in the sun.
While it may seem that all of Kim’s texture is in the writing, it is in Seehorn’s performance where it all comes alive. In Seehorn’s performance, Kim finds her nuance, forcefulness, and vulnerability. In Seehorn’s performance, Kim’s unpredictability becomes a narrative driver. In Seehorn’s performance, Kim’s love and support of Jimmy finds its tenderness—and its tough love.
And all of this is said based on the five seasons that we’ve already seen. We have no idea where Kim Wexler’s character will be and will eventually go in this sixth and final season of Better Call Saul, but we do know that, unlike Saul, Mike and Gustavo, Kim Wexler does not appear in Breaking Bad. So, as the last season of Better Call Saul inches closer and closer to the timeline of Breaking Bad, fans of Kim Wexler are bracing themselves for her inevitable exit from the story. The only thing that remains to be seen is how that exit happens and under what circumstances. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a huge knot in the bottom of my stomach watching the last few episodes of season five, as things got more and more dangerous, just wondering what Kim’s ultimate fate would be. I am both excited and nervous to see it all play out, as I don’t want this story to end, but I mostly don’t want to see Kim’s story end badly.
But, even with all my nervousness about what may transpire, story-wise, in the final season of Better Call Saul, and as I prepare myself emotionally to say goodbye to a story and a world I have been invested in for over thirteen years, I have the eternal hope that Rhea Seehorn’s peers will finally recognize the quietly masterful performance she has been giving in this series. So, give her a damn nomination already! Hell, give her the win. It would be better late than never.