“Better Call Saul” concluded its penultimate fifth season on Monday, wrapping up its best season yet with an hour (well, an hour and 25 minutes, to be exact) that reframes everything we thought we knew and understood about the show. As a prequel to “Breaking Bad,” we’ve been trained — and not incorrectly — to look at the series as the deconstruction of how a morally gray con artist-turned-lawyer, Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), transformed into the morally bankrupt “criminal lawyer” Saul Goodman on “Breaking Bad.” But while we were waiting with bated breath for him to fully cross that threshold, we, like Jimmy, didn’t see the transformation that was happening right before our eyes — or was this who the person was all along?
Rhea Seehorn has turned in tremendous performance after tremendous performance as Kim Wexler since “Better Call Saul” premiered in 2015, but has had zero Emmy nominations to show for it. Season 5 has arguably been Kim’s Season with an MVP turn from Seehorn, ending with a jaw-dropper that is as crushing in some ways as it would’ve been had something, uh, unforgivable (read: death) happened to Kim, as many fans have long feared.
While hiding in a hotel from the cartel in “Something Unforgivable,” Jimmy and Kim laid under the sheets and joked about how they could mess with Howard (Patrick Fabian), with whom Kim had had a run-in earlier. It’s all fun and games until Kim suggests they frame Howard for corruption as a means to settle the Sandpiper case, which would give Jimmy (and thus her) a $2 million windfall. Seehorn plays this moment expertly, delivering the proposal with enough hesitancy that we, like Jimmy, think it’s just another sick joke. And then we and he soon realize that it’s not.
“Kim, doing this, it’s not you,” Jimmy tells her. “You would not be OK with it, not in the cold light of day.”
“Wouldn’t I?” Kim replies.
“Kim, you’re sh–ting me, right?” Jimmy begs.
Kim fires off a pair of finger guns before turning to head to the shower, leaving Jimmy stunned and slack-jawed on the bed. It’s a mirror image of the Season 4 finale, when Jimmy made the same gesture to her in announcing himself as Saul Goodman with “It’s all good, man.”
You know the Maya Angelou quote: “When people show you who they are, believe them.” Kim has shown us who she is now. And yet we still don’t exactly know who Kim Wexler is. Through its impeccable writing and Seehorn’s sterling performance, “Better Call Saul,” with its themes on mutating morality, ethics and identity, has become as much about Kim as it is about Jimmy.
Part of the beauty of the character of Kim Wexler is that she doesn’t exist in the “Breaking Bad” world — never even mentioned — which is both a good and bad thing. Bad because fans for years have thought she might die — especially now that she and Lalo (Tony Dalton) have crossed paths, and he, in the finale, survived Gus’ (Giancarlo Esposito) assassination attempt — and thus would complete Jimmy’s transformation into Saul. Good because the show could do whatever they wanted with her. She’d been presented as the series’ moral center, the smart, upstanding, perfectly ponytail’d, power-suited lawyer who fights for the little people and who we like to/want to believe could set Jimmy straight even though we all know where he ends up. All of her minor indiscretions over the years could be written off as Jimmy’s influence. Because surely Kim wouldn’t, couldn’t break bad.
Kim was never given a fleshed-out backstory, besides a tough upbringing, which frustrated viewers early on, but in hindsight, it was a genius move because her murky background further underscores how we may have been viewing her the wrong way the whole time. Throughout the season, Seehorn never betrays that there may be more to Kim, playing her with the perfect amalgamation of ambiguity and conviction that even when Kim did some head-scratching things — proposing marriage to Jimmy instead of breaking up with him, quitting Schweikart and Cokely — it was all believable and felt organic.
For much of their relationship, Kim has tried to understand and get onboard with Jimmy and his slippery ways, and their initial Howard-bashing banter in bed is an extension of that — this is something they can connect on and have fun with for a couple of minutes while evading the cartel. When it becomes clear that she is serious about her Howard scheme, Seehorn toys with Jimmy and us even more, masterfully adjusting her line reading to give it a hint of doom, sprinkling in a subtle smirk and a devilish smile that force us to ask not only “Is this who she is?” but to ponder if she could possibly be, for lack of a better word, worse than what Jimmy becomes?
The fact that this scene plays out with Kim in a Kansas City Royals shirt, pajama pants, her hair down, looking relaxed and eating ice cream is no accident. This is Kim, not the put-together, polished attorney artifice she sets forth into the world.
During her run-in with Howard earlier in the episode, he tattles on Jimmy’s pranks on him. She laughs. He then suggests that she quit her job and dropped Mesa Verde because of Jimmy. Again, like the flick of a switch, Kim suddenly turns menacingly serious. “Do you have any idea how insulting that is?” she retorts. “I make my own decisions, for my own reasons.” Kim has always bristled at The Man, the establishment and anyone who thinks they know her and what’s good for her and what she should do, as if she has no agency. This now includes us. We thought we knew her. And she just told us that we don’t.
Seehorn is in ninth place in our odds for Best Drama Supporting Actress, a crowded race that includes a bunch of Emmy champs and Oscar nominees and winners. Helena Bonham Carter (“The Crown”) leads, followed by Meryl Streep (“Big Little Lies”), reigning champ Julia Garner (“Ozark”), Laura Dern (“Big Little Lies”), Thandie Newton (“Westworld”) and Ann Dowd (“The Handmaid’s Tale”). Janet McTeer (“Ozark”) and Cynthia Erivo (“The Outsider”) are in seventh and eighth, respectively.
The ostensible lack of confidence in Seehorn reaping a bid is understandable. She’s never been nominated before, and last year, in an open category, she didn’t make it in a field populated by four “Game of Thrones” actresses. “Better Call Saul,” which has been nominated for Best Drama Series every year, has also never won an Emmy in any category, going 0-32 so far. Is this a show voters respect but don’t love like they did “Breaking Bad,” which won an Emmy right off the bat for Bryan Cranston? Perhaps.
But on the bright side, the “Thrones” ladies are gone — the unlimited nominating slots mean voters can check off as many stars of their favorite show(s) as they want — and who knows how close Seehorn was to a nomination last year. “Better Call Saul” also earned bids for actors not named Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks for the first time last year, as Esposito and Michael McKean made the cut, the latter in guest, two years after he arguably should’ve been shortlisted for Season 3. Seehorn could be on the same delayed path. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time the Emmys have played catch-up.
If Seehorn is snubbed yet again, there’s always “Better Call Saul’s” final season, whenever that can be filmed. But if she never makes it in, it would truly be criminal.
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