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kim wexler rhea seehorn featured
kim wexler rhea seehorn featured

Television

Kim Wexler’s Journey to Become the Best of the Breaking Bad Mythos

She starts out as a moral compass for Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman. A friend, a love interest, someone who doomed to fail in her efforts to keep Jimmy on the straight and narrow. I found Kim Wexler interesting from the start, but never in my wildest predictions did I ever expect the lawyer smoking a cigarette in the shadows to surpass everyone else in Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s shared magnum opus of a television drama. It’s baffling that anyone besides Saul Goodman himself would ever challenge the likes of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman.

Perhaps that’s why Kim deserves it. She has blazed out of that shadow. In the post-Chuck seasons of Better Call Saul, when the show needed someone to fill the void left by his absence, Kim Wexler did so seemingly with ease.

It took a while for Saul’s writer’s room and her actor, Rhea Seehorn, to figure who exactly Kim was. She spends the first season as that love interest/friend/moral compass to Jimmy. We see that she serves as a foundation keeping Jimmy on the straight and narrow path. Much of the first season of Better Call Saul dedicates itself to establishing these foundations. His brother Chuck is another one. Between them, Jimmy finds the motivation he needs to continue his reformation from his earlier days as a petty conman.

At the time, we expected both Chuck and Kim to be lost tragically as part of a dark past untethering Jimmy from his morality. With them gone, he would lose his motivation to be good, and in turn, become the scumbag lawyer who partners in Walter White’s meth empire. Thankfully, Better Call Saul was a better show than that. Instead, Jimmy has spent the entirety of this show dragging them down to his level without realizing it.

In typical Breaking Bad fashion, Gilligan and Gould started off with no idea who Kim would become. One of the most remarkable things about this universe is its endlessly brilliant ability to adapt its story on the fly while making it all seem intentional. Kim was yet another character that has developed far beyond initial expectations. She was there to “inject some morality and some proper legal ethics into his basic, baseline amorality.”

Rhea Seehorn came in, took her cues from Kim’s initial scene, and gave the writing staff more than they ever realized they would have in this character. They lived up to this added potential, and every season just builds upon what was established before while staying perfectly in line with who these characters always were.

We knew two fundamental things about Kim Wexler after the first season of Better Call Saul. One, she was fond of and drawn to Jimmy. Two, she had a deep respect for the law and drive to succeed as a lawyer that preceded everything else.

From there, Saul has built her to greatness, in cooperation with Rhea Seehorn’s brilliance.

A rather brilliant thing began in season 2 with Kim Wexler. Using those two key traits, they began to use her as a brilliant comparison and contrast to the McGill brothers. Her fondness for Jimmy was fleshed out and given history, with the two of them rising up in the mailroom of the HHM law firm together. She starts the season participating in a drifting Jimmy’s petty cons, showing a slippery side to her previously unseen.

Throughout the first season, we never knew what exactly made them care for each other. Seeing this side of her, the Giselle Saint Clair conman side, was a very effective way to create a connection with Jimmy and give Kim more of her own personality.

Of course, she wouldn’t have her own personality if she just acted like Jimmy, so Saul also took the opportunity to build upon her law career and her reasons for entering it. Season 2 sees Kim increasingly fall out of favor over at HHM (mainly due to her friendship with Jimmy). She receives an offer from another prestigious law firm, but after nailing the interview mistakenly refers to the interviewer by her old boss’s name, and comes to the realization that she does not want to work for another big law firm. Instead, she strikes out on her own, sharing an office and expenses with Jimmy’s solo firm.

This was a big, big change in her character. Throughout season 1, the worth of Kim’s law career was tied to advancement within HHM. With her decision to strike out on her own, her law career became her own. It was the start of something only just expanded upon in the fourth and now fifth seasons; Kim’s desire to use the law to truly help the world. Which, as we’re now seeing, are good intentions that come into conflict with the realities of the legal world.

Each of these traits is clearly meant to align her partly with Jimmy and partly with his brother Chuck. It places her directly in the middle of their conflict later in the season, when Jimmy sabotages Chuck’s work in order to drive a client back to Kim. Chuck appeals to Kim’s sense of decency and respect for the law, while Jimmy appeals to her need to keep her fledgling solo practice alive.

In the end, she sides with Jimmy, a crucial moment which encourages him and begins Chuck’s downfall.

At this point, Kim still very much operates as more of a side character. An increasingly important side character, but still very much a piece in the war between the McGills. Rhea Seehorn fills the role with life, and the writing certainly fleshes her out as her own person, but her own role in the story is only just beginning and very much tied to other people. You can see the Saul writers room beginning to figure out what they have in Kim Wexler and what to do with her.

The third season is when Kim begins really coming into her own. Where her drive, ambition, and personal agency really take center stage. The season still very much focuses on the final act of the McGill brothers, but Kim becomes a central figure in the show, with her own plotlines taking up more and more time. She continues her quasi-consigliere role to Jimmy, which begins at the end of season 2, and takes a direct role in his defense when Chuck tries to have Jimmy’s law license revoked.

This continued push towards Jimmy’s side, and deepening of their relationship into something specifically romantic, began striking the final nail into initial ideas of Kim as someone simply there to die as part of Jimmy’s downfall. She was no prop to fuel Jimmy’s descent into Saul Goodman.

I remain amazed and eternally grateful for the way Better Call Saul has developed both her and Chuck. Both could have been used for hamfisted death scenes to make Jimmy’s eventual fate some cheap, unearned tragedy. Instead, he became Saul Goodman entirely of his own accord and the show has been unquestionably better for it. Yes, Chuck is dead. But his role in pushing Jimmy towards his Saul persona had long since been completed.

Season 4 asked a lot of Kim Wexler. With Chuck out of the picture, there was a seemingly bottomless void left in the show that had to be replaced. Not only did Rhea Seehorn and her character fill that void, they did so with a shocking ease that really established Kim as arguably the best character in the entire show. This was the season where Kim not only graduated from side character to full-on main character, she became arguably the co-main to Jimmy McGill, a trend which has continued into season 5.

Kim Wexler, more than any other character in the entire Breaking Bad mythos, perfectly embodies practically every theme of both series. She strives for the veneration of the law and ethical good, and serves as one of the two role models Jimmy strives to do right by early in Better Call Saul. Yet she was quick to support dirty tricks to defend Jimmy from Chuck. Kim has the same unethical inclinations and thrill of the con that Jimmy does. However, she tries to draw lines where she would never use such tactics to win a case. Not always successfully, of course. She supports those she loves, but sometimes wants to win just because she has an ego that demands it.

You can draw so many parallels between her character and others. Obviously she has the similarities to both Chuck and Jimmy. She strives for professional success like Howard Hamlin. She has the barely restrained chip on her shoulder of a Walter White and the suffering, complicit spouse vibe of his wife Skyler. She even has Jesse vibes early on when she is busting her ass to raise up HHM’s ranks.

Piece by piece, Saul has built Kim Wexler up into the most thematically relevant character of the entire series. No one embodies those conflicts between ego and ethics, between ambition and morality, between family and success, between loyalty and selfishness, like Kim does. This allows her to always be not just part of the show’s storylines, but centrally relevant. She is a ball of endless complexity that always traces back to her main motivations and flaws.

While characters like Walt, Jesse, and Gus were fantastic characters that helped make Breaking Bad one of the best dramas ever made, they were not quite on the level of complexity of what Better Call Saul has offered. I don’t think even the most hardcore Breaking Bad fans would deny that there’s a greater skill to the characters of Better Call Saul. Bad’s characters were power and fury centered on a couple of key attributes. Saul is all understated, subtle growth, with greater ethical questions and conflicts presented to its characters.

I don’t mean to say Breaking Bad was not complicated, but there is a reason genuine debate has begun regarding which show is better. Saul Goodman has been fleshed out as a character more than Walter White or Jesse Pinkman ever were. Kim Wexler is right alongside Saul, and surpassing him with every episode.

It must be reiterated just how much credit goes to Rhea Seehorn, as well. So much of her initial interpretation of the character has shaped Kim’s future, and how she has risen to the challenge of Kim’s expanded role. She has defined Kim’s personality as much or more than anyone else. The intense self-control, the restrained way of speaking, the power when she loses control, it all comes from Seehorn’s fantastic interpretation of that initial sketch of Kim’s character. Her take defined the direction of the character.

Whenever Saul has given her a moment to shine, she has met the challenge. In a show universe full of fantastic actors, Seehorn holds her own with any of them. With each new success, she made it easier for Gilligan and Gould to give her more and more moments to succeed. There are few actors today working on Seehorn’s level.

We’re now at a point in season 5 where Kim Wexler is the heart and soul of Better Call Saul, and her plot is the one driving the season. The biggest open question left in the series is her fate. Jimmy is already Saul. He’s on the verge, both personally and narratively, of linking up to the Saul we knew in the Breaking Bad timeline. Mike, Gus, and Nacho are all known, if not the exact details.

All that’s left to find out is whether Kim descends with him or not. She is the only unanswered major question left as Saul nears its final season.

A show that is supposed to be about Saul Goodman has morphed into the story of Kim Wexler. Will she resist her love for Jimmy and unethical impulses in time to escape Saul Goodman’s destructive pull? Does she live or die? Does her future lie in Albuquerque or not? Will she show up in the Gene flash-forwards?

I think it speaks volumes about how good a character Kim Wexler has become that a show about Saul Goodman has transformed into her show. She is THE domineering presence, THE plot mover, and Rhea Seehorn has become the best actor on it. No one is more important at this point. If the show ended today, we would have no questions left about Mike, Saul, or anyone else. All that’s left is Kim’s journey.

And, you know, she has earned it every step of the way. Kim Wexler is up there with the most memorable television characters of the past 10-20 years. She is the best character of the Breaking Bad universe.

Images Courtesy of AMC

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  • Bo

    Bo relaxes after long days of staring at computers by staring at computers some more, and feels slightly guilty over his love for Villanelle.

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