Better Call Saul moves at the kind of meditative pace that makes it easy to notice small details, like Kim Wexler’s earrings. They’re hard to miss, because she wears them in just about every episode: gold posts, tiny slim triangles that point down from her earlobes like 14-carat fangs. Polished, poised, and professional, but chased with a hidden edge—that’s Kim in a nutshell. But, as Better Call Saul costume designer Jennifer Bryan explained at a Comic-Con panel last month, those earrings say something about Kim Wexler’s background and economic status, too. “She wears the same jewelry all the time,” Bryan said. “Sometimes I would put her in nice pinstripes, but maybe the jacket doesn’t match the skirt. We mix and match and repeat her pieces.” Added Rhea Seehorn, the actress who plays Kim with stoic grit, “The women I grew up with didn’t have a different purse to match all their outfits. I like the simplicity to the way she dresses, and the way she has a uniform. She goes in like a warrior.”
A righteous working woman with an earnest desire to be her own Atticus Finch (as we saw in Season 3’s finale, Kim Wexler’s idea of a Blockbuster guilty pleasure is watching To Kill a Mockingbird twice in one day), Kim is perhaps the easiest character to root for on Better Call Saul. In a show full of crooked morals, her compass is true—even when she’s taking the fall for Jimmy or scamming a Wall Street bro out of an $800 bottle of tequila, she’s got the greater good in mind. Seehorn plays Kim with a clenched jaw that very occasionally cracks into a sly smile, mostly when she’s with Jimmy, or enjoying the thrill of introducing herself as her cartoonishly regal alter ego, “Gisele St. Clair.” But in another sense, loving Kim Wexler is complicated. The more affection you have for her character, the greater you dread finding out the answer to the ever-present question: What horrible thing will happen to her that keeps her from being in Jimmy’s life on Breaking Bad?
And so when you Google “Kim Wexler,” the suggested autofill tends to be something like “kim wexler death”—a little unusual for such a beloved character. Reddit is so full of fan theories about her demise that it has spawned parodies of these theories (“In Season 2 Episode 2 of Better Call Saul, Kim gives Jimmy a mug that says ‘World’s 2nd Best Lawyer.’ However, in Breaking Bad Jimmy has a mug that says ‘World’s best lawyer.’”). One Redditor has proposed that she becomes a meth head and that a strung-out woman briefly glimpsed in one episode of Breaking Bad is actually Kim (trust me, it isn’t). So morbidly obsessed is the internet with Kim Wexler’s impending doom that last year TV Guide—freaking TV Guide!—published an article titled, “I Love Kim on Better Call Saul, and She Needs to Die.”
Vince Gilligan may have been toying with these expectations given where he left Kim last season. In the penultimate episode, after days (years, really) of working too hard and spreading herself too thin, Kim fell asleep at the wheel and crashed her (oh-so-on-brand) Mitsubishi Eclipse. Her state in the somber Season 3 finale “Lantern” was at once disturbing and refreshing. It was of course jarring to see her always-immaculate face scraped up, and to see a woman who generally works at the pace of someone with a phantom third arm accepting that one of her limbs was confined to a cast. But I’ve never felt more relieved for Kim than during that scene near the end of the finale when she was strolling through the aisles of a Blockbuster (RIP), greedily piling her arms with DVDs as her assistant canceled all her upcoming meetings. The message could have reached her in a gentler way, but still. Lord knows Kim Wexler deserved a break.
Like her costars Bob Odenkirk and Michael McKean (previously of Mr. Show and This Is Spinal Tap fame, respectively), Seehorn’s most visible pre-Saul roles have been comedic. Her most notable was playing the wry divorcée sidekick for two seasons on Whitney Cummings’s sitcom Whitney (more recently, Seehorn also guest-starred as an animal shelter volunteer in an episode of the Roseanne reboot). But she brings a steely gravitas to Kim that wasn’t always evident in her earlier work, and that makes the 46-year-old actress’s future seem promising. Vince Gilligan has called Seehorn “the find” of Better Call Saul: “She can be hilariously funny, she can be absolutely moving. She can do anything, she just has this astounding range.” (Gilligan has also said that if he were to make another spinoff of any characters in the Saul universe, it’d be Kim: “Personally, as one of the first two fans of Better Call Saul, I want to know more about Kim, I want to see and learn more about her.”)
Playing Kim presents another challenge: Seehorn is the sole female lead on Better Call Saul, a spinoff from a show with a fan base that did not always view its female characters forgivingly. Such vitriol was directed at Breaking Bad’s Skyler White that Anna Gunn, the actress who played her, wrote a 2013 New York Times op-ed about it: “My character, to judge from the popularity of Web sites and Facebook pages devoted to hating her, has become a flash point for many people’s feelings about strong, nonsubmissive, ill-treated women,” she wrote. “Because Skyler didn’t conform to a comfortable ideal of the archetypical female, she had become a kind of Rorschach test for society, a measure of our attitudes toward gender.”
Kim has certainly not inspired this kind of toxic response, and of course she and Skyler are incredibly different women. But one of the exciting things about watching Kim—and watching Seehorn portray her—comes from the way she scrambles TV’s traditional gender tropes. “She’s incredibly still and controlled,” Seehorn said of her character in an interview before the third season. “It’s really fun to play also because it’s switching the stereotypes of male and female. Because if anything Jimmy is the more emotional, talkative, expressive person. Kim’s a little more project-oriented. It’s really fun playing someone who takes positions of power in not speaking sometimes.”
Throughout the series, Chuck and Kim have been the grounding forces in Jimmy’s life (both of whom are noticeably absent from Breaking Bad, and the concerns of Saul Goodman). Chuck’s death in last season’s finale was so unbearably brutal that it’s hard to imagine the show killing off Kim, too—even the Vince Gilligan universe has its limits. But as much as I’m still dreading whatever happens to her, I have faith that she can handle it. It would take a hell of a lot to break Kim Wexler. “You don’t save me,” she reminds Jimmy in Season 2, as she claws her way up yet again from the purgatory of document review. “I save me.”