By Dan Snierson
April 13, 2020 at 10:25 PM EDT
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Warning: This article contains plot details from Monday's episode of Better Call Saul, "Bad Choice Road."

As the punishing desert sun begins to set on season 5 of Better Call Saul, the foreboding shadow being cast is undeniable. This stretch of episodes is the most intense, complex, and formidable season yet, with the last few episodes of the Breaking Bad prequel leveling up again. Ace attorney/advocate Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) was always a critical element of the origin story of Jimmy McGill-turned-Saul Goodman-turned-Gene Takovic (Bob Odenkirk), but she has become every bit as wily and fascinating (if not more), her choices also disorienting and enigmatic. Along the crooked journey, Seehorn keeps turning in magnetic and nuanced performances, secrets revealed and questions posed in the slightest crease of smile or tiniest quiver of brow.

The penultimate season 5 episode, "Bad Choice Road," saw Kim once again rise and surprise. She responsibly tended to Jimmy (her new husband, still processing that) after he returned from his ill-fated bagman assignment of retrieving $7 million in bail money for Lalo (Tony Dalton), all sunburnt, traumatized, and hiding something from her. Kim told her law firm boss, Rich (Dennis Boutsikaris), that she was quitting, and also left behind the lucrative Mesa Verde account, swearing off those mahogany-paneled corporate handcuffs and recommitting to the pro bono work that she said fulfilled her. But just a few hours later, she found herself neck-deep in the drug underworld, when Lalo dropped by their apartment, brandishing a gun, having discovered that Jimmy lied to him about what happened on the money mission. In one of the show's most mesmerizing moments, the tension ballooned as Lalo made Jimmy repeat his false account over and over, before Kim transformed from chilled onlooker into forceful rhetorician. Ignoring the blinking danger lights, she sprang to Jimmy’s defense, going toe-to-toe with the drug lord, chastising him for challenging Jimmy: "Get your sh— together and stop torturing the one man who went through hell to save your ass.” And in that one bold moment, she saved Jimmy’s. For now.

How should viewers interpret Kim’s game-changing decisions? Is she now in the game with Jimmy/Saul, voluntarily or not? Let’s make the excellent choice of calling up Seehorn and heading back down “Bad Choice Road,” before precariously peeking around the bend at the season finale.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Jimmy has been a fascinating character study, but this season Kim might even be more intriguing — and in more need of a psychotherapy session. How did you go about getting a handle on her in season 5?

RHEA SEEHORN: She constantly has an internal voice going on, an internal monologue that's grappling with who she is and how she feels about things. And then there was an external scene happening at the same time. And you saw it very clearly in the episode where they have this breakup argument and then she says, “Or we get married.” It's that idea of two trains running at the same time and she's constantly hoping they don't collide. Her own thoughts about what she's doing and trying to piece it out versus what's happening in real time outside of her. And it's this push-pull that she keeps trying to balance and sadly keeps thinking that she can manage if she just compartmentalizes well enough. Those things created a lot of tension. That and just listening to my wonderful directors and writers and showrunner telling me that I just have to think Kim's thoughts, and people will see it and trust myself as a performer. And I think you do see that — there's a tension between what's going on in Kim's head and what's happening outside of her pretty much the entire season.

Reading her facial expressions has become an Olympic-level challenge, by the way.

Thank you!

We’ve seen Kim slip and run scams with Jimmy in the past. But whether helping that lone holdout, Acker (Barry Corbin), or her public confrontation with Rick, or going back in the room to lay down the law with Mesa Verde CEO Kevin (Rex Linn), or her sudden marriage proposal, or quitting her job and giving up Mesa Verde, or confronting Lalo, Kim is making surprising moves this season. Which one took you the longest time to wrap your head around before getting into her head?

Quite a few of them. Going back to Acker in the middle of the night and revealing very personal information about her childhood when she, I presume, has only ever said anything about her private life to Jimmy — she's an excruciatingly private person — that was a challenge. But Michael Morris, who was directing, and Anne Cherkis, who was writing, and [co-creator] Peter Gould — it was exciting hearing their thoughts: “Yes, it is unusual. Yes, it is bizarre. It’s extreme behavior that's starting to come out of her because of how long she has been suppressing.” And she suppresses her emotion. Jimmy is the more emotional of the two. Which is really fun to play when you talk about male-female stereotypes. She is very pragmatic, solution-oriented. Like, “Let's just figure it out. We don't need to discuss it.” And he wants to deal with everything with his emotions. So that was challenging, but exciting.

“Blissfully challenging” is how I would describe this season as an actor, because how fantastic to go right up to a cliff for work every day and give yourself the opportunity to get better? The scene where it's a breakup argument that turns to her saying, “Or we get married” — that turn was very hard. I really had to spend some time with it because it was important to me to meet the challenge of the storytelling without it being sentimental or melodramatic. The tone of that scene I found difficult to hold onto. You could get very indulgent with your emotions in this scene and let it all hang out and scream and cry all over the place — and you'd lose a grip on the tone of that scene, which has to maintain the desperation of holding herself together. Where that would normally be the saving strength in the scene, it instead leads her to what she thinks is a pragmatic solution to the problem. She can't deal with the emotional question because it doesn't have a right answer. So she goes for what is legal and logical and works in black and white. [Laughs] It's an issue with her, and we've begun to see it bite her in the ass. What you're talking about in episode 9, all of that stuff was hard. I keep saying hard, and what I mean is “the greatest gift you get as an actor.”

What you saw in 9, the switch when she decides, “I'm going to take control of this situation,” that was challenging to get my head around, because Kim is constantly weighing risk versus reward. When I have some of these silent moments and she then lurches and decides to say something, I have to make a decision whether it's dawning on her, “This is what I have to do,” or is it something that arrests her in the moment. Is it a mistake, or is it planned? In the scene when she's confronting Lalo, it is a bit of both. I think she's sitting there the entire time terrified for both of them, trying to take in. Every time Lalo was asking Jimmy something, his story is looking shaky. Kim doesn't know what he's hiding, but she knows he's hiding something and he's willing to risk his life to not say it, so it can't be good. She's sitting there and trying to figure out as any of us would in that moment: “Where are the knives in my drawers? Could I call 911? Would it help? How would I explain this? Where are our keys? How far down from the balcony could we climb?” [Laughs] And then this thought occurs to her and I think it's half-baked. It's very similar to how she approached Kevin Wachtell to get her job back. She would definitely be really good on a debate team — she can argue points that don't even make sense. That was fun finding my way around that. All of these scenes took a while. But they're puzzles to me, and I like puzzles. A lot. I like sitting there and spending as many hours as possible trying to figure out deductively, “If you end at B, where was A? And what happened in between?

What thoughts raced through your mind as you were reading that scene in which Kim springs into action with Lalo? Alarm? Pride? Curiosity?

I was terrified. I was terrified that I'd be able to pull it off, as I am with most of the scripts. I'm just always like, “Oh! Wow. Oh! Okay. That's a lot to navigate those turns and those twists that the audience must believe what's happening in her head.” Tom Schnauz — who’s a great writer and director — did that one, and Bob is so great in the scene and Tony Dalton does a tremendous job, as far as me getting to play off him. He's by no means just paralyzed through the scene. Kim keeps checking in with him to see how far to go. And I remember looking at the scene and the first thing that I thought was, “You’ve got to decide how it comes out — how much is planned versus a switch goes off in her.” And I think it was more the latter. She can't deal with the emotional response to what's happening because there's nothing that can be done except sit there terrorized. So she flips that switch of what, for her, is really her superpower — and is now getting her in a bit of trouble [laughs], but believing that she can somehow reason out of this, break it down to a debate that she can win.

But I firmly believe — and Tom agreed with me — that it's almost a couple of sentences at a time, as far as then getting through to the end. I don't think she planned on saying all of it in the beginning; it was more like, “I hope I can say three things and he'll back down or get out. “And she keeps having to say more and she’s searching for, “What gets under this guy's skin? How can I win this argument intellectually? He's towering over me. I can't win it physically." But it's also a very similar position to why she went to the police to go and talk to him while he was in custody. I think she is out of options. There's not a lot left to lose, and they are in a situation where she can't really go to the police to get help at this point.

After these last two episodes, and her interactions with Lalo, one may wonder if Kim somehow winds up in business with Jimmy. Is there a scenario where she feels she has no choice but to join him — or more intriguing, does some part of her want to join him, even though she’s discouraged him from getting involved?

It's a really good question — and it speaks to the larger question that this whole series has done with all the characters. And that's that idea of intrinsic versus extrinsic properties. Who was she before and who would she be if she never met Jimmy? You could also ask the same question of him. Or, who would he be if he'd never met Mike? I don't think any of these things are black and white, where people have sometimes thought, “He probably wouldn't beat himself up so much if Chuck didn't constantly berate him.” And: “Would he not be so tortured if he wasn't hoping to live up to what Kim thinks of him?” By the way, I've always said Kim does not tell Jimmy to be something for her —

She tells him that this is what he says he wants for himself.

She has qualities about her that I admire greatly where she does not tell people what to do, as much as warn them: “These things don't fit what you said you wanted — and this could be a trap and that could be a pitfall. Have you considered this?” And I think part of that is because it's reciprocity. Kim loathes being told how to think or what to do or how she should feel. And she has quite a few moments where she snaps when people try to do that to her. Even wrongfully when Schweikart accuses her of scamming with Jimmy over the Mesa Verde thing and he's absolutely right. And her ego — I loved that moment! She should have just let him gracefully take her off the case and be done with it. But she could not stand being accused of something that she's actually culpable for. [Laughs] And it's her ego.

Sorry, long way to say I don't think I could answer your question because there's a lot of stories left that I don't know the answers to either. I’ve got my own internal contexts that I use, but I don't think every off-the-beaten-path decision or coloring-outside-of-the-lines decision that Kim makes is solely because of Jimmy. When he finally gets her to scam Ken Wins [Kyle Bornheimer] in season 2, I asked, “Do you guys think she's good at it?” She's clearly reluctant to do it, but once she starts doing it, if you look at just the dialogue, you could play that really shaky and nervous, you could play it that she's very clearly lying. But I knew the end of the scene is that they're successful. So she had to have been able to pull it off to a certain degree. Tom [who wrote the episode] was like, “We're not entirely sure. We're not entirely putting everything in cement yet that says she has scammed before, she knows how to scam, but I think she's good at almost everything she sets out to do!” And I said, “Me, too! And it's weird! And I don't know what's happening!” We were like, “Okay! Let's do it.”

So those are the questions that remain still now. She's in the moment making these decisions. Would she have ever been involved with the cartel if it wasn't for Jimmy? That seems to be a stretch, but I also don't know. They were also friends in the mailroom for a long time. Would she have become a successful lawyer if she was never around Jimmy? Maybe he had some positive influences on her as well. What is scary is that it seems that Kim used to have a vice grip on making sure she did not get in situations where she couldn't stay on the straight and narrow. And she seems to be in situations now — one after the other — that just lead to the next one where things are too murky to pick black and white anymore. I think that’s why she originally started practicing law, as she mistakenly thought, “Oh, here's a place where everything is black and white! It's legal or illegal, and there's nothing in between!” And she found out that that's a load of crap. That's just not how life is. [Laughs]

Asked another way: Do you worry that she's in the game, like it or not?

I worry. The actor, Rhea. [Laughs] I think Kim is still compartmentalizing. I still think she thinks she's not. And that's dangerous. It's a lot of denial.

When you think about how Kim goes from quitting corporate work to do more noble pro bono to later in the episode going toe-to-toe with a drug kingpin, chastising him, and telling him to manage his money better, that is a wild swing. How did you reconcile that?

Giving up Schweikart and Coakley, and the Mesa Verde case, are two huge decisions. She could have done one or the other. Even those are colored with lots of different layers as well. Kim would love to just walk around thinking, “This is because I need to do more pro bono work.” And I think she probably is lying to herself in saying that. But Mesa Verde is still the ill-gotten gains that was never clean because of what Jimmy did with switching the numbers and getting it back from Chuck. If you're just talking theoretically at the table, Kim deserved Mesa Verde as a client. She did all the work. That has nothing to do with what's legal and illegal about how she got it back from Chuck. So that's already ill-gotten gains.

And then on top of that, yes, she realized, “I don't want to just be a banking lawyer,” but there's been clear evidence along the way that she also has an issue with Kevin Wachtell and anyone that walks around dick-swinging and just wants to throw money everywhere. She has issues with people who are the Ken Wins of the world. It's not just Jimmy that doesn’t like those people. And you could argue this is because she didn't come from much. She doesn't like people that don't seem to have made their own way in the world. She doesn't like people that don't care about trickle-down effect and helping anyone else. So she's got a little moral chip on her shoulder that is also getting in the way. It's fun to pretend that she's a martyr, but she's not. So she's taking all of that into this, and then this crazy thing happens. And I think you're right that it looks like an insane turn. It’s a hard turn, but in a way it is very similar to “Or we get married,” the emotions are so high that she resorts to her superpower.

Kim did defuse the situation in the apartment, but how much so? We know Lalo’s a sharp, impulsive, and relentless man…

Kim is very intelligent. So I have to believe that while she may not have firsthand understanding of the cartel, she understands that he's not going to be deterred forever. But she's in the business of taking it a step at a time at this point. No, I don't think the fear is gone. And I haven't seen the scene. I don't know if they kept the shot of me exhaling after he leaves. [Laughs]

They did.

Oh, good! Because I firmly believe that Kim is even aware that this was a bit of a performance. And that it's a Band-Aid. But I think she thinks she's buying them time to figure out what the hell to do.

In legal terms, it’s a continuance.

Exactly!

At this point in our journey, how do you compare Jimmy and Kim’s moral compasses? Obviously his is flashier and maybe even bejeweled, while hers seemed a little sturdier but has been getting stuck more often, pointing south.

Yeah, it's funny, there's more similarities than I thought maybe two seasons ago as far as they both behave as if the outcome is more important than how you got there. Jimmy's intentions are, for the most part, quite pure. And certainly when you're talking about the effect they would have on Kim, even when the execution is absolutely wrong, he meant well. He cuts corners, thinking it doesn't matter as long as you have the same result.

For Kim, there's a lot of similarities there, but she's playing a different game. She's struggling with playing God and thinking who deserves to have justice, who deserves to have a win in their corner, and how you get there. She knows she knows what's wrong, but she's struggling. Jimmy's not struggling with his conscience [laughs] in how he executes things, as long as he believes in the outcome. She struggles with the execution of it. She still feels sick in a stairwell, as we saw in the opening of this season, over not conducting things on the up and up, and doing the right thing. But I think this whole season is partially about her wrestling with when doing the right thing results in awful things. Like someone getting kicked out of their house. So what does it mean to play by the rules after a while?

How much illumination on Kim and Jimmy's relationship will there be in the finale?

The depths of how complex this relationship is and how deep it runs with both of them is illuminated. Even more. [Laughs]

After a season of so many surprises, how many more can physically be packed into this finale?

Oh, there's still more coming! [Laughs] There's still a lot of really big ones going. And as they've done this whole season, it's both what's happening externally and what's happening internally with people. It's so much fun as an actor trying to keep up with Kim. She's more complex and a faster thinker than I am [laughs], so I’m constantly trying keep up with her! And revealing things that I thought were there and discovering other ones that I hadn't considered. Sometimes the penultimate episode can wrap up a few of the stories, and then you do other ones for the finale. But in this case, no, the surprises aren’t done, not for any of us. I wasn't sure what else there was to mine because I felt breathless after [episode] 9, but you are going to have a hard time breathing through [episode] 10. And some of it is because there are some scenes with some humor in them, but they're so coded now with what we know about the bigger picture.

What is one final cryptic clue that you can drop about Kim in the finale?

The fear and the worry that people have for Kim — and what's happening to her — is merited.

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  • 4
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  • 40
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  • Vince Gilligan
  • Peter Gould
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