When I read the list of very fine actors listed in the Best Supporting Actress category for the Emmys last week and didn’t see Rhea Seehorn’s name, I couldn’t decide whether I should be shocked or disgusted. So, I didn’t decide. I let myself be both.
A good friend of mine texted me later that day, asking “What does Rhea Seehorn have to do to get a nomination???”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “Maybe Kim Wexler has to die.” Then I thought about it for a moment and came back with, “Hell, maybe RHEA SEEHORN HAS TO DIE.”
Obviously, I want neither of those things to happen, but minus the extraordinary well of sympathy that gets created when a beloved character (or the actor themselves) shuffles off this mortal coil, I’m truly flummoxed by the question. I mean, really, what does Rhea Seehorn have to do?
One could understand how Seehorn might have been passed over for her work in the first couple seasons of Better Call Saul–she was a relative unknown and so much of her performance has always been internal (no one gives a Director of Photography better reaction shots than Seehorn). However, over the last three seasons, she has become more than Bob Odenkirk’s able support–she has become his equal. In fact, it’s arguable that in Saul’s fifth (and most recent) season that she has elevated to a co-lead on the show. I’m not even sure she’s in the right category.
What’s so frustrating about her snub is that it seemed like momentum for her was building. As her work has deepened with each season, so have the quality of her critical notices. This July, she received a nomination from the Television Critics Association (TCA) for her dramatic performance – the first supporting performance to be recognized in the Individual Achievement in Drama category since Peter Dinklage back in 2012. She’s also well-loved on set. I’ve spoken to a number of people both in front of and behind the camera from Better Call Saul, and to a person, they all bring her up in raving terms without me having to mention her.
And then there’s the work itself. I don’t know that there is any actor on television who with so little effort allows you inside of her head as she continues to make tiny (and not so tiny) compromises in her relationships with Jimmy/Saul and with the law she has sworn to uphold. You can feel Kim Wexler’s gut tightening with each level of acceptance of Jimmy’s latest envelope pushing (destroying?) behavior. Kim Wexler is dying slowly onscreen by the proverbial thousand tiny cuts. The courage and confidence Seehorn must have to present her character in this way–in little shades and nuances–is remarkable.
And when she does let it rip–as in the tour de force scene between her and Tony Dalton’s Lalo at the end of episode 9–she is just astounding. Watch Seehorn as Dalton expertly insinuates and threatens Saul with a barely contained menace, looking for her moment to interject on Saul’s behalf, finding one, being rejected, and then desperately looking for a second chance. When she takes it, she makes it count. What on the surface appears to be an obstinate defense of Saul’s actions is something else entirely. Look at her eyes–she’s not demanding, she’s begging, begging for Saul’s life. It is an extraordinary moment between Seehorn, Odenkirk, and Dalton, and I dare say she is first among equals.
And that’s just one of many scenes within Season 5 where Seehorn gets to shine in such great company. Which leads one to ask, when it comes to this year’s Emmy nominations, what the hell happened? How could she not receive her due?
I suppose it was a bad sign when Odenkirk was passed over for Best Actor for the first time in five seasons, but Giancarlo Esposito’s nomination for Supporting Actor let us know that the Academy wasn’t overlooking the performances on the show entirely. And besides, there were eight slots available in the Best Supporting Actress category.
To be fair, if you want to put someone in, you have to take someone out. I don’t want to go through all the names of the talented actors in the category, but I have to say, as much as I love Thandie Newton (A LOT), is anyone still watching Westworld? How much credit does she get for being the best thing on a show that’s well past its short-lived prime? Quite a bit, apparently. Regardless, there isn’t a single performance among the eight that I would find superior to Seehorn’s (although Sarah Snook on Succession has an argument, and like Seehorn, probably should be in the lead category). Again, I mean this as no insult to the great actors in this category. They are all wonderful, but only Snook is in a show that is humming along at the same artistic level that Saul is at the moment. It’s almost criminal to have (once again) overlooked Seehorn.
I made reference earlier to the point that maybe Kim Wexler has to die for Seehorn to get noticed, and here’s the thing, that may happen in what will be Saul’s sixth (and final) season. We all know that Kim Wexler isn’t in Breaking Bad which means on some level, her and Saul, er, well, break bad. That could mean Kim just ends the relationship and leaves Albuquerque, or it could mean something far more dire. While I can’t be sure of how the role closes for Wexler, I am sure that Seehorn will absolutely kill it on her way out. Maybe then the Academy will take notice.
But let’s say they don’t. What then? Well, the Academy will be at least a little shamed in the media for continually skipping over one of the best actors working on television. Although I imagine that will pass. With that in mind, you might look at the title of this article and wonder how Rhea Seehorn will get her revenge. It’s simple really: through the work. Over five (and soon–we hope–six) seasons, Rhea Seehorn has incrementally created one of the most fascinating characters in recent television history in a show that will go down as one of the best to ever grace the medium.
No one is going to forget that. Even if the Academy can’t be bothered to recognize it.