The Television Academy does not currently give an Emmy to the Most Outstanding Ponytail in a Scripted Series. But if it did, the winner would undeniably be the magnificent, single ringlet that frequently swings from the head of Kim Wexler, the ultraprofessional attorney and one-woman support system for Jimmy McGill on AMC’s Better Call Saul.
As worn by Rhea Seehorn — and as demonstrated in this week’s episode, “Breathe” — Wexler’s swept-up, boing-boing-curled work of hair art is more than just a ponytail. It’s a reflection of who Kim is and who she wants to be. It’s a weathervane that suggests which way the wind is blowing for her, or the way it may be blowing in the very near future. Oh, and on top of all that: That thing is just flawless.
When Kim wears that ponytail in a courtroom or other work-oriented setting — and that’s usually where she wears it — it is a reflection of her strength and sense of order. No strand is out of place. The coil is curled perfectly, as if it were sculpted with plans to put this ponytail on display in a museum. It is a ponytail that could only spring from the scalp of a grown woman who is formidable and unflappable. It’s a total power pony.
But the ponytail, by nature, also has a whiff of girlish energy about it. A high and tight one like Kim’s is associated with cheerleaders and elementary-schoolers whose mothers insist that they look their best on class picture day. The way it swirls is reminiscent of the pigtails once worn by Cindy Brady, the baby of The Brady Bunch who swore she didn’t sound like a baby, even though she totally did. Kim Wexler is smart enough to grasp all this, and that’s probably why she chose the ponytail, too, aside from the practicality that comes with just putting up her hair and forgetting about it. Kim wants her colleagues to take her seriously, but in a male-dominated profession — and also in a firm like her former one, Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill — she realizes that it doesn’t hurt to subtly project a bit of youthful femininity.
“I’ve had some people ask if they could see the ponytail, like it’s an entity,” Seehorn said in a Vulture interview. It’s like the ponytail is a Better Call Saul character all of its own. Which it kind of is, isn’t it?
But the most important function Kim Wexler’s ponytail serves is that of truth-teller. On a series whose protagonist is notoriously slippery and where even Kim herself has been seduced by the temptations of con artistry, that ponytail is always there — or absent, which is just as telling — to signal what’s really going on with Kim, or what could be just ahead.
As this Uproxx piece from last year noted, Kim’s pony curl tends to be wound more tightly when she is stressed, loose when she’s at ease, and, at home, it goes away entirely. She’s so relaxed in her own space — and no longer concerned about maintaining appearances — that she can let her locks just flow.
That’s been happening more frequently since the events that transpired at the end of season three. After her car accident, an event brought on by work-related fatigue, Kim’s ponytail went on sabbatical, partly because she hasn’t been working and also, perhaps, because trying to tie a ponytail that sublime is next to impossible with a broken arm.
But Kim managed to pull it off in last week’s episode at the funeral for Chuck McGill (Michael McKean), brother of Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk), an event that she knew would be attended by plenty of her former colleagues. On an occasion that required her to pay her respects and also look like her usual professional self, she got her ponytail on. Which is why it’s extra-notable that for her confrontation with Howard (Patrick Fabian) — the big, gangbusters scene in “Breathe” — she didn’t.
She comes to the Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill office as a representative of Jimmy and to get the information about what piece he’ll get of Chuck’s estate. Not surprisingly, the answer is not much. He inherits $5,000, the opportunity to serve on a board for a scholarship Chuck created, a personal letter from Chuck to Jimmy, and the chance to sort through the rubble at the house Chuck burned down — a property that is going to Chuck’s ex-wife — and take whatever he wants. Kim is furious at Howard for his condescension as he explains all this, and for telling Jimmy in last week’s episode that Chuck most likely committed suicide. She just unloads, laying into Howard about how unfair it is to suggest that Jimmy “ dig around the fire-damaged wreck where his brother died, screaming” and how rude it is to ask Jimmy to serve on a committee for a scholarship that “Chuck never in a million years would have given to Jimmy. Never!”
This is a huge moment for Kim, one that’s played with perfectly deployed fury by Seehorn. It shows how loyal she is to Jimmy and how hurt she is on his behalf. It’s also an opportunity for her to let fly the anger she’s felt for years, for her own reasons, toward Howard. By the time it’s over, their conversation has firmly drawn a line between who Jimmy was when Chuck was alive and who he will be going forward. “Stay away,” Kim tells Howard when he asks what he can do to make things right. You get the sense that she’s drawing a similar line between herself and her past life, too. If the shouting and well-earned rage don’t already give that away, all you have to do is take one look at her hair in this scene to see it.
It’s in a ponytail, as it usually is when she sees Howard. But that ponytail is gathered at the nape of her neck, and it’s messy — not organized neatly into its usual twist. Her hair is basically half-down and half-up, a reflection of the career and moral limbo Kim is about to face. Most significantly, that ponytail isn’t fastened with the typical rubber band that blends in perfectly with Kim’s soft blonde hair. In a final screw you to Howard Hamlin, one that Howard would never notice in a million years, she shoves her hair into a barette. A barette. No other hair accessory says quite as loudly and clearly: “I have stopped giving a shit what you think.” Well, maybe a scrunchie, but that also says, “I have stopped giving a shit how I look,” and Kim is definitely not there yet.
Kim’s former boss no longer intimidates her, and she no longer feels like she needs to control herself in his presence. What does all of that mean for Kim? I’m not sure what’s next for her, but I know where I’ll be looking to gauge her emotional state and her fate as the rest of this season progresses: right at Kim’s lovely mane and the various meaningful twists and tails it displays.