2014 Emmy Analysis: Lead Actor in a Drama Series (House of Cards! Mad Men! True Detective! Breaking Bad!)
It’s time for leading men to do battle in our Emmy Analysis series and this could be the bout of the night. All signs show the fight is only between 3-time winner Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) and first-timer (but now Oscar-winner) Matthew McConaughey (True Detective). It will be a race to the finish for Cranston’s final season and to see how long the wave of winning that Oscar is for McC0naughey. Then there’s Jeff Daniels. The surprise winner from last year is nominated again this year. Granted, he doesn’t have as strong of a submission as last year but with that shockwave still being felt this year anything could happen.
01. In submitting the finale, “Form and Void,” Matthew McConaughey finds himself with a strong tape that features him (and Harrelson) finding the killer and working their way through his elaborate labyrinth and dispatching of him. But, not before taking some serious wounds themselves. McConaughey gets weepy in his hospital bed saying that he felt the presence of his dead father and daughter and it’s compelling stuff. It’s a bit subdued for an Emmy submission tape and it’s also the only one that doesn’t feature a flashback to give voters a chance to see McConaughey playing the younger version of himself and that could hurt him. Harrelson also has a lot of good moments in this episode, possibly taking away from McConaughey, but that is also the case in Harrelson’s tape for McConaughey. Still, it’s probably McConaughey’s to lose. He has the momentum. He’ll get the SAG, Oscar and Emmy in the same calendar year like Helen Hunt did.
02. Unless Bryan Cranston pulls out a very possible final win for Breaking Bad, which is entirely possible. In “Ozymandias,” Cranston gets an explosive amount of range with an episode that flashes back to the origins of the show (Walt and Jesse’s first cook) then to the aftermath of the desert shootout. He also shows his protection of his family with the call to Skylar (with the police listening in) viciously destroying her in an effort to make it appear that she knew nothing of his criminal activities. It builds so that you don’t realize just what he’s doing until halfway through and it’s incredibly effective stuff. But then he also gets to dabble into Walt’s darkest side when he reveals to Jesse that he was there when Jane died. It’s a brutal and heartless moment but again, range of performance and character that the Emmys have come to know (and reward) him for. The only drawback I can see for Cranston is that he’s a three-time winner for this role but since when have the Emmys cared about that?
03. While all eyes are on his co-star for the Emmy, Woody Harrelson (a previous Emmy winner in comedy for Cheers) could be a spoiler here. Not only does he feature well in McConaughey’s submission, his own tape, “The Locked Room,” gives Harrelson two great moments for voters. A huge, sympathetic, emotional breakdown with his wife and a crazy, maniacal ransacking of his mistress’s apartment after he sees her with another man. The episode gives Harrelson more range than McConaughey does in his tape but, again, he’s also in this one. I’m just saying, the only thing the Emmys love more than rewarding the same person over and over is subverting that and giving shocking wins out. See last year for proof.
04. Speaking of, last year’s winner here, Jeff Daniels, is nominated again this year. His episode, “Election Night, Part 2” is nothing like his explosive diatribe speech that won him the Emmy. He has a few key moments but he’s not really the center of them. In his scene with the senior staff it’s more of a ‘Oh Captain, my Captain’ moment supporting him. In his scene with Sam Waterston, it’s Waterston’s monologue; Daniels is merely a sounding board. It’s only in his scenes blasting Republicans (of which he is one) on the election night panel and with Emily Mortimer (where they talk about dating, exes and he eventually proposes to her) that he has any moments of his own. It’s not a winnable tape, even by Emmy standards.
05. Netflix proved that the first season wasn’t a fluke when the second season of House of Cards maintained its nomination total from season one, with nine. Kevin Spacey submitted the season finale, “Chapter 26” and it’s a good tape. It features Frank (Spacey) being conspired against by two former allies; the President of the United States and Raymond Tusk (Gerald McRaney). There is a moment where Frank is vulnerable and defeated but he doesn’t stay there too long once he crafts a plan to ascend from Vice President to President with a deliciously calculated move to get the President to resign. Working against Spacey though is that his star power couldn’t get the two-time Oscar winner the Emmy last year against Daniels and since he and Robin Wright both submitted the same episode he doesn’t benefit from more screen time elsewhere.
06. Jon Hamm will never win an Emmy.
01. Matthew McConaughey, True Detective – “Form and Void”
02. Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad – “Ozymandias”
03. Woody Harrelson, True Detective – “The Locked Room”
04. Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom – “Election Night, Part 2”
05. Kevin Spacey, House of Cards – “Chapter 26”
06. Jon Hamm, Mad Men – “The Strategy”