If there ever were to be an upset that would shock critics, it would be in this category. While this category seemingly is a lock for Christina Hendricks, there is too much uncertainty as to where voters will lean with this year’s awards to say it is a guarantee for her. However, of the nominees in this category, Hendricks is the most worthy of the win. Hendricks, who has been nominated every year for the last six years, has never won for her performance as Joan Holloway in AMC’s Mad Men. Her performance as Joan has become one of the most iconic aspects of the show, which has portrayed an extraordinary progression of liberation for the character who was initially introduced as a sex kitten, who over-sexualized her persona to attract the attention of others, to becoming a detail-oriented businesswoman who wanted to be taken seriously for her brain instead of her looks. The entirety of her role hinged and depended upon how Hendricks portrayed her character in this final season and she did so with astonishing subtlety and empowerment. Hendricks’ submission episode choice, “Lost Horizon,” is the best episode of her’s for the reason that it is when Joan finally stands up for herself and refuses to submit to sexism. Hendricks was able to instill internalized fear, with immense anger with the hope of a better future within this episode and due to her acting, “Lost Horizon” is one of the best episodes of Mad Men’s final season, if not the series. This Emmy should go to Christina Hendricks with a bow tied around it.
While Hendricks is the more deserving and worthy of this win, her competition doesn’t make this category a guarantee for her. Another six-year veteran nominee without any wins is Christine Baranski for The Good Wife whose acting has always remained a constant on the CBS show. Her submission episode, “Loser Edit,” tackles the issue of gay rights in contrast to religious freedom, to which her character goes toe-to-toe in a mock trial with a wealthy conservative client. It is an episode that challenges her character while also arguing what is discrimination based upon the law as it currently stands. It is an episode that gives Baranski tremendous depth and also a further understanding of her passion for the law.
Also nominated in this category is Uzo Aduba for Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, who was the winner in the Guest Actress category last year. Due to new Emmy rules, actors and actresses who star in more than half of the episodes of a given season automatically are ineligible for the Guest acting categories at the Emmys and this is what happened to Aduba this year. However, her nomination is a clear indicator that her acting has the clout and ability to win. Her submission episode, “Hugs Can Be Deceiving,” offered a glimpse into her character’s past that gave viewers a better understanding of who “Crazy Eyes” actually is as a person. It is an episode that Aduba provides both vulnerability, fury, and strength to her character. Aduba continues to be the best actress out of the cast of Orange is the New Black and that is because of her ability to truly become the character, which puts her in a very good position to upset Christina Hendricks.
Nor should the more subtle performances nominated in this category be ignored either. When Maggie Smith was snubbed in favor of Joanne Froggatt for Downton Abbey, that suggested this performance shouldn’t be underestimated at all. Froggatt is still riding high after her Golden Globe win back in January (for Downton’s 4th season) and that momentum help her with a surprise win this September. Froggatt’s submission episode, “Episode 8,” provided her most vulnerable work from Downton Abbey’s fifth season with her character continuing to endure the trauma of what occurred to her character in the show’s fourth season. Froggatt’s performance is densely layered and fragile, which may have Emmy voters commending her for instilling so much into her character with mere body language and facial expressions.
However, if Game of Thrones experiences an award sweep this year, it could be either Lena Headey or Emilia Clarke who benefit from it. The issue with both actresses, however, is being part of an ensemble cast to which their scenes per episode are limited. A single submission episode for either of them limits showing Emmy voters the amount of range their respective performances have throughout the entire season. Emilia Clarke has chosen the episode, “The Dance With Dragons,” which is perhaps the most visually dazzling of all her episodes that shows a combination of her character attempting to lead and finding herself in a coup that threatens her life. While this is a terrific episode for Clarke’s character, the episode is minimal of her acting and is too special-effects heavy of a submission episode. Between the two actresses, Lena Headey has more of a chance of winning with her submission episode of the season finale, “Mother’s Mercy.” In this episode Headey’s conniving and villainous Cercei is compelled to do what can be best described as a “shame walk” through the city in an effort to get herself out of prison. Her character is stripped naked, cut, spit on, and has excrement thrown at her by crowds of citizens, to name a few repulsive moments that occur during this “shame walk.” For Headey, this sequence in the episode is only about 10 minutes in length, but its impact is tremendous. What Headey was able to achieve in those 10 minutes is astounding by showing her character attempting to maintain her poise and dignity, only to have it slowly stripped away until she breaks down. It was acting perfection on the part of Lena Headey and she easily could take the win for this. Headey’s one disadvantage is the revelation that her nudity in this scene was done by a body double, which may have Emmy voters debating whether this detracts from her performance or not, perhaps citing it as half a performance.
Uzo Aduba – Orange is the New Black
Christine Baranski – The Good Wife
Emilia Clarke – Game of Thrones
Joanne Froggatt – Downton Abbey
Lena Headey – Game of Thrones
Christina Hendricks – Mad Men
Will Win: Christina Hendricks
Could Win: Uzo Aduba or Lena Headey
Should Win: Christina Hendricks
Could Upset: Joanne Froggatt