This category seemingly is a lock for Viola Davis, but as the Emmys have shown pundits, critics, and viewers alike in the past, there is no such thing as a guarantee. However, that doesn’t go to say that Davis isn’t the clear frontrunner in this category with her freshman show How to Get Away With Murder. What primarily puts Davis in the first position to win is her having already won an SAG for her performance, indicating she is a favorite at least amongst her peers (many of whom make up the voting body). Davis’ biggest weakness, however, is the format of her show. The show is edited and scripted in an ambiguous manner due to the show’s content, which is comprised of hiding secrets and character motivations. Her submission episode, “Freakin Whack-a-Mole,” showcases Davis’ acting talents, but the episodes only touches the surface of how dense her performance actually is. Yet Davis has the Hollywood clout and likability that will undoubtedly give her chances a boost. One cannot deny that without Viola Davis How to Get Away With Murder would be a smaller, lesser-known show. It is Davis who keeps the show afloat and voters will not miss that fact when considering who to award in this category.
Again, Viola Davis’ chances are looking good but there are many opportunities for an upset to occur. Her biggest threat is Taraji P. Henson in Empire. Henson’s deliciously vindictive character has been the blatant scene-stealer of Empire’s first season and her submission episode, “Unto the Breach,” provides an extraordinary performance from her. The episode not only showcases the ruthless and sly mannerisms of Henson’s character, but the episode also contains a tremendously popular scene from the show when Henson’s character engages in a drink-off challenge against everyone in a recording studio in an effort to sign a rapper to her label. Henson’s chances seemingly were hurt by Empire’s overall snub at the Emmys, but the fact she still managed to grab a nomination speaks volumes. Henson could easily win on her own performance, but if voters decide to remedy Empire’s snub, Henson may get an extra boost with voters to sneak in a win over Davis.
Nor should Tatiana Maslany be underestimated either with her highly unique and versatile performance in Orphan Black. Maslany is seemingly at an disadvantage due to former Emmy trends that have typically not favored science-fiction shows (The X Files being one of the few exceptions to this). Maslany’s nomination is more due to the demands of fans who have decried foul when Maslany was snubbed for the last two years with Orphan Black. What truly aids Maslany this year (aside from finally being nominated) is her episode perfectly captures what voters have missed by not nominating her for the show’s first two seasons. Maslany’s performance is astounding primarily because of the versatility of her performance by starring as six different characters, all of which are done exquisitely. In this category Maslany may have the best chance because any submission episode would have done her justice, and her choice, “Certain Agony of the Battlefield,” does precisely that.
What also makes this category uncertain is the opportunity for show veterans from popular shows, Elisabeth Moss and Robin Wright, yet another chance of winning the award. Of these two, Elisabeth Moss stands a good chance of riding the momentum if voters award Mad Men in the Drama Series category. She submitted the series finale, “Person to Person,” which wasn’t necessarily her best episode of the series, but did perfectly capture the conclusion of her character on the show. Moss does have the benefit of having been nominated for Mad Men six times in the last eight years, which would put her at the forefront of voters’ minds, who may award her as an ode for her work on the series in its entirety. Another reason to not underestimate Moss is the fact she was the surprise nomination in this category, edging out both last year’s winner, Julianna Margulies, and Golden Globe winner Ruth Wilson (both of whom were expected to get nominations over Moss). This may be an indicator of where voters could be leaning.
Robin Wright also stands a good chance with voters who may want to award her as a way to recognize House of Cards’ third season. The popularity of the show’s third season is an absolute benefit to Wright, especially when considering many fans have questioned why an actor from the show has failed, so far, to win an Emmy. Yet Wright could win on her own merit without having to ride any momentum House of Cards may have. Much of the season’s focus was put upon Robin Wright, who delivered a flawless and nuanced performance. This season also provided for some of Wright’s most intense acting, to which she allowed for her deliberately restrained performance to formulate cracks on its surface that ultimately became glaring insights into who her character actually is and what she actually thinks and believes. Wright shouldn’t be underestimated this year.
The one major threat to all of these nominees is Claire Danes, the only Emmy winning actress in this category. Danes has already won the Emmy twice for Homeland and that does give her an unique advantage over everyone else. Her submission episode, “From A to B and Back Again,” functions as a episode that showcases her character’s ability to manipulate a situation to her advantage, but also portraying her character’s emotional agitated behavior when her carefully crafted plans do not function as she intended. Danes is well liked among Emmy voters and it is no secret that without her, Homeland wouldn’t function as a show. Adding to that, it should be acknowledged that Homeland was the surprise Drama Series nominee this year, indicating that voters may have warmed up to the show after snubbing its third season last year, giving Danes a bit of an edge over the other nominees.
Claire Danes – Homeland
Viola Davis – How to Get Away with Murder
Taraji P. Henson – Empire
Tatiana Maslany – Orphan Black
Elisabeth Moss – Mad Men
Robin Wright – House of Cards
Will Win: Viola Davis
Could Win: Taraji P. Henson
Should Win: Tatiana Maslany
Could Upset: Elisabeth Moss