Emmy Episode Analysis: Will the Emmys Reward an Oscar Episode for Directing?

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year, Emmy season.

To prepare for TV’s biggest night (not looking at you, SuperBowl), we are going to dive into each of the major categories. Each acting, writing or directing nominee must submit one episode to be judged on. For series nominations, the series submits six episodes to be judged on. Each Friday, we will tackle a new set of categories to examine and predict the winners after watching (or re-watching) each submitted episode.

Our fourth week examines the directing categories for Drama, Comedy and Miniseries/TV Movie. These directors had to submit episodes for the ballot phase. Shows are able to get nominated for multiple episodes, but each episode will take up another nomination slot. Somehow “Big Little Lies” was able to achieve a nomination for the season, likely due to the entire show being directed by one director and submitted as a whole.

Warning: There may be spoilers ahead.

Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series

“Better Call Saul” – “Witness”

IMDB Synopsis: Jimmy and Kim hire an assistant; Mike seeks out a mysterious acquaintance; and Chuck uses the law to gain an advantage over Jimmy.

“Better Call Saul” seems to be on the rise, both critically, commercially and with the Emmys. However, it remains on the outside looking in. “Witness” is a strong episode that features favorite characters, such as Mike (Jonathan Banks) and Gus (Giancarlo Esposito). However, much of the episode is surveillance, which can read as more dry than anything else. Jimmy’s (Bob Odenkirk) emotional rant at the end serves as the highlight of the episode and features some intense directing. “Breaking Bad” fans may remember that director Vince Gilligan has never won an Emmy for directing. This marks the first directing nomination for “Better Call Saul” in three seasons. This bodes well for the show’s longevity, but does hinder its chances for winning.

“The Crown” – “Hyde Park Corner”

IMDB Synopsis: With King George too ill to travel, Elizabeth and Phillip embark on a four-continent Commonwealth tour. Party leaders attempt to undermine Churchill.

Few shows are as expensive and lavish as “The Crown.” The nominated episode, “Hyde Park Corner,” highlights the high production values as Elizabeth and Phillip travel to Africa. There are some wonderfully shot moments and the story and emotional scale are felt. Back home, we are thrust into King George’s illness. While the production values soar, the series in a vacuum fails to compel. Everything about the series exudes talent, but the excitement level rarely raises above tepid. The same could be said about “Downton Abbey,” which won directing in the first season under the miniseries field. However, since it moved to drama series, it lost each of its directing bids.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” – “Offred (Pilot)”

IMDB Synopsis: Offred, one the few fertile women known as Handmaids in the oppressive Republic of Gilead, struggles to survive as a reproductive surrogate for a powerful Commander and his resentful wife.

This appears to be the category for worldbuilding. While “Stranger Things” reimagines the 80s and “Westworld” blends sci-fi fantasy with the romanticized West, “The Handmaid’s Tale” brings to life quite a nightmare. Horrific views of bodies hanging from the mall and the sinister Stepford-esque florishes of the town heighten the terror of this new world. A favorite in the writing category as well, “The Handmaid’s Tale” has a lot of faith in its pilot. The arresting and galvanzing nature of the subject matter may help the show sweep many categories. However, this category may favor some of the more expensive shows in contention, such as “The Crown” or “Westworld.”

“The Handmaid’s Tale” – “The Bridge”

IMDB Synopsis: June is tasked with going back to Jezebels to find a package. Meanwhile in Gilead, Janine has trouble relinquishing her newborn baby.

In contrast with the pilot, we get more details and locations within the world of “The Handmaid’s Tale” here. We are able to see the Handmaid society after the birth of a baby, which is a simultaneously wrenching and joyous moment, as well as the Jezebel society, the seedy underbelly that exists for men’s enjoyment. However, the most memorable scene takes place on the titular bridge. Janine kidnaps her biological baby and stands on the ledge of a bridge, about to kill them both. The Father and his wife implore her to come down, but she insists he must run away with her. The live wire tension of the scene is constantly felt. The pilot seems to generate more excitement among Emmy voters, so that will be the best shot for “Handmaid’s Tale” to win. However, this is a strong submission that may steal a vote or two.

“Homeland” – “America First”

IMDB Synopsis: While Dar tries to get his plan back on track, Carrie and Quinn make an effort to save the President-elect.

If there is one thing “Homeland” continues to do well, it is to build tension. With the female President elect under threat, the directing of the episodes heightens the fear that death lurks around the corner. The climactic explosion in the middle of the episode that Carrie must intervene in is well shot and cut. However, the second half of the episode is merely bald bits of information used to set up next season. With “Homeland” out of drama series again, it seems the former Drama Series winner is on the outs. As the only non-drama series nominee in this category, it should feel happy just to have been nominated.

“Stranger Things” – “Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers”

IMDB Synopsis: In a small Indiana town, the disappearance of a young boy sparks a police investigation.

The Duffer Brothers gained significant praise for their spot on recreation of the 80s with “Stranger Things.” The pilot introduces us to both the nostalgia laden time period and the kitschy, yet threatening mystery in the center. Perhaps this is the best shot for the buzzy show. Two consecutive wins for “Game of Thrones” shows Emmy isn’t resistant to genre material here. Additionally, two consecutive wins for “Boardwalk Empire” illustrates love for period pieces, thought the jury is still out on whether they feel the 80s is still contemporary. However, it remains to be seen which of the four brand new series Emmys will take to.

“Westworld” – “The Bicameral Mind”

IMDB Synopsis: Ford unveils his bold new narrative; Dolores embraces her identity; Maeve sets her plan in motion.

With “Game of Thrones” ineligible this year, HBO sees this as their large prestige play. With the most nominations (tied with “Saturday Night Live”), the Emmys certainly seem to admire the level of finesse and detail that went into the series. The season one finale, “The Bicameral Mind” features many striking set pieces. Whether its robots attacking humans backstage, or impressive shootouts in the middle of the “Westworld” town, the episode does a great job coloring both worlds. While “The Crown” may be ornate, “Westworld” is more imaginative and inventive. “Game of Thrones” proves that genre fare can win, especially with HBO. This stands as “Westworld’s” strongest potential for a win.

My Personal Ballot:

  1. “The Handmaid’s Tale” – “Offred”
  2. “The Handmaid’s Tale” – “The Bridge”
  3. “Stranger Things” – “Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers”
  4. “Westworld” – “The Bicameral Mind”
  5. “Better Call Saul” – “Witness”
  6. “The Crown” – “Hyde Park Corner”
  7. “Homeland” – “America First”

My Emmy Prediction:

  1. “Westworld” – “The Bicameral Mind”
  2. “The Handmaid’s Tale” – “Offred”
  3. “The Crown” – “Hyde Park Corner”
  4. “Stranger Things” – “Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers”
  5. “Better Call Saul” – “Witness”
  6. “The Handmaid’s Tale” – “The Bridge”
  7. “Homeland” – “America First”

Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series

“Atlanta” – “B.A.N.”

IMDB Synopsis: Paper Boi appears on Montague as a guest and must put up with a tedious interview.

Few comedy episodes this year were funnier or more imaginative than “B.A.N.” Being shot in the vein of a multi-cam talk show can be a blessing and a curse for “B.A.N.” It certainly stands out from the rest of the episodes in the pack. However, the directors voting in this category could read it as easier or less prestigious. Still, with “Silicon Valley” holding two nominations and “Veep” holding three nominations, vote splitting could propel “Atlanta” to a win. Coupled with the fact that Donald Glover possesses the “cool-factor” right now, this could be the upset against the big HBO competitors.

“Silicon Valley” – “Intellectual Property”

IMDB Synopsis: Dinesh gets back to the ground while Richard continues to explore his new project. Gavin tries to come out of the new problem he has gotten himself into and interestingly the chemistry between Richard and Monica takes a new turn.

It’s hard to figure out what is noteworthy about this specific “Silicon Valley” episode. If there’s anything standout about the episode, it’s a moment near the end where Richard’s frustration gets his foot stuck in a wall. What sets this episode back is that even HBO seems to not feel confident in this episode. It was not among the six episodes “Silicon Valley” submitted for Best Comedy Series. This illustrates lack of faith in the episode. If voters are going to be voting for “Silicon Valley,” they are going to go with the Mike Judge directed episode “Server Error.”

“Silicon Valley” – “Server Error”

IMDB Synopsis: Richard finds himself in a web of lies; Jared plans his exit; Jack bets big; Gavin plots a comeback.

As the season finale, we watch the gang get pushed to the brink of failure yet again. The most revealing and best story moment involves Richard forgetting to close the door of a moving truck and murdering Gilfolye’s precious server. With Mike Judge at the helm, the episode is bound to have its supporters, especially among “Silicon Valley” fans. Getting two episodes in this category illustrates support for the show among Emmy voters. Additionally, this is an increase from the amount of nominations we usually see for the show. However, there still is a slight possibility to vote split. Lastly, the show has yet to win a major award. This means people like the show enough to nominate it, but not enough to place it first in these categories.

“Veep” – “Blurb”

IMDB Synopsis: While her staff prepares for her portrait unveiling, Selina and Mike try to finish her book.

As Selina Meyer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus gets another series of trademark, profanity laced takedowns. The portrait unveiling, in particular, provides a neat location as to further dignify (or strip dignity from) Selina’s former Presidency. If there’s one thing that stands out about the episode, it would be the fiery, yet adversarial, relationship between Selina and her former running mate, fellow Emmy nominee Hugh Laurie. It’s a strong “Veep” episode, but faces plenty of internal competition. Without a writing nomination, it seems this episode will most likely take a backseat to the season finale, “Groundbreaking.” It will remain to be seen whether this will aid in “Veep” vote-splitting.

“Veep” – “Groundbreaking”

IMDB Synopsis: Selina and her team prepare for the long awaited opening of her library.

In “Veep’s” season finale, we see Selina Meyer’s entire political career as she prepares for the first steps of her Presidential library to be built. It’s a grand showcase episode that could amount in “Veep’s” first win in the directing category. The past two years saw this category go to “Transparent,” which is not nominated this year. As the only “Veep” episode with both writing and directing nominations, “Groundbreaking” appears to be the best bet. It features some of the better sight gags of the season (such as the anatomically themed library). On top of that, the non-linear structure helps set this episode apart from the competition.

“Veep” – “Justice”

IMDB Synopsis: Selina and her team attend the funeral of a Supreme Court Justice. Amy works on securing a location for Selina’s library. Dan tries to maintain his upswing with his co-host. Jonah finds an issue.

Much of this episode focuses around Selina potentially entering into menopause. However, the symptoms point to a small heart problem, which in turn provokes a heart attack within Gary (Tony Hale). Hale masters the physical comedy required of this episode. In particular, the best part of this episode was Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons) and his inability to show up for a scheduled meeting. Of the three “Veep” episodes, this one bears the least distinct directorial flashes. It’s a strong episode, but not comparatively revolutionary, especially against “Blurb” or “Groundbreaking.”

My Personal Ballot:

  1. “Atlanta” – “B.A.N.”
  2. “Veep” – “Groundbreaking”
  3. “Veep” – “Blurb”
  4. “Veep” – “Justice”
  5. “Silicon Valley” – “Server Error”
  6. “Silicon Valley” – “Intellectual Property”

My Emmy Prediction:

  1. “Atlanta” – “B.A.N.”
  2. “Veep” – “Groundbreaking”
  3. “Silicon Valley” – “Server Error”
  4. “Veep” – “Blurb”
  5. “Veep” – “Justice”
  6. “Silicon Valley” – “Intellectual Property”

Outstanding Directing in a Miniseries/TV Movie

“Big Little Lies”

IMDB Synopsis: The apparently perfect lives of three mothers of first graders unravel to the point of murder.

From the opening moments, one finds themselves struck by the overall tone and mastery of “Big Little Lies.” The jarring, yet atmospherically appropriate music choices and beautiful photography of Monterey immediately set the scene for the wrenching, yet entertaining murder mystery. As the series continues, one realizes there is more than meets the eye in Jean Marc Vallee’s direction, just as in the character’s inner lives. The final 20 minutes of the season are hard to shake off. Major points must be given to director Jean Marc Vallee, who directed all seven hours of the series. This is a headline that will be hard to pass up for many voters, as it demonstrates such stamina without sacrificing skill. This would be an easy win if the finale was submitted. However, will voters watch the whole series? That could cost it a win.

“Fargo” – “The Law of Vacant Places”

IMDB Synopsis: A twisted sibling rivalry leads to murder, mobsters and cutthroat competitive bridge in a small Midwestern town.

The pilot episode is most effective at accentuating the divide between rich and poor. This divide separates warring brothers Emmett and Ray Stussey (Ewan McGregor) even further. It sets off the chain of actions that allows crime and murder to seep into the town. Contrasted with the wholesome, yet tired, demeanor of local police chief Gloria Bugle (Carrie Coon), and we have an easy read on all the major players in this season of “Fargo.” The snow drenched plains remain a fascinating and visceral setting for the anthology series. However, the tales have become less and less interesting this go around. It was able to squeak in here again, but the show will have to rely on more than just strong actors and a familiar setting going forward.

“Feud: Bette and Joan” – “And The Winner Is… (The Oscars of 1963)”

IMDB Synopsis: The fallout from the Oscar nominations leads to underhanded tactics from Joan, while Bette relishes the opportunity to break a record.

With a large portion of the drama set at the 1963 Oscars, this episode announces itself as a contender in this category. The feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford reaches a boiling point in front of America as Crawford schemes to make sure Davis doesn’t walk home with her third Oscar. The painstakingly specific recreation of the 1963 Oscars should gain most of its traction in this category. The landmark ceremony remarkably plays authentically, especially through some astounding tracking shots. In many ways, this episode comes off as a high wire showboating act that pays off. Also, with no other episode from the season to siphon votes away, there is a strong chance this showy episode can upset.

“Genius” – “Einstein: Chapter One”

IMDB Synopsis: The story of Albert Einstein, starting with flashbacks of his student years in Münich and Zurich in the 1890’s.

The life of Einstein, both as a young, rebellious man and as an older figure living in Germany at the onset of WW2, play off one another in the pilot episode of National Geographic’s series. While they exist in the same episode, they do little to inform one another. To be perfectly fair to the pilot, there are interesting sequences visualizing Einstein’s thoughts and theories. These elements jump off the page and screen, whereas other sections, such as Einstein’s plight during the war, feel rote. The potential for imagination regarding this great man’s life is there, and is accessed to a certain degree. However, the end result still feels more like a chore than anything else. “Genius” can benefit from heavy support from National Geographic. However, it will be hard to go up against FX and HBO heavy hitters.

“The Night Of” – “The Art of War”

IMDB Synopsis: A fellow prisoner advises Naz on prison life while he weighs the pros and cons of copping a plea, and Stone delves into Andrea’s past.

The prison scenes of “The Night Of” do a great job of thrusting Naz (Riz Ahmed) into morally complicated situations. The direction paints jail as this hellish pit that drags people down until they conform to survive. This drama intersects with Stone (John Turturro) and the solitude he experiences as he attempts to solve Naz’s case. It’s an engrossing and well constructed episode. However, it’s less flashy or memorable than the pilot episode, which is also nominated in this category. Fans of “The Night Of” are more likely to rally around this episode. However, this may siphon off votes from that episode. In the end, it could make sure “The Night Of” loses this category.

“The Night Of” – “The Beach”

IMDB Synopsis: Shy college student Nasir Khan spends the night with a quirky, mysterious girl, and is horrified when he awakens to find she has been murdered.

After a chance encounter that leads to a night of sex and fun, a girl wakes up murdered. The main suspect, an unsuspecting Middle Eastern student (Riz Ahmed) who must overcome prejudice to obtain justice. The kickoff to the mystery sensation “The Night Of” continues to be as engaging as ever. It sets up a neat mystery, while also spotlighting a breakout performance by Riz Ahmed. Being the extended pilot for the miniseries, “The Beach” possesses an edge over “The Art of War.” However, this still hinders “The Night Of,” in terms of winning. As the only series in this category with two nominees, vote splitting hurts the already slim chances “The Night Of” had of winning this category.

My Personal Ballot:

  1. “Big Little Lies”
  2. “Feud: Bette and Joan” – “And The Winner Is… (The Oscars of 1963)”
  3. “The Night Of” – “The Beach”
  4. “The Night Of” – “The Art of War”
  5. “Fargo” – “The Law of Vacant Places”
  6. “Genius” – “Einstein: Chapter One”

My Emmy Prediction:

  1. “Feud: Bette and Joan” – “And The Winner Is… (The Oscars of 1963)”
  2. “Big Little Lies”
  3. “The Night Of” – “The Beach”
  4. “Genius” – “Einstein: Chapter One”
  5. “Fargo” – “The Law of Vacant Places”
  6. “The Night Of” – “The Art of War”

Who do you think will win the Directing categories at the Emmys? Share with us in the comments.