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Emmy Circuit: Can Sandra Oh Become the First Asian Woman to Win a Lead Actress Emmy?

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Welcome to the 2019 Emmy Circuit series. We are now in the Emmy post-nomination phase, where we watch all the nominated Emmy episodes and predict their chances of winning. The Creative Arts Emmy winners will be revealed Saturday, Sept. 14, while the Primetime Emmy Awards airs on FOX Sunday, Sept. 22. Tune in week after week as we tackle all things Drama, Comedy, Limited Series and Variety.


Lead Actress in a Drama has packed its fair share of surprises. Few could have predicted Tatiana Maslany for “Orphan Black” three years back. With the past three winners of this category not up for contention this year, anything can happen this year. The only former winner in this category is “How to Get Away with Murder” star Viola Davis. Still, the ABC soap show is far past its prime. One of the “Killing Eve” women or Laura Linney could take advantage of their show’s nomination gain. Robin Wright could capitalize on the “House of Cards” final season. Finally, if the Emmys wants to go network, Mandy Moore could win another award for “This Is Us.” Let’s take a look at the category.


  • Emilia Clarke – “Game of Thrones” – Episode: “The Last of the Starks”
  • Jodie Comer – “Killing Eve” – Episode: “I Hope You Like Missionary”
  • Viola Davis – “How to Get Away with Murder” – Episode: “He Betrayed Us Both”
  • Laura Linney – “Ozark” – Episode: “One Way Out”
  • Mandy Moore – “This Is Us” – Episode: “The Graduates”
  • Sandra Oh – “Killing Eve” – Episode: “You’re Mine”
  • Robin Wright – “House of Cards” – Episode: “Chapter 70”

Now to delve into each of the nominated episodes. Spoiler Alert: These analyses may contain spoilers of the nominated episodes.

NOMINEE #1 – Emilia Clarke – “Game of Thrones” – Episode: “The Last of the Starks”

EC Emilia Clarke e1567561968764Synopsis (IMDB): The Battle of Winterfell is over and a new chapter for Westeros begins.

Emilia Clarke’s performance got tangled up in some of the biggest criticisms of “Game of Thrones'” final season. Daenerys’ switch from heroine to madwoman bent on destruction felt rushed, though that was more the writers’ fault than Clarke’s. Still, Clarke stayed away from submitting “The Bells” for that reason and went with “The Last of the Starks” instead. This episode, unfortunately, pushes Daenerys more to the background, as Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) reveals his Targaryen roots, leaving many speculating on his claim to the Iron Throne. Daenerys hopes that their relationship can “be the way it was between [them]” before this surprise. Even as she says this, Daenerys knows this can’t be true. Her big moment comes as she leads her army to the South to confront the Lannisters. This leads to the death of Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel).

While I get the instinct to move away from the controversial “Bells” episode, this episode does very few favors for Clarke. Watching this episode in a vacuum, Daenerys looks like an incredibly bad tactician. Clarke exposes Daenerys’ hubris, but has little opportunity to demonstrate any greater range. Still, one cannot discount the record breaking thirty-two nominations “Game of Thrones” earned this year. This is Clarke’s fourth nomination overall, but first in the lead actress category. The Emmys clearly love her character, but giving her the lead win may be tough in such a stacked category.

NOMINEE #2 – Jodie Comer – “Killing Eve” – Episode: “I Hope You Like Missionary”

EC Jodie ComerSynopsis (IMDB): Villanelle uses her unrivaled infiltration skills to immerse herself in the world of a new target.

One of the most interesting characters on TV this year was Villanelle, a hilariously deadpan sociopath who feels a deep connection with the MI6 agent hunting her down. Jodie Comer has crafted this hilariously off kilter character that stands out in the best of ways. Her episode submission, “I Hope You Like Missionary,” showcases her chameleon-like talents along with her razor sharp wit. More importantly, in infiltrating an AA meeting, Villanelle takes a stab at authenticity. She opens up about how everything she does is in the pursuit of feeling something, but she’s always left empty. Even when we think she’s vulnerable, Comer keeps us guessing. Is she revealing her backstory to us, or sending us on another wild goose chase? This gets her invited to Aaron Peele’s (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) compound, the big bad of the season. It’s here where Villanelle gets down to business, smashing his face in with a book after an evening of taunting.

Throughout season two, Comer has been blessed with many standout moments as Villanelle. She’s killed a teenager in a hospital, escaped from an incel’s bedroom and laughed away all responsibility or care. In short, Comer has run away with this season, even compared to fellow nominee Sandra Oh. Her submitted episode perfectly combines Villanelle’s deadly apathy and her, well, deadliness. It captures what makes her an engrossing enigma that is actually more simple to understand than people make her out to be. Comer would be an incredibly deserving winner. Still, Oh has more buzz and more precursor awards in her court. She will likely be the “Killing Eve” cast member to contend for the win. Yet, Jodie Comer won’t go down without a fight.

NOMINEE #3 – Viola Davis – “How to Get Away with Murder” – Episode: “He Betrayed Us Both”

EC DavisEpisode Synopsis (IMDB): New information is revealed to everyone in the aftermath of the wedding.

Viola Davis knows how to deliver a powerhouse monologue. The only thing she’s excels at even more is the draining ugly snot cry. Over five seasons, “How to Get Away with Murder” has given her opportunity to do both countless number of times. Unfortunately, in upping the ante episode by episode, the show has veered wildly out of control. “He Betrayed Us Both” jumps back and forward in time as it chronicles Annalise’s complicated role as a mother who thought she lost her baby. Davis stays at a 10 in terms of emotion throughout the episode. It’s thrilling to watch, but feels disjointed or hard to follow.

As the only former winner in this category, Davis walks in with an advantage. She also is the only Oscar winner as well. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Viola Davis is a one of a kind talent. This makes her work in “How to Get Away with Murder” look even worse. She regularly contributes to great works on stage and screen. However, her once impactful work on ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder” now feels like an afterthought. She was incredibly worthy in season one when she became the first African American woman to win the award. Now, the show’s writers have struggled to give her storylines worthy of her greatness.

NOMINEE #4 – Laura Linney – “Ozark” – Episode: “One Way Out”

EC Laura LinneyEpisode Synopsis (IMDB): Mason goes off the deep end and focuses his rage on the Byrdes. Ruth tries to make her dad proud during a boat-part heist.

I must confess. Try as I might (and I have multiple times), I find “Ozark” insufferable to watch. It feels both like a parody of “peak TV” but also scrubbed of personality. The end result becomes this clean, dark, moody slow burn about “difficult people” by a lake. Drenched in darkness and blue tint, it’s incredibly difficult to even find Laura Linney in any of her shots. Still, her trademark voice shines through the darkness. The episode revolves around her kidnapping by a local religious fanatic, Mason (Michael Mosely). Her tet-a-tete with her captor Mason takes us on a great journey. She opens up to Mason about her upbringing and relationship with religion in an attempt to disarm him. Once she has a moment free she attacks, an abrupt shift. Linney gets plenty of moments to drive the scene throughout the episode. For those reasons, this represents a relatively strong submission.

Laura Linney is one of the biggest Emmy good luck charms. She has won four Emmys out of five previous nominations. These wins have spanned across the comedy and limited series categories in both guest and lead. Drama is Linney’s one untapped field. Last year, she missed out on a nomination for “Ozark’s” first season. Yet, the show experienced a dramatic increase in nominations this year for its second season. If anyone from the show is winning, it is likely co-star Jason Bateman in either actor or directing. Yet, if Linney activates her base of Emmy voters, she may be a potential upset.

NOMINEE #5 – Mandy Moore – “This Is Us” – Episode: “The Graduates”

EC Mandy MooreEpisode Synopsis (IMDB): Kevin keeps a secret from Zoe. Randall gets unexpected news about Deja. In the past, the Big Three graduate from High School.

Mandy Moore has been one of the best parts of “This Is Us” since the beginning and it is great to see her finally recognized. Her episode, “The Graduates,” checks all the boxes of what we’ve seen Moore do on the show. She plays Rebecca in three different time periods – when the kids are babies, following Jack’s death and in the present day as an older woman. This helps establish the range Moore gets to show for the character. Her best moments come in the middle time frame, where Rebecca tries to keep it together while mourning her husband. Moore gets the big patented monologue at the end, where she assures Kate (Chrissy Metz) that taking her time to graduate was a strength not a weakness. All in all, the episode gives Moore a chance to show off all the things she gets to do on the show. Yet, it lacks the gut punch moments that she has had in prior seasons. Her work during Jack’s (Milo Ventimiglia) death last year should have easily earned her a nomination.

Sometimes the third time is the charm. After missing for seasons one and two, despite being one of the best in the ensemble, Mandy Moore finally broke through in Lead Actress. “This Is Us” has won acting Emmys before, notably in Lead Actor (Sterling K. Brown) and Guest Acting (Ron Cephas Jones, Gerald McRaney). If Moore wins, she would be the first actress on the show to do so. While the Emmys love “This Is Us,” their love affair with Mandy Moore is very new. With tough competition, Mandy Moore only wins if “This Is Us” is really staging a coup in Drama Series and they take home more wins along the way.

NOMINEE #6 – Sandra Oh – “Killing Eve” – Episode: “You’re Mine”

EC Sandra OhEpisode Synopsis (IMDB): Eve’s mission is disastrously compromised; Carolyn leaves Eve’s future in her own hands.

Sandra Oh makes “Killing Eve” the sexy, exciting and dangerous cat and mouse game that has entranced Emmy voters. This central driver, Eve’s fascinating and attraction to Villanelle (Comer), elevates every bit of the show. Oh understands this fascination and brings it to life in a way that we also become obsessed with Villanelle. The finale episode, which Oh submitted, pushes this toxic and intoxicating friendship to the breaking point. After killing Raymond (Adrian Scarborough), the leader of the villainous 12, Villanelle finally believes Eve had become her counterpart. Oh brings Eve up to the edge of this cliff and gives her the strength to walk away from Villanelle. This results in a bullet in her back. This cliffhanger is a great way to leave season two and a fine showcase for the range Oh gives this character.

Many thought Oh was going to win last year for “Killing Eve’s” first season. Though her work was very buzzy, the show was only nominated for Oh and Writing. Now, “Killing Eve” boasts an impressive nine nominations, including nominations in all top categories. Plus, Oh swept the SAG, Golden Globes and Critics Choice awards earlier this year for season one. Of all the nominees, she has the momentum to win. This would make her the first Asian actor to win in the lead acting categories. This historic moment would make for a wonderful TV moment. Her greatest competition may come from within, as co-star and fellow nominee Jodie Comer really shined throughout season two.

NOMINEE #7 – Robin Wright – “House of Cards” – Episode: “Chapter 70”

EC Robin WrightEpisode Synopsis (IMDB): Claire allows her enemies to think she’s incapacitated as they plot to remove her from office. Doug’s investigation leads him to uncover a secret.

Robin Wright knows how to control a room. The episode opens with a particularly haunting photo of Claire Underwood, mascara running, looking in distress. As the action begins, we realize this is a mere ploy. Wright’s knowing smirk contorts into her crying face and back with extreme poise and unexpected comedy. In many ways, this episode feels like the perfect storm of moments to sell through a win. At one point, Wright calls Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) her “biggest regret.” She’s not in the episode much, but ends on a mic drop moment, as Claire hires an all female Cabinet. It’s a big swing, and not the most popular, but it puts Wright in the competition.

Over the show’s five previous seasons, the show had never won a single acting award. Sure, this is the first year the show missed out on the Outstanding Drama Series category. However, it would be fitting that Wright became the sole acting winner from the show. She had been nominated every year alongside Spacey. With him out of the picture, this season was her time to shine. Giving her the award would send a powerful message. “House of Cards” belonged to Claire Underwood all along.


  1. Sandra Oh – “Killing Eve” – Episode: “You’re Mine”
  2. Robin Wright – “House of Cards” – Episode: “Chapter 70”
  3. Jodie Comer – “Killing Eve” – Episode: “I Hope You Like Missionary”
  4. Laura Linney – “Ozark” – Episode: “One Way Out”
  5. Emilia Clarke – “Game of Thrones” – Episode: “The Last of the Starks”
  6. Mandy Moore – “This Is Us” – Episode: “The Graduates”
  7. Viola Davis – “How to Get Away with Murder” – Episode: “He Betrayed Us Both”

WILL WIN: Sandra Oh – “Killing Eve” – Episode: “You’re Mine”

SHOULD WIN: Jodie Comer – “Killing Eve” – Episode: “I Hope You Like Missionary”

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: Julia Roberts – “Homecoming”

What do you think will win Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Program this year? Let us know in the comments below.


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Written by Christopher James

Christopher James has been an Oscar obsessive ever since watching his first ceremony at age 5 when "Titanic" won Best Picture. He is a recent graduate from Loyola Marymount University with degrees in Screenwriting for Film and Television and Marketing. Christopher currently works in media strategy and planning at Liquid Advertising, based out of Los Angeles, CA. You can find Christopher running on the sunny beach, brunching at trendy restaurants or mostly just sitting in a dark room watching movies and TV in sweatpants. Follow me on Twitter @cwj92movieman


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