Emmy Episode Analysis: Who’s Ahead In Wide Open Supporting Actress Races?

The small screen can’t contain these performances.

Eighteen amazing female performances populate the supporting actress categories at the Emmys. To win in either the comedy, drama or miniseries categories, each woman submits one episode. This is the episode that voters will judge them on. This process applies to all other acting categories, sans Best Actor and Actress in a Miniseries or TV movie. Those categories are judged by the full length miniseries or made for TV movie. We will continue to delve into these categories each Friday until the Emmys.

Warning: There may be spoilers ahead.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

Uzo Aduba as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren in “Orange is the New Black” for “People Persons”

IMDB Synopsis: Caputo’s leadership is challenged and the inmates are in for a long night of lockdown after workers make an unsettling discovery.

During the panel system of voting, rather than the current popular vote system, Aduba would win in a walk with this episode selection. The episode answers the question on how her character, Suzanne, ends up in jail. It’s heartbreaking and Aduba conveys the two different places we see her character – as a free woman and in distress in prison. The prison scenes are also harrowing, as Suzanne is goaded into violence. A two time winner for this role, once in this category, Aduba was left out last year as many felt the show took a narrative hit. Season four was one of the most well received, but many voters may have fallen out of love with the show. Without widespread support, it may be hard for Aduba to win again.

Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven in “Stranger Things” for “Chapter Seven: The Bathtub”

IMDB Synopsis: The government comes searching for Eleven. Eleven looks for Will in the Upside Down.

The breakout star of “Stranger Things” managed to nab a nomination, even when her more famous co-star Winona Ryder was snubbed. The show took off and Brown has charmed her way through every awards show, which has risen her profile considerably. The episode submission gives Brown an opportunity to be heroic and also convey fear in an interesting way. There’s exciting action elements to it as well. However, not a lot of this reads as “fine acting.” For voters looking to vote for a “performance,” they often times go for big speeches and grandstanding. These voters will likely not go for Brown.

Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia in “The Handmaid’s Tale” for “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.

Dowd possesses the unique distinction of having two Emmy nominations for acting this year. However, her guest actress bid for “The Leftovers” stands as her better shot as a win. The abusively maternal Aunt Lydia, who trains and ushers the handmaids into this new world, gets many horrific and dynamic scenes both in her submission and fellow nominee Samira Wiley’s submission. There are a few roadblocks to her winning here. There could be vote splitting between her and Wiley, as both will get considerable votes. Additionally, in a sea of more sympathetic characters, her villainous character may turn people off. Lastly, while electric on screen, both “Handmaid’s” episodes only feature her sporadically.

Chrissy Metz as Kate Pearson in “This Is Us” for “Pilot”

IMDB Synopsis: As Rebecca goes into an early labor, Randall finds his biological father, Kevin faces a personal and professional crisis, while his twin sister, Kate, finds herself at a low point.

With the huge success of “This Is Us,” Chrissy Metz emerges as the standout star of the show. As a woman struggling with her weight as she turns 36, Metz gives voice to a group of women who have been relegated to a punchline before. The pilot episode gives voice to the internal life of this woman. Many headlines point to a scene where Metz weighs herself in her underwear. Many voters may admire her putting herself out there, and “This Is Us” is wildly popular. Metz can be the dark horse winner, particularly with none of last year’s nominees back in the category this year.

Thandie Newton as Maeve Millay in “Westworld” for “Trace Decay”

IMDB Synopsis: Bernard struggles with a mandate; Teddy is troubled by dark memories; Maeve looks to change her script.

Newton commands the screen as she wreaks havoc. She begins the episode outsmarting the men who program her. Once out of their clutches, she makes her way back into the park to spread what she knows. Maeve stands by as she watches the other members of Westworld tear the place apart. It’s a cathartically anarchic beat that plays wonderfully thanks to Newton. Even more impressive is Maeve’s tragic backstory, which gives Newton the opportunity to convey both tragedy and resilience. “Westworld” obviously has many fans, judging by the fact it tied for most nominations. With fewer categories it is the frontrunner in, voters may see Newton as the place to reward the show.

Samira Wiley as Moira in “The Handmaid’s Tale” in “Night”

IMDB Synopsis: When a punishment is handed down for Janine, June and the other handmaids must face the unthinkable. Serena discovers Fred’s secrets. Meanwhile, Moira makes it into Canada.

Between this and “Orange is the New Black,” Wiley has become quite popular over the past year. However, Wiley doesn’t get much to do in her episode. She flees the horrors of America and ends up a refugee in Canada. Her scenes are good, but mostly nonverbal and serve as a payoff for a season long arc. Luckily, she is quite good in Dowd’s episode, where we see her both pre and post becoming a handmaid. Goodwill related to her “Orange” role will help her in the category, especially those who know her character’s arc. However, her “Handmaid’s” episode does little to inspire enough widespread voting support to win.

My Personal Ballot:

  1. Millie Bobby Brown – “Stranger Things”
  2. Ann Dowd – “The Handmaid’s Tale”
  3. Uzo Aduba – “Orange is the New Black”
  4. Thandie Newton – “Westworld”
  5. Chrissy Metz – “This Is Us”
  6. Samira Wiley – “The Handmaid’s Tale”

My Emmy Prediction:

  1. Chrissy Metz – “This Is Us”
  2. Thandie Newton – “Westworld”
  3. Uzo Aduba – “Orange is the New Black”
  4. Millie Bobby Brown – “Stranger Things”
  5. Ann Dowd – “The Handmaid’s Tale”
  6. Samira Wiley – “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

Vanessa Bayer as Various Characters in “Saturday Night Live” for “Host: Dwayne Johnson”

IMDB Synopsis: N/A

Bayer wraps up her final season on “Saturday Night Live” with her first nomination. The talented scene stealer knows how to elicit laughs from the most simple of looks. However, among three performers nominated from the show, Bayer needs a strong, grabbing submission to gain votes. She has a great fidget spinner sketch at the beginning of her episode. Yet, there is little else for her to do throughout the rest of the episode. Surprising with a nomination will be the win for this performer. However, the episode doesn’t stand out for her or any of the other performers.

Anna Chlumsky as Amy Bruckheimer in “Veep” for “Groundbreaking”

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

Chlumsky stands out every season on “Veep.” However, this season saw her character take a backseat. One sees this in her episode submission, which gives her some wonderfully fun profanity laced insults to toss off, but little else. There’s a game changing reveal in the final moment, but it lands quickly and without much pomp and circumstance. All in all, it’s a good episode, but one that fails to highlight her much. Despite a poorer episode choice, there are many positives in Chlumsky’s corner. She has the most nominations of this group and has not yet won. “Veep” stands as the frontrunner for best comedy. She is the only performer who doesn’t need to worry about vote splitting in this category. All of these factors can make her the surprise winner of the category.

Kathryn Hahn as Rabbi Raquel in “Transparent” for “Life Sucks and Then You Die”

IMDB Synopsis: Josh arrives in Overland Park and delivers difficult news to Colton. Sarah oversteps her boundaries with Raquel, putting the Hineni Seder in danger. A tough conversation with Bryna brings up some big issues between Maura and Vicki.

The happiest surprise of this lineup was the always reliable Hahn breaking in. A guest star on previous season, Hahn’s Rabbi Raquel got much more to do this season and emerged as best in show. Her submitted episode allows her to both crush on a fellow Rabbi and have a cathartic blow up at Sarah. It’s brilliant and a fitting end for her character. However, for those who didn’t follow the season, the episode loses much of its impact. Hahn delivers all of the notes she needs to, but the payoff comes with continued investment. She’s more than deserving of the nomination and will have some passionate support. However, that will come from pockets rather than waves.

Leslie Jones as Various Characters in “Saturday Night Live” for “Host: Tom Hanks”

IMDB Synopsis: N/A

Jones makes her way into this category as one of the most recent SNL breakout stars. However, looking at her tape, there is little to corroborate that title. Her funniest sketch moments are fringe one-liners on Black Jeapordy or with David S. Pumpkins. The showcase moment comes from her addressing the online harassment on Weekend Live. On a more disingenuous level, Jones may have made it in here due to her raised profile from both “Ghostbusters” and the online misogyny and racism that came with it. She is a fantastic comedic talent, but her boisterous, loud persona doesn’t work for everyone. This paints her as more of a vote siphon, rather than a threat for the win. Between her and Bayer, this could illustrate that SNL allegiances run more broad than just last year’s winner Kate McKinnon.

Judith Light as Shelly Pfefferman in “Transparent” for “Exciting and New”

IMDB Synopsis: The Pfeffermans escape their problems on land by taking a cruise together. Though the clan spends most of the cruise apart – venturing on their own journeys of self discovery – they ultimately find themselves coming together at the Seder that almost wasn’t.

Light has everything an Emmy winning tape needs. As the overbearing matriarch of the Pfefferman clan, she dotes around on her family, dropping many a fun quip to spend time with her family. Set on a cruise ship, Shelly gets a chance to treat herself and finds a confidant in Trevor, “the gay that came with the room.” During the Seder, Shelly gets to open up about how ostracized she feels. This dramatic reveal culminates in a show stopping performance of “One Hand in My Pocket” by Alannis Morissette that pays off the hilarious subplot of her one-woman show. Being nominated against Hahn, who is also strong, hampers her chances. However, fans of the show may wish to rally around Light’s amazing performance. This makes her a dark horse with a real chance.

Kate McKinnon as Various Characters in “Saturday Night Live” for “Host: Dave Chappelle”

IMDB Synopsis: N/A

McKinnon shocked many when she became the first full time SNL performer to win for their performance on the show. Much of this was due to her spot on performance as Hillary Clinton during the election. This year’s submission takes place the week after the election results. McKinnon opens the show with a wonderful rendition of the song “Hallelujah.” It’s a great, cathartic moment that stands alone as one of the most memorable SNL moments. However, McKinnon does very little the rest of the episode. She may win again due to the political nature of voting. However, if users are judging based on tapes, or are voting for other SNL members, she may lose.

My Personal Ballot:

  1. Kathryn Hahn – “Transparent”
  2. Judith Light – “Transparent”
  3. Kate McKinnon – “Saturday Night Live”
  4. Vanessa Bayer – “Saturday Night Live”
  5. Leslie Jones – “Saturday Night Live”
  6. Anna Chlumsky – “Groundbreaking”

My Emmy Prediction:

  1. Kate McKinnon – “Saturday Night Live”
  2. Judith Light – “Transparent”
  3. Anna Chlumsky – “Groundbreaking”
  4. Leslie Jones – “Saturday Night Live”
  5. Kathryn Hahn – “Transparent”
  6. Vanessa Bayer – “Saturday Night Live”

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries/TV Movie

Judy Davis as Hedda Hopper in “Feud: Bette and Joan” for “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.

Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper has seen many Hollywood incarnations. Few have combined the pomp and circumstance of her exterior and the burning rage underneath as well as Judy Davis. This includes Helen Mirren in “Trumbo.” Her submitted episode allows her to go full scheming mode, as she works to get Joan Crawford to upstage Bette Davis. Davis is delectable in the role. However, it is not as large as one expects. In addition, there are many other noteworthy elements in her episode besides her. Fellow nominee from “Feud,” Jackie Hoffman, submits an episode with a bit more grandstanding and range. Could they vote split?

Laura Dern as Renata Klein in “Big Little Lies” for “Once Bitten”

IMDB Synopsis: Madeline is confronted by a desperate Joseph, the school principal scrutinizes Ziggy’s behavior, and Dr. Reisman presses Celeste about her marriage.

Dern’s Renata Klein became the scene stealer in a sea of engaging, large performances in “Big Little Lies.” Renata works full time, both at her job and at being a helicopter parent. Her love shines through in desperation, anger and cunning social putdowns. All this should add up to a slam dunk winner. To top it off, Dern holds an Emmy IOU card from her previous five nominations without a win. Her year is also filled with other great performances across movie and TV. So why did she submit an episode she is barely in? She gets a great harried scene trying to coax out a confession from her daughter regarding who bit her. Aside from a gif-worthy opening dream sequence and a couple choice line deliveries towards the end, the episode belongs mostly to the other women, including co-nominee Shailiene Woodley. If she loses, that’s the reason.

Jackie Hoffman as Mamacita in “Feud: Bette and Joan” for “More, or Less”

IMDB Synopsis: As What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? opens, Bette and Joan face uncertain prospects, Bob deals with his own difficulties, and Pauline makes a surprising offer.

Hoffman turns what could have been a thankless assistant part on its head. For the majoirty of the first half of the episode, Mamacita stands by as the trusty support system for Joan Crawford. Just when one thinks Mamacita is little more than window dressing, she is handed the best scene of the episode. Having studied the census, she cheers Pauline up by mentioning how women are the majority of the population, and only growing. Her steely resolves exemplifies the steeley resolve of women earlier in the feminist movement. The episode closes with Mamcita dispensing bad news. Joan was snubbed from Oscar nominations. For as good as Lange is as Crawford, Hoffman does the heavy lifting in establishing their unique relationship. If only Hoffman were more of a big name, and not suffering from vote splitting with Judy Davis, she might have a better shot at winning.

Regina King as Kimara Walters in “American Crime” for “Episode 3.3”

IMDB Synopsis: Luis gets important information about his missing son. Coy witnesses an horrific incident. Shae wonders if she should stay at the shelter.

King wins points here for being the most socially relevant nominee. Kimara, a social worker who can’t help but vigorously care, gets one fantastic dramatic scene. Desperate for a kid, she begs an ex-boyfriend to donate his sperm to her. When he refuses, she breaks down in a stunning showcase. She’s solid the rest of the episode as she goes on her social work as well. King has won this category the previous two years for her work on “American Crime.” Last year, she also faced a season that gave her less to do. However, a powerful episode choice against a divided field allowed her to surprise. With the “Big Little Lies” and “Feud” ladies possibly vote splitting, King may surprise a third time. Unfortunately, “American Crime” saw most of its acclaim and nominations drop this year, in its final season.

Michelle Pfeiffer as Ruth Madoff in “The Wizard of Lies” (TV Movie)

IMDB Synopsis: A chronicle of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, which defrauded his clients of billions of dollars.

Michelle Pfeiffer’s comeback begins here. With “mother!” arriving in theaters at the same time as the telecast, the Oscar nominee has never been more relevant. As Ruth Madoff, Pfeiffer reminds us of the immense talent and on-screen presence she’s always possessed. The skill in her performance comes not from depicting the anger and hurt she feels towards her husband, the man behind the largest Ponzi scheme. Her best work shows how Ruth’s decades long relationship with Bernie binds her to him, even against her best interest. As great as she is, she is among an incredibly talented group of women. With her TV movie having one of the lower profiles of the group, she has one of the lowest shots of the six to win.

Shailene Woodley as Jane Chapman in “Big Little Lies” for “Push Comes to Shove”

IMDB Synopsis: Nathan invites Madeline and Ed to a couples’ dinner to discuss Abigail, while in light of further evidence of bullying, Ms. Barnes suggests Ziggy be medically evaluated.

There must be something in the “Big Little Lies” water, as both Woodley and Dern have the best work of the category and picked episodes that highlight so little of it. The bulk of Woodley’s episode finds her character Jane concerned about whether or not her young son is capable of bullying. We see many subtle shades to Jane that Woodley excels at unearthing. She believes in her son, but fears that the rape that led to his conception has manifest itself in a mean streak. The relief she feels when a child psychologist assuages her is palpable. Woodley earned the least amount of praise in headlines among the principle cast, but actually comes off better in Dern’s episode than Dern herself. She may be a more competitive challenger than one thinks. It helps that she is a co-lead and this is major category fraud.

My Personal Ballot:

  1. Laura Dern – “Big Little Lies”
  2. Shailene Woodley – “Big Little Lies”
  3. Michelle Pfeiffer – “The Wizard of Lies”
  4. Jackie Hoffman – “Feud: Bette and Joan”
  5. Regina King – “American Crime”
  6. Judy Davis – “Feud: Bette and Joan”

My Emmy Prediction:

  1. Laura Dern – “Big Little Lies”
  2. Regina King – “American Crime”
  3. Shailene Woodley – “Big Little Lies”
  4. Judy Davis – “Feud: Bette and Joan”
  5. Michelle Pfeiffer – “The Wizard of Lies”
  6. Jackie Hoffman – “Feud: Bette and Joan”

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

What do you think?

AC Fan

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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