With the 2014 Emmys right around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about who we think will take home the night’s big awards (which will be the topic of a post over here this weekend), as well as who we think should be given an Emmy this year. Although I found myself fairly disappointed with this year’s group of nominees (surprise, surprise), there are still some names on the list that I will be crossing my fingers for on Monday night. Some of those names don’t have much of a shot at winning, but I love a good dark horse.
When Monday rolls around, I’ll be waiting with bated breath to see if Amy Poehler, Andre Braugher, and Julianna Margulies are rewarded for their stellar performances this season. The buzz around Braugher and Margulies is strong, so I’m hopeful about their chances. And for as much as I love Poehler, I don’t think this was Parks and Recreation’s strongest season. Therefore, I think she might have to wait for a “body of work” Emmy next season. All three of these actors have been deservedly showered with praise far more eloquent than anything I can ever say about them, so I want to turn my attention to the final nominee I’m wholeheartedly championing this year—a woman whose subtly affecting work is often overlooked in favor of others in her category and even on her show: Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart on The Good Wife.
I know, I know—Baranski doesn’t stand much of a chance against the lauded, tour-de-force work turned in by Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn in “Ozymandias” (her submission episode). Gunn is a brilliant actress who earned all the praise and buzz she’s getting, and I won’t be heartbroken at all to see her win on Monday night. However, I wish more people were talking about Baranski’s brilliance right alongside Gunn’s. Best Supporting Actress in a Drama shouldn’t just be a one-woman race. (It’s actually one of the strongest categories overall, in my opinion.) Baranski may not have had a moment seared into our collective consciousness like Gunn screaming and weeping in the street, but that doesn’t mean her work in a phenomenal season of The Good Wife wasn’t equally stunning in its own way.
This season of The Good Wife put its characters through the emotional wringer, but no character lost as much as Diane. The season began with her losing a huge part of her firm, a woman she thought was a friend and protégé, and her chance at a Supreme Court appointment. As the season continued through the most realistically devastating TV arc in recent memory, Diane lost her best friend and partner, and she finally lost control over the firm she built. Those events are enough to break any character and make any good dramatic actor. But it’s what both Diane as a character and Baranski as an actress did with what they were given that left me in awe.
Diane Lockhart is quite possibly the toughest female character on television right now, but nobody thinks of her that way because she isn’t some stereotypical action heroine. But look again at that list of what Diane lost in just this season alone, and let this sink in: She didn’t let it destroy her. Baranski took what could have been material for a million melodramatic breakdowns and instead showed us the steel in Diane’s spine through a season-long testament to the power of restraint.
One of the most memorable moments of the whole season came when Diane fired an intern for openly sobbing over Will’s death despite barely knowing him. That scene showed almost everything you need to know about who Diane Lockhart is through the controlled force Baranski brought to that moment. There was such subtle disgust in her reaction; you could feel Diane’s frustration that she was keeping up a professional façade despite the enormous grief she was carrying, while this young woman was carrying on. And the incredible thing was that I felt Diane was completely justified, despite knowing that I was more likely to be the sobbing young woman and not the composed name partner if I were in that horrible situation.
Baranski’s ability to make Diane’s composure and control feel real and not robotic is what impressed me the most about her work this season. It would have been easy to show no emotion at all and claim that was just Diane’s steely personality. However, it’s a thousand times more challenging as an actor and compelling for an audience to show the struggle to appear unemotional for valid reasons, like trying to keep control of your law firm after your partner was murdered, while internally drowning in grief.
We were given only a small window into just how much Diane was drowning, but the moments we saw through that window elevated Baranski’s work this season to a new level of brilliance. I love the choice Baranski makes to have Diane cover her mouth every time she cries—even when it’s in private. It gives you this sense that she’s physically trying to hold her emotions back, to push them down and keep them silent. So when she doesn’t hold back—like when she embraced Alicia—it’s so much more powerful because we see the emotions she tries so hard to control overtaking her for just the shortest of moments.
Restraint is an acting choice only the best at their craft can effectively use to evoke emotion. Baranski brings such a stately presence to Diane that sometimes it’s easy to overlook the storm of emotions always brewing under the surface. But subtle performances shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle. The brilliance of this season of The Good Wife was the way it showed the quiet devastation of grief—the exhausted people left behind after a senseless tragedy struggling to deal with their confusion, pain, and regret in a world that doesn’t allow for hysterics. That was the heart of Margulies’s haunting performance, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that Baranski’s work was just as powerful, even though it often took place in the background (sometimes literally, like the scene where Diane and Kalinda discover Will’s body).
On a show and in a category filled with amazing portrayals of women dealing with grief, Baranski’s performance required you to pay attention to every change in her posture, every breath, and every blink to see what Diane was fighting to keep just below the surface. We see a person at their most human when we find the cracks in their facades, and that’s what Baranski allowed us to do this season with Diane.
Which one show or performance will you be rooting for above all others on Emmy night?
I’m still devastated about Tatiana Maslany who deserves all the Emmys
You’re not alone in your devastation. 😦
This actually doesnt happen very often, ESPECIALLY when it comes to TV, but I actually dont have an opinion on this one. I read through every nominee, and not one stands out to me in a way where I am rooting for them over anyone else in the category.
If I had to pick anyone, it would probably be Lena Headly, which of course happens to conflict with your Christine Baranski pick (which I no doubt is warranted, I love that woman even without ever having seen an episode of ‘The Good Wife’). But I do truly love how Lena has played Cersei. Cersei is someone I had very little compassion for in the books, but Lena gives her character a depth in the show that speaks to me in a way that her book counterpart never did, and I think thats commendable.
Really I just wish Orphan Black was representing somewhere so I could root for them. My underdogs arent even in the fight to root for!
I totally understand not having an opinion about this topic because I always have very strong Emmy feelings about nearly every category, and I only really care about the four actors I mentioned in this post (Poehler, Braugher, Margulies, and Baranski). The fact that Orphan Black isn’t nominated for anything still puts a damper on these Emmys for me.
However, I love and agree with everything you had to say about Lena Headey and how she’s brought Cersei to life with so much depth and care. If Christine Baranski wasn’t in that category, Lena Headey would be the actress I’d most want to win.
Shauna – you bring up such a good point. As someone who hasn’t read the books, I have plenty of friends who have all to a one have talked about the lack of empathy they’ve had for many of the female characters. I think the series has done a tremendous job casting those roles with actors who really do give us depth and purpose behind their lack of morality and its necessity for survival in the game. To a one I have been so thoroughly impressed by the women of this series and Cersei is certainly a standout in that group.
I’m definitely rooting for her too. It kind of sucks because The Good Wife was just so good as a whole this season, and I think some individual performances are getting lost in the mix because of it. And it doesn’t help that like you said, she’s one of the more subtle actors on the show, and on t.v. in general. But I definitely agree that a win for Anna Gunn would be well deserved as well. The Emmys just generally make me feel conflicted lol.
I am always conflicted when it comes to award shows, so you’re not alone. 😉
I really think that Julianna Margulies’s work was so stunning on this season of The Good Wife that her performance became the main focus of all conversations about the acting on the show. And while I don’t disagree that she was incredible and should win an Emmy for what she did this season, critics shouldn’t forget that the actors around her turned in performances that were just as moving and brilliant.
I love this. While I know Anna Gunn will win (and deserves to based on her submission episode), this is such a tough category because everyone in it is amazing. I still don’t know why Christine Baranski doesn’t have an Emmy for The Good Wife. Diane has been my favorite character since the first episode and that’s largely because of the way she is played. She’s strong and in control and you feel it with everything Baranski does.
Even after a week to think about someone else, I’m still going for Lizzy Caplan as my choice here. I really don’t see how she can win her category because Lead Actress is so insanely competitive this year and I haven’t even seen enough of the contenders to judge whether she technically should, but she’s my favorite in the category.
In the hands of a lesser actress, Virginia Johnson would be too perfect. She’s the person is loved by everyone she comes in contact with, quickly rose from being a secretary with no experience to a research assistant to a very respected doctor, had multiple suitors over the course of the season, and managed to crack Bill Master’s tough exterior. Yet Caplan makes you understand why she was so liked. She just sparkles on the screen and has such warmth that you forget that she’s being played for an actress whose best known roles (in Mean Girls and Party Down) are nothing like her current role. She instantly made Virginia Johnson someone you want to root for and even be friends with. She has a lot of warmth but her strength of personality and character always shines through.
It’s a tough situation to play someone who actually existed and to give the character a unique life that reflects but is still separate from the actual person. Virginia Johnson as a person has been distilled through Thomas Maier, then again through the writers of Masters of Sex, and then interpreted by Caplan. She gives the character so much depth as she negotiates the divide between her own desires with what society is deeming appropriate at the time. It’s just such a great portrayal of a woman who sometimes realizes she can’t be everything she’d like to be all at the same time but is going to try anyway.
I could literally read your thoughts on Lizzy Caplan all day. I’m not even kidding. If you are struck in the middle of the day with Lizzy Caplan/Virginia Johnson feelings, feel free to text me because everything you say about her makes me happy. And it makes me want to dive into this show right now. You know how I feel about characters known for their warmth, and you also know how much I love female characters who are shown to fight to be everything they want to be in a society that might not allow for that. In other words, I think I found a new character to love without even watching an episode of this show.
(And now I might just make good on what I said a few weeks ago and order the first season on DVD to watch now that my summer shows are ending…)
So three episodes into Masters of Sex and I completely understand why she’s your pick. She is pure light. And with those few episodes I can honestly say I have a good understanding of the performances of all these nominees because I now watch all five shows. Danes is great, but her role is played out and she was vastly superior in season 1 than 3 which was plain awful and whose only bright light was Mandy Patinkin (whose in my pick’s category). Dockery’s nomination along with all the Downton Abbey nominations is lazy in my opinion. I love Downton and last season was uneven at best, dreadfully dull in many spaces. Dockery’s performance over the course of the series is one of the most difficult for sure, but by far season 2 was her best showing. That both these women are here over Maslany and Russell is criminal in my mind.
However this is a horse race between Caplan, Wright and Marguiles and frankly from that I could pull a name out of a hat and be happy as well as justify the choice. Caplan, even in my brief number of episodes is everything you said and more. Marguiles had a season that transformed her character in a way I never imagined and was better than she’s been in the four seasons that proceeded it. Wright to me is the reason to watch House of Cards. Her modern day Lady MacBeth is extraordinary. She invokes empathy and utter disdain often in the same scene and more than that she can push Kevin Spacey into the background in their scenes together. It is a master class of body position and silent acting. It is a role I never imagined she’d play and one I can’t think of anyone else playing now.
Thanks to both of you and your effusive praise of Lizzy Caplan, I just ordered the first season of Masters of Sex on DVD and will be starting it over this upcoming long weekend!
OK since you and Heather did me the favor of covering Christine Baranski and Lizzy Caplan (although I could easily make a case for Robin Wright, who is the reason to watch House of Cards) I feel free an clear to plug the dearly departed Josh Charles.
Josh Charles isn’t the type of actor who wins awards and Will Gardner isn’t the type of character actors win awards for and that in my opinion is a shame. Like the age old discussion about how much harder comedy is than drama I feel like we watch season over season flamboyant and larger than life characters win out in moments like these. That is not to say that Breaking Bad and Aaron Paul are not deserving. It is simply that the extraordinary thing that happened in this devastatingly good season of The Good Wife was that it managed to navigate the impossible – the implosion of our two central characters without making either the bad guy. Charles’ work towards making that happen was underscored every step of the way. Will Gardner is an ordinary character. He’s morally ambiguous with a streak of loyalty and love that leans into the viewer and makes us invest. However, what Charles has created in that space was something more. Charles made a character that could have easily been two dimensional and still worked within the framework of the show into someone who every viewer sat along side Diane, Alicia and Kalinda emotionally destroyed by his sudden passing.
I am a bonafide fan of Josh Charles since the moment Knox Overstreet crossed my path in 1989. What I adored about Josh Charles’ performance throughout his tenure in The Good Wife, and even more so this past season was his ability to harness the boyish smart innocence we saw in Sports Night with a deeper complex strategist that made him a man in this series. There are several moments I could point to over his abbreviated season but for me the wonder that was Charles performance can be summed up in three moments.
1) Hitting the Fan — arguably one of the strongest episodes The Good Wife has ever put forth we watched Josh Charles cave inward in anger and sheer betrayal when it is discovered that Alicia is leaving. We watch Charles drive Will Gardner through a host of emotions, expressions and actions from the beginning confusion and denial to utter bewilderment as he walks down the hall to her office only to simmer to the point of explosion. The sheer physicality of the episode is astounding. That moment after he clears the desk in frustrated anger sucks all the oxygen out of the room that I literally held my breath for what felt like the entirety of the opening eight minutes of the episode.
2) Writing the cross examination in The Decision Tree was one Josh Charles’ finest moments on television in my opinion. When Will sits down with a beer and a dark desk with a single light to write out the questions for Alicia we are given magic. Insight to Will’s mind through memory flashbacks with Alicia and imagined testimony as he fights back tears through his prep work. When we are given that final exchange where Will questions Alicia’s love and his belief in it we are as heartbroken as Will in that moment. Without certainty and answers and filled with pain. It’s an exquisite piece of acting.
3) The conversation with Alicia’s brother in The Next Week will forever haunt me. There is a deep and exhausted confusion in Charles’ portrayal in this scene. He’s confronted by Owen, the only person who holds a mirror up to Alicia about how she truly feels about Will. Will knows this and it is why he can be vulnerable in that moment. After an episode of bravado and vindictive revenge, we see Will hurt. Hurt by the woman he loves and trusted. He’s like an abandoned child in that moment when Owen asks what happened and he drops his shoulders in defeat to simply say “I don’t know.” This physical reaction for me is just, if not more strong than all his forcefulness in Hitting the Fan. He’s lost and still reeling from the betrayal of the woman he loves so deeply and he can not reconcile those feelings even as he tries to force them out through anger and revenge.
Josh Charles as always made Will Gardner more that what he seemed to be and his work this season took it all a step further. We were treated to an internal monologue-like look at Will Gardner’s soul through the three women who loved him in Kalinda, Alicia and Diane and through Charles’ deft balance of emotions, tone and sadness. Will’s anger and betrayal would have been sufficient to make the arch of this season work on The Good Wife. What made it extraordinary was Charles ability to give us Will’s humanity, vulnerability and honest confusion along the way. It is why seven episodes after his character was gone, we still palpably felt the hole left in his absence and that is why Josh Charles is my pick for Monday night.
All I can say is yes to all of this. As you said, this is not the kind of performance Emmy voters typically reward, and that is such a shame. Subtlety and restraint are so difficult to portray without coming across as wooden and one-dimensional, but The Good Wife is filled with actors who wield their talent for understated emotional power like a weapon.
I completely agree with you when it comes to the most outstanding thing about Charles’s work this season: He made Will human through quiet moments of genuine sadness and confusion and hurt—not just his big moment of anger in Hitting the Fan. And he made Will so human and so believably real that we mourned his death not just because the characters were but because we were going to miss Will, too.
You picked my three favorite moments Charles has this season, so all I’ll add is that the scene in The Giving Tree still haunts me all these months later. His performance in that episode destroyed me without ever making me feel like I was being emotionally manipulated. And that’s something that can only happen with the most genuinely affecting performances.
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