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?