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Will ‘Westworld’ Mosey Into Emmy’s Good Graces?

ADTV considers the Emmy potential for HBO’s newest smash hit Westworld

Awards observers and critics held their collective breaths with HBO’s Westworld. The buzz coming from the set focused only on a handful of seemingly disastrous events. First, the production informed some actors they would be participating in explicit orgies. Well, to be specific, extras’ contracts called for “genital-to-gential touching,” according to Deadline, and there’s also that amusing need to exist “on all fours while others who are fully nude ride on your back.” Alrighty then.

Westworld
(Photo: HBO)

Next, the whole controversy around the production stopping to allow for (horrors!) the writers to carefully plot out the remainder of Season 1. To me, this always feels like a good thing, but the internet pounces on delays like vultures. Was it a good idea? More on that later.

Finally, at last summer’s Television Critics Association, writer/producers Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy were inundated with questions about the pilot’s suggestion and near-display of Evan Rachel Wood’s brutal rape. That initially felt like the train rolling off the track. Thanks to Game of Thrones, the icky subject of rape as plot device hangs over HBO’s head, and adding one more piece of evidence to the conversation felt like a step in the wrong direction. Turns out, that conversation eventually died down as the series justly depicted the scene as a horrific event and spent much of the season in revenge mode.

So now that Season 1 is finally complete with tonight’s 90-minute season finale, what do we make of Westworld on its own merits?

One thing Westworld excels in is repetition. The refrain “These violent delights have violent ends” was not accidental. In fact, the Season 1 finale harkened back to the finales of the great 1980s soap operas with operatic revelations and strokes painted with a very broad brush. Minor spoiler here, but the season closer reminded me a great deal of Dynasty’s infamous “Moldavia Massacre.” Now, I bet I’m the only person to draw that conclusion, but there it is. Westworld’s series finale nearly reached the heights of the season premiere. After repeat viewings, it may indeed surpass it. No doubt viewers were frustrated with the lack of concrete resolution on all questions, but did you really expect it given the often meandering storylines of the previous episodes?

The Season 1 finale ultimately provided exactly what I personally needed from the series. It delivered an action-packed and deeply felt 90 minutes with major twists and pleasant surprises, and it offered a towering performance from Evan Rachel Wood, which should all but solidify her Emmy placement (see below). Additionally, each major cast member had some nice moments, including the often under-served James Marsden, and there were some unexpected deaths that will unlikely result in robotic replacements. It was an exciting finale that undoubtedly started planting seeds for Season 2. The production delay was worth the wait as this is a complex series in which, undoubtedly, even the writers themselves became lost. I cannot wait to revisit the season again.

What will Emmy think of Westworld?

Full disclosure: I watched the pilot episode of Westworld three times before it finally aired. I will still, to this day, proclaim it one of the finest hours in 2016 television. It unfolded and gradually revealed itself to me in intriguing ways. It explored complicated themes of humanity and the nature of violence. The series’ hosts at once became metaphorical representations of history’s millions of repressed. It was a great first hour, and it’s promise became supported by subsequent episodes that ranged from good to insanely great.

Given Westworld’s place in pop culture buzz, it’s hard to imagine right now at this moment Emmy ignoring it. This series feels like the heir apparent to Game of Thrones’ vacant slot in the 2017 Emmy window. That’s apparently how HBO wants to play it too. Westworld may not return until 2018, and I would wager a small sum of money that it drops after the Emmy eligibility that year. Perhaps Game of Thrones and Westworld will leapfrog each other to avoid direct competition. We’ll see about that.

But this year, the Emmy headwinds feel strong. Game of Thrones raked in 13 nominations for its freshman season, and Westworld should push beyond that number into Boardwalk Empire territory of 15 nominations. Technically, it will most assuredly match Game of Thrones’ 9 Creative Arts nominations. The advancement comes in the acting awards. Game of Thrones only earned one nomination (and a win) for Peter Dinklage in 2011. Westworld is guaranteed at least two nominations for its actors: Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton. The only impediment to these two very fine actresses would be if HBO decides to campaign Newton in the Lead Actress category as they appear to be at the 2017 Golden Globes. It’s hard to imagine them both getting into the top slots, and my money was on Newton prior to tonight’s season finale should that scenario occur. Now, I don’t know, but I’m hoping they will avoid the conflict.

That leaves the men of Westworld. Their numbers include the great Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Wright, and Ed Harris on the surface, so surely one of those actors will merit a nomination. Then, if Emmy really goes hog wild for the series, you could consider James Marsden, Ben Barnes, or Jimmi Simpson. Writing, direction, and series nominations are assured.

Final Verdict

Boardwalk Empire emerges as the most apt comparison for Westworld’s Emmy chances. Both series premiered in the fall, both series feature period splendor, and both series heavily rely on sprawling casts. The critics responded more to Boardwalk Empire with a Metacritic score of 88 compared to Westworld’s lower 74. Still, it’s difficult to imagine the Television Academy undervaluing the biggest story of 2016. The upcoming Golden Globe, SAG, and DGA nominations should help tell the story of this iconic and original series, but, right now, I’m betting big on Westworld’s Emmy fortunes.

Westworld
(Photo: HBO)

Guaranteed Nominations*

Drama Series
Direction
Writing
Evan Rachel Wood
Thandie Newton
Casting
Editing
Cinematography
Main Title Design
Main Title Theme Music
Costumes
Art Direction
Make-up
Sound Editing
Sound Mixing
Visual Effects

Possible Nominations*

Anthony Hopkins
Ed Harris
Jeffrey Wright
Sidse Babett Knudsen
Jimmi Simpson
Ben Barnes
Louis Herthum
Music Composition
Stunt Coordination

*I’m omitting category placement for now.