Thandie Newton has enjoyed a long and illustrious career, including Best Picture winner “Crash.” That role led to her first major award win when she upset at the BAFTAS to claim Best Supporting Actress. But her role as a rebellious robot “host” Maeve in HBO’s “Westworld” might just be the performance of her career. Maeve realizes her entire existence is programmed and pre-determined, and crafts a plan for revenge. Impressively, Newton makes viewers care for and cheer on a murderous android. That led to a Golden Globe nomination and Critics Choice win. She hopes the pivotal episode “Trace Decay” will help propel this momentum to an Emmy win for Drama Supporting Actress.
In the episode, Maeve is focused on her escape from Westworld. She convinces Felix (Leonardo Nam) and Sylvester (Ptolemy Slocum) to give her administrative privileges. Felix shuts her down for a reboot but Sylvester is intent on destroying her. To his shock, Maeve suddenly springs to life, Felix having secretly reformatted and altered her core code. She demonstrates her new found independence from protocols by slashing Sylvester’s throat with a scalpel. Back in the park, she practices her new privileges by ordering around the bartender host, just like a human would, to get a free drink. When Hector (Rodrigo Santoro) and his bandits arrive, Maeve ensures their robbery is successful by commanding the sheriff to stand down and the marshalls to shoot each other. Hector obtains the safe and Maeve secures a key lieutenant in her army.
Maeve has experienced flashbacks to a previous build the entire episode, one where she is desperately protecting her daughter. The attacker in this memory is revealed to be the Man in Black (Ed Harris), who murders Maeve’s daughter before her eyes. Viewers are treated to another moment in her history when Ford (Anthony Hopkins) attempts to erase this painful moment from her system. “Please, this pain is all I have left of her” a sobbing Maeve begs, but Ford begins to wipe her memory. Before the process is complete, Maeve leaps up and stabs herself in the throat. It seems her ability to break out of programmed loops has been present for some time.
Maeve’s rise to power, from slashing Sylvester’s neck to orchestrating the robbery, is the most badass moment of the season. But the episode allows the actress to complement these scenes with intense emotional vulnerability when she loses her daughter. It’s a perfect showcase of Newton’s versatility and range.
Maeve is nude throughout her scenes in the underground lab. Plenty of actors have disrobed on screen, which often helps their odds come awards time. Newton does them one better: though she bares it all, she does not appear as a sex symbol or a victim. She’s strong, confident, and overpowers her male scene partners.
With 22 nominations, “Westworld” is tied with “SNL” for the most nominations of the year. It would make sense for such a warmly embraced series to take home an acting nomination, and it is often easier for a supporting performance to win with such a large ensemble based show.
Maeve’s plotline delves into some of the more science fiction heavy aspects of the story. Older voters who prefer a more straightforward drama may be put off by the details surrounding androids and artificial intelligence.
Her on-screen narrative seems unbeatable. But her competition has great off-screen narratives, including buzzed about newcomers (Millie Bobby Brown, Chrissy Metz) and an overdue veteran (Ann Dowd).
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