Michael C. Hall, who plays the title character on Showtime's "Dexter," surprised many Emmy watchers when it was revealed that his submission to Emmy judges this year would be "Teenage Wasteland." It was widely expected that he would submit the fifth season premiere, "My Bad," which focuses on the immediate aftermath of his wife's shocking murder.
Hall has earned three previous nominations for Best Drama Actor for "Dexter" (as well as a nod in 2002 for "Six Feet Under"), and he was considered a strong contender to win last year when he submitted "The Getaway," the fourth season finale, in which Dexter had one last confrontation with the Trinity Killer (John Lithgow, who won a guest acting Emmy for his performance), only to return home to find his wife murdered. But Hall's hopes were dashed, once again, by Bryan Cranston, who won his third consecutive Emmy for "Breaking Bad."
One of the biggest hurdles in Hall's pursuit of Emmy is the nature of his character. Dexter Morgan, a blood spatter analyst who moonlights as a vigilante killer, is a sociopath unable to feel or express normal human emotion. But voters generally prefer to reward bold, dynamic performances with a lot of range and emotional fireworks, leaving Hall at the mercy of Cranston's dramatic outpourings as a cancer victim turned crystal meth manufacturer.
But "Breaking Bad" didn't air any new episodes during the last eligibility period, taking Cranston out of this year's race and leaving the door open for new blood – so to speak. And Hall finally had an episode in which his chilly anti-hero demonstrated a broader range of emotions. In "My Bad," Dexter, after discovering his murdered wife, expresses guilt over her death and also shame for his inability to mourn her properly, until the climax, in which he finally experiences a catharsis, killing a man who taunts him about his loss and then screaming out of grief. The hour ends with Dexter arriving late to his wife's funeral and delivering a moving eulogy.
The episode presents a complete emotional arc and gives Hall's murderous character an opportunity to be sympathetic, penitent about his homicidal ways. Reminding voters of the previous year's acclaimed storyline couldn't hurt either, especially after a season considered a disappointment to many viewers.
But Hall elected to submit "Teenage Wasteland" instead. The ninth episode of the fifth season, it also gives Hall the opportunity to show a softer side of Dexter, who is surprised by the arrival of his rebellious stepdaughter while also trying to help a young woman (Emmy nominee Julia Stiles), identify the men who raped her. It's a rare episode in which he doesn't commit a murder, perhaps helping to endear him to voters, and he demonstrates fatherly protectiveness in dealing with his daughter, whose best friend is a victim of abuse.
Fiercely parental types have won before. Mariska Hargitay won her Emmy for an episode of "Law & Order: SVU" in which she fought to save a kidnapped young girl during a lengthy 911 call. Katherine Heigl shocked everyone – even herself – when she won for "Grey's Anatomy" in 2007, for an episode in which she gave bone marrow to the daughter she gave up for adoption, who was afflicted with leukemia. And of course Hall's Emmy scourge, Cranston, has won his trio of prizes for playing a man who turns to a life of crime in order to provide for his children.
What "Teenage Wasteland" lacks, however, is a complete emotional arc. Much of the episode deals with plot details – Dexter has identified a suspect in Lumen's rape, gains his trust, and retrieves a blood sample – and it takes quite a while for the more emotional material to kick in. After a few awkward conversations with his stepdaughter, the girl goes missing, and he lashes out briefly at a man suspected of taking her. But his best scene doesn't come until the very end, when he attacks the man abusing his stepdaughter's friend and then has an imagined conversation with his late father, who is proud of Dexter for coming to the defense of an innocent. He's not just a killer, we learn, but a human being capable of caring for others.
But does that climactic scene measure up to the emotional catharsis of "My Bad"? Does his relationship with his stepdaughter trump his grief over his wife? Even though Bryan Cranston is out of the running this year, Hall faces stiff competition from Jon Hamm ("Mad Men"), who submitted "The Suitcase," in which he gets to play drunk and grief-stricken over the death of an old friend; Kyle Chandler ("Friday Night Lights"), who submitted the sentimental series finale; and Steve Buscemi ("Boardwalk Empire"), who recently won Golden Globe and SAG Awards for his performance. Also nominated are Timothy Olyphant ("Justified") and Hugh Laurie ("House"). None of the six have ever won.
Judging from the results of Gold Derby's prediction center, it appears that "Teenage Wasteland" might have been a mistake for Hall. With less than two weeks to go before the Primetime Emmy telecast, none of our Emmy experts or editors predict him to win, and he ranks last among Gold Derby users.
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