Emmys 2013 preview: Best of ‘Breaking Bad’ season 5.1

Having already delved into the Golden Globe and SAG Awards prospects for the recently concluded first half of season 5 of “Breaking Bad,” we turn our attention towards next year’s Emmys.

Earlier this year, the critic’s choice for the best drama series on TV racked up its best-ever Emmy haul — an impressive 13 nominations, a vast improvement on its seven nods in 2010, five in 2009 and four for its first truncated season in 2008.

Whether or not “Breaking Bad” can continue its upward Emmy trajectory next year remains to be seen. However, the smart money is on the trend continuing. Next summer, the highly anticipated final eight episodes will air when TV Academy voters will be filling out their Emmy ballots.

Indeed, the deafening buzz emanating from the show’s final episodes will be very difficult to avoid. Tasked with choosing six episodes to submit to Emmy judges, the show’s producers will essentially have to eliminate two episodes of the eight that aired this summer from the mix.

It will be like a “Sophie’s Choice” decision, and opinions will be divided as to which episodes best encapsulate this first half of the final season.

Looking ahead to 2013, this is how “Breaking Bad” might fare in its penultimate Emmy campaign.

The TV Academy loves Bryan Cranston, rewarding him with three consecutive  Best Drama Actor awards and a nomination last season (surprisingly bested on the night by “Homeland” star Damian Lewis) for his razor sharp portrayal of main protagonist Walter White. It is unimaginable that he won’t be back next year for a fifth consecutive nod. Although he may lack one dynamite standout episode of sufficient explosiveness to warrant frontrunner status, he could be a real threat to win again if he submitted “Say My Name” or perhaps “Fifty One”, a highlight of which is Walter’s chilling intimidation of frazzled wife Skyler.

Aaron Paul, coming off a second Best Drama Supporting Actor win in September, is a likely nominee again next year. He may have a more difficult time claiming a third win, as he wasn’t given a standout showcase this time around. However, he was particularly strong in “Say My Name,” “Madrigal” and especially “Buyout,” where his character Jesse Pinkman admirably and awkwardly bumbles his way through the most painfully tense dinner scene of the year alongside an icy Skyler and Walt.

With Emmy nominee Giancarlo Esposito‘s Gus Fring out of the picture, many pundits are already talking up the possibility that Jonathan Banks may step into the  supporting slot vacated by Esposito. And they would be right in saying so, as his loveable but lethal Mike Ehrmantraut was one of the highlights of the season (so far). It seems almost a foregone conclusion that if Banks is nominated next year, he should submit “Say My Name” as his episode submission, where he mines nuance and emotion out of a guy whose rough exterior had come to define him for the episodes preceding this instalment in which Mike meets his untimely demise.

Anna Gunn‘s Skyler has had a fascinating journey over the last four and a half seasons; from oblivious wife to newly-confident co-conspirator to damaged victim. Emmy voters finally noticed earlier this year and rewarded her with an overdue nomination in the Best Drama Supporting Actress category (which she ultimately lost to “Downton Abbey” scene stealer Maggie Smith). However, a few weeks before Gunn attended her first Emmy ceremony as a nominee, she delivered a performance in the episode “Fifty One” which set off a wave of early calls that she will be back in contention next year as the frontrunner. This was undoubtedly the clearest example of an Emmy episode submission for any of the show’s actors, and if Gunn returns to the supporting actress field next year, expect her to submit this episode, cementing her status as the one to beat in 2013.

To date, neither Dean Norris nor Betsy Brandt have been able to break through with Emmy nominations in the supporting categories. Although they are not expected to do so for this half season’s worth of episodes, it is at least arguable that Norris delivers a fine performance in the midseason finale “Gliding Over All,” in which DEA Agent Hank Schrader finally realizes that brother-in-law Walt is the big bad Heisenberg he has been chasing all this time, while sitting on the toilet, no less.

The guest stars on “Breaking Bad” have not fared all that well with Emmy voters over the years, with Mark Margolis (as Tio Salamanca) finally breaking through earlier this year with the first guest acting nod for the show. So, although it is an uphill climb, if any one deserves to be considered, it is Laura Fraser as the nervy Lydia Rodarte-Quayle, whose highlight arguably comes early in the season, as she memorably pleads for her life at gunpoint in “Madrigal.”

It is one of the greatest Emmy crimes of the last few years that “Breaking Bad” has been completely shut out of the Best Drama Writing category. AMC stablemate “Mad Men” has taken the lion’s share of nominations in this category over the same period (earlier this year it garnered three slots, with “Downton Abbey” and “Homeland” filling out the roster). This statistic is even harder to swallow given that the show is a consistent nominee and occasional winner with the Writers Guild (earlier this year, it reaped three WGA nominations and two wins – for Drama Series and for Episodic Drama for the episode “Box Cutter,” penned by showrunner Vince Gilligan). So, while history tells us that a writing nomination is by no means in the bag, the show’s best bet may be Gilligan, who penned the season’s first two episodes, “Live Free or Die” and “Madrigal.”

Finally, Best Drama Directing will almost certainly feature “Breaking Bad” next year. Of the three directing nominations the show has received to date, two have been for Gilligan (the show’s pilot in 2008, and the fourth season finale “Face Off” earlier this year), and one has been for Michelle MacLaren, often cited as one of the best TV directors working today (nominated in 2010 for the episode “One Minute”). The smart money is on MacLaren to garner her second nomination, either for “Madrigal” (Matt Zoller-Seitz (Vulture) noted that “Michelle MacLaren’s direction is a masterclass in moving the camera to reveal information”) or for “Gliding Over All” (Alan Sepinwall (Hitfix) made special mention of MacLaren’s work in his review of the midseason finale, noting that every frame “couldn’t have been more beautifully assembled”). However, as a memo to the Academy, I would suggest also considering the fan-favorite train heist episode “Dead Freight,” masterfully written and directed by George Mastras, as deserving of a nomination as well.

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