Emmy Episode Analysis: Lonely Allison Janney (‘Masters of Sex’) discovers a ‘Brave New World’

Emmy-darling Allison Janney is already a four-time winner with two supporting (2000-2001) and two lead (2002, 2004) victories for “The West Wing.” She hopes to complete the hat trick by winning her first Drama Guest Actress Emmy for “Masters of Sex,” in which she plays Margaret Scully, the lonely wife of a closeted university provost. Including her Comedy Supporting Actress bid this year for “Mom,” this is her eighth nomination.

Watch our exclusive Q&A with Allison Janney about ‘Masters’ and ‘Mom

SYNOPSIS: Janney submitted an early episode from her story arc, “Brave New World.” Unbeknownst to Margaret, her husband Barton (Drama Guest Actor nominee Beau Bridges) is having an affair with a male prostitute. He comes home from one such encounter to find her in bed reading a provocative novel, “Peyton Place.” He gives her a chaste kiss and retires to a separate room for the night.

Among a group of friends, Margaret learns about the sex study being conducted by William Masters at Barton’s hospital, but when she signs up as a volunteer she is heartbroken to discover she’s disqualified because she has never experienced an orgasm. During dinner at home with her husband and daughter, the distance in her marriage is even more evident; he doesn’t even wish to join her at a movie that evening, insisting she go alone instead.

Emmy Episode Analysis: Beau Bridges leads Drama Guest Actor race for ‘Masters of Sex

Watching “Peyton Place” on the big screen, she tears up at the passion displayed on screen, and afterwards she encounters a doctor from Barton’s hospital, Austin Langham (Teddy Sears). They open up to each other as he walks her to her car, then he kisses her and they have sex.

Will Janney add to her already impressive awards haul with this episode? Let’s consider the pros and cons:


The centerpiece scene for Janney is at the hospital being interviewed for the sex study by Masters and Johnson (Michael Sheen and Drama Actress nominee Lizzy Caplan). She has considerable impact as she describes her sex life with Barton, not quite realizing how deprived she has been of affection, and we feel great empathy for her. When she is rejected from the study, she struggles not to cry, finally breaking down in the elevator.

The episode gives her a full story arc to play, which lets us see an emotional progression in her performance: curiosity, heartbreak, loneliness, and finally the long-awaited throes of desire.

Janney is beloved by the Emmys; she has only ever lost twice before out of six previous nominations.


Even during her most impactful, empathetic scenes, Janney’s performance is quite understated. The nature of the character doesn’t afford the actress the kinds of big emotional fireworks that Emmy voters often love.

“Masters of Sex” received fewer nominations than the show might have hoped, including from the acting branch, who passed over lead actor Sheen and fellow guest Julianne Nicholson for nominations. Will that translate to less support for Janney?

If judges in her category are familiar with her track record, they may wish to spread the wealth to an actor whose mantel isn’t already crowded with Emmys.

Follow Gold Derby on FacebookTwitterInstagram, Tumblr, iTunes and YouTube

Janney is the overwhelming favorite to win, getting 2/13 odds from our predictors. Do you agree? Make your predictions below:

More News from GoldDerby