Emmy episode analysis: Paul Sparks (‘House of Cards’) has a speech to prepare, this time for himself

As one of three “House of Cards” nominees in the Drama Guest Actor category (along with Mahershala Ali and Reg E. Cathey), Paul Sparks is up for his first-ever Emmy Award in his second season as novelist-turned-political speechwriter Thomas Yates. The cast of “House of Cards” raked in an astounding eight nominations this year, proving that it’s a favorite with the acting branch. Sparks submitted for Emmy consideration the 10th episode of Season 4, titled “Chapter 49.”

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While President Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is in the midst of a contentious primary season, First Lady Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) is in Texas with her dying mother (Ellen Burstyn). At Claire’s side is Thomas, now a part of her own political team as a speechwriter instead of as Frank’s biographer as introduced in the previous season. Tom shares his most endearing moments at the bedside of Claire’s mother, where he puts on one of her turbans adorned with jewels and gives her a palm reading.

Tom shares a number of scenes with Claire throughout the episode, and one in particular fast-forwards their physical intimacy following the death of her mother. But Tom’s impact is felt most in the final moments when Claire accepts the nomination for Vice President, reading a speech written for her by Tom addressing the strength of her marriage with Frank. Can Sparks beat out his two co-stars in this field? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of whether or not he’ll need to prepare a speech of his own:

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“House of Cards” is known for its villainous characters (there are many!) so Sparks’ Tom often feels like a breath of fresh air for his comparative goodness — the same characteristic that may have factored into Cathey’s surprise win in this category last year.

Sparks recently starred in HBO’s acclaimed limited series “The Night Of,” which prescient Emmy voters will have watched in order to prepare for next year’s awards. With “The Night Of,” “House of Cards” and a role in former Emmy powerhouse “Boardwalk Empire,” Sparks is building a strong resume for awards-friendly work.

Because “House of Cards” scored so many acting nominations this year, Emmy voters will have watched Sparks in more than just his episode submission.

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Sparks’ scenes in “Chapter 49” are brief and very subtle as much of the focus is on Claire and the looming death of her mother. He runs the risk of being overshadowed by Wright’s magnetic presence, especially since she submitted the same episode for her own Emmy consideration.

Since Sparks is up against castmates Ali and Cathey, any wave of support that “House of Cards” has this year could theoretically be divided by three, and one of those thirds is going toward last year’s winner.

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