Emmy episode analysis: David Harbour (‘Stranger Things’) mourns one child while saving another in ‘The Upside Down’

David Harbour earned his first career Emmy nomination for his role on “Stranger Things,” Netflix’s popular science fiction/horror series about the supernatural occurrences surrounding the disappearance of a young boy. Harbour, who scored a Tony nomination in 2005 for his featured role in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” plays Jim Hopper on “Stranger Things,” a local police chief with a traumatic past who becomes entrenched in the investigation. Harbour has submitted the season finale, “The Upside Down,” to Emmy voters.

The episode opens with Hopper being brutally interrogated about his knowledge of the Upside Down, the supernatural realm at the center of a number of disappearances. He comes face to face with Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine), and offers to reveal Eleven’s (Emmy nominee Millie Bobby Brown) location in exchange for letting Hopper and Joyce (Winona Ryder) venture into the Upside Down to search for Joyce’s son Will (Noah Schnapp). As they search for Will, Hopper flashes back to his young daughter’s fight with cancer years previously.

Eventually, they find an unresponsive Will, and Hopper performs CPR on him all while remembering the moment of his daughter’s death. Hopper becomes desperate to save Will, pounding repeatedly on Will’s chest, and is ultimately successful in reviving him. One month later, Hopper is shown leaving tupperware and Eggo Waffles in the woods, presumably as a gift for Eleven whose whereabouts are still unknown.

Will Harbour reap Emmy gold with his performance in “The Upside Down”? Let’s examine the pros and cons of his submission:


Harbour’s submission has many of the key elements of a winning Emmy submission. We root for Hopper, first as he stands up to his interrogators, and then as he doggedly tries to find Will. Then when we jump to the scenes of him remembering his daughter’s illness and death, we empathize with his sadness, particularly when we see him break down in the hospital stairwell. Harbour gets to show a range of emotions and experiences, and when he ultimately succeeds, we cheer for him.

With 18 total Emmy nominations, “Stranger Things” is the second most nominated drama of the year. That, combined with wins at SAG (Best Drama Ensemble) and PGA (Best Drama) indicates its popularity among all branches of the TV academy. Such broad support can only help Harbour.

And speaking of SAG, many voters are likely to recall Harbour’s barn burner of an acceptance speech — in which he railed against Donald Trump‘s immigration policies — was the talk of Hollywood for quite some time, and it is possible that as Trump continues to dominate the news cycle, many will remember Harbour’s passion at the podium.

SEE 2017 Emmy nominations list: See all the nominees


Much of Harbour’s performance is shown in brief scenes interspersed throughout the episode, and during many of those scenes Hopper is silent as he searches for Will in The Upside Down. He doesn’t have the kind of grand dramatic moments found in many of his competitors’ submissions.

Prior to this year, science fiction and horror had historically been under-rewarded at the Emmys, particularly in the acting categories. And with Harbour competing against Jeffrey Wright of “Westworld” — the only drama to score more nominations than “Stranger Things” — it may be difficult for either to garner the majority of votes necessary to win.

Be sure to make your Emmy predictions so that Hollywood insiders can see how their TV shows and performers are faring in our Emmy odds. You can keep changing your predictions until just before winners are announced on September 17. And join in the fierce debate over the 2017 Emmys taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our TV forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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