Landing his fifth career Emmy nomination this year is Jonathan Banks as parking lot attendant-turned-private investigator Mike Ehrmantraut on AMC’s “Better Call Saul.” The actor has scored four of his nominations for playing Mike — three for “Better Call Saul” (in 2015, 2016 and this year) and one for “Breaking Bad” (in 2013) — with his first nomination arriving in 1989 for his portrayal of FBI agent Frank McPike on the CBS drama “Wiseguy.” This year Banks has submitted for voters’ consideration the second episode of Season 3, titled “Witness.”
In the episode, Mike keeps his eye on a pair of henchmen who were previously watching him and then a courier who has conducted a trade with the duo. An exhausting evening of tracking the courier leads to none other than Los Pollos Hermanos, the infamous restaurant that plays a prominent role on “Breaking Bad.” Mike later tasks Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) with entering Los Pollos Hermanos to observe the courier. While digging through trash the courier has disposed of, Jimmy is greeted by restaurateur Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito, in his first appearance on this spinoff series).
To Mike’s dismay, Jimmy admits he was unable to dig up anything suspicious on the courier. Gus, however, can tell Mike is up to something. Mike continues his pursuit, following one of Gus’s associates into the desert. He comes across a ringing cell phone, placed in the middle of a highway, and answers the call.
Will “Witness” deliver Banks his first Emmy victory on his fifth nomination? Let’s analyze the pros and cons:
Banks has a fair amount of screen time in “Witness,” an episode voters clearly loved, awarding it nominations in Best Drama Directing, Best Series Sound Mixing and Best Drama Single-Camera Picture Editing. Vince Gilligan expertly directs the actor through the episode’s suspenseful opening sequence, as Mike ventures into the night toward an uncertain destination.
Perhaps helping Banks as well is the absence of “Game of Thrones” atop the ballot this year. With “Better Call Saul” arguably in its strongest position to date to win Drama Series, it’s not out of the question to think Banks could ride the show’s coattails, should it indeed win the top prize, to a victory himself. Also, the men who have defeated Banks over the past two years — Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones”) and Ben Mendelsohn (“Bloodline”) — are not in contention here.
With four nominations and four losses over five years, Emmy voters may also view this veteran character actor as overdue for a win. The fact that Banks is not nominated alongside his co-stars Esposito or Michael McKean, who gives a tour-de-force yet snubbed performance as Jimmy’s vengeful and fragile brother Chuck, is definitely good news for Banks as he will not split any votes.
While “Witness” is a triumph in directing by Gilligan and also generated heaps of buzz over Esposito’s first “Better Call Saul” appearance, Banks does not have much opportunity to stretch his acting muscles here. The actor has minimal dialogue in the episode, as Mike spends most of his time observing and investigating the conundrum before him.
With that said, “Witness” is still arguably the best episode Banks could have selected, given Mike spent so much of this season on the sidelines. Mendelsohn’s stunning victory last year proved nominees can, even with a subdued season, win the Drama Supporting Actor Emmy. Still, can Banks triumph over heavy-hitters like John Lithgow (“The Crown”), Jeffrey Wright (“Westworld”) and Ron Cephas Jones (“This Is Us”)?
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