2018 Emmy race for Best Drama Writing: Is ‘Westworld’ the new ‘Lost’?

The Emmy Awards ballot for Best Drama Writing lists 202 episodes from 112 series, which is down from 233 episodes from 130 series last year, when the nominees were:

  • The Americans” season 5: “The Soviet Division” (Joel Fields & Joe Weisberg)
  • “Better Call Saul” season 3: “Chicanery” (Gordon Smith)
  • “The Crown” season 1: “Assassins” (Peter Morgan)
  • Winner — “The Handmaid’s Tale” season 1: “Offred” (Bruce Miller)
  • “Stranger Things” season 1: “The Vanishing of Will Byers” (The Duffer Brothers)
  • Westworld” season 1: “The Bicameral Mind” (Lisa Joy & Jonathan Nolan)

“Better Call Saul” is ineligible as it continues an extended hiatus, but “Game of Thrones” is back in contention after being similarly ineligible last year, having won this award for its last two seasons.

“Westworld” is in the most danger of the incumbent nominees because of its ambitious submission strategy. Having entered a single episode for consideration last year, “Westworld” has submitted five this time. This makes it prone to vote-splitting, although “Better Call Saul” submitted seven episodes last year. It helps to have a standout, standalone episode in contention. “Better Call Saul” had that with “Chicanery,” which went on to win the award for Best Drama Episode Writing from the Writers Guild of America. “Better Call Saul” did not so much have a singular showcase the year before, when it also submitted seven episodes, but was snubbed.

Given that the bombastic, supersized season finale by showrunners Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan was the nominated episode of “Westworld” last year, this year’s bombastic, supersized season finale by Joy and Nolan would seem to be the obvious pick of the “Westworld” submissions, but “Westworld” fans did not have a choice last year and the ballot does not list writers — only episode titles, air dates and loglines. The “Westworld” finale “The Passenger” also aired the night before voting closed, which was almost two weeks after voting opened. Furthermore, “The Passenger” is the most divisive episode of the series among critics to date, with only 73% of reviews gathered by Rotten Tomatoes being positive. If one episode from “Westworld” is nominated, it is likely to be “Kiksuya,” a relatively self-contained study of Akecheta, a supporting character introduced in the second episode of the second season, whose flashbacks resolved long-standing mysteries of the show’s mythology. “Kiksuya” is the best-reviewed episode of the series among critics to date, with an average 9.34/10 rating among reviews gathered by Rotten Tomatoes.

“Game of Thrones” and “Lost” are the series to which “Westworld” is most compared; time will tell whose trajectory it follows. “Game of Thrones” has been nominated for Best Drama Writing every season except its second, which was the only one for which it submitted multiple episodes. “Lost” was nominated in its second season, for the midseason episode “The 23rd Psalm,” which was a relatively self-contained study of Mr. Eko, a supporting character introduced in the second episode of the second season, whose flashbacks resolved long-standing mysteries of the show’s mythology.

“The Americans” contends for its fourth consecutive nomination in six seasons, strategically entering only a single episode for the third consecutive year to avoid vote-splitting. “The Americans” stands to have the sixth series finale nominated for Best Drama Writing this decade, after “The Good Wife” in 2016, “Mad Men” in 2015, “Breaking Bad” in 2014, “Friday Night Lights” in 2011 and “Lost” in 2010.

Seven pilots have been nominated here this decade: “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Stranger Things” in 2017, “Mr. Robot” and “UnREAL” in 2016, “Homeland” in 2012, “The Killing” in 2011 and “The Good Wife” in 2010. “The Deuce” and “Killing Eve” contend this year. Like “Westworld” last year, “Mindhunter” and “Ozark” have foregone their pilots in favor of their first season finales, although they could have submitted both.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Stranger Things” have kept again to single submissions; “The Crown” has also submitted only one again, but it is ineligible for more because the show has only one writer. “This is Us” has entered two, down from five last year.

Submissions from top contenders:

  • “The Americans” season 6: “START” (Joel Fields & Joe Weisberg)
  • “The Crown” season 2: “Mystery Man” (Peter Morgan)
  • “The Deuce” season 1: “Pilot” (George Pelecanos & David Simon)
  • “Game of Thrones” season 7: “The Dragon and the Wolf” (David Benioff & D.B. Weiss)
  • “The Handmaid’s Tale” season 2: “June” (Bruce Miller)
  • “Killing Eve” season 1: “Nice Face” (Phoebe Waller-Bridge)
  • “Mindhunter” season 1: “Episode 10” (Joe Penhall & Jennifer Haley)
  • “Ozark” season 1: “The Toll” (Chris Mundy)
  • “Stranger Things” season 2: “The Gate” (The Duffer Brothers)
  • “This is Us” season 2: “The Car” (Isaac Aptaker & Elizabeth Berger)
  • “This is Us” season 2: “Super Bowl Sunday” (Dan Fogelman)
  • “Westworld” season 2: “Akane No Mai” (Dan Dietz)
  • “Westworld” season 2: “Kiksuya” (Carly Wray & Dan Dietz)
  • “Westworld” season 2: “The Passenger” (Jonathan Nolan & Lisa Joy)
  • “Westworld” season 2: “The Riddle of the Sphinx” (Gina Atwater & Jonathan Nolan)
  • “Westworld” season 2: “Vanishing Point” (Roberto Patino)

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