Joseph Fiennes has this year scored his first Emmy Award nomination for portraying Commander Fred Waterford on “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Fiennes’ Best Drama Supporting Actor bid is among the 20 nominations earned by the Hulu series in its sophomore season. For voters’ consideration, Fiennes has submitted the sixth episode of the season, titled “First Blood.”
Much of Fred’s presence in the episode is via flashbacks, as he and wife Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) embark on a promotional tour of her controversial book “A Woman’s Place.” The Waterfords are met with fierce protests, culminating in an unsuccessful assassination attempt on their lives that leaves Serena hospitalized. When Fred pleas with Serena to no longer give public speeches, she rejects his suggestion and tells him to “be a man.” Later, Fred captures the assassin and his companion and executes the latter.
In the present, Fred and handmaid Offred (Elisabeth Moss) have been on awkward terms ever since she returned home after a failed attempt to escape Gilead. One evening, however, Fred enters Offred’s bedroom and provides her with a photo of her daughter Hannah. Fred professes how much he’s missed her and how pleased he is to see her happy again. In the final scene of the episode, Fred is providing remarks at the opening of the new Rachel and Leah Center when a handmaid sprints toward the stage and detonates a bomb.
Fred’s fate is left unknown as “First Blood” comes to a close. Will Fiennes emerge the latest “The Handmaid’s Tale” star to go home with an Emmy? Let’s dive into the pros and cons.
With “The Handmaid’s Tale” having triumphed in every acting category it was nominated in for its first season – Best Drama Actress (Moss), Best Drama Supporting Actress (Ann Dowd) and Best Drama Guest Actress (Alexis Bledel) – Fiennes has to go into Emmy night feeling pretty good about his chances.
“First Blood,” which finds Fiennes with about 17 minutes of screen time, provides the actor with a rare opportunity to show some range in this barbarous role. While Fred is hardly ever the least bit sympathetic a character, the episode showcases him in perhaps his least nefarious form, less the sadistic commander and master of Offred and more the supportive husband of Serena. When he tends to Serena as she lies in her hospital bed, wounded following the assassination attempt, it’s an unusual moment of compassion and vulnerability from an otherwise malicious man. If “The Handmaid’s Tale” again steamrolls the awards ceremony, Fiennes isn’t to be underestimated in his ability to ride the wave.
While “First Blood” finds Fiennes in uncharacteristically solicitous form, he is still largely upstaged by Strahovski in the flashback scenes and Moss in the present day ones. In a category that often awards flashy, scenery-chewing performances, Fiennes’ turn might be too subdued to hold the attention of voters who crave a more extravagant portrayal.
Though Fiennes is hardly to be counted out, his competition is decidedly formidable, including Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones”) and David Harbour (“Stranger Things”), both of whom earned individual Screen Actors Guild Award nominations earlier this year.
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