“Westworld” delivered what many are considering a series best episode Sunday night with the Ghost Nation-focused installment “Kiksuya” led by character actor Zahn McClarnon. Because McClarnon appears in at least five episodes of the show, he joins co-star Anthony Hopkins in the fiercely competitive Drama Supporting Actor race with a shot of earning an Emmy nomination. Can the critical buzz of an emotionally packed episode and the momentum of a looming season finale catapult McClarnon into Emmy history? It should!
To say that a nomination for McClarnon would be a breakthrough is an understatement. It would be nothing short of historic. Voters should already know McClarnon’s name from his turns on A&E’s “Longmire” as well as the critically acclaimed and Emmy-nominated second season of FX’s “Fargo,” but a nomination for “Westworld” would be the first for him from a major group and only the second time a person of Native American descent has been nominated for an acting award following August Schellenberg for “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” in 2007.
First Americans are woefully underrepresented in the entertainment industry, both in front of and behind the screen, and recognition for their work through major awards is even more invisible. “Westworld” has made noteworthy strides in the advancement of minority representation this season through its in-depth portrayals of its Native American characters as well as with its Shogun storyline fronted by Japanese actors Rinko Kikuchi (an Oscar nominee for “Babel” in 2007) and Hiroyuki Sanada, both of whom contend for their own nominations in their respective Drama Guest acting categories. Emmy voters have the opportunity this year to recognize their stellar work across the board and not because of their ethnic background, but because they give some of the year’s absolute best (and most heartbreaking) awards-worthy performances.
McClarnon, a new addition to the “Westworld” cast this season, plays Akechata, a leader among the Ghost Nation. In “Kiksuya” we discover he’s driven by his devotion for lost love Kohana (Julie Jones) and has learned of and kept in tact memories of his past “lives” with the hope of joining her in what he refers to as the “right world.” By the end of the episode we realize that he is inextricably linked to Maeve (Thandie Newton) and shares a mind/data-link with her that allows them to communicate silently across vast distances. His turn in the episode is a tour-de-force performance that puts him on par with the series’ stars already in contention for and predicted to earn Emmy nominations this year.
“Westworld” was nominated 22 times at last year’s Emmys, including Best Drama Series and all four main acting fields (Hopkins, Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright and Newton). Ahead of this year’s nominations, Gold Derby is currently predicting it to return in Drama Series (9/1 odds), Drama Actress (6/1 odds for Wood), Drama Supporting Actress (4/1 odds for Newton) and Drama Guest Actor (17/2 odds for Jimmi Simpson). It could also earn another nomination in Best Drama Directing (four submitted episodes: “Akane No Mai,” “Journey Into Night,” “The Passenger,” and “The Riddle of the Sphinx”) and Best Drama Writing (five submitted episodes: “Akane No Mai,” “Kiksuya,” “The Passenger,” “The Riddle of the Sphinx,” and “Vanishing Point”).
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