SPOILER ALERT: This article contains spoilers for the Season 3 finale of “Westworld.”
Even among an impressive ensemble cast that includes Jeffrey Wright, Ed Harris and Emmy-winner Thandie Newton, Evan Rachel Wood has been a standout of “Westworld.” As Dolores Abernathy, the enigmatic robot damsel-in-distress who becomes a sort of revolutionary leader, she has served as the closest thing to a main character the HBO sci-fi series has had. Season 3, perhaps more than any other, has been a showcase for the actress and her character, and Emmy voters would do well to take notice. After all, it’s possible they might not get another shot, considering the way things played out in the season finale.
Dolores’s arc over three seasons has been dramatic, to say the least. In Season 1, she was just a character in a larger simulation, forced to go through the same interactions over and over again. It’s not clear whether she has any agency of her own. Of course, we see that she has hidden depths that begin to override her programming, which largely comes out through Wood’s performance. In Season 2 Dolores is finally unleashed, and she promptly begins to murder her former oppressors while attempting to lead her fellow “hosts” to salvation. Wood earned well-deserved Emmy nominations both years, but no wins (she previously contended for her supporting turn in the limited series “Mildred Pierce”).
This year, “Westworld” really should be called “The Dolores Show.” Finally freed of her programmed shackles and of the park itself, the cybernetic revolutionary sets her sights on human society, which she learns is just as oppressive and controlling as the world she escaped. Dolores’s complicated (and honestly, a little convoluted) plans are the primary drivers of the season’s overarching plot, and most of the other major characters end up as little more than pawns in her scheme. In some ways she has taken up the mantle of her creator, Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins); she subtly manipulates various characters in order to direct them down a path that ultimately leads to their salvation. Also like her creator, she ends up paying the ultimate price for her success.
Wood makes Season 3 her own, and the reason its complex plot works as well as it does is largely due to her. She is steadfast, determined and utterly convinced that her goals are worth every sacrifice – even that of copies of herself. We are never sure if she is the hero or the villain, but she is compelling either way, and we keep watching to see how her master plan will eventually play out.
She has a few advantages in the Best Drama Actress race. Wood has been nominated for every past season of the show, but never won, and due to the events of the finale she might not be in future seasons. Newton won the Drama Supporting Actress prize in 2018, so voters aren’t shy about rewarding the show’s standout cast.
Emmy voters also aren’t so hesitant about saluting actresses in big, high-concept shows like “Westworld”: the first time Wood was nominated she lost to Elizabeth Moss for “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and the year before that Tatiana Maslany triumphed for “Orphan Black.” Both are sci-fi shows with strong female leads that deal with themes about resisting oppressive systems, so these kinds of performances in these kinds of shows do resonate.
On the other hand, Wood does face stiff competition. Moss is returning, as is last year’s winner Jodie Comer (“Killing Eve”) and her costar Sandra Oh. There’s also Jennifer Aniston’s heavily-promoted, SAG Award winning return to TV on “The Morning Show” and Olivia Colman‘s Golden Globe winning turn in “The Crown.” But Wood has more than earned a win for her run on “Westworld,” especially considering this could very well be her last chance. Dolores’s violent delights may have led to her violent end, but the star who brought her to life deserves a happier sendoff.
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