Like Wendy on ‘Ozark,’ Laura Linney is coming for everyone in the Best Drama Actress Emmy race

[WARNING: The following story contains mild spoilers about Season 3 of “Ozark.” Read at your own risk.]

Backstage at the Emmys following his Best Drama Directing upset win for “Ozark” last September, Jason Bateman was asked about the then-upcoming third season. After giving some vague, spoiler-free teases, he sang the praises of his co-star Laura Linney.

“Thank God I’ve got a Jedi Knight there in Laura Linney to help work out all those scenes. She’s incredible,” Bateman said (watch below). “Things would be perfect if she was holding up one of these next year too.”

That wish could very well come true, now that Season 3 is released for the the quarantined world to consume. Last week, I noted how Linney was being under-predicted, as she was in the precarious sixth spot in our Best Drama Actress odds, which were — and still are — topped by Golden Globe champ Olivia Colman (“The Crown”) and Screen Actors Guild Awards winner Jennifer Aniston (“The Morning Show”). To be fair, the third season wasn’t out yet, save for screeners for press and critics, but it was still a severe underestimation of a four-time Emmy winner on an industry favorite show that took home two major Emmys last year (Julia Garner in drama supporting actress being the other).

Since Season 3 dropped on Netflix on Friday — and received the show’s best reviews yet — Linney has inched up to fifth place in our odds, knocking down “Big Little Lies'” Nicole Kidman (reigning champ Jodie Comer of “Killing Eve” and 2017 champ Elisabeth Moss of “The Handmaid’s Tale” are in third and fourth, respectively). As more and more people watch “Ozark” — don’t forget, one of Netflix’s most popular programs since its premiere — in the coming weeks and get a glimpse of Linney’s tremendous performance, it may not be long before she’s sitting in the top spot.

We all know about actors having an “Emmy tape,” but the third installment of “Ozark” is basically an “Emmy season” for Linney. As Wendy further ingratiates herself in the criminal underworld on which her husband Marty (Bateman) is walking on eggshells, Linney is allowed to showcase the full scope of her talents, turning the Byrde matriarch into a menacing, conniving force to be reckoned with.

“Ozark” has often been compared to “Breaking Bad,” as crime morphs into the family business thanks to an ostensibly unassuming patriarch. Wendy’s direct parallel is Skyler White (Anna Gunn), who joined Walt’s (Bryan Cranston) meth empire in the third season to launder money. But Wendy is, in fact, more similar to Walter White, who transformed, as Vince Gilligan had always planned, from “Mr. Chips to Scarface” over the course of five seasons. Wendy has seemingly gotten there already at an accelerated rate.

SEE The Best Drama Actress Emmy race looks like it’s Olivia Colman vs. Jennifer Aniston… or is it?

In the third season, Wendy becomes the brand of power-hungry, ruthless beast equipped with death stares we’ve typically seen in male antiheroes this century, especially in the first decade. Like Walt, she knows on some level that what she’s doing is bad, but that just makes her double down, chasing, craving and relishing the addictive dopamine rush that crime and power can bring. It comes to a head in the eighth and ninth episodes, when Wendy makes a devastating decision involving her bipolar brother Ben (Tom Pelphrey). (Linney should for sure submit one of these hours.) It’s a cold, heartless move that the actress plays to perfection and further drives home the fact that we have never seen this kind of fearlessly fierce and fearsome turn from her before. And that alone can score points with Emmy voters.

Linney also has a pretty sterling Emmy record. Out of six nominations, she’s won four times — and for every role for which she’s been nominated, except “Ozark” for now (and, as I previously mentioned, that’s as many acting Emmys as the other predicted five have combined). She is a three-time champ in the Best Limited Series/TV Movie Actress category for “Wild Iris” (2002), “John Adams” (2008) and “The Big C: Hereafter” (2013), and has a guest Emmy for “Frasier” (2004). Her other two bids were for “Ozark” last year and “The Big C” in Best Comedy Actress in 2011, which she lost to Melissa McCarthy (“Mike & Molly”) in that beauty pageant-esque presentation.

Perhaps her biggest issue is not if or when she will win another one, but what to do after. “I don’t know where she’s gonna put them all [if she wins for ‘Ozark’],” Bateman quipped in September. “She’s got four already.”

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Be sure to make your Emmy nominations predictions today so that Hollywood insiders can see how their shows and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions as often as you like until just before the nominees are announced on July 28. And join in the thrilling debate over the Emmy Awards taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our TV forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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