Elisabeth Moss has never won an individual Screen Actors Guild Award. A 15-time nominee, she has won twice as part of the “Mad Men” ensemble (2009, ’10) but lost all six of her solo nominations, of which she earned two for “Mad Men” (2009, ’11) and and three for Hulu’s ”The Handmaid’s Tale” (2018-20) for TV drama actress, and one for “Top of the Lake” (2014) for limited Series/TV movie actress. It’s why I now ask of you, dear SAG Awards voters, to consider finally rewarding Moss individually for her career-defining work in “Handmaid’s'” Season 4.
The fourth installment picks up with Moss’ June Osborne on the run, and the actor juggles four discernible but inextricably intertwined sides of her character: a traumatized handmaid, a solicitous mother and wife, a vengeful, rage-driven rebel, and a guilt-ridden survivor. Take, for instance, the scene from the Season 4 opener, “Pigs,” in which June directs child bride Esther Keyes (Mckenna Grace) in Aunt Lydia-esque fashion to execute one of her rapists. While Moss’ face turns into a canvas for June’s abhorrence of said rapist (and Gilead in general) and her body language into a demonstration of her reclaimed power, her glazed, teary eyes bear her character’s long-standing suffering.
After June is recaptured by Gilead in the third episode, “The Crossing,” and thereby thrust back into the perpetual cycle of anguish and false hope, Moss paints her as a dead horse that takes yet another beating. But it proves to be one beating too many when Gilead hits where it hurts most by threatening to harm her daughter, Hannah (Jordana Blake), if she doesn’t reveal the whereabouts of her fellow stray handmaids. As June ultimately breaks after Hannah doesn’t recognize her, Moss’ body language and facial features are temporarily transformed by resignation. “I’m sorry it’s just me,” June, overwhelmed with self-reproach for not rescuing Hannah, then tells her husband, Luke (O-T Fagbenle), as they reunite in Canada.
From the seventh episode, “Home,” onwards, Moss gets to navigate uncharted waters as June grapples with newfound freedom in Canada. At first, the actor is quiet, observant and reticent as June, a complete fish out of water, takes in her new environment and wrestles with survivor’s guilt. But once June starts contending with her rage and thirst for revenge in a world without heightened rules and procedures, Moss slowly turns into a rumbling volcano that is primed to eventually erupt. And so it first happens when June confronts a pregnant Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) in her detention cell. As June inflicts shame upon her former enslaver for her countless wrongdoings, Moss tears into years worth of pain-filled, unprocessed wrath, pouring it out in unfettered fashion. The actor’s delivery of “Do you understand me?!” (the same words Serena thunders against June in first season’s third episode, “Late”) alone is worthy of reward.
Moss’ showcase, however, doesn’t end there. Arguably one of her most impressive achievements is delivering June’s testimony against the Waterfords in a seven-minute single take in the eighth episode, “Testimony,” also one of three outings she directed this season (the others being “The Crossing” and “Progress,” the ninth episode). And after Fred (Joseph Fiennes) strikes a deal to get the charges against him dismissed and June is pushed over the brink, Moss combines boundless rage with fear, torment and trauma as June makes a final, fateful decision and goes to her darkest place yet.
As of this writing, Moss is currently in third place in Gold Derby’s combined SAG Awards odds for TV drama actress. She trails 2020 champ Jennifer Aniston (“The Morning Show”) plus Sarah Snook (“Succession”), and is ahead of Mj Rodriguez (“Pose”) and Reese Witherspoon (“The Morning Show”), who round out the top five. The actor is also expected to score an additional nom as part of the “Handmaid’s” ensemble, which scored three straight citations from 2018 to ’20 and is now projected to rake in its fourth, per our odds, where it sits in third place. Also nominated an additional four times as a member of the “Mad Men” ensemble (2008, ’11, ’13, ’16), Moss is thus forecasted to bring her overall nomination total to 17. But can she finally bag her first solo victory?
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