Tom Pelphrey (‘Ozark’): Emmys justice for Season 4 following egregious 2020 snub?

After stealing Season 3 of “Ozark” as Ben Davis, Wendy’s (Laura Linney) bipolar brother, Tom Pelphrey was poised to nab his maiden Primetime Emmy nomination in 2020 — or so we thought. Even as the Netflix show racked up its most citations ever for a single season with 18, Pelphrey was omitted from the TV academy’s Best Drama Supporting Actor lineup. But thanks to his surprising guest appearance in the show’s fourth and final installment, he is now back in Emmy contention for the gritty crime drama and ready to avenge his egregious snub.

The actor turns up in the farewell season’s 10th episode, “You’re the Boss,” which was directed by Emmy contender Melissa Hickey and opens with a flashback to the night Ben was executed. It picks up right where we last saw him in Season 3’s “Fire Pink” and depicts the moments leading up to his death, in which he grasps that Wendy has abandoned him and Nelson (Nelson Bonilla) is going to kill him. Before he dies from a gunshot to the head, he begs Nelson to tell his sister that he not only is sorry for having caused her so much distress but also forgives her for her leaving him.

In just seven minutes of screen time, Pelphrey displays every quality that made his performance stand out in Season 3 and brings his character’s arc to a satisfying, if devastating, close. But will Emmy voters take notice of his small guest appearance after overlooking him for his bigger role in Season 3?

SEE How Laura Linney could pull a Jason Bateman at the Emmys with a directing win for ‘Ozark’

It wouldn’t be the first time an actor landed their first nom for a show in this exact fashion. Pelphrey could follow in the footsteps of “Better Call Saul’s” Michael McKean, who, after being snubbed in supporting for his standout third season of the “Breaking Bad” prequel, scooped up his inaugural bid for the show in guest for the fourth season. Just like Pelphrey’s Ben, his character, Chuck McGill, was killed off at the end of Season 3 but reappears in a flashback that opens the 10th episode of Season 4 (though Chuck also pops up in another flashback in the sixth episode of the season). The only notable difference between the two actors’ situations is that McKean had been a regular cast member on “Saul” since the beginning, while Pelphrey only boarded “Ozark” in its third season.

Much like in McKean’s case, the Season 3 snub could end up being a blessing in disguise for Pelphrey if Emmy voters want to make up for it. The biggest hurdle for him in 2020 was arguably securing the actual nomination, given that actors who join shows in the middle of their runs generally have a harder time breaking into lead and supporting. After all, his “Ozark” co-star Janet McTeer, who joined the show in its second season as cartel attorney Helen Pierce and contended in supporting, was also overlooked that same year despite having a knockout third season herself.

But after Pelphrey’s snub made headline after headline and his Season 4 appearance only serves as a reminder thereof, it’s probable that he will be more on voters’ radar this time around, especially now that he is competing in guest. The guest acting categories are much kinder to new(er) cast members and are also where snubbees often cash in their Emmy IOU. Other recent examples of actors getting their due in guest after being passed over in supporting include Jimmi Simpson for “Westworld” (2018), Ann Dowd for “The Leftovers” (2017) and Alison Wright for “The Americans” (2017).

SEE Julia Garner (‘Ozark’): 3rd Emmy win in category would tie her with Ellen Corby (‘The Waltons’)

What can also help Pelphrey is just the overall strength of “Ozark” itself. The Netflix title, which is currently in third place in our Drama Series odds, has been on a steady upward trajectory at the Emmys, going from five citations for its debut season to nine for its second to 18 for its third. It’s entirely possible that the drama now breaks its previous record with its final season, whose two parts debuted on January 21 and April 29, respectively. This savvy release strategy, coupled with Season 4 being the show’s last, could help yield more successful results, including an overdue nomination for Pelphrey in guest — one for which even Linney is stumping (see below).

As of this writing, Pelphrey is in eighth place in our Drama Guest Actor odds, behind James Cromwell (“Succession”), Adrien Brody (“Succession”), Ron Cephas Jones (“This Is Us”), Alexander Skarsgard (“Succession”), Martin Short (“The Morning Show”), Colman Domingo (“Euphoria”) and Yul Vazquez (“Severance”). Pelphrey is a two-time Daytime Emmys winner for “The Guiding Light” in 2006 and 2008.

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