When judging acting performances, Emmy voters aren't considering seasons or story arcs or multiple episodes or whether the actor ignored/embraced them the last time they found themselves at the valet station together. At least, they're not supposed to be taking these things into consideration. They are voting solely on the one episode submitted on the actor's behalf. That's it.
And by that criteria, there's really only one choice for this year's lead actor drama Emmy: "Mad Men's" Jon Hamm.
Now, this flies in the face of the prevailing consensus that "Mad Men" and, in particular Hamm's Don Draper, spent much of its just-completed sixth season spinning its wheels, covering familiar ground (Don's behaving badly? You don't say!) and generally not quite measuring up to the show's standard of greatness.
But, even if you hold to that opinion, Hamm's Emmy submission — the show's season finale, "In Care Of" — is a profoundly good hour of television, particularly for Hamm, who begins the episode by punching a preacher and ends it by finally revealing his true self and coming clean about his past to his colleagues and, later, to his children in front of the childhood home/whorehouse where he was raised.
And in between those moments, we saw Don confront his alcoholism, attempt to save his marriage and family life and, yes, make that mortifying, cringe-inducing speech at the Hershey's presentation meeting, confessing his secret shame to his partners and the bewildered candy executives. Hamm conveyed the pain and self-loathing Don had bottled up over the years (just listen to the way Don relates how having a Hershey bar made him feel like a "normal kid" and how it was the only sweet thing in his life) with a jarring desperation. After that speech, Don, all was forgiven. Well ... maybe not everything, but at least you could finally feel some deep sympathy for the character again.
"That was one take," says "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner, who directed the episode, talking about Hamm's Hershey pitch. "When he finished the scene, the other actors had lines — they were off-camera — but they were not able to speak. Everyone forgot where they were and we had to cut. It was just complete emotional bareness."
"You're talking about a leading man and an adult, and it's one of the things that I so admire about Jon, that he will go to the bone as an actor," Weiner continues. "He's not hiding anything. It was an incredible thing to witness."
Hamm has been nominated for Emmys for each of "Mad Men's" six seasons, but has never won. In fact, as you may be aware, "Mad Men" has never taken an acting Emmy, period, despite winning the series award four times. And prognosticators aren't giving him much of a chance this year either, putting Bryan Cranston ("Breaking Bad"), Kevin Spacey ("House of Cards") and last year's winner, Damian Lewis ("Homeland"), ahead of him. Even Jeff Daniels' odds are better, even though "The Newsroom" hasn't exactly become a cultural phenomenon during its brief time on HBO.
But if voters adhere to the guidelines and look solely at each nominee's submitted episode, it might be a different story. It should be a different story. Because you can't watch "In Care Of" and not come away floored by the power of Hamm's work. Give him the Emmy already.
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