Better Call Saul, “Winner”
Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s Breaking Bad spinoff series was originally pitched as one man’s transformation from a somewhat decent former con man, Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), into the fast-talking slimeball lawyer Saul Goodman. That transformation is more visible than ever in the series’ fourth season, and no episode hits home the idea — one that’s become increasingly upsetting as we get to know Jimmy — quite like “Winner.” The season finale is nominated for a writing award and for Michael McKean’s guest actor spot. Though McKean’s Chuck is gone, he’s at the heart of this episode, which sees Jimmy publicly feign grief for his brother in order to be reinstated as a lawyer. While the biggest moment of the finale might be Kim’s (Rhea Seehorn) understanding of Jimmy’s true nature and the introduction of the Saul pseudonym, there are other prequel seeds being planted here, among them Gale’s (David Costabile) lab and Gus’ (Giancarlo Esposito) knack for taking out liabilities.
Bodyguard, “Episode 1”
This BBC series, which airs on Netflix in the US, is a dark horse contender for this year’s Emmys. Though the show isn’t nearly as high-profile as others in its categories (Best Drama and Best Writing), it managed to snag a Golden Globe and plenty of recognition from other award shows earlier this year. The series stars Richard Madden as a veteran and Protection Command officer who is promoted to the role of a controversial political figure’s bodyguard after foiling a terrorist attack. The opening scene of the premiere, which takes up nearly a third of the episode, is a pulse-pounding bit of suspense that fakes us out by positioning Madden’s Agent Budd as a no-nonsense Jack Bauer type, only to quickly reveal that he’s selfless and empathetic in the face of danger as he talks down a potential suicide bomber.
Game of Thrones, “The Long Night”
The final season of David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ massive fantasy adaptation may have left audiences divided, but Emmy voters were loyal to the series, giving it a record-breaking 32 nominations. Three nominated actors (Gwendolyn Christie, Alfie Allen, and Carice Van Houten) submitted themselves for their respective categories, and while other episodes were submitted and nominated, “The Long Night” is arguably the best of the season. Filmed across 55 nights by director Miguel Sapochnik, the battle for Winterfell played out like a full-length action movie and saw several major players face dire threats from the White Walkers. While some viewers weren’t satisfied by certain aspects of the episode, others heralded it as the true climax of the series, and the final 15 minutes — scored perfectly by Ramin Djawadi — are the definition of storytelling payoff.
Killing Eve, “Desperate Times”
Last year’s breakout series Killing Eve returned this year for an uneven but all-in second season, which was nominated for nine Emmys including a well-deserved nod to Jodie Comer. Her Villanelle, a playfully sadistic assassin who’s obsessed with MI6 agent Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh, also nominated), is at the lovesick heart of this mid-season episode. While Eve hunts down a secretive killer called The Ghost, Villanelle attempts to send her a bloody valentine in the form of a disturbing public kill. With editing and directing nominations, this episode is a standout in form, but it’s also one of Season 2’s more well-written chapters, revealing that even if she is a psychopath, Villanelle can still feel and react to (or in her case, violently overreact to) the pangs of romantic rejection.
This Netflix money-laundering drama has a habit of putting its cast of characters into impossible situations, then finding ways for fast-talking family man Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) to ease them out of it by the skin of his teeth. The show’s second season opens on a more calculating, cold (literally: those blue tones are in full force!) version of the Byrde family, one that’s been united by all the bullshit they’ve survived so far. “Reparations” quickly sloughs off some plots the writers seemed eager to get past and sets up new threats that play out for the rest of the season, including a murder cover-up, the politics of casino construction, and the return of Ruth’s (Julia Garner) formerly imprisoned father. While other crime shows tend to make the patriarch the lead, Ozark is at its best when Wendy (Laura Linney) is working an angle, and the premiere is no exception. The finely acted thriller gained several nominations, including one each for all three actors mentioned here.
Steven Canals, Brad Falchuk, and Ryan Murphy’s groundbreaking ballroom drag series has already won an Emmy this year, receiving the Television Academy Honors award for programs that “create awareness, enlighten, educate and/or positively motivate audiences.” It’s easy to see why the series would be recognized, as it shines a light on the LGBTQ+ community in ways no other series has before, starting with a predominantly transgender cast of color. Besides that, the six-nomination series is just stunningly great, starting with the very first episode. The pilot not only introduces us to Pose’s dueling house mothers — Blanca (Mj Rodriguez) and Elektra (Dominique Jackson) — but also manages to present the familiar story of a downtrodden gay teen (Ryan Jamaal Swain) in a way that’s wholly new and inspiring. Damon’s (Swain) triumphant dance school audition scene was one of last year’s most memorable scenes, and it kicked off the series in style.
Succession, “Nobody Is Ever Missing”
A character study of the rich and horrible, Succession vacillates between darkly comic satire and straight-up capitalist tragedy. The show’s premiere episode, “Celebration,” gained an Emmy nomination for directing, but it’s “Nobody is Ever Missing,” the first season finale and pick for a writing nomination, that deserves a spot on this list. The season gets sharper as it goes, diving into the particulars of a family whose power struggle over their father’s huge corporation both pushes them together and tears them apart — all with surprising nuance. The finale involves death, destruction, and more than one man making a power move just to impress someone. Plus, perhaps most importantly when considering the throughline to reality, there’s enough money to make all of those bad decisions go away.
This is Us, “Songbird Road: Part 1”
NBC’s flagship drama is a consistent tearjerker, and this season three episode that digs further into Jack’s (Milo Ventimiglia) past is no exception. Along with “Vietnam” and “Songbird Road: Part 2,” the episode tells the story of Nicky (played by Michael Angarano and Griffin Dunne at two different ages), the brother whose past Jack kept from his family. Turns out, Jack and Nicky were both in Vietnam, and things there were predictably traumatic. The series could’ve easily run out of steam after finishing the story of Jack’s life and death, but it manages to do something new here with a plot about the deeply felt wounds of PTSD. The series received an impressive nine Emmy nominations this year, including some for other episodes (“A Philadelphia Story” and “My Little Island Girl”) and one for Angarano’s guest appearance.
Related Topics: 2019 emmys, Barry, Better Call Saul, bodyguard, Chernobyl, emmys, escape from dannemora, Fleabag, fosse/verdon, Game of Thrones, killing eve, ozark, pose, russian doll, schitt's creek, Sharp Objects, succession, The Good Place, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, This Is Us, Veep, When They See Us