Give Sandra Oh the Emmy, but ‘Killing Eve’ Deserved More Nominations
All week, WIRED’s Culture team will be writing endorsement letters for various Emmy nominees in advance of next Monday’s awards ceremony. Next up: senior associate editor and aspiring assassin Angela Watercutter.
In the spring of 2018, nearly three decades and some 75 roles into her career, Sandra Oh gave the performance of a lifetime. That’s not to say her nine years as Cristina Yang on Grey’s Anatomy or her turn in Sideways weren’t praise-worthy, but as Eve Polastri on BBC America’s Killing Eve, she is able to flex every one of her strongest acting muscles: impeccable timing, deadpan humor, wry sensuality, and the ability to appear both strong and shattered simultaneously. Her MI6 desk-jockey-cum-agent is easily one of the most complex women on television, and Oh rides the edges of each of Eve’s facets like she’s walking a tightrope. She never won an Emmy for Grey’s—still one of the Television Academy’s biggest oversights considering her five consecutive nominations—but let me see this as dispassionately as I can: she had freaking better get one for Eve.
But she’s not the only one. I don’t mean that her fellow nominees at next week’s Emmys—Tatiana Maslany for Orphan Black, Elisabeth Moss for The Handmaid’s Tale, Evan Rachel Wood for Westworld, Keri Russell for The Americans, Claire Foy for The Crown—don’t also deserve to win, they do. Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series might be the most stacked category to be decided during Monday’s telecast. But of everything that makes Killing Eve unrelentingly watchable television, Oh is only the top of a long list of people who deserve recognition.
Emmy voters wisely nominated Killing Eve creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge for best writing in a drama series in the show’s only other nod, but they could’ve just as easily nominated Damon Thomas for directing the series’ two most gut-wrenching episodes, “Take Me to the Hole!” and “God, I’m Tired.” Each was an expertly crafted installment, and indicative of the kind of tonal shifts—suspenseful to darkly humorous to awkwardly erotic—that only Killing Eve manages to execute. The competition may be tough, but if two separate episodes of both Ozark and Game of Thrones can get nominated, at least one of Killing Eve should’ve been able to eke its way in.
But even more than the show’s directors, its supporting cast deserves far more recognition than it’s getting. Yes, Oh is unbeatable on Eve but so is her costar and frequent scene partner, Jodie Comer, who plays the assassin Oh’s MI6 agent is obsessed with. When Killing Eve isn’t a spy-vs.-spy series, or a black comedy, it’s a love story about two people on opposite sides of a twisted tale, and Comer’s steely-yet-vulnerable interplay with Oh is remarkable. In what other series would an agent tell her quarry “I think about your eyes, and your mouth, and what you feel when you kill someone”—only to be met with “I think about you, too. I mean, I masturbate about you a lot”? (The Emmys don’t presently give out awards for GIFs made from shows, but if they did, Comer would win for this one from the aforementioned “Take Me to the Hole!”) Killing Eve is Oh’s show, but without Comer, her performance isn’t half as fun to watch. There’s also a world in which Fiona Shaw gets a best supporting actress nomination for her part as Eve’s boss Carolyn Martens, but that’s not a world we live in either.
Yet few of these oversights seems as egregious as the fact that the show didn’t get a best drama nomination. Granted, the shows that were honored—The Americans, The Crown, Game of Thrones, The Handmaid’s Tale, Stranger Things, This Is Us, Westworld—are all A+ TV. But they’re all also, in one way or another, conventional. Their nominations feel safe, predictable. Even if they broke the mold when they debuted, they’re all on at least their second seasons at this point and don’t feel nearly as fresh as Killing Eve did this spring. Smart, twisted, and terribly suspenseful, not to mention fronted by women instead of “difficult men”—nothing on TV last season was as unabashedly new as BBC America’s quirky caper.
And yet, at the center of it was Sandra Oh. If you’ve followed Emmys coverage at all, you know that her nomination for lead actress in a drama is the first for an Asian woman. That’s ridiculous n general, but even more so when you consider how long Oh has been working, not to mention hundreds of other qualified actresses. Oh’s many Grey’s Anatomy nominations were all for being—like so many before her—in a supporting role. She should’ve been leading all along. An Emmy win would be proof of that. She’s Eve, after all; she’s supposed to be the first woman to do things.