An entire Emmy win can be based on a single scene, a critical moment that turns a TV series from an entertaining romp or thrill ride into, well, art. But where is that moment in the Emmy-nominated comedy and drama episodes for 2019? Let’s get some more words from some of their writers …
Episode: “Nothing in This World Is Easy”
And … scene: Nadia (Natasha Lyonne), who dies and comes back throughout the series, is killed by a car, then comes back to the bathroom at the party she just left.
Why this scene? “We were like, ‘This is such a baller way to start your show,’” says Leslye Headland, who wrote the teleplay and story; Lyonne and Amy Poehler also are nominated for story. “I love that her one redeeming quality of wanting to find her cat is what gets her hit by a car. So, you set the audience up for this being an unexpected show.”
Episode: “A Warm Body”
And … scene: Nadia (Lyonne) has a deep conversation with Shifra (Tami Sagher), trying to figure out why she’s trapped in this death/birth cycle.
Why this moment? “With Shifra, she finds another difficult woman about her age but who’s very into organized religion,” says writer Allison Silverman. “There’s a lot of friction. Nadia has asked Shifra to pray for her, and the translation of the prayer is ‘angels are all around you,’ which sets up this idea that we are all connected, and that even the connection of strangers is part of her salvation.”
And … scene: Presidential hopeful Selina (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) visits campaign operative Ben (Kevin Dunn) after his heart attack, and he persuades her to move forward without him.
Why this moment? For the series finale, writer and showrunner David Mandel says he “cribbed a little” from “The Godfather” in creating the pep talk that gave Selina her renewed energy. “She hits her low, then steels herself for what’s next,” he says. “She emerges recharged and invigorated and confronts [former lover/political opponent] Tom James’ chief of staff, who he’s having an affair with, and tears that woman apart — and then we’re off to the races.”
“The Good Place”
And … scene: Trapped in android Janet’s (D’Arcy Carden) void in the afterlife, Eleanor (Kristen Bell) begins to lose sight of who she is, until Chidi (William Jackson Harper) kisses her.
Why this moment? “Mike [Schur, showrunner] was all about, ‘This shouldn’t be a gimmick,’” says Josh Siegal, who shares writing credits with Dylan Morgan. “So, if we’ve done our jobs right, this is the scene where things go from tricky weirdness and jokes to meaningful.” Adds Morgan, “Having Chidi say his feelings to Eleanor … wraps up all the ways the episode is a visual metaphor about identity.”
Episode: “Anna Ishii-Peters”
And … scene: Middle schooler Maya turns jealous when her family lavishes attention on best friend Anna, and the two split, just as Anna learns her parents will divorce.
Why this moment? “Even though someone is your best friend, you might not see what that person is going through, which is why Anna’s parents telling her they’re getting a divorce is 10 times more difficult,” says writer Maya Erskine, co-nominated with Anna Konkle and Stacy Osei-Kuffour. It shows “a funniness and pure love of female friendship as a child, and then the loss of that — and the loss of family,” adds Konkle.
And ... scene: Hit man Barry will be off the hook for other crimes if he kills Ronny for a vengeful cop. Barry just wants him to run away, but Ronny will have none of it and turns out to be quite a fighter.
Why this moment? “One of the things the whole show was built around was the reveal of the tae kwon do trophies [during the fight],” says writer-showrunner Alec Berg, co-nominated with Bill Hader. “We’re discovering, in the moment with this character, ‘Uh-oh, maybe he’s in over his head.’ There’s a funny thing with status where he’s the guy who’s telling this other guy what to do or he’ll get killed, then you see that [trophy] and suddenly he becomes a little deferential.”
Episode: “Episode 1"
And … scene: Bodyguard David (Richard Madden), established as a war vet deeply suspicious of politicians, hears his protection charge, Britain’s Home Secretary Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes), being hawkish and unapologetic about operations in the Middle East.
Why this moment? “We see his reaction to that, and he’s very troubled,” says writer/showrunner Jed Mercurio. “We were developing this idea that the bodyguard might not be the protector here, that he might be the assassin — so we play that possible game with the audience not knowing if he’s what he appears to be.”
Episode: “Nice and Neat”
And … scene: Knifed by Eve (Sandra Oh), assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer) lies low in the house of a good Samaritan who then ominously locks her in.
Why this moment? When Villanelle tries to escape, her captor is furious. “He screams at her, ‘What do I get?’” says writer Emerald Fennell. “He thinks he’s a good guy.” The pair fight violently. “It’s so horrifying and delicious. Even Villanelle, who is exceptional in every way, can feel at her lowest moment what it’s like to be compromised by a really average man.”
“Better Call Saul”
And … scene: After getting his law license renewed, Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) says his emotional breakdown in front of the law board was all a con. Or was it?
Why this moment? “He’s been walled off for a year about his brother’s death and finally he gets emotional, and when he comes out he says, ‘I fooled them,’” says Thomas Schnauz, nominated with showrunner Peter Gould. “That’s the moment he says he’s going to use the name Saul Goodman,” says Gould. “This was a moment of victory in the writers room. It all crystallized.”
“The Handmaid’s Tale”
And … scene: Alone, June (Elisabeth Moss) must deliver her baby as we also flash back to the birth of her first child, and scenes with her own mother, Holly (Cherry Jones).
Why this moment? “It shows June’s raw strength in childbirth,” says writer and showrunner Bruce Miller, who shares teleplay credit with Kira Snyder. “June is literally alone as she brings [baby] Holly into the world,” adds Snyder. “June … emerges from the episode as someone new, someone stronger than she realized.”
Episode: “Nobody Is Ever Missing”
And … scene: Kendall (Jeremy Strong) delivers what’s known as a “bear hug” letter to his father, Logan (Brian Cox), initiating a takeover bid of Waystar Royco.
Why this moment? “I love watching Kendall as his resolve evaporates,” says writer/showrunner Jesse Armstrong. “The man turns back into a boy in the presence of his father. Logan throws the letter into the toilet bowl. But after his son has departed, his own performance of a lack of concern dissolves, and he fishes in the lavatory water for the document.”