September 4th, 2011
There are some definite echoes to be found in the paths of Zjelko Ivanek and Giancarlo Esposito when it comes to their Emmy Award ambitions.
Both actors were regulars on series in which they played minor roles on a weekly basis (Ivanek on FX’s Damages), and both became the focus of episodes later in the season where their characters were fleshed out through flashback. And, both were strong enough in those episodes that they were labeled as Emmy contenders; while we will have to wait twelve months to see if Esposito will have any success in this area, Ivanek stole the Emmy out from his co-star Ted Danson (and a lot of other contenders) in 2008.
The difference, I would argue, is that Ivanek’s episode is meant to be shocking. We knew nothing about Ivanek’s Ray Fiske (a name I wouldn’t remembered without the help of Wikipedia) before that episode, and hadn’t really been given any reason to care about the character beyond considering him as a legal opponent. And so when we started delving into his past, including his homosexuality and his self-destruction related to an unrequited love, it was meant to throw the viewer off-guard. Fiske’s arc in the episode is a statement, a singular one in fact, and it was the “shock” of it all that made it resonate in subsequent episodes and with Emmy voters.
By comparison, Gus Fring has been an enigma from the minute he was introduced. The show has always kept a certain distance from Gus, always resisting showing us his perspective on events, and in the process it has created a large number of mysteries. Whereas Ray Fiske was a character taken from obscurity to a sudden point of interest, Gus has always been a character begging for an origin story, or in the case of “Hermanos” an origin story mixed in with another escalation in the season’s focus on perspective (this time focused more closely on the narrative). As a result, it comes with a great deal of anticipation but also a great deal of expectation, and raises another question entirely: is it worse to have too many questions or too many answers?
Or, of course, you could just split the difference and embrace them both equally, as “Hermanos” achieves quite admirably.
[Heads up: while I tiptoed around it above, I’m going to spoil Damages Season One here, so skip past the next paragraph if you’ve still got those DVDs sitting around. I’ll drop in another warning when it’s done.]