Leave it to “Succession” to use its final season to flip the script on the 2023 Emmy race. The unexpected events of Season 4’s third episode could upend several major acting categories and lead to plenty of drama as the HBO series potentially upsets the Emmy balance.
Major spoilers for the “Succession” episode “Connor’s Wedding” to follow.
The shock came early in the episode, when the children of media mogul Logan Roy (Brian Cox) learn that he has collapsed on an airplane and died. His death wasn’t necessarily a surprise — after all, the title of the show itself alludes to who will take over for the Roy patriarch in the event of his demise. And death has always loomed over the show ever since Logan suffered a massive stroke in the series’ first episode.
While the creatives on “Succession” still have seven episodes to work toward the end of their narrative, they also posed a burning new question for awards watchers: Where will Brian Cox, whose ferocious portrayal of Logan has earned him two nominations in Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series at the Emmys, end up submitting for competition this year?
Given his quick exit this season, Cox could conceivably wind up in one of three different categories, with the Television Academy leaving it up to him to decide which one.
But first, let’s unpack the Emmy history of “Succession,” which went from also-ran to cultural monolith in one year.
In its first season, the series scored five Emmy nominations, for drama series, directing, writing, music and casting. Not a single performer earned a nod, as another HBO drama, “Game of Thrones,” nabbed 10 acting nominations in its final season.
Things started looking up for the second season of “Succession” with 18 overall nominations, nine of which came for its performances. Cox and Jeremy Strong were singled out in lead actor, Nicholas Braun, Kieran Culkin and Matthew McFadyen in supporting actor, Sarah Snook in supporting actress, James Cromwell in guest actor and Cherry Jones and Harriet Walter in guest actress. (Strong and Jones took home trophies.)
And in season 3 things really exploded, with 25 overall nominations and a record-breaking 14 performance nods. Cox, Strong, Braun, Culkin, McFadyen, Snook, Cromwell and Walter repeat-competed in their respective categories, where they were joined by J. Smith-Cameron in supporting actress, Sanaa Lathan and Hope Davis in guest actress and Adrien Brody, Arian Moayed and Alexander Skarsgård in guest actor. McFadyen was the only “Succession” actor to win an Emmy in 2022, though the show did take Outstanding Drama Series.
Assuming that “Succession” stays in the good graces of Emmy voters — and there’s no reason to suspect otherwise, particularly without the juggernaut that was “Squid Game” to serve as spoiler — it seems safe to assume another passel of the show’s performers will again score nominations. But where will Cox slot in?
Let’s look to the Emmy rules for guidance. The six drama-series acting categories are lead actor and actress, supporting actor and actress and guest actor and actress. The rulebook states, “It is the decision of the entrant whether to enter as a lead, supporting or guest performer.”
The only restrictions are that a performer must appear in more than 5% of the show’s total running time to qualify for lead or supporting, and in fewer than half the episodes to qualify as a guest.
It seems unlikely that “Succession” will include a Logan in flashback or dream sequence in its remaining seven episodes, so Cox will likely end up appearing in three of the show’s final 10 episodes. If that’s the case, Cox could submit in guest actor. But as long as he appeared onscreen (or was audible from offscreen) in more than 30 minutes over the first three episodes, he will also top the 5% minimum and be eligible to submit in the lead or supporting category.
So what are the ramifications of Cox’s choice, with regards to the Emmy races? An actor who was nominated twice as the star of his show could well become the man to beat if he wound up in the guest category, with his strongest competition likely coming from within “Succession” or from Murray Bartlett and Nick Offerman from “The Last of Us” or even Andy Serkis from Disney+ breakout “Andor.”
But would voters bite for Cox in a guest slot? Even if he doesn’t appear in every episode, Logan’s influence is so baked into the DNA of “Succession” that it may not be possible for voters to perceive Cox as anything other than a primary player. To that end, the actor could remain in lead actor, where he’d likely be pitted against a formidable opponent in Strong (who bested Cox in 2020) and by Bob Odenkirk in his final season of “Better Call Saul.”
And yet that scenario might well be more palatable than Cox opting to compete in supporting actor, where he’d almost certainly be going up against Braun, Culkin and McFadyen, all of whom have been nominated for the prior two seasons. Adding Cox could split the vote even further.
Of course, there’s also a chance that the vacuum left by Logan is filled by other characters, meaning that Culkin or McFadyen could move to lead actor to face off against Strong.
HBO did not respond to TheWrap’s question about which category Cox would choose. It’s just another “Succession” quandary we hope to have resolved by the time the series takes its final bow in late May.