The second season of the genre-bending Starz series Outlander asked so much of leading lady Caitriona Balfe. And on every level, the actress delivered. Outlander Season 2 saw Claire Fraser scheme and plot with her husband Jamie to do no less than change the very course of history; cope with the loss of a child; face sworn enemy Blackjack Randall in polite society; and stitch up British and Jacobite soldiers alike as the rebellion she and Jamie failed to quash escalated out of their control. Balfe played Claire at two different ages and in two different centuries; at her craftiest and most broken; as a terrified wife and a unsatisfied mother. But will the adoration of critics and fans be a precursor to a nod from the Television Academy? Will Caitriona Balfe get an Emmy nomination for Outlander?
I've been following TV and film awards bodies since I was old enough to read an Oscar ballot, and still, the methods and whims of voters are a complete mystery to me. Every year, the Emmy nominations announcement includes shocks and snubs that provide fodder for both morning show conversation and many a shade-throwing tweet. The short answer to the Caitriona Balfe question is "I don't know." (But I hope!) Still, Emmy history and the current lead actress field might be able to provide some clues.
Outlander is classified as a drama in Emmy terms, but outside of those strictures, it's not easy to categorize. It's a romantic piece of historical fiction with a decidedly supernatural element. And unfortunately for Balfe and her colleagues, series with fantastical leanings don't tend to do well. Game Of Thrones and its dragons are an outlier here and even that show has trouble pulling acting nominations for anyone but Peter Dinklage. It took the Emmys three seasons to recognize the unprecedented work Tatiana Maslany is doing on the BBCAmerica sci-fi family drama Orphan Black. And the last time a "genre" series cast member went home with the Outstanding Lead Actress In A Drama award was Patricia Arquette for Medium in 2005.
The other issue that has me fearing for Balfe's chances is how incredibly dense this field is this year. This past season of television was dominated by powerful lead female performances: Kerry Washington as Olivia breaking free of Fitz and tapping into her dark side on Scandal; Viola Davis revealing even more layers of the enigmatic Annaliese Keating on How To Get Away With Murder; and Julianna Marguilies saying goodbye to Alicia Florrick in the last season of The Good Wife. All major competition. Then there's Eva Green, Claire Danes, Michelle Dockery, Taraji P. Henson, Keri Russell, Ruth Wilson, Maslany...I could go on. The richness of this shortlist is fantastic news for the current and future state of television, but could easily box Caitriona Balfe out.
There is a beacon of hope besides Balfe's glorious performance: The actress did receive a 2016 Golden Globe nomination for Outlander Season 1. The Golden Globes and Emmy nods historically haven't matched up perfectly, but it's encouraging that she was included in that prestigious group.
Find out if Caitriona Balfe will be up for an Emmy when nominations are announced Thursday morning.