When the first half of Mad Men's seventh season made its premiere this April, one resounding cry trickled through Twitter: Where on Earth was Sally Draper? She wouldn't be gone long — she'd appear in the second episode, as well as a few more throughout the season. But her absence was felt hard — and that's because of Kiernan Shipka. Now that Mad Men 's seventh season has wrapped and Sally Draper's closed out the moon landing with a kiss beneath the stars, it's about time we talked about something with continuing relevance. It's about time we started talking about when Kiernan Shipka will get that Emmy nomination she's been earning for the past few years.
Sally Draper throws good shade, but that's no surprise: No one throws shade like Betty Hofstadt/Draper/Francis and Don Draper. What is a surprise is that a girl who was cast in that role when she was six-years-old has evolved into one of the strongest players in a legendarily strong show. Kiernan Shipka has turned a surly teenage girl into a powerhouse capable of going toe-to-toe with everyone from crazed home intruders to Don Draper, and that is no small feat. She's constantly coming out on top in her performance, and in the eyes of critics everywhere — but she hasn't gotten much formal recognition for the role yet. It's about time that changed.
It's an almost inconceivable fact that Jon Hamm has never won an Emmy for the role of Don Draper, but this year will probably not be the year that changes: He delivered a solid performance this year as Draper rebuilt himself from rock-bottom up and started repairing things with the people around him, but Breaking Bad also aired this season, and AMC's stretched out Mad Men's final season into 2015 pretty specifically to give Mad Men its time to shine once Breaking Bad's no longer eligible for Emmys. So while he'll likely bag a nomination, you probably shouldn't expect Hamm up there making an acceptance speech this year.
In fact, it's a little too soon to make specific Emmy win predictions at all. But with plenty of seasons wrapped up or getting there and with campaign season for the award show already begun, it's not too soon to publicly wish for something that's been earned for the past two years: That Kiernan Shipka finally get the nomination.
Shipka's been nominated for a few things, and won a few things as well — mostly awards with "young" in the title and as part of the wider ensemble nominations at the Screen Actors Guild Awards— but Sally Draper is playing in the big leagues, and she deserves a nod to reflect that. After all, the limited screentime she gets is some of the most compelling material the show has to offer. She propelled us into a whole new world of Mad Men, after all, with that single look she shot her father during the Season 6 finale.
The scene itself:
And her relationship with her parents has long replaced her parents' relationship with each other as the most interesting to watch. In fact, that shot of Sally Draper smoking is already iconic to many who watch the show:
In Season 7, the one eligible for nomination this time around, her bridge-building with Don was one of the most emotionally fulfilling episode arcs of the season. Her role is crucial — both to Don's arc and in term's of Sally's own voice in the series — and she pulls it off better than most adults could. She made these six words resonate through the entire rest of the season, for example:
Everyone agrees she's phenomenal, from critics like Tom and Lorenzo:
Once again Matthew Weiner rests the entire emotional weight of a scene on Kiernan Shipka and once again, she knocks it out of the park. The look she gives Don at the end; that look of understanding coupled with anger, compassion and suspicion; almost had us bursting into tears, it was that effective.
To her fellow cast members, like Allen Havey, who plays Lou Avery:
I was thrilled that I got a chance to work with Kiernan in episode two. I learned something from her.
What did you learn?Well, we were rehearsing the scene and she was quiet, and I thought, Oh, she forgot her line. No. She didn’t forget. She was in the moment. She was wondering what this creep was doing in her dad’s office. I was the one who wasn’t in the moment. So when we did it again, I didn’t say anything to her, I just said to myself, Havey, just get back into it. Learn from this actor who’s been here for seven years.
In terms of screentime, Shipka's role in this season of Mad Men wasn't huge. And, in contrast to last season, she wasn't physically present for the latter half of the (half-)season's major plot twists or emotional pushes. But in so many other ways she was huge: She stole the scene every time she was onscreen, you missed her when she was gone — and, perhaps even more importantly, the role she did play was powerful enough to fuel the season's emotional journey, from Don's dance with protegee/surrogate daughter Peggy in the penultimate episode to the song-and-dance number that closed out the finale with the message "the best things in life are free."
If you look at it, Kiernan Shipka's been one of the most crucial sources of energy on this show for a long while, and she's only fourteen. That's pretty astounding, and if there's any justice in the awards show world that'll be reflected when nominations roll around.
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