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Emmys 2019: Castle Rock Reminded Us Why Sissy Spacek is a Legend

Her understated performance is among the best in her long and under-appreciated career.
  • Sissy Spacek in Castle Rock (Hulu)
    Sissy Spacek in Castle Rock (Hulu)

    In the weeks leading up to the July 16th Emmy nominations, Primetimer staff and contributors will be making our picks for which people (and shows) we think deserve recognition for their work this year. For your consideration today: Sissy Spacek for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie in Hulu's Castle Rock.

    It's been over forty years since Sissy Spacek delivered her career-defining performace as a telekinetic teenager in Carrie, a film that also established Stephen King (who wrote the original novel) as Hollywood’s go-to source for genre entertainment. The film's pedigree has only grown in the years since , so it would’ve been reasonable to assume that if Spacek and King ever reteamed, the result would pale in comparison.

    Yet in the first season of Castle Rock, Hulu’s series about the town where many of King’s stories take place, Spacek delivers one of the best performances of her career. She plays Ruth Deaver, a former professor whose memory is slipping and whose house is beset by ghosts. These visitors may or may not be real, but either way, they force her to face parts of herself she would have happily left buried.

    You can imagine another actor responding to this plotline with an over-the-top scenery-chewing performance, but Spacek is a student of watchfulness. The way she observes her surroundings, elfin nose slightly crinkled, suggests she’s gathering herself for a battle, but she doesn’t want anyone to know she’s about to start fighting. It’s thrilling to watch.

    Spacek’s arc culminates in “The Queen,” the seventh episode of the season. It shows us everything Ruth has been doing on the edges of other people’s scenes, and it reveals with heartbreaking specificity the method she has created to remind herself what’s real and what’s delusion. Screenwriter Sam Shaw (who co-created the series with Dustin Thomason) clearly understands Spacek’s strengths, because in “The Queen” he keeps giving her the opportunity to be confused by -- and then quietly rebel against -- her own life. He lets Ruth stay smart, even when she’s overcome, and that’s a space where Spacek thrives.

    The episode's devastating conclusion leaves Ruth (and Spacek) one last note of grace, and she takes it -- repeating a line that until this point had been inscrutable, yet this time imbuing it with significant meaning.

    Sissy Spacek has been nailing this type of character for so long that it’s easy to take her for granted. Remarkably, she’s only copped one Oscar and two Golden Globes in her entire career. And sure, that’s not nothing. But Spacek deserves better far more her decades of great performances. Let’s not forget that in the past year alone, not only was she in Hulu's Castle Rock, but also  Amazon's Homecoming, like some low-key empress of buzzy streaming dramas.

    When you add her underappreciated legacy to her exceptional work on Castle Rock, Sissy Spacek seems like an obvious Emmy contender for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie. Here's hoping the TV Academy takes notice of what she did this season ... and what she’s been doing since Carrie set that gym on fire.

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    Mark Blankenship has been writing about arts and culture for twenty years, with bylines in The New York Times, Variety, Vulture, Fortune, and many others. You can hear him on the pop music podcast Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs.

    TOPICS: 71st Primetime Emmy Awards, Hulu, Castle Rock, Sissy Spacek