If there’s a running theme in this year’s race for score and sound, it’s being unconventional.
For series dramatic score, look for “Chef’s Table’s'” Duncan Thum to get the win for the poignant “Grant Achatz” episode about a Chicago celebrity chef losing his sense of taste while undergoing cancer treatment. However, Thum faces stiff competition from Chris Bacon for the offbeat “Bates Motel” finale, in which Norman (Freddie Highmore) and Norma (Vera Farmiga) face the point of no return, and from Mac Quayle’s eerie “Mr. Robot” opener (“Hello Friend”).
“Fargo” and “The Night Manager,” which go head to head in dramatic score for limited series, movie or special, offer a ’70s vibe and Mediterranean sense of romance, with the nod likely going to “Fargo’s” Jeff Russo.
Meanwhile, “Game of Thrones” and “Fargo” are the definition of unconventional. “GOT” should win for series sound editing (“The Door”) and sound mixing (“Battle of the Bastards”), and “Fargo” should do the same for limited series sound editing (“The Castle”) and sound mixing (“Gift of the Magi”).
Thum’s second Emmy nom for “Chef’s Table” offers the most dramatic musical journey in the telling of Achatz’s losing touch with his art. Thum went for an unconventional approach in keeping with Achatz’s iconoclastic reputation and his tragic situation. Strings, piano, synth and unusual harmonies combine for a unique experience.
When it came to “Bates Motel’s” riveting “Forever,” Bacon completed the bizarre, Romeo and Juliette-like story between mother and son with music that’s both contemporary and timeless. It’s largely string-based (in keeping with Bernard Herrmann’s “Psycho”) but also contains piano, harp, percussion and electronic sounds.
Tapping into the splintered psychology of vigilante hacker Elliot (Rami Malek) in “Mr. Robot” was a great musical opportunity for Quayle. He mixed strange ambient sounds with unnerving beats to help blur Elliot’s objective and subjective realities. His lone theme revolved around Elliot’s mindset, going back and forth between the major and minor note of the chord.
With the Season 2 “Fargo” prequel, Russo got a musical reboot in 1979. He made the most of it, particularly for the loony “Loplop” episode, by composing new themes for a different cast of characters and incorporating the way a score might sound back then, including the use of a progressive rock arpeggiated synthesizer.
For “The Night Manager,” Spanish composer Reyes went against the thriller grain with something more romantic and Mediterranean (this also got him an Emmy nom for the lush theme). He uses a combination of electronic devices, synthesizers and orchestra to get into the conflicted mindset of a former soldier (Tom Hiddleston) who’s forced back into the violent world he’s run away from.
“GOT” continued to raise the bar with sound editing and mixing. “The Door” contains a gut-wrenching action scene in a small cave with thousands of dead White Walkers trying to bust in and the heroic sacrifice of Hodor (Kristian Nairn). It’s dark and scary and relies heavily on the soundscape.
For “The Battle of the Bastards,” Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) and his army of Wildlings take on the Boltons, led by nemesis Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon). Snow tries to lure them into the center but Bolton suckers Snow there first and nearly wipes them out before the cavalry comes to the rescue. The immersive sound benefited from mics affixed to cameras on tracking crane arms and wireless mics on horses to get clean hoof effects for the charge into battle.
In “Fargo’s” “The Castle” and “Gift of the Magi,” the sound team adjusted to the challenge of 1979 with a more mechanical vibe, recording their own cash registers, doors, floors and cars. All the props sounded authentically vintage, too. At the same time, there was more action-packed gun battles, a UFO event and even a stump speech by Ronald Reagan (Bruce Campbell) that was shot live.