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Emmy spotlight: Timothy Olyphant’s ‘Mandalorian’ guest appearance was a perfect one-and-done

Being typecast is rarely described as being a good thing. But in the case of Timothy Olyphant, whose career over the last two decades has been punctuated with multiple roles in which he’s played impossibly cool lawmen, an exception simply must be made, if for no other reason than he seems to be in on it. After portraying a reluctant sheriff on HBO’s “Deadwood” and a U.S. marshal on both FX’s “Justified” and the network’s fourth season of “Fargo,” Olyphant thrilled fans of Disney+’s “The Mandalorian” when he guest-starred in the Season 2 premiere as yet another marshal (and seemed to have a wonderful time doing it).

Like “Deadwood’s” Seth Bullock before him, Cobb Vanth is a lone lawman attempting to bring some semblance of law and order to what is essentially a lawless town. In this case, because “The Mandalorian” is a “Star Wars” series, the small town is being terrorized by a creature known as a krayt dragon. But that’s neither here nor there, because when it comes down to it, it’s not the plot of the episode, which is titled “Chapter 9: The Marshal,” that makes this particular adventure memorable. It’s Olyphant, who comes armed with a head of salt-and-pepper hair, a distinctive swagger to his hips and the same natural onscreen presence that made the rest of his quick-drawing lawmen stand out. It’s an effortless performance in a show Emmy voters really seem to like, if last year’s 15 nominations are any indication. So those same voters should take a good long look at Olyphant and what he was able to accomplish within a single episode when it comes to selecting nominees for Best Drama Guest Actor this year.

SEE Mark Hamill, Gina Carano and 22 ‘Mandalorian’ actors submitted for Emmys

Olyphant’s appearance as Cobb Vanth dominated the cultural conversation surrounding the Season 2 premiere of the sci-fi Western, with critics and fans alike reveling in the actor’s unique ability to bring multiple complex, sometimes morally compromised lawmen to life and make them all feel distinct and different from one another. That his appearance remains one of the high points of a season that also features a cameo from Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is truly a testament to Olyphant and what he was able to bring to the role.

Now, did the success of “Chapter 9: The Marshal” and the role of Cobb Vanth rely a bit on viewers knowing Olyphant’s filmography prior to watching it? Probably. Would it have been as memorable if someone who didn’t have his particular background — which also includes a brief appearance as James Stacy in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” — had stepped into Cobb’s shoes? Not likely. So when it comes down to it, what makes the episode come together is truly just Olyphant. It’s in the way he holds himself. It’s how when you look at him, he seems to command a sense of authority even if he’s wearing another person’s armor. And it’s also his ability to deliver lines like “I guess every once in a while both suns shine on a womp rat’s tail” in a wholly convincing manner while somehow still subtly acknowledging the silliness of it all.

At the end of the day, a guest appearance worthy of Emmy recognition is one that stays with you long after it has ended. It’s one that should it be altered in any way, the entire episode threatens to collapse. For an episode subtitled “The Marshal,” you better hope the performance of the person playing said character is strong enough to support the narrative surrounding him. And luckily, Olyphant knocked it out of the park at every turn. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfect role and actor pairing than Olyphant and Cobb Vanth. Unless, of course, that role is Timothy Olyphant as Timothy Olyphant, star of “The Grinder: New Orleans.” But we don’t talk about that missed Emmy opportunity ’round these parts anymore.

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