Emmys 2020: Why Tony Dalton deserves the win for best supporting actor

Tony Dalton as Lalo Salamanca - Better Call Saul _ Season 5, Episode 9 - Photo Credit: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television
Tony Dalton as Lalo Salamanca - Better Call Saul _ Season 5, Episode 9 - Photo Credit: Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television /

While the cast of  Better Call Saul offers half a dozen choices for Emmy-worthy performances, Tony Dalton’s magnetic turn as Lalo Salamanca is our pick for Best Supporting actor.

Although “robbed” and “snubbed” are terms that have almost completely lost their gravity during awards season because of how often they’re used, if there’s ever been a show that’s been done wrong by the Emmys, it’s Better Call Saul.

Despite the fact that it’s consistently one of the most well-reviewed shows by fans and critics alike, Better Call Saul has never won an Emmy. If you ask us it’s highway robbery – but even with an astonishingly poor track record (0/32 has to be some sort of Emmys snub record), we’ve got our hopes up that this year is the year that things change – and if it’s up to us, Tony Dalton’s performance as Lalo Salamanca would be the one that nabs the show its first win for Best Supporting actor.

Admittedly, Dalton is a somewhat unconventional choice – Better Call Saul has four other major supporting players – Jonathan Banks as Mike, Giancarlo Esposito as Gus, Michael Mando as Nacho, and Patrick Fabian as Howard. All four men have been with the show longer than Dalton (who joined the cast in the back half of season four), a fact which would seemingly boost their chances – not to mention that Banks and Esposito have both been previously nominated.

But it’s an undeniable fact that out of all the supporting men on Better Call Saul‘s fifth season, nobody had quite as much of an impact as Tony Dalton’s Lalo Salamanca – the man went from being a surprising breath of fresh air in season 4 to a bonafide scene-stealer in season 5. And despite the stiff competition from his co-stars, he’s our pick for best supporting actor on Better Call Saul.

When he was first introduced, we weren’t quite sure what to expect from Lalo – we’d met Salmancas before of course – Tuco, Hector, and the cousins didn’t exactly set a glowing, aspirational example as the kind of guys we’d like to spend time with. But the second that Lalo stepped into frame, you could just tell that he wasn’t anything like the others that we’d met – in the best way possible. Where Tuco and Hector were insane, unhinged, and bloodthirsty psychopaths through and through, Lalo has always oozed an effortless kind of charm that makes it easy to forget that he’s also a murderous psycho.

Lalo, unlike the rest of his family, knows how to play the long con, and it’s that character trait that Dalton so beautifully exemplifies in his performance. Throughout the entirety of season 5, we see Lalo in a way that we’ve never seen another Salamanca – patient and calculating. Lalo’s methods don’t always involve brute force – he can throw down when he needs to (and he certainly has a penchant for making huge jumps, it seems) but he understands that with an enemy like Gus, keeping a cool head is key.

Because of this, we got some truly fantastic scenes of Lalo as the human embodiment of “calm before the storm” – he’s all perfect smiles and pretty words on the outside, but you can see in his eyes that he’s just waiting for the right second to go for the jugular. While he has dozens of stellar scenes in season 5, Dalton’s most impressive (and most talked-about) moment came in episode 9,  “Bad Choice Road”, when Lalo arrives unannounced at Jimmy and Kim’s place and engages in a heart-poundingly tense standoff.

The scene exemplifies everything that makes Lalo (and Dalton’s performance) so great. It begins with Lalo as we usually see him – seemingly friendly and charming, but the second that he sits down and flashes his gun, we know he’s here for business. It’s easy to forget with the paisley print shirts and the outgoing, almost goofy demeanor with which he carries himself, but Lalo erases any doubt about the meaning of his visit when he begins to question Jimmy with the now-iconic phrase “tell it again”.

We never would’ve predicted that such a mundane phrase could strike such fear, but the way Dalton says it is infused with pure venom – he’s coiled and ready to strike the second that Jimmy slips up, but before either man gets the chance, Kim swoops in and gets in Lalo’s face, giving Dalton a chance to showcase yet another side of Lalo, and this time we hardly ever see- one that if we didn’t know any better, we’d call vulnerability.

When Kim gives Lalo a piece of her mind and dresses him down about not having his house in order, the look on his face almost makes us feel bad for him. We can see that although he leaves with his head high her words to take a toll – he tries to bring Nacho into the fold and grow closer with the people around him, only to be immediately betrayed by someone he thought he could trust.

It’s telling that Lalo is the one who gets the final shot of the entire season – as he surveys the bodies of his slaughtered friends and family, his furious steps turn to literal claps of thunder and he storms away to seek his revenge. He’s terrifying and violent, but there’s also a part of us that feels bad for the man – and the fact that we would have any kind of sympathy for a Salamanca is a testament to just how much magic Dalton works when he gets on camera.

He may not be the conventional pick when he’s surrounded by so many other high-caliber actors, bu Dalton’s performance as Lalo was a magnetic, scene-stealing ride that was impossible to look away from and even more difficult to dislike. If there’s anyone who deserves an Emmy for doing so much with what could’ve been such a small part – it’s Dalton.

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Who’s your favorite actor on Better Call Saul? Who are you rooting for at the Emmys this year? Sound off in the comments below.