WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: In addition to an Emmy nod, Kyle Chandler deserves hazard pay for the level of intensity he was forced to maintain during Bloodline‘s second season. When his John Rayburn character wasn’t grappling with his guilty conscience over the death of brother Danny, he was furiously, desperately covering up the crime while also running for mayor and attempting to hold his tenuous family together. As his alter ego’s actions became more erratic, and his behavior toward his loved ones grew more deplorable, Chandler never lost his grip on John’s morally tortured, wholly relatable essence: He was a good man who did a really bad thing.
FREDDIE HIGHMORE, BATES MOTEL
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: We could argue — and be 100 percent correct — that Highmore merits an Emmy nomination simply because he so masterfully portrayed Norman’s reaction to his mental illness in the A&E drama’s penultimate season. As the unraveling “psycho” alternated between furious denial and heartrending understanding, Highmore miraculously made us feel afraid for the serial killer even as he made us feel afraid of him. But the clincher for the actor’s nod — in our minds, anyway — is the stunning commitment he displayed any time Norman was channeling Mother. We never would have believed that anyone could touch the controlled chaos of Vera Farmiga’s work as Norma… until we saw Highmore slip into the role — along with the wardrobe.
SAM HEUGHAN, OUTLANDER
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: The brutal and horrifying events of last season were never going to fade away for Jamie. But Heughan’s haunted, tormented performance during Season 2 made sure that viewers never forgot about the emotional consequences of rape – and the human spirit’s ability to persevere even in the darkest times. In small, subtle shifts, the towering and bodily powerful Jamie turned inwards as he struggled to connect, emotionally and physically, with his wife, Claire. But then Jamie found hope in, of all places, the surprising news that his tormentor was still alive, and suddenly, Heughan broke Jamie free of his chains. The Highlander may have been trying to stop the Jacobite rebellions, but it was his own personal uprising that was truly a sight to behold.
RAMI MALEK, MR. ROBOT
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: His deep-set eyes have been likened to “portholes,” and the actor himself has admitted they’re somewhat uncontrollable. Whatever the case, Malek’s seemingly all-seeing orbs regularly offer insight into the beautiful, cluttered mind of Elliot Alderson. Though the elite hacker’s default setting could be described as “chill,” Malek in Season 1 channeled a wealth — and when warranted, lack — of emotions, from quiet and calculating to manic and, ultimately, crestfallen by an astonishing truth. What’s more, Malek’s vast toolbox also boasts a modulated, almost robotic voice that served as a fitting narrator of events, underscoring Elliot’s every silence with soulful, weighty thoughts. All together, Malek’s performance endeared us to a loner whose brilliance alas could not solve for the foremost problem: his lack of peace.
BOB ODENKIRK, BETTER CALL SAUL
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: Though it was Mike’s dealings with the Salamancas that most often grabbed headlines, it was Jimmy’s continued descent toward becoming Saul Goodman that kept us glued to our seats in Season 2. Portrayer Bob Odenkirk stepped up his game in a batch of episodes that, for his part, were less concerned with the connective tissue to Breaking Bad and more concerned with giving the audience a reason to root for Jimmy in the here and now. Odenkirk brought a refined dose of naiveté to his performance, which is no small feat for an actor aware of his character’s eventual outcome. As a result, the audience was able to rally behind Jimmy and his many ethical faux pas — knowing full well the effect they’d have on characters who’d otherwise have our sympathies instead.
MATTHEW RHYS, THE AMERICANS
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: When it comes to Rhys, it’s all about the eyes. They are alternately warm and inviting when looking at his family, full of self-loathing when talking about his “job” at EST and fearful when facing an uncertain future. But never were they more powerful during Season 4 than when Rhys’ Philip had to say goodbye to Martha. As he prepared to ship his fake wife off to Russia, Philip’s anguish and guilt over the situation was cleverly evident in Rhys’ sorrowful expression, exposing the depth of the spy’s feelings for his faux spouse. It may have been a sham marriage, but thanks to Rhys’ emotionally dexterous performance, the heartache felt as real as the Cold War.
JUSTIN THEROUX, THE LEFTOVERS
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: For starters, Theroux is overdue, after being snubbed for his stunning Season 1 work. But Emmy voters can make up for the slight by recognizing his glorious work this year. Heck, all they have to do is check out “International Assassin,” the surreal episode in which Theroux’s dead-as-a-doornail Kevin was transported to a four-star purgatory to murder his late tormentor, Patti — as a little freakin’ girl! — and they’d realize what a mistake their oversight was. If that’s not enough, they should watch Season 2’s finale, in which Kevin, deceased yet again, had to sing “Homeward Bound” in order to return to the living. The deeper he was drawn into the lyrics, the more affecting was Theroux’s performance.