It was quite a season for Baranski’s Diane Lockhart — the past year found her dealing with Alicia and Cary’s betrayal, marrying her Republican soulmate, mourning the loss of legal partner Will and, ultimately, attempting to fly the coop — and she acted the pantsuit off of it. Baranski painted an incredible portrait of a powerful woman at her wit’s end, doing whatever she could to hold onto her career, her relationships and herself while everything seemed to be falling apart. So here’s to you, Diane! (You can’t see it, but we’re all holding up martini glasses.)
Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad
It could be argued that the most compelling emotional journey seen on Breaking Bad's final season did not belong to Walter White, but to his estranged better half. Across eight remarkable episodes, Gunn embodied a begrudgingly supportive wife and desperate mother with a near-tangible sense of anguish. And although we'll be hard-pressed to forget the moment when a frantic Skyler threatened Walt with a kitchen knife, Gunn's most lasting impression was in the quiet portrait she painted of a slowly unraveling woman.
Annet Mahendru, The Americans
Mahendru is a rich mystery as Russian double agent Nina. Does she love Stan? Does she love Oleg? Who’s side is she really on? We’re never quite sure in Season 2, but one thing is for certain: Mahendru’s captivating, ambiguously complex performance pulls you in no matter which team she’s fighting for.
Hayden Panettiere, Nashville
As Juliette Barnes tumbled from country princess to national pariah — thanks to a homewrecking scandal and a misinterpreted forsaking of God — Panettiere allowed us to glimpse the insecure, dirt-poor girl still residing deep within her character while simultaneously maintaining her hard-charging, ambitious and entitled exterior. What’s more, the actress also laid down Juliette’s armor of rhinestones and sequins for a moment as she fell sweetly in love with guitar player Avery Barkley — which made it all the more heartbreaking to watch her fall back into self-destruct mode and drunkenly cheat on him with her mortal enemy. In Panettiere’s hands, Juliette’s season-finale monologue became more than a plea for forgiveness, but a three-Kleenex baring of her troubled diva’s soul.
Maggie Siff, Sons of Anarchy
The death of a major character is always devastating for us TV junkies, and it’s due to Siff’s sublime performance on Sons of Anarchy‘s sixth season that made us especially heartbroken to see her go. As Tara navigated a harrowing year that included jail time, a thoroughly toxic relationship with Jax and a deeply felt hostility toward Gemma that ultimately cost Tara her life, Siff allowed her alter ego to be devious, protective and vulnerable all at once. And despite the trying circumstances that burdened Tara throughout the season, Siff made it look effortless bringing to life this multi-faceted character.
Bellamy Young, Scandal
True story: Young was not a series regular until Season 2! Yet now it’s impossible to imagine this Shondaland shock machine without Mellie deeply immersed in the mix. This past season saw FLOTUS juggle her want to see Fitz reelected with accepting the necessary evil that would be Olivia’s “hands-on” role in such a coup. But it was the baring of a more personal pain — the revelation that Mellie had been raped by her father-in-law, and then concealed it “for the greater good” — where Young wowed us like never before. Whether drunk with power, on illicit love, or from old-school moonshine, Young portrays a steel magnolia with real mettle.