WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: In the backdated follow-up to Breaking Bad, Banks has kept alive the rare TV breed of a fixer with heart. Though he had little going on in most of Saul’s first 10 episodes, he gave everything he had to a standalone chapter that filled us in on Mike Ehrmantraut’s saddening backstory (involving the death of his well-to-do son after being dragged into a world of dirty cops). His stoic persona was entirely unhinged in a retelling of events that not only tore at our heartstrings, but gave Banks the rare opportunity to further define a character whose layers we assumed had already been peeled back.
VINCENT D’ONOFRIO, DAREDEVIL
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: Building a compelling and believable villain that viewers can still find themselves investing in — even as he or she attempts to thwart the hero — is no easy task. But Daredevil did just that, much to the credit of D’Onofrio’s ferocious and vulnerable performance as Wilson Fisk. In the actor’s hands, the Kingpin was made up of equal parts simmering rage, deadly force and broken boy, haunted by the memories of his abusive father and the need for validation. At times, we didn’t know whether to be afraid of him or to help him woo art dealer Vanessa.
WALTON GOGGINS, JUSTIFIED
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: With Justified‘s swan song we lost not just a rich, dusty, captivating drama, we bid adieu to Harlan’s colorful denizens — including one Boyd Crowder, most notably. In the never-quite-reformed bad boy, Goggins found a role for the ages. And with his own farewell run, the actor served up the most conflicted characterization to date, a man torn between his love of illicit gains and the uncertain prospect of happily ever after with longtime love Ava, outside the comfortable confines of Kentucky. And with his final four words — “We dug coal together” — Goggins reminded us of the complex bromance at the heart of the wild Western.
RORY KINNEAR, PENNY DREADFUL
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: Although the citizens of London may be frightened by Caliban’s appearance, Penny Dreadful viewers came to learn that there was nothing remotely scary about Dr. Frankenstein’s experiment-gone-wrong. Rather, Kinnear infused his alter ego with such profound sadness, self-loathing and longing for love that, by the end of the Showtime drama’s first season, Caliban was perhaps the most human character of all. If Emmy voters are looking for a reason to give Kinnear a nod, they needn’t look any further than the actor’s season-finale monologue, in which Caliban’s despair was so authentic, we almost couldn’t bear to look in on such a heartbreaking private moment.
BEN MENDELSOHN, BLOODLINE
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: As Rayburn black sheep Danny, Ben Mendelsohn stole every scene he was in — no small feat considering the Netflix drama’s all-star cast boasts an Oscar winner (Sissy Spacek), an Emmy winner (Kyle Chandler) and a Tony winner (Norbert Leo Butz). Equally remarkable is how the Aussie actor managed to make his consistently irritating, at-times-vile character sympathetic. Damn you Mendelsohn for making us care about Danny. Damn. You.
MANDY PATINKIN, HOMELAND
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: In Homeland‘s fourth season, the normally calm and collected Saul Berenson was driven off the rails as he became a terror mastermind’s bargaining chip — and Patinkin nailed every beat of his alter ego’s maddening descent. But it was Episode 9 which found the acting vet at the height of his powers. Crouched down on that tarmac in protest of the ensuing prisoner exchange, Saul was a ball of rage, hopelessness and vulnerability, and it was heartbreaking to watch. Seven months later, Saul’s plight — and Patinkin’s performance — still haunt us.