WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: We were already picking up what Acker was laying down as the mysterious Root during her first couple of seasons on POI, engaging in snarky banter with Harold and esoterically channeling Her (aka The Machine). But in Season 4 — most specifically, ever since the shootout beneath the Stock Exchange — the Whedonverse alumna took her performances to the next level, as Root traversed the stages of grieving Shaw, mostly planting a flag at Denial. As a double-fisted gun-toting Terminator, Acker gives us much to like. But put a big ol' heart inside that stone-cold operative, and we cannot help but love.
UZO ADUBA, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK
WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: Since Orange‘s debut, it’s been understood that Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren develops relationships more unconventionally than her fellow inmates. (Don’t forget she threw her pie for you, Piper.) But it wasn’t until the Netflix dramedy’s second season that we truly learned the extent of Suzanne’s deep-seated insecurities, causing her to turn to the duplicitous Vee for comfort. The more Suzanne got attached to a woman who would ultimately abandon her, the more our hearts broke — and it’s all due to Aduba’s sublime portrayal of someone who, at the end of the day, just wanted to be loved.
JOELLE CARTER, JUSTIFIED
WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: Whereas Ava Crowder was frequently a pawn in previous seasons, the FX drama’s farewell run positioned her as a queen, a player out to secure the best “checkmate” life has to offer — and Carter absolutely rose to the occasion. For 13 episodes, the actress made evident Ava’s internal struggles, as she was yanked to-and-fro between her role as Raylan’s reluctant CI and Boyd’s cohort in both larceny and love. And it was because of Carter’s emboldened, sympathy-evoking performance that the ending Ava ultimately received could only be read as perfect.
CARRIE COON, THE LEFTOVERS
WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: Once, when people would say that an actor was “present” in a scene, we’d have rolled our eyes and thought “pretentious.” But now that we’ve seen Coon in action as Nora, we get it. We totally get it. The actress is so in the moment — in every moment! — that, no matter how acute her grief-stricken character’s pain becomes, we can’t turn away. So consider yourself warned, Emmy voters: If you don’t check out her soul-scarring work in episodes like “Guest” and “The Prodigal Son Returns,” we’ll go all Nora on your asses and get the garden hose!
CAITLIN FITZGERALD, MASTERS OF SEX
WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: For so long, Libby had been trapped — by the times, by her marriage, by her own prejudice — that we knew when she finally broke free, it would be something to see. Thanks to FitzGerald, when the moment at last arrived, it didn’t disappoint. Mrs. Masters’ brutally honest confession to co-worker/antagonist Robert that it felt good that he saw her, even if he didn’t like what he saw — coupled with their subsequent lovemaking — shone a light on the woman that she was capable of becoming. Hopefully, it also illuminated for the Emmys how worthy of a nomination her portrayer is.
MAE WHITMAN, PARENTHOOD
WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: Although Whitman has long stood out in Parenthood‘s enormous ensemble, the NBC drama’s final season gave the actress her meatiest material yet: an unexpected pregnancy. Over the course of 13 emotional episodes, Whitman beautifully portrayed every high and low of Amber’s soon-to-be-motherhood, from the anxiety of telling her family to the crippling fear of not knowing how to be a good mom. Amber’s transformation from immature teen to responsible adult was never more clear than in Parenthood‘s final episodes, thanks to Whitman’s stunning, nuanced performance.