WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: In a word, “Certified.” When, toward the end of its run, the just-concluded HBO drama shone an episode-long spotlight on Laurie, shrink/wife/mother-turned-Guilty-Remnant-disciple-and-back, Brenneman beautifully illuminated not only her complicated character’s heart-tugging compassion and envy regarding husband John’s faith but also the lingering despair and emptiness that made us fear her breathtakingly honest goodbye to ex Kevin really might have been a precursor to her committing the most “elegant” kind of suicide.
VERA FARMIGA, BATES MOTEL
WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: If an actress manages to kill it as a corpse, you know she isn’t just good, she’s freaking great. Case in point: Farmiga. Even after Bates bumped off Norma in Season 4, her portrayer — Emmy-nominated for the role only once, for Outstanding Lead Actress in 2013 — continued to liven things up in Season 5, embodying both the petulant but dangerously pragmatic Mother conjured up in “psycho” Norman’s head and, on rare occasions, the real Norma that he — and we — so dearly missed.
AISHA HINDS, UNDERGROUND
WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: Just as Harriet Tubman was locked-n-loaded when she made her debut on the WGN America drama, Hinds arrived ready to bring the almost-mythic figure to life, by allowing us a window into her soul. Never did she embrace this journey more than with the midseason entry in which Tubman held the floor for a full 55 minutes, regaling both her fellow abolitionists and us with a story that illustrated her own tragic past and ultimately laid a foundation for their movement’s mission to make America great again.
THANDIE NEWTON, WESTWORLD
WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: We’re not gonna focus on the fact that Newton spent a good amount of her time on the HBO drama fully nude, with very few cutaways, as the android Maeve slowly, painfully became self-aware. (Though that was awesome and baller.) We’re instead going to point out how Newton played her character’s arc like the brothel’s old piano, giving a soaring performance that went from flinty Old West madam to bereft and grieving mother to calculating rebel in the space of a season. Plus, can she sell a zinger or what?
BILLIE PIPER, PENNY DREADFUL
WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: What frustratingly often got lost in the shuffle as Eva Green garnered wholly deserved accolades for her work on Showtime’s elegiac monster mash-up was that Piper is every bit as gifted and fearless a performer. But Emmy could — and should — right that wrong by acknowledging with the series’ first-ever acting nomination that, during the third and final season, the skill with which Lily’s portrayer revealed the beauty in the beast was more than merely award-caliber, it was superhuman.
SAMIRA WILEY, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK
WHY SHE DESERVES A NOD: If we have to pick one of Litchfield’s finest to represent OITNB‘s dozens-deep ensemble, we’ll go with Wiley, who brought an impressive array of new colors to her performance as inmate Poussey Washington in Season 4. Yes, Poussey’s stint ended in tragic fashion, but the ebullient warmth and optimism Wiley brought to the role — in Poussey’s jailhouse romance with Soso, and especially in that vibrant flashback to her pre-jail life — will, thankfully, live on.