The Best Supporting Actress Race Will Be Won with Tears

The Emmy race should come down to Anna Gunn and Christine Baranski, two actresses with very dramatic performances.

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Getting nominated for an Emmy is a crapshoot, but winning is even more random and strange, since you only get to submit one episode to showcase all your skills. Emmy voters will be sitting down and watching screeners to help decide their votes. We replicated the process, watching each category's submitted episodes, in no particular order, to see what tickled our fancy.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama

Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad
Episode Title: "Ozymandias" 
Episode Description: "Ozymandias," the Breaking Bad episode in which Hank gets killed, is a doozy of an episode and Anna Gunn gives a towering performance that's frankly going to be hard to beat. Lest you've forgotten, this is the episode in which Skyler slashes Walt's hand with a kitchen knife, wrestles with him with said knife in hand, and then has to listen as he berates her after kidnapping their child.

Gunn's performance here hits all of the notes. Over the course of the episode, which also finds her telling her son about his father's criminal activity, she gets to play sorrowful, vengeful, out of her mind with grief, and stoic. Her devastated run onto the street after Walter takes baby Holly is perhaps the episode's most powerful image, but her thinly veiled turmoil as Walt spits vitriol at her over the phone (in what is actually a ploy to help her) is equally as heartbreaking.

Christine Baranski, The Good Wife
Episode Title: "The Last Call" 

Episode Description: Like Anna Gunn, Christine Baranski also submitted an episode that is incredibly strong across the board, but one that gives her ample chance to shine. "The Last Call" shows the aftermath of Will's death, and as Diane Lockhart, Baranski is all about restraint. One of the episode's best moments is when she approaches a sobbing intern, who barely knew Will, and fires her.

Baranski's excellence is evident in how it's clear that she is as upset about Will's death as everyone else, but is so expertly keeping it together. It's a marvelously understated performance, especially compared to Gunn's, which simply couldn't be as low key as Baranski's.

Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
Episode Title: "The Strategy" 
Episode Description: 
Hendricks' episode is an odd case. Joan has one great scene. Bob Benson proposes marriage to her. She rejects him, arguing that she wants love, and not some arrangement. It's good Joan, but not the best Joan, and, unfortunately, the first half of the final season didn't give us a lot of Joan.

Overall, "The Strategy" belongs to Don and Peggy, and especially to Peggy, making it an outrage that Elisabeth Moss somehow did not get a nomination in the leading actress category. Mad Men has never had any success in the acting category, and this year won't change that, especially not in this category. 

Lena Headey, Game of Thrones
Episode Title: "The Lion and the Rose" 
Episode Description: 
Headey submitted the Purple Wedding episode, which certainly gives her character a lot to do. Of course, she gets those final moments in which she and her brother/lover grasp their poisoned and choking devil child while he struggles for his lasts breaths. She also, however, gets a few moments—stopping Pycelle from creeping on a young woman, chatting with Oberyn Martell and Ellaria Sand—to be supremely bitchy in the way that only Cersei can be.

There are perhaps other episodes that Headey could have chosen. The episode following "The Lion and the Rose," which features the scene in which Jamie rapes Cersei in front of their son's dead body, might have been a controversial pick. She might have also gone for "The Laws of Gods and Men," the Tyrion trial episode, but her testimony there is overshadowed by Tyrion's fantastic speech. Ultimately, "The Lion and the Rose" allows to Headey to show off how good she is in the moments before she must deal with insurmountable grief. 

Joanne Froggatt, Downton Abbey
Episode Title: 4.2 
Episode Description: Froggatt submitted the episode in which her character Anna was brutally raped during a party by Lord Gillingham's evil valet. Froggatt makes the most of what is a an unearned storyline. Anna's rape quickly becomes an excuse for the show to dwell on how Bates would likely kill the perpetrator and go to jail. The entire plot is ultimately wildly unfair to Anna.

In the episode, Anna develops a chummy rapport with the valet, which displeases her husband, Bates, who believes she is being inappropriate. When she goes downstairs during an opera concert to fix her headache, the valet accosts her and then attacks her. The scenario doesn't leave much room for subtlety, meaning that Froggatt's chances of winning will likely depend on how much Emmy voters like the show, which is apparently a lot based on the number of nominations it got.

Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
Episode Title: 4.9
Episode Description:
Look, Maggie Smith does in Downton Abbey what Maggie Smith does. It's a little befuddling why Maggie Smith's episode is the Christmas special. The one episode this season which really showcased Smith doing something different was the sixth, the one in which the Dowager countess became ill.

In the Christmas special, which focuses on the events surrounding Rose's coming out, features the Dowager Countess trading barbs with her American counterpart played by Shirley MacLaine, looking shocked as MacLaine's Martha Levinson tells her that her world is going out of fashion.

Smith is excellent, that much is clear, but she has been doing the same thing for the past couple of years on Downton, and it's hard to think that she should be rewarded for it in this context.

It seems likely that Gunn is going to take this one in a swell of one last round of Breaking Bad love. Even if the show doesn't take the top drama prize, the Academy has every reason to award Gunn's performance for "Ozymandias." Baranski's performance is quieter, but equally as deserving.

Members of the Academy seem to be the biggest Downton fans around still, and while Froggatt and Smith are good, what their working with doesn't have the same impact. Meanwhile, Hendricks was underused, and Headey has to fight against a lot of other stuff going on in the world of Game of Thrones.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.