Finally, there is suspense in the Emmy race for best actor in a drama series. Three-time champ Bryan Cranston is not in the contest since "Breaking Bad" didn't air new episodes in the eligibility period. The current nominees: Steve Buscemi ("Boardwalk Empire"), Kyle Chandler ("Friday Night Lights"), Michael C. Hall ("Dexter"), Jon Hamm ("Mad Men"), Hugh Laurie ("House"), and Timothy Olyphant ("Justified").
Hamm has lost all three times in this category to Cranston, so he has never known defeat to anyone else. Maybe he has been in second place all these years? For this past season of "Mad Men," he had his best showcase ever with the episode "The Suitcase," which was submitted to Emmy judges. In it, his character Don Draper gets drunk with coworker Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) one night while working late and finds out a friend has died in California. It is a surprisingly emotional performance from a character that normally keeps everything bottled up inside.
Most pundits believe that his closest competition is with Buscemi ("Boardwalk Empire"), who has already won this year at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards. In the season finale "A Return to Normalcy," his character Nucky Thompson, a politician with mobster ties, lets down his guard on election day with Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) when he recounts the tragic deaths of his wife and baby years earlier.
Hall has been nodded three times as Dexter Morgan, a secret, sympathetic serial killer employed by the Miami police on "Dexter." His riveting performance on last year's Emmy submission, the season finale "The Getaway," had tons of action and the surprise ending with his wife murdered in his bathtub. Since Hall couldn't win for that, it's doubtful that his latest episode submission can triumph: "Teenage Wasteland," which doesn't have that kind of energy but does feature a nice story arc depicting his search for a new set of killers while being worried that his stepdaughter is missing.
Olyphant ("Justified") is the only Emmy rookie in this field. In his episode "Reckoning," he portrays U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, who searches frantically for a murderer and ultimately drags the suspect out in the woods where he must decide whether he will live or die. It is a very compelling, forceful performance of a lawman distributing his own form of justice, not unlike the performance given by Kiefer Sutherland ("24") when when he won in 2006.