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This year’s category for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series is anyone’s game:  A good wife, a blushing bride, two legal eagles, a mad woman, and an agent who mass destructs.

Starting out the category is last year’s winner, Julianna Margulies (above, right), for her portrayal of Alicia Florrick on CBS’s The Good Wife.  Coming off last year’s victory, Margulies has hefty competition.  While some may think that she is the front-runner because of the popularity of the show, I think the role is settling into its comfortable storylines and predictable turns.  Margulies has had a good run at the Emmys given previous acclaim for this show as well as ER; I predict her reign over the category has come to an end.

Nipping closely at her heels is the nominee she dethroned previously, the incomparable Glenn Close (above, left).  Portraying one of the most duplicitous and complex characters on television, Close’s Patty Hewes had owned this category for her work on Damages.  And in her fourth consecutive nod for this performance, Close has proven that she might be ready for another reign as leading actress in a drama.

Then there’s Kathy Bates playing her usual hardball self as Harriet Korn in Harry’s Law.  While I agree that Bates is always fantastic, the show doesn’t offer her enough of a range to really stand out amongst the other nominees, and the demographics for this show too closely match those who would cast their vote for Margulies.  If she wins, it will be a shocking upset to new, braver roles in her category.

Michelle Dockery, the newcomer to the race, could cause a major upset with her win at the Emmys.  Downton Abbey, perhaps the most popular show ever to grace PBS, has blazed on to the scene with acclaim.  Critics are delighted by Dockery, but given the huge cast of the show, I am not confident that her portrayal of Lady Mary Crawley will shine brighter than the ensemble as a whole.

If after reading about the last two nominees, you need a stiff drink and a long drag of a Lucky Strike, then the next lady is right up your alley.  After four incredible seasons (and previous nominations) of peeking out of the shadows of her Mad Men costars, it is Peggy Olsen’s time to shine this year at the Emmys, and Elisabeth Moss is a just the girl to do it.  While this season of Mad Men was no showstopper, Moss delivered some of the most memorable scenes to date and it might just be her year to take home that statue as well.

The dark horse in the race, and my pick to win the category is Claire Danes for her portrayal of Carrie Mathison in Homeland.  Coming off the year’s most electrifying first season since Breaking Bad, Danes’s volatile, passionate, and relentless pursuit of a potential threat to America captivated audiences and critics alike.  The last time Emmy gold touched her hands it was for her dynamic and sensitive portrayal of autistic educator Temple Grandin in a film of the same name.  These performances couldn’t be more dissimilar, and it’s that fact that gives Danes the edge in a pool of repeat offenders.

Favorite:  Claire Danes

Sentimental Surprise:  Elisabeth Moss

Underdog: Michelle Dockery

Shock and Awe:  Kathy Bates