Okay, it's part 3 of our look at the Emmy nominations process for 2012. As always, Fienberg and I are going to approach things in two ways. I'll pretend that I have an Emmy ballot and make my picks for the six actors or shows I would put on my ballot, while Dan will rank the potential nominees from most likely to least. And, as always, we are working off of the actual Emmy ballot, so we can't consider people who didn't submit themselves, nor can we reassign anyone to a more suitable or easier category.

This time up, we're dealing with the candidates for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. Dan's predictions are here, and my picks are coming right up...

Every year, this category is the hardest to winnow down. "The Wire" went away; didn't make it easier. "Lost" went away; didn't make it easier. "Breaking Bad" was ineligible for one year; didn't make it easier. But I'm not sure I can remember a year where I agonized over my final cut in this category the way I did this year. It's one where I could come up with at least six different ballots without any duplication and feel that every nominee was 100% worthy.

It's such a stacked category that the easy thing to do would be to insist on only one actor per category, but as I said at the start of this year's project, that ain't happening with the two "Breaking Bad" guys. Of course, in doing that, I wound up leaving off everyone from "Mad Men," no matter how amazing John Slattery was in the LSD episode. I couldn't find room for anyone from "Justified," even though Walton Goggins was great as always while Neal McDonough was mesmerizing as this year's big bad. I wound up leaving out Andre Braugher and Scott Bakula, even though both men shone in the half-dozen "Men of a Certain Age" episodes that aired in the eligiblity period. No one from "Luck." Etc.

All those men and more did outstanding work this year. If anyone wants to stump for them in the comments, I will not object. I just liked these six ever so microscopically more than the others.

Let's start with the two "Breaking Bad" guys. It would be easy to just pick Giancarlo Esposito and be done with it. He was so commanding, so precise, so memorable as an all-time classic TV villain that there came a point in the season where a good chunk of the audience found itself rooting for Gus to somehow beat Walt and turn the series upside down. How could any other "Breaking Bad" supporting performance compare to his?



Well, one could argue that none did — that Aaron Paul has by this point become a second lead and should be submitting himself as such. But he put himself in this category, which means he's eligible. Which means I can't ignore how great he is, year after year, at playing a Jesse Pinkman who's forever changing how he shows himself to the world — this year as a nihilist trying to numb himself to all the carnage he's helped cause, then as an eager pupil of Mike's — even as inside the pain is the same, and the intensity is the same. Paul won this category the last time he was eligible, and as great as Esposito was, and as great as every other contender was, I can imagine an Emmy voter taking a look at any number of scenes Paul had this season — this speech from "Problem Dog," to name just one — and easily checking off his name as the winner once again:



While Paul wasn't in competition last year because of the long "Breaking Bad" hiatus, Peter Dinklage took home a well-deserved win for playing the clever, charming but ultimately wounded imp Tyrion Lannister on "Game of Thrones." Dinklage was, if anything, even better this season — and, like Paul, probably should be competing with the big boys in the lead actor category by now — as Tyrion got pushed to the center of both the series and the power struggles at King's Landing. As Tyrion discovered that he was good at being in charge — and that he liked it — Dinklage never stopped demonstrating what a challenge it was for this little, forgotten, scorned member of the kingdom's wealthiest family to hold onto so much power, even if it was only temporary.



Michael Pitt from "Boardwalk Empire" is yet another actor on my list who could arguably be considered co-lead of his series, particularly as season 2 turned into an all-out war between Jimmy and Nucky. But he's here, and he was great throughout, embodying the old cliché about how the camera loves certain performers, showing so much of who and what Jimmy had become after the war, and after the things done to him by his mother, often with tiny gestures or changes of expression. A superb performance I hope gets recognized by the real Emmy voters.



A strange, fascinating, wonderful role reversal happened in the first season of "Homeland," in which Claire Danes gave one of the biggest, showiest performances you can imagine being squeezed inside the television screen, while that marvelous old ham Mandy Patinkin suddenly went quiet and internal, and in the process delivered one of the best, most unexpected performances of his career as principled old pro Saul Berenson. The episode where Saul takes the female terrorist on a road trip so he can turn her through empathy and understanding is a masterclass in how powerful subtle acting can be. 



The previous five men I listed all act on shows I love. So do a whole lot of the men I couldn't find room for on this list. Sometimes, though, you'll find a great performance on a show that doesn't really deserve it, like the work Joel Kinnaman has done for the last two seasons on "The Killing." I watched season 2 of that show partly out of stubborn completism, but also because, as much as the storytelling choices, the red herrings and the thin characterization drove me nuts, the chance to watch Kinnaman give such a complete, thought-out, physical performance as Detective Holder forgave a lot of that stupidity. Time after time, I would be losing my patience with some ridiculous aspect of "The Killing" — say, the endless trips to and from the Indian casino to find the damn key card — and then Kinnaman would start moving and I would say, "Oh, right. I'm watching for him."



Others considered: Alfie Allen from "Game of Thrones," Scott Bakula from "Men of a Certain Age," Jonathan Banks from "Breaking Bad," Christian Borle from "Smash," Andre Braugher from "Men of a Certain Age," Max Burkholder from "Parenthood," Michael Cudlitz from "Southland," Dennis Farina and Jason Gedrick from "Luck," Walton Goggins from "Justified," Jared Harris from "Mad Men," Christopher Heyerdahl from "Hell on Wheels," Jack Huston from "Boardwalk Empire," Sam Jaeger from "Parenthood," Vincent Kartheiser from "Mad Men," Neal McDonough from "Justified," Dylan Minnette from "Awake," Nick Nolte from "Luck," Dean Norris from "Breaking Bad," Brent Sexton from "The Killing," Dax Shepard from "Parenthood," John Slattery from "Mad Men," Jeremy Allen White from "Shameless," Michael Kenneth Williams from "Boardwalk Empire"

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com