Emmy Nominations 2012: The Year Of The Male Breakdown

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Note: this post contains spoilers.

How the mighty have fallen.

Since the start of shows like "Mad Men," "Breaking Bad," and even "Boardwalk Empire," we've watched male protagonists break down emotionally and hit rock bottom. The days of remaining cool, calm and collected have passed, and this year, even a nonchalant exterior cracks under the pressure of one's choices. And because of that, the Emmys are going to have their work cut out for them when it comes to Best Dramatic Actor.

See more: Emmys 2012: Women in comedy

Bryan Cranston as "Breaking Bad's" Walter White set the bar. It's been over a year since the infamous "I am the danger" speech, and with last Sunday's season five premiere, we were forced to recall Walt's transformation from a desperate high school science teacher to an abusive power-hungry criminal. It takes a big man to acknowledge what he's capable of, but an even bigger actor to deliver a confession that summons both respect and fear. Not every breakdown necessitates tears: sometimes the most effective are delivered with venom.

Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson followed suit. Earlier this year, we watched as power was wrestled from Nucky by his former protége, Jimmy Darmody, and after recovering the empire, Nucky was forced to choose: tie up loose ends by ending Jimmy's life, or live knowing that he could be subservient again. He chose the former. And while we knew that Nucky's decision to murder this man will resonate next season, it was Buscemi's quiet performance that showcased both the struggle and determination his character became defined by. "You don't know me at all," he tells Jimmy in the boy's last moments. Neither do we: despite knowing the hit made sense logically, it was easy to assume that Nucky would back down. Steve Buscemi had us fooled the whole time.

And then comes Don Draper. While Jon Hamm's performance in last season's "The Suitcase" exemplified the true scope of his talent, it was Don's reaction to Peggy's resignation a few weeks back that saw the character truly break: in less than three minutes, we experience the disbelief, defensiveness, anger and  heartbreak along with him - and if you weren't crying like Peggy during that last kiss goodbye, we weren't all watching the same episode.

It won't be easy to narrow down this year's performances for Best Dramatic Actor (especially since we haven't touched on shows like "Sons Of Anarchy" or "Game Of Thrones"), but if characters like these are an inclination of the direction male protagonists are moving, they'll be an emotional aftermath we need to prepare for as series progress. Every choice has consequences, after all.

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