Can the “Downton” momentum carry Michelle Dockery all the way to a win?

English actress who was barely known in the States in her pre-“Downton” days is a now a household thesp in those homes where Lady Mary is queen. Road to the top, however, will not be an easy one.

Last year’s winner Julianna Margulies is back on the ballot for playing attorney Alicia Florrick on “The Good Wife,” and her storyline remains one of the most compelling in broadcast TV.

This year makes the fourth nomination for both Glenn Close, who has won twice for control-freak attorney Patty Hewes on “Damages,” and Elisabeth Moss for ambitious ad woman Peggy Olson on “Mad Men.” Moss may have appeared less on screen this past season, but when her moments arrived she knocked them out of the park.

Though her show was canceled by NBC at the end of last season, voters thought enough of Kathy Bates’ performance as salty criminal lawyer Harriet Korn on “Harry’s Law” that she earned another nom.

Besides Dockery, Claire Danes is the other rookie in the category. Showtime’s newbie “Homeland” was one of the best reviewed shows in all of TV — broadcast or cable — and her portrayal of a bipolar CIA agent who believes a congressman is actually an Al Qaeda terrorist was good enough to earn her a Television Critics Assn. Award, and, possibly, an Emmy.

“Harry’s Law”
Criminal lawyer Harry has a hip new loft office and staff but she’s still her gruff, jaded self. Several tough cases, the first beginning with a battle against a nasty D.A. (Jean Smart), reaffirm her faith in the legal system but force her to examine gray areas in the law and her life.
• Harry reveals to a co-worker that she was excluded from a club as a child because she is Jewish, and for this reason will go to the mat against laws that weaken America’s sense of inclusiveness.
• After Harry coolly makes funeral arrangements for the womanizing, alcoholic ex-husband she hasn’t seen in years, she honors the love she once felt for him by gently singing a song she dedicates to “an old friend” at her firm’s party.

Three years after her law partner’s violent death, Patty Hewes is raising her granddaughter and undergoing court-ordered anger management therapy. The child cracks Patty’s emotional armor but not enough to allow her to empathize with Ellen, who begs her not to risk a friend’s life for a high-profile case.
• Contemplating the news that there is a one-in-36 chance her granddaughter has leukemia, Patty confronts the randomness of mortality.
• With the Statue of Liberty in the background, Patty scathingly derides Ellen for being an “ungrateful child” for putting emotions before the pursuit of a case.

CIA case officer Carrie pursues proof that POW hero Sgt. Brody is a sleeper agent for Al Qaeda. The pair’s surprise romance results in Brody betraying Carrie’s bipolar condition to her superiors. She’s fired and undergoes electric shock therapy, which may erase the memory of a key clue.
• Carrie and Brody spend the night together, their passion coming from a genuine connection between two wounded outsiders. When he leaves in anger at her suspicions, she’s distraught over the loss of both her lover and prime suspect.
• After Brody betrays her, Carrie’s bosses come to her house and confiscate her research. Off her meds, she maniacally begs them to stop, horrified at the anticipation of the country’s fate.

“Downton Abbey”
Lady Mary is her usual icy aristocratic self but soon undergoes a metamorphosis as World War I changes the entire fabric of British society. She gains the courage to face the dark secret that has trapped her in an unhappy engagement and accepts Matthew’s marriage proposal.
• Although Matthew is engaged to another, Mary shares a late-night dance alone with him. They work hard to suppress their emotional connection but it overwhelms them and they kiss.
• Mary bravely breaks off her engagement to a social-climbing media magnate, chancing that he will reveal something in her past that she fears will make Matthew reject her.

“The Good Wife”
Attorney Alicia and Will are having a steamy fling but she ends it when it turns out to be a distraction from her children, career and impending divorce. Alicia handles her challenging job, scheming mother-in-law and adolescent children with increasing fortitude, grace and independence.
• When her teenage daughter goes missing, Alicia tries to track her down via a series of phone calls but each dead-end increases her terror that the worst may have happened.
• As a member of a blue-ribbon panel investigating an officer-involved shooting, Alicia defies the majority opinion.

“Mad Men”
Peggy is her usual ambitious self at the agency until she realizes she will always be seen by Don as someone who should simply be grateful for getting as far as she has in her career, but not ask for more. She accepts an offer to work at another agency.
• At dinner with her boyfriend, Peggy expects a marriage proposal. When it turns out he just wants to move in together, she undergoes surprise, relief, disappointment and acceptance.
• Peggy tells Don she’s leaving the agency. She holds back tears as he kisses her hand. Her great love is her career, making her relationship with her mentor arguably the most important human connection in her life.

Road to the Emmys 2012: The Actress Nominees
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Drama | Comedy | Miniseries/Movie