ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES

Glenn Close, "Damages"

Episode: "Pilot." Cutthroat attorney Patty (Close) has a secret agenda when she woos an innocent young woman to join her law firm.

Plus: Front-runner Close will be hard to beat. She's at the top of her talents as TV's most fabulous dragon, burning everyone drawn near by her diabolical charm.

Minus: None.

Sally Field, "Brothers & Sisters"

Episode: "History Repeating." Nora (Field) begs her son, a disabled Iraq war veteran, to take his prescribed painkillers even though he's a recovering addict.

Plus: Field freights every line, look and tear with operatic intensity. Voters may want to send the Queen of Outrageous Acceptance Speeches to the podium again -- just to see if she gets bleeped once more.

Minus: This momma's quest may seem offensive in rehab-happy Hollywood.

Mariska Hargitay, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"

Episode: "Undercover." Olivia (Hargitay) forfeits her gorgeousness, her clothes and sometimes her sanity to go undercover as a prisoner in a seedy women's jail to find a rapist.

Plus: Hargitay pulled off an upset in 2006. Here, she gives one of her most gripping turns yet, full of terror, tears and heart-pounding suspense.

Minus: Hargitay regularly dispatches TV's worst fiends but she may finally have met her match in this category opposite Glenn Close's devilish Patty Hewes.

Holly Hunter, "Saving Grace"

Episode: "Tacos, Tulips, Duck and Spices." Hunter's chain-smoking, butt-kicking cop catches up to the priest who molested her as a girl.

Plus: Hunter is an Oscar winner ("The Piano") and she gets a big showy scene, roaring at God: "Why the hell should I believe in you?"

Minus: Voters are notorious snobs who pooh-pooh police procedurals (only four female cop roles have won in 20 years) and only tolerate white trash if they clean their pools or fix their Jags.

Kyra Sedgwick, "The Closer"

Episode: "Manhunt." While hot on the trail of a kinky serial killer, Brenda (Sedgwick) learns she is going through menopause.

Plus: Sedgwick gives a truly flashy performance when she comes down with hot flashes. And a sweetly romantic one too, when her boyfriend proposes.

Minus: Nominated in 2006 and 2007, Sedgwick's been left at the Emmy altar twice.

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