Probably my pick for the bravest and most fully formed character this past decade, there's no denying that Buffy Summers wouldn't have been the pop cultural icon it became without the strength of Gellar's thespian skills. Few can straddle the line between high camp and deep melancholy which this part required. Here was a conflicted woman torn between triviality (prom, dating, hairstyles, boys) and the transcendent (death, grief, demons, boys). "The Body" - the episode where Buffy's mom passes away (beautifully directed sans accompanying score by Joss Whedon) is one of the most affecting episodes this show ever produced. To see Gellar's close ups is to see a great actress at work, showing so much grief and so much pain yet trying to remain in control and composed: but how does a slayer deal with death when 'death is her gift' as that season constantly reminded us? But it wasn't just the dramatic scenes that make Buffy a great character and Gellar a worthy candidate for this award: her comedic timing (whether she's playing a robot version of herself, going all "cave-girl" because of beer, or playing up her ditzy blonde routine) is flawless, never missing a beat and always willing to be butt of the joke should the occasion require it. For that, Gellar remains one of my all-time favorite actresses, even if her filmography leaves much to be desired.
There are many detractors when it comes to Betty Draper. But one thing that is hard to argue is that, regardless how you feel about Betty, you have to give January Jones props for unflinchingly making Betty the ice-cold Nordic frazzled and childish queen that she is. While her storyline this past season fell mostly on the grating side, her season 2 arc is one of the most interesting examinations of female (and feminine) desire in twentieth century America I've seen put on screen (and here's someone who loves Revolutionary Road, Far From Heaven, The Women, The Hours and Almodovar's films). Betty may seem like a spoiled child (and there's no denying she is) but rather than see her as merely promoting this ideal, Weiner's show is clearly more interested in examining her as a symptom of the culture that bred her. Her mood swings are no less a consequence of here-and-there plot twists but more of a portrayal of the conflicting discourses that rule her life and which she cannot seem to comprehend. I am still waiting to see what they have in store for her next season (I, for one don't want Betty to go away) but these past three seasons enamoured me and while she's anything but lovable, she's fascinated and most of this is because Jones plays her so beautifully (her melancholy gazes, her hysterical fits, even her eerie calm resolve are always magnetic).
This show is pitch-perfect when it comes to complex women (any of the other two wives could have easily made this lineup) but for me it's all about Barb. Maybe it's because she's the one I can relate to the most (and the one that most reminds me of my mother) but it's also because she seems to be the most fully formed and conflicted when it comes to her make-shift "family" and still its most staunch supporter (as evidenced by last season's storyline). She always breaks my heart but what Tripplehorn manages is to achieve this without falling into a portrayal that plays up her victim-like position (which is rarely promoted by the writing itself) but by braving the attacks on her family and her lifestyle knowing full well how she will always stand for what is right (which is why I love the quote that I chose): she may not agree with Margie or Nikki all the time, but she loves them. Family, as they say, always comes first.
"You can't be your best. Your best is past. Your past you can't even remember. You're ugly now. You're disgusting. All you can hope for now is pity. And for that, you're going to have to look somewhere else." - Dr Saunders