Monday, April 27, 2015

Series: This Week's TV MVPs - Week 10

This week in television, we venture into sweeps with some fantastic finales, unexpected losses, and fantastic acting performances from some wonderful dramas on television. (This is actually the second week in a row that we've all chosen to focus on dramatic work and not comedic work. That wasn't on purpose, I promise!) As always, standing beside me to talk about television this week are some of my favorite human beings:

  • Human ray of sunshine, lover of bows and good television: Constance Gibbs!
  • Soul sister, name twin, light of my life, and fellow Arrow reviewer: Jen!
We're in the first week of double digits for our TV MVP Series (ten weeks of amazing television, whaaaaaat!), so let's get to it, then, shall we?

Jenn's MVP: Jadyn Wong as Happy Quinn (Scorpion)

Why she's the MVP: Last week, I highlighted Elyes Gabel in Scorpion as an outstanding performer worthy of recognition. In this week's first season finale of the CBS series, Jadyn Wong stood out to me in the ensemble because of the amazing range we got to see her display and also the growth we've seen in Happy Quinn this year alone. Scorpion was jokingly referred to as a dramatic version of its comedy counterpart The Big Bang Theory by television critics. I disagree. I think this series is engaging -- and sure, predicatable in parts but it's a procedural, essentially, and what one isn't? -- and provides its actors with the opportunity to grow and evolve their characters. Happy Quinn is damaged. She's jaded and she's cynical and in "Postcards From The Edge," we get to see that quite clearly. Jadyn excels at conveying how fierce and how hard and how angry Happy can actually be. We've seen her anger directed at Toby and this week we see it directed at Paige and Cabe and Walter.

What I thought was so great was the fact that Happy feigned disinterest in Paige leaving the team but was the only one to secretly call the mother to talk. The anger and bitterness that ensued was powerful, especially when you remember how Happy has a lot of abandonment issues. She pretends things don't bother her. She pretends that she doesn't need other people. She pushes people out that way because she finds it easier to be alone than to be vulnerable and let another person in because they will probably just leave. And Jaydn is able to display these nuances in Happy's personality so clearly. She's not an unfeeling or unemotional character though. My favorite moment of this episode and the reason Jadyn made my MVP this week is when Walter -- in a car hanging on the edge of a cliff -- realizes he's probably going to die and begins telling the people on the cliff how much he loves them in his own way. He tells stories, reminiscing on his favorite moments with each member of the team. Toby is appreciative, Cabe is touched, Sylvester is moved as well. But when Walter tries to talk about his relationship with Happy, she snaps:

I'm not having it, okay? I will not let you eulogize a memory of you and me. You have three geniuses up here, putting their heads together. We will figure this out. You will not die. The situation is under control!

In this moment, you can feel how frantic Happy is and Jadyn conveys Happy's anger, frustration, and total fear that she may lose Walter very clearly. We don't often see Happy emotionally vulnerable. We see her angry and defensive and -- on the surface -- this appears to be another one of those instances. But Jadyn managed to convey in a few short lines exactly how much Happy cared about Walter and how much she was afraid of losing him. Happy is a very resilent, stubborn, wonderful character and I can't wait to see what Jaydn does with her in the second season of Scorpion.

(Sidenote: The final scene of Happy in this episode is her and Toby headed off to babysit Ralph. It's adorable because it's Happy allowing herself a moment of tenderness with Toby and a way for them to become close again. It was wonderful and perfect.)

Jenn's (other) MVP: Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen/Al Sah-Him (Arrow)

Why he's the MVP: If there was ever a performance that deserved recognition, a performer who should earn all the accolades, and an episode that was worthy of praise, emotionally, it would be Arrow's Stephen Amell for "The Fallen." I talked a lot about this episode this week and I've discussed Stephen Amell as a performer, but it bears repeating because of how absolutely wonderful he was in this week's episode.

(Before proceeding, just refresh your memory by watching a clip of how exceptional Stephen was in "The Fallen." Grab your tissues, too.)

When I first began marathoning Arrow, I was impressed -- impressed by the stunts and the tone of the show, by the characters and by the potential. As the series progressed, I became increasingly impressed with its lead and the way he allowed the character of Oliver Queen to really develop and breathe into a fully-realized human being.

I've said it before, but I'll continue to say it: there's a difference between an actor playing a character on television and an actor embodying a character. When an actor plays a character, you don't feel like that character is a real, living, breathing human being with emotions and thoughts and feelings and hopes and dreams and worries. When an actor truly understands a character, that is when all of those aforementioned components come to life. Stephen Amell absolutely knocked every scene out of the park in "The Fallen" and what impresses me, consistently, about Stephen is his unparalleled ability to be able to switch between emotions quickly. In this episode, we see every facet of Oliver Queen: we see him grieving deeply, we see him angry, we see him resigned and guilty, we see him despairing, we see him hopeful, we see him in love, we see him desolate. Stephen Amell seamlessly transitions between all of these emotions and more in "The Fallen." His scenes with John Barrowman are emotional and unexpectedly moving. His scenes with Willa Holland are powerful and heartbreaking. His scenes with David Ramsey are filled with an overwhelming sense of comraderie. His scenes with Emily Bett Rickards are emotionally charged, crackling with sexual tension and energy and brimmed with sadness and hope and grief and love.

Stephen Amell took a character who could have been decent and elevated him into something fantastic. I truly believe that it's because of Stephen's performance that Oliver has become such a fascinating, well-rounded character. The writing of characters can be great (and Arrow's has occasionally missed the mark but for the most part over the years has improved in quality), but it's the actor who really takes the character on page and layers him or her with emotional nuances and with tics and with quirks. Stephen's performance in "The Fallen" upon seeing Thea flatline? Absolutely gut-wrenching. His love scene with Emily Bett Rickards? Beautiful and powerful and moving. His goodbye scene and transition into Al Sah-Him? Epic and sad. Stephen knows Oliver Queen. He knows what makes him who he truly is as a person. And he knows what Oliver Queen lives for and dies for -- where his loyalties and his loves are.

What makes Stephen so exceptional this week is that his intimate connection to Oliver Queen translates to the screen so that when you're watching an episode like "The Fallen," you can't help but feel compelled and moved by his performance. And if you can't? Well, you're probably a robot.

Connie's MVP: Ari Millen as the Castor Clones (Orphan Black)

Why he's the MVP: On a show like Orphan Black, it is a big risk to introduce another set of clones played by the same actor. With the immense amount of praise Tatiana Maslany puts into the show and her portrayal of the characters, the series has to balance elements in a way that doesn't feel stale, doesn't detract from the work Maslany is doing, and doesn't distract from the characters we're already following. So far, Orphan Black is striking that balance.

This week's episode was very Castor clone-driven, but our Leda clones still had time to shine. Ari Millen plays the Castor clones, of whom we've met four: Mark, Rudy, Seth, and an unnamed military fatigues one. We were introduced to Mark last season as he kidnapped Helena for the Proletheans before falling in love with Gracie and running off with her. Rudy and Seth, the most sibling-like of all the clones, seem to be on a mission, one that is unclear thus far involving unsuspecting women and their DNA samples.

However, Seth is going through something. Reminiscent of Katja's (and Cosima's) autoimmune disorder, Seth "glitches," having white flashes and mental breaks, repeating lines from the Castor IQ tests until he's writhing on the floor. Rudy wants to protect his brother, looking for the original tissue samples that could help cure him, but when Seth's glitches become too much, he shoots his own brother to save him the agony. It's both brutal and a mercy and Ari Millen strikes the balance between the two characters very well. There's less of a need for the boys to be different personality-wise, since they seem to have all grown up in very similar military environments, but there are still differences between them that are becoming more and more apparent and nuanced as we learn more about Project Castor. Kudos to Millen for understanding those nuances but not taking away from Maslany's (continued and ever flowing) awesomeness.

Jen's MVP: Emily Bett Rickards as Felicity Smoak (Arrow)

Why she's the MVP: As I say, I could pick Emily Bett Rickards for MVP every week because every week the woman KILLS IT as Felicity Smoak. This week's Arrow episode was different though. It was the culmination of Felicity Smoak's emotional journey three years in the making. Oliver Queen either joined the League of Assassins or his sister Thea would die from her injuries inflicted by Ra's Al Ghul. The prospect of losing Oliver yet again triggers an emotional juggernaut that Emily Bett Rickards handles deftly, projecting a depth of emotion and realism only she can navigate.

Whether she was sniping at the pure ridiculousness of a magic hot tub bringing Thea back to life or simply bringing Oliver a blanket to keep him warm on the jet, Felicity was the realism that centered one of Arrow's more fantastical plot twists. Thea's near-death broke Oliver, but seeing him in so much pain was agonizing for Felicity. Emily brought a sympathy and compassion to her scenes with Stephen Amell. At the hospital, she was overwhelmingly concerned and compassionate. During Oliver's painful and shameful confession on the jet, Emily exuded unconditional love. Felicity listened in silence, in understanding and in complete non-judgement.

After Thea is "cured" by the Lazarus Pit, it's time for Oliver to put up or shut up. He must hand himself over to The League. Seeing Oliver torn away from everyone he loves ignites a rage in Felicity and she storms out to face the Season Big Bad... the one and only Ra's Al Ghul. Keep in mind this is the same man who ran our hero through with a sword eleven episodes earlier. Felicity marches right up to The Demon's Head and tells him where to stick it. To say Emily approached the scene with gumption would be an understatement. Emily not only goes head-to-head with Matt Nable's Ra's but she COMMANDS the scene with ferocity. Felicity is a woman in love, protecting what is hers, vowing to fight Ra's for Oliver. Emily brings a spark to Felicity Smoak, a fire that can light up a room or make even the world's most dangerous men heed her commands. Apparently Ra's respects a woman with fire, so he doesn't immediately murder her for insubordination (dodged a bullet there). As Felicity and Ra's debate love and sacrifice, Ra's sees beyond Felicity's seething anger to what is truly underneath: her fear of losing Oliver. Ra's instructs Felicity to tell Oliver goodbye before it's too late.

We have watched Felicity Smoak love Oliver Queen for three years. The struggle for Felicity was never if she loved Oliver, the struggle was if she could ever truly be with him. The reality is no matter how much Oliver loves Felicity (and he does) he'll never belong to her completely. Heroes never do. Is a life with Oliver Queen a life that Felicity wants? This year Felicity explored a life without him, but when Ray Palmer challenges Felicity on her feelings for Oliver, she responds with a tearful "I'm sorry." Emily layers her voice with guilt for hurting Ray, but no hesitation with her affirmation. She's made her choice.

In a scene that will define their relationship, Felicity goes to Oliver. He is struggling with who he is and who he'll become. He doesn't understand why he survived all the years on the Island if he was simply meant to sell his soul to the devil. One last time, Felicity Smoak harnesses Oliver Queen's light. Gone is Felicity's nervous babble. Emily is calm, confident, and certain. Felicity knows who Oliver Queen is. What's more, she knows how she feels. As she tells Oliver about all the good he's done, he seems to deflect her support. But when Felicity finally says those three magic words, Oliver cannot look away. Felicity's love for Oliver is something he cannot deflect or argue, but simply must accept. Emily's voice is firm, but soft, confident and sweet. She allows a little smile to sneak out after she says "I love you," the joy and relief over finally telling Oliver how she feels evident. The knowledge that he is loved deeply and singularly by this woman is all Oliver needs to feel centered once again.

Oh and they totally have sex.

Only Emily Bett Rickards can sell what follows next. In an uncharacteristic move, Felicity drugs Oliver in an attempt to sneak him out of the hell hole known as Nanda Parbat. Over the three years, Emily has constructed a deep-rooted fear of abandonment in Felicity Smoak.  In fact, her entire reason for NOT telling Oliver she loves him was because she feared losing him. So, her desperation was believable.  Even though her plan was bonkers and giving a roofie to her boyfriend raised more than a few eyebrows, it also led to Emily going head to head with yet another villain - Malcolm Merlyn. John Barrowman is a powerhouse actor and Emily Bett Rickards meets him line for line. She churns up dialogue and spits it out in a commanding, rapid fire delivery that forces a criminal mastermind like Merlyn to fall in line.

Unfortunately, her plan fails on a spectacular level. As Felicity says goodbye to Oliver, Emily allows the raw emotion to rise to the surface, but keeps from allowing Felicity to fall apart completely. She's trying to put on a brave face for Oliver's sake. She silently nods in agreement as she promises Oliver not to give up on her dream of a happiness (um... that's you, buddy) and gives him a tearful but gentle goodbye kiss.

It's not until her final scene with Katie Cassidy, as Felicity informs Laurel that Oliver is gone and not coming back, that Emily finally allows all the walls to crumble. The carefully constructed layers in which she's kept her feelings for Oliver at bay, her intense love for him coupled with her long-held fear of losing him all converge into one. Felicity completely breaks down into hysterical crying. It is the culmination of everything Felicity Smoak has hoped for and everything she has feared. It is a powerful, soul crushing performance.

Emily navigated compassionate friend, supportive partner, fierce opponent, loving girlfriend and desperate woman seamlessly. She illuminates the sides of Felicity Smoak like holding a crystal to the light. The multifaceted sides are infinite and each more brilliant than the next. Yet, Emily maintains one simple premise throughout her performance to ground it: Felicity Smoak is a woman deeply in love. It is Emily's masterful portrayal week after week that reveals why Felicity is the woman for Oliver Queen. She is a hero... just like him.

Jen's (other) MVP: John Barrowman as Malcolm Merlyn (Arrow)

Why he's the MVP: I seldom hate characters. I enjoy characters that live in the moral grey area. I find the duality of good/evil and right/wrong interesting. Normally, I can find one or two redeeming qualities in all characters. So I don't say this lightly...

I hate Malcolm Merlyn.

Never mind he's the entire reason Oliver is in this mess with the League, never mind he drugged Thea, never mind he coerced Thea into killing Sara, never mind he murdered hundreds of innocent lives in his attack on The Glades, never mind he is the reason the Queen's Gambit sank, Robert Queen died and Oliver spend five years in hell. Malcolm Merlyn is the reason Tommy is dead. He killed Tommy Merlyn. For that there is no forgiveness. Not from me.

So I view Malcolm Merlyn through one lens - he is the devil. Lucifer himself. It really clarifies his motives. In fact, I fantasize on all the different ways the Arrow writers can kill Merlyn. Tar and feathering is my number one choice, but Ra's Al Ghul was really onto something with those hot coals. I digress.

However, I ADORE John Barrowman. The man is a fantastic actor. He plays Merlyn as diabolical, but not crazy. Calculating, but not obsessive. Dangerous, but controlled. Sly, but charming. He weaves his Malcom Merlyn web almost gleefully and steals every scene he's in. There's a glint in his eye because Malcolm is five moves ahead and John is having the most fun. I love John Barrowman so much that I sent Marc Guggenheim a storyline proposal: Kill Malcolm Merlyn. Then Oliver discovers his twin brother Marvin, an overall swell guy, working as a plumber in Central City. I'm still waiting to hear back, but the premise is gold in my opinion.

As Thea skates the thin line between life and death, Merlyn comes to the hospital. What lays before him is a nightmare of his own making. Merlyn used Thea as a pawn in his game against Ra's Al Ghul. Malcom, so often five moves ahead, failed to fend off this attack. As Barrowman steps into the room, he looks directly at Stephen Amell who can only give a little shake of his head. Barrowman moves rapidly from shock to horrifying realization in seconds. He moves slowly to her bed side, one hand on his heart, as if he can feel it physically breaking. John sinks to his knees as if to beg forgiveness. Then, Merlyn breaks down and sobs as his only surviving child fights for her life because he gambled it away in the first place. As he grieves, Barrowman shifts Malcolm from The Dark Archer to a father overwhelmed with guilt and love for his child. While Malcolm sobs over Thea's body, I felt the lump rise in my throat and tears spring to my eyes.

That's right. Malcolm Merlyn made me cry. Only John Barrowman can portray THE DEVIL and still make you sob like a baby.

Malcolm Merlyn may be awful, but the man who portrays him is wonderful.  Barrowman is a gift to acting and to Arrow.

And there you have it, friends! These are some of our television MVPs this week. Hit up the comments below and let us know your thoughts and who made your MVPs this week. Until then! :)


  1. Hi Jenn!

    It’s Anna, one of the participants in your last MASSIVE Suits reviews. As I told you on a previous message through “Ask me anything”, and following your recommendation, I decided to give Arrow a try. I’ve been binge-watching Arrow since the season finale of Suits. I have to admit that at first I didn’t know I’d like it this much...I’VE BECOME A HUGE FAN! I LOOOVE IT! What surprised me is that I’m not a comic fan at all, although I was a huge Smallville fan back in the day ;) But in general, I don’t feel particularly attracted to comic book-based-series.

    So, anyway, I’ve watched all 3 seasons just to catch up with you guys in LAST WEEK’S EPISODE! OOOMMMGGG! ;)

    Since I’m quite new to the Arrow fandom, I don’t feel very comfortable to comment in your reviews...yet. You guys have been following this show much longer than I do. But I’ll say this. I find Oliver’s journey so compelling and specially this season with the Identity theme... I couldn’t agree more with you on what you say about Stephen Amell’s performance. He embodies Oliver/Arrow in a way that never ceases to amaze me! And last episode was the best prove of that.

    I also wanted to tell you that it’s been delightful to read your reviews after I watched every Season 3 episode. They’re so beautifully written (just like your Suits reviews). I’m sure my experience and approach to the show wouldn’t have been the same without them ;) And since Jen (jbuffyangel) also writes in this article, I’d like to say that I’ve been following her posts and reviews on Tumblr too, and I have to blame her for my Olicity madness!!! :)

    So, THANK YOU AGAIN for your recommendation. I'm so grateful that I'd love to send you a virtual cupcake! ;)

    1. Anna! HELLO AND WELCOME BACK, FIRST OF ALL. It's so nice to see you around these parts again. ;)

      Wow I'm so impressed you managed to marathon and catch up with us! That's so cool. And YES CAN WE NEVER STOP TALKING ABOUT LAST WEEK'S EPISODE?

      If you're ever feeling comfortable just throwing an opinion or thought or question in the comments, everyone there is super nice and smart and they'd be more than willing to chat with you. But if you want to stay at a distance for now, totally understandable too! I'm so glad you're reading through these and are able to talk about another show with us now.

      And thank you so much for the sweet compliment! :) :) :) I'm so happy you've found this place and that you love the reviews. And my name twin/soul sister Jen is the absolute best. She writes so eloquently and passionately about this show and her love of it. You're following good people. ;)

      I WILL ACCEPT ANY CUPCAKES, VIRTUAL OR REAL. Thank you again so much and so glad to see you around again! :)