Sunday, May 17, 2015

Series: This Week's TV MVPs - Week 13

We have a full house this week for the series, as the majority of our favorite television shows rocked us with their spring finales and many others aired emotional, compelling episodes. As we head into summer -- that vast desert where a few cable shows premiere (holla, Suits, Hannibal, and Pretty Little Liars fans) and all of our primetime shows leave us for months -- we were all impressed this week with our television series and the actors who delivered some really stunning, great performances. After thirteen weeks of this (can you believe we've done THIRTEEN of these already?), you guys know the drill already. So without further adieu, my team this week consists of:

  • BFF, partner-in-crime, and the Leslie to my Ann: Jaime Poland
  • Lovely human being and one of our newest writers, Alice Walker
  • Actual beautiful tropical fish and talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox, Ann!
  • Human ray of sunshine, reviewer extraordinaire, and one of my favorite people: Jen!

Jenn's MVP: Jennifer Morrison as Emma Swan (Once Upon A Time)

Why she's the MVP: Jennifer Morrison has done amazing things in this season of Once Upon A Time with the character of Emma Swan. She has an amazing knack for portraying a character as stoic and emotionally distant but also believable. Emma Swan has so many walls built up around her heart that -- at one point -- they were nearly impossible to break through. This season, Jennifer has shone as Emma slowly allowed herself not just to love and to be loved, but to let others help her. Emma is such a complex character. She's a woman who is strong and fierce but who is also extremely emotional and scared and vulnerable, underneath it all. She's someone who fights for the happy endings of others but often doesn't believe that her own is worth fighting for. The season four finale, "Operation Mongoose," saw Emma and everyone else in Storybrooke banished into The Author's new book, "Heroes and Villains." There, Emma retained the knowledge of who Henry was and who everyone else was, though they -- apparently -- did not. That meant that Emma re-met Hook and Regina, as well as the Evil Queen (Snow) and her henchman (Charming).

When Hook dies in the alternate universe, Emma breaks, even though she knows that the events unfolding aren't actually real. When she confronts Regina about stopping Robin Hood's wedding so that the world of the storybook can be righted once more with heroes and villains in their proper places, Regina scoffs at the notion. It is then that we see Emma Swan at her most vulnerable and honest. She tells Regina that she watched the man she loved die and she never had the courage to tell him that she loved him. She couldn't, because then it would make it all real, and if it was real, it could have the potential to end in heartbreak. Jennifer Morrison beautifully lets one tear slip down her cheek as she confesses to and pleads with Regina to not make the same mistake that she did.

Isn't this such a beautiful moment? Emma has lost so much in her life and she's been alone for so long that she believes it to be the only truth in her life. And then, Hook comes along and changes all of that. Jennifer Morrison's portrayal of Emma in this moment was so gut-wrenching and lovely because it allowed us to see Emma's soul: it allowed us to ruminate in her heartache and it allowed us a sense of clarity -- though she never said the words aloud, she DID love Hook. Before Emma becomes The Dark One, she says goodbye to Hook in Storybrooke and finally -- FINALLY -- tells him the three words that have been stirring in her chest: "I love you." Again: Jennifer does such a wonderful job at making this moment honest and heartbreaking and so painful, in the best and most tangible way, for us as viewers. The moments in "Operation Mongoose" allowed us to feel, so clearly, every bit of Emma's emotional journey and that's thanks to Jennifer Morrison's fantastic work.

Jenn's (other) MVP: Megan Boone as Elizabeth Keen (The Blacklist)

Why she's the MVP: This was an extremely dark year for Elizabeth Keen as the sophomore season of The Blacklist found her unraveling due to her recent discovery that her husband was a liar and a killer, hired to marry her. Liz began to grow closer to secrets -- she kept things from those closest to her, including Red and Ressler, and because of that, she ended in a really bad place by the time "Masha Rostova" drew to a conclusion. Liz ends up killing Tom Connolly, shooting him point-blank because he and the Cabal ruined her life and threatened the lives of the people she holds closest to her in the world. Cooper's attempt to talk her down from this -- to tell her that they could fight it if she would believe that there was another way to do so -- was telling, as he reiterated something he had told her earlier in the season. Cooper confessed that he barely recognized Liz anymore, and it's true: the woman we meet in the pilot episode of the NBC series is so vastly different from the woman who ends it on the run, two years later. And Megan Boone has done a fantastic job with this transition and development.

Her scenes in "Masha Rostova" were emotional and moving, especially once she realizes exactly what memories Red blocked and the reason why he did. Elizabeth Keen cycles through every emotion possible in this episode -- anger, desire, fear, guilt, despair -- and Megan Boone navigates each of these believably, precisely, and with grace. Watching Liz spiral has been such an interesting process and Megan has stepped up her game this season by latching onto those emotional developments and understanding not just the emotion that Liz is feeling but more importantly WHY she is feeling it. The season finale was a culmination of all of these developments -- of Liz finally succumbing to a darkness which she will have a very difficult time ever escaping from -- and Megan Boone played this transition so well. It broke my heart to watch Liz suffer under the burden of guilt she felt in this episode and Megan deserves credit for making all of those emotions palpable.

Jaime's MVP: Brett Dier as Michael Cordero (Jane the Virgin)

Why he's the MVP: Throughout Jane the Virgin’s spectacular first season, I have been very publicly and enthusiastically Team Rafael.  I never had anything against Michael – I totally bought his love for Jane, and appreciated his constant wave of support for her, even after they broke up.  But over the last couple episodes, something happened.  I found myself liking Michael more and more – not just on his own, but as a partner for Jane.  I found myself confused and scared, thinking, “Maybe he’s the right guy for her after all.”

Because where Rafael is the exciting, passionate choice, the one who represents Jane’s fiery nature and need for excitement, Michael is the smart choice.  If Rafael is Jane’s potential writing career, Michael is Jane’s potential teaching career.  Michael is a good man, devoted to Jane’s happiness, and knows her better than anyone.

But Michael isn’t a security blanket.  It was easy to see Michael and Rafael as total opposites, who represented two vastly different paths for Jane, but in this week’s finale, Michael made it clear to Jane that he wasn’t there as her safe choice.  Brett Dier has always perfectly expressed Michael’s vulnerability and openness around Jane, but Michael finally coming clean and telling Jane about how he felt about their ongoing love triangle was the most I’ve ever sympathized with this character.  Because the thing is, he doesn’t want Jane to be with him because of what he can offer her, or even because he’s better than Rafael.  He wants Jane to be with him because of who he is.  Because she loves him.  Because it’s what she truly wants.  One of my favorite things about this show, and especially this central love triangle, is how both men are willing to step back and let Jane make her own choices.  Both Rafael and Michael have lives of their own, and stakes in their relationship with Jane – but they don’t make it about them.  They make it about Jane.  Part of Rafael’s arc in the last few episodes involved him struggling to find himself in his relationship with Jane, and finally it was Michael’s turn to do the same.  And when he got the opportunity to make his voice heard, he didn’t berate Jane for breaking up with him, or question any of the choices she’s made since she got pregnant.  All he did was ask her to respect him enough to see him as more than just a fallback.  To acknowledge his worth, and everything he has to offer.

Jaime's (other) MVP: Gina Rodriguez as Jane Villanueva (Jane the Virgin)

Why she's the MVP: It’s not really news at this point to say that Gina Rodriguez is amazing and talented and the breakout star of this television season, so I’m going to skip the usual introduction into why her performance was notable enough to make her one of my MVPs this week.  I’m going to jump right to the part where I talk about Jane the Virgin and how the heart of the show is family.  Sure, it’s had some crazy mysteries with some larger-than-life twists along the way, but the season-long arc wasn’t Jane dealing with her feelings for Michael and Rafael, or watching the police catch up to Sin Rostro’s schemes.  The thing we’ve been watching for, the storyline that began in the pilot that creates the bedrock of the show, is Jane’s relationship with her unborn child.  And when Jane gave birth in the season finale and finally met her child (Mateo Gloriano Rogelio Solano Villanueva), it was the culmination of a months-long journey.  But more importantly, it was the beginning of something huge.

In a rather brilliant move, it seemed like Jane’s storyline in the finale was simply her waiting to meet her baby.  With Xo and Rogelio going off to Vegas, and Rafael potentially having to leave on a work trip, Jane was just at home, killing time until she went into labor.  And then she went into labor.  And it took hours.  And for all the pain Jane was in, for as impatient as she felt, it was undeniable how happy she was.  All of that came from Rodriguez, who brilliantly portrayed all the stress Jane had been dealing with, plus her panic about going into labor, with her excitement and love.  We didn’t get to see much of Jane as a mother, but I have no doubt that Gina Rodriguez will go down in history as one of the best TV mothers ever.

Alice's MVP: Ian Somerholder as Damon Salvatore (The Vampire Diaries)

Why he's the MVP: The Vampire Diaries is a show where a lot happens, all of the time. There are new plot twists almost every episode and there is no shortage of drama. Death, rebirth, family emergencies, supernatural catastrophes... needless to say, this series covers a lot of ground. Even by TVD standards, this week was a big week for them.  Their season six finale was the swan song of Elena Gilbert -- her final goodbye, as Nina Dobrev leaves the show before its series end. In theory, this post should be about Nina. Her episode was emotional; she ran the gamut of emotions from conflicted to elated, from lost to at peace. It should be about her... but it’s not. It’s not because one person picked up this episode and ran away with it, stealing all of the scenes and making me feel all of the feelings. As great as Dobrev was, it was Ian Somerhalder who kept me glued to the screen. 

Look, Damon has always been a favorite of mine and anyone who has seen the show knows why. He’s funny and sarcastic, the ultimate winner in the “bad boy reformed by love” trope. Oh, and he’s hot as hell, let’s not forget that one. But the reason he is this week's MVP can be summed up in one scene. Bonnie (his bestie) has been magically connected to his one true love Elena, so that Elena will stay in a sleeping beauty-like dream state until Bonnie dies (I told you, TVD has got plot twists for days). Which, in this case could happen at any moment as she is seriously injured with Kai (the ultimate bad guy and spell caster) looming over her. Damon realizes that he can do two things: heal Bonnie and lose Elena for the next 60 years or so…. or let Bonnie bleed out on her own and get Elena back. He stares at Bonnie for a moment, the conflict and self-loathing so clear in his eyes. Then, he slowly walks away. Damon was cold and detached so I completely believed he would save Elena by killing Bonnie. Heck, I even understood why he would do it. So, a moment later when Damon murders Kai and rushes to save Bonnie in the ultimate fake out, I was legitimately surprised. But I believed Damon's actions in this circumstance, too. Ian Somerhalder switches back and forth from villain to hero in a matter of moments and all of the transitions feel real -- all of his development earned.  He plays every layer of Damon with an honest vulnerability you can’t look away from. 

The rest of the episode was every bit as good. Damon said his final goodbye to Elena and you could see the agony on his face, the next few decades laid out in front of him in a long, dull death march. You could feel his confusion as he accepted what Elena wanted him to do. It was all there: the heartbreak, the love, the humanity of it all. So while Elena was the one saying goodbye, it was Damon's reaction that wrangled every bit of emotional depth out of the scene. It was tragic and sweet and kind of the perfect ending to their story.

Ann's MVP: Anna Chlumsky as Amy Brookheimer (VEEP)

Why she's the MVP: I'm surprised I didn't start loving VEEP sooner. It appeals to all of my TV-watching sensibilities: the seasons are short, I don't have to go on Hulu, there is ample profanity, and the humor to go with that profanity is biting and sharp. But at the heart of every TV show I look most at the characters; there are so few plots that I enjoy that eclipse in importance the characters who move the action forward and interact together, and I find that this is extremely true of VEEP. This is a political show that doesn't designate parties, because what drives the story isn't on-the-nose political commentary but on-the-nose commentary on human nature or, more specifically, the depravity, the helplessness, the fickleness of human nature. The all-star cast that helps to paint that picture works incredibly as a unit, all crumbling under the weight of their own incompetence, ambition, or some mix of the two. As a result, to choose one actor or actress from VEEP is difficult, because it understates the absolute joy it is to watch all of these people on screen together.

But, as this season especially has proven, that definition isn't always enough. My bad. Because while VEEP is about asking the question of "how far will you go?" it also asks, "How far are you willing to go?" What is the moral limit? Do these foul-mouthed people have a beating heart? What defines them?

If I hadn't been drowning in finals (or for this past week, naps), I would have devoted each of my weekly MVPs to different veeple, because each episode has proven that the answer for each person is specific. It's interesting to try to pin down someone like Julia Louis-Dreyfus's Selina Meyer, for instance. She is so talented at presenting herself to the public, and her focus is so myopic, that the little moments which show her actual political ideals are fascinating. They make you realize that these very prickly characters have dreams, and that makes this show have more depth than its bleep-bleeps suggest.

I had to call out Anna Chlumsky for her work in this week's VEEP. If you haven't watched this season of VEEP, the moment that defines this episode -- Chlumsky's Amy Brookheimer finally confronting her boss, the president, on all of the things she's screwed up -- is a long time coming. Amy has been chewing the scenery with her facial expressions since the season premiere, and with the inclusion of yes-man Karen, she finally hits her limit, ranting at Karen and then directing her ire to Selina:

I have bitten my tongue for so long it looks like a dog's cushion. But no more! You have made it impossible to do this job. You have two settings: no decision and bad decision. I wouldn't let you run the bath without having the coast guard and the fire department standing by but yet here you are running America. You are the worst thing that has happened to this country since food in buckets. And maybe slavery. I've had enough. I'm gone. … You have achieved nothing, apart from one thing. The fact that you are a woman means that we will have no more woman presidents, because we tried one and she f-ing sucked!

Did you know the reason that Will Smith doesn't swear in his rap songs is that his grandmother wrote him a note that said, "Dear Williard, intelligent people do not use these words to express themselves"? Swear words are fun and I particularly love them, but very often they are used in television or movies to detract from a lack of any real characterization or stakes. Put in a swear word where you really want to put in an argument, because then at least the nonsense sounds adult.

Amy begins her rant swearing; the beginning of the rant, directed at a character we've known for only a few episodes, is primarily meant to be funny, and the creative swearing suits its purpose as a source of humor. But when she turns towards Selina for the remainder of her rant, she only swears once as the conclusion to a long monologue that indicates her exhaustion and deep disappointment in all the president has failed to accomplish.

It's brilliant of VEEP to write this way, because it demonstrates a talent for what many comedies should hope to copy: the ability to tell a joke without sacrificing the character. Comedy and drama can coexist--as they do in our real lives--and the fact that they do makes the dramatic moments hit extra, as Amy's does here.

What makes this speech stellar to me (including the colorful beginning) and what makes Anna my MVP for the week is that it makes Amy real by defining her limit. At first this limit is broadly drawn with comedic strokes, but the fine line of Amy's reasoning is heartbreaking and reveals her true self. She has reason for working with Selina other than political ambition; she wants to see women succeed, and Selina's inability to do so is meant to be taken seriously. Through Anna's brilliant delivery of this scene (not to mention the scenes preceding it) we are so easily able to identify Amy's humanity and actually relate it to ourselves. It's impactful, which is why Selina soon fires Karen. It's also the reason why it has stuck with me, and why Anna is my TV MVP.

Jen's MVP(s): Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen and Emily Bett Rickards as Felicity Smoak (Arrow)

Why they're the MVPs: For my MVP pick, I've decided to choose someone totally different. Someone I've never chosen before. I'm embracing the new. This is me. Forging ahead into change.



My MVPs are Stephen Amell and Emily Bett Rickards. Why mess with perfection?

It's also impossible to choose one over the other this week, so rather than send myself into a Meryl Streep "Sophie's Choice" spiral... I'm choosing both. There are simply times when two performances work in tandem with one another so cohesively that it's impossible to separate the two. Amell and Rickard's performances stand solidly on their own and are season-defining, if not career-defining, moments. However, as a combined element, their performances rise to immeasurable heights.

Emily gets the ball rolling after Oliver returns to the Arrow Cave 2.0 (aka Palmer Tech) to inform Team Arrow he needs their help, because his brilliant plan to stop Ra's Al Ghul failed. What was that brilliant plan? Sabotaging Ra's Al Ghul's plane and then riding down with it in a blaze of fatal glory. For those keeping score, this is about the fifth time Oliver has willingly walked into death. Felicity showed great restraint by not hitting Oliver over the head with a frying pan.

"So that was your big plan? Sacrificing yourself to take out Ra's?"

Instead, Rickards balances Felicity's understandable rage with overwhelming heartbreak. Is Felicity angry at Oliver for planning to die yet again? Or is she simply heartbroken that she would have missed the chance to forgive Oliver, to love him? Both emotions are battling for superiority and Rickards makes it impossible to tell which Felicity is feeling most. However, by intermixing the two emotions elegantly and intricately, she conveys that Felicity's overpowering emotion whenever it comes to Oliver Queen is love. It's reminiscent of Katherine Heigl's "What about me?" speech that Izzie gave to Denny in Season 2 of Grey's Anatomy. Emily's subtlety makes the moment equally as powerful to me. Rickards actually takes a step back away from Amell, which is always Felicity's signal to Oliver that he's pushed her too far. Felicity keeps her back turned while Diggle tells Oliver "I'm sorry" simply isn't enough. Stephen makes an interesting choice during the performance. Nearly the entire time Diggle is speaking to him, Oliver's eyes are on Felicity. Diggle made it clear their relationship isn't repairable, something Oliver acknowledges with a slight nod. But Felicity? Amell's laser focus on her, his eyes conveying the depth of his concern, anxiousness, guilt and longing, reveal that a broken relationship with Felicity is one Oliver cannot accept. He must fix it.

Oliver is patient and allows Felicity some time to cool off, a lesson he probably learned after the "I don't want to be a woman you love" speech. I can't blame the guy. Who would want another round of that? Yeesh. Cool down was a wise choice. Well-played Oliver. Felicity brings Oliver a cup of coffee. For the faithful Arrow watchers, we know coffee is Felicity's olive branch to Oliver. Felicity maturely acknowledges that she is not alone in pain and that Oliver is probably dealing with a hefty dose himself. Rickards' reading of "So your plan to take out Ra's by dying... we should talk about that" was hilariously spot-on. It was firm, exasperated and irritated, but also gentle and patient. Felicity Smoak understands that being in a functional relationship is something Oliver is completely unfamiliar with. Meaning, he's going to need a lot of training.

Oliver acknowledges a "talk" is in order. He makes good on his desire to tell Felicity how sorry he is. Amell launches into a beautiful monologue about a recurring nightmare Oliver has. It's one fans have seen play out on screen. Felicity begs Oliver to stay, he listens, tells Felicity how much he loves her and kisses her. Then... ends up with Ra's sword in his chest. But the story takes a shift and Oliver begins to relay a happier ending to the dream. One in which he and Felicity escape. "And we're just driving." Stephen's reading of that line was heartbreaking perfection. It was wistfully hopeful, but Amell allowed his voice to crack ever so slightly to show how the mere idea of a happy life with Felicity is overwhelming to Oliver. With tears shining in his eyes, a sweet smile on his lips and an adoring gaze fixed on Rickards, Stephen subtle conveys everything the audience already knows. A life with Felicity is the only happy ending Oliver can conceive of. He simply doesn't believe he can have it.

It launches Emily Bett Rickards into her career-defining speech.

"Oliver Queen can't. The Arrow can't. Both those men tried and both those men failed. You remember what you said to me during that night in Nanda Parbat? You're no longer either of those men. You've become... someone else. Become something else. This... is different now. Because despite your best efforts, you've allowed yourself to feel something. I know you think that's a weakness, it's not. It's your key to beating Ra's. Don't fight to die. Fight to live."

Hopeful, gentle, determined, loving, wise. This speech encompassed everything Felicity Smoak is and why Oliver loves her so much. There's only one person who can ask Oliver Queen to change the survival tactic he's relied on for eight years. With a hand on his heart, tears in her eyes, a earnest pleading in her voice, Felicity does just that. Emily plays the scene quietly and with the depth of emotion it requires, while avoiding being overly dramatic. Her voice is firm, but not heavy. Resolute, but not defeated. She speaks almost in a whisper creating an intimacy between the two characters. It's not a desperate plea, but a hopeful one. Spoken by a woman who knows the man she loves better than he knows himself.

Emily had the heavy lifting in the scene, but Stephen's reaction was equally important. There's something about the way Stephen Amell looks at Emily Bett Rickards. Stephen's talent always resides in his "looks" and the man has perfected the "Felicity Smoak" look. It's a dreamy sweetness interlaced with a dazed hopefulness. Oliver gives his trademark head shake and sigh, clearly overwhelmed with Felicity's plea to live for her... for them. Over the course of eight years, Oliver learned to survive death, but lost the ability to live. It was like Felicity stripped Oliver of all that pain in two minutes. Stephen shifts Oliver's entire reason for fighting, for existing, with one little nod of his head.

So, when Oliver asks Felicity to run away with him, it is Emily's turn to answer in loving silence. As equally as important as it was for Oliver to say "I want to be with you," it was equally as important for Felicity to answer in happy silence. The answer was always yes -- Oliver simply needed to ask the question.

The entire episode was like watching a never-ending tennis match. A perfect volley between two partners who had no interest in beating each other, but simply wanted the game to last as long as possible. Stephen and Emily's chemistry is so natural and elevates each to their very best, thus elevating Oliver and Felicity to their very best. Which is why any separation between the two characters feels unnatural. Each character is a hero in their own right. Each actor is a talent in their own right. Yet, the combination of Oliver and Felicity and Amell and Rickard's charts unforeseen and unimaginable levels of emotion and depth. They are simply the heart and soul of Arrow.

There you have it, friends! As we drive off into the sunset together, contemplate your TV MVPs this week and let us know below (or on Twitter) who made the cut! Until then, folks. :)


  1. Alice, you were SO right! Ian Somerhalder walked away with the episode. But that scene with Bonnie. I didn't believe it one second that he would leave her to die. He's come too far along the road to choose that now. So, when he said sorry and left Bonnie with resolution on his face, I didn't believe it. A million things were buzzing in my head of course. What's his next move? what was he going to do? why did he leave her? And then he vamped up to Kai and tore his head off. I sighed a breath of relief. But Ian killed it in the last dance scene with Elena. And Alice, don't consider it as the perfect end to their story. It's just a pause, a very long pause in their story. Elena will come for him in the series finale. Maybe even then, their story does not end for me. They will live forever in my heart. #delena4ever

  2. "Felicity Smoak understands that being in a functional relationship is something Oliver is completely unfamiliar with. Meaning, he's going to need a lot of training." --

    Jen - this totally reminds me of that Friends episode where Chandler screws something up with Monica and then automatically assumes she's going to break up with him because of it. Monica has to patiently tell him that's what grown ups do, they fight, work things out, make up... so to borrow a phrase from Monica: "Welcome to an adult relationship, Oliver!"