THE PERFORMER | Norman Reedus
THE SHOW | The Walking Dead
THE EPISODE | “This Sorrowful Life”
THE AIRDATE | March 24, 2013
THE PERFORMANCE | People love Daryl for a lotta reasons. He’s hot. He’s cool. He’s a badass. He’s no-BS. But, beneath all of those lies the real reason the that character is so adored: He’s vulnerable. And rarely (if ever) has Reedus as viscerally depicted that quality of his post-apocalyptic counterpart as he did in Merle’s final scene.
We knew that it wasn’t going to end well for Daryl’s beloved brother — the Governor had already shot him, after all. But what we, and certainly Daryl, couldn’t have anticipated was that, instead of Merle’s dead body, what he’d find just outside of Woodbury was Merle’s undead body — feeding on the corpse of young Ben.
As Daryl took in the stomach-churning scene, Reedus’ face crumbled. The redneck gasped for air and tried to choke back sobs. He even pushed Merle away, as if willing his eyes to be deceiving him. But he was only delaying the inevitable. Merle attacked, and Daryl, his heart in his throat, was finally forced to put him down.
As deaths go — especially on this show — it wasn’t the most gruesome one ever. Yet, thanks to the authenticity of Reedus’ performance, it’s likely be one of the most widely remembered.
THE PERFORMER | Michael Cudlitz
THE SHOW | Southland
THE EPISODE | “Heroes”
THE AIRDATE | March 27, 2013
THE PERFORMANCE | On this week’s Southland, Cudlitz showcased his uncanny ability to say everything without saying anything at all. Forced to visit his dying rapist/murderer father in prison, Cudlitz’ stoic cop John Cooper stood silently over the man who had ruined his life. He listened to another round of his dad’s insults, including perhaps the worst one yet: “I used to pray you’d kill yourself, because I’d rather see you dead than have a f—-t for a son.”
Rather than lashing out and betraying his character’s guarded nature, Cudlitz kept his face almost still, but the pain in his eyes was evident. Then with a small, disappointed, resolute nod of the head, he walked over to his father’s side and whispered something into his ear. We never heard the words, but thanks to the actor’s performance, we didn’t need to.
It didn’t end there. In a powerfully emotional scene, Cooper once again listened as his retired training officer Hicks (a superb Gerald McRaney) waxed about his empty life. With sadness, compassion and even a little recognition – this could easily be a glimpse into his own future – on his face, he watched the man he admired for so long crumble before his eyes.
Then, making his words count, Cooper recalled a scary day when he was a young cop. “When I saw you, I knew I was going to be OK,” he said tearfully to his mentor. Slowly, Cudlitz let the walls down, unveiling a vulnerable side to his character that’s hardly ever glimpsed. “You are not going out like this old man. I’m not letting you,” he continued.
And it would be a shame if Southland went out without the consistently impressive Cudlitz getting some recognition, too.
HONORABLE MENTION| New Girl‘s Jake Johnson, who gave us a painful part of Nick’s backstory with his instant shift from loft clown to resigned family head following his father’s death. Every choice Johnson made in the episode – from haranguing Jess into writing a eulogy to grasping her hand in front of the crowd — was done with the weariness of someone who desperately doesn’t want the task he’s been handed but knows no one else will step up.