Performer of the Week: Peter Sarsgaard
THE PERFORMER | Peter Sarsgaard
THE SHOW | The Killing
THE EPISODE | “Eminent Domain”
THE AIRDATE | June 30, 2013
Through the duration of its third season, The Killing‘s death-row inmate Ray Seward has been an enigmatic presence — capable of shocking violence (we still haven’t recovered from the visual of him bashing the chaplain’s head into the metal cell bars in Episode 1), quiet cunning and even the kind of deep despair that found him using a razor blade to cut away a chest tattoo of his young son’s name. And all along, Peter Sarsgaard has kept us guessing if Seward’s a good guy who got a bum rap for slaughtering his wife (then found his inner monster in the clink), a sinister man who happens to be serving time for the one crime he didn’t commit, or perhaps a little bit of both.
In “Eminent Domain,” Sarsgaard added subtle shading to his portrait of this dead man walking in a trio of brilliantly realized scenes. At the top of the episode, in an unlit and quiet cell block, Seward discovered his fellow inmate Alton was fashioning a noose from torn bedsheets and planning to commit suicide. After ascertaining that his pal really didn’t have much to live for, Seward took on the role of comforting witness, guiding Alton out of this miserable world with dulcet encouragements: “You did good. The hard part’s over. Now just let it go, kid. Nothin’ worth holding on to.” It was the unlikeliest of places and scenarios for Seward’s softer side to shine through, and yet Sarsgaard captured the odd mix of sadness, relief and brotherly affection that made the scene so harrowing (and, yes, eerily beautiful).
Later, as Seward arranged a visit with his inmate father, we got a glimpse of how he grew into a weary adult who was perhaps always destined for a life on the edges of the law. Sarsgaard began the scene with the faintest glimmer of hope — maybe, with only two weeks till his execution, he and his father could connect in some small way — but that quickly gave way to exasperation and regret, as dear old dad refused to take responsibility for abandoning Ray as a child. In fact, the only kindness extended by Seward Senior was a twisted expression of pride that Ray had done his time and kept his mouth shut. (Was that a clue to who killed Ray’s wife?) “Dying in a jumpsuit doesn’t make you a man,” Ray hissed as he walked away, his psyche absorbing one last blow from a father incapable of offering anything better than disappointment.
Finally, Sarsgaard was able to open the valve and release some of Seward’s pent-up rage in a scene where Det. Linden — who’d helped put him away for his wife’s murder — dropped by with the bombshell of all bombshell discoveries: “I know you didn’t kill your wife.” Seward, long past the point of hope, couldn’t begin to see it as a ticket to possible freedom, but rather as the final punch line in some cosmic joke. “You came to this realization, what, three years after the fact? Just 12 days before I hang?” Seward bellowed, his voice dripping with incredulity.
None of Seward’s scenes in “Eminent Domain” solved the mystery of the kind of man he is, but they certainly proved compelling evidence that Sarsgaard is doing some of the best work of his career. And for that, he’s earned his title as Performer of the Week.
HONORABLE MENTION | Continuum‘s Rachel Nichols pulled off the always formidable feat of making the surreal feel all too real, as Kiera’s distress over missing the birthday of a son who wouldn’t even be born for another 56 years triggers her emotional breakdown. Her CRM then activates on on-board therapist who affords her the opportunity to speak to a visualized amalgamated memory of young Sam, whom she reassures, through so many tears, that she did not abandon. “I know that you must think I’m dead. And I want to tell you so badly I’m not,” she said to the cypher. “I would never ever leave you. [My absence] is not your fault.” Then, in the name of moving forward with her 2013 life — and hopefully one day getting back to the future — she “accepts” her loss, telling Sam, “I miss you every day. But I will always be with you. And now I’m going to let you go.
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