TVLine's Performer of the Week: Allison Janney

Allison janney Masters of SexA weekly feature in which we spotlight shining stars

THE PERFORMER | Allison Janney

THE SHOW | Masters of Sex

THE EPISODE | “Brave New World”

THE AIRDATE | November 3, 2013

THE PERFORMANCE | When we think of the erstwhile C.J. Cregg, we think strong, right? Formidable. Damn near indomitable. And that right there makes Janney’s performance in “Brave New World” all the more revelatory. As Margaret came to suspect just how much she was missing out on in her annual lovemaking sessions with her secretly gay husband, the actress dropped the practiced poise that her character wears like hairspray to give us a glimpse of the naïve and vulnerable woman who hides just behind it.

Take, for instance, the scene in which Margaret mustered up the courage to approach Virginia about participating in her and Bill’s sex study. Janney – her statuesque frame slouching, as if a part of her wanted to retreat into itself – smiled as she said that insecurity might be the one thing daughter Vivian got from her. It was a throwaway line, but a telling one: Her self-recrimination was so painfully evident that we knew it was no joke. Later, determined as she was to find out if there was more to sex than the nose kisses Barton offered, Margaret still looked away from Bill and Virginia and squirmed as she described intercourse as “you know… not really painful, exactly.”

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Janney made Margaret’s desire to understand… well, desire so palpable that we were as crushed as she was when she learned that, because she had never experienced an orgasm, she was ineligible to enroll in the study. “I’m a fast learner,” she offered. “I taught myself Italian.”

After that, we were crying before the elevator doors closed and Margaret finally crumbled. But at least the episode had a happy ending – literally. A chance encounter with Austin following a showing of Peyton Place led to small talk, then a kiss and then an altogether unexpected tryst in the backseat of Margaret’s car. Janney didn’t come out and yell, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” during its climax, but watching a real master at work, we sure wanted to. Somebody light us a cigarette, and while you’re at it, start polishing her fifth Emmy statuette.

HONORABLE MENTION | With her time-transplanted partner missing, Nicole Beharie‘s Abbie was a woman on a mission in this week’s Sleepy Hollow. The actress’ intensity built as she searched for a way to find – then save — her fellow Witness, but the way she quietly fell apart upon realizing Ichabod planned to commit suicide was what nearly wrecked us. Beharie’s barely contained tears, as well as the desperate way she clutched co-star Tom Mison’s hand, gave us a glimpse of flinty Abbie’s not-often-seen vulnerability. With performances like this one, is it any wonder that Beharie is one of our breakout stars of the new TV season?