TVLine's Performers of the Week: The Americans' Matthew Rhys and Salem's Janet Montgomery

unnamed-1A weekly feature in which we spotlight shining stars

THE PERFORMER | Matthew Rhys

THE SHOW | The Americans

THE EPISODE | “Martial Eagle”

THE AIRDATE | April 23, 2014

THE PERFORMANCE | We’re accustomed to seeing Rhys, in the course of playing the FX drama’s Russian spy Phillip Jennings, blunt his wife’s sharp edges. She’s the more ruthless of the pair, the less enamored of American culture, the more likely to explode with tamped-down rage. So this week, when the normally affable Phillip was faced with a lot of violence against innocent bystanders, Rhys had the opportunity to show us how Phillip handled an insane amount of stress. His slow-motion breakdown was a revelation.

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From furiously ripping out the pages of Paige’s Bible to staring bleakly into the surf at the beach, Rhys telegraphed Phillip’s feelings of ineffectiveness and despair. So many people had died, his body language said, and for what? His performance culminated at the church, with the actor so vibrating with Phillip’s anger and ineffectiveness that the pastor couldn’t help but mention it. And when Phillip asked whether the reverend really believed everyone was worthy of grace and forgiveness, the look of longing on Rhys’ face at the affirmative answer seemed like it surprised even the hardened spy. All in all, the masterful performance made us feel for – and maybe even fear for? – this spy left out in the cold.

THE PERFORMER | Janet Montgomery

THE SHOW | Salem

THE EPISODE | “The Vow”

THE AIRDATE | April 20, 2014

THE PERFORMANCE | Even if Montgomery weren’t playing a sorceress, “bewitching” would still be the first adjective her performance called to mind. From her first scene (in which Mary had to hide both her disgust at the torture of a “fornicator” and her own lust for lover John) to her last (in which the enchantress coldly outlined the plan to turn the Puritans against one another), she cast a spell that won’t soon be broken.

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Yet those moments only hint at the delectable subtleties of the Made in Jersey alumna’s craft. In between them, she shed a shimmering light on her 17th century counterpart’s inner conflict. How can Mary be both the town’s most powerful and merciless practitioner of black magic (she keeps her wicked husband quiet by lodging a toad in his throat!) and still, underneath, the sweet, sensitive innocent she was before John was presumed dead in the war (and as besotted as ever)? Montgomery’s answer: exquisitely painfully.

Where the series will take the actress and her character next is anyone’s guess. (On a show with bleeding trees, not even the sky’s the limit.) But Montgomery’s dazzling work in the premiere certainly bodes well for this season of the witch.

ArrowHONORABLE MENTION | The CW’s Arrow shot us through the heart this week, due in great part to Susanna Thompson‘s work in what would be her final episode. Throughout the hour, the TV vet showed us many sides of Moira Queen, including the protective mama bear ready with hush money and the mayoral candidate anxious to erase past sins by saving her city’s future. But two scenes stood out. First, a huge moment that sneaked up on us, as Moira said to Oliver about his his crime-fighting secret, “I know… [and] I could not be more proud of you” — a deeply touching declaration. But before we had a moment to ponder a show where Moira’s part of Team Arrow, there was the sadistic showdown with Slade Wilson, who demanded that Oliver choose between his mother’s life or his sister’s. As a self-sacrificing Moira rose to her feet and noted, “There’s only one way this night can end, and we both know that, don’t we, Mr. Wilson? Both my children will live,” Thompson’s expression changed from harrowed to one of steely resolve. Her ad-libbed line — “Close your eyes, baby!” — readied both Thea, and us, for the worst, which arrived seconds later, as Slade drove a sword through the courageous matriarch. During her too-short reign as a Queen, Thompson indeed ruled.