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.

RELATED | FX Renews The Americans for Season 3

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.

RELATED | Salem‘s Premiere Ratings: How’d It Do?

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.

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36 Comments
  1. Patrick Maloney says:

    All three performers were at the top of their game and reminds me what a great week ths was for acting

  2. Carlos Alvarez Jr says:

    Matthew Ryhs was amazing Watching the episode I knew he would get performer of the week and Susanna Thompson totally agree. Honorable mention should also have gone to Lea Michele for this weeks amazing episode of Glee. She is truly the star of the show and her performance as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl amazing. Bravo Lea.

    • The Mangina Monolgues says:

      I have such mixed feelings about “The Americans” I loved season one but season two is a bit off for me. I get that Felicity is cold hearted and doesn’t mind killing when necessary and i also get that Matthew Rhys is a little more ambivalent…I find it bizarre that he can go from killing people who are just doing their jobs to threatening a minister for allowing his daughter to go to church and donating $600. That and Felicity’s comments about “they indoctrinate them when they are young” or whatever she said seemed to trivialize their “cause” because it seems so misguided with all of that.

      • MM says:

        The thing with the minister wasn’t really about the minister, though– it was about Phillip feeling like his kids could be in danger because of his job (brought into focus by the death of the other spy family) and him feeling ineffectual at protecting them from his job (because he’s been killing innocent people, and hasn’t been doing so lightly), so he needed to feel powerful by protecting them from someone he could intimidate…. and even that didn’t work.

        Elizabeth’s comment of “they indoctrinate them so young” was verbal irony– she was referring to organized religion, but she isn’t self-aware enough to understand that the statement applies to her cause as well. The audience understands the double-meaning of her words, though.

        I agree that season 1 seemed better in some respects– I think Margot Martindale was a big part of that– but this season has a lot of depth, complexity, and subtlety to it that I really appreciate and enjoy.

  3. Roger says:

    Janet Montgomery has always been producing amazing performances way back to the days of Merlin.

    • dude says:

      Salem was my first time really taking notice of her (Made is Jersey is best forgotten although she was good in even that) but she is remarkable on Salem! What a talent!

  4. 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 — THAT WAS AD-LIBBED?

    • Allison P says:

      Yup, Susanna came up with that line during dress rehearsal. She is a great actor and deserved an honorable mention this week!

  5. Britt says:

    I honestly believed that Philip was going to either burn the church down or kill the pastor and then burn the church down. He creeped me out and I felt soooo bad for Paige. I was glad that he didn’t do it, but he was scaring me. He did a great job this week.

    It was sad to see Moira killed that way, but she sure did pull if off. That was a great scene and an amazing episode. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

    Good Job Matthew and Susanna!!!!!

    • Phillip is a better man than Beeman. The work he has to do takes a considerable toll on his spirit, but while he seethes with resentment on those encroaching upon his family life, the worst he’s ever done in that regard was beat a man up. I find it interesting you would side with the church in the full context of the show, indoctrinating children to the point where Paige doesn’t even respect her parents anymore. $600 is a lot of money today, but in 1981, that was a month’s pay for a lot of people. Why is Phillip the bad guy in this situation, but him murdering innocent people out of ruthless necessity in other situations is okay?

      • Alan says:

        phillip is the bad guy in this situation only because he is a kgb agent working against america in an american made show, if this story had played out with stan the patriotic fbi agent threatening the guy in the church everyone would have hailed him as a hero; its just part of the inherent double standard that exists with americans attitude towards people from other countries.

        • I’m American and I’m firmly on Elizabeth and Philip’s side, but only from a narrative point of view and not an anti-American guerrilla spy terrorism one. What the show illustrates very effectively is the moral grey that BOTH sides are swimming in. Beeman is okay with murdering an innocent man to get revenge against a nation, even if he knows that he is a friend of his lover’s. But the stakes for the Jennings is far greater, as they have two children and they often have to worry about their own people, one of whom even raped Elizabeth. And while the church as depicted in the show seems benevolent enough, all those outside of religion are compelled to push against superstition with a violent history. Especially after the molestation and corruption scandals that have been in the news in the past 30 years.

    • Britt says:

      I never said that him killing the pastor was right or wrong. You brought that up. I just said I was afraid for his life. He looked like he was fighting himself internally and because Philip is a great character it was a scary moment. You turned my comment into something that it wasn’t, so that’s your fault.

      • You said you felt bad for Paige and that Philip creeped you out. You said you were glad he didn’t kill the pastor or burn the church down. All this says is that you misunderstood the emotional conflicts he was feeling that he was awarded one half of the performer of the week for. I never suspected for a second that Philip would go with the nuclear option on something in his real life that wasn’t even a valid threat. I never felt bad for Paige. She lied and she threw away money that was given to her under false pretenses. My mother didn’t give half that amount to our church in a year and that was in the 90s. Some of us have bills to pay.

  6. trainwreck says:

    Matthew is always a pleasure to watch on The Americans! Such conviction to his character and all the roles/spy get ups he pulls through.. and his emotional torment this episode was so on-point!

  7. Dani says:

    Boy, I agree with all three of these. Well deserved!

  8. Kyle says:

    Whenever I replay that line “Close your eyes, baby!” in my head, my stomach drops & I get a sick feeling all over again.

    That is something I will always remember now, amazing ad-lib by Susanna.. Such a friggin heartbreaking episode.

  9. Claire says:

    All of the players in that gut wrenching scene were magnificent! Susanna Thompson will be missed — she was one tough momma bear. Kudos to SA, ST, WH and MB.

  10. ggny says:

    I would have done a triple tie

  11. Jenna says:

    I can’t believe this is the same actress that was in Made in Jersey. She, no doubt, was the best part of the generic procedural, but I’m excited she found something juicier to play. She’s stunning. And Matthew Rhys brings it every week. Happy to see him recognized here.
    I’ve yet to catch up on Arrow; but I might have to skip ahead to watch this last episode. I’ll be sad to see Susanna leave the show; she is a big part of why I like it.

  12. Spoiler Junkie says:

    All the above three deserve this week’s top performers. Matthew Rhys slightly ahead because his performance was Emmy worthy.

  13. webly3 says:

    Triple tie!

  14. DarkDefender says:

    I know you can’t give this mention every week (even though it would be deserving)..

    Tatiana Maslany was pretty stellar in the season 2 opener of Orphan Black. I hate to think she is so good that it is now expected without acknowledging the amazing acting she does each week – just in getting us to forget 5 different people are all played by one person. Never mind the nuances of each characters story… And this week’s subtle, yet believable, Sarah pretending to be Cosima scene.

  15. Daniel says:

    Susanna Thompson really delivered in her final episode!! She will be missed!

  16. GildedRose says:

    So happy to see Arrow’s Susanna Thompson included on this list. She was absolutely brilliant this week. I’ll miss her.

  17. Yackov says:

    Amy Poehler was awesome in the P&R finale.

  18. ChrisGa says:

    Susanna Thompson is an acting goddess and that episode proved it in spades. Shame to see Arrow‘s strongest actor next to Paul Blackthorne taken off the canvas. She will be sorely missed.

  19. Sheila says:

    Will have to take your word on Janet Montgomery. The pilot of Salem was so pointless and stupid that I gave up.

  20. Bobbie says:

    Yes! Rhys was amazing. Nice to see a shout out for The Americans. One of the best shows on TV right now and so under appreciated.

  21. Hello Yellow says:

    Janet Montgomery did a really good job on Salem! I dont know if I should love her or hate her! I see the good and the bad of her character Mary and thats what makes the show interesting for me! Even though Mary is doing these bad things you get a feeling as to why she wants to take the Puritans as well as her husband down! I’ve watched the show and Im rooting for her as well as shaking my head at her antics! I love that!

  22. James says:

    I cant imagine that the writers of The Americans will be turning morally conflicted Phillip over to the CIA etc. not unless Matthew Rhys has had enough of the show which will mean another emphatic “Homeland’ style death finale where Phillip could be fatally confronted by his wife.

  23. TL says:

    Susanna Thompson OWNED that episode. NICELY DONE!!!!

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