Performers of the Week: Tituss Burgess and Jane Krakowski (tie)

THE PERFORMERS | Tituss Burgess and Jane Krakowski

THE SHOW | Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

THE EPISODES | “Kimmy Goes to a Play!” and “Kimmy Drives a Car!”

THE PERFORMANCES | You’ve now had a full week to binge Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt‘s second season, so unless you’re actually living in a bunker against your will — in which case, we’re not sure how you’re even reading this — you know that the Netflix comedy is bolder, weirder and funnier than ever.

The credit goes to the entire ensemble — Ellie Kemper’s titular mole-woman remains the series’ heart, while an endless parade of scene-stealing guest stars keep things weird and exciting — but Burgess and Krakowski stand apart as the true stars of Season 2. The more their characters are forced out of their comfort zones, Titus by entering his first (healthy) relationship and Jacqueline by learning to stand on her own two feet, the more the actors prove they can handle heart as well as humor.

Let’s start with Burgess, whose fearless performance throughout Kimmy‘s second season suggests that he now understands Titus even better than Titus understands himself. And while his romantic arc with Mikey is rife with material to discuss (“In the words of Sarah Bareilles…”), we’re going to focus on his oh-so-controversial one-man show, Kimono You Didn’t!: Murasaki’s Journey, in the episode “Kimmy Goes to a Play!” Not only is his facial work — excuse me, “face journey” — during that library scene the stuff of genius, but Burgess somehow inspires us to care about (and dare I say believe in?) Titus’ past lives as a dejected geisha, an openly gay slave and a doe-eyed pug. Plus, we’re total suckers for those golden pipes.

As for Krakowski, watching Jacqueline claw her way back up Manhattan’s social ladder — by any means necessary, internet cats be damned! — is proving far more satisfying than watching her live the good life was last season. And no episode illustrates Ms. White’s new normal quite like “Kimmy Drives a Car!,” in which she’s turned away from her ex-husband’s dental practice after cracking her tooth on a biscotti. From her maddening lisp and inventive use of a Mentos to her flawless delivery of nonsensical lines like “The mouth is the eyes of the lower face,” we get to see Jacqueline at her most manic, before eventually revealing her sensitive side.

And these are just a few examples from an all-around stellar season. Not only do we see more Emmy nominations in Burgess and Krakowski’s futures — both actors were up for awards last year — but we wish their competition the best of luck. They’re going to need it.

BatesHONORABLE MENTION | We’ve marveled before at Vera Farmiga’s gift for playing Norma’s underlying emotions on Bates Motel. But rarely has that talent been better served than in “The Vault.” Though she beamed as Mrs. Romero remarked that marriage to Alex made her feel “like [she was] watching a movie,” she also let us see the bride’s fear that Chick would expose her incestuous past. After Norma realized she could neither kill her blackmailer nor allow him to kill her brother, the actress layered anger over grief, challenging Chick to “break the woman in half,” then confessing to Alex herself. When he stood by her, Norma wasn’t the only one left incredulous. We were, too — by the fact that Farmiga had made us feel as scared, sad and ultimately relieved as her character.

Criminal MindsHONORABLE MENTION | There’s something about Frances Fisher that, no matter the role, you get the sense that the wheels are turning behind those blue eyes. That quality served her well on Criminal Minds, where the incarcerated Antonia Slade made sport of putting the BAU agents ill at ease. TV’s had no shortage of Hannibal Lecter homages over the years, but Fisher nonetheless found a fresh spin, whether erecting a wall of silence in front of Hotch or preying upon the hurt Reid is still nursing in the wake of Derek’s departure. (Already forsaking makeup and rocking a Flowbee ‘do, Fisher jettisoned any small semblance of vanity when she regurgitated lunch into the latter’s palm.) Add it all up and when Antonia warned that a “storm” was coming, you believed her.

unnamed-3HONORABLE MENTION | Game of Silence viewers don’t know exactly what went down years ago at the Quitman warden’s after-hours parties, but as Michael Raymond-James‘ Gil revisits that tragic part of his past, we’re beginning to dread the eventual reveal. In the aptly titled “Hurricane Gil” episode, Raymond-James underscored that his hothead is the most haunted of the three reunited childhood friends, regularly invited as he was to be a “special guest” at said parties. Though he, Jackson and Shawn had gotten a former guard to ‘fess up to past sins, Gil wanted — needed — more, so he went gunning for the warden’s abettor by himself. “I got a bullet that travelled 28 years to get here,” he warned Bobby Lee, whose subsequent confessions resurfaced old, blinding pains, until Gil broke down and lost his upper hand. Tears streaking his face, Raymond-James showed us that behind Gil’s hair-trigger ferocity resides immeasurable hurt.

Which performances knocked your socks off this week? Hit the comments!