Performer of the Week: Hayden Panettiere

panettiereA weekly feature in which we spotlight shining stars

THE PERFORMER | Hayden Paniettiere

THE SHOW | Nashville (ABC)

THE EPISODE | “Dear Brother”

THE AIRDATE | Feb. 27, 2013

RELATED | Exclusive: Nashville Casts a Person of Interest to Catch Deacon’s Eye

THE PERFORMANCE | Playing Juliette Barnes is a tricky proposition. Sharpen her edges too much, and we’ll hate her. Lean too heavily on her sad backstory, and we’ll pity her. Hayden Panettiere gets that, and it’s why she was able to make Juliette’s quiet confession to a near stranger in this week’s episode as believable as any egregiously self-centered moment (pick your favorite!) from her recent past.

Even before Juliette started talking with her mother’s addiction counselor, we’d seen hints that her explosive anger toward Jolene was turning into something more measured. Panettiere previously played Juliette’s rage at her mother’s illness as a jagged, nasty thing. But when Jolene fell off the wagon at Deacon’s party and had to be escorted home, the young actress did a masterfully subtle job of conveying her character’s deep disappointment – at not getting to sing for Deacon, at having to clean up Jolene’s mess again and at never being able to forget that she just can’t rely on her mom.

For her chat with the counselor, Panettiere dropped Juliette’s usual theatrics and instead gave a matter-of-fact recitation of the sad details surrounding her failed ninth birthday party. It was a powerful choice. She stayed dry-eyed and in complete control while admitting that, despite averting a fire back then that would’ve surely killed her drugged-out mom, she wanted her to die. Her reading of “You really think you can help us?,” tinged with both hope and fear, was a thing of desperate beauty. Juliette may be going through a dark time, but it’s making Panettiere shine.

HONORABLE MENTION | Justified‘s Timothy Olyphant, who this week seamlessly navigated his mild-mannered Raylan through a confusing mourning process. Whether fighting back tears (where’d those come from?) or attempting to understand why he’d grieve his long-estranged father, Olyphant’s emotional display was a welcome — and wonderfully executed — change of pace for the typically cool customer.

What performance knocked your socks off this week?