Performer of the Week: Peter Sarsgaard

Peter Sarsgaard The KillingA weekly feature in which we spotlight shining stars

THE PERFORMER | Peter Sarsgaard

THE SHOW | The Killing

THE EPISODE | “Eminent Domain”

THE AIRDATE | June 30, 2013

Through the duration of its third season, The Killing‘s death-row inmate Ray Seward has been an enigmatic presence — capable of shocking violence (we still haven’t recovered from the visual of him bashing the chaplain’s head into the metal cell bars in Episode 1), quiet cunning and even the kind of deep despair that found him using a razor blade to cut away a chest tattoo of his young son’s name. And all along, Peter Sarsgaard has kept us guessing if Seward’s a good guy who got a bum rap for slaughtering his wife (then found his inner monster in the clink), a sinister man who happens to be serving time for the one crime he didn’t commit, or perhaps a little bit of both.

In “Eminent Domain,” Sarsgaard added subtle shading to his portrait of this dead man walking in a trio of brilliantly realized scenes. At the top of the episode, in an unlit and quiet cell block, Seward discovered his fellow inmate Alton was fashioning a noose from torn bedsheets and planning to commit suicide. After ascertaining that his pal really didn’t have much to live for, Seward took on the role of comforting witness, guiding Alton out of this miserable world with dulcet encouragements: “You did good. The hard part’s over. Now just let it go, kid. Nothin’ worth holding on to.” It was the unlikeliest of places and scenarios for Seward’s softer side to shine through, and yet Sarsgaard captured the odd mix of sadness, relief and brotherly affection that made the scene so harrowing (and, yes, eerily beautiful).

Later, as Seward arranged a visit with his inmate father, we got a glimpse of how he grew into a weary adult who was perhaps always destined for a life on the edges of the law. Sarsgaard began the scene with the faintest glimmer of hope — maybe, with only two weeks till his execution, he and his father could connect in some small way — but that quickly gave way to exasperation and regret, as dear old dad refused to take responsibility for abandoning Ray as a child. In fact, the only kindness extended by Seward Senior was a twisted expression of pride that Ray had done his time and kept his mouth shut. (Was that a clue to who killed Ray’s wife?) “Dying in a jumpsuit doesn’t make you a man,” Ray hissed as he walked away, his psyche absorbing one last blow from a father incapable of offering anything better than disappointment.

Finally, Sarsgaard was able to open the valve and release some of Seward’s pent-up rage in a scene where Det. Linden — who’d helped put him away for his wife’s murder — dropped by with the bombshell of all bombshell discoveries: “I know you didn’t kill your wife.” Seward, long past the point of hope, couldn’t begin to see it as a ticket to possible freedom, but rather as the final punch line in some cosmic joke. “You came to this realization, what, three years after the fact? Just 12 days before I hang?” Seward bellowed, his voice dripping with incredulity.

None of Seward’s scenes in “Eminent Domain” solved the mystery of the kind of man he is, but they certainly proved compelling evidence that Sarsgaard is doing some of the best work of his career. And for that, he’s earned his title as Performer of the Week.

HONORABLE MENTION | Continuum‘s Rachel Nichols pulled off the always formidable feat of making the surreal feel all too real, as Kiera’s distress over missing the birthday of a son who wouldn’t even be born for another 56 years triggers her emotional breakdown. Her CRM then activates on on-board therapist who affords her the opportunity to speak to a visualized amalgamated memory of young Sam, whom she reassures, through so many tears, that she did not abandon. “I know that you must think I’m dead. And I want to tell you so badly I’m not,” she said to the cypher. “I would never ever leave you. [My absence] is not your fault.” Then, in the name of moving forward with her 2013 life — and hopefully one day getting back to the future — she “accepts” her loss, telling Sam, “I miss you every day. But I will always be with you. And now I’m going to let you go.

What performance knocked your socks off this week? Sound off below!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Holly says:

    Happy to see Peter Sarsgaard getting some recognition for his performance on The Killing, especially last week’s episode. Could not agree more with this review. The scene of Seward and Alton caught me off guard. Totally unexpected and well acted.

  2. dani n. says:

    Don’t watch The Killing. Peter Saarsgard is a brilliant actor. Maybe I will start watching now

  3. Matilda says:

    What about Jennifer Carpenter in Dexter? She holds the whole show together, that scene in the motel was amazing !

  4. Arnell says:

    This show is great!

  5. Emmy consideration for Peter Sarsgaard?

  6. DarkDefender says:

    My vote goes to Michael C Hall & Jennifer Carpenter… And if thy keep it up, they’ll get my vote every week until Dexters end. Phenomenal work they do and have done for 8 years.

  7. jenferner8 says:

    I have never seen this show before and Saarsgard is why I started. He is so cunning and compelling, eerie and creepy but you can’t not watch him! I have said from the beginning, Seward may be guilty of doing some really bad things but I never got the impression he actually killed his wife but knows more then cops think. The revelation that his son saw something makes me think Seward knows something but is protecting his son. I’m wondering if Seward Sr had a hand in the murder and Ray is paying for it.

  8. Bobbi says:

    I am so glad they brought The Killing back for another season. It isn’t perfect, but it far exceeds last season. Peter Sarsguard is one of the reasons. He’s been outstanding and richly deserves this nod this week.

  9. tr3vors says:

    Liev Schreiber aka Ray Donovan…That introduction of him was amazing…

    Of course don’t forget Jon Voight. Just released from prison father..of Ray…

    Oh yeah Stephen Moyer Bill….that was amazing..what they are doing with him….

  10. David says:

    I almost didn’t watch this season but I kept hearing good things so I decided to tune in. I am so glad I did. It is miles and miles above the first and second season and Saarsgard is part of the reason why.

  11. Tom says:

    I watched Continuum this morning, and actually thought during that scene “She better get mentioned for Performer of the Week.” Nice job guys.

  12. Joey says:

    Peter have been great on The Killing this season. hope he does more tv roles in future

  13. Jacob says:

    Who is he covering for? Is he protecting his son? Or is he that evil? Cant wait 2 find out.

  14. redjane12 says:

    Saarsgard has been incredible through this whole season of The Killing – I love The Killing but it almost feels as if you are watching a different, even better show when he is on screen. His performance makes his character a complete paradox as we know (or believe we know) a lot about him; he’s shown himself as cruel, bitter, violent, tortured, etc. but I am still unsure whether he killed his wife or not and whether he is the biggest psychopath there is or a victim of terrible circumstances or a mix of both.

    Continuum is the best scifi show on right now and Rachel Nichols is totally badass but one with a heart. So happy it has been renewed for a 3rd season!

    • Rae says:

      Watching the TWD marathon all day TODAY inculding THE KILLING 2NITE! GOTTA LOVE AMC SUNDAY! I say seward is INNOCENT………..Sarsgaard is amazing playing him!

    • Mellie says:

      “Continuum is the best scifi show on right now…”

      I’ll let that one go but only because Orphan Black isn’t on right now. :-)

      • redjane12 says:

        Oh… I should have qualified that I have watched/am watching… I’ve heard good things about Orphan Black but didn’t get a chance to check it out yet…

  15. Jessica says:

    He could win again this week!

  16. True tenor says:

    You actually chose a male!