Performers of the Week: Masters of Sex's Michael Sheen, The Good Wife's Julianna Margulies

blog_sheen_margulies_10.31.13A weekly feature in which we spotlight shining stars

THE PERFORMER | Michael Sheen

THE SHOW | Masters of Sex

THE EPISODE | “Catherine”

THE AIRDATE | Oct. 27, 2013

THE PERFORMANCE | We could write an entire book about how exquisitely subtle Sheen’s work is in this episode. (If it isn’t the hour that he submits for Emmy consideration, it sure as hell should be.) But instead, let’s focus on The Moment — the one in which he gives us our clearest picture yet of Bill and the one that continues to haunt us even days later.

Bill is in his office — only hours after his wife has lost their baby —trying to strong-arm his right hand, Virginia, into resuming their work that very evening. She, of course, won’t hear of it. Perhaps better than anyone, she sees through the stoic façade that he wears like a suit of armor. So, gently, she tells him what it’s painfully obvious that he would never tell himself: “It wasn’t your fault.”

By now, Sheen is allowing Bill’s mask to be lowered, little by little. It IS his fault, he argues, beating himself with every syllable, because he had mixed feelings about becoming a father. When he begins to really lose it, Virginia takes his hand — a rare moment of actual human contact for Bill, the poster boy for detachment. And that’s when It happens — the capital I “It.”

Sheen captures Bill’s horror at appearing vulnerable and expressing emotion so vividly, so viscerally that we’re crying even before the character allows himself to. “Close your eyes,” he begs Virginia, then closes them for her. He can’t let her bear witness to his sorrow, his regret, his humanity, ultimately. The undignified wails that follow are breathtaking — hands down, the rawest, realest representation of agony you’ll see on television this year.

We get misty just thinking about it.

Bill may not have wanted Virginia to see. And it may have been hard for us to watch. But we’re glad we didn’t turn away. Sheen’s work here is as good as it gets.

RELATED | Showtime Renews Masters of Sex for Season 2

THE PERFORMER: Julianna Margulies

THE SHOW | The Good Wife

THE EPISODE | “Hitting the Fan”

THE AIRDATE | Oct. 27, 2013

THE PERFORMANCE | Last Sunday’s Good Wife marked one of those rare, delightful instances in which the hype leading up to an hour of television is not only matched, but actually exceeded by the breathtaking reality. Indeed, the writing, direction, acting and even the score of the aptly titled “Hitting the Fan” all combined to create one of the best episodes of television in recent memory.

Still, without Margulies’ deft, devastating lead performance, Alicia and Cary’s explosive exit from Lockhart-Gardner wouldn’t have packed the same gasp-inducing punch.

The first 14 minutes alone may have clinched Margulies her second Best Actress in a Drama Emmy (or at a minimum, guaranteed she won’t be the recipient of another head-scratching nomination snub): First, she registered the absolute shock of her boss and erstwhile lover Will Gardner (an insanely good Josh Charles) ragefully revealing he knew of her mutinous plans, sweeping her desk clean and demanding she exit the building. And then, almost imperceptibly, Alicia shifted into icy survival mode, refusing to follow Will’s orders, demanding he follow protocol for dissolving her partnership stake and buying herself (and her cohorts) some time in the process. Alicia’s subsequent flurry of phone calls and conversations to shore up Florrick-Agos’ future — all handled in a way to meticulously fend off future law suits — allowed Margulies to present yet another complex emotional response to the stress of her bridges with Will and Diane being set ablaze, while not yet having yet safely crossed over to her fledgling firm with Cary. By the time Alicia was escorted to the reception area by a pair of stern security guards, where Will scoffed at her explanation that the move wasn’t meant personally, it set the stage for Alicia’s heartbreaking and incredibly real flood of tears as the doors closed and the elevator descended to the lobby.

Margulies’ subsequent scenes through the hour (including a giddy and quite steamy bedroom romp with hubby Peter!) were just as exhilarating, but none moreso than her tense courtroom encounter with her former partners — including the vicious David Lee (Zach Grenier). “That’s right, walk away, Judas!” sneered her rival, after winning an injunction that prevented Alicia and Cary from courting Chum Hum, the multi-million dollar client they needed to make their Florrick-Agos a go. Alicia’s response — furious, incredulous and borderline bloodthirsty — was the kind of scene you’ll want to keep stored on your DVR so you can play it every few days for the next six months: “We’re coming after you — all your clients — every single one we worked to make happy while you swept in at the last minute to take credit. We’re taking them. And then you know what you’ll have? A very nice suite of offices.”

Oh no she didn’t! Oh, yes she did.

RELATED | Good Wife Creators on What’s Next for Alicia and Will

HONORABLE MENTION NO. 1 | Dayton Callie (Sons of Anarchy): Never before has a Sons character so succinctly and so brutally put Katey Sagal’s ruthless biker babe Gemma Teller in her place as Callie’s Wayne Unser did this week. Considering Unser typically acts as the butt of the joke (when he’s not getting his butt kicked), it was immensely gratifying to finally see him on the winning end of an interaction. His goal: to dissuade his longtime friend from retaliating against her daughter-in-law. After his flattery strategy proved fruitless, Unser gave Queen G some long overdue tough love — and Callie nailed every beat of the takedown. Whether or not the message sunk in is immaterial. She needed to hear it. And so did we.

HONORABLE MENTION NO. 2 | Caitlin FitzGerald (Masters of Sex):  Speaking of how spectacularly good the latest Masters of Sex was, we’d be remiss is we didn’t also shine a spotlight on FitzGerald. As Libby fought two battles at once — to accept the loss of the baby she so badly wanted and to get her husband to act like a husband — her portrayer hinted at reserves of strength and even defiance that suggest her character’s evolution is only just about to begin. We’re not only impressed, we’re intrigued.