TVLine's Performer of the Week: Woody Harrelson

woody-harrelson-true-detective-performance-who-goes-thereA weekly feature in which we spotlight shining stars

THE PERFORMER | Woody Harrelson

THE SHOW | True Detective

THE EPISODE | “Who Goes There”

THE AIRDATE | Feb. 9, 2014

THE PERFORMANCE |  In the wake of an episode that ends with a nail-biting, completely bananas shootout/hostage situation/nighttime escape — captured with an epic, six-minute tracking shot — we still can’t shake the equally stirring but far quieter work of Woody Harrelson as a deeply flawed husband coming to grips with the sudden but inevitable collapse of his marriage.

RELATED | 2014 Renewal Scorecard: What’s Getting Cancelled? What’s Returning? What’s on the Bubble?

Harrelson’s Det. Martin Hart is a man of enormous contradictions. On the surface — and, a lot of the time, in his own mind — he’s deeply devoted to his wife and two little girls, the shiny veneer of their home life providing a much needed counterbalance to his grim work as a Louisiana homicide detective. And yet, he’s also a self-absorbed southern chauvinist — already outmoded in the show’s 1995 setting — a good ‘ol boy who rationalizes his decisions to spend nights at his mistress’ apartment, and yet explodes in violence when his part-time sexual liaison decides she wants a real boyfriend.

In “Who Goes There,” Hart’s deceptions finally catch up with him. When he comes home to discover his packed bags and a breakup letter from his wife, his fury that his girlfriend Lisa (Alexandra Daddario) has blown his cover quickly morphs into a stunning desperation. As Hart tries to reach his wife — but instead gets his disgusted, dismissive father-in-law at the other end of the receiver — Harrelson, pacing the room like a cornered animal attached to a land line, exposes the incongruous truths of his character. He sputters and cries and pleads for a chance to explain himself, even though we see that, in the pit of his stomach, he knows there aren’t any words to win his family back. At the same time, Harrelson plays Hart as genuinely taken aback, as if he’s lived his life with such a stunning lack of self-awareness that he never recognized that the time bomb of his wife’s growing suspicions and dissatisfaction would eventually implode his entire home life.

That obliviousness — and yes, the entitled air of a man who on some level thinks he has a right to “something wild” on the side — is exposed again in a later scene where Hart drunkenly confronts his wife (Michelle Monaghan) at her place of work. Something in Harrelson’s performance, though, tells us this time, Hart’s doing it more for show. He knows before he even sees Maggie’s look of disgust that it’s over, but he still makes a big scene of getting dragged from the hospital ward where she works. It’s as though he’s telling the world — maybe trying to convince himself — that it’s partially Maggie’s fault, too. The remarkable thing about Harrelson’s sleazily charming performance is there are moments where we almost believe him.

HONORABLE MENTION | In an episode that saw The Fosters dealing with the death of a loved one both in the present and in the past via flashbacks, 20-year-old Australian actress Maia Mitchell was truly impressive in her subtle, emotional performance. Her tough girl Callie is not one to let her guard down, so Mitchell was given the challenge of being restrained and vulnerable at the same time, and she more than delivered on it as she remembered the events surrounding her mother’s passing. As Callie sat on her bed, lost in her memories, the tiniest flicker of pain and sadness flashed in her eyes, giving way to all the feelings brewing underneath the surface. Then, Mitchell delivered a beautiful, tear-filled confession to her foster brother/sorta boyfriend Brandon — as Callie realized what she needed most was a family. It’s official — Mitchell is the real deal.

HONORABLE MENTION | Haters may wanna put The Walking Dead’s Carl over their knees and spank him, but all we wanna do is high-five his portrayer, Chandler Riggs. His performance in “After” was, from top to bottom, rock solid. And, while it may not come as a huge surprise that the 14-year-old could play adolescent rebelliousness (poor Rick!), the acuteness with which he managed to shoehorn his post-apocalyptic alter ego’s sadness and rage into his developing sense of independence was a revelation. (Which, of course, made it all the sadder when Carl feared that the father he swore he could do without actually had died.) Hard as it is to believe, the child actor that we met four years ago is now a (baby-faced) leading man.

Which performances rocked your TV set this week? Sound off below and let us know!