THE PERFORMER | Christina Hendricks
THE SHOW | Mad Men
THE EPISODE | “Lost Horizon” (May 3)
THE PERFORMANCE | As much as Mad Men‘s seven-season run has been about Don’s identity issues and Peggy’s quest to have it all, it’s also been about Joan’s fight to be taken seriously as a smart, beautiful woman in field full of men, their egos and their wandering hands. So it’s fitting that Christina Hendricks’ crowning episode was one in which she played Joan at both her hell-yeah highs and oh-no lows.
It started when Mrs. Harris, accustomed to the status she’d achieved at Sterling Cooper & Partners, quickly realized that the men of McCann Erickson did not care about her partnership… or her accounts… or much of anything aside from her cup size. Over the course of Sunday’s episode, Hendricks deftly took Joan from biting her tongue when faced with inappropriate overtures (so much conveyed with a swallowed sigh, a raised eyebrow!) to facing off with the big boss in a blistering exchange.
Hendricks funneled Joan’s quiet fury into a flawless, gorgeous performance as the former receptionist threatened her company’s head honcho. By the time Joan was threatening lawsuits and evoking public demonstrations, Hendricks had squared her shoulders and was addressing her scene partner as if he were a clumsy busboy at the local diner. The actress’ sharp, don’t-eff-with-me was a thing to behold.
Just minutes later, Hendricks showed her wide range by playing Joan as utterly gutted by Roger’s insistence that she accept an insulting buy-out offer. Hendricks walked out of the office, eyes full of disappointed tears, her body language telegraphing her character’s frustration with every step. The hour ended on an ignoble note for the SC&P partner… and a glorious one for the very talented Hendricks.
HONORABLE MENTION | We knew from the moment we heard that Lucy Lawless was joining Salem that we were in for a treat. The natural born badass was just so, so right to play the Countess Marburg — the one witch wicked enough to make even alpha female Mary Sibley nervous — that we were left giddy by the prospect of their inevitable showdowns. And when at last the first of them took place in this week’s episode, “The Wine Dark Sea,” the erstwhile Xena, Warrior Princess, didn’t just meet our expectations — high as they were — she exceeded them, milking every venomous line for all it was worth. Take this gem, for instance: “You can put a crown on a sow’s head, it doesn’t make it a queen.” Hurled by a lesser actress, the insult might have come off campy and cheap; but, as delivered by Lawless, it came off campy and sublime. Color us enthralled.
HONORABLE MENTION | Homophobia is no laughing matter. Which makes it all the more impressive that black-ish‘s Jenifer Lewis proved downright uproarious this week as her willfully old-fashioned matriarch Ruby faced the truth about her daughter Rhonda (Raven-Symone) and “mechanic roommate” Sharon. Lewis delivered church-lady ferocity throughout the episode (in flashback, she slapped a banana out of her young son’s hand like it had been grown in Sodom and Gomorrah, then hissed “Not in my house!”). But the actress shone most hilariously after son Dre (Anthony Anderson) outed his sis over brunch. “Not gay! Not gay! No, no, baby, no! Black Jesus! Black Jesus, help me!” Lewis howled in a gay panic so over-the-top, it was hard to take any serious offense. And anyway, perhaps Black Jesus did intervene: By episode’s end, Lewis allowed us to see Ruby soften — just enough to score herself an invite to Rhonda and Sharon’s nuptials and remind so many of us of our own stubborn relatives who kicked and screamed a little on their way to new attitudes.
HONORABLE MENTION | Death scenes are easy fodder for emotional performances, but Person of Interest‘s final Season 4 minutes managed to make us feel for not even an inanimate object but a string of computer code floating out there in the ether. Having been chased into a “corner,” The Machine sensed that her own number was up. So, with what may have been her final flickers (and as Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine” underscored the sorrowful mood), She bid goodbye to her “FATHER,” Harold, adding that She was sorry for failing him. “If you think that I have lost my way,” the AI offered, “maybe I should die.” Finch — played by Michael Emerson, the best scene partner a series of 1s and 0s could have – was determined to avert the sacrifice, but The Machine was ready to log off, for good, tendering a final heart-tugging, “Thank you… for creating me.” Just as POI fans surely thank the innovative drama for creating such an unusual, powerful kinship.
Which performances knocked your socks off this week? Hit the comments!