THE PERFORMER | Jeannie Berlin
THE SHOW | The Night Of
THE EPISODE | “Ordinary Death” (August 21)
THE PERFORMANCE | The Emmy for outstanding choreography is usually reserved for reality-competition series like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With the Stars. But you’ll see no finer tango on TV this year than Jeannie Berlin’s courtoom cross-examination in Sunday’s episode of The Night Of.
Using the subtlest of gestures, inflections and pauses, Berlin put on a riveting show as her veteran D.A. Helen Weiss undermined the defense’s expert witness Dr. Katz (Chip Zien) with a lethal combination of humor and cynicism, seductiveness and steel.
Berlin started the scene with an almost flirtatious air, as Helen approached her opponent and made sure the jury knew his reputation as a “famous” pathologist, one who’d even testified on behalf of O.J. Simpson. (Berlin’s world-weary New Yorker cadence elevated the scene’s most guffaw-inducing moment, as Helen waved off the defense’s objection to the O.J. detail with a wry, “To what? It’s a compliment!”)
Next, Helen baited Katz with a question about the New York City medical examiner whose testimony directly contradicted his own interpretation of the evidence. When Katz dismissed his rival as less-than-competent, Berlin slipped on her glasses and barely suppressed a grin as Helen read an old speech of Katz’s lauding her colleague for his “wisdom and scientific exactitude.”
“So what were you really thinking up there in front of all those people,” Helen wondered, as Berlin drew a brutal parallel by gesturing to the jury, “saying things you didn’t believe to be true in such a convincing manner?” As Katz drew laughs from the gallery by noting, “Honestly, dessert,” Berlin kept Helen’s face deadly serious, her moment of silence raising questions about the expert-for-hire’s trustworthiness.
Remarkably, as Helen continued to lean in close, share anecdotes from her own marriage, and brush off compliments from Katz, she maintained an impressive control of the conversation, dismantling Katz’s theories about a possible missing knife in the process. Finally, when Katz suggested that the victim’s drug use might have made her inclined to have sex (instead of heading to the E.R.) after having a knife plunged into her hand, Berlin’s face registered her character’s momentary disgust, before she abruptly ended the exchange with a dismissive, “OK, thank you Dr. Katz. It really has been a pleasure meeting you.” No, Ms. Berlin, the pleasure was all ours.
HONORABLE MENTION | Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Even though Alex Cole — spoiler alert! — didn’t lose his father until the end of Tuesday’s Casual season finale, Tommy Dewey spent the half-hour taking his character (and us) through the five stages of grief. Though Dewey has always excelled at portraying the bachelor’s guarded, unemotional side, he moved us most when Alex finally confronted his dad for raising him in a home without sentimentality. “I am lonely. I am lonely and sad,” Alex revealed to Charles, and Dewey infused those eight simple words with heartbreaking gravity. Later in the episode, Alex would return to his reserved self, even as he prepared to euthanize his own parent. Dewey’s portrayal of a man coming to terms with his estranged father’s death remains one of our favorite things about Casual‘s sophomore run.
HONORABLE MENTION | Where do we sign up to get Sherri Saum to adopt us? In Monday’s The Fosters, Saum’s Lena shared a heartfelt confession with Mariana about the moment when the “sweet, sweet little girl” came into her life. In an effort to reassure her adopted daughter how much she wanted her, Lena recounted the first time she comforted Mariana after a nightmare. “I held you, and my heart broke wide open,” she professed. “And I realized that you were meant to be my daughter, and I was meant to be your mother.” After imbuing the scene with such genuine sincerity and emotion, Saum confirmed what we already knew: she was meant to play this role.
Which performances knocked your socks off this week? Hit the comments!