THE PERFORMER | Grant Gustin
THE SHOW | The Flash
THE EPISODE | “The Last Temptation of Barry Allen, Pt. 1” (Nov. 26, 2019)
THE PERFORMANCE | When you torture Barry Allen, you torture all of us. But under the category of “silver lining,” you also, without fail, elicit an especially moving performance by Grant Gustin.
As if Barry didn’t have enough to worry about with the looming Crisis/his unavoidable death and all, this week he found himself face to face with Dr. Ramsey Rosso, for a conversation that took a darkly surreal turn. Barry got his first sense that something was amiss when Ramsey casually revealed that he is aware of the CSI’s superhero identity. Then, the view from the West-Allens’ loft window turned suddenly apocalyptic, in the vein of the fiery Crisis that Barry sneak-peeked earlier in the season. Eventually, the Speed Force — in the form of Barry’s late mother Nora (Michelle Harrison, again helping bring out some of Gustin’s finest work) — informed Barry that his cells had been infected by Rosso, who aimed to take control of Flash. As this stark terror dawned on Barry, Gustin conveyed every bit of the hero’s despair.
Usually, Barry emerges triumphant over such a setback. But the resolution here was far from as simple. No, Ramsey used the infection to skew his victim’s perception of truth, and Gustin had us wincing at Barry’s susceptibility. All the while, the Speed Force urged Barry to resist. A tug-of-war for his free will was afoot, and as Barry was figuratively torn, so were our hearts.
Team Flash for a fleeting moment thought Barry fended off Ramsey’s takeover. But with a final, very unsettling button on his performance, Gustin added just enough coldness to tip off Iris, and us, that the beloved Barry had in fact lost.
THE PERFORMER | Josh O’Connor
THE SHOW | The Crown
THE EPISODE | “Imbroglio” (Nov. 17, 2019)
THE PERFORMANCE | Netflix’s sumptuous royal drama can always be counted on to boast more great performances than the Queen has Corgis, and Olivia Colman and Helena Bonham Carter were indeed superb in their debut season as Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret. But another member of the royal family grabbed our attention in Season 3: Elizabeth’s eldest son Prince Charles, with O’Connor painting a captivatingly empathetic portrait of the king in waiting.
O’Connor shined throughout the season, but he peaked in Episode 9, as Charles’ romance with a young Camilla Shand became a hot topic at Buckingham Palace. O’Connor was downright giddy as Charles confessed his feelings to his widowed great aunt Wallis, but she gave him a stern warning: “Watch out for your family.” And she was right: Charles’ relatives conspired to ship him overseas, to keep him and Camilla apart. The Prince of Wales is typically a buttoned-up chap, but O’Connor tapped into a deep wellspring of rage as Charles unloaded on his mother, his voice cracking with emotion as he accused her of trying to break him and Camilla up. Later, Charles learned that Camilla is still in love with her ex Andrew, and O’Connor let us see Charles’ heart shatter right in front of our eyes, Ralph Wiggum-style.
It’s a level of emotion we might not have even imagined Prince Charles is capable of, based on his public persona, but that’s the power of O’Connor’s portrayal: His carefully honed work here helps us see the Prince of Wales in an entirely new light. It can’t be easy trying to act alongside heavyweights like Colman and Bonham Carter, but O’Connor proved he’s more than fit to wear the crown.
HONORABLE MENTION | What Watchmen‘s June said in Sunday’s episode was true: William Reeves was an angry man. And a closeted one. And a brave one. And Jovan Adepo, who was tasked with bringing Will’s prior traumas to life, blended all of these facets to give us a stunning black-and-white portrait of a man pushed past his limits. He took Will from a naïve New York City Police neophyte to an embittered masked crusader in the space of an hour, imbuing every gesture with the frustration he felt at having to hide who he truly was in order to make everyone else feel comfortable. The crescendo — Will’s unrelenting takedown of the Cyclops warehouse followed by his devastation at seeing his son donning the white makeup — was a thing of brutal beauty. Adepo deserves all the kudos coming his way and more.
HONORABLE MENTION | Spencer and Corey’s saga of heartache and regret reached a beautiful yet tragic conclusion on Monday’s All American, a devastating hour that solidified Daniel Ezra as one of the finest performers ever to grace The CW. Spencer and his father’s long-awaited reconciliation was a cathartic moment, both for them and for the audience, so when their future as a family was suddenly ripped away, our hearts didn’t just break — they shattered. The guttural wail Spencer released upon discovering his father’s lifeless body slumped in his living room chair will remain with us for a long time.
HONORABLE MENTION | For years, NCIS: Los Angeles has invited us to be invested in the Eric/Nell relationship, but no single episode has moved the needle as much as last week’s, which in turn gave Barrett Foa and Renée Felice Smith some great material. As an oblivious (and caffeine-infused) abduction target, Boa really got to lean into the comedy, exasperating his NonCIS captors to the point of amusement and/or downright irritation. Smith meanwhile made us feel both Nell’s anxiety and her determination to rescue her love. When Eric eventually returned to HQ, he was met by the team’s expected pleasantries, but once alone with Nell, Smith really brought it home, expressing with every of her being how much Nell missed, and misses, her partner in Ops and more.
Which performance(s) knocked your socks off this week? Tell us in Comments!