THE PERFORMER | Courtney B. Vance
THE SHOW | AMC’s 61st Street
THE EPISODE | “Man on Fire” (May 29, 2022)
THE PERFORMANCE | If Vance is going to do one thing, it’s deliver a monologue as though his life depended on it, and he did just that this week in 61st Street’s season finale. With Moses Johnson’s (Tosin Cole) future hanging in the balance, Vance’s Franklin Roberts defended the promising track star in an emotionally charged trial over the death of a police officer, and it was a masterclass on acting.
Vance has been a standout throughout all eight episodes of the AMC drama’s first season, serving up vulnerable moments that showcased a man struggling with the weight of the world on his shoulders. And yet, the actor had even more to give in the finale as Franklin mustered up every bit of his strength to deliver a moving speech that cut to the heart of the issue: the law is wrong, and Moses deserved to walk free.
“You don’t need God or a judge to tell you what is right and what is wrong; your conscience does that for you,” Franklin said in the season ender, addressing the jury with the steady composure he lacked in the series premiere.
Few can rattle off 10 pages of dialogue and make each line feel genuine and in the moment like Vance, and his performance in that final courtroom scene was powerful, elegant, and unforgettable. Franklin convinced the jury of Moses’ innocence in the end, and we tip our hats to Vance for yet again showing exactly why he’s one of the finest actors of his generation.
HONORABLE MENTION | It was refreshing to witness Deborah Vance’s softer side for a change in the Season 2 finale Hacks. After the comedian’s special proved to be a smash, Jean Smart flexed subtlety and heart, two characteristics we don’t often see in the cutthroat comedian. From her stolen glances at Marty after learning of his engagement, to her kind (dare we say “sweet”?) exchange with daughter DJ, the actress nailed the challenge of exhibiting emotion despite Deborah’s instinctual reticence. After she fired her co-writer Ava, Smart dished out tough love, reclaiming the character’s stern tones and hard exterior. But when she told her mentee that, “You’re just like me. You’ve got your own mountain to climb,” she reduced Ava to tears and broke our hearts in one fell swoop. It was emotional whiplash for all involved, and Smart was securely in the driver’s seat.
HONORABLE MENTION | As Michael Peterson’s deceased wife Kathleen on The Staircase, Toni Collette has so far been mostly relegated to horrifically graphic recreations of Kathleen’s death, which almost seems like a waste of her considerable talents. This week, though, Collette got to flex her dramatic muscles as she revealed the intense stress Kathleen was going through prior to her demise. First, Kathleen laid into her bosses for talking about bonuses while the company’s stock is tanking, with Collette alternating between uncomfortable laughter and desperate sobs. “I have wasted years of my life,” she confessed to Michael before turning her rage on him, as Collette uncorked years’ worth of simmering resentment in a long, rambling rant. The fiery scenes let us see that Kathleen was more than just a saintly victim — and let us see why a great actress like Collette would sink her teeth into this role.
HONORABLE MENTION | Emotionally speaking, Netflix’s Stranger Things charged Sadie Sink with running up the tallest of hills in “Dear Billy,” Season 4’s harrowing fourth episode. On one hand, world-weary Max tried to put on a brave face for her friends, even going so far as to make light of the gruesome death that she was sure awaited her. On the other, the teen was scared s—tless, the quivering embodiment of a rising goosebump. Sink not only nailed both tasks while still maintaining the edge that her character had received upon enrollment in the school of hard knocks, she also played Max’s bittersweet monologue to her late stepbrother with a mixture of sincerity and regret that all but defined the word “heartbreaking.”
Which performance(s) knocked your socks off this week? Tell us in Comments!