THE PERFORMER | Caleb McLaughlin
THE SHOW | Stranger Things
THE EPISODE | “Chapter Nine: The Piggyback” (July 1, 2022)
THE PERFORMANCE | Picking a standout from the exceptional performances in the season finale was no mean feat. We could’ve gone with Gaten Matarazzo for Dustin’s heartbreaking goodbye to Eddie or with Joe Keery for the vulnerability with which he played Steve’s confession to Nancy — for starters. But in the end, we had to shine the spotlight on McLaughlin, who brought a heretofore-unseen strength and anguish to Lucas.
Early on, the actor reminded us how adept he is at playing the high schooler’s sweet side. The word “please” was all but written across his face as Lucas hopefully asked out Max — via notes — before she risked her life to distract Vecna. Then McLaughlin jolted us, turning Slurpee-cold as the villain spoke through his character. That was all just warmup, though.
When Jason showed up brandishing a gun, McLaughlin deftly balanced Lucas’ empathy for his grieving teammate with his anxiousness to keep him from upsetting the plan to vanquish Vecna. Once it became obvious that the older teen was beyond reason, McLaughlin underscored just how much Lucas had grown. He stopped pleading, stood tall and expressed less regret over the fact that he’d ever wanted to be like Jason than anger. “Normal,” Lucas had learned the hard way, “is just a raging psychopath.”
Finally, after Vecna’s brutal assault of Max, McLaughlin unleashed Lucas’ pain with a rawness and urgency that still haunts us. McLaughlin had just shown us what an empowered young man his alter ego had become. But seeing Max in such a state, he couldn’t help but sound like a little boy desperate to do something, anything to make it all better.
HONORABLE MENTION | Fierce, funny and beautifully understated are just a few of the words that describe Dominique McElligott‘s performance in The Boys Season 3 finale, which set up an unexpectedly happy exit for her character Maeve. The actress had us laughing at Maeve’s dig against Hughie and cheering when the supe took the opportunity to beat the crap out of her tormentor Homelander. But most of all, we were wowed by the tenderness, emotion and awe in McElligott’s voice as she delivered some sweet parting words to Annie: “The truth is you don’t need me anymore. I could jump. You can f–king fly.” We’re extremely sad to see Maeve go, but McElligott sure did move us in her goodbye.
HONORABLE MENTION | As the Enterprise‘s dashing captain Christopher Pike, Anson Mount has guided Star Trek: Strange New Worlds‘ freshman voyage with a steady hand, and he went above and beyond in this week’s season finale as Pike was forced to face his tragic destiny. Mount got to double his performance when an older, wiser Pike traveled back in time to warn his past self about meddling with the future, and he was cool under pressure as the Enterprise was threatened with annihilation by the Romulans. (The mischievous twinkle in Mount’s eye is the closest this franchise has come to vintage Shatner-era Kirk since the ’60s.) But it was the quieter moments, with Pike bravely accepting his fate and opening up to his friend Spock before taking a triumphant stroll through the bridge, that left us feeling very optimistic about this series’ future with a rock-solid leader like Mount at the helm.
HONORABLE MENTION | Mehwish Hayat’s performance in this week’s Ms. Marvel was, in a word, marvelous. Appearing as Kamala’s great-grandmother Aisha in an extended flashback, Hayat was a captivating force, adding new layers to the fierce woman we’d only heard about through Nani’s stories (and briefly saw in a previous flashback). We were especially moved by Aisha’s final moments in the episode as the warrior lay dying after being stabbed by Najma. Using her last bit of strength to bring Kamala to the past — also helping the teen hero finally figure out her purpose — Aisha’s subsequent death was gut-wrenching. That speaks volumes of her portrayer’s impressive performance, ensnaring us with her grace, courage and wit until the very end. Outstanding.
Which performance(s) knocked your socks off this week? Tell us in Comments!