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The TVLine Performers of the Week (tie): Keri Russell and Kieran Culkin

Keri Russell and Kieran Culkin
Courtesy of Netflix and HBO

THE PERFORMER | Keri Russell

THE SHOW | Netflix’s The Diplomat

THE EPISODE | “The James Bond Clause” (April 20, 2023)

THE PERFORMANCE Midway through The Diplomat’s Season 1 finale, Russell’s nascent ambassador Kate Wyler gets into a heated power struggle on the streets of Paris and it’s tense, distressing, fraught, unsettling and incredibly nuanced. It’s quite the spectacle. And get this: She’s all by herself.

The entire kerfuffle takes place over the phone, with Kate delivering an epic tongue-lashing to her stateside hubby-slash-political contemporary Hal (the excellent Rufus Sewell), yet Russell’s anger is so raw and visceral it’s as if he is standing right in front of her.

Of course, The Americans vet displayed that same level of commitment and gravitas throughout the political dramedy’s inaugural eight-episode run. Yet her performance in “The James Bond Clause” felt particularly special, perhaps because the Debora Cahn-penned episode called on Russell to play a multitude of emotions — and she nailed ‘em all.

In her scenes with David Gyasi, who plays Kate’s other love interest Austin Dennison, Russell oozed charm, sexiness and vulnerability (the moment red dress-wearing Kate first locks eyes with Dennison at the Louvre had the words “romantic payoff” plastered all over it).

And in the hour’s climactic final moments — as Kate uncovered the conspiracy behind the international tragedy that drove much of the season — Russell debuted a heretofore unseen version of her tenacious and resilient alter ego, one consumed with fear and terror. Russell’s tear-soaked, shell-shocked face perfectly conveyed the horror of the cliffhanging twist. And it now has us counting the days until Season 2.

THE PERFORMER | Kieran Culkin

THE SHOW | Succession

THE EPISODE |Kill List” (April 23, 2023)

THE PERFORMANCE | Logan Roy’s death happened two weeks ago on HBO’s Emmy-winning corporate drama, but it’s only been a couple days on the show, and the sudden passing of the media titan is still sending tiny ripples through the characters’ psyches — ripples that can build into an emotional tidal wave out of nowhere. Logan’s youngest son Roman typically hides his feelings underneath a thick layer of snark, but his fresh grief over his dad’s death rose to the surface this week in an impulsive and potentially damaging meltdown, with Culkin delivering some of his most intensely vulnerable work on the series thus far.

Early in the episode, Culkin was in his usual quippy wheelhouse as Roman doled out insults and snide jokes, mocking his underlings, Gerri and Frank, basically everyone around him. But Culkin also wove in subtle indications that Roman was feeling uncomfortable in his own skin, chafing at a car’s too-tight seat belt and growing irritable when Connor bugged him about Logan’s burial outfit. Roman might insist that he’s already “pre-grieved,” but it was clear his father’s death was still weighing heavily on his mind — remember: Roman was planning to join Logan at ATN — and when Matsson tried to include ATN in the deal, Roman balked, with Culkin infusing a heavy measure of filial guilt into the negotiation. Roman isn’t willing to part with his father’s crown jewel because it’s one of the last things he has to remember him by, and Culkin captured that heartbreaking truth as Roman quietly stewed all episode long… until Matsson called Logan “a prick” during a mountaintop confrontation, triggering a violent rush of defensiveness deep inside Roman to spill out everywhere.

Culkin’s voice grew strained and high-pitched as Roman lashed out at Matsson for disrespecting his father and not giving them time to grieve. He suddenly declared, “We’re not selling to you,” blowing up a complex business merger on a whim and sealing it by seething, “I f—king hate you.” Roman quickly snapped back into jokester mode afterwards, but we already heard his wounded inner voice speak loud and clear. It was a devastating portrait of how grief can make us act out in self-destructive ways, and Culkin reminded us that Roman is much more than just a source of funny zingers.

Scroll down to see who scored Honorable Mention shout-outs this week…

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