This is just a quick introduction to these weekly posts where I will select a particular performance from the last week’s worth of television, and choose a highlight (or two, if the choice proves too difficult).
Actor of the week #1: Alison Brie
We all know what an utter slimeball Pete Campbell is. He’s lied, he’s smarmy, he was the first to suggest Joan prostitute herself last season, and he’s cheated on wife Trudy an uncountable number of times. But his dutiful wife has always sat at the side, ostensibly oblivious to her husband’s indiscretions. Until this week, however.
After once again cheating with another woman, Pete’s latest sexual encounter came back to haunt him, after she turned up on the doorstep of the house he, Trudy and their child all share, beaten and bloodied after her own husband discovered their tryst. And Trudy, playing the part of the unknowing, caring wife, tended to her wounds, seemingly unaware of the true reason as to why they existed in the first place. Or so it seemed…
Trudy’s outburst of rage and hurt exploded in magnificent fashion. Seasons worth of hidden, repressed anger were unleashed, as Trudy revealed that she’s always been aware of Pete’s extracurricular activities, and that she’s always put up with them, not wanting to be anything but the typical wife, or to lose their lifestyle and admit defeat. It was somewhat reminiscent of The Sopranos, where Carmella was always secretly aware of Tony’s affairs yet was prepared to deal with them, until one infiltrated their family environment, collapsing the whole charade.
Trudy’s memorable conniption, where she promised Pete that she would ‘destroy him’ if he so much as ‘opened his fly to urinate’ around her, was provided with the appropriate amount of unfiltered anger to make it effective, and Alison Brie went all-out in providing one of the episode’s–and the character’s–highlights, putting all of the distrust and disgust emanating from the viewers into one single sequence.
It also highlighted one of the things Mad Men is incredibly good at: female characters. The focus is usually on Joan’s latest act of fabulousness, or Peggy’s successes at work, or even Betty being Betty. But Trudy normally sits in the background, showing up in scenes if and when she’s required and being pitied by the audience when Pete inevitably cheats on her again. But this time, she came out of the background, she moved away from being a downtrodden housewife and emerged as a strong, HBIC who knocked Pete down in a way he hasn’t experienced before, and it was magnificent.
Alison Brie is good at comedy, and anybody that has watched Community can attest to that, but her performance this week also demonstrated that with the right material, she can be a superb dramatic actress, and I’d love to see more of her in the rest of Mad Men’s current season, and preferably laying the smackdown on Pete Campbell that we all want to do ourselves but can’t.
Susan Misner – The Americans
Similar to Trudy Campbell, Misner’s character, Sandra Beeman, released a whole season’s worth of hurt and upset on her startled husband. We all knew it was coming, but the event was made that much more fulfilling by Misner’s superb performance, and it’s pretty evident that we don’t see nearly enough of her on-screen.
Michael Cudlitz – Southland
It’s Southland, it’s Michael Cudlitz. Do I need to say any more than this? His work in the show’s fifth season has been consistently sublime and the finale gave him another opportunity to grind the material he had into awesome-acting dust, and he made the absolute most out of it.
P.S. Here’s a clip of Trudy Campbell laying it down on Pete.