PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK #7: BELLAMY YOUNG
Mellie freakin’ Grant, people.
What do you do, or what are you supposed to do, when your husband and the father of your children continuously sleeps with another woman behind your back? What are you supposed to do when the matter is complicated further by the fact you’re the First Lady of the United States and your husband the President? Slither away and accept what’s happening and the irreversibility of it? Well, Mellie Grant says no to that.
Mellie’s answer to the above question is not to recede into the shadows but to rise taller and create bigger ones. She’s tired of Fitz’s infidelity, his lies and the way he alternates between her and Olivia at a moment’s notice, usually when the latter temporarily casts him aside. Any love she had for him has been replaced by scorching ambition–the kind of ambition that creates monsters. But Mellie is not a monster. She’s a woman who’s been wronged and manipulated and underestimated at almost every point, and she’s out to make sure that never happens again. Her marriage is dead, but it no longer matters.
Let’s take a look at the bunker scene from the season three premiere, “It’s Handled.” Let’s take a look at how, in this one scene, Bellamy Young, Kerry Washington, and Tony Goldwyn are simply exquisite in what they do: Washington, whose portrayal of Olivia at one of her lowest moments is expectedly fantastic; Goldwyn, whose facial expressions fully indicate Fitz’s realisation that everything he ever had with his wife has disintegrated beyond retrieval; and Young, whose performances as Mellie and her ruthless quest for power are consistently flawless. When you place three wonderful actors into a confined space like this, throw in tension of incredible magnitude, and allow them to just talk at each other for the duration, you can expect nothing less than brilliance.
In particular, Mellie’s visible disgust at Fitz and Olivia’s willingness to make their affair seem nothing more than trivial is a highlight of an already incredible scene. Young has always been exceptional at facial performances and at delivering the infamous Shonda Rhimes monologues, and in this scene, she gets to do both. We feel her frustration and revulsion at what’s happening in front of her, of how she’s being expected to be manipulated once again for the benefit of those who’ve betrayed her. Young makes you feel Mellie’s fury, and it’s never not incredible.
All three actors provide powerhouse performances during that scene (demonstrating once again why Scandal has one of the best casts on television), but Bellamy Young’s work elevates the proceedings into new territory for the character. Mellie’s ambition is so strong that she would quite literally trample all over anybody who poses a threat to her rising power. Normally this kind of ruthlessness could create a character who’s hard to feel sympathy for, whose ambition supercedes their humanity, a monster, but in Mellie’s case, Young makes us feel empathetic for her and will her to succeed even when we probably shouldn’t. Her ability to switch between emotions at a moment’s notice is awe-inspiring and reaffirms yet again why the Emmys ignoring her earlier this year was one of their biggest mistakes.
Has Mellie always been hungry for more than being just the wife of the most powerful man on the planet, of being ornamental? Yes. But her anger at Fitz’s betrayal has manifested itself as burning desire. A desire to rise to the top and squash any obstacle that stands in her way. She is no longer in love with her husband, nor he with her. They are at war–a war that’s going to get dirty, complicated, and, as with all wars, there are going to be casualties. Mellie understands her opponent more than anybody, including himself, does, however, so her chances of emerging victorious are stronger than ever. I’m looking forward to seeing her continue to cast those greater shadows for everyone else to stand in.
Nashville – “Never No More”
It would be very easy to give all the acting credit for Nashville to Connie Britton, because she’s never not exemplary at what she does, but if there’s anything this episode should make clear, it’s that Hayden Panettiere is just as strong an actress as her co-star. As Juliette revisits her old trailer park in order to create publicity for her new album, it ignites emotions in her that as much as she tries to repress, are clear on display for everybody to see. Juliette has come a long way in Nashville and Panettiere has improved tenfold along the way. Connie Britton may be a strong actress, but she’s in fantastic company.