Mastodon Mastodon Mastodon Mastodon Mastodon Performers Of The Month - September Winner: Outstanding Actress - Mary McDonnell

SpoilerTV - TV Spoilers

Performers Of The Month - September Winner: Outstanding Actress - Mary McDonnell

Crime dramas are notorious for forgetting that their characters are the heart of the show. Far too many crime dramas sacrifice character development in favor of the drama of the cases of the week. Even the best performers usually struggle to break free of the monotony of that formula. Thankfully, the writers of Major Crimes understand how to tell their story with their characters at the forefront. There are cases of the week, but the main characters are always the driving force behind the story. Leading the charge week after week is Mary McDonnell, who expectedly shines as Sharon Raydor. McDonnell is extremely well regarded within the industry and for good reason. She is a performer who in her entire career has never faltered. When she takes on a role she does so with great caution making sure that she can do justice to that part. There is a reason she has been consistently working for decades. It’s easy to imagine that when word emerges that she is available, casting directors descend on her like vultures. She is so extremely talented that everything she does can only be described as perfection. Any production would be lucky to have her attached to it. With her, Major Crimes hit the casting jackpot. Her winning the title of September’s most outstanding actress for the episodes White Lies Part 1 (5x11) and White Lies Part 2 (5x12) surprised absolutely no one who has ever seen her work. The only surprising thing is that she didn’t win this title earlier. These two episodes were prime examples of what makes her such a sought-after actress.

These episodes tested Sharon like no other case before. She was thrust into the middle of this entire three part extravaganza from the first moments in the courtroom to the final moment when Andy (Tony Denison) collapsed. The most intense part of her journey occurred in the first two episodes that contained the courtroom shooting and the fallout from it. Sharon is a woman who is very good at her job and no matter where she is, she’s ready to react at a moment’s notice. When the shooting began, she immediately went for her gun, but with no clear shot, she desperately tried to find a way to take down Dwight (Brett Davern) without hurting any innocent bystanders in the room. When she finally got that clear shot, she fired without hesitation. The moment was intense and throughout the entire scene, McDonnell held Sharon’s face firm with determination while giving her every movement a meaning. Every step Sharon took was to try and end this bloody senseless attack. The way McDonnell handled the moment, including when Sharon was standing over Dwight, was very true to her character who takes no qualms with taking down bad guys to save innocents. Though, there was this brief shake in her arm as she stood over him with the evil smirk on his face that conveyed the weight of the moment.

Given what has happened, it was still in question how she would handle the fallout. Perhaps some expected her to fall apart, but from the reactions of her team, it didn’t surprise them at all how she chose to handle the aftermath. She was calm and composed in the wake of such a horrific event. She lost friends in that courtroom and took a life in return. This was exactly how Sharon should have reacted because she is a woman that plays by the book and to her, she followed the law. A psycho was shooting and killing innocents and so, without hesitation, she took aim and took him down. The writers scripted Sharon’s reaction to the whole situation perfectly. McDonnell then took that spot on writing and delivered a performance that was spectacular. She held her character strong and stoic in the aftermath. Her emotions were perfect for each beat in the courtroom. As she looked back at the bloody clothing she allowed Sharon a brief moment of sadness. There was this slight look of despair that she allowed to fill her eyes for the slightest moment before slamming up a steel reinforced emotional wall that allowed her to convey Sharon’s default mechanism for dealing with situations, which involves compartmentalization. Then, she brought Sharon back to business mode. There was a case to solve and she was going to help solve it at all cost in order to bring some semblance of justice to what had just happened.

When she rejoined her team back at the office, it was as if she didn’t miss a beat and neither did McDonnell. She showed off just how in control she is as an actress. Never once did she let her character waver from her stoic exterior as she put up a strong front for those around her. Her words were spoken with intent as Sharon made her way back to her office. When she confesses that she doesn’t feel bad about killing Dwight, the look on her face was all business, letting everyone watching know that she believed what she was saying. Another actress may have tried to overplay that beat, but not her. She knew what this scene required and she did just that. This is yet another sign of why she is so in demand. There was never a single question about the truth to what Sharon was feeling because McDonnell’s face said it all. It’s impossible to feel bad when you feel like what you did was the right thing. In this case, the action taken was definitely justified therefore the reaction was spot on.

The next brilliant acting choice in this whole sequence came when Sharon was in the office with her adopted son Rusty (Graham Patrick Martin). He means the world to her and she knew that what he needed more than anything was for her to be strong for him and she was. McDonnell has this easy chemistry with Martin that allows their relationship to really shine through in moments like this. These characters play pivotal parts in each other’s lives and as his mother, Sharon couldn’t let anything else seep into the equation so she could be supportive and reassuring to him. McDonnell nailed the calm demeanor this moment demanded.

It was a stark contrast to the moment that occurred shortly after between Sharon and Dwight’s mom, Wildred (Jaime Ray Newman). In this moment, when Wildred called out Sharon for killing her son, the look on McDonnell’s face said everything. There was a fire burning in her eyes and her voice had a firm strength to it that was surprising even for this commanding character. Then, just as quickly, once the moment was diffused, she took on a sort of understanding persona. She was no longer sitting across from the mother of a cold-blooded murderer who killed one of her friends, but she was sitting across from a grieving mother. McDonnell made this extremely subtle shift in her voice when she transitioned Sharon from forcefully in command to in control yet caring. It was such a subtle tonal change that if one wasn’t listening for it, it could have gone unnoticed. This very restrained shift completely changed the way her words were coming across. Such control is something that not every performer can pull off. That level of control is something that not even some award winning performers have perfected. Many performers try, but few actually execute it flawlessly. Acting is an art and when the camera is on, every single thing a performer does matters. Their every action has to be delivered to plan for a scene to hit all the marks it needs to. This was one of those moments that went off flawlessly, which is no surprise because she makes these shifts all the time when her character is forced to do so mid-scene, and she always pulls it off without fault.

Not only did she have to flawlessly pull off that shift in this scene, but she then had to take Sharon the closest she came in these episodes to dealing with her emotions. At the very end, her eyes fell to the desk and there was this very quick tremble in her jaw and a soft confirmation that she was okay, delivered in a breathy and taken aback tone. What Wildred said to Sharon hit home because she too has a son and those very small acting choices had immense impact on the moment. It was impossible to not feel bad for both moms in this scene because both actresses nailed the moment, but McDonnell, in particular, was stunning. This scene could have easily been overplayed but she played each beat true to her character. This was an incredible display of acting prowess as she executed all these tonal shifts exactly as the scene demanded her to.

Perhaps the most memorable moment in these two episodes was when Sharon was at the confessional. This character isn’t an emotional character by nature. She internalizes most of the things that happen to her and deals with them on her own terms. That requires McDonnell to consistently walk a very fine line in her performance where she has to convey feelings without being overly dramatic. When Sharon was talking to the priest and confessed that she felt no remorse for killing Dwight, the stoic look on her face was in place, but there was this tremble in her voice that conveyed exactly what was going on underneath Sharon’s tough exterior. She may not feel any remorse for killing Dwight, but there is a hint of emotion regarding the whole situation. She may always come across as strong and in charge, but under it all, she is a human being and no matter how good she is at internalizing, she still feels emotion. The whole event left a mark on her whether she can accept it or not. She may feel nothing for killing Dwight, but she still lost a friend and for that, this whole situation left a lasting impression on her.

As the confessional scenes went on, it became increasingly apparent how deep her emotions ran. In that confessional booth, she was able to open up in a way she really couldn’t to anyone else. McDonnell showed off her control once again as she used little things to convey what was going on inside of Sharon’s head. When she rested her head back against the booth and exhaled, it was evident that it was somewhat of a relief to be able to talk about it. When Sharon revealed that she had prayed for the souls of those she had sent to be tried for the death penalty, it showed a very different side to her. She is a religious woman who believes in the letter of the law but has no interest in being the one to have to be judge, jury and executioner, which is what she was in the moment she shot Dwight. She is not remorseful for her actions, yet she does carry a certain amount of regret regarding how everything ultimately played out.

Then, in a beautiful array of acting prowess, the absolution scene came up and in this single scene, McDonnell made the case for why she is hands down the worthy winner of this title. Sharon is an uptight character by her very nature. When she shows emotion it is brief, but when it happens it is meaningful. As the priest reassured her of her actions and he went through the list of those who had already absolved her, McDonnell made a very interesting and powerful acting choice: as each person was listed, she relaxed - her face relaxed, her shoulders relaxed, and her eyes grew warmer. Sharon may not have thought she needed absolution but she most certainly did, and through McDonnell that was made so clear. She was a powerhouse in every scene throughout this three-part event, but this scene right here was the heart of it all. The character got to have a beautifully intimate moment because the actress was willing to be open and giving in her performance. Heart is what makes a character real and in this moment, she gave the audience an intimate look inside what makes her tick. It said so much when she shut her eyes with an intense look on her face and her lips pursed together; she was allowing herself to accept that she did indeed need the absolution being given to her.

Another example of the emotion under the tough exterior of this character came during the second meeting of the mothers. As Sharon was in the interview room with Wildred, there was this understanding between the characters as well as the actresses. Newman was only a guest star, but McDonnell allowed herself to be completely open with her. The two actresses fundamentally understood what their characters were going through and even though the characters both dealt with it in very different ways, they were still mothers. Sharon was able to connect with Wildred on that single level and it led to both women being able to find a little bit of peace. Again, Sharon doesn’t seem to fully understand how badly she needed that, but McDonnell did. She reacted at all the right points and, much like in the confessional scenes, the emotional expression of the character came more from the actress than the lines. When Wildred gave Sharon forgiveness, there was this slight lip tremble and ever so slight wobble in McDonnell’s voice that made all the underlying emotions shine through even if it wasn’t conveyed in words. Through her acting choices, she allowed Sharon’s emotional journey to come full circle.

To close out these two episodes, McDonnell got to share a good decompressing scene with regular scene partner Tony Denison. These two are magic together. Like most things on this show, the love they share is palpable, but not over dramatized. What they have feels very real because these two performers are so comfortable working together. Fans are made to root for this couple because the chemistry between the performers drives them. This isn’t an overly sexualized relationship and that works perfectly within the context of the show. The way it approaches their love as tender and caring works so well. Andy knows that Sharon was holding in a lot and the best thing he could do was just be present with her solving the case. Throughout the journey of these episodes, Sharon was finally able to feel the weight of the whole situation. Andy was there to let her bounce the whole situation off of him and he let her talk while softly holding her hand to let her know he was there for her. The way Denison and McDonnell just are together is what has made this couple so endearing to fans. Each contributes something beautiful to the relationship between their characters. They definitely give weight to the love between Sharon and Andy.

These two episodes were jam-packed full of so many great moments that it was impossible to note them all. This article doesn’t even take into account the extraordinary work she did in the last part of this three-part event. Please feel free to use the comments section to talk about all the scenes that didn’t make it into this article.

Mary McDonnell was your fan pick as the most Outstanding Actress of September 2016. Hit the comments below to tell others why you think she earned this title and what you most enjoyed about her September performances.

PLEASE READ: This is an article to recognize Mary’s work and to honor her performance in September on Major Crimes. Shipper-related bashing will not be tolerated in the comments, even from Mary's fans. Honor the performer and her performance. Have fun and be kind to one another.

Note: This is a generic warning to avoid any issues in the comments section and to help keep this a fun and safe place to gush about the winners. This is geared to no fandom in particular.

Author’s Note: Prior to writing the September POTM articles I had never seen a single second of this series. As of now, I’ve only watched the three episodes pertaining to the September POTM articles. With that said, I was immediately enthralled by this show and will certainly be adding it to my Netflix watch list. But I must send out a very big thank you to Major Crimes reviewer Prpleight for her immense insight into the series and the interconnectivity between the characters. This article would not have been able to exist without her aid and insight.

Special thanks to Bradley Adams for helping to edit the article.