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Performers Of The Month - Reader's Choice Performer of February - Tala Ashe



This article was written by Aimee Hicks with contributions made by Jamie Coudeville and DJRiter. Edited by DJRiter.

The sci-fi and fantasy genre is full of tropes that are used over and over again on repeat. The one that seems to get used the most is that of the Groundhog Day where a day repeats itself over and over again. It works in this genre because of the fantastical element of the genre. It's the same reason that the time travel genre is so popular. The problem is that this trope is so overused that, to be honest, it can become boring and unoriginal. Very few shows have been able to put a unique spin on it. These episodes are often used as fillers and for whatever reason writers and performers don't seem to give their all in regards to these episodes. But there are those rare exceptions where they not only do it right, but they go above and beyond. That is what happened on Legends of Tomorrow with the episode entitled Here I Go Again (3x11). The script was tightly written and compelling. Perhaps, most importantly though, was the performance of series newcomer Tala Ashe (Zari Tomaz).

Ashe was given a strong script that relied on her carrying the entire episode on her shoulders. The strength of the script would not have mattered if Ashe hadn't been able to deliver. Not only did she deliver, but she blew it out of the park. The phrase "tour de force performance" is used a lot. Most times it is a true representation of the performance, but rarely can it be used as the emphatic defining quality of a performance. In the case of Tala Ashe, the only singular way to truly do justice to her in this episode is to call it a tour de force. Her character is a literal force of nature and with this performance, Ashe became a force within the acting world.

By the time this episode came around, she'd only been in eight full episodes with this one being her ninth. The character was embraced fairly quickly by the audience. She didn't come into this episode as the most beloved character on the ship and Tala Ashe didn't come into this episode as the most beloved performer on the show. Yet, by the end of the hour, Zari Tomaz was loved and embraced by every member of the crew and Tala Ashe had endeared herself to fans in an unbelievably powerful and profound way. That is the power of acting, with one breakout performance a performer can change everything. Tala Ashe will always be loved and embraced by fans, and it's because of the profoundly honest way in with which she delivered that performance. This was a performance that will follow Ashe throughout her career. It is a moment that her fans will look back on and say "that's the moment". This episode was the one where Tala Ashe went from being a new member of an ensemble cast to a performer who stands to be recognized in her own right, she became a full-fledged Legend. It is for these reasons and all that are to follow that Tala Ashe was named SpoilerTV's February Reader's Choice Performer of the Month.

As the episode opens, Zari is still the outsider, going her own way, with her own agenda, which consequently creates friction between her and Sara (Caity Lotz). As the time loops begin, there are quite a few versions of the confrontation with Sara but Zari's most genuine responses to Sara's remarks were in the first confrontation before she even realized she was in a time loop. Zari has been on her own for a while and is not used to following someone else's orders. You can see her frustration in this scene slowly building up when the other team members don't understand her motivations. Ashe showcases a lot of emotions in this scene. At first, you see that she's hopeful that Sara and Ray (Brandon Routh) will get it, then it turns into guilt and frustration when they don't. When Sara is berating her, you can see tears start to form in Zari's eyes. She's still the new girl and doesn't really feel like she's a true part of the team yet, no one trusts her enough yet to take her seriously. So, she creates a shell around herself, it's easier to keep people at arm's length so that it'll hurt less when they reject you.

After Zari's been through a few loops, she starts to feel defeated. Ashe does a great job with Zari's progression in these scenes, going from hopeful to defeated. But then, Nate (Nick Zano) seems to understand her, and it throws her. After several loops of no one believing her, it's startling when someone does, her face full of surprise. She's a very expressive actress and the way she expressed Zari's confusion and astonishment over Nate believing her was quite hilarious. It also said so much about what Zari was experiencing. She was completely in over her head and at this point just starting to roll with the punches being thrown her way.

In her next loop, she jumps into action. Finally, she has some hope. She's so happy that she's not in this alone anymore, which you can see when she bounds up to Nate and tells him "Hedgehog Day". Nate's momentary confusion quickly puts a damper on her enthusiasm. That had probably been the happiest she'd been on the show so far when she realized she wasn't in this alone anymore, and then for a moment, to be back at square one didn't please her. The loops continue and Ashe really shows Zari's excitement for figuring out this mystery, finally getting her chance to prove herself to everyone. But when Nate bails on her to have sex with Amaya (Maisie Richardson-Sellers), it's back to disappointment, and disgust. Her delivery in saying "kill me now", was on the surface a plea to hurry up to another loop so she doesn't have to listen to her friends having sex, the fake gagging was a nice, lighthearted touch. But, deeper down, Zari was ready for another loop thinking once again she'd have to solve this by herself so she may as well get on with it. In her mind she'd been proven right, the only person she could trust was herself.

Yet, the middle series of loops prove her wrong. They serve a dual purpose. Zari had turned to Nate to help her unravel the mystery of who sabotages the Waverider. It's was as though she was beginning to trust him, since Amaya certainly seemed to, given the new amorous state of their relationship. This sequence gives Ashe the opportunity to share some humorous moments with Zano, taking advantage of a nice, easy chemistry the two have, and show the growing trust between their characters. Their adventures of investigating Rory (Dominic Purcell) are some of the lighter moments of the episode. First, they mimic almost the same "OMG" facial expressions and exclamations when Nate's leg gets caught in one of Rory's trap, then they share a friendly fist bump when in the next loop she prevents him from getting caught. The loops continue showing Nate getting zapped, and them getting inked before discovering Rory is writing a sci-fi romance novel. The dialogue in these loops is short and snappy, which Ashe and Zano handle with a natural, just on the edge of sarcastic banter. The perfect example of that is Ashe's "funny you should mention that" delivered with a cocky tilt of her head after Zano says, "that's the last thing I thought I would say before I die," just before the ship explodes into another loop.

While these scenes provide a certain amount of levity, Ashe's body language and facial expressions illustrate their second purpose - to highlight Zari's growing frustration at being trapped in the loops. She doesn't do anything overt, it's the subtly of her acting in the scenes that add to that frustration. She wonderfully adds more in each loop, from her first admonition for Nate to focus, to the slight shrug of her shoulders when she tells Nate she doesn't have to imagine if he'd trip Rory's trap, to her exasperated "Dammit" when Nate gets zapped, and finally the little whimper when they get inked all nice little touches that clearly show Zari grows wearier with each passing loop.

Eventually, Zari gets to a point of complete exhaustion. It shows in her body language, the way she talks and it almost seems like she's going towards completely not caring anymore. But then Nate changes things up by reminding her she can do anything without facing consequences. Her face immediately lights up. Ashe infuses Zari with a sudden burst of energy from this and this leads to what she calls her "fun montage." And it indeed is a montage of fun moments as Zari spends a few loops doing the things on the ship it appears she'd always wanted to do. She's like a kid in a candy shop as she and Nate stuff themselves with whipped cream; she plays with some of the ancient weapons the team has collected; pretends to be a superhero dressing up in costumes with a quick tongue-in-cheek moment with the Hawkgirl mask; and the highlight of the montage, holding cue cards of the dialogue Mick and Ray deliver while doing their laundry. It's obvious Ashe had fun filming these moments. But, the fun can't last forever and as she takes down a Stradivarius violin, her mood becomes more somber as she begins to play.

The beautiful thing about Tala Ashe's performance throughout this episode is that she didn't deliver an even energy performance throughout the hour. That's where so many performers in these sorts of episodes go wrong. They don't show the major psychology weight that comes with something like this happening over and over again. Ashe nailed the emotions of this situation. Every cycle was taking a toll on Zari. Throughout the entire hour, Ashe was on point in her performance so that there was never a singular moment of doubt regarding what Zari was experiencing and feeling. The building emotional breakdown within Zari was inevitable. While there were brief respites of levity mixed in with the emotions and weight of the situation, the emotional torment of not being able to stop the cycle and save the team had a profound effect on her. Not even the fun montage could stop her from the emotional spiral she was in.

When Zari entered into that final loop with Nate it was clear that this cycle was different. Zari's voice was soft and her posture slack. She had fought so hard for so long that she had nothing left to give. The prospect of going through another cycle where everyone she has come to care about dies was something she couldn't fathom living through again. Coming into the scene Tala Ashe was careful to express an absence of emotion. Zari was defeated. She was done. As far as she could see there was nothing else that she could do that she hadn't tried. Then, there was this brief spark that Ashe captured perfectly where Zari realized she had one last option at her disposal. It might have meant her own life had to end, but for her, it was a price she was willing to pay, a significant, character-defining moment for Zari. That is a fact that would also come into play later on.

When Zari strode towards the gun that she had chosen to use to end her own life she was more alive than we had seen her in several cycles. She was done and tired and felt like she had no other choice, yet at the same time she was afraid, maybe even petrified. The fear was evident when she held the gun to her own head and pulled the trigger. The way Ashe scrunched up her face and her body tensed showed her immense fear at that moment. Whether it was intentional or not this scene also delivered a powerful message about suicide. Zari felt alone and defeated and tired of it all and she was willing to die to end it. When that trigger clicked and no bullet came out Zari appeared distraught and Ashe portrayed that moment with a stunning amount of real raw emotion. Then the truth of the whole ordeal became evident. She was never truly alone and she didn't have to carry the weight of it all alone anymore. From complete despair and defeat came hope and unity with others. It was a powerful scene and it spoke to a much bigger message that suicide is never ever the answer and hope can be found in the most unlikely of situations.

After the gun failed Zari broke down. She wasn't angry just tired. Then in a nicely staged and acted scene between Lotz and Ashe, Sara got Zari to open up resulting in a flood of emotion. It was a very well written scene, but it was the way that Ashe delivered it that gave it the most impact. Her voice was strained and with each word more tears built up in her eyes. By the end of her explaining what she had endured the tears were brimming ready to flow free. A full and complete emotional release didn't happen at this moment, but that was on the horizon. As this moment drew to a close and Sara revealed that she believed Zari there was this exhalation that Ashe delivered at just the right moment to symbolize the weight that was being lifted from her. Even though they weren't out of danger yet she knew and accepted the fact that she wasn't alone anymore. The fear and pain that was consuming her eyes gave way to a tiny spark of hope that spoke just as loudly as all the beautiful words that preceded it.

The scene gave way to a calmer Zari who was once again working as part of the team. She was at the head trying to disseminate to the others everything that she had already experienced and done to stop the ship from blowing up. She wasn't at ease, but she was more focused like in earlier cycles of the loop. There were little moments of grumbling when she was questioned about things she'd seen. It was humorous and was a nice touch after all the heaviness that consumed the prior scene. Ashe excelled in these moments due to impeccable comedic timing and a deep well of emotions to tap into for the emotional moments. She is the definition of a fully well-rounded performer who has a full acting toolbox and who knows how to use every tool in that box. This episode proved that time and time again.

What came after the search was the single most profound moment to ever be portrayed in this series. This was the coup de grâce moment for Zari and the most decisive moment of Tala Ashe's tour de force performance. The emotions extended well beyond the screen and left a lasting impression that can't be erased. No matter how long the series runs this singular moment will never be forgotten. The moment in question was Zari's big final sacrifice. With the bomb identified and time ticking away Zari took it and strode behind the protection of the force field. But, this time, it wasn't just herself she was trying to protect, but the others. She locked herself in with the bomb in hopes of being able to use a combination of luck and her talisman to buffer the blast enough to save the ship and her crew. This moment was very different than the earlier attempt to shoot herself. It wasn't rushed or done out of a sense of pain. This was calculated and purposeful and not at all about Zari herself. This was done because of love and long before Zari spoke those words Ashe made it evident.

As Zari went through and gave a message to each member of the crew her voice grew progressively more emotional. This was both an acceptance of her place as a member of this complicated family and a final goodbye at the same time. It was emotionally wrought and each word spoken had meaning. Tala Ashe's voice broke throughout the scene and with each emotional crackle, it was impossible to not feel the emotion pulsing through the screen. It was a powerful moment and by the end, Ashe's eyes were once again brimming with tears, but this time they began to leak out as she took Zari through what could have been her final moments. This was an emotional release for Zari, a powerful culmination of everything she had been through. When Zari's eyes closed she seemed at peace in acceptance of the situation. She was afraid to a degree but not nearly as afraid as she was when she held the gun to her head. As the time ticked down Zari held tight to the bomb, while Ashe's performance grabbed onto the audience leaving them coiled and tense as they waited to see what would happen to Zari. The writing and editing helped build up this moment, but it was Ashe's incredible ability to emote that connected the audience to the character and made the character worthy of the audience's fear. She brought the audience into that confined room and each viewer stood with Zari and felt her every emotion. That is the sign that something truly special has been witnessed when the audience can be pulled into the moment and feel like they are right there in the thick of things.

Following her emotionally charged moment of self-sacrifice, Zari wakes as though she's beginning to start another loop but knows that isn't possible. She's surprised by the arrival of a strange woman and becomes even more confused when she realizes the woman is the physical manifestation of the ship's computer, Gideon (Amy Louise Pemberton). Ashe gives Zari, just the right amount of wariness when meeting her computing adversary face to face, yet as the scene progresses you see a mutual bond of respect form between the two. And again, Ashe's expressive face helps gives us more insight into Zari. You can tell the exact moment she realizes what Gideon has done by putting her consciousness into her own simulation in order for her to learn more about the team and realize that in order for her to save her future she had to work with the team, to become a Legend. And to become a Legend she first had to spend time with them and get to know them and understand that she can trust these people. As Gideon takes Zari to revisit each team member you see her features soften as she realizes her feelings for each and the final realization that maybe she does have a home here and does belong.

As the episode wound down there is a really nice moment between Zari and Sara. It is at this moment where Zari truly accepts her place on the team and offers up some advice in regards to Sara and Ava (Jes Macallan). At the start of the hour, Zari felt wronged by Sara and was ready to abandon the team. Then she heard loop-Sara talking to Ava about her and she realized why Sara is so hard on her. It was eye-opening for her and the impact of that moment was revealed here. This scene brought things full circle with Sara and Zari. They started off angry with one another and through what Zari went through she developed a powerful respect for her captain. Thanks to the spot on the writing of this episode and Ashe's precise attention to the journey this change of heart felt very real. And it was great that Tala Ashe and Caity Lotz got to share a scene like this. They are becoming a dynamic acting duo. Throughout this scene, Zari looked happy and at peace. She was happy to hear that Sara was willing to help try to save her brother. It was a nice coming together of two very strong personalities and the actresses perfectly captured the new dynamic between the two women bringing a softness to both characters that isn't normally there. It was a nice little moment both actresses seemed to intentionally push to the forefront during the scene.

This scene is also where Zari pushed Sara to pursue Ava. It was a push that Sara desperately needed. While that was a critical moment for Sara in regards to Ava it was the way Zari justified it that made it matter the most. She said, "love is worth the risk" and the way Ashe delivered the line made it evident that at that moment Zari was also learning to accept that advice. The character had been so afraid to love and to belong that it was holding her back. Through this whole complex journey, she learned that it is okay to love and to be loved and she wanted to share that bit of wisdom with Sara. Surprisingly, Sara took the advice to heart and pursued Ava. It was a beautiful serene moment for Zari and Tala Ashe did a terrific job showing the contrasts between where Zari started the hour and where she ended it.

Earlier in the episode, during the "fun" montage, Zari had taken the Stradivarius violin and attempted to play. By the end of the episode, she is quite proficient at it, which tells us just how much the character endured. When she goes to play at the end, that wasn't the same Zari that first took hold of the violin, through countless loops she had picked up this instrument to play, improving with each loop, this Zari is at peace and expresses her comfort at finding a home and her place on the team through music. In reality, this is a nice Easter egg from the writers. They clearly took advantage of the fact that Ashe really does play the violin and according to pictures on her Twitter the night the episode aired she's been playing since she was a child. She is as talented a musician as she is an actress, and thankfully in her excellent performance in this episode of Legends of Tomorrow fans were given a taste of both talents.

Tala Ashe did such a magnificent job showing the evolution of Zari throughout this episode. She capitalized on each tiny nuanced moment and made it count. At the same time, she was digging into the big moments and infusing them with the exact right emotional beats. There were also little quirky humorous moments which she absolutely nailed. She's not only a very emotionally profoundly deep actress but on the opposite end of the spectrum, she also has near perfect comedic timing. For a show like Legends of Tomorrow, they could not have cast a better actress with a greater range.

While a character is the creation of a writer, complete with backstory and the stories they live, but it is a performer who makes that character flesh and blood. It is the performer who makes us feel that a character could be a real living breathing person. Tala Ashe understands how to make a character live and through her, Zari lives and is a powerful woman. Zari is a character but in Tala Ashe's hands, she is a person that the audience can root for and cheer on. It is for all the reasons above that Tala Ashe was deservedly voted to be the February Reader's Choice Performer of the Month.

This was one of the most emotionally heavy episodes of this show and almost all the emotion was tasked to Tala Ashe to bring to life. This episode was headlined by Ashe and she was in almost every single scene. There were simply too many amazing moments to include in this article. Please feel free to use the comments to discuss all of the other moments not covered in this article.

PLEASE READ: Please keep comments on topic and just discussing the performances of the winner.


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