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Performers Of The Month - Staff Choice Most Outstanding Performer of February - Hale Appleman

29 Mar 2019

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The article was written by Ellys Cartin, Aimee Hicks, Jessica Lerner, and Jamie Coudville. Article edited by Donna Cromeans (@DJRiter). Article prepared for publication by Aimee Hicks.

Sometimes there comes along a fictional character who transcends every classification. They can't be placed into any box, because they belong in all of them and none of them. You might have dreamed of a character this enthralling but never dared to imagine anyone could bring them to life. Hale Appleman has given us such a character in The Magicians' Eliot. A complex, fascinating character from the beginning, Eliot's story was but a prologue until he was crowned as High King of Fillory and confronted with new challenges that would test the limits of his heart and mind. Greatness wasn't given to Eliot with his crown, but the crown was the key to him discovering his capability for greatness. The same can be said for Appleman bringing Eliot to life. He's a gifted artist. He's taken Eliot through a triumphant evolution, and this season he's taking him through an excruciating ordeal, as Eliot has lost control of his body to a menacing and callous monster. Appleman has effortlessly adapted to playing this dark being who is not Eliot, but in Escape From The Happy Place (4x05), he spends the most time showing us what Eliot is up to imprisoned inside himself. Searching for an escape brings Eliot face-to-face with truths about himself that he will have to reckon with in order to stand a chance at gaining his freedom. Appleman gifts us with his very best work in an episode that doesn't so much celebrate his character as it does solidify Eliot's place in this show rests squarely at its heart. For this very layered performance, Appleman has been selected as SpoilerTV Staff Choice Performer of the Month for February.

As the Monster, Appleman dons a scruffier appearance and adjusts all aspects of his performance accordingly. You first see him in this episode sitting across from Quentin (Jason Ralph) in a diner. He asks if Quentin is done being sad over the loss of Eliot. There's a heavy sigh towards the start that indicates the Monster is bored with the conversation, while his lethargic tone suggests weariness, but his eyes, after they gradually look up at Quentin, punctuate the question with the faintest hostility. He also elongates the end of each sentence with a drawn-out exhale. For the most part, he keeps his tone neutral but there's a little sing-song added in when the Monster tells Quentin that Eliot is gone. And just a hint of pep when he adds that Quentin still has the same number of friends since the Monster has replaced Eliot. He even adds a small impish smile to accompany his declaration of friendship. This scene also contrasts how Eliot moves his body and how the Monster does. The Monster lacks the agility and grace that Eliot possesses, and he's also still unfamiliar with his new skin, so to speak. In the diner, the Monster pulls out an artifact to show Quentin, and his arms stick out at odd angles. He holds his hands open with his fingers forming almost claw-like positions. At all times, the barest hint of a glower doesn't leave his face, reminding you that though awkward the Monster is a dangerous and volatile threat waiting for the strength or a reason to explode.

From the scruffy looking Monster, it is an amazing transition as Appleman becomes his more familiar character of Eliot. He is showing then-newbie Todd (Adam DiMarco) the art of the proper cocktail, a must-have skill for residency at the Physical Kids cottage. The cocktail is not Todd's first guess for what constitutes an important piece of knowledge. Appleman displays a quick but somehow still lingering glance full of disdain. Eliot immediately shifts his expression back into cool indifference. In one elegant sweep, he lifts the finished cocktail into Todd's hands, lets go of it for a second, and then just as smoothly snatches it back before Todd can take a sip. He takes it back, and, as he does so, his face is void of expression but there's an edge to his voice when he tells Todd to make the cocktail himself now. A firm knock at the outside door produces some subtle changes in Eliot's demeanor. He lifts his shoulders just a little higher and takes a step back before turning away from Todd, who is asking if he should answer the knock. Eliot says he'd rather not. For one beat, his face is out of the shadows, and he wears a completely different expression. Looking out the corner of his eyes, with his eyebrows tensely drawn upwards, Appleman shows us fear.

Eliot walks away and encounters his friend Margo (Summer Bishil) as she was then. Her presence has the opposite effect of that knock on the door. He visibly relaxes, changing the cadence of his speech to more of a croon, and playfully toying with her outstretched hand. And yet the moment is not quite right. The way Appleman has Eliot speak in this conversation isn't quite natural. The words sound just a little forced. At one point, the way he's looking at Margo doesn't match up with his party Eliot persona at all. There's a little wonder and a little longing but mostly his face just fills with melancholy, as if he is reflecting on a memory. That look makes the tiny gesture of him kissing the top of her head heartbreaking. He locks eyes with Margo, anchoring himself there as if even blinking might make her disappear. You hear the knock at the door again. Eliot stops Margo from answering it. He doesn't react with the same fear at hearing the knock, but he stays close to his best friend. Eliot transitions from the party to sitting with Margo on the couch smoking. He lays his head on her lap but lifts one arm up to rest at the top of the couch around her shoulders. When Margo asks him what he likes about summer, he replies that the beautiful nothing of having nothing he's required to do is his favorite part. There's a drowsy happiness in his voice, which conveys how pleasantly lost he is in these memories. Margo asks him to make her a drink, and he encounters Todd working on cocktails. This time Eliot more confidently and briskly dismisses Todd. He hurries back to rejoin Margo, sulking when she decides to answer the door. When she is grabbed by an unseen person, he runs to her defense, leaping over the concrete school sign to reach her side. She has a stranger in a chokehold, a stranger who promises Eliot he wasn't going to hurt Margo. No longer really alarmed, Eliot scoffs but an unearthly shriek from the skies sends them all scurrying indoors.

The stranger identifies himself as Charlton (Spencer Daniels) and explains to Eliot that his body has been possessed, with Eliot himself being pushed to a far corner of his mind or his "Happy Place" so to speak. Here he has access to his memories, with the Physical Kids cottage being the one safe place that the remnants of the Monster's other hosts can't reach. Eliot is first dumbfounded but then becomes much more serious when Charlton says nothing is real. Charlton encourages Eliot to imagine that Margo isn't there. He obligingly shuts his eyes and opens to them to find her gone; he's startled, and a glimmer of adrenaline is visible in his somewhat horrified expression. Even though Eliot is trying to work through what he's just learned, his attention is taken up by Charlton who is filled with questions like the proper way to use the word fuck. For a moment, Eliot slips into a patient explanation that the word is something of a chameleon only to realize abruptly he doesn't know who Charlton is. He very confidently declares he couldn't have forgotten someone with that name. Appleman hits the right comic notes every time in the scene. Charlton explains he was the Monster's former host, and Eliot is immediately relieved at filling in that blank. He matter-of-factly mentions killing Charlton's possessed body, his words trailing off somewhat apologetically. Charlton warns him against trying to escape. He recounts terrible tales of the inhuman creature host remnants that slaughter those who try to break free, finishing with a gruesome description of someone who tied down looking at their own detached face. Appleman's voice responds in a whisper, as Eliot looks up from staring at the ground, acknowledging that's awful. Without missing a beat, he asks Charlton about this door of escape without showing the slightest trace of fear on his face. He learns that the way to briefly regain control is to find the memory he least wishes to revisit, a quest he embarks on almost offhandedly.

Eliot takes Charlton to scene with a bloody school bus and a body bag. His facial expression is one of regret and shame when he explains to Charlton the first time he used magic was to kill his childhood bully. Appleman folds his arms protectively across his chest, as Eliot confesses that this bully Logan made him want to kill himself. This small gesture, along with the stricken look in his eyes, tells you how much this memory still hurts. Guilt underlies how he recounts his recognition that destroying his bully took an immense toll on his own identity. Charlton notes the memory isn’t all bad, as he witnesses young Eliot being comforted by a friend. Eliot identifies the other boy as his only childhood friend Taylor, and he smiles at the recollection. He swallows away that smile like it’s a bad taste as he remembers another part to this friendship—how it ended. Eliot and Charlton walk into a school gym; at first you don’t see what they do, you only hear kicks and grunts. Eliot doesn’t look directly at what his happening. He looks everywhere else in the room instead. The sound of a whistle startles him, but he still doesn’t look at the bullying victim lying on the ground. Then young Eliot delivers the last kick to the injured boy, revealed to be Taylor. Appleman keeps his eyes downcast, unable to look at what's There's a visible flinch at the whistle and when he speaks his voice cracks, but he just keeps staring at the distant ground passed the site of the attack, lost in this moment.He doesn't even hear the roar in the background at first. This moment was so draining that when the monsters show up fighting is not even an option, and Eliot runs away again.

As Eliot flees his childhood, an apparition of the Monster appears into the middle of Quentin and Julia (Stella Maeve) as they work on finding a way to kill him. He asks them what they're doing, and Quentin says they're reading. The Monster pauses and looks Quentin over from right to left. He declares them boring and pulls out the artifact with a smile as if he's a child showing off a new toy. During his brief trip to Mesopotamia (he went there after the diner because of a random thing Quentin said), the Monster discovered that focusing his power changes the artifact. He demonstrates this new ability to Quentin, then looks up at him with his eyes wide and awake, eager for answers. He asks what the writing on the artifact says. Julia suggests they could look it up. The Monster turns towards her, very serious, and asks how. They take a field trip to the Brakebills Library. There, sprawled out sitting in one chair and trying to rest his legs on the arm of another, the Monster has a revelation. Appleman again differentiates the body language of Eliot and the Monster in multiple ways. As the Monster sits there, he's contorted, as if unable to sit naturally in the chair, and he holds the book just by this thumbs and pinky fingers, with his middle fingers uncomfortably bent so his knuckles rest against the outside of the book. Julia's acolyte Shoshana (Jolene Purdy) declares that she's found something. He gathers all his limbs and rises out of the chair to stand perfectly straight, hovering at Julia's shoulder when she reviews the book Shoshana found and lies that it's not what they needed. He looks at one woman and then the other, not exactly suspicious but clearly trying to figure out if he's missing something. Finally, the Monster just leans towards Shoshana's face, quietly hissing that he hates books before slouching and walking away.

The transition back to Eliot this time is sharper. Unlike the Monster, he's devoting all his attention and energy to finding the door that will allow him to communicate with his friends. He stands in front of a chalkboard listing all his most traumatic memories. He keeps studying it, doesn't take his eyes off it, and tells Charlton they will be going back out to face the creatures. He cheerfully reveals some secret weapons by conjuring versions of the people most important to him. He introduces Margo with a tone of awe, noting there's not a more terrifying force on Earth. In fact, he allows this Margo to rant violently for a bit, watching her in wonder. Meet and greet out of the way, Eliot takes everyone on a trip through his most traumatic memories, starting with the more minor ones. An exceptionally humorous montage rifles through brief excerpts of these horrors. First, there's a childhood haircut gone wrong. Witnessing this, Appleman positions Eliot so that he's half turned away from the sight and basically cringing. A couple more intimate embarrassing moments show two different Eliots: apologetic and sheepish the first time but casually dismissive the second. At one point he lists sleeping with other people's boyfriends, crossing two items off the chalkboard and turning around with a large grin before turning back and crossing off several more names. He somberly mentions betraying his friends by accident as well as on purpose. A flashback to the miserable moment he jailed Margo doesn't produce the door either, and Appleman shows us that this journey is starting to hurt Eliot. His comment about having to go on is low energy, and his eyes are equally weary. The idea there could be a memory worse than betraying his best friend isn't one he wants to entertain.

The creatures attack, with Dream Margo and Fen (Brittany Curran) staying behind to fight them. Eliot, Charlton, and Dream Quentin make it back to the Happy Place, although Charlton is bleeding profusely. As Charlton collapses, Eliot hurries to kneel beside him, gently telling him not to look at the wound and smiling sadly when Charlton uses the word fuck correctly at last. Later, with Charlton's wound somewhat bandaged, Eliot asks him where he found his most traumatic memory. He's surprised to learn that the memory for Charlton was leaving home but realizes that it wasn't just because he left but because he was faced with his biggest fear. Dream Quentin offers to create a distraction so that Eliot can go find his own memory. Leaning forward, Eliot thanks him for being so generous. Quentin says that you sacrifice for people you love. In that second, you see that Eliot knows. The realization of what his memory instantly appears in his face. He swallows twice, before setting down his drink and getting up. He walks over to Dream Quentin and tells him to lead the creatures away, gently cleaning a spot off Quentin's chin before he runs off. Turning back to Charlton, Eliot takes a deep breath and releases it slowly. His face already shows he's lost deep in thought, in recollection. He tells Charlton he knows where to go.

Watching as past Eliot and Quentin are flooded with 50 years of memories from the past life they shared, present-day Eliot stands perfectly still, knowing he cannot change the pain his former self is about to inflict. As past Quentin expresses his desire for him and past Eliot to give this thing between them a real chance, Appleman's face, as present Eliot, considerably whitens, unable to look away. Yet, Appleman can completely shift his persona as past Eliot, with an air of arrogance, cocks a coy smile and brushes off Quentin's declaration with ease. As past Eliot states, "We were just injected with a half-century worth of emotions, so I get if maybe you're not thinking clearly," present Eliot bows his head in shame, not able to watch the memory unfold any further. Past Eliot continues to rebuke Quentin's efforts before delivering the final blow. "Q, come on. I love you, but you have to know that's not me, and that's definitely not you, not when we have a choice," past Eliot says flatly. As Quentin crumbles, past Eliot shows no remorse in his actions, yet pain and heartbreak are written all over present Eliot's face as he chastises his former self. As present Eliot lectures his former self, Appleman gets a chance to showcase his true range. Showing a rare display of vulnerability, present Eliot not only admits he was afraid but tells Quentin when he's afraid he runs away. Present Eliot then gets down on his knees and puts his hand behind Quentin's head before sinking into a kiss with his best friend. Despite the lack of discernable features, viewers can see present Eliot finally give into something he truly wants. As they break apart, present Eliot states, his face still full of longing, "If I ever get out of here Q, know that when I'm braver, I learned it from you."

In the case of the scene where Eliot manages to emerge from the Monster temporarily, Appleman is a master at his craft, effortlessly transitioning between dueling factors within a scene. This blank look comes over the Monster's face and then Appleman has the character stumble and struggle to stay balanced. It was a beautiful way to show Eliot emerging from the Monster. Then once Eliot emerged there is this bright light that appears in Eliot's eyes. Quentin missed out on it because he had become so convinced that Eliot was gone that he didn't even dare to imagine this moment being possible. Eliot knew that and he knew exactly how to let Quentin know it really was him. For Appleman that meant a mid-scene shift between the stiff way, he has been carrying the Monster and some of the normal attributes to how Eliot normally is with Quentin. Yet, to make things more difficult, Appleman had to do all of that while keeping his character stiffer than normal because Eliot was fighting with everything he had to maintain control. Eliot was desperate to get this important message to Quentin and Appleman sold it in such a powerful way that it could easily make the heart of the viewer ache for the predicament Eliot is stuck in. The smile that Appleman had pop on Eliot's face when he saw Quentin said more than a thousand words could have. This was the man that Eliot loves with his whole heart and seeing Quentin before he gave him the strength to hold on long enough to get his message through. It was beautiful the way he had Eliot react to Quentin, a powerful display of the connection these two men share. This whole episode really built up to this moment as it showed Eliot's feelings towards Quentin and this scene was the culmination of it all. The scene required a lot of Appleman in transitioning between Eliot and The Monster and in showing Eliot's feelings for Quentin. Appleman delivered a raw and powerful performance that not only did justice to the writing, but that also showed off the true power of love.

It's not very hard to find a TV character with a meaningful story, but you would have to dig very deep to find one with such beautiful development as Eliot has had on The Magicians. His story wouldn't have any of its spellbinding resonance without the actor who inhabits Eliot. Hale Appleman has given life to one of the most intricate and satisfying character evolutions that TV has ever blessed us with. There's never been a time in the show's run where you couldn't see a dozen different layers of Eliot in a single scene. In that way, Appleman's work in Escape from the Happy Place (4x05) is not remarkable. He has always been this good, always able to draw the audience so intimately into Eliot's courage, passion, grief, and yearning. This performance, however, is especially worthy of recognition because this episode celebrates the entire body of work Appleman has produced throughout the show. He takes us from the past to the future in an episode that not only sees a major shift in the story itself but in Eliot's own individual emotional growth. What Eliot experiences simultaneously wounds him and us while also giving a precious glimmer of hope, and there's no other word to describe what Appleman does, no other word except electrifying. For all these reasons, he is SpoilerTV's Staff Choice for February Performer of the Month. With a performance this complex, this article covers just a small portion of his character's journey. What did you think of his performance? Share your thoughts in the comments below.