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Performers Of The Month - Staff Choice Most Outstanding Performer of May - Chyler Leigh



The article was written by Donna Cromeans, Ellys Cartin, Abby Crofton, Gina Kern, and Zandarl. Article edited by Donna Cromeans (@DJRiter). Article prepared for publication by Aimee Hicks.

From the beginning, Supergirl fans quickly realized there was something special about the actress playing Alex Danvers. Chyler Leigh became a fan favorite as Kara Danver's (Melissa Benoist) protective, older sister. Her off-screen bond with Benoist shone through brightly on-screen and the closeness of the Danvers' sisters became the heart, soul, and foundation of the show. In the show's second season she dazzled fans with her nuanced performances during Alex's coming out storyline. Her work there earned her back-to-back SpoilerTV Performer of the Month wins and she was ultimately named SpoilerTV Performer of the Year for 2016. Since that time, she has continued to be one of the show's most consistently superb performers as her character of Alex has grown and matured as a woman, a sister, and Director of the DEO. At mid-season of Season Four, the writers and producers came up with what could easily be described as it's riskiest storyline – mind-wiping Alex Danvers of the knowledge that her sister was Supergirl, that challenged the very foundation of the show, the Danvers' sisters' relationship. In lesser hands, the storyline could have become cliched. The producers and writers of the show wisely entrusted it to its powerhouse acting trio - David Harewood, Melissa Benoist, and Chyler Leigh. And in Red Dawn (4x21) they brought the storyline to an emotionally charged conclusion that put Leigh in the spotlight, and she shined brightly with a bravura performance that served as a reminder to all just how phenomenal a performer she is. For this incredible performance, Chyler Leigh was rightfully selected as Staff Choice Performer of the Month for May by the writers and staff of SpoilerTV.

An opening dream featuring Kara and Alex as teenagers does a great job of setting the tone and focus of this episode. Leigh's brilliant portrayal of Alex Danvers shaken by the dream is played with just the right amount of confusion, concern, and knowing something is wrong, especially with her connection to her sister. Alex's openness and vulnerability, perhaps caused by her new focus on herself since the mind-wipe, was illustrated by having Alex fall asleep while Kelly (Azie Tesfai) was still there, This was a telling sign of the growing trust between them. Leigh's portrayal of Alex's ability to be vulnerable, yet strong at the same time has always been one of the actress' greatest strengths in portraying the Danvers sister without superpowers. Alex's connection to Kara always plays great, and the seamless move between younger Alex to present day Alex, and her ability to continue the scene as if she herself had played the younger Alex is also a testament to her brilliant acting. This scene sets up the rest of the episode and gives us the roadmap needed to understand how and why Alex can get her memories back of Kara, her sister who does amazing things. Her interaction with Kelly and talking about the painful loss of the adoption falling through and how that might connect somehow to her sister who was also adopted creates the foundation needed for this great episode beautifully written by Eric Carrasco (in one of his last episodes for the show), Gabriel Llanas and Lindsay Sturman.

Despite being haunted by her dreams and fears for her sister she can't put into words, Alex approaches her professional challenges with her usual alert wisdom. However, Leigh keeps a layer of unease beneath Alex's polished and commanding demeanor. When at the DEO getting an update report from Brainy (Jesse Rath), her hands stay firmly on her hips as she swivels about to assess the damage. Alex is never still, never off her guard, and Leigh reflects this quality by keeping her posture and gaze always changing slightly. When Lena (Katie McGrath) arrives with new information, she drops her hands to her sides but gives Lena her full attention. Leigh shows us how Alex is patiently but swiftly evaluating the new information through inclining her head a little to the side and tightening her brows. Her demeanor changes immediately when Lena mentions the Supergirl clone. Her poise breaks just for a moment, and her face is distraught. Though Alex's memories of Kara's super identity remain out of reach, Leigh lets us feel how Alex is being shaken subconsciously, it's still her first instinct to protect Supergirl. When the shot comes back for Alex's reaction to the Supergirl clone hating America, we see Alex's face clenched in distress. She is holding her breath, a lump in her throat as this information hits her hard. Leigh shows us that Alex is rattled but not weakened. She squares her shoulders and takes charge, with a confident assertion that she will hunt down the threat. The solemn nature of the scene is offset by Brainy's parting declaration that he will tell Dreamer he loves her. Leigh doesn't miss a beat, with snappy comedic timing, responding with encouragement and a slight smirk. She slips immediately back into leader mode, picking up the serious discussion as if no romantic announcements interrupted it. Alex does ask Lena if she's heard from Kara, and the negative response brings that layer of unease to the surface as Leigh takes a deep inhale and holds it, letting us feel Alex's heart squeeze. Suffice to say, this scene owes all its urgency to Leigh's proficient grasp of her character's inner voice which she projects so well in her performance here.

When Supergirl secretly comes to Alex at the DEO asking for help to fight Red Daughter Leigh's facial expressions and voice convey worry at the Superhero's rash decision to visit. There is also confusion mixed in with exasperation as if Alex is questioning why Supergirl would take such a risk. Before losing her memories, Alex would scold Kara for her impulsiveness, but she knew why her sister did such things: her need to help. This Alex lacks that knowledge and the subtle way Leigh conveys that just in a few moments is impressive. Leigh's portrayal of Alex's protectiveness towards Kara has always felt authentic. Even when Alex has no memories of Supergirl as her sister this holds true.

The two fall into a familiar pattern of working together as a weakened Supergirl uses the sun lamps to recharge as Alex switches into scientist mode. As the Girl of Steel lay there under the lamps, Leigh's Alex is all business asking about how it feels to absorb sunlight and how important it is to her in a nicely played bit of foreshadowing. They're working together to determine Supergirl's heat signature so they can distinguish it from Red Daughter's and track her. The moment Col. Haley (April Parker Jones) bursts in and become angry to see the rogue Supergirl at the DEO, it's like a switch is flipped and Alex instantly goes from scientist to protector. Whether Alex realizes it or not her first instinct is to protect Supergirl first, Leigh's entire body language goes on the defensive as she physically steps between Haley and Supergirl. Then, she does verbal battle with Haley, again defending Supergirl and convincing Haley that it is in the country and the DEO's best interest for them to work with Supergirl.

The three work together to triangulate Red Daughter's movements and narrow it down the concentration to a few blocks in National City. Throughout the process, one can almost see the wheels turning in Alex's analytical mind trying to figure out why Red Daughter would be living in her city and assessing the threat. Leigh's focused concentration shows the investigator/agent side to Alex at work. When they determine a specific address, Supergirl starts to rush off to confront her doppelganger, Alex calls out for her to wait for her to go as back-up, again another protective sister, instinctive move. Leigh does subtle work in showing her confusion when Supergirl insists it's safer for her to stay behind, begging Alex to trust her. As Supergirl leaves, with just the slightest change of expression from confusion to a look that says, "Yeah, right" Leigh clearly telegraphs that protective Alex has won and will be following Supergirl to the address, providing back-up whether Supergirl wants it or not.

After following Supergirl to Red Daughter's National City lair, Benoist and Leigh share a beautiful scene as a confused Alex tries to understand why Red Daughter's hideout looks suspiciously like her sister's loft. Her fear for her sister's safety rattles the normally stoic agent as Supergirl looks on helpless to tell her why her fears are unfounded and that her sister is safe. This is one of the show's powerhouse acting team's finest scenes opposite one another. Watching Benoist as Supergirl, struggle for a way to reach her sister is near painful as you see her mind working trying to find a way to jog Alex's memory that won't drive her insane. You feel every ounce of her frustration and desperation. Then the two share a short moment of bonding when Supergirl manages to connect with Alex by confessing she had a sister. Leigh's work as the mind-wiped Alex has been some of her finest work, her mastery at taking her character right up to that emotional edge is phenomenal and her every emotion plays out so subtly through her expressive features. They make a short-lived connection when Alex sits next to Supergirl and the Girl of Steel takes her hand. It is a pivotal moment that begins the reconnection of the sisters, not unlike the moment in the pilot when Kara reaches out for Alex's hand as the latter starts to leave after giving Kara the hologram from her mother. That moment defined the power of the sisterhood for the show and this one reaffirmed that connection, although the moment is shattered by the news that "Kara" is in Midvale and Eliza is in danger.

The second half of the season has been building to a climactic battle, and the big question isn't whether Supergirl can overcome Red Daughter. It's whether Alex can overcome her memory wipe and rediscover the truth of her connection to Supergirl. Alex runs up to where Supergirl and Red Daughter are fighting in the darkness. As the two exchange increasingly powerful blows, flashes of memory strike Alex. Leigh communicates how Alex is overwhelmed, alternately flinching and squinting as each happy piece of her and Kara's past comes back. She gasps out Kara's name with a sigh of short-lived relief, before rushing to stop Red Daughter from attacking a now-unconscious Supergirl. Red Daughter leaves Supergirl for dead.

While we know she can't possibly be gone forever, the minutes that follow don't lose a shred of intensity. Leigh runs into frame, breathless and pleading, dropping herself to the ground on her knees. She hits the ground hard and lays her head on Supergirl's chest in one quick, desperate movement. We see her try to slow her own breathing, so she can better listen for a heartbeat. The pitch in her voice rises, and Leigh adds in some anguish and fear as Alex begs Supergirl to wake up. Alex calls her sister Kara instead of Supergirl again. She exhorts her, with Leigh's voice almost as high as a scream, to not give up. She buries her face at her sister's side to muffle a frantic sob. She puts up a hand to ward off their shell-shocked mother, Eliza's(Helen Slater) comfort, and the whole time her other hand doesn't let go of Kara's. Leigh makes another subtle shift in demeanor here, as Alex begins searching around and sounding out her thoughts. She is looking for a way to save her sister. Leigh makes this scene with its certain outcome equal parts harrowing and hopeful, scraping her emotions raw as Alex shoves the fistful of grass into Kara's hand. The authority in her voice when she orders Kara to take the grass is as if Alex is trying to pour her own strength into her sister. At the same, she is gentle, gathering up every blade of grass and tucking them against Kara's palm, refusing to let a single piece escape. Even as Alex begins to weep, as her heart breaks, Leigh keeps Alex's hand closed over that of her sisters' with the grass inside. There's no doubt that, no matter what, Alex won't stop fighting for Kara, even if the evidence doesn't look good. Leigh packs the scene with dogged resolve. The triumphant coda of Kara waking up is second to the fact that she wakes up to her big sister's joyful, tearful face. Even then, Leigh doesn't have Alex release her sister. She refused to let her die, and she's not about to let go again. This was easily one of the most gut-wrenching scenes of this season.

The episode concludes with Alex and Kara getting word about Lex Luthor and Red Daughter. This time it's Kara who is overwhelmed, but Alex looks over at her quickly, making sure to catch her eye. New threats might loom, but with the Danvers sisters reunited, there's a sense that whatever must happen now is just the denouement. The big emotional payoff for the season was Leigh's magnetic, resonant work in those moments when Alex willed Supergirl back to life.

Red Dawn was easily one of Supergirl's most powerful episodes of a strong fourth season for one reason, its focus was on the heart and foundation of the show, the Danvers sisters. Chyler Leigh has always been one of the show's greatest acting strengths, but in this emotional performance she takes that strength to an entirely higher level of excellence, tapping into her character's despair and desperation with a guttural, raw emotion not seen from her since the powerful end of Season 2's Changing. It is the type of performance that should be praised for its depth and garner all the acting awards for the actress. She has been a standout performer all season, especially in tackling the risky mind-wipe storyline, but in this episode, she is something extraordinary and special and for those reasons and many more she has deservedly earned the recognition bestowed upon her by the staff and writers of SpoilerTV as Staff Choice Performer of the month for May.

***A brief personal note – My first association with SpoilerTV was editing a Performer of the Month article for Chyler Leigh when she won for her amazing work during Alex's coming out story. Since that time, I've become an STV writer/editor, and it's been my sincere wish to get to lead/write another POTM article for her. It's taken a little over two and a half years for her exemplary work to be recognized again giving me the opportunity to write my dream article. I hope the team and I did it and her justice.

Please feel free to use the comments section to discuss any aspect of Chyler Leigh's performance in Red Dawn that this article didn't cover.

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