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Performers Of The Month - Staff Choice Most Outstanding Performer of October - Cobie Smulders

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

It’s very gratifying when you see a performer that has worked hard throughout the years, paying their dues in the industry so to speak, find a role that truly lets them shine. Such is the case with Cobie Smulders. Fans have loved her for years, knowing her as a multi-talented performer. She showed her comedic chops as Robin on How I Met Your Mother on television and proved herself adept at action as Nick Fury’s right-hand woman - Maria Hill in the Marvel Avengers franchise. Now fans are getting to see her display all those talents and more in the title role of Dex Parios in Stumptown on ABC. It’s only taken a few short episodes to show this is a role that is hers and hers alone. She especially shines in Bad Alibis (1x5) by taking us through so many layers of this intriguing character combining humanity, humor, action and emotion. Her outstanding performance in this episode is a rare win for a performer in a show in its first season. Cobie Smulders has been deservedly selected as Performer of the Month for October by the staff of SpoilerTV for her incredible work in Stumptown Bad Alibis (1x5).

Bad Alibi opens on a quiet note that speaks volumes about where Dex is at in her life. She walks into the living room where her brother Ansel (Cole Sibus) is playing a video game and hovers for a minute or two fastening the buttons on her blazer. She wants her sibling to acknowledge her unusually professional look. When Ansel does, Dex lightly dismisses his response but can’t help from cracking into a grin. The scene establishes the bond between the siblings and their mutual affection. It also allows Smulders to show Dex’s nervous excitement at her upcoming interview. She must catch her breath after spilling all the details, and there is a note of pride in her voice when she promises the new job will mean being able to get Ansel his favorite PopTarts. That last declaration comes with a toss of her shoulders that lets us feel Dex’s confidence rise. Smulders demonstrates through her body language that this is more than just earning a job; it’s a welcome opportunity for Dex to raise her status as a provider for her family.

Dex catches a curveball when she goes to drop her brother off at work and finds their friend Grey (Jake Johnson) mysteriously absent. At first, she panics a little, repeating that she has to make it to her interview. Ansel reminds her he can’t manage the bar alone, and Dex visibly seems to be standing on firmer ground. She moves right into following Ansel’s lead for getting the bar set up. The scene lets Smulders play with her comedic talents a bit, as Dex is on edge throughout the entire process, locking eyes for too long with customers when taking their drink orders and constantly grabbing for or leaning on the bar. When the chef quits, she calls in her friend Tookie (Adrian Martinez) to fill in, although she still follows him into the kitchen with a worried near regretful expression. Throughout this scene, she never takes off the blazer, still wanting to be prepared at a moment’s notice for her interview.

The interview scene was a terrific sequence featuring Smulders and guest-star JaneanneGarafalo as the license interviewer Janet Withers. At first, Smulders’ has Dex be a fidgeting mess, stumbling through her answers about her apprenticeship with Artie and why she wants to be a P.I. But there was just a moment of connection and the awkward wall between the two comes down and Dex bares her soul to Withers. This was Dex at her most vulnerable. Like the viewers Withers could see, hear and feel the earnestness in Dex’s voice when she talks about, after ten years of struggle, being a P.I. was something she good at.

While it appeared Dex’s earnest, truthful confession impressed Withers, Dex, as always, was filled with self-doubt. Then Hoffman (Michael Ealy) arrives asking her to spy on her closest friend. It was almost as if he was kicking her while she was down. In fairness, he didn’t know all that had been going on, but viewers couldn’t help but understand Dex’s reaction. Smulders straightens Dex’s shoulders, finds the strength to get up when she feels she’s been knocked down again, and literally and figuratively shows him the door.

Although her initial reaction to Hoffman’s allegations was one of indignation, Dex doesn’t resist Hoffman’s plea to evaluate the evidence if she cares about Grey. She stands in front of Hoffman’s research and studies it carefully, almost imperceptibly. Only the tight line Dex pulls her mouth into and the short, sharp inhales give away that she’s processing what she sees. While she does let Hoffman into Grey’s office to search it, Dex makes her discomfort known. She paces back and forth, pulling off her blazer and throwing it down on a chair. Shifting anxiously from one foot to the next, Dex moves her hands from supporting her back to hovering above her hips. Smulders let us see the guilt and conflict that Dex is wrestling with. Is she doing the right thing? Her uncertainty is readily apparent. Hoffman asks her to open the safe, and Dex just stares at him, equally frustrated and distressed with her hands now firmly planted on her hips, for a long couple seconds. When the safe door opens, Dex instinctively looks away as if she can somehow preserve Grey’s privacy but she keeps one finger resting on top of the door. The discovery of the bullets catches her off guard, and she tries to downplay it with her disinterest. The information that Grey was an explosives expert isn’t one she can brush away so easily. Dex can’t even make eye contact with Hoffman at that point, as if doing so would solidify her actions as a betrayal of Grey. She is very uncomfortable, and one can see the negative energy welling up under her skin trying to propel her into some course of action.

Smulders fills even the simplest scenes with numerous details that expand our understanding of Dex. When she is searching Grey’s loft, she’s neat and methodical, placing items back in the exact position she found them in. She pauses when she finds the ring box she gave Grey for safekeeping. For a moment, she just holds it as if it’s heavier than it looks. A small smile crosses Dex’s face when she opens the box and sees her ring. A bittersweet second of reflection passes, and Dex’s gaze travels into a distant corner of some unspoken regret. Her phone ring breaks into the stillness, and she answers it with a hint of a weary sigh as she shuffles her memories back into a box of their own. Dex’s posture instantly changes when she hears Ansel is in trouble. She cannot contain the rage in her voice when she inquires about the man that Ansel is with, and the fury makes her voice quiver. She blinks rapidly a couple times, the tension rippling up through her raised eyebrows and forehead. When she tells the caller that she will be right there, the words are delivered as a stone-cold promise. It’s immediately clear that Dex is about to unleash hell.

Instead of rushing in blindly to her brother’s rescue Dex is calm and methodical even calling Hoffman for backup, but the tension radiating from Smulder’s body tells us there is a seething rage about to be unleashed. This is just another clear illustration that the most important thing in Dex’s life is her brother. Her military training takes over as she assesses the situation before taking action. She smoothly grabs a kitchen knife and conceals it until she smoothly slides into the booth to threaten Frank (Jason Manuel Olazabal) all the while smiling warmly at her brother so as not to upset him. One of Stumptown’s biggest strengths is the sibling bond between Dex and Ansel, which is made even more impactful thanks to the wonderful familial chemistry between Smulders and Sibus. It’s such a subtle but wonderful moment between them when Ansel offers to stay, conveying he’s as protective of his sister as she is of him. Smulders in one instant smiles warmly to reassure him and in the next breath, out of Ansel’s sight, stares at Frank with daggers in her eyes daring him to try to harm her brother. Once Ansel is safely away, and Frank gets the drop on her, we get a stellar example of Smulders’ work as an action star. The fight between Dex and Frank in the tight quarters of the diner kitchen was expertly choreographed and executed. Then after the tension and the fight, Dex hands Frank over to Hoffman, and despite the need to use the information she got as to Grey’s location, reminds us that her priority is and always will be her brother. Then, with the slightest smirk on her face, gives us a prime example of Dex’s sense of humor by telling him she kept Frank on ice.

The sometimes heroic yet more often tragic side of Dex is that her own wellbeing, mentally and physically, ranks low on her priority list. When she hears the gunshots, it is enough for her that there is even the slightest chance Grey is in trouble. She rushes into the building, not even armed, barely syncing up with Hoffman who can provide return fire to cover her. As Dex runs up to kneel beside Grey to help apply pressure to the wounded man, she quickly, gently touches his arm and pushes him out of the way. The screams of the wounded man and Grey’s frantic apologies trigger Dex’s own trauma masterfully performed by Smulders. She nearly loses herself inside the horrific flashbacks, only able to anchor herself to reality by barking orders at Grey to help her with the injury. When the police rush in with guns drawn, Dex must close her eyes. Her face is petrified with terror, and her whole body quivers with the aftershock. Hoffman finds her later outside, absently scraping the blood off her hands with a sanitary wipe. She asks him for a favor, responding to his matter-of-fact reply with a brave smirk, brave because her body and face seem so completely drained that the smile is a real effort. Her intervention for Grey is short and heartfelt. Hoffman is called away, and Dex is left sitting on the tailgate lost in her own thoughts as she futilely tries to clean her hands.

It was one of the closing scenes of the episode where Smulders fully embodied and showed us everything that DexParios is. Again, maintaining her calm in front of her brother, you can see the anger rising in her when Grey returns to the barn. Once behind closed doors, she unleashes and the anger, fury, fear and disappointment that has been building by strongly punching Grey. Her face flushed with fury, tears welling in her eyes, Smulders was never more fully Dex than she was at that moment. Dex has had very few people in whom she places her trust, and the one person she’d let in for the first time in a very long time had betrayed her in the worst possible way, by putting the person she loved most in the world, her brother, in danger. All the pain, fear, and rage she was feeling with there in Smulders’ face as her body radiated fighting to control herself. Then again, when Ansel interrupts she quickly hides her feelings to protect him. Moments later she’s smiling again when Withers awards her an official P.I. License. And the first person she shows it to, to share her accomplishment, her brother.

Fans of the Greg Rucka Stumptown graphic novels must be delighted with Cobie Smulders’ captivating and multi-layered interpretation of DexParios. Smulders’ work in this episode clearly showed this is a role she relishes playing. In Bad Alibis her fabulous performance puts the many sides of Dex on display from protective sister, conflicted friend, action hero and warrior to vulnerable woman. A performance truly worthy of the title of Spoiler TV Staff Choice Performer of the Month for October. And the beauty of this all is, she’s just getting started with this character.

What were your thoughts on Cobie Smulders’ performance in Bad Alibis? Share them in the comments below.

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