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Performer of The Month - Readers' Choice Most Outstanding Performer of May - Taylor Hickson

This article was written by Aimee Hicks, Donna Cromeans, Ellys Cartin, Jamie Coudeville, and Luana Arturi. The article was edited by Donna Cromeans (DJRiter). The open and close of the article were written by Aimee Hicks. Prepared for publishing by Aimee Hicks.

Motherland: Fort Salem is a show that took audiences by surprise this Spring. With its beautiful imagery and strong storytelling, it immediately captured the hearts of its viewers. What captivated audiences most was the intoxicating performances from the cast. In the lead is Taylor Hickson who brought life to the complex Raelle Collar. Right out of the gate, Hickson allowed the audience to see all the many layers that compose Raelle. Throughout the season we got to see the character develop into a sister-witch to Abigail (Ashley Nicole Williams) and Tally (Jessica Sutton) as well as a loving girlfriend to Scylla (Amalia Holm). While developing all these intriguing character dynamics, Hickson built up profound chemistry with each of her co-stars which only aided in the power that fueled all Raelle's relationships. That effort paid off big time in Coup (1x9) when Hickson was given a powerful script that allowed her to really dig into all of the dynamics she and her fellow castmates had spent the whole season cultivating. As this episode progressed, Hickson let the audience see the turmoil growing inside Raelle on everything from Alder (Lyne Renee) to Scylla. It came to a head when Raelle was brought to see Scylla one final time. Hickson locked into her powerful chemistry with Holm and delivered a heart-wrenching performance as Raelle parted ways with the woman she still loved with all her heart despite everything that had happened. That powerhouse scene was followed up by an equally heart-breaking performance from Hickson when Raelle admitted to Anacostia (Demetria McKinney) that she still loved Scylla. Hickson did the exceptional script proud as she made sure the audience felt every ounce of anguish Raelle was experiencing. These reasons, and so many more, are why Hickson so easily won the title of SpoilerTV's Readers' Choice Performer of the Month for May.

Continue reading below to find out our thoughts regarding her performance. After reading, please leave your thoughts in the comments.

This episode was the culmination of several episode arcs revolving around Hickson's Raelle and Scylla. Two episodes prior they had an emotional reunion and the episode after Raelle learned of Scylla's Spree affiliation. That made for a very tense reunion between the two in this episode. That scene gave Hickson a lot of emotions to play, what about Hickson's performance in this reunion stood out to you the most?

Aimee: From the very beginning, Hickson has had profoundly powerful chemistry with Holm. They are just one of those acting pairings that were meant to be. When they share the screen, it is always a safe bet that something amazing is about to go down and this reunion scene was no exception. Hickson, who usually carries Raelle as unguarded and relaxed around Holm's Scylla, entered the scene stiff and guarded, a chip on her shoulder. This was a hard moment for Raelle and Hickson made that evident through her body language before she even ever spoke a word. There was always a question of whether Raelle would be able to maintain that level of anger the entire time she was in the room with Scylla. Then when Hickson started delivering her lines, her delivery would have made a striking snake slink back in fear. There was a softness just under the surface, a remnant of their love that she just couldn't shake, but she was fueled with enough hurt and anger that venom dripped from each word that Hickson had Raelle throw at Scylla. Raelle was like a wounded animal striking out and it was an intense scene to watch. Hickson was unforgiving as she delivered an awe-inspiring performance. Then came the moment that struck me as a powerful example of how talented of an actress Hickson is, the moment was when Raelle had to pretend to not care that Scylla was being shipped off to die, she turned her back on Scylla and while Hickson managed to maintain Raelle's stiff posture, her face crumbled. That moment said so much about the conflicting emotions that were raging inside of Raelle. Hickson delivered so much without speaking a word at that moment. She let her body and her expressions convey everything and she nailed the intense emotions of the scene. Hickson is masterful in her line delivery, but what she does in the absence of words can have just as profound of an impact. She delivered an intense and emotionally heavy scene leading up to that moment, the performance was perfect, but that ending was executed in such a powerful way that I think it is what stands out to me the most.

Donna: From the beginning I've been impressed by Hickson's command of her talent. In just a few brief scenes in this episode, she took those skills to the next level. The tense farewell with Scylla was a prime example of that. From the moment she entered the cell her entire body radiated with a myriad of emotions - anger, rage, heartbreak, betrayal. She barely moved the entire time save for the trembling of her chin as she fought to maintain control. She spoke volumes with her face and eyes while saying very few words. That is a gift many actors work years to perfect, yet this young actress nailed every nuance in a short time.

Ellys: The last time we saw Raelle and Scylla together before this scene they were screaming in anguish at being once again separated. Subsequently, Raelle realized that she was targeted by Scylla, throwing their entire relationship under a shadow. In this scene, Hickson carries Raelle's battle between her head and her heart through every strained second. When Raelle sees Scylla's smile, Hickson freezes in step, letting us watch Raelle fight to keep the softness out of her expression. She immediately shreds our hearts and Scylla's with her calm, distraught delivery of "I loved you." Her face is as cold as she can make it, but the words are heartfelt, delivered with only sorrow rather than bitterness. Hickson remains nearly motionless in the first part of this scene, keeping herself at a physical and emotional distance from Holm. However, Raelle can't conceal her reaction to Scylla saying she is being shipped off to die. Her voice, so sharp seconds before, breaks, her face trembles, and she turns to run. Throughout this scene, Hickson lets us feel the sharp hurt of Raelle's grief, lets us see it even as Raelle conceals it from Scylla.

Jamie: Well, things have changed a lot since the previous reunion. Hickson could've stayed quiet for the entire scene and we still would have perfectly understood what Raelle was feeling. Betrayal, hurt, anger, guilt...Hickson manages to show all of it in her facial expressions. What stood out the most to me is that while Raelle is feeling all of that, she's clearly trying to hold it all in. She's torn between wanting to hurt Scylla back and not wanting to show her just how much she's hurting. Towards the end of the scene, the armor cracks just a little bit.

Luana: She clearly went in with something in mind no matter what Scylla told her but the most stunning moment for me was when she tried to make Scylla think she didn't care if she lived or died. It looked like she, herself couldn't even stand saying "Well, we all go sometime" and she had to immediately turn away. She goes through many emotions in this one scene but that one was definitely a standout for me.

When Raelle was first introduced it was clear that she had a chip on her shoulder. She is an independent soul who doesn't like structure but also has a primal need to heal others, often to her own determent. What is your take on how Hickson handled balancing those dueling sides to Raelle?

Aimee: I was impressed with Hickson from the very first moment we saw her bringing Raelle to life. From the very start, she portrayed all the conflict raging inside of Raelle. This is a character that one minute is trying to challenge the establishment and the next she is trying to save someone. Being a rebel is as much ingrained in her DNA as being a fixer is. She is and always will be a walking contradiction and they could not have cast a better actress to find the balance. Hickson knows when to push the brakes and bring Raelle to heel and she knows when to let off the brakes and let Raelle blindly charge into situations. She uses her own body as much as any prop to convey who Raelle is. This is a character that in the wrong hands could have quite literally toppled the entire series, but who in Hickson's talented hands has helped elevate the series to amazing heights. Raelle's dueling sides are just a part of who she is and Hickson uses that as a strength instead of a weakness. I think that is one of many reasons that Raelle has become such a beloved character. Hickson doesn't try to hide Raelle's flaws but uses them to fuel her performance and continuously help the character grow.

Donna: These dueling sides are what make Raelle the show's most complex character, even though at times the producers seemed unsure as to which way to take her. If that was their intent, then they accomplished that goal in showing that Raelle was not only in conflict with the Army and her duty but also with herself and her growing emotions, particularly those for Scylla. We saw so many sides to her during the season which could have easily overwhelmed the character, thankfully the producers cast a talented young actress who could handle the complexity. Scylla told Raelle she had no idea how powerful she was, I'm thinking the producers are also discovering that Hickson is far more talented than they realized when they cast her in the role.

Ellys: Any other show would lean all the way in on Raelle's rebellious side, making it her sole characteristic and primary motivation. We would see her loudly spelling out her resentment for the Army by going out of her way to break rules and unearth shady secrets. Thankfully, Hickson can craft a more nuanced, unique character with her performance. Her identity as an outsider instead presents itself in the values she holds fast to (healing rather than harming, collaborating instead of competing, etc.). She is drawn to the power of things that aren't necessarily embraced or encouraged by the Army. Almost the first thing she does at Fort Salem is fall in love. Hickson also has Raelle approach each new aspect of magic with an awe and reverence that almost no one around her shares. We see this quality repeatedly, from the pilot onwards. The Army takes magic almost for granted, but Raelle approaches it, as she does the Mycelium wall, with cautious respect. And, even knowing that healing others translates into taking their injuries temporarily as her own, there's no hesitation when she reaches out to heal someone.

Jamie: I wasn't sure about Raelle at first, the healing part and the rebel seemed so opposite. Yet, Hickson quickly won me over. She managed to weave these opposite sides of Raelle together into one. This didn't happen all at once. Hickson showed us how Raelle slowly grew into her own during this season. Every win made her more confident, every loss made her reevaluate, and by trusting her team, she made herself stronger.

Luana: The balance is pretty perfect, so much so I never saw them as opposites. Helping others but not wanting to need help yourself is not the weirdest thing in the world, but it does suit Raelle perfectly.

The writers took Raelle on a sweeping journey from a rebel with a plan to sacrifice herself on the frontline to end her commitment to the Army to a soldier who nearly sacrificed her own life on the frontline for her sisters. How do you think Hickson's acting choices impacted Raelle's journey? Was there a specific acting choice she made that really impressed you?

Aimee: Here's the thing, reciting lines is easy, let's be real and honest, it is. If acting was just repeating lines, then more people would be famous. The truth is, acting is hard. Line delivery is hard. The work performers do is hard. To take words on a piece of paper and bring them to life is a lot easier said than done. Each line means something to the character and is a part of their story. It is the job of the writers to create a compelling storyline, but the performers then must interpret those lines and figure out how to deliver them for maximum impact on the character. That is an arena where Hickson really excels. She finds the right beats to hit on and to dig into as Raelle. She constantly has the audience rooting for Raelle. I can't isolate a single moment where she impressed me the most. There were many impressive moments in every episode. Raelle's journey was one of cumulative growth where each experience changed and evolved her. Hickson did such a great job making sure that the layers built up to that point where at the end they really paid off. When Raelle was mortally wounded in the season finale, that should have been a moment of peace for the character, it is, after all, what she has wanted all season. Yet, through finding love with Scylla and sisterhood with Tally and Abigail, she found reasons to fight. She also couldn't take one of her sisters down with her. I think every acting choice that Hickson made from the very first time to saw Raelle to that moment on the ground where Raelle was bleeding out made that moment hit all the harder. She took a powerful story that was written for her to portray and elevated it to astronomical heights.

Donna: I wouldn't say it was the choices as much as the tone of the character. Raelle's natural instinct is to be a helper and a healer, as witnessed many times during the season. Sadly, the only person she cannot heal is herself and her conflicting emotions about her mother and love. As a healer, she can find empathy with many characters, but at times opening herself up to so many also opens her up to being hurt. In Hickson’s extremely talented hands she made Raelle’s journey in finding the balance between the two totally believable.

Ellys: One of my favorite Raelle scenes is when she gives Scylla the brooch. Right after Raelle hands over the box, Hickson does this endearing motion with her hands where she folds them in that adorably nervous "will they like my gift" way. Throughout the season, Hickson sets Raelle apart from the other characters with a mix of practical reactions and romantic gestures. Raelle has no investment in the wars, games, and politics that surround her; but when she is with a friend who needs her or with Scylla, Hickson invests a level of emotional engagement that tells us everything we need to know about Raelle. She shows us that Raelle doesn't see herself until after she looks at everyone else first. Part of this attitude is rooted in the bitterness of considering her life already forfeit, already cannon fodder for a system that seems to have no end, and part of it Hickson demonstrates is simply due to Raelle's heart for service that motivates her to care deeply for other people.

Jamie: It's not really an acting choice that stood out for me, but Hickson's chemistry with pretty much everyone she encounters almost makes Raelle feel magnetic. She has a way of pulling a scene towards her whenever she's on-screen.

Luana: For someone like Raelle allowing herself to depend on others is definitely a struggle, so every time she decides to rely on her sisters it means so much more, and it's that vulnerability that truly makes a difference, especially since it never feels out of place, it's earned.

Taylor Hickson is an actress with a broad range, and she showcased a lot this season. From the funny to the serious to the near demise of her character, she nailed everything that was thrown at her. Do you enjoy watching her portray the funnier moments or the more serious? What do you hope the writers will throw her way next season?

Aimee: I really enjoy the way she delivers Raelle's snarky jabs, but I think the serious moments are my favorite. I think that is where Hickson gets to dig in the deepest and she always goes so deep that the emotional scenes hit with a particularly powerful impact. For next season I hope the writers continue to reveal all the layers that compose Raelle. They have an actress with an extremely broad range, and I think they need to keep throwing hard and emotional material at her, she can clearly handle it. I also hope that all the trauma they put Raelle through in the final episodes of the season doesn't render her snarky nature mute. Hickson seems to have so much fun with the snark and lighter sides of Raelle that I don't want those to totally disappear.

Donna: I enjoyed watching the lighter side of Raelle. She was most herself with Byron (Bennett Taylor) at Beltane, free to be herself and give herself to be young and carefree unburdened by any duties or responsibilities. What I would like to see next see is more of Raelle the healer and how the Army plans on utilizing her talents and growing powers. I could see where because of their survival at the final battle she and Abigail will become celebrities of a sort, held up as models for young recruits, or as publicity tools for the Army. I also believe we have not seen the last of the Raelle/Scylla relationship, especially since discovering her mother is still alive and had set the plan in motion that brought Scylla into her life. It will be interesting to watch as she handles yet another betrayal with her mother hiding her survival from her. Again, Hickson will be faced with a great acting challenge of showing a character torn apart by someone she loves.

Ellys: I always love a character who embraces their snarky side, and Hickson made it appear easy to slip into Raelle's wry swagger. As for what I hope Hickson gets to do with her character next season, I would love to see Raelle being able to take charge of her own trajectory and explore more what her core values and questions are. I'd also like to see Hickson be able to let Raelle lean into her protective demeanor by forming stronger bonds with those around her.

Jamie: I have to say, I do prefer the lighter sight of Raelle, but perhaps it's because we don't see it as often as the serious side. Raelle has already had to deal with a lot of hard stuff happening to her so it's great to see her have fun occasionally. As for next season, I don't see her life getting any easier after the events of the finale. I would like to see Raelle grow more confident in her own abilities. Her self-confidence took a serious hit when Scylla's betrayal was revealed. She called herself broken. I want to see her grow stronger for this. I want her to realize just how powerful she can be.

Luana: She's great at both but I have to say I enjoy the light side a bit more, like on Hail Beltane (1x4), it's nice to see her enjoy her life and exploring this new world at the same time. Even though there's clearly a lot of darkness coming her way next season, I hope we still get some of the light to contrast.

Hickson is part of an extremely talented cast. The storyline she was given allowed her to interact with everyone. She seemingly had great chemistry and comradery with everyone she shared the screen with. Is there anyone you'd like to have seen her work with more? What about their dynamic makes you want to see Hickson work them more?

Aimee: That's an easy answer, Demetria McKinney. Anacostia has always had an interest in Raelle, but aside from quick passing scenes, they didn't cross paths nearly long enough in the first half of the season. The last few episodes where they got to work together really showcased what these two actresses can do together. I really loved their scenes in this episode, particularly the one where Anacostia tried to comfort Raelle who was distraught after seeing Scylla. Hickson had a vulnerable scene to perform and McKinney clearly had her back and was there to support her. I think those two could deliver some really strong material if the writers give them a more in-depth storyline together next season.

Donna: The obvious answers would be McKinney as Anacostia, whom I think is going to play a big role in helping Raelle deal with the news of not only her mother's survival but that she is also a Spree leader; and of course with Sutton as Tally and in particular Williams as Abigail as they now share that near-death experience. If I had to choose someone out of the box, however, I would like to see the return of Byron. He was the one character who didn't expect anything of Raelle and just let her be herself. Hickson and Taylor had a wonderful, easy chemistry. This was a character friendship that I could see producers utilizing for several seasons, building a solid foundation of friendship between these two seeming outcasts finding one another and bonding.

Ellys: For the majority of this season, we saw Raelle holding almost everybody at arm's length, but her tense relationship with Williams's Abigail gave way to a deep mutual respect and fondness forged through tragedy and turmoil. The season finale left their friendship in such a place that I hope we see their bond take center stage in the next season. Williams's storm and fury played in harmony with Hickson's fire and power make for an electric combination.

Jamie: I do love the dynamic that Hickson has with Williams, who plays Abigail. The way they've gone from reluctant teammates to partners and friends. Both characters are forces to be reckoned with. Their relationship is quite different from the one Raelle has with Tally, which was always more of a traditional friendship. I feel that Abigail and Raelle make each other better, thanks to their competitive sides. So, I would like to see more scenes with them together. And judging by the finale, I may be getting my wish.

Luana: I really enjoyed her scenes with Anacostia and I'm hoping we get to learn more about the connection these two characters have. I also wouldn't mind seeing Anacostia in a more active role in general.

What are your final thoughts on her winning this recognition?

Aimee: She did such powerful work as Raelle in this episode and throughout the entire season. Every single moment she was on the screen she was impressing me. I was thrilled when she was nominated and even more excited when she won. Even going back to the trailers before the series launched, there was just something that Hickson brought to Raelle that intrigued me. Then I saw the first episode and by the time the opening act was over I was hooked and immediately knew that I was going to be invested in the journey of all of these characters, but Raelle in particular. Hickson is a charismatic actress with soulful eyes that she knows how to utilize in her performance. I'm so thrilled she won, and I can't wait to see what Season 2 will bring.

Donna: As I stated earlier, Hickson has impressed me from the very beginning with an intense level of maturity and ability for such a young performer. She has such a firm grasp and command of this character that I was not surprised she garnered this honor, especially for an episode in which she had such limited screen time. It is a true testament to her talent that she won while making the most of each moment she was on screen.

Ellys: In our first roundtable for Motherland: Fort Salem, I shared that Hickson's performance lent credibility to the entire premise of the show, as Raelle was instantly believable as a character from an alternate/borderline dystopian universe. Watching interviews Hickson has done over the past year, one can see just how much work she put into forming the personality and mannerisms of Raelle; with her performance, Hickson successfully builds not only her character but also the world her character inhabits.

Jamie: Hickson has managed to deliver strong performances week after week, all season long. She has stood out for me since the very first episode. She absolutely deserves to win this honor and I have no doubt that she'll win it again in the future.

Luana: She's been great throughout the whole season and that clearly shows, given how much love there is for her and Amalia Holm, so I have to say this did not surprise me one bit. The show in general has been a great surprise and I can't wait to see where it all goes, especially with these amazing performers on board.

Taylor Hickson captivated audiences throughout the entire season. She made viewers root for her rogue Fixer who under her tough girl exterior has a heart of gold. Hickson never delivered a single performance through the season that was anything less than flawless. She took the time to really bond with her castmates and that real and honesty chemistry gave her so many authentic emotions to tap into that really pulled in the audience. She made the audience feel what Raelle was feeling and took everyone along for the bumpy and emotional journey that Raelle experienced this season. All these reasons, and so many that didn't make it into the article, are why Taylor Hickson is SpoilerTV's Readers' Choice Performer of the Month for May.

Please use the comments to discuss all your favorite parts of Taylor Hickson's performance in Coup.

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