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Performer of The Month - Readers' Choice Most Outstanding Performer of August - Katherine Barrell

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This article was written by Aimee Hicks, Donna Cromeans, and Ellys Cartin. 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. 

Wynonna Earp's Nicole Haught is an immensely loyal badass with a huge heart. She repeatedly puts her life on the line for her friends and her town with little to no consideration for her own well-being. She has a stubborn "everyone else first" approach to life. These qualities are at the core of who she is as a character. It was the combination of these characteristics that made fans become immediately infatuated with her the first moment she appeared on the screen. This is a character that everyone wants to succeed and win. Everyone watching is constantly rooting for Nicole to overcome whatever has been thrown at her. While Nicole Haught is a compelling character on paper, she wouldn't be half the character she is without her portrayer infusing her with charisma and heart. That is what Katherine Barrell has brought to Wynonna Earp from the very beginning. 

Words can be written and notes for emotional beats can be dictated, but if the actor can't bring them to life than they are empty notes on a piece of paper. A character is brought to life by the performer portraying them and Katherine Barrell does that with such an infectious effervescence that the viewer is compelled to watch every move she makes as Nicole. That was a key factor in making Friends In Low Places (4x2) work. This episode would not have worked in earlier seasons, this is an episode that required the viewer to be intimately familiar with Nicole and how Barrell portrays her, otherwise the Eve deception would have fallen flat. Barrell took three seasons of familiarity with Nicole and used that as a brilliant and powerful weapon against the audience. While watching, one could see parts of Nicole within Eve and Barrell called on just enough of Nicole's quirks to cause the viewer to question the true identity of the person on the screen. Was the woman Nicole? Was she not Nicole? That ability to walk such a fine line made the gimmick work. It also allowed the audience to see not one, but two vastly different reunion scenes between Nicole and Waverly (Dominique Provost-Chalkley). Each spectacularly portrayed by Barrell as she brought very different emotions to both. Whether Barrell was portraying a demon pretending to be Nicole, a best friend trying to be heroic despite a catastrophic injury, or a girlfriend reunited with her long lost love, her performance made every bit of it hit on point with all the right emotional beats. All these reasons and many more that we will touch on below are why Katherine Barrell is SpoilerTV's August Readers' Choice Performer of the Month. Continue reading below to find out our thoughts regarding her performance. After reading, please leave your thoughts in the comments. 

This episode allowed Barrell to play the noble and kindhearted Nicole Haught in contrast to the sinister and vile Eve. Which character best showcased Barrell and her range? What was it about her performance as that character that drew you in? 

Aimee: I was really impressed by how she portrayed Eve. It was fun getting to watch her step away from who Nicole is and embody this sinister demon. Because she was portraying a different character it did allow her to flex a bit more and show a range that we haven't seen from her before. With that said, I have to say that I think it was her portrayal of Nicole that allowed her the best overall range. She took Nicole from badass Sheriff who was willing to do whatever it took to ensure that at least Wynonna (Melanie Scrofano) got to Waverly, to a distraught and overwhelmed citizen who just spent a year and a half with her life spiraling, desperate to find her people including the woman she loves. During their reunion scene in the exterior of the homestead, you could see in the way Barrell portrayed Nicole that this version of Nicole had been through Hell. The character she portrayed in the first half of the episode was different from the character with whom Waverly was finally reunited. She was the same woman, but this woman was broken by the fear of thinking she'd lost Waverly and her friends for eternity. When Waverly was back in her arms, Nicole seemed to have taken a real breath of air and relaxed for the first time since her whole ordeal began. There was so much said without saying a word just in the way Barrell had Nicole hold onto Waverly with such desperation. Even the way she delivered her lines during the reunion overflowed with emotions that can only be fueled by longing and loss. I think her ability to cover that range of emotions and character shifts that occurred between the first half and second half of the episode best showcased the immense range that Barrell has. 

Donna: As stated in the introduction, from the beginning, fans have been drawn to Nicole Haught's nobleness and her bravery. It was a testament to Barrell's talent that she was able to use those qualities to draw fans in, then, with a slight change in her facial expression or body language, a brief roll of her eyes, and even in putting a flat, cold edge to her dialogue delivery introduce us to evil Eve. With those subtle movements, Barrell showed tremendous range in turning from beloved Nicole to evil Eve from one breath to the next. None of that would have been possible had the actress not had such a firm grip and understanding of her character. She had to know Nicole inside and out to be able to convincingly portray Eve pretending to be Nicole. That said, Barrell also demonstrated great range in showing the Nicole willing to charge into The Garden to fight for Waverly and later in the episode gave us a Nicole willing to die to protect her friends, to a Nicole that was beaten and temporarily broken by events and the apparent loss of her love. 

Ellys: While Eve is a delight, Barrell hooked me immediately in the very first moments she was Nicole in this episode. Her character is trapped in an impossible situation, with a zombie not too far away and a broken leg. Barrell gets this resolve on her face, a layer beneath the natural fear of the moment, this absolute and utter determination. This is a woman who has been through storms and through calamity, and she has come out the other side even stronger. This won't be the end of her story. Even for someone like me, meeting Nicole for the first time, I know exactly who she is immediately. Barrell's seamless fusion with her character ensures the viewer is instantly gripped by the suspense. 

Barrell had to portray two very different characters in this episode. How do you think her acting choices helped differentiate Eve from Nicole? What first clued you in that Nicole wasn't really in the garden? 

Aimee: She played Eve as very cold and detached. Barrell can usually just walk into a scene and immediately the chemistry between her and Provost-Chalkley's characters consumes the scene. That didn't happen during the early Eve and Waverly scenes. Barrell was able to put walls up and pull back from the strong connection she usually immediately locks into with Provost-Chalkley. That was no mistake either, that choice was clearly one that Barrell made and it worked so well for the dynamic that was building between Eve and Waverly. As for my first clue that Eve wasn't really Nicole, that came right away. Barrell played Eve clearly overcompensating to try to pretend to be in love with Waverly. It all felt forced, which it was, and that was my immediate first clue that something was up. What she was delivering in her performance was quite different from how she portrays Nicole. She also carried her body differently, almost stiff. It was brilliant acting by Barrell because early on it was questionable as to whether that woman was the real Nicole or not. 

Donna: There was a combination of several subtle things Barrell did that gave off signals right away that this was not the Nicole fans knew and loved. It was clear with the performance that Barrell was having a blast playing this darker side. She held herself a bit more aloof and there was just a slight edge to her voice when she was reunited with Waverly, not the usual loving tones she uses. Her comments about Doc (Tim Rozon) and other slightly out of characteristic criticisms she expressed were also subtle red flags. When you combine all those small things with some blatant eye rolls and facial expressions, particularly when facing away from Waverly, it did not take long to realize that this was not "our" Nicole. 

Ellys: There are brilliantly funny moments in Barrell's performance as Eve. Right away, we see that Eve lacks any of the usual human female feelings about other people seeing her exposed. The couple seconds where Barrell lets us see Eve figuring out how she's supposed to be acting and her subsequent ironic wardrobe adjustment are pure gold from Barrell. She was deliciously chilling as Eve, just exuding malevolence from every pore. The slow, specific way she just barely turned her neck in the scenes where Eve was trapped kept me on the edge of my seat. It was exactly like watching a cobra flicker in the breeze; Barrell makes sure we see every twitch in Eve's face as a deliberate calculation as Eve prepares to strike. 

Since the very start of the series the main relationship for Nicole has always been with Waverly. There have been many fun buddy episodes between Nicole and Wynonna, but none that dug into their friendship quite like this episode did. What do you most enjoy about their acting dynamic? How do you feel Barrell's acting dynamic is different from Scrofano versus Provost-Chalkley?

Aimee: Barrell and Scrofano have this glorious ease with each other that makes the Nicole and Wynonna banter scenes a joy to watch. They are just a fun duo. This episode really took time to dig into how far their characters have come. It was really touching to watch Wynonna care so deeply about Nicole, not just as her sister's girlfriend, but also as her own best friend. The real friendship between the actresses showed through in the bond they infused into their characters. When Nicole had to tell Wynonna to go save Waverly without her, the performance that Barrell delivered was firm and strong, but also laced with real fear and uncertainty of what was to come next for them all. She was able to show her vulnerability with Wynonna and Barrell did a really good job with that. It strongly contrasted the moment when Wynonna was gone, and Nicole was alone with Rachel (Martina Ortiz-Luis) and she had to be the strong and in control one again. There is a nice sharing of responsibility in a scene that Barrell and Scrofano have. They play off each other so well as friends. Then there is the profound scene partner chemistry that Barrell has with Provost-Chalkley. That chemistry is unmatched and their dynamic is so perfectly matched. But with Provost-Chalkley there is a rawness to the performance that Barrell delivers. It feels like every scene they share there is this honest truth coming through in their performance. They clearly believe in the story they are telling and charge into every scene and every storyline as a team ready to tackle whatever is thrown at them. They always feel very connected and in-tune with the acting choices the other is making. It is truly a special thing to watch those two work together. Barrell just has this ability to naturally connect with her co-stars, so no matter who she is sharing a scene with she compliments them well. She's got a wide-ranging arsenal of acting skills to pull from which makes her a very versatile actress that can adapt to anything. 

Donna: It has taken a while, but the writers are finally taking advantage of the slow budding friendship between Nicole and Wynonna. They have united in the one thing that drives them both, and that is, in their own ways, loving and protecting Waverly. I also like that there is an almost comic tone to most scenes and adventures that Wynonna and Nicole find themselves in, almost like an old-fashioned buddy movie. Yet, they took this friendship to a next level by adding a depth and seriousness between them as Nicole said what could have been a final farewell to Wynonna. There was an earnestness and honesty as she convinced Wynonna to leave her behind to go rescue Waverly for the greater good. Barrell has a nice easy-going chemistry, like good-friends chemistry with Scrofano, while her chemistry with Provost-Chalkley is of an entirely different type, loving and protective. Her acting choices when playing scenes with each actress are very distinctive, yet complementary that go into making Nicole such a well-rounded character. 

Ellys: This is the only Wynonna Earp episode I have ever watched, yet I instantly felt the full weight of Wynonna and Nicole's fraught friendship. I credit that to Barrell's performance, as the desperate hopefulness and pluck she communicates in her scenes with Wynonna packs a punch that resonates through the rest of the episode. Their love for Waverly might be the tie that binds them, however, it's emotionally satisfying (and devastating) to watch Nicole push Wynonna away to rescue the others since Barrell's performance lets us feel that connection between Nicole and Wynonna as well. 

The crux of Nicole's story in this episode was to reunite with Waverly. There was the faux reunion with Eve and Waverly then there was the passionate reunion between Nicole and Waverly. How did Barrell's performance in each scene allow the two reunions to be differentiated? Which one do you think best showcased the intense chemistry she has with Provost-Chalkley? 

Aimee: The reunion between faux-Nicole and Waverly felt very detached. It was obvious that Eve was trying way too hard, but Barrell is so good at what she does that for a moment you couldn't help but wonder if Eve was actually Nicole. It was obvious something was up, Nicole wasn't acting like Nicole, especially when it came to Waverly. So, for me, of the two reunions, the genuine one at the end was by far the best. From the moment that Waverly ran into Nicole's arms, the intense chemistry that Barrell and Provost-Chalkley infuse into their characters was palpable. The way Barrell had Nicole embrace Waverly felt like nothing else mattered at that moment than the woman in her arms. Then came the reunion of heart, body, and soul during their stunning love scene. These two actresses have always been a special pairing as scene partners, but never before has the deep raw pureness of their respect for each other and their immense chemistry been displayed to this degree and both actresses really rose to the occasion. I have seen some describe it as a sex scene, that was not a sex scene, that was one of the purest love scenes I've seen depicted. For Waverly, the two hadn't been separated for long, but for Nicole, it had been a year and a half. The way Barrell portrayed Nicole in the love scene provided a visual representation for Nicole reconnecting her heart, mind, body, and soul to her soulmate after a long separation. Barrell's performance was raw and profound in how she was able to capture the longing and desperation in every move Nicole made. She needed to make love to Waverly on a deep primal level that can only occur when two deeply in love souls have been separated for far too long with no guarantee of a reunion. Barrell captured that in a way that really played into the visual aspect of the scene that helped ensure the scene hit all the right emotional markers this reunion needed. 

Donna: Aside from the prison she was trapped in there was a marked distance between Waverly and the "fake" Nicole in their first reunion, and not just of the physical kind. All those qualities that Barrell used to make evil Nicole believable were gone when the two characters were finally together in their second reunion. I liked that the two scenes were tied together by almost throwaway lines of dialogue. When Waverly questions there is something wrong with Nicole, and then following her encounter with Eve and her true reunion she's hesitant and similar lines to "Get in here and find out," were used as impetuous to make sure this was her Nicole. The first reunion needed to be almost cold and detached in order the make the second more real and touching. And while the second reunion was a beautifully shot and acted tender love scene, it did push the lovemaking boundaries further than I thought SyFy would allow. What kept it from totally crossing the line was the performances of Barrell and Provost-Chalkley. Filming such a tender and believable love scene required complete and total trust and commitment from the actresses. Fortunately, thanks to the chemistry between the two and the trust they have built with one another in the years they have invested in playing this couple, Barrell and Provost-Chalkley (who deserves equal accolades for this scene) made it work without cheapening the moment which could have easily happened. 

Ellys: It's a mark of genius how Barrell completely shut off the warmth of the Nicole/Waverly relationship in her scenes as Eve. There are no sparks as there should be between the two women who love each other, and we sense the wrongness almost at once. The genuine reunion between Nicole and Waverly thus takes on the complete opposite tone, as the two women reconnect with a passionate overflowing of gratitude and adoration that quickly turns into a love scene. Considering the devotion many WayHaught fans have shown for this relationship, the separation of Nicole and Waverly becomes a metaphor for those fans' fight to ensure the show was able to continue. Most cable TV shows tend to leave the nudity out of sex and leave the sex out of love scenes. In this episode, the nudity, and the sex both worked overtime and worked it explicitly. Impressively, the scene wasn't even used to deliver exposition, nor was it interrupted by the arrival of a significant other or a similar harbinger of doom. Barrell executes the scene with visible, authoritative ease. One of the major reasons TV shows stopped having characters doing the deed was due to the potential discomfort and endangerment of the cast members involved. The involvement of the actresses clearly shaped this scene's ultimately romantic tone, ensuring it did justice to their characters. 

Whether she was portraying Nicole or Eve this episode gave Barrell plenty of rich material to dig into. What scene from this episode stood out to you the most? Explain what made it stand out from all her other outstanding scenes. 

Aimee: I had two favorite scenes from this episode and I honestly can't pick between them. Both were emotionally charged Nicole scenes, that is where Barrell really shines, in my opinion. She can deliver deep emotional stuff in a way that it's impossible to not feel everything her character endures. I've already touched on both of my favorite scenes, but I will go into a bit more detail on them. The first scene was when Nicole had to convince Wynonna to leave her behind. The pain that Barrell expressed through her eyes and the tension in her body made Nicole's excruciatingly painful injuries feel very real. She was trying to be strong and firm when she told Wynonna to go without her, but Barrell's delivery made sure the audience didn't forget how badly injured Nicole was. Then she was alone with Rachel and for a moment Barrell allowed Nicole's pain to overcome her before having the injured Nicole pull herself together and try to be the one to comfort and reassure Rachel. Even critically injured, Barrell made sure that Nicole's compassionate heart showed through. Then Nicole had an idea to save them and even through the pain that Barrell was expressing as Nicole she still managed a sparkle in her eye and a knowing look on her face. That was Nicole, badly injured or not, that woman was not going out without a fight and Barrell's performance made sure the audience did not forget the fierceness inside this woman. It was just a spectacular scene and really captured the core things that make Nicole who she is. The other scene was of course the reunion scene. As I said earlier, from the moment that Barrell had Nicole embrace Waverly you could just see the tension drain out of Nicole's body, probably for the first time in a year and a half. Then came the love scene/reuniting of souls that I covered in detail earlier. Her acting in this scene was some of the purest and most profound acting I've seen from someone in a long time. She clearly gave her own heart and body to ensuring every emotional beat was met and every single touch had a meaning. There was also some beautiful scene partner work going on in this scene with Barrell and Provost-Chalkley supporting each other and really looking out for the other. That protectiveness showed through in their performance in the best possible kind of way. It was the best love scene I have seen in a long time and while the cinematography was stunning as was the editing it all came down to the performance that Barrell and Provost-Chalkley delivered together that made that scene so impactful. From the moment the characters were in each other's arms to the moment they were locked in post-coital bliss getting lost in each other, the actresses were working in unparalleled unison. This was a standout scene for Barrell, but Provost-Chalkley needs to be given credit where credit is due too. They made this scene and delivered exceptional performances. 

Donna: It has been clear since the show's return that this season has truly belonged to Barrell in terms of performances. This episode was filled with moments that showcased her incredible talent and understanding of her character. One standout moment for me was when she was convincing Wynonna to go on without her, that they both knew Nicole was too injured to go and had to sacrifice herself. In a short span, Barrell showed us Nicole's self-sacrifice, her courage, and her protective nature. It was a marvelous sequence that Barrell nailed. And then there was the look on Nicole's face when she saw Waverly outside the homestead. While it was the same stalwart Nicole, there was a haunted look on her face and an almost beaten down slouch to her stature that told us immediately that whatever had happened to Nicole after escaping "heaven", had changed her profoundly. The relief on her face and the tension leaving her body was palpable when she saw Waverly standing there, it was a powerful, wordless moment that spoke volumes about what had happened to the character. 

Ellys: The scene where Nicole calls out that she isn't meant to die that way, that she's meant to die old and snug in bed next to Waverly, should be cheesy. It would be cheesy probably in any other performer's hands. Barrell delivers the line with willpower, however, that makes it just what it is: a last-ditch rallying cry from Nicole to herself, an almost self-protective bit of humor that's also sincere.

What are your final thoughts on her winning this recognition? 

Aimee: Last year I had the pleasure and honor of meeting Katherine Barrell at Dragon Con. She took the time to chat and sign a picture for me. She is just as genuinely kind and giving of her time as you'd imagine her to be. After that encounter, I was left hoping that I'd have the chance to see her win another POTM. Then I saw this episode and there was not a shred of doubt in my mind that she would be the hands-down favorite to win this round. I was thrilled to be proven right. With her performance in this episode, she more than earned this title. This has without a question been her season and I can't wait to see what amazing performances she delivers when the show returns in 2021. 

Donna: Katherine Barrell is one of those unique performers that quietly and effectively turns in one solid performance after another. She's the type of performer that I appear to gravitate towards in a lot of shows, that solid performer that often elevates the material they're working with, while others on a show may garner more attention. Seeing someone who works so hard receive the recognition she deserves is very gratifying. She has taken what has been given to her and made this season of Wynonna Earp truly her own. Having had the opportunity to meet and talk with her about the show, her love of acting and more pleases me. This honor couldn't happen to a nicer person and an actress with a long and exceptionally bright future ahead of her. 

Ellys: The best genre shows are the ones that don't sacrifice character plot, the ones that allow their stories to be at least partially guided by the evolving bonds between characters. Shows like those give a performer like Katherine Barrell the space to mold their character into a singular living force like Nicole Haught. Barrell's dual performances are intertwined with every aspect of this episode; even when Nicole's not on the screen, she is a presence we can feel. Quite simply, Barrell is more than unforgettable; she's a reason to return to the show for more. 

In Friends in Low Places, Katherine Barrell delivered a master class in acting with a tour-de-force performance. She not only portrayed two vastly different characters, but she also traversed a whole array of emotions without missing a single beat. It wasn't just this episode that was notable for her this season so far, it's just the one for which she is being recognized. In truth, every single episode from this season has been a Barrell showcase. She always delivers strong performances, but she clearly came into this season on a mission, whether that be to thank the fans for helping to bring back the show or to prove a point to the entities that almost stripped Nicole from her. She is a woman on a mission and that mission has granted the audience some spectacular performances. Not even the sky is the limit for this gifted actress. She has a true mastery of her craft and the audience greatly benefits from her natural talent. This episode allowed her to show off so much range and she took full advantage of it. The profound work Katherine Barrell has done all season and especially in this episode has rightfully earned her the title of SpoilerTV's August Readers' Choice Performer of the Month. 

Please use the comments to discuss all your favorite parts of Katherine Barrell's performance in Friends in Low Places.

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