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Spring ’16 Finale Roundup: Week Two

| April 24 – May 15 |

We’ll be diverting a bit from our usual finale roundup structure to dedicate the entire compilation of categories to CBS’ Madam Secretary — the season finale that has so far been my favorite. “Vartius” dealt with three significantly intricate matters with a kind of grace very few shows have mastered. Often times where there are too many stories told in one episode, it tends to get overwhelming, and that’s especially the case with finales wanting to wrap things up, but “Vartius” reached resolutions that’ll effortlessly and brilliantly bleed into season three.

Most Noteworthy Performance by an Actress: Téa Leoni

Elizabeth McCord surprisingly dealt with a great deal this week giving leading lady Téa Leoni plenty of opportunities to subtly showcase her brilliant capabilities as an actress. Leoni delivered Elizabeth’s frustrations in a way that didn’t reflect defeat but rather ambition, and that’s something we’ve grown to appreciate most about the Secretary of State.

When Elizabeth and Henry discussed Stevie’s engagement, I almost cried. And not because I’m a total sap when it comes to such matters, but because Leoni exhibited a profound poignancy only a mother is able to. And with two simple words, Leoni actually said a thousand. As Elizabeth’s voice lowered and her face dropped, you knew it had really hit her — their baby was growing up. It doesn’t matter if Stevie’s the oldest because as we all know, the first child who goes is always the hardest on the parents. Elizabeth is first and foremost, a mother and in that moment, she came to the painful realization that soon, she’d have to give her one of her children away. Her baby. Her first-born.

But that wasn’t all Leoni managed to do wonderfully this week, and I’ve always loved the evident differences between Elizabeth, mom of the house, and Elizabeth, Secretary of State. When she finally confronted Dalton, Leoni bared it all — exhibiting disbelief, frustration, and eloquent fury standing her ground by not only reminding the audience, but also president Dalton of what she’s capable of. And it was partly hilarious to see her reaction upon learning that she wouldn’t be demoted but rather promoted.

But perhaps, my favorite and the most noteworthy performance of the night was the moment where Elizabeth told Henry Dmitri’s alive followed by the news that she may be the next Vice President. Leoni is great when it comes to delivering vulnerability and this was a moment that required a great deal. She knows how awfully daunting Dmitri’s death has been on Henry, and revealing this to him could not only bring back a plethora of emotions, but if she ends up being wrong, it could shatter him all over again. Leoni carried the sensitive topic with enough restraint that allowed us to see how difficult and heart pounding this moment is for Elizabeth. But it wasn’t just a vulnerable moment, the casual tone in which she revealed she’d be the next vice president was uniquely wonderful showcasing the wide range of emotions Leoni’s able to consistently manifest. It’s made Elizabeth McCord such an impeccable character. I wouldn’t mind if this show went on forever.

Most Noteworthy Performance by an Actor: Tim Daly

Much like his scene partner and TV wife, Téa Leoni, Tim Daly’s Henry McCord went through a whirlwind of emotions and Daly delivered each of them wonderfully. It’s especially exceptional how well Leoni and Daly work off one another when their children are considered. And Daly met Leoni’s “our baby” with the right amount of emotions exhibiting the same heartache only in the way a father understands best.

And when Henry was talking to himself before talking to Stevie, though I wanted to laugh, I also broke for him. Daly convinced me that this was one of the most difficult things Henry’s ever had to do. Parents are prepared for a lot, but the first of everything is always tough. It’s not easy to watch your little girl grow up. It’s not easy to give her away. And that conversation with himself showcased the depth of his concerns remarkably. But it was in the quiet moment where he watched both his girls getting ready that managed to resort me into tears. The innate tenderness and heartfelt joy in Daly’s subtle smile was the reflection of profound gratitude cobbled with unconditional adoration. In that moment, all Henry could see were his two little girls he’s raised and loved more than anything — the situation was no longer as frustrating, but rather for an instant, all he could do was showcase how proud he was to have them as his daughters.

Then came his reaction upon learning Dmitri’s still alive. Henry’s grief once again resurfaced and Daly projected the shock with an interesting amount of determination — whether Dmitri’s alive or not, Henry had to be there. He had to try. And finally seeing him alive broke me even more than his conversation with Stevie. The profound relief Daly manifested with the subtlest expressions were nothing short of genius. A whirlwind of emotions that once shattered him to his core were substituted with a kind of relief not many are able to experience.

Most Exquisite Moment 

I’m a sap for father/daughter scenes and for that reason, I loved every part of Henry’s talk with Stevie. This wasn’t a conversation about a father shoving his opinions down his daughter’s throat, but rather a father reminding her of what’s ahead. A father being what dad’s are supposed to be, superheroes — the men we know who’ll always have our backs.

It was lovely that Henry didn’t try to talk his daughter out of it, but rather, in the most dad way possible, he needed her to understand that the decision to marry was happening too soon. The kids on Madam Secretary are without a doubt my favorites — the most accurate depictions of what teenagers plus people in their twenties are like. And while TV often dramatizes it to a point where it’s unbearable, Madam Secretary makes each and every little storyline feel authentic. Stevie’s reaction was nothing short of perfect. She loves Jareth, she wants to spend her entire life with him, but she doesn’t want forever to start today. And I love that she voiced each of her concerns in ways that genuinely made me empathetic with her struggle. But Henry, being the dad that he is, begun talking in clichés and everything felt right again. It was easy to understand both sides, but to be given the hope that they can make their relationship work without jumping into marriage was exceptional. Thereby, their embrace following this moment was something close to magic. Henry could now finally celebrate his daughter’s happiness believing in the fact that she’s not only chosen the right guy, but he still has time with her before she’s given away.

Most Stunning Montage

As Henry and Elizabeth drove to the meeting point with Matt’s speech in the background, I was covered in goose bumps. Matt’s great with speeches, but what he offered in the finale may be one of my favorite quotes in existence. Geoffrey Arend’s delivery was impeccable, for half the reason why the scene was so evocative was due to the fervency in Arend’s voice. “Achievement is often anonymous. Some of the greatest things have been done by people you have never heard of — quietly dedicating their lives to improving your own.”

And that’s what this entire moment represented: two people choosing to put another life before theirs. Henry and Elizabeth may be known to the public for a number of reasons, but when it comes to Dmitri, it was always out of the kindness of their hearts. And that very kindness was reflected in the gorgeous montage filled with performances this cast has mastered beautifully.

Elizabeth’s choice to hold Henry’s hand as the car approached the rendezvous point was beautiful. Leoni and Daly floor me in their ability to speak without words, and this scene in particular spoke volumes. Elizabeth needed Henry to know that no matter how this ends, she’s by his side. She’s for him. She’ll carry him through it. And Henry’s brief smile was the perfect display of understanding. He knows Elizabeth’s there. He knows she’ll always be. He knows she’ll carry him through it — no matter how it ends.

“Wait what? What just happened?”

While this category is usually saved for a shocking twist or a terrible cliffhanger, I think it fits perfectly for what we’ve been left with after “Vartius.” The choice not to reveal whether or not Elizabeth will be Vice President was genius. And knowing that’s in the cards for our Secretary of State is something that’ll make season three incredibly fascinating. It’ll make the anticipation to learn exciting.

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