Highlight: Flustered by the lack of male staff due to the war, Downton Abbey butler Mr. Carson is forced to improvise on servers for an important dinner, and in a moment of panic, has an attack that disrupts the evening. Later in bed, Carter brings up the character’s deep reserves of dignity and empathy as Carson advises a well-wishing Lady Mary on letting Matthew Crawley know of her feelings toward him.
Highlight: Bates’ capacity for stoic fortitude in the face of overwhelming misfortune is a hallmark of Coyle’s popular portrait of Lord Grantham’s valet, but in the Christmas episode, he finesses a moment of unexpected romance as a death row prisoner being visited by his true love, Anna. Insisting to the guard that the rules against touching prisoners be ignored, he tells Anna to live her life, to have fun, and seals it with a kiss.
“Game Of Thrones”
Highlight: Tyrion Lannister has always been an enjoyably witty commentator on the folly around him, but occasionally this season he grew notably impatient with sadistic King Joffrey, and Dinklage mined those moments for all their savage justice. When angrily scolding Joffrey for vengeance killings over a thrown cowpie, and Joffrey screams at him that he’s talking to a King, Tyrion slaps him, then replies, “Now I’ve struck a king! Did my hand fall from my wrist?”
Highlight: Any time Gus calmly listens to an antagonist pretend they’re in charge, you know bad things will happen. So when Esposito’s kingpin character calmly excuses himself from Don Eladio’s poolside chat to go to the bathroom, he returns, and with the fire of revenge in his eyes, watches Don Eladio die. Esposito’s mannered performance is so crisp and dedicated, it’s no wonder Gus has become the most mesmerizing villain in recent memory.
Highlight: It was a grim year for Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s British partner, but before it became too much for him, he got in one victorious moment against Pete, responding to his insults with a good old-fashioned beating. Harris’s normally reserved portrayal of Lane revealed an undercurrent of ferocity that also spoke to something sad, broken and unable to cope.
Highlight: Paul’s performance as Jesse has become the emotional bellwether for the consequences of Walter’s actions, as Jesse’s relationships with others become affected by their gig. When Brock falls ill, a distraught Jesse points a gun at his partner, believing him to be the cause, and Paul shows just how much moral damage their chosen profession has done to his psyche.