The MVP: The Acolyte’s Scorched-Earth Fifth Episode Is Grounded in Heart-Wrenching Performances

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The MVP: The Acolyte’s Scorched-Earth Fifth Episode Is Grounded in Heart-Wrenching Performances

Editor’s Note: Welcome to The MVP, a column where we celebrate the best performances TV has to offer. Whether it be through heart-wrenching outbursts, powerful looks, or perfectly-timed comedy, TV’s most memorable moments are made by the medium’s greatest players—top-billed or otherwise. Join us as we dive deep on our favorite TV performances, past and present:

Usually, this column is focused on a particular performance that defined a series, a season, or even a single episode. But this week, after watching that shocking, scorched-earth episode of Disney+’s The Acolyte, I found myself struggling to pick just one performer from such an unexpectedly harrowing, brutal, and action-packed experience. Do you go with a eulogy of sorts for the incredible performers we’ve just lost? Do you pick apart the villainous reveal, or the mystery that still lies beneath everyone’s favorite Jedi Master? Do you dive deep into the twin twists of it all? Instead of making myself choose, I’m here today to pay homage to all of them—those we’ve lost, those we’ve just discovered… and those swapping places with their identical sister. 

In The Acolyte’s fifth episode, we finally discover the identity of the man behind the mask: all along, this twisted villain has been Qimir (Manny Jacinto), Mae’s (Amandla Stenberg) companion helping her complete a mission from her Master. But, of course, when she tells Qmir that she plans to betray her Master in Episode 4 and leaves her former ally dangling from a trap, she clearly doesn’t suspect that said Master is swinging right in front of her. What follows is an incredible confrontation that delivers beautiful lightsaber fights and stunning choreography, all anchored by rich dynamics that jump off the screen as saber sparks fly. 

The fight sequences are truly the highlight of the episode, especially Dafne Keen’s work as Jecki in her various confrontations. There’s a marked fire and determination behind her movements, and even though she is still a padawan, she shows true resilience when faced with insurmountable foes. In her first major fight sequence, Keen captures an undeniable confidence in Jecki as she stands toe-to-toe with Stenberg’s Mae. As the two go back and forth, Jecki’s disciplined fluidity clashes with Mae’s scrappy fighting style, especially when the cuffs come out. It’s an engaging and moving fight, all ultimately leading to Jecki’s final showdown. When she comes face-to-mask with the Sith Master, the fluidity of their fisticuffs makes it all the more engaging. In one of the coolest moments in recent Star Wars memory, Jecki wields fallen Jedi Kelnaca’s lightsaber as hers flickers out, but once it sparks back to life, she uses both green sabers as she twists, twirls, and grits her teeth against her enemy. Keen makes all of this physicality look effortless, but her finest moment comes in the wake of true tragedy. 

As Jecki disbelievingly stares at the masked face of this bastardized Jedi warrior with glowing red holes in her chest, there’s shock written on her face, yes, but also something much more devastating. As the green light of her lightsaber goes out and she stands in the red glow of the Sith’s saber, you can almost see the Jedi dream die in her eyes before the life fully leaves them. It’s a powerful and devastating moment that is anchored by Keen’s tenacious performance. Of course, we also lost Yord (Charlie Barnett) during this episode, and Barnett delivers a similarly determined performance until his final moments. There’s a doomed resignation in Yord prior to his death, clearly communicating that he’s ready to die for his cause—and, unfortunately, that’s exactly what he does. 

But while Keen and Barnett broke our hearts with their untimely and sudden deaths, it was the last Jedi standing, Master Sol (Lee Jung-jae), who truly won the episode for the light side. His performance after watching both Yord and Jecki fall is heart-wrenching, especially as he allows anger to color his face and rule over his decisions in a very un-Jedi-like manner. It was already a treat to watch Lee over the series’ first four episodes as he finds balance in being an aspirational leader, a kind-hearted teacher, and a man with a clearly complicated past. And the fact that he learned English for the role? An even more impressive feat, only made sweeter by his excellent performance in Episode 5. He allows the defeat and the anguish and the shame to live so plainly on his face, and even when he almost gives in completely to his anger and nearly kills Qimir, Lee ensures Sol’s internal battle is plainly seen both in his face and in his entire body. He visibly deflates after removing his saber from Qimir’s neck, carrying the weight of guilt and sorrow on his robed shoulders. 

Playing opposite these incredible Jedi throughout the episode is Amandla Stenberg, portraying twins Mae and Osha. It’s been a delight to watch her take on such polar opposite characters within the same series, and this episode is no exception. When Osha finally confronts Mae about what she did to their family and how much pain she’s put her through, Stenberg plays back and forth with herself in equally moving performances. Osha is disgusted by her sister and what she’s become, while Mae feels nothing but sympathy and sorrow over how the Jedi have soured her sister’s mind. But when things come to blows between them, it’s the swap that truly cements Stenberg as a highlight of this series. When Mae chops her hair to look exactly like her sister and switches clothes with her, it’s the way she walks that gives her away. Mae moves like a predator, with a smoothness to her step that Osha never truly embodies, and as she walks to the ship with Master Sol, it’s incredibly fun to catch just how much she’s failing to emulate her sister. A lot of gymnastics go into this kind of performance—to portray one twin pretending to be another twin whom you also play—and Stenberg effortlessly implements so many little details that make both characters feel tangible and yet distinct, even when they’re doing their best to mimic each other.

And finally, not to be outdone, there’s Manny Jacinto’s villainous turn as the Sith Master, who was hiding in plain sight this entire time as Qimir. He’s shockingly calm and collected, not driven by anger or rash emotions like past Sith we’ve seen on screen, and he’s all the more frightening for it. Jacinto captures a bone-chilling callousness and coldness, especially as he chortles at the Jedi’s attempts to stick to their rules—ones that, as he says, can’t be broken if you never followed them in the first place. With only a few episodes of this series left, Jacinto is the most intriguing performer, especially after what he gave us in this episode. There is so much potential in this new villain, and he is sure to deliver as the series races toward the finish line. 

With incredible performances, shocking deaths, beautiful fights, and shifting pieces and power plays, there is so much to love about The Acolyte as it continues its weekly releases. This series is unabashed and fearless in its engagement with Star Wars as a whole and with its own characters and lore, and I can’t wait to see what this talented cast does next in the wake of this chilling episode.

Anna Govert is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and her unshakable love of complicated female villains, you can follow her @annagovert.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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