In terms of a sheer acting challenge, what Skelton went through on season 4 was immense. You are talking about someone who had to play a character across multiple time periods, multiple decades, and then also through some of the most devastating circumstances that anyone can go through. We got a window into her heart and her soul that we never quite had before and what we found was someone ambitious, someone willing to fight, and in the end, someone willing to survive and ready to tell her story.
We think that it’s easy to label all of Skelton’s season 4 performance as magnificent, but what we want to do here is go through and label some of the individual episodes that had both fantastic value in the moment and for re-watches after the fact.
Down the Rabbit Hole – This was one of the most important episodes for Skelton as a performer to date. The entire story was anchored by her performance as you bore witness to Brianna’s journey through her eyes. You saw the risk she took to venture to the past, but then also the immediate struggles that she faced trying to find her way to America and also handle a difficult conflict with Laoghaire. This was a real test of her determination and capability from the get-go — the moment you arrive in the 18th century, you are not met with a welcome wagon. You’re met with a brutal, difficult world.
Wilmington – It goes without saying that this episode would need to be included, given that within the span of just a handful of minutes it contains both one of the greatest moments of Brianna’s life and also the worst. You see Skelton portray Brianna’s joy upon reuniting with Roger, and then the subsequent heartbreak over what he kept from her. Then, there’s anger and then utter horror with the assault by Stephen Bonnet in the closing minutes. We cannot even imagine the headspace required to take something like this on, but we have such respect for Sophie for the commitment to those traumatic moments and to make sure they felt as real and raw as possible.
The Birds & the Bees – This is an episode that is in part, about recovery from everything described before. The opening sequences of this for Skelton are dark and trying, and they are paced in such a way that you bear witness to the suffering that she is going through. Yet, moments later she is forced to transform her performance again as Brianna meets Jamie for the first time, reunites with Claire, and begins a journey to Fraser’s Ridge. She’s able to play the joy in some of these moments in a way that pleases book fans, but you do still understand the dark undercurrent underneath. Both sides of this performance are integral to rounding the character out and she nails them both.
If Not For Hope – We love this episode for Sophie, mostly because of the opportunity it presents her to work with a wide array of different actors as Brianna stays at River Run. This is where you get a chance to see some fantastic moments between and her and David Berry, who build a fantastic rapport in a short period of time. Even though Bree and Lord John Grey may have never met before that moment, there is a sense of mutual understanding and respect there when they do. That dynamic is only amplified further in the next episode, as you see Brianna confront Bonnet for the first time since the assault.
Of course, there are so many more wonderful acting moments that we could have included here, whether it be her reunion scene with Roger or some of her work with Richard Rankin back in the 20th-century. This was a season about emotion, adventure, and overcoming great obstacles. We knew that we would root for Brianna throughout the season, but we didn’t anticipate being so drawn into her world and to her immense peaks and valleys along the way. This is where Skelton delivered what is, in our mind, one of the most currently-underrated performances of the past year. Maybe it puts her in the Emmy discussion, and even if it doesn’t, it absolutely makes her worthy.