Pilot Palooza: Our 2015-2016 Series Reviews

It's that time of the year again: the start of fall television season. Since we got the chance to see quite a few pilots early this year, we've compiled our pilot reviews for you. Some of them we loved, some we hated, and some landed along the line of 'meh.' Check them all out!

Getting Rid of the Stigma: Mental Illness in Young Adult Fiction, by Megan Mann

In this piece, Megan brilliantly discusses the stigma of mental illness in literature and how some young adult novels are helping to change the landscape for this discussion.

The First Annual Golden Trio Awards

Check out all of the nominees and winners of our first annual Just About Write Golden Trio Awards! We had a blast with the ceremony and we hope you did too.

In Appreciation of the Everyday Heroine

A mask does not a hero make. In this piece, I discuss why it's wrong to dismiss characters without costumes or masks as superheroes.

Friday, February 5, 2016

DC's Legends of Tomorrow 1x03 "Blood Ties" (Now We're Getting Somewhere) [Contributor: Lizzie]


"Blood Ties"
Original Airdate: February 4, 2016

They say that you should never judge a book by its cover, or a show by its pilot. But then again, “they” say many things. Sometimes, an episode is enough to know you’re not going to like the show. And, other times... well, other times a two-part pilot can be entertaining, confusing, infuriating and nonsensical, which is the right combination of adjectives to leave you wondering what in the world you signed up for.

Welcome, ladies and gentleman, to the complete and utter mess that was the first eighty plus minutes of Legends of Tomorrow. And welcome to minute eighty-one, and the thirty-nine that came after.

The messiness was not supposed to happen to the Legends of Tomorrow pilot, by the way. Arrow and The Flash both sacrificed screentime early in their seasons to make sure it wouldn’t. What a waste that turned out to be. If the pilot had been your only taste of these people, you might have said that the characters we saw in those shows weren’t even the same people who turned up in Legends of Tomorrow. After all, we liked those characters then. We were invested. In the pilot, not so much anymore.

At least, not until this episode.

BLOODLUST


Mistake number one that was summarily corrected in this week’s episode: the characterization of Sara Lance.

I’ve always liked Sara, from the first time she appeared on Arrow. She wasn’t always a likable character then, but Caity Lotz always played her with a vulnerability that made her impossible to hate. She was a lousy sister, an even worse girlfriend, and a woman who fought bad guys to escape what was rotten inside of her. But she was an amazingly complex character, and I both mourned her loss and celebrated her return. I mean, that is until they gave me Legends of Tomorrow pilot-Sara.

Pilot Sara was like a robot — a good-looking robot who could kick butt, yes, but still a robot. Even when we finally saw a glimpse of emotion in her, with her “hope” speech at the end of the first episode, the emotion that shone through was completely positive. Which, fine, Sara is a complex character. Maybe she did take Laurel’s words to heart and tried to look into the light. But renaming her the White Canary wasn’t about erasing Sara’s demons, or turning her into just a mannequin who can fight. Renaming her the White Canary was about giving hope to a woman who desperate needed something to believe in.

“Blood Ties” brought that Sara back to us. The Sara who’s not only a fierce, but a smart woman. The Sara who isn’t afraid to kill, and the Sara who’s still struggling with the after-effects of the Pit. The complex heroine we thought we were getting from the first place. The one who we can root for.


“IT’S NOT THE SUIT. IT’S YOU”


I loved Martin Stein in The Flash. Part of it is the fact that I love Victor Garber in anything, of course, but another part is just that he was cool. Effortlessly cool, even. That’s just who he was.

Ray Palmer, however, I never cared for. It wasn’t even that he was Felicity Smoak’s love interest in Arrow. It was that he was, well... Ray. And by that I mean too enthusiastic, too “I cyber-stalked you and bought out to company you used to work for so you’d be forced to work for me” eager. He was just too much. At the time, I theorized that maybe it wasn’t the character that bothered me and that perhaps it was the setting. Ray Palmer didn’t belong in Arrow. Or, at least, he didn’t belong in Arrow as an obstacle between Oliver and Felicity.

Well, Mr. Palmer, I believe you have found your place at last.

The first two episodes were not kind on Martin Stein. They were, however, kind on Ray. And, yet, in an episode where you might say that Martin Stein was used to prop up Ray Palmer, it was Stein who came up smelling like roses. Not because he was the smartest, but because — despite the fact that this version of the professor left his wife in the future and kidnapped Jax — he, apparently, still maintains that keen understanding of human nature that made him a fan favorite when he first appeared. You know, that which allowed him to bond with Ronnie first, Team Flash second, and Jax third.

And in “Blood Ties,” he used it on Ray Palmer.

For all who already knew the story about Ray’s fiancĂ©e, the conversation with Stein was the first time Ray allowed himself to entertain the idea that he could not just move on from his grief, or hide, but use it as motivation to be not only a better scientist, but a better man. In a way, only Stein could show Ray this path, because Stein has walked it before.

Love can be a transformative force. It can change you. It already changed both of these men — it just so happens that Ray still has yet to pick up the pieces and start again.

UNCHANGING FUTURE


“Time wants to happen,” Rip said. We didn’t really understand what that meant then, but we do now.
Leonard Snart is not a bad man. Not really. He’s the most interesting kind of villain — the one that became who he is because that’s what life required of him. He had to fight back. He had to put up walls. I’m not saying he made the right choices, but sometimes you have to look at people and say: “You know what? He did the best he could with what he had.”

I was ready to continue saying that about Leonard Snart — but maybe, maybe I don’t need to. Maybe he can change. He’s already shown more self-awareness than any other character in this show, after all. He actively tried to change his life, not by hurting the father who’d so wronged him, but by making things easy for him. And yet, as stated above, time wants to happen. Some people can’t change. They just don’t have it in them. Papa Snart is one of those, but I get the feeling Captain Cold isn’t. And I’m more than ready for this ride.


WORST. VILLAIN. EVER.


But, of course, all is not perfect in Legends-land. It couldn’t be. This episode did much to restore my faith in the universe (pun not intended), but the fact remains that this show’s whole premise is based on, arguably, their three weakest characters: Carter, Kendra, and Vandal Savage.

Remove Carter from the equation, I thought, and things were bound to get better. And, in a way, that was true. Things couldn’t exactly get worse, after all. But even in an otherwise engaging episode that hardly featured Kendra, Savage still stood out as the worst thing in this entire show. And, quite, possibly, the Arrow-Flash-Legends of Tomorrow universe.

He’s just not an effective villain. He’s a child throwing a tantrum with enormous lasting power. “Mom, that girl doesn’t love me. Mom, that’s not fair! Why doesn’t she love me? I’m awesome! Mom, make her love me! Make her! Or I’ll kill her.”

Lather, rinse, repeat. Four thousand years later, and we’re still here, but we don’t have a good reason to be. Why was Savage in love with Kendra in the first place? How did she feel about him? Did he ever try to do something other than kill her? And how does “I love this girl and she doesn’t love me” thing translate into a tyrant destined to enslave the world? What happened here? How did we get from 0 to 60?

I’m not asking because I care, necessarily. I honestly could not care less at this point about Savage. I’m asking because these questions need to be answered for the show to be effective. Too much is riding on us hating Savage — on us fearing him. We can’t do either of those things effectively if all we get of him is sneers and creepy mood lighting.

For now, we’re watching despite Savage, not because of him. At some point, though, if the show is going to be effective, Vandal Savage is going to have to elicit some emotion in us.

Any emotion.

Other things:
  • I really think the show would have benefited from airing both parts of the pilot the same day. The smarter decision would have been to push the premiere of The 100 one week. 
  • Maybe if we get Rip like, a whiteboard, he can write: “Time-Traveling Rules for Dummies” on it and not be left shaking his head every time one of these people does something they’re not supposed to. 
  • But, God forbid Rip actually take the time to EXPLAIN anything.
  • Don’t even try to tell me you didn’t squeal when Rip said: “I’ve seen men of steel die and dark knights fall.” I won’t believe you.
  • Stupid question, I know, but did Rip bother to do background checks on any of the people he brought into this crazy adventure? Wait, silly me. OF COURSE HE DIDN’T. 
  • If the whole thing with the mood lighting and the chanting was supposed to make Savage scarier, you failed miserably, Legends.
  • Despite the fact that Snart and Rory pretend to be tough guys, deep down, they’re really decent people. You know how I know? Because everyone stood there and pretended they CARED about Carter. 
  • Jax and Kendra are the only members of the team I’m not connecting with right now. Well, and HeatWave, but at least he makes me laugh. 
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow airs Thursdays at 8/7c on The CW.

'Pretty Little Liars' Rosewood Roundup ("New Guys, New Lies") [Contributor: Megan Mann]



"New Guys, New Lies"
Original Airdate: February 2, 2016

Warm morning sunlight drifts through the window and shines on Spencer and Caleb. Spencer remains in ignorant bliss of last night’s mass text as she makes coffee. She looks around for her phone and her happiness is gone, replaced immediately by panic. She gets ready as quickly as possible and meets the girls at the hotel, claiming that her phone was off.

Emily automatically assumes their tormentor is Sara, and Aria and Spencer don’t disagree. If she was part of A’s team, it would make sense that she was doing it. Hanna doesn’t buy that though, and plays it off like it could be some bored techie trying to mess with them. As if that isn’t one of the single worst conclusions this group has come up with over six seasons. She grabs a phone, texts the number and asks if they know him/her. “Yes,” is the response. And so it begins.

Emily calls Ali to see if she’s okay, but to also see where she is in order to rule her out as a suspect. But is she really ruled out? We know how notorious she is for lying. Meanwhile, Aria won’t let the girls put this on Ezra. If he said he didn’t do it, he didn’t do it. But that’s not enough to quell the girls' concerns. They look over to see Lorenzo giving a press conference about the case. He says they’re narrowing down the list of suspects (see: the Liars) and that they’re confident they know what the murder weapon was. As the girls listen, they notice Aria’s dad walking through the lobby. Before they can even finish the joke about him seeing someone, their phones chime with a picture of a nine iron.

“Does Ezra play golf?”

Aria books it over to The Brew to talk to Ezra... who is no longer answering her calls. Sabrina tells her that Ezra skipped town but that she doesn’t know where he went. This happens fairly often, but he usually resurfaces in a few days. Aria attempts to get into his apartment, but Sabrina isn’t having it. Tough luck on trying to find that nine iron that Ezra... did what with, exactly? Had stored in his pant leg as they walked around Rosewood in the wee small hours of the morning? Had hiding in a bush? Randomly found in a church pew? Seems unrealistic, ladies.

Over at campaign headquarters, Caleb asks why Spencer snuck out. Instead of telling him what really had her scurrying off this morning, she omits the answer altogether and tells him the night was perfect. As Spencer looks over the information about the opposition for her mom's candidacy, she hesitates. If they know this much about them, the opposition has to know just as much about her own family, right? Does that include everything that happened with Mona and then Charlotte? Caleb mentions that he’s going to see Toby and again, Spencer hesitates. Her new beau talking to her first, real love. Strange.

Hanna learns that her fiancĂ© is heading back to Rosewood and Emily asks why, if he’s so perfect, they haven’t set a date yet. After Hanna says that she is finally read to do just that, she quickly changes topics and says that she told Spencer it was okay to be with Caleb.

“You’re really okay with that?” Emily questions.

Again, Hanna repeats that Jordan keeps her grounded in a way that no one ever has. Emily doesn't have time to get into details because her phone chimes and it's Aria, requesting help.

A beer cracks and hisses as Toby hands it to Caleb. He says he’s not building that house alone, that Yvonne has been helping, and out walks the daughter of Veronica’s opposition. Has our Real Rosewood Disney Prince picked up a few of the Liars’ tendencies over time? Because he seems to have left out the fact that she was dating Toby. When Caleb tells Toby that he’s connected with Spencer in a more-than-friendly way, Toby refuses to look at him and seems less than enthusiastic. It makes you wonder if, despite being with Yvonne, he still holds out hope for one day rekindling things with Spencer.

Aria is talking a mile a minute wondering where Ezra has disappeared to. Emily asks her to calm down and tells her that she won’t deceive Sabrina in order to find the key to Ezra’s apartment. Emily’s trying to get her life together; why would she take all of these steps back? Aria explains that if they see that Ezra isn’t missing that club, they can get ahead of the situation. As we know, these girls never get ahead of any cyber stalker.

Pages flutter in the wind as Spencer looks over Yvonne’s file again. She sees that she’s dating Toby and that he plans to propose to her at a family lunch. As she contemplates this major change in her life, the full loss of Toby, she sees a flash out of the corner of her eye. Looking up, she sees a town car parked across the street and more flash bulbs. Could this be Big Bad doing recon?

Without even missing a beat, Hanna admits to Ashley that she erased the security footage but assures her that they didn’t have anything to do with her murder. Ashley reminds her that she’s no longer in high school and doesn’t owe those girls anything. She also tells her that their security company backs up all of their footage onto a hard drive at their farm. A farm? Like the one Ali is supposedly at? Could these two be linked?

Emily decides to comply with Aria’s plan and chats with Sabrina as she slips in and grabs the key. He’s not missing any clubs. Over at the hotel, Spencer is barely listening to the campaign manager as she notices Toby fiddling with an engagement ring box. Her phone chimes with a message: “I guess she is better than you. He will never put a ring on your finger.” Where is this Big Bad hiding? How can they see where she is and how she was looking at Toby?

Being incredibly rude, Aria stomps over to Emily and Sabrina and says it’s urgent. “I think my dad had something to do with Charlotte’s murder.” Talk about a plot twist. Hanna tells Jordan about the tape and he tells her that her loyalty is one of the many reasons why he loves her. He’s incredibly understanding and says that they can get ahead of it with his family’s connections. Just as he walks off to call his dad, her phone buzzes. “When the pigs come calling you better not squeal about me.” Whoever this new threat is, they’re more meticulous and omnipresent than Mona and Charlotte ever were.

After Spencer talks to Hanna about their new string of texts, she goes to see what Caleb can do. However, she stops short before opening the door and deletes the Toby text first. He takes the phone and he knows, just like the girls know, they haven’t escaped Rosewood and its tainted streets. He starts the hack and is close, but this person being as close as they are, will he/she really slip up and let Caleb find them?

Spencer runs into Toby and Yvonne on the street. Ever the professional, she doesn’t make the situation uncomfortable. She notes that there is no ring on Yvonne’s finger. Yvonne runs off to stop her from getting a ticket and Toby knows she saw him holding the box earlier. She asks why he didn’t propose but Yvonne beckons him over before he can answer. Is he still holding out hope for Spencer and having second thoughts about Yvonne?

A creepy old man stares at Emily through the window and disappears before Aria walks into the room. She calls her dad saying that they need to talk, that it’s important; but he says he’s in a meeting and rushes her off the line. There’s a quick cut to him sitting in the passenger seat of a car. “I think she knows.” Aria knows that something is really wrong because she overheard her parents arguing about Ella going to see Charlotte. Byron was furious that they were going to possibly let Charlotte out. She wonders if he was furious enough to kill her.

Hanna talks to a lawyer about deleting the footage and when she asks if she’s told her everything, Hanna looks at her phone and decides to leave out the text. Tsk Tsk, Hanna. You’ve learned nothing clearly. Spencer goes to visit Toby. He says it was easier to be friends when she wasn’t located in Rosewood. It makes you wonder, for the tenth time this episode, if they’repurposefully leaving something unresolved.

Later that night, she rides in the car next to Caleb. He found the location of where the texts were coming from and Spencer’s disappointed it’s not the hotel as it rules out Sara. He asks her why she deleted the text about Toby. For someone as bright as Spencer, you would have assumed she knew he would have found that regardless of whether she had deleted it. If they wanted a fresh start, it couldn’t get complicated quickly.

At the precinct, Hanna and her lawyer go to talk to Lorenzo. He pulls her lawyer aside and when she comes back, she tells Hanna she’s free to go as the security company lost the Radley backup drive. What could have happened? Who got rid of it? Lorenzo is angry and he’s not going to give up. Neither will Spencer and Caleb who arrive at a storage unit without a lock. They lift the door to find a sole metal garbage can. When Spencer pulls the top off, there’s a black hoodie and a phone that immediately vibrates: “I don’t lurk in the shadows. I hide in plain sight.”

In the spirit of not giving up, Aria searches for the spare keys to her dad’s car. If she’s to believe he was part of the murder, she has to look at the golf clubs in his trunk. She finds the keys and starts to go through the clubs... and notices that one is missing. The nine iron. Could this be what Byron meant when he told whomever he was in the car with that she knows? Did he really kill Charlotte?

Spencer and Yvonne are hitting the trail hard for their parents. The girls, Caleb and Toby all watch on as Hanna breaks into her mom’s computer to see if Ezra is hiding out with Byron. Aria, Emily and Caleb think of who it could be who is doing this to them again. It’s hard to not rule out Sara, but she’s not the best candidate. Caleb throws Ali’s name into the ring and it’s smart that he does. She really is the most manipulative, the biggest liar and has a penchant for revenge. Hanna says Ezra hasn’t been there and that Sara put a "Do Not Disturb" sign on her door two days prior and requested the staff not enter while she’s gone. Seems sketchy.

Toby and Spencer share a tender but tense moment. He asks if she’ll be going back to D.C., and it’s obvious he hopes she does, as that would make it easier on him not to have to see her. Spencer walks toward the girls and asks how she did. They weren’t paying attention to her though, because they were looking at the murder weapon. They notice that the carpet in the photo is the same carpeting as the hotel. Whoever it is that’s doing this is staying in the hotel. Aria’s dad calls and says that he needs to talk to her. Alone.

A bellhop walks by in the background, but it’s not a bellhop. It’s the man who was staring at Emily in Aria’s living room earlier that day. He walks out of the hotel and into a black town car. The car drives off and the person takes off the hat and then the old man mask. Big Bad has been there all this time and they didn’t even know it. But how could they? Instead of a black hoodie, Big Bad is using disguises.

It could be anyone.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story 1x01 "From the Ashes of Tragedy" (And So It Begins) [Contributor: Rae Nudson]


"From the Ashes of Tragedy"
Original Airdate: February 2, 2016

A man walking his dog in a wealthy neighborhood in L.A. sees blood on the street. He follows the path and finds two people, a man and a woman, covered in blood. As the police swarm in, the camera slowly pans over clues I recognize: the glove, the bloody footprints, and, later, a white Bronco. The characters — who are playing real people discovering a real murder — don’t know what will happen in this murder case, but I do.

Or, at least, I think I do. I was eight years old when O.J. was acquitted, much too young to understand it. Not that any adults following the case at the time completely understood it either. (I’m not doing spoiler alerts, guys, there’s no spoilers in real life, and this case is over 20 years old. Plus the show assumes we know the ending, and it will help discussions if we just lay it all out there.)

The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story does a great job setting the mood of the country before the trial by opening the show with scenes of the Rodney King riots. Nothing happens in isolation, and much of history is a reaction to what came before, like the swinging of a pendulum.

BEFORE THE TRIAL


Rodney King was a black man beaten by the police in 1992, two years before Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were found dead by a neighbor walking his dog. His beating was videotaped by a bystander, and four LAPD officers were charged with use of excessive force. They were all acquitted. After the acquittal, riots began in L.A. and lasted for six days, only ending after the National Guard was called in. Scenes of these riots are what began this episode.

If this sounds familiar to the Ferguson riots in 2014, that’s because it is. We are still swinging on that pendulum.

It is only within this context that the O.J. Simpson trial became what it did: huge and heated. I don’t know what it was like for our international readers, but for the U.S., it was inescapable.

Of course, part of why it got so huge was O.J.’s celebrity. He was beloved by L.A. — and the LAPD — and, like someone in this episode says, people just couldn’t imagine O.J. killing anyone. And who would want to? Most people don’t want to be actively complicit in admiring a murderer and allowing them to commit a crime. This can lead to denial, which just leads to keeping beloved people beloved.

American Crime Story nestles into these contradictions by setting up the characters well right from the get-go, exploring who they are, how they became involved with this case, and how they feel about it. Even though the camera slowly panned over the sordid details — zooming in on spots of blood and making sure to include younger versions of Kim Kardashian and her sisters — the show seems like what it will really be diving into is people’s headspace surrounding this crime, and how the mood of the country influenced the case and vice versa.

THE PEOPLE


Marcia Clark is my favorite. She seems good at her job, often like she’s the smartest person in the room — and often she is the only woman in the room. In fact, if everyone had listened to her, O.J. would have been in custody and the chase in the white Bronco never would have happened. Marcia is the one who points out how the police failed Nicole by not arresting O.J. any of the eight previous times she called the police on him. She also explains how the police failed again when they interviewed O.J. now, after the murder. As the scene cuts between the police interview and Marcia listening to the recording in her office, she interrupts each time the police fail to question O.J. to nail down his timeline of when Nicole was killed. Each hole in the interview will make it easier for O.J. to contradict later and fill in any way he likes.

Her frustration is clear in her voice and her expressions, and Sarah Paulson plays her as if she cares a lot about the victims and getting them justice. After she listens to the fiasco of the interview, she claims confidently that even though O.J. got away with beating Nicole, he will not get away with killing her. It’s moments like these that make it clear the show knows the audience knows what will happen. Marcia will not get justice in this case, and O.J. will get away with what she believes he did. The camera pauses on her for a beat after she says this, and in that moment, the audience can really feel for Marcia and the future we know is coming.

Robert Kardashian seems like a well-meaning friend who got taken in by O.J.’s charms. (Who can blame him, though, when a lot of other people did, too?) They seem to have a real friendship, and Robert wants to be there for O.J. (who he affectionately calls Juice) just as O.J. was there for him during his break-up with Kris Jenner (yes, that Kris Jenner). Robert signs on to help O.J. with the case, and it will be interesting to see him struggle with the facts and his view of his friend. He was already conflicted after O.J. failed the lie detector test, and I imagine it will only get worse.

Johnnie Cochran isn’t yet involved directly in the Simpson case, but he will be soon enough. His introduction paints him as a person defending black men from systemic injustices. He seems brave and warm, and he knows right away that it looks like O.J. has a losing case.

And of course, the key player in all of this is O.J., a man who has a statue of himself in his yard. O.J. is at the center of this story, but I find myself less interested in him than in everyone around him. Part of this is because the show isn’t showing O.J. committing a crime, or admitting to it. The show is more about the reaction to O.J. than the accused murderer himself.

JUST THE FACTS


This series is the perfect way to examine the case and its effect on American culture. It’s not a documentary, it’s a scripted series based on a book that, according to an interview with Marcia Clark, got a lot of things wrong in the first place. It’s a dramatization of real events that were dramatized for the trial itself, which was dramatized in the media. And just as in the case, the facts don’t matter — how people feel about the facts does.

I am by no mean an expert on the O.J. Simpson trial, so I do not know every inconsistency, but one I thought was most interesting is the line when the police notify O.J. of Nicole’s death. In the show, the police officer tells O.J. that Nicole was killed, and when he hangs up, he notes to his partner that O.J. did not ask how Nicole died. In real life, the police officer told O.J. that Nicole was dead, and O.J. said “Who killed her?”

I don’t know why they went a different way in the show, but I suspect it’s because what O.J. said in real life is so unbelievable that if it were scripted it wouldn’t seem realistic. In this case, the line between real and fiction is crossed over and over again.

Notes from the case file:
  • The phone call to Nicole from her children that the answering machine picks up is brutal. She was killed with her children in the house, y’all. 
  • I read a great interview with Marcia Clark on her feelings watching the show, which made me like her even more.
  • The hair and make-up team is on point. Everyone looks fantastically ridiculous, just like the real people did in the '90s. Did you see those eyebrows on Travolta? Did you see the eyebrows on the real Robert Shapiro? 
Tune in text week for the famous car chase. Until then, you can find me on Twitter. What did you think?

Suits 5x12 "Live to Fight..." (How Deep is Your Love?)


"Live to Fight..."
Original Airdate: February 3, 2016

I’m really intrigued by the theme that the back half of Suits is presenting this season. Sometimes the show can feel like a hamster wheel — churning out the same tried and true plots and circling around Mike’s secret like a tango dancer. So when Mike was arrested in the midseason finale, I was inwardly dreading what would come. Surely, I reasoned, the show would wrap up Mike’s problems in a neat bow like it often did by the end of the winter premiere. 

Instead, Suits has really impressed me in proving that things like Mike’s fraud aren’t easily wrapped up, nor should they be. In “Live to Fight...” we get an awesome glimpse into the kind of inner conflict that the back half of this season will be about. This season is all about determining when you stand by the people you love, and when you need to walk away to protect yourself. There’s a really great dichotomy present of “others vs. self” and it’s only going to escalate the more characters and relationships are pulled into the fray.

It’s character-focused action and conflict rather than plot-focused for the most part, and if you know anything about me at all, you know that I LOVE this kind of stuff.

HOW DEEP IS YOUR LOVE?


Usually, Suits will devote one episode per season as its “flashback episode.” In it, we will get to see all of the terrible wigs the show acquired from Arrow, and experience our actors trying to pretend they are ten years younger than they are. But I love the flashback episodes because they always provide us with a glimpse into the “why” of these characters — why did they make the decisions they did? Why did they end up at Pearson Specter Litt? Why are they the kind of people they are in the present? This week’s episode wasn’t a full-fledged flashback one, but it featured flashbacks of Donna, her father, and Harvey. At the opening of “Live to Fight...,” Donna’s father is detained and — eventually — charged for some shady real estate deal he made seven years earlier. And the person who refused to give him the money for this shady business deal? None other than Harvey Specter.

Donna’s father squandered away their money when Donna was younger, forcing them to move. And when she became Harvey’s secretary, her father approached her for more money that Donna was willing to give him from her 401k. Because in spite of this evident  issue, Donna loved him. She loved him so much that she was blinded to the problem in front of her. Harvey was not blinded to the problem. But he is blinded, no less, because he approaches dear old (soon-to-be-father-in-law, right? Right?!) Papa Paulsen and tells him that if he takes money from Donna, he’ll make him pay. Big time. Harvey will not let him hurt her or take advantage of her.

And when he explains why he would do such a thing, Harvey says this: “Because people who love other people don’t put them in positions to break the law.”

We flash forward seven years and daddy Paulsen brings Harvey’s words bitterly back, saying that if Harvey hadn’t been self-serving and smug in hiring Mike, Donna wouldn’t be in the precarious position that she currently is in. And in a beautiful, underplayed moment by Gabriel Macht, Harvey’s eyes begin to tear up. Because he’s spent the better part of this season justifying Mike’s lies and his career. He excused Mike’s behavior just an episode ago, don’t forget. But this is the moment in which Harvey realizes that in the middle of all of the problems Mike’s fraud has caused, there is Donna. And it’s his fault she’s there.

(Not to be outdone, of course, Mike blames himself for Donna being in the position that she is in. At least he is self-aware enough to comment on that, right?)

Harvey and Donna have a huge blow-out once she realizes how deep of trouble her father is in. Because once Donna realizes her father did something illegal in his deal, she realizes who might have had a hand in his decision to do that. Harvey, as I mentioned earlier, threatened Papa Paulsen to leave Donna out of his business, saying that if he took Donna’s money, he would shut the deal down with everything he had. And Donna is absolutely LIVID that Harvey went behind her back seven years ago. Harvey’s excuse is — like it always is with Donna — that he wanted to protect her. He wasn’t going to put her life and future in jeopardy by letting her give her father money for a deal that would fall to pieces. He could not watch her do that then and he sure as heck won’t now. 

Because he loves her. 

It’s the unspoken thing that has been hanging between these two for years and was only briefly addressed last season. Harvey Specter loves Donna Paulsen so much that it hurts him and clouds his better judgement. So much so that he refuses to let other people help him save her. He barks at Mike in this episode, and goes to see Papa Paulsen himself. Harvey does everything that he does – protecting her, rescuing her, preventing her from giving money to her father – because he loves her. When you love someone as much as Harvey loves Donna, you’ll do anything to keep them safe, even if it means at the cost of you and everyone around you.

And that’s exactly what happens.

Harvey and Mike make a deal with Anita Gibbs — they will turn over a vaguely-worded letter about Mike being a (not really) great student (penned by Professor Gerard) if she drops the charges against Papa Paulsen. She does and they turn over the letter, and things go back to relative normal with Harvey and Donna (who make up, but not out. Ugh, I guess I can’t have everything I want). But here’s what I find to be most impressive about this whole storyline — Harvey is now acutely aware of the fact that he loves Donna.

In the flashbacks, he talks about what love means like a vague concept or notion. In the present-day, Harvey recognizes the fact that his selfishness put her into the situation she was in, and she was right to call him out on that (even if he did all of it to protect her). He is, no doubt, reminded of what he said years ago and nearly echoes the same phrasing back to her during their apology. If he loves her, he can’t keep putting her in these positions. He feels guilty for the reason she’s roped into this all to begin with (because he blames himself, and Mike blames himself), and he won’t let himself make the same mistake again.

Harvey loves Donna, and from here on out, I have a feeling he’s going to try to show her that in the way she deserves.


LIKE A TODDLER WANTING TO HELP YOU DO CHORES


I think this is the most apt simile right now to describe how Mike Ross is being seen by the rest of Pearson Specter Litt. No one wants him to do anything in the episode because they know they will have to follow closely behind him, ready to clean up whatever mess or protect whatever valuable thing he’s going to knock over next. Everyone is in the position that they are because of Mike, and tensions are running high among the characters because of it.

No one wants him to do anything, and no one wants to clean up his messes, but everyone is bonded together by this fraudulent secret they now bear – for better or for much, much worse. Knowing that Anita Gibbs could very well subpoena all of the firm’s documents, Jessica has it in her right mind to tell Mike and Rachel to destroy the evidence they have, and hire Jeff Malone (!!!) as her lawyer. Throughout most of the episode, everyone is trying to protect the firm, themselves and — occasionally — Mike.

What’s really compelling is the fact that Mike contemplates turning on Jessica in order to make everything go away. If he turns himself in, Donna’s dad is free and so are Donna and Rachel and Harvey. But in a weird and random outburst, apparently Mike decides he could take Jessica down with him because of all of the shady things she’s done before. I really don’t understand his logic, considering she probably could have you killed and no one would know, Mike, but sure. Go ahead and pick a fight with the most powerful woman in the firm for no apparent reason. 

IT’S TIME FOR A RACHEL ZANE SMACKDOWN


Speaking of picking fights, Donna and Rachel have it out in the firm’s bathroom (where else does anyone have a fight on this show, really?) about how it’s crossed Rachel’s mind that Mike should make a deal and turn his back on his firm. He’s placed in an impossible position and Rachel reasons that Donna should know all about that. After all, surely she’s thought about turning her back on the firm in order to save herself and her dad.

Donna is — once again — livid and, practically spitting venom, tells Rachel that there’s a difference between thinking about something and actually vocalizing it. Donna may be inwardly struggling, but she’s having faith in Harvey. That is what she is choosing to focus on at the moment and the fact of the matter is that Rachel Zane constantly talks down to Donna, assuming she knows her life. Assuming she has the same relationship with Harvey that Rachel does with Mike. Rachel Zane is the queen of patronizing fights and she certainly manages to do that with Donna on more than one occasion.

Rachel needed to be put in her place because it reminds us that these two women are very different people. While Rachel is okay with staying beside Mike and his fraudulent self, she seems more than willing to ditch Pearson Specter Litt if it comes down to it. Her ties there are less tight than most everyone else’s, and Rachel could justify turning on anyone. 

Donna and Harvey are bonded in a way that no two other people are on this show. And to her, the firm isn’t just a job or a bunch of random people. It’s not even work.

It’s family. And family, as Lilo and Stitch taught us, “means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.”

WE COULD’VE HAD IT ALL


As it turns out, Gretchen wrote an article — meant to be a surprise and encouraging present — that alerted Sheila to Mike Ross’ fraud. We didn’t have to wait until the season finale to learn that she was the one who sent an anonymous tip to Anita Gibbs. When Louis approaches Sheila about this, she finally connects the dots and realizes that Louis knows — and has known — about Mike’s secret. Ouch. Louis walks away from the conversation, hopeful that maybe something he said to Sheila clicked.

It clicked, all right, but not in a good way. Because by the end of the episode, Sheila comes forward and turns over all of Pearson Specter Litt to Anita to be examined under a microscope. When Louis discovers that she did this, he’s aghast and more hurt than we are and needs time alone to process.

It’s one thing to be betrayed, after all. It’s another to be betrayed someone you used to love.

And now, bonus points:
  • I always love how the flashbacks are lit in an orange-y tint. How much did you all love seeing little Donna?! And when we get flashback!adult Donna, she definitely has the best flashback wig.
  • “You know, I never thought I’d say this to another woman... but you are a cold, heartless bitch.” Donna Paulsen is both a feminist and a boss feminist. #LadiesSupportingLadies
  • The dress Donna wore in the opening scenes? SO gorgeous. That skirt is beautiful.
  • D.B. Woodside returned as Jeff Malone, and I’m very thankful he roughed up the snarky, insolent Mike Ross in one scene.
  • “I’m gonna take care of her.” Yes, yes you will. Because you love her, you idiot.
  • Here’s a game we can play: every time Harvey says “my secretary,” replace it with “my love.” The fact of the matter is that he says “my secretary” so lovingly that he might as well be saying “my love.”
  • “I never should have put you in that position.” Can we please have an episode where Harvey finally admits he loves Donna without backpedaling or anything? Please?
  • “If you’re okay, then I’ll be okay.” The Louis/Donna friendship means more to me than anything else.
  • “They’re gonna try and pit us against each other even more.” Aaaaaand that’s it. That’s the whole season in a nutshell.
What did you all think of this week’s Suits? Hit up the comments and let me know. And feel free to tweet me how much you love Donna Paulsen.

The Flash 2x12 "Fast Lane" (Speed of Life) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]


"Fast Lane"
Original Airdate: February 2, 2015
“There’s this song lyric I like: ‘All the broken hearts in the world still beat.’ Mine’s beating, but bruised. Hopefully not for long. The one thing I do know is, time changes everything.” 
Holy sad violins, Barry, dial it back. This is an opening voiceover sequence, not a eulogy. Yes, by the way — Barry is still very gloomy, but I’m happy to say that he actually smiles during this episode, unlike last week’s. He seems closer to his older self, sad voice-overs notwithstanding, and by the end of the episode he’s restored a bit of that go-getter attitude we expect from our favorite speedster with the soul of a Labrador puppy.

The character aspects of this episode far outrank the metahuman plot around which everything supposedly resolves. We get a lot of growth and development not only for Barry, but for the West family (Wally included) and for ParaWells, too. I barely paid attention to this week’s villain — sorry, fans of Tar Pit — but found myself really enjoying how the characters interacted with each other, the nuances of their relationships (especially between ParaWells and Barry) and the little mini-arcs of growth they go through over the course of the hour.

I think this is the first episode of The Flash in which I have absolutely nothing of worth to say about the metahuman of the week. Usually, I try to wrap my commentary around the metahuman-based plot, but I don’t think I can do that this time because I just really don’t care. I barely even want to summarize it because I found it to be so insignificant, but here you go: back when the S.T.A.R. Labs explosion happened, some guys murdered this other guy by drowning him in tar. Particle Accelerator explosion plus tar equals Tar Pit, a metahuman whose superpower is generating more tar and, occasionally, turning into a giant tar monster. He wants revenge. He tries killing his killers. The Flash stops him with the help of Cisco’s inventing know-how. That’s all you really need to know about the metahuman.

THE FAMILY WEST




Well, I guess Francine did indeed die after last week’s episode, but the remaining Wests seem to be using the loss to finally put aside their differences and try and be a family. The episode opens to the three of them eating dinner and sharing stories and childhood dreams — Joe’s always wanted to be a cop, Wally wanted to be an astronaut growing up because rockets go fast. You’re going to be super happy when you get speedster powers eventually, huh, Wally? I mean, I don’t know if the show is going to make that happen, but according to the comics it is your destiny, my friend. When the subject of speed comes up, Iris mentions the fact that Wally is still doing illegal street races. Joe doesn’t want to mention it because he’s trying to be a Cool Dad, but Iris doesn’t care about being a Cool Sister so she stares Wally down like a boss until he has to leave the dinner table.

Iris is a boss throughout “Fast Lane,” by the way. I’m not sure why we only occasionally get glimpses of her prowess as an investigative reporter, considering how the show went through the trouble of setting her up with a career with so much plot potential, but this episode definitely shows off why she’s in the field she’s in. She’s smart, enterprising, brave, and tenacious in trying to either convince Wally to stop racing or force a blanket shutdown of the races entirely... in a way that I’m pretty sure is blackmail? But Iris is in Protective Big Sister Mode throughout the episode, so she’s not exactly above trying her hand at blackmailing shady guys who run illegal street races.

Unfortunately, Iris’s tenacity gets her into trouble when she attends one of Wally’s races and the metahuman of the week shows up, looking for one of his murderers to murder. Tar Pit causes a crash and Barry’s not fast enough (more on that coming up) to stop Iris from getting hit by a really big piece of glass. Iris ends up in the hospital, there is much discussion about family and how Wally should try to be safer and not do illegal things, and the West family seems slightly better at the end of the episode.

Oh, and Joe punches pretty much anyone he determines to be responsible for Iris getting hurt. Joe, I don't know why you were so worried about being a Cool Dad. The fact that you don’t even hesitate to punch people in the face for hurting your kid probably makes you the Coolest Dad.

HARRY AND BARRY




The shadowy, secret plot going on behind the main plot in “Fast Lane” is ParaWells coming up with a device to sap Barry’s speed for Zoom, who comes right out and tells him that his daughter’s going to get tortured if he doesn’t do what he’s told. Like, I don’t really blame ParaWells for what he did? It’s not as if he’s sapping Barry’s speed for his own gain, or research, or just to be a dick. He’s doing it to save his daughter. But, since this speed-siphoning scheme is what makes Barry too slow to save Iris from getting stabbed by a hunk of glass, his actions are very frowned upon. He’s also one of the people Joe punches in the face.

I really liked the dynamic between Barry and ParaWells in this episode. You can tell that Barry’s feeling a bit restless after his breakup with Patty, and his family — the Wests — are dealing with their own thing. He doesn’t have very many places to go, other than S.T.A.R Labs and since he’s at a lab, he does some science and chatters to Harry the whole time. Completely clueless, meanwhile, that Harry’s patience levels are sub-zero and the guy’s clearly under some stress.

Barry admits that the time spent with the Wells of Earth-2 has reminded him of his days with Thawne-Wells before that guy revealed himself to be evil. ParaWells is very unhappy with this confession — since anxious fathers loaded up with tons of guilt are immune to the puppy-like cuteness of Barry Allen — and snaps at Barry. Because not only does ParaWells have other stuff on his mind besides playing mentor to a team of superheroes, he doesn’t want to add more people to care about and worry about to his list. It was bad enough last week, when Cisco almost died and Harry nearly lost his mind. Now, with the fact that he’s the one causing Barry to lose his speed, and with the knowledge that he has to choose his daughter over Team Flash, Harry just can’t allow himself to get any closer to these people than he already has.

I think the growth of the Earth-2 Wells character has been an interesting one. He started out so abrasive and harsh, but slowly eased into a familiarity with the team. As viewers, it was easy for us to sort of gloss over the fact that Harry seemed less restless and less harsh as time went on and it seems like it was easy for ParaWells to do the same. He had no idea that he was starting to like Team Flash. He had no idea he was starting to care about them, that he allowed himself to care about them, but then Cisco almost faded into a time paradox and he had a revelation. He thought he would have to lock down any of those pesky emotions before they got further out of hand, because he knew that — in the end — he would have to save his daughter, alone.

... Until Barry learns about this self-sacrificial plot, of course, and pep talks everyone into helping Harry out, saving Jesse Quick, and stopping Zoom. By going to Earth-2. Yay! Field trip!

BARRY ALLEN PUPPY GIF OF THE EPISODE:
THE SLIGHTLY IRRITATING PUPPY


Other Things:
  • “Shouldn’t you be out doing...” (Harry karate-chop arm-dances.)
  • I can’t believe that Barry is my age. What am I doing with my life? Why don’t I have superpowers yet?
  • “That’s annoying.” You jealous of Barry’s speed-reading skills, Harry?
  • Cutting back and forth between the endearing interactions of Cisco and Barry, and the guilty shadiness of ParaWells modifying Barry’s suit, was a nice editing touch.
  • “Did I just make the metahuman Tinder?”
  • Barry clearly needs hobbies that aren’t sciencing or superheroing.
  • I kind of wonder if Harry throwing the eraser was in the script or not? Because it was random and perfect.
  • "Who's the best hacker in the world, people?" (Barry and Caitlin, in unison): "Felicity Smoak."
  • “Ten-year-old determination. You remind me of her.” “Did you scold her as well?” “...yes.”
  • “How many felonies are we committing breaking into sealed court records?” “Eh, three or four — nope! Five.”
  • Harry carried his headache pain in his shoulders, apparently.
  • Haha, Harry’s “I guess that was pretty cool”... Poor dude, you’re hooked on this family of well-meaning misfits.
  • Wally West excels at cockroach metaphors.
  • (Sidenote: I like Wally a lot more after this episode. He’s a good character when his main function isn’t just standing around, being angry and making snarky comments.)
  • I love it any time someone calls Barry Joe’s son.
  • I’m not sure I’m buying the whole “Wally loves speed because it reminds him of his mom” thing but sure, it’s fine.
  • 1940s-aesthetic Earth-2 next time, people!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Arrow 4x12 "Unchained" (The Guilty Arrow)


"Unchained"
Original Airdate: February 3, 2016

Sometimes I forget that worry is technically a sin.

It's one of those things that doesn't seem blatantly wrong — not like murder or lying or cheating or stealing. It's something that I can justify a lot: I worry about my finances and ensuring I budget properly so I have enough money to pay my bills and do what I want to do. I worry about my future, because society (and, let's be honest, my type-A personality) tells me that I need to do that in order to be successful. Worrying is just a part of my nature, I reason. It's good to worry. 

But it's really not. What has worrying ever done except make my heart race faster, tether me to panic and anxiety, and cause me to have problems falling asleep at night? Worrying isn't good for me, or for anyone, but I justify it and therefore it has a hold on me. Only when I refuse to worry and have faith in something — or someone — else am I totally free. Similarly, guilt is something that we think we should have. It means that we feel badly for some wrong we have committed. It means that we have a conscience, right? Guilt is good!

... Except that it's not. Because the truth is that conviction is good for us. Conviction is that little voice in our heads that tells us we should do something or that we should not. Guilt, on the other hand, is that little voice that beats you over the head because you messed up. It's the voice that tells you that you are not good enough — that you will NEVER be good enough because of all of the bad things you have done. It's the voice that talks a lot to Oliver Queen, and especially in this episode. But there is hope and there is character growth (praise be to God for that one) in "Unchained" aplenty, so let's dive in.


WELCOME BACK, SCARECROW


I never thought that I would miss Roy Harper, but here we are. When Roy first appeared on Arrow, I wasn't a fan of him. At all. Then again, I wasn't a fan of Thea Queen from the start of the series either and now she's more important to me than a lot of fictional female characters. The reason that I care so much about Roy is two-fold: 1) Colton Haynes portrayed him in a way that was endearing, and 2) the writers figured out what Roy's role was and showed, rather than told us, why he was important. For a long time, Roy was the defiant loner, unwilling to let anyone in or care about anyone. He had survival mentality and that was unsurprising, once we learned more of his past and present (especially in regards to his mother). It was the episode in which Roy was saved from Joseph Falk by The Vigilante that really opened my eyes to the kind of pain and isolation Roy felt. He would have been okay with dying simply because he didn't believe anyone would miss him if he was gone. Everyone would be better off and the world would continue to spin. That was heartbreaking to me, and it catapulted Roy on a path of character development that eventually led to him becoming Arsenal. 

Roy went from being a young man who didn't believe anyone would care if he died to being a young man who learned the value of being a part of a team, and how much he would be willing to sacrifice for the people he cared about. I love that "Unchained" focused on his return in a really organic way (also while introducing The Calculator to us), and allowed us to remember how much Roy has grown and how much he will be okay because of that. Oliver feels guilt (SHOCKER) for the fact that Roy has to live far below the radar. Oliver also feels guilt (SHOCKER #2) for the fact that as a result of living under the radar, Roy got tapped by the aforementioned Calculator and forced to steal things so as to not be revealed for who he was. Oliver just feels a lot of guilt, really.

But Roy feels no guilt. Unlike what happened after he realized he killed a cop while under the influence of Mirakuru, Roy Harper in "Unchained" realizes that he cannot go around blaming himself or other people for circumstances and — in fact — would gladly do it all over again to save Oliver. That is what love is and what family does. But just as Roy's return was abrupt, so is his departure. He bids goodbye to Thea in a gut-wrenching scene about how they will always love one another and that in another life or timeline, they would get married and have children and buy a minivan and live happily.

(SO MANY EMOTIONS.)

I can honestly say that Roy's re-integration felt so natural and right in this episode. It was a fitting reminder that our Scarecrow has grown up and he really will be okay because of the love and lessons he encountered while with Team Arrow.

A LITTLE FEMALE EMPOWERMENT GOES A LONG WAY


Arrow has no shortage of female characters. And, often times, since this is a show about Oliver Queen, those women become the supporting players of the story. The women have often times become figures that Oliver Queen projects his guilt onto. They don't  get to have voices, not really, because Oliver overrules them. This, if you will recall, was especially the case in season three, where Oliver considered himself to be the head of the team rather than, you know, an equal player. It's hard to watch these women get sidelined because Oliver is on a one-man crusade to right the wrongs that he feels are his fault. He doesn't accept help easily, and he certainly doesn't let other people make decisions for themselves easily either. Last season, he was downright disrespectful and douchey in the way he handled decision-making.

But in "Unchained," that changed for the better, as women were finally allowed to have voices and opinions that STUCK. There are two different occurrences in which this happened: Felicity's story and Thea's. When the world's worst board member suggests — see: practically demands — that Felicity not be the face or voice of Palmer Technologies anymore presumably because she's a woman who is now-handicapped, Felicity balks at the notion and then dejectedly decides he's right. And while it is painful to see Felicity willing to put her CEO position aside in order to placate some horrible person, it's kind of also understandable. Ever since Ray gave her the company, Felicity has been trying to get out of the job as CEO. Remember how she not-so-jokingly offered to give Oliver back the company?

There are few times Felicity doubts herself and in fewer areas. She knows technology backwards and forwards and is confident in that area. She's at home whilst sitting in the Arrow cave. But the second someone asks her to become a leadership figure, she gets the case of the jitters. I get that — it's a LOT of responsibility, and someone like Felicity is more at home behind a desk than in front of a boardroom.

Which is why Felicity needs encouragement from Curtis this episode. The motivational speech he gave to her could have come from a number of people — Oliver, Diggle, Thea, Roy... heck, even Laurel. But it had to come from Curtis. Why? Because Felicity needed to be able to look at herself the way Curtis sees her. She needed to know that he already sees her as a leader and a hero. And not because she saves the world, but because she is Felicity Smoak, CEO. Felicity has spent very little time in Arrow doubting who she is and what she does. We usually leave the identity crises to Oliver. But being in a wheelchair and trying to run a company has taken an emotional toll on Felicity. When she wants to give up, she needs to be reminded that she's not a hero because of what job she does — she's a hero because of who she IS. And she can apply the same confidence she has in the Arrow cave to the boardroom. So she does. And she blows everyone away. That wouldn't have happened had it not been for Curtis speaking encouragement and truth into her life, and I'm so glad that this part of the story focused on how men and women can empower each other.

Speaking of empowerment, in a move that surprised even me, Oliver decided to respect Thea's boundaries and not try to save her life by reaching out to Damien Darhk. Last season, Oliver would have rejected Thea's requests, gone behind her back, saved her, then hid the truth from her until it inevitably was revealed sometime by sweeps. This season, Oliver is starting to realize that his commitment to do things differently needs to be just that — a commitment. After some pep talking from Malcolm Merlyn (words I never thought I would type in a sentence), Oliver dons his green hoodie and prepares to talk to Darhk anyway... until he stops himself. He remembers what Thea said, I bet, about her life being her choice.

And I wonder if he thought back to another woman who said that...


One of the reasons Oliver fell in love with Felicity, as Laurel so astutely pointed out (more words I never thought I would type together) recently is the fact that she is so resilient and determined — the fact that she makes her own decisions and is her own person. Those words rattled around in Oliver's brain and he remembered all of the ways in which Felicity is strong and all of the ways in which Thea is. You can't have a relationship with someone if you disrespect their wishes — if you silence their voice.

Oliver needed Thea to tell him "no" so that he could be given the choice to listen. And (thank goodness) this time around, Oliver realized that the women he loves most in the world are lovable because they're their own people. Thea and Felicity have things happen to them as a result of those choices sometimes, but the thing that Oliver is slowly realizing is that giving these women the chance to make their own decisions without undermining them will only allow him to have more respect and love for them. If he constantly controlled them, he would not get the chance to see how amazing they really are. And, of course, if he constantly controlled them, he would be the jerk that we had in season three and no one wants to go back to season three.

Thea tells Oliver that she will deal with the effects of the Pit. In spite of the fact that they are slowly killing her, she would rather die than sacrifice who she is. And she knows that Oliver would never be able to live with himself if she turned into a monster because of giving into her bloodlust. If Thea is going to die or live, it will be on nobody's terms but her own.

God bless the women in Arrow.

THE GUILT ARROW


I will probably be the first person to admit this — sometimes I am not Oliver Queen's biggest fan. And throughout some of "Unchained," I was narrowing my eyes, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Because Oliver was doing that thing that has become so customary for him to do, it causes me to roll my eyes and groan. 

Oliver was blaming himself. Again.

It must be lonely carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, but it is something Oliver knows how to do really well. It's the very thing, in fact, that drives him away from — not closer to — the people he loves. He looks at the decisions of others and he absorbs the consequences of those decisions. It's not right, and he becomes a harder, more bitter, angrier, and darker character because of it. While hallucinating on Lian-Yu (that's right, I actually paid slight attention to the flashbacks this week), hallucination!Shado told Oliver that guilt was his darkness and honestly, this is the only relevant thing I have heard or seen in flashbacks the past few years.

Because she's right — guilt is a kind of darkness. Guilt is a darkness just like worry or fear or control or power. Darkness creeps into our lives slowly. It doesn't happen all at once and it doesn't happen overnight. But the more bad things that happened to Oliver, the more guilt he absorbed. Think of him like a guilt Shamwow: he watched his dad, Sara, Shado, little-boy-who-was-Tatsu's-son-and-whose-name-I-can't-be-bothered-to-remember, and countless others die. And every time someone dies, Oliver takes a part of their soul and lets it crush him until it crumbles into dark bits of guilt. And he takes those and soaks them up, letting them permeate every part of him.

That is what Oliver's greatest weakness is. And that's why I am so interested in seeing who is in the grave — because a few months down the line, Oliver is dealing with his guilt in much more healthy, appropriate ways. He isn't blaming himself. He isn't carrying the whole burden. And he took very small steps toward that resolution in "Unchained.

It's not the bad or good stuff that determines our heroes in Arrow. It's how these human beings deal with that stuff that determines who they really are.

Observations & favorite moments:
  • MVP for this episode is Colton Haynes, for his little quips and remarks, but also for that final scene with Willa Holland. I rarely ever cry during Arrow, but even I found myself getting a bit misty-eyed at Roy's dream life with Thea.
  • Grave Predictions: We got no more indicator of who could be in the grave this week, thought I assume the show wants us to think it's Thea based on her prognosis. I can't see Arrow believably keeping Thea in a coma for four more months until she dies, so I'm still going to say it's Mama Smoak.
  • Speaking of the Smoaks, we officially met Papa Smoak tonight, a.k.a. The Calculator. WASN'T THAT JUST A SHOCKER?! ... We all saw it coming, Arrow writers. Like, a thousand miles away. Maybe further.
  • At least now Thea and Felicity can properly bond over having supervillains for fathers. Is there a support group for that? There should be.
  • "That's his superpower — Guilt Arrow." Dig, that was a great... well, dig.
  • I weirdly missed Oliver in street clothes parkouring off of stuff.
  • The directing in this episode was stellar. In particular, the shot where Green Arrow enters (and then Roy makes a comment about it), the explosion and Arsenal repelling, and the Calculator vs. Felicity were all really well-executed scenes.
  • "Whose shocking return can we look forward to next?!" My thoughts exactly, Felicity.
  • There were so many amazing women in this episode. Nyssa and Tatsu both returned and fought (again, stunning fight sequence), while Nyssa has a new gal pal in the League (I don't remember her name if she even has one so I'm going to just call her Pepper Girl or Pepper, for short), and then we had stories with Felicity and Thea... I am overwhelmed with all of the lady love this episode provided us with.
  • "I'm addicted to funny cat videos." Same, Evil Papa Smoak. Saaaaaaaame.
  • How is it that Emily Bett Rickards has chemistry with people she's not even in scenes physically with? Her repartee with Tom Amandes was so great.
  • "Ollie, that's insane. Not to mention stupid." Deb is right — this should have been said more to Oliver for the past, oh, four years.
  • "Oooooh, good story. Write me a letter." You guys don't understand my excitement over this line, because there was an episode of Community in which Annie Edison — the only female character I love more than Felicity — said: "Put it in a letter, Jane Austen!" Basically now my two favorite females are bonded and life is good.
  • "Just because you're wearing red doesn't mean you're The Flash, Roy." HAHAHAHA.
  • Oliver's dopey grin upon seeing Roy okay is too cute.
  • "I love you, Thea Queen." "I love you, Roy Harper." </3
What did you all think of "Unchained"? Hit up the comments below or tweet me and let me know!

The Bachelor 20x05 Roundtable Discussion: The Tables Have Turned [Contributors: Rae Nudson, Alisa Williams, Lizzie]


This week on The Bachelor, Ben and his sister girlfriends go to Mexico City to learn elementary Spanish, cook some dog food, and wake up early. One of the girls didn’t make it back, but surprisingly it was not because they all murdered Olivia. Follow along below as Rae, Alisa, and Lizzie go over the good, the bad, and the really bad from this week’s Bachelor.

Do you think Ben will send Olivia home?


Rae:
I think Olivia is going to stay for at least one more week, God help us all. That Ben, and a lot of other men, cannot see the mean girl within Olivia is super frustrating, and I don’t blame the women at all for wondering what Ben wants to do with them if he likes a woman like her. I have known a few mean girls in my time, and almost every single time, I have had men tell me she’s not that bad. Sure, to you maybe.

Alisa: No, unfortunately I do not think Ben will be sending Olivia home any time soon. He is completely oblivious to her true nature which is ridiculous because you’d think a couple episodes ago when he was upset about the sudden death of someone close to him and all she wanted to discuss was cankles, that would have been a clue. But alas, our hapless Bachelor continues to be blind. Plus, I think it’s been fairly well established throughout the seasons that it’s always the girl that tattles that gets sent packing, NOT the one who truly deserves it. But it wouldn’t truly be The Bachelor without at least one mean/crazy/narcissistic girl skating through with wide eyes, fake lashes, and superficial charm.

Lizzie: I think we all agree that Ben is not sending Olivia home. Oh, no. Ben is not that smart. I might argue that this is something we’ve seen time and time again on The Bachelor, but it kind of feels like Ben is a bit more oblivious than these guys usually are. I don’t think the producers want him to send her home, either. We don’t like Olivia, so Olivia makes for good television. That’s just the way it is. I learned this in UnReal, okay?


What do you think about what happened with Ben and Jubilee?


Rae:
Ben sent the wrong woman home for sure. I really feel for Jubilee because a) she’s amazing and b) I also would be really uncomfortable on a group date! This is not a normal dating situation, and I feel like it’s so normal to not want to hold someone’s hand in front of the ten other women he is also dating. It’s too bad that Ben couldn’t give her a break and that Jubilee felt like she had to spend their time together getting reassurance instead of just hanging out.

Alisa: I’ve said it from the beginning — Jubilee is too good for Ben! Maybe I’m taking The Bachelor a little too personally these days, but I am so tired of hearing men talk about how they want a complex, intelligent, accomplished woman... and then continue to date the ones who can’t locate Indiana on a map and list their career as “Twin.” Jubilee deserves better than this show and she deserves better than Ben. Additionally, it’s fairly obvious that Ben has a specific type. I’m not saying that’s bad in and of itself. But don’t act early on like you actually see a future with a variety of women who are very different from each other when a couple weeks later the vast majority of those left standing are petite, blonde, and soda-pop bubbly, with non-threatening career choices. Oh, and who also say “like” an awful lot.

Lizzie: Goodbye, Jubilee. You were too good for him. You were actually my favorite (our favorite, am I right?) [Rae's note: she is right], so that obviously meant you couldn’t last. I liked Ben at the beginning of the show. I did. He came off as genuine. I’m here to say I’ve changed my mind. Like Alisa says, he obviously has a type, and that’s not even wrong — we all have types. But it’s clear that he was never willing to look outside his type, and that Jubilee never really had a shot. And that just makes me sad. You’re better off, Jubilee.

What were the best and worst dates from this week?


Rae: If someone woke me up unexpectedly at 4:30 a.m. for a date, I don’t know if I would even make it out the door. I am not a morning person and I would definitely be cranky and not in a romantic mood if I were Amanda. (Actually I could see myself being pretty cranky the entire time I was on The Bachelor. They never get enough sleep, they have no one to talk to but each other, and they are all dating the same guy? It’s amazing it’s not just a house full of mean girls, am I right?) The other girls also did not seem to appreciate being woken up before dawn to watch their boyfriend go on a date with someone else. I can sympathize! Almost all of the girls woke up with no makeup on and crazy hair — someone’s weave was on a dresser — but Amanda sprung out of bed wearing lipgloss. Something tells me she might have known this was coming. They go in a hot air balloon and then have a picnic on the ground.

Lauren H.’s date looks much more fun to me, but it also has much less intimate time with Ben since most of their date was surrounded by fashion designers and models. So I guess it’s a tie on whose date was better?

I love that everyone has a tragic backstory no matter what the story actually is. Lauren H. and Amanda both dated bad dudes who cheated on them, I think? Which is definitely terribly difficult and I don’t want to undermine that, but also Jubilee went to war*, okay? Amanda seems like someone who has been through some stuff and knows herself better and Lauren seems like someone who can’t walk in heels. They are both fine, I guess.

The group date though was actually terrible. Ben is such a dummy for always giving Olivia roses in front of everyone else and for being her partner in cooking class. Have some compassion for the other women, Ben, who don’t want to think you’re playing favorites. I mean, can’t you give her a hint that you don’t want her to grab you first every single date? It’s so uncomfortable. And then if that wasn’t bad enough, Ben dumps precious Jubilee in the middle of the date. Kudos for not holding on to someone longer than necessary but, dang, Ben, you made a mistake. Understandably, seeing that Ben’s priorities lie in Olivia and not Jubilee spooks the rest of the women.

*I don’t actually know if she went to war.

Alisa: Why does The Bachelor always insist on having a date each season where he sneaks into the girls’ hotel room like a creeper and wakes them all up? I truly believe this is just a thinly veiled attempt to see what the girls look like without two pounds of makeup and additional hair weighing down their heads. And honestly, most of the girls were barely recognizable at 4 a.m., which just makes me sad. They’re all beautiful without all the added accoutrements and if Ben (or any of the Bachelors before him) aren’t going to love a girl for who she is vs. what she looks like (or she’s not confident enough to let a guy see her actual face), then this show isn’t actually about finding love or a spouse or anything substantive at all.

As for the actual Amanda and Lauren H. dates, eh. Pretty boring as far as dates go in my opinion. The hot air balloon ride and picnic seems like it would be fun if it didn’t involve Ben (I’m really not his biggest fan, in case you couldn’t tell). But the fashion show? Ugh. I’d rather die.

I actually really enjoy cooking though and so I thought the group date was awesome (minus Olivia). I think I actually cheered out loud when Jubilee won (seriously, is there anything this girl can't do?!). But between the chefs saying that a woman who can cook is ready for marriage and JoJo incessantly talking about her taco, I’m pretty sure that group date set feminism back by about 118 years.

Lizzie:
I’m with Rae here — 4:30 a.m. is a god-awful hour and I wouldn’t even want to get up and go anywhere at that hour. I’m not even sure there’s life outside so early. But, generic and still somewhat nice dates aside (let’s be real, hot air balloon ride and picnic is not exactly the kind of date you would plan in real life, and the fashion show is just not something you’d do with a guy), all my focus this week is on the absurd comment from the chef in the cooking date. Set feminism back by 118 years is right, Alisa. It was honestly a slap in the face. I don’t watch The Bachelor expecting it to promote a feminist agenda, nor anything of the sort, but there’s ridiculous and then there’s this. The chef on the cooking date shouldn’t have ruined the entire episode/experience for me, and that’s not only on him and his backwards-ideas — it’s on the show for choosing to air the comment in the first place.

Now that we’ve seen their talents and their insecurities, who are your top three contestants?


Rae: I’m feeling Jojo still, even though she didn’t get much time with Ben this week. All the tiny women with long blonde hair are starting to blend together, but I guess we figured out Ben’s type. Is that why Leah is still around? Anyway, my pics for Ben are Amanda, Lauren B., and who knows. My pics for myself are Twin, Jojo, and Jubilee, who all seem like way more fun than any of the other blondes. (No offense to blondes — I am one of you!)

Alisa: Now that Jubilee’s gone, I’m not a huge fan of anyone. I’ll continue to root for Caila until she’s inevitably kicked off in favor of the multiple blondes and becomes the next Bachelorette. I think it’ll come down to one of the remaining Laurens or Amanda, but calling any of those ladies my “top three” would be a bit of a stretch. Let’s just call them my most likely to succeed at dating Ben for the next two months.

Lizzie: Meh. Jubilee is gone, so I’m all Team Caila, not that that’s gonna happen. One of the Laurens could win it, maybe? Like Alisa said, I don’t even like Ben at this point, so, if I like the girl, I sort of don’t want her to win.