MegaCon 2015 Coverage

I had the amazing opportunity of covering MegaCon in Orlando, Florida and got to experience some wonderful panels (specifically two on 'Doctor Who,' 'Firefly,' and a 'Flash vs. Arrow' panel) and meet some great people all while celebrating the very thing that drove everyone to the convention in the first place -- our passion for our fandoms. Here's my coverage of the event!

The Strong Women Series

Here, you'll find a collection of posts from my talented female friends, each defending the women in their favorite television series. These posts contain some of the most intelligent discussions ever featured on this website. I highly recommend that you read them all.

Jenn's Pick: My Top 15 Episodes of 'Psych'

Do you like meta humor? Movie references? Pineapples? If you do, you were probably also a fan of USA's hit comedy 'Psych.' In this post, I count down my fifteen favorite episodes of the series. Do your favorites make the cut? And, bonus: Can you find the pineapple in my post?

Character Appreciation Post: Felicity Smoak ('Arrow')

Felicity Meghan Smoak is one of the most captivating, optimistic, endearing characters on The CW's smash hit 'Arrow.' And in this post, I list all of the reasons why she is. Read, dear friends, and fall a little bit more in love with our blonde hacker.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

#SummerRewatch: The Flash 1x01 "Pilot" (Run, Barry, Run)

Original Airdate: October 7. 2014

I don’t know what kind of hero I am but I suspect that I’m more like Barry Allen than any other fictional hero. Barry is optimistic. He’s driven. He’s fun, lighthearted, cares about his friends and family deeply. He wants to protect others and he hasn’t been jaded by the world as much as some people have. He didn’t have to be forged in fire or life experience. He literally woke up one day with a superpower. He didn’t ASK to be a hero; he was CHOSEN to be one. In the pilot episode of The Flash, we see and hear this quite clearly: when the particle accelerator at S.T.A.R. Labs explodes, it hits the crime laboratory where Barry is working. A bolt of lightning hits him, sends him into a coma, and when he awakes – nine months later – he’s the fastest man alive and, as he soon discovers, not the only one of his kind.

But before we dive into a discussion of Barry in the pilot, let’s talk briefly about what makes The Flash so different from Arrow and what makes Barry and Oliver Queen such different kinds of heroes. I love Barry Allen because he’s got a good heart. He’s always concerned about other people and that is always his first instinct. His first instinct is not self-preservation. That’s always Oliver’s first response and it’s natural, given the amount of time he spent on the island and in Hong Kong, forced to do whatever it took to survive. Oliver was forced into becoming a hero, his soul blackened and body bruised and soul scarred because that was the only way. Before the island, Oliver was… well, making some morally questionable decisions. Barry, though not a saint, seems to generally make the right decision – he’s the do-gooder. The Flash is constantly a show about optimism and hope; Arrow is a show that is often very gritty in its realism. There are no characters who laugh as they name and label “metahumans.” In Arrow, everything is always dark and dire (with some exceptions). Even the humor on the show is often more biting and sarcastic than the goofy humor on The Flash. It doesn’t mean that one show is better than the other and it certainly doesn’t mean that one hero is somehow better than the other.

If we learned anything from The Flash/Arrow crossing over this year it’s that Barry can learn a lot from Oliver and needs to continue to allow himself the humility to learn from others. But Oliver can learn a lot from Barry, too. Barry still looks at the world and sees it as full of mostly good people… including Oliver. And Oliver? Well, he wishes he could be the kind of hero that Barry can be – the kind who didn’t have to suffer, who was chosen instead of forced to become “something else” (I couldn’t resist). Both heroes need each other for support, as the pilot of The Flash displays quite clearly. Who is the first person that Barry leans on for support when it comes to being a hero? Oliver. Remember of course, if you also watch Arrow, that this rooftop conversation takes place directly after the events at the hospital in “The Calm.” So Oliver is still fresh from his sort-of-breakup with Felicity. And yet, he manages to offer Barry words of advice: he tells him that he was chosen to become a hero and that Barry can impact Central City in a way that Oliver cannot – acting as a guardian angel, essentially. Where Oliver is a vigilante, roaming the streets during the nighttime to put away criminals, the implication here is that while Barry may want to invest in a mask, he’s going to be the kind of hero who watches over others and comforts them, protecting them, helping them.

But before Barry Allen is struck by that fateful bolt of lightning, he’s a relatively normal young man. There’s one notable exception: his father is in prison for the murder of Nora Allen – Barry’s mother and Henry’s wife. Because Henry is serving time in prison for a crime Barry is convinced he did not commit, Barry was raised by Joe West – the father of Barry’s childhood best friend, Iris. Barry and Iris are still best friends (more on them throughout this #SummerRewatch series) and rely on one another for support and encouragement and comradery. They’re yore than friends, actually: Iris is Barry’s family. And Joe is Barry’s family, too. Knowing what I know now, re-watching The Flash’s pilot was illuminating in terms of the relationship between Joe and Barry. There was a moment where Joe actually yelled at Barry and it was kind of jarring because I don’t recall too many moments later in the season where Joe acts this aggressively toward the young man. But despite their differences and disagreements, Joe and Barry love one another. Joe constantly supports Barry and treats him just like he does Iris – his own child. Joe may not be Barry’s biological father, but he’s still his parent: the one who keeps a watchful eye, the one who doles out advice and occasionally harsh truths. The one who supports and loves at the end of the day. That’s the kind of relationship that Joe fosters with Barry and it’s absolutely wonderful. I have no doubt that the combination of how Barry was raised up until his mother died and how he was raised under Joe’s roof allowed him to become the heroic young man that we meet in the pilot episode. Because even before Barry puts on a suit and a mask, he’s a hero. He’s doing what he can as a forensic scientist to help the world and make it better. He wants to solve his mother’s murder and prove his father’s innocence. He believes in happy stories. It’s why he and Felicity Smoak get along so well together.

But once Barry is hit by that bolt of lightning, he changes. He becomes The Flash: a young man with superhuman speed. And because of the coma that the lightning put him into, he’s monitored until – and after – he wakes up by a trio of S.T.A.R. Labs employees named Dr. Harrison Wells, Cisco Ramon, and Dr. Caitlin Snow. Do you ever go back and re-watch pilot episodes of your favorite shows? With Friends now readily available on Netflix, I did that recently and it struck me how young and how different everyone was. The same holds true in the case of The Flash, to an extent, even though the series is only a season old. Caitlin is much colder (pun intended for those who know what I mean) than she is during the later episodes and with good reason: at this point in the story of the show, it’s only been nine months since she lost Ronnie and since her career and boss deteriorated. Harrison is a lot harsher than I remember him, too, and a far cry from the man we meet early in the episode pre-particle accelerator explosion. That man was charismatic and charming. The man we meet in the wheelchair? He’s… curious. But he makes it clear that Barry is not a hero. Cisco is the character who changes the least in some ways: he’s still extremely energetic, fun, and doesn’t take anything seriously. At the end of The Flash’s first season, we still see that part of Cisco, but we also see a very serious, very determined, very intentional young man in the season finale. Cisco is brilliant, that much is certain, and he doesn’t take life seriously at all in the pilot which is – I think – his way of coping with all that happened. His boundless energy and enthusiasm is what keeps him going from day to day.

Unbeknownst to Barry upon meeting them, these people will change his life in ways he cannot even comprehend. And it’s fun to see little hints of that sprinkled throughout the pilot. Pilot!Barry and finale!Barry are similar in a lot of ways: both are desperate to save the people they love, both still believe in hope and goodness, and both fight for humanity and for themselves. That hope is what carries Barry throughout the entire season. It’s what causes him to realize that he has a purpose. It’s what gives him strength. And the support of Dr. Wells, Cisco, and Caitlin allow Barry to begin on the path that will lead him to growing and changing in the best possible ways.

The Flash’s pilot is important because it lays the foundation for the rest of this show: optimistic, fun, engaging, inspiring, and ambitious. What a way to begin a series.

Additional notes:
  • I love Barry's voiceovers. They're just so energetic.
  • “My dad gave me that pen. He fought and died.”
  • “The future will be here faster than you think.” HAAAAAAAA. *hums “I Know Things Now” from Into the Woods* Also: isn't it great to go back and rewatch earlier episodes of this show, knowing what you know by the end of the season?
  • “Lightning gave me abs?”
  • “I need you to urinate in this.”
  • “That was quite the nap you took there, baby face. And you still look twelve.”
  • “You’re not a hero. You’re just a young man who was struck by lightning.”
  • “You can inspire people in a way I never could.”
  • “Now run, Barry. Run.”
  • Barry/Henry scenes are some of the best and most emotional in the entire series and the one in this episode at the end was no exception.
  • DUN-DUN-DUN. Sketchy Dr. Wells is being sketchy in the end tag!
Did you all enjoy rewatching the pilot of The Flash? Do you remember what your first impressions were of it? Hit up the comments below and let me know your thoughts. Until then. :)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

6x12 "Wedding Videography" (One Wedding and This Show's Funeral)

"Wedding Videography"
Original Airdate: May 26, 2015

Do you know why the third season of New Girl was problematic? 

It wasn’t, as many people surmised, because the romantic pairing of Nick and Jess sunk the show – that their will-they-won’t-they was more entertaining and engaging than the they-did. No, as I re-watched a majority of the third season recently, I realized that there were two main problems in that particular season of the FOX series. First, the story for Schmidt fell completely apart and turned him from an endearingly unlikable character to a borderline villain. He became abrasive and unbearable at points. The second problem was that in pairing Nick and Jess together so often in stories, the writers isolated them from the rest of the group, making episodes seem scattered and disjointed.

So in the fourth season, New Girl readjusted its trajectory and fixed the problems that originated the year prior. As a result, the series was one of the most consistently hilarious, heartwarming, and character-driven shows on the air last primetime television season. I admire Liz, Brett, Dave, and their team of writers not just for acknowledging that their show had missteps and problems that needed to be fixed, but also being willing to remedy those issues and knowing HOW they needed to be remedied. The producers and writers realized that the show needed to return to its origin: a group of messed up individuals who surround themselves with one another so that they can become better. The writers recognized the redemption in Schmidt’s arc and extracted every little bit of humanity and pathos that they could. This allowed Schmidt to become a fully-realized character who grew throughout the fourth season. His growth was real. It was earned, as was the rest of the growth exhibited in the characters (especially Coach and Winston) this year.

But what would have happened if New Girl hadn’t been willing to correct the issues that their characters had in the fourth season? Those characters, quite simply, would have regressed even further than they already had. This diatribe, as you might be able to surmise, brings us to Community’s penultimate episode of season six titled: “Wedding Videography.” I’m not going to be shy in this review (as if you all doubted I would be) and state that there was very little I enjoyed about the episode. In fact, I enjoyed the Glee re-run I watched this weekend more than this episode.


It was that bad.

It’s one thing to tell you that I thought an episode was bad. But it’s another to be able to articulate WHY it was bad. Let me take the rest of this post to explain what went horribly awry this season on Community and how – it’s very likely – nothing that the show does from here forward will be able to redeem it.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Series - Frenemies Talk Film: #1 ("Pitch Perfect 2")

Frenemies Talk Film #1: Pitch Perfect 2

Hey everyone!  I’m Jaime, and you might recognize me from my occasional guest posts, best friendship with your amazing leader Jenn, or from my recaps of Parks and Rec’s final season.  Despite all the evidence to the contrary, my greatest passion in life isn’t Ben Wyatt’s beautiful elf-like body, or One Direction’s evolving musical sound.  I’m a huge film buff, and the beginning of summer means one thing: a buttload of amazing movies are coming out soon.  Well, okay, maybe they’re not all amazing, but they’re all at least worth seeing and discussing.

I’m kind of a snob when it comes to talking about film, though.  I minored in film studies, and throughout my time as an undergrad, I pretty much went to one person to talk about what movie we’d gone to see that week: my worst enemy Chelsea, bane of my existence, soon to be known as the number one name on the list of my murder victims.  She’s terrible, but, I’m reluctant to admit, she knows her stuff when it comes to movies, both as an aficionado and as a fan.  So we’re going to spend the summer discussing movies here on Just About Write – most of our posts will probably be focused on a new movie we’ve both seen, but knowing us, we’ll probably have a few discussions about various film critiques and theory.  Because we love to be pretentious.

We’re going to kick off Frenemies Talk Film with the first of the high profile summer movies being released this year: Pitch Perfect 2.

(Before we continue, I need to clear something up.  My greatest passion is One Direction’s evolving musical sound.  I claimed otherwise for the sake of a solid introduction but I couldn’t let that lie continue.)

JAIME: So Pitch Perfect.  It's gotten some mixed reviews, and I can definitely see some flaws with its plot and characters, but like, who even cares?  I'm here to have fun and to see some synchronized lady-singing, and it delivered.  I wouldn't say this movie had as clear of an arc as the first one; we're not watching Beca (or any other character) move from Point A to Point B, but they're becoming more evolved versions of themselves.  There were already a ton of notable differences that show how they've grown in the three years since Pitch Perfect, so I think that did a lot of work in setting up everyone's storylines.  We're not necessarily seeing how all these conflicts began (Beca wanting to move away from the Bellas, Chloe refusing to move on, Amy hiding her feelings for Bumper, etc.), but in a way, that was better.  There was already so much going on in this movie that it didn't really have time to waste; it needed to jump right in and get moving.

CHELSEA: I mean sure, it had its problems but it's not trying to be the first one and establish all these characters. It's trying to be more 30 Rock with its ridiculous antics. We don't need them to hold our hands through all the "character development" because we already know these people & we just want to hangout with them now.

And I thought it was awesome that we weren't being led through each step of their journeys.  Because how many movies are there with male lead characters who we don't really get to know?  Where people say, "Well, it's enough to judge them based on their actions and what we see."  It's the same thing here - we get to see these awesome women and learn who they are based solely on how they react to this situation.  

And, like, it was hilarious.  I was crying with laughter the whole time, and if that doesn't make a good movie, I don't know what does.

Exactly. Like, every dude comedy does it so the ladies shouldn't have to coddle you. And it's the funniest movie I've seen since like 22 Jump Street so it's doing something right.

So what did you think of it as a sequel?  It was interesting because you could definitely feel the effects of the first one becoming a cult hit.  I mean, for one thing, when I saw the first film in theatres, it was almost empty.  My theatre for Pitch Perfect 2 was packed.  And then you had a lot of callbacks and attention placed on things people loved about the first one, like Fat Amy and Bumper, etc.

I was pretty surprised at how little Jesse was in the movie.  I would have liked more, but at the same time, I'm never gonna be mad about getting an all-female lead cast.  Especially because then not throwing in unnecessary drama for Beca and Jesse meant that there was room to see Emily/Benji (which was adorable) and Bumper/Amy develop.  Plus I think a big reason Jesse was so prominent in the first one was because they were kind of using Skylar Astin's talent and experience to help legitimize the whole thing.  This time around, they didn't need that, so they were free to put the focus where it belongs: on the Bellas.

I think it worked well as a sequel. It took the things that drew in the fans and gave them more of it. I think that's why there was less Jesse in this one, cause fans really wanted to see more of the lady adventures and it has a huge gay audience. And they had to give Rebel Wilson a bigger storyline since she was the breakout star of the first film. Same with Hailee Steinfeld since she's probably going to be leading this franchise should they make more and because she's an Academy Award nominated person. True Grit was a huge hit and they want to capitalize on her fanbase.

Yeah, I agree.  And by having Emily be a songwriter, and with "Flashlight" and how the Bellas used it, it opens them up in future films to stick less to a formula and really have freedom to do whatever they want.  Like, they got themselves out from under the pressure of trying to emulate the first one.

I want to talk about Pitch Perfect 2 as a summer movie, because it's kind of an interesting choice.  It's not even just a summer movie, it's one of the first summer movies this year.  Obviously that implies an attempt to have a wide appeal.  What do you think about that?  How does Pitch Perfect 2 stack up against all the other summer blockbusters we're going to see?  

It was such a simple thing to do making her a songwriter but it really did open a lot of doors for future sequels. Emily is essentially in charge of the Bellas now and is forging a career with Beca as her producer. I'm interested in seeing where they will go next with this and how they will bring the group back together.

I just remember hearing that it was opening in May & being worried. Now mind you, this was like 2013 me when the box office blockbusters weren't starting to fail. I think it was a smart counter programming move because it's become so obvious over the last couple of years that people have action film fatigue and smaller films with a follow like TFIOS last year and now Pitch Perfect bring a young female demographic that has been largely ignored. People are tired of the same old dude bro films and they are slowly realizing that they can make an insane amount of money with a smaller investment. Like, look at Mad Max. Cost $150 million to make and that doesn't include the marketing costs.  $45 million opening weekend, which is not a great start to recouping the budget.  All of their marketing was geared towards the typical male audience but then those people that did leave the film have nothing but wonderful things to say about its feminist message. Maybe if you tried to go after that audience and embrace them then you would have made more money. Learn from the mistakes Edge of Tomorrow made last year and don't be afraid to label your film a feminist and don't bury the fact in your marketing.

If you want me to see your movie then sell it to me. Pitch Perfect, TFIOS, and Maleficent on the other hand completely embraced their female audience and femininity. They weren't afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves and show well developed female characters. I saw the movie with my stepdad at his suggestion because we saw the first one together and he loved it. And there were just as many guys as I did girls in the theater during Pitch Perfect. I think Pitch Perfect is going to be one of the real highlights this summer because not only is it breaking down the barriers in the industry that I one day hope to be a part of but it's just a really hilarious FILM. Not a female film, just a film. There are very few other movies that I'm actually looking forward to this summer because they all look like more of the same old stuff.

What you said about the decline of summer blockbusters made me think - summer is obviously known for its action movies, but I think the other big genre that gets tons of attention during the summer is comedy.  Specifically, comedies geared toward dudes.  You have things like Pineapple Express, Neighbors, This is the End, all released during the summer and all marketed toward men.  And then of course you have movies like Bridesmaids and The Heat, which were marketed toward women and were successful, but it seems like there's still a divide.  Yes, Bridesmaids was a huge hit, but it was also very much considered a movie for women.  I mean, there's nothing about the movie itself that men wouldn't like, but because the lead characters are women, then the group that would most want to see this movie are automatically women.  

Pitch Perfect, I think, has mostly avoided that "for women!  This is a movie about women!  Come see it, women!" stamp.  It's there to some extent, of course, but I think it's been relatively free to be unapologetically about strong women (with the tagline "we're back pitches," which appeals to a female audience without limiting the audience to ONLY women).  Most of the discussions about Bridesmaids and The Heat and other films in that vein came up after they were released - after they were successful, and thus worth talking about.  But Pitch Perfect 2 had tons of promo behind it, and tons of people talking about their excitement for it and what the film meant, even before it was released.  It's probably too premature to say that it's a sign that attitudes are changing when it comes to female-led films; it could be just as likely that it's because Pitch Perfect has large crossover appeal, and so because men are interested in it, then men are starting conversations about it.  But it feels like a huge step in the right direction, judging by its box office performance and the way audiences are responding.

I think what helped it steer clear of that "female film!" title was the fact that it was a sequel. The first one had that stigma (I wrote a 30 page paper about it for crying out loud) but because it became popular through word of mouth and breaking HBO movie records, it had that gender crossover. So a sequel comes and it appeals to all genders in its marketing. And we can't forget that while it does have so many women in the cast, it also has multiple male characters that help drive the story. Jesse, Bumper, Benji, and other supporting male characters like Donald and Flula Borg's character that are important to the story.

And what's awesome about Jesse, Bumper, and Benji's roles is that they were basically just love interests.  They were there to help the heroes realize what they wanted, and propelled them along their journey.  In the first film, you had a little more with Benji and Jesse's friendship, and the dynamics of the Treblemakers were relevant since they were the Bellas' rivals, but in the sequel, they didn't have storylines of their own, really.  I don't think there were any scenes in this movie where Beca, Emily, or Amy didn't appear - you had the scenes with Gail and John, but I think that's it.  And still, you had Gail.  I don't think there were any scenes without a female character, and I'd be hard-pressed to think of any other movie that's come out recently that can say the same.

I really need to rewatch this movie. Mostly to analyze the musical numbers but also to really look at some of the things we've talked about. Hell, there were cuts to Emily during the trebles one and only big musical number. I don't think the film passes the reverse Bechdel test.

I was thinking about that, and I don't think it does.  Maaaayyyybe the moment when Bumper talks about how he's close to being put on a shortlist for The Voice?  But otherwise, I think every other moment he had, as well as Jesse and Benji, was supporting Amy's storyline.

And the notion of a "strong female character," and having more powerful and believable female roles in film, has been so prevalent lately, but I think Pitch Perfect took a few steps beyond that.  They didn't just take the approach everyone should take when writing great female characters (that is, simply to write a great character and make her female); this movie was very much set up like regular movies for male audiences are set up.  Because the thing is, movies made for and targeted at women are pretty much immediately considered chick flicks.  No matter what.  An action-comedy like The Heat?  Chick flick.  A romance?  Chick flick.  No matter what.  Whereas "regular" movies, the ones that don't get labeled a chick flick, are still unquestioningly for men.  And many of them will be about the journey of a male character, who is guided and inspired by women, but ultimately it's all about his growth.

Here, it's completely flipped.  It is all about these women.  You care about the men, sure, but not on the basis of what's presented here - you care about them because of their storylines from the first movie.  Someone who hadn't seen the first one and wandered into the theatre to see Pitch Perfect 2 wouldn't care about Beca and Jesse, or about Benji falling in love.  Because the framework for those relationships was already built; this movie isn't about the girls falling in love.  Even Amy, who realizes she's in love with Bumper, seems to have done the legwork on that prior to the events of this film; it's implied that they've been seeing each other casually since the events of the first movie.  She fell in love with him a while ago; she just happens to realize it and get around to telling him in this movie.  Otherwise, the motivation of every character is abundantly clear from the first scene: make up for the mistake that was made, and show the world how they can be better.  There's literally no way to argue that this movie is a chick flick because it operates exactly how most movies (that are made for men) operate.

I don't think it does since he didn't talk about it for more than a minute with a male character. It was just a comment in passing. And like yes to all the rest. Nothing about this is a chick flick. It's like calling The Hangover a chick flick cause each film features a wedding. No, it's about these people fixing a problem.

Because, as Tina Fey and Amy Poehler so wisely said, bitches get stuff done.

What did you all think of Pitch Perfect 2?  What other summer movies are you excited to see?  And please, if you have any movies (or really any questions you’d like us to answer, or anything you want to see discussed), let us know!  The best part of the crop of summer movies, after all, is sharing in the experience with other people.  Chelsea and I will see you all soon (unless one of us snaps and murders the other)!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Series - This Week's TV MVPs: Week 14

Welcome to the fourteenth and final week in our TV MVP Series until the fall of 2015. Since all of our favorite shows wrapped this week, making way for summer cable or network series, we're going to be kicking off a brand-spankin' new summer series titled "Summer Lovin'"! In it, all of your favorite Just About Write authors will be back to discuss the best things we've seen on the big and small screen that week and what is worth watching. I'm so excited for the series and I know the other ladies are, as well.

But before we officially welcome summer around the site, we have one more TV MVP week to get to. I jokingly tweeted that we would make this final week all about The Flash's Grant Gustin and... well, half of the post is true to my word. Below, here are the lovely recruits that helped me out this week:

  • BFF, partner-in-crime, and girl who will always (always) be on my side: Jaime Poland
  • Lover of all things cute, cuddly, or related to Stephen Amell: Laura Schinner
  • My bespectacled New York queen and writer extraordinairre, Constance Gibbs!
  • One of the newest additions to the team and delightful human being, Alice Walker
  • Soul sister, name twin, human ray of sunshine, precious unicorn, and all things wonderful: Jen!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Supernatural 10x23 "Brother's Keeper" [Contributor: Deena Edwards]

"Brother's Keeper"
Original Airdate: May 20, 2015

“And yes, I know there will be consequences. But not you, not Dean -- not anybody can tell me what those consequences are. So I’m not gonna let my brother destroy himself on a guess.”

Most things have consequences one way or another, but in the Supernatural world, those consequences can often be a lot more than what you bargained for. One action, no matter how well-intentioned it was, can set off an unwanted ripple effect that leaves even the bravest and the strongest in some state of emotional disarray. Or even worse, the entire world in the midst of a screw-up of EPIC proportions.

In this incredibly intense and stressful season finale, we find our boys in not just the first situation, but also, by the end of the episode, the latter. However, epic proportions may be putting it lightly -- it’s more like biblical (can’t say they weren’t warned about that part, though).

Emotions are running high in the aftermath of the bloodshed in the previous episode. While Sam desperately refuses to let go of trying to get the cure for the Mark, even after his brother has taken off, Dean, it seems, has nearly given up on himself enough for the both of them already. He wakes up on the floor of a motel, likely after having passed out following a drinking binge. He’s always been a little dependent on alcohol at times (if a little means a lot), but this time it appears he’s really cut off all restraints, and not just with the drinking. The comments that come out of his mouth in most of this episode are utterly vile at times, and as much as I love our eldest Winchester, even I could feel the collective cringing of the entire fandom whilst tweeting during the episode. I even joined in, though keeping in mind the man before us now was merely a shadow of who he used to be.

“You worked some pretty dark stuff in your day, haven’t you, Agent? Must have left quite a mark.” 

“Oh, you have no idea.”

We meet a new hunter in this episode, though, like most, Rudy’s appearance is very short-lived. While working together (I use that term loosely, as Dean basically butted in and told him in less than pleasant terms to buzz off) on a vamp case, Dean’s recklessness goes a bit too far, causing a jumpy vampire to kill the hunter. Accidents like this happen all the time for other hunters, but this is simply Dean no longer caring, pushing his luck as far as he can just because he feels he no longer has nothing to lose. This only aids in Dean’s self-destruction, the guilt pushing him enough over the edge to trash the motel room he’s in (I swear, the lamp-fatality in this show may be even higher than the human death count, at this rate), and then he even goes as far as as to leave the Impala behind for Sam while he summons Death in an attempt to have him kill Dean.

Honestly, I know how strange it sounds to those who don’t watch the show when I say it, but I absolutely love Death. I love his uncaring sass, and his ability to put fear in everyone to the point they’ll literally serve him platters of his favorite foods in order for them to get on his good side. He’s the subtle kind of funny that still leaves you afraid of him, because, well, he is still Death, after all. He’s not got time for your human nonsense, unless there’s good food involved. I can respect that.

As it turns out, Dean cannot be killed, not even by Death, without unleashing a destructive force older than God himself, known as the Darkness. Not much is known about it, aside from the fact it played an important part in a war fought by God and his archangels. It’s unable to be killed, so it was locked away in the form of the Mark of Cain, which Lucifer had passed down to Cain, and from Cain to Dean. What kind of power the Darkness holds is also unknown, but the fact that the powers of God and the angels weren't enough to destroy it says a lot about its strength. Plus, the name “The Darkness” isn’t that cheery a name, so what should you expect, really?

Death offers to relocate Dean elsewhere -- not on Earth, but somewhere else (vague, huh?) where he’s still alive, but cannot cause any more harm to himself or others. When Sam shows up, begging Dean not to go through with it, Dean explains that his way out is through Sam’s death. Sam simply will not stop trying to save Dean, or, in Death’s words, “will not rest until his brother is free of the Mark, which simply cannot happen, lest the Darkness be set free.”

“Evil tracks us. And it nukes everything in our vicinity -- our family, our friends. It’s time to put a proper name to what we really are and we deal with it.”

“Listen, we are not evil. We’re far from perfect… but we are good. That thing on your arm is evil, but not you, not me.”

This scene, this is what kills me. Even before the Mark, Dean has constantly struggled with this image of himself: that he’s unworthy of forgiveness, unworthy of life, because he believes he’s not a good person. But Sam, he tries to see the good in everyone, so of course, even when Dean is blind to it, Sam sees the good in him, too. He’s his big brother; Sam looks up to him, and now Dean’s willing to stand down and let himself be killed -- he’s ready to die. He accepts his fate, because what else is he going to do? But Sam makes sure that before that happens, Dean knows that he’s always believed in him; that no matter what Dean thinks, no matter what Dean believes, they are both, deep down, good people.

“You’ll never, ever hear me say, that you -- the real you -- is anything but good.”

And then the thing with the family photographs -- okay, no, I’m gonna fast forward past all this before I start bawling again. Just before Dean lands the fatal blow with the scythe, he changes direction, instead killing Death. Or, well, it at least appears he’s killed Death. The whole “Death can’t be killed” thing seemed pretty straightforward, but no one said anything about what would happen if impaled by his own scythe. Just moments after that happens, Rowena succeeds in casting the spell that removes the Mark -- and sure enough, the cure literally flies through the roof, and in a flash of lights, the Mark has disappeared.

Before they even have a moment to appreciate that, to even be relieved, the Darkness is unleashed, no longer tethered to the Mark because the Mark no longer exists.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m so intrigued to see how this Darkness thing plays out, and I have SO many questions. How is it going to affect everyone? Is it going to have some kind of human form? Will people no longer be able to die due to Death’s (possible) death? Will Baby resurface from the smoke unscathed? ARE CAS AND CROWLEY OKAY?!?!

I have a dozen theories spinning in my head already relating to the Darkness and the creation of a certain virus, among other things. I’m so pleased with this season finale, I can almost forgive the frustrating cliffhanger. Almost.

See you guys in the fall for more Supernatural reviews when season eleven begins!

Memorable Moments/Quotes:
  • “Unless, of course, either of you have spent years of your life studying with the greats, mastering the intricacies of high witchcraft?! ...But forgive me, maybe you have.” Okay, I know Rowena can be absolutely terrible at times (she’s a witch, so duh), but I honestly still stand by my opinion of her when she first showed up on the show. She’s sassy, independent, and armed with such a fiery personality that you can’t help but pay attention every time she’s on screen. Just, y’know, try not to focus so much on the witchcraft, murder, and child abandonment, and she’s pretty cool.
  • “The third ingredient is impossible. Loosely translated, my heart.” “That’s not impossible at all.” I will never tire of Cas' subtle sass.
  • “Who summons anymore? Couldn’t you call?” “You’re not in my contacts list.”
  • “That’s right. Burn those eyes blue. Spread those broken wings and destroy me. Or… do it my way.   Now beg.” “What?” “Blast me, or beg.” “Crowley--” “King!” “...King. If you -- if you would -- if you would be so kind…”
  • “Don’t tell me that’s queso.” I wanna know when Dean had the time to make all this food -- I didn’t even know he could cook
  • “How do you know this?” “A hamster told me.”
  • “Close your eyes. Sammy, close your eyes.”

Problematic Palmer: What Went Wrong With This 'Arrow' Character

Have you ever done something that, in theory, seemed like a great idea but in practice was actually a horrible, horrible mistake? In your head or on paper, it appears smart -- it even appears logical. But in practice, you find that the exact opposite is true. I mean... New Coke, anyone? This applies to all aspects of life, not just marketing. It especially applies to -- as you might have gathered from the title of this post -- writing. Sometimes writers create characters who, on paper, appear to be perfectly fine. The actor or actress who portrays them may be great but there is something about the execution of the character that leaves a distinctly sour taste for viewers.

As is such in the case of one Ray Palmer this season on Arrow. I have qualms with how the show has handled (or not handled correctly) certain things over the years. There were problems in season three and a lot of those problems -- and the rage associated with them -- can be attributed to this character. Before I continue, let me just state this: I think that Arrow finally managed to construct the version of Ray Palmer that they had envisioned from the beginning of the season, but only during the final two episodes this year. I have nothing against Brandon Routh as an actor. I think he did a good job with all that he was given and he seems to be an overall decent human being.

No, my problem is the way that Ray was introduced to us, constantly forced upon us even when we resisted, and shoehorned into a season that already felt a bit fractured. Let's take some time to examine where, exactly, this character went wrong in order to understand better what could be done to prevent the same character defects and flaws in the future. As another aside: I'm not the first person to write about Ray Palmer's problematic characterization. I will point you toward Tumblr in order to read some more amazing critiques from other fabulous people. (Note: I inadvertently adopted the phrase "Problematic Palmer" from Tumblr user ah-maa-zing, so thank you for that and for your piece.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

6x11 "Modern Espionage" (That Was An Episode, This Is Paintball) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]

"Modern Espionage"
Original Airdate: May 19, 2015

Ah, Paintball Assassin. The Community tradition that started with "Modern Warfare" and, in my opinion, reached maximum quality with the "A Fistful of Paintballs/For a Few Paintballs More" two-parter. This week, our dose of paintball madness has the shiny veneer of a spy movie, and we get to see (almost) everyone in formal wear. Huzzah! I have to be honest and say that I don't watch a lot of spy movies, so if there are references that are really clever for fans of spy movies, I'm sorry ahead of time for not getting them or mentioning them or recognizing them as noteworthy.

The Episode

This year, Greendale really wants to put paintball in the past - at least according to Frankie. She feels bad for the custodial workers who have to clean up after the chaos and also thinks, you know - destroying their school every year with a paintball war isn't the most mature, professional thing for Greendale to do. I can't say she's wrong about that, but if Greendale gets all mature and professional, will it still be Greendale?

That (plus a cash prize) seems to be the idea behind the underground paintball tournament that’s taking place during the episode: doing anything else - trying to be mature and professional - just wouldn't be Greendale. Jeff, at the very least, seems to be okay with putting paintball behind him – the rest of the group, not so much. Jeff is only really roped in when everyone realizes that there’s a conspiracy afoot on Greendale grounds, and they might be the only ones capable of stopping it. In an attempt to catch an underground paintballer who goes by the moniker “Silver Ballz” and possibly protect the custodial workers who appear to be the main targets for Silver Ballz’s silver (paint)balls, the group decides to join in on the fight in secret. They try their hardest to espionage their way through a gala for custodial workers and keep the paintball-shooting to a minimum around Frankie, who - as previously mentioned - seriously disapproves of Greendale’s paintball past. Stuff goes down at the gala and a shootout means that Frankie learns about the continuation of the secret underground paintball tournament before everyone - except Jeff and the dean – get taken out.

Jeff confronts one of the custodial workers who, we discover, started the underground tournament in order to keep their occupations necessary as well as a way to just accept that paintball war and weirdness is what Greendale is. Frankie is trying to change Greendale, and doing that wouldn't be honest or long lasting - so why let her try?

Apparently Jeff really believes in Frankie all of a sudden, because he has faith in her being able to turn Greendale from a "cigarette" to a "carrot stick" (which is the healthy form of a cigarette - I had no idea) and wants everyone else to just let her do it. I have no idea when Jeff and Frankie got so close, because I always just got the impression that Jeff acknowledged Frankie as a sane, competent individual but not a whole lot else. Now he seems to think very highly of her.

I don't want to imply that the "Core Four" are the only members of the group allowed to have meaningful connections with each other, but it kinda feels like, if things had gone a bit differently regarding character development this season, Annie would have been the one Jeff made his speech about in this episode. If Annie had continued the do-gooder leadership role she had last season, she basically would have been Frankie this season... But, alas. Frankie is the leveling force for season six, and even though Jeff's faith in her feels a bit weird due to the lack of interaction between the two characters, anything else would have made even less sense with the way the season has gone.

Overall, this was a fun episode. Had it been situated in a season with more arcing development and plot, it probably would have been one of the best episodes of season six. The problem is that - although the paintball specials of the past have seemed like out-there, stupid homage fun, there has always an underlying “real world” plot to them. There’s always something that still exists when the paint is cleared away and the Community universe gets (comparatively) more sane.

In the first season, it was pretty simple: the season-long “sexual tension and lack of chemistry” between Jeff and Britta had to break, soon, or the group was going to fall apart or kill them or both. In the second season’s paintball episodes, the mystery of what had happened before the game had started led into the realization that the group - minus Annie, the Ace of Hearts - no longer wanted Pierce around, something that the show had been working up to all season with Pierce’s increasingly erratic behavior. Season four had Jeff’s paintball daydream stem from fear of his post-graduation future, only to be broken by his realization of how much he loved his friends.

Season six’s "Modern Espionage" doesn’t have a revelation or big development that happens after a whole season of foreshadowing to make the episode more than just very entertaining TV. Although we get Jeff respecting Frankie and believing in her ability to make Greendale better, that is something that only exists within the half hour of this episode - not a culmination of season-long worries, grudges, sexual tension, or... anything.

It's paintball war with a spy twist, and it has some great moments and some funny lines but there's not a whole lot underneath all the neon and silver paint. Sadly, this is pretty much what I’ve learned to expect (and hope for) from season six and while I liked the episode, I still can’t help remembering when Community gave us a bit more.

Other Stuff:
  • "Occasionally our campus interrupts into a flawless post-modern homage to action-adventure mythology, mischaracterized by the ignorant as 'parody.'" Is it just me, or has there been a significant increase in meta references this season?
  • "I'd call him Silver Ghost, but that's probably already taken by an indie comic book or a terrible tequila." I’m not sure, Starburns, but I do know it’s a kind of Rolls-Royce car from like, the 1920s.
  • "WHAT THE HELL?!" I love it when Joel has to yell, because he gets all shrill and hilarious. [Jenn's note: I don't know why, but I always find it SO hilarious that his voice jumps 10 octaves to yell like that.]
  • "That was instinct. I can't help being a badass."
  • Jeff taking Britta's glasses to look at the computer made me laugh. It was really silly and I don’t know, I just liked it.
  • There's a Greendale club called "Club Club" where people "party the way they do in clubs."
  • Annie doesn't want to say "Silver Ballz." I don’t blame her. That name is dumb.
  • "Mr. Winger, you clean up nice!" "Oh, come on, I'm always good looking."
  • Apparently "Daybreak" is the only thing that plays in the elevator! It’s also the only thing that plays in my head for at least a day after hearing it.
  • The "Custodial Innovation Award" is a push broom. Never stop being Greendale, Greendale.
  • I really liked the exchange between Kumail Nanjiani's character and Abed during the gala, when Abed was heckling him.
  • "Did you do stand-up? Is that how you became a custodian?"
  • I’m assuming that Annie and Abed were doing a Mr. and Mrs. Smith thing, since they were spies dancing with each other at the gala, but I don’t think it landed as well as it probably could have.
  • Did I miss it, or was it not really clear who Silver Ballz was?
  • I like that they finally, FINALLY showed that getting hit with paintballs actually really, really hurts when Jeff, the dean, and Lapari all shoot each other.