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Friday, January 30, 2015

A Fictional Family & Their Legacy: Saying Farewell to 'Parenthood'

When a television series that has been a part of your life ends, something stirs within you. It's this weird, intimate connection with the characters that you possess that causes you to want the best for them after the credits fade to black. I know. It sounds strange, right? But anyone who has been a fan of any television show for a period of time knows what I mean. You want to leave your favorite characters in a place where they're not just well taken care of, but where they are happy. Where they are loved. Where there is hope.

Parenthood has always been an extremely emotional series for me and for nearly everyone who ever watched it. The reason why it is so emotional is because it's so raw and real. These aren't just characters on a television show. They're US. They're family members of ours in real life. They're friends. And their struggles are our struggles. They experience birth and death and love and loss. They celebrate little things like good grades on tests. They experience traumatic events and hospital visits. And through it all, they continue to rely on and support each other. The Braverman clan has been through their fair share of joys and struggles and they've kept changing and evolving because of them. So when we said goodbye to them in "May God Bless And Keep You Always" (the most fitting title for this series' farewell, might I add), I was so utterly impressed that Jason Katims managed to take everything I loved about the series as a whole and translate it to screen in the final moments. The finale exemplified everything that Parenthood was about -- unconditional love, loss, joy, hope, laughter -- and I couldn't have been more pleased with the result.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Suits 4x11 "Enough Is Enough" (It Always Comes With A Price)

"Enough Is Enough"
Original Airdate: January 28, 2015

There's a six-word phrase that's mentioned throughout the series Once Upon A Time with great frequency. "Magic always comes with a price." Rumpelstiltskin will tell people this repeatedly, whenever they ask him for a magical favor. The idea behind it is really universal -- what you want ALWAYS comes with a price. Literally, you have to pay for things you want. But metaphorically? Well, that's also the case. Are you willing to sacrifice your morals and your friendships and your career in order to get your hands on a seemingly elusive dream? How far will you go in order to achieve your goal and what price are you willing to pay in order to get what you want? For Louis Litt, we realize that perhaps we've underestimated how far he's willing to go in order to get his name on the door. Perhaps we always -- and the characters, too -- assumed that he would be content with sitting by and letting others push him around.

"Enough Is Enough" proved that when you get what you want, you often want more. That's the inherent problem when you have the very thing that you want; it's usually not enough. But in the midseason premiere of Suits, Louis Litt learns that even if he thinks he can control and manipulate the people within Pearson Specter Litt (I've lost count of how many name changes this place has gone through since season one), because eventually, people hit breaking points. Just not always in the way you might anticipate and not always the PEOPLE you might anticipate either.

Parks and Recreation 7x05 ("Gryzzlbox") & 7x06 ("Save J.J.'s") [Contributor: Jaime]

"Gryzzlbox" & "Save J.J's"
Original Airdate: January 27, 2015

This week, Parks and Recreation delivered two incredibly solid episodes that I think might be up there on the list of the show’s best episodes ever.  Both were so strong, relied heavily on the show’s wonderful ensemble, and were consistently funny throughout.  And one featured the return of Treat Yo Self, so, yeah, overall, it was a pretty great night of television.

Sadly, Donna and Tom’s day of self-worship took place in the second episode, so we’ll have to wait to talk about it.  But “Gryzzlbox” was just as fun and exciting, and a huge step forward for the Leslie vs. Gryzzl storyline that so far has anchored every episode this season.  And when I say it was a huge step forward, I basically mean this episode brought it to its climax, that was then pretty much completely resolved in “Save JJ’s”.  So, you know.  Lots of things to talk about today.



“Gryzzlbox” begins with Leslie and Ben reevaluating their case against Gryzzl.  Leslie Knope, the eternal optimist, has finally given up.  There’s nothing she can come up with to convince the Newports to donate their land instead of taking Gryzzl’s millions of dollars, and nothing she can do to convince Gryzzl to abandon their plans. 

That is, until a Gryzzl drone (sorry, a “skypal”) arrives at her front door, carrying a present for her.  It turns out other people have gotten them too, including Donna, whose box contained sugar plums and honeybears, which are the nicknames she and her fiancĂ© use for each other – except they only use those nicknames on the phone or through text.  There’s no way someone could have known that and chosen those specific items to give Donna.  When Leslie opens her box and sees that it contains Joe Biden’s book (“Biden the Rails: 1001 Poems Inspired by My Travels Through Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor”.  Honestly, I’m just glad to know that even in 2017, Leslie still loves Joe Biden as much as ever) and a poster of the Supreme Court in the style of a famous Friends poster, Ben realizes that Gryzzl is data mining – they’re taking people’s personal information that they share on their Gryzzl devices and using that to create profiles.  But when Gryzzl installed their free wifi in Pawnee, Ben made sure to include protection against data mining in the contracts.  

Ready as ever to take on a new challenge, Leslie holds a public forum to discuss how Gryzzl has broken the terms of their user agreement.  But for once in her political career, Leslie faces zero opposition.  Every single person who attends the forum agrees with her.  I can’t tell if it’s a sign of how far things have come since the first season, or a sign of how bad this Gryzzl issue is.  To show their solidarity, everyone starts chanting, “We’re not against you on this!”  It’s nice, you guys.  It’s really nice.

With the town and Donna on her side, Leslie goes to the person whose unwavering support she can count on: Ron Swanson.  After all, this is the guy who threw his computer in the garbage when he learned about cookies and Google Earth.  When they meet and Leslie eagerly shows him pictures of the triplets, Ron shows her a picture of his son, then immediately tears it up to protect John’s privacy.  But, once they show him what Gryzzl’s doing, he’s not as eager to join their cause as they had hoped; laissez-faire as ever, Ron sees no reason to judge the practices of a privately-run business, and in fact, thinks it’s the user’s fault if they’re carrying a device that they trust with so much personal information.  He even guesses, based on his time around Gryzzl’s lawyers, that it’s not actually illegal.

To get more information, Donna sets Ben and Leslie up with a tour of Gryzzl’s headquarters, led by the company’s VP, Roscoe Santangelo.  Dressed in a hat, cardigan, beret, and glasses, Ben and Leslie (or Darlene Johannsson and her assistant-turned-lover Gregory Strong) go undercover to try and weasel out information from Roscoe, but it turns out he’s pretty willing to admit that they’re data mining and that their products are always on and cataloging the user’s actions.  Oh, and he knows that it’s really Leslie.  After all, Gryzzl has maps on her Gryzzl devices, and face-scanned her when she came in…I mean, really, Leslie didn’t really think this one through.

Since Roscoe is so open about what Gryzzl is doing, Leslie proposes they debate the issue on television.  And apparently the best way to do that in 2017?  Is to appear on The Perdple’s Court, hosted by – you guessed it – Perd Hapley.  Important note: Perd Hapley is not a judge.  But you must call him Judge Hapley.  It’s like a whole thing, don’t worry about it.

While Leslie’s preparing for the show, Ron comes in with the final version of Gryzzl’s user agreement that clearly states there is to be no data mining.  However, through footnotes and supplementary appendices, the contract actually states that Gryzzl is free to use its customers’ information for anything they want.  Ben can’t understand how he missed something like that, but Leslie notices the date of that revision was the day Star Wars was released in 2015.  They knew he would be distracted and used that to their advantage – and to Ben, the fact that this was his mistake means it’s Icetown all over again.

So even though Gryzzl’s actions aren’t actually illegal, it’s obvious to everyone that it’s still a huge violation and super uncool.  In fact, Ben says as much, accusing Roscoe on the show of not being chill.  Roscoe is really offended.  It’s kind of a shocking moment, honestly.  Roscoe points out that people don’t have to use Gryzzl if they don’t like their policies, but Ben counters that they do; the internet isn’t optional anymore, and the company must have known that their users wouldn’t approve of the data mining if they buried that policy so deeply within the contract.

Anyway, Perd has misplaced his judge hammer, so he declares a mistrial.  Tap tap tap.

After Leslie assures Ben that, unlike the people in his hometown, the people in Pawnee know how much he’s done for them.  This, or any other issue, is not going to be anything like Icetown.  As they realize they’re going to have to work harder to get the land from Gryzzl, their doorbell rings – it’s Ron, holding one of the Gryzzl Skypals and a shotgun.  The Skypal came to his house with a Gryzzlbox for his son, based on information about him from Diane’s computer.  Ron wants Gryzzl dead.

Elsewhere, Tom is still dealing with his feelings for Lucy, but is too afraid to act on them.  She’s gone to visit her boyfriend in Chicago, so while she’s gone, he’s been throwing himself into his restaurant, trying to distract himself.  He decides to involve himself with Andy’s contract negotiations with his station manager; they want to retain the rights to Johnny Karate, which Andy doesn’t want to give up.  He loves his show, which he stars in, writes, produces, serves as propmaster, cleans up afterwards, drives everyone home…all for $100.  Naturally, Tom is horrified, and appoints himself Andy’s agent.  They go meet with Hank Muntak (played by Dax Shepard, whaaaaaaat?!) together, and though he drives a hard bargain, Muntak eventually accepts all of their terms, including a pay raise for Andy.  The only sacrifice he won’t make?  Giving up the rights to Johnny Karate.

But through some tough, hardboiled negotiations (aka he cries about how much he likes Lucy and how he just wants to help his friend out), Tom manages to get Muntak to let Andy keep the rights to the character.  This storyline is really nice for Tom, and a really great way to let him shine.  Tom’s never been one for hard work, but during the time jump, his restaurant became a success.  In fact, we’ve only seen him as a success this season.  He’s no longer that guy who’s constantly scrambling to get a leg up, or to somehow improve; he has real, attainable goals now, which makes it so much harder when he sees a situation he knows he’ll fail in.  And that situation is with Lucy.  Personally, I’ve always loved Tom, but I can see how he may have grated on the audience from time to time throughout the show’s run.  I mean, it’s possible to say that about all the characters – these are people we love, but I don’t think you can write a compelling, sympathetic character if the audience is always agreeing with them.  So I think the decision to end the show with Tom in this situation was a great one.  He’s always wanted to be a business mogul; now he is.  What comes next for him?  Something real, something that you can’t help but want for him to have.  When Lucy came back at the end of the episode and told him she went to Chicago to break up with her boyfriend, it felt like a huge victory for Tom – even though he doesn’t act on this information, and even though he doesn’t really show his excitement.  Instead, he responds like an adult: he offers to talk about it if she wants, and when she doesn’t, he starts up a normal conversation with her about Nicki Minaj throwing shade at Jesse Eisenberg at the BAFTAs.  Tom thinks he deserved it, Lucy disagrees.  Personally, I’m just waiting for the 2017 BAFTAs because holy crap does that sound amazing.

Meanwhile, April’s search for the perfect job gets complicated when Craig asks her, as a former intern for the parks department, to welcome the new group of interns.  Of the three new additions, one, Jen, has a lot in common with April.  Her greatest passions are parks and recreation, and by that, she means her parents are making her do this for college credit.  April, who sees her own internship as the beginning of this long path that led to her being old and boring and stuck in a pointless job, convinces Jen to leave.  When Craig finds out, he’s furious, but manages to stay calm thanks to what he’s learned from his therapist, Dr. Richard Nygard (who else screeched a little bit when they heard that Craig is seeing Chris’ old therapist?!), and instead points out to April that, despite what she says, he knows that she enjoyed her time in the parks department, and all the work she did there.  Because, after all, she had the greatest teacher in the world – Leslie Knope.

To make up for getting rid of Jen, April does what Leslie Knope would do: she puts up flyers and recruits even more interns.  And, to her surprise, she actually enjoyed it.  She still doesn’t know what her dream job is, but Craig suggests she add “telling people what to do” onto her list of qualities she’s searching for.  

I really love the direction they’re going in with this storyline.  It could be really easy to just have her stumble onto the perfect job, but the thing is, it’s April.  Given what we know about her, she’s going to find something to hate about everything, so I really appreciate that she hasn’t just found some job.  Look at what happened when she started running animal control – at the time, they presented it like it was the perfect job for her, but even that proved to have problems, and she moved on from it.  It’s so much more important for her to understand why she loves the things that she loves, because focusing on the positives – even for April, the most negative person in the world – is the only way she’s ever going to love her job.  It shows just how much she’s grown up while still giving her tons of room to grow.

Some other moments from this episode, which was filled to the brim with amazing one-liners:
  • Craig’s advice from Dr. Richard Nygard is to list three great things about being alive whenever he feels like yelling.  Throughout the episode, he lists: watermelon martinis, exposed brick, Keri Russell’s hair, Martha Stewart’s apron line, his tomato plants, sweet potato pie, unlikely animal friend pairings, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Victor Garber, James Garner, and Jennifer Garner (he went alphabetical by the end).
  • “The robots have come for us!  I made fun of you when you said it would happen, but your novel has come true!”  Guys, I wish Ben had gotten to explore his passion for writing.  First erotic Star Trek fanfiction, now a novel about robots?
  • Tom doing crunches is me doing crunches.  “Ow, Andy, my tum-tum!”
  • “This internship is the videotape from The Ring.”
  • The toy pigs dressed as movie stars might have tickled me more than anything else because my god do I love puns.  We were treated to Hamuel L. Jackson from the movie Pork Fiction and Tom Selloink.
  • Andy as Johnny Karate as Burt Macklin.  So many layers.
  • April after realizing how much she has in common with Jen: “Okay, side note, I’m gonna file paperwork to adopt you as my child.”
  • “Is Star Wars the one with the little wizard boy?”
  • “James Woods follows my niece on Twitter.”
  • "The only contract I’ve ever signed is my Mulligan’s Steakhouse club card.  And even then, I used a fake name.  Les.  Les Vegetables.”
That’s it for “Gryzzlbox”!  And now, it’s time.  I hope you’re all ready…to treat yo self.

"Save J.J's"

Okay, some other stuff also happened in “Save JJ’s” that maybe I should get to first, like the fact that, with Gryzzl facing some terrible PR in Pawnee, Leslie and her team finally have an opportunity to make a real play for the Newport land.  Their new plan: split the land evenly with Gryzzl. It’s not ideal for either party, but Leslie figures the crisis Gryzzl is trying to manage will force them to give up their hopes of obtaining the entire parcel.  But Ron, who’s spent a lot of time with Gryzzl’s executives, isn’t optimistic; he knows they want the whole thing, and won’t settle for less.

But it’s okay, because Ron and Leslie are united in their quest to get the land.  It’s just so nice, you guys.  Most of the predictions I’ve made for this season – chiefly, that a lot of it would be devoted to Ron and Leslie making up and that this fight for the Newport land would be the main arc of the entire thirteen episodes – have been wrong.  I’m okay with that, I’m wrong about most things.  But I was right when I predicted that the key to Leslie winning was going to be teaming up with Ron.  And I mean, okay, that’s not like a super abstract guess, most people probably saw that coming, but if I was going to be right about anything, it’s nice to have been right about Ron and Leslie’s friendship.

While they’re discussing their new strategy, they get word that Newport Trust is holding a press conference – where they announce that Gryzzl has upped their offer to $125 million, and that the Newports have immediately accepted.  So, you know.  Team National Park isn’t doing so great.

Naturally, they decide to drown their sorrows in waffles, so they head to JJ’s Diner – which, as it turns out, is soon closing, after someone bought the property without giving JJ the chance to renew his lease.  Fueled by her anger over losing the land, Leslie decides to fight to save her favorite diner.  The first step is finding out the identity of the new landlord: Dennis Feinstein, local Pawnee cologne mogul.  Then Leslie gives everyone assignments – April is to spread the word via whatever communication system young people are using these days, while Andy is enlisted to bring out Jonathan Karate – the older brother, more mature version, of Johnny Karate who comes out sometimes during very special episodes of his show.

In a weird way, this episode was really stressful for me, in a way that, like, Leslie and Ben’s break-up in season 4 or her fight with Ron weren’t.  I mean, yeah, those things were about her friends, but this was her waffles.  You do not touch Leslie Knope’s waffles, under any circumstances.  But because they’re waffles, and because of what waffles represent to her, this was the perfect storyline for this point in the show – it’s the perfect way to show how strong she and Ron are again, because after all, what’s going to band them together more than breakfast food?  What greater cause is there for them to tackle with their full combined force?  And, really, what other conflict could the writers have come up with that could stand anywhere close to last week’s “Leslie and Ron”?  That episode set such a high standard for the show, especially in its ability to come up with deep-rooted conflicts and really explore them.  But like I said last week, in a half-hour comedy, no episode has the time to fully explore any given conflict, unless they very deliberately change up their formula, as they did with “Leslie and Ron”.  To really feel the effects of their rekindled friendship, and their anger over losing the land, this episode had to focus on something big.  It had to be waffles.

Leslie leads a protest outside Dennis Feinstein’s office while Jonathan Karate and his team of ninjas go inside to find the man himself.  Jonathan Karate shows Dennis the amount of people who are downstairs protesting, and Dennis says he didn’t realize how many people loved JJ’s, and doesn’t want the negative publicity that would come from closing the diner.  So he comes downstairs to address the protesters – where he reveals that he actually doesn’t care at all about their passion for JJ’s, and only cares about the money he can make from the property.  He then calls for his employees to “release the hounds,” a cologne rejected by the FDA that smells like wet dog.  Apparently using water to try and wash it off makes it worse.  Do not try using water.

It occurs to April that the key to saving JJ’s is just to keep the diner in business, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it has to stay in the same location.  So they go to check out the neighborhood she and Andy recently moved to, that’s more or less run over by raccoons and completely covered in graffiti.  They find a place that could work for the diner, but JJ points out that nobody lives in that part of town, so even if he moved his diner there, it wouldn’t matter unless the neighborhood changes.  And suddenly, Ron and Leslie have an idea, one that they instinctively (and almost wordlessly) work out.

Their idea?  Turn this neighborhood into Gryzzl’s campus.  All the buildings, while gross, are structurally sound, and the buildings even come pre-graffitied (which greatly impresses Roscoe).  But, as Roscoe points out, they’ve already purchased the Newport land – so Leslie suggests that they donate it to the National Parks Service, which will grant Gryzzl tax breaks and good PR within Pawnee for proving their investment in the town.

It takes some time, but a week later, Gryzzl gets back to Ron and Leslie: they’ve approved their plan.  Because that’s what happens when the dream team gets back together, you guys.  They get their land, they get their way, and most importantly, they get their waffles (which, Leslie and Ron said their plan will also help save JJ’s, so while they don’t explicitly state it, I’m assuming they’re going to put the diner near Gryzzl’s campus, so when Gryzzl’s presence revitalizes the neighborhood, JJ’s will reap the benefits).

Now, all that stuff was important, but we all know what really mattered in this episode.  Say it with me, kids.  TREAT YO SELF 2017.

(Obvious disclaimer that the following section is to be read in a sing-songy voice because that’s how Tom delivers most of his lines in this episode and I can assure you that the voice in my head as I wrote followed suit.)

It all starts when Tom, who’s the butler of honor (his words) at Donna and Joe’s wedding, hosts them for a cake testing.  Then he brings out a very special cake, along with DJ Bluntz, and Treat Yo Self Day is off and running.  But this isn’t a normal Treat Yo Self Day.  This is in honor of Donna’s wedding, so Tom brings out the big guns: he gets them tickets to Beverly Hills, something they’ve always talked about.  Before they leave, they stop by Tom’s Bistro, where Donna invites Lucy to her wedding.  Tom jumps at the opportunity and tells Lucy she should go as his date – then immediately panics and suggests they go as work friends, then as a boss-employee thing, then suggests she do paperwork at the wedding.  It’s…not great.  Donna asks him for an explanation, but he shrugs it off.  After all, this is Treat Yo Self 2017.  They’ve got bigger things to worry about, like seeing Bruce Willis and Christina Aguilera’s house (you guys, I am in love with 2017) and Usher’s house.  And Usher’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Their most important stop?  A sushi restaurant where everything on the menu was previously owned by celebrities.  I don’t even eat fish and I want to go to this restaurant more than I’ve ever wanted anything in my entire life.  Josh Groban is a patron, and he orders his own fish.  It’s baller.

While they’re eating, Donna calls Tom out for how often he’s checking his phone, clearly waiting to see if Lucy’s gotten back to him about his offer to go to the wedding.  The thing is, Tom’s worried about his invitation because she’s his employee.  He doesn’t want things to be weird, since she moved from Chicago for this job.  Donna offers him some advice: when it comes to the heart, you’ve got to treat yo self.  So when they return to Pawnee, Tom draws up paperwork that puts the day-to-day operations of the restaurant in Craig’s hands, to make it clear to Lucy that, if she doesn’t want to date him, her job won’t be affected.  It’s such a mature move, one that I never would have expected from Tom Haverford.  This is the guy who whined nonstop whenever Ann broke up with him; now he’s giving up the bulk of the responsibilities in the job he worked so hard to find, that he loves so much, just in case Lucy’s uncomfortable.  Guys, he’s come so far.  I might cry.  And again, going back to what I said about him in “Gryzzlbox,” grounding his conflicts was such a smart decision.  I always cared about whatever new ventures Tom was seeking out, but there’s a new edge to it when Tom is actually aware of the consequences of his actions, and is putting other people first.  It’s such a different side to him, but that compassion and genuine concern for Lucy has always been there.  Now he’s an adult, albeit one who hasn’t lost his charm.

But it turns out that Lucy has been thinking about his offer, and only wants to go to the wedding as his date.  Tom immediately rips up the paperwork, telling Craig his power is gone.  Craig’s okay with it, though.  He’s proud of the work he did, and of the people he fired.

Some other moments from yet another consistently hilarious episode:
  • “I still don’t know what’s happening.  What’s happening?”  “Treat Yo Self.”  “Not an answer to my question.”  “READ THE CAKE.”  “Still unclear.  Terry, what’s happening?”  “TREAT YO SELF.”
  • All of Andy’s plans involving blimps, and Leslie’s frustration over them.  I was hoping a blimp would somehow be involved in saving JJ’s Diner, but there’s always time, I guess.
  • “Today is about things.  THINGS, Donna.  Our favorite.”  Sometimes I relate to Tom more than any other character on this show.
  • “And there’s too much kale now.  One place asked me if I wanted kale in my milkshake.  My milkshake, you guys.”
  • Possibly the best line ever spoken on this show: “Was it Putin?  Voldemort Putin?  Of Russia?  We’re gonna take that bastard down.”
  • “I can’t think of anything more noble to go to war over than bacon and eggs.”
  • -Hitch 2: Son of a Hitch, starring Jaden Smith.  Guys.  I love 2017.
  • Andy trying to keep track of all the kids was so, so, so cute, and such a simple scene that explains exactly what is so great about this character.  Chris Pratt’s delivery of “Oh, Dennis, what a mess” as a small, quiet summary of this situation made me laugh harder than I have in a long time.
That’s it for “Save JJ’s”!  And with that, suddenly, we’re halfway through the season already.  I’m not even a little bit ready for Parks to end, especially when the final season has been so consistently great.  I’ll be back next week with a review of “Donna and Joe” and “Ms. Ludgate-Dwyer Goes to Washington”.  Until then, let me know in the comments how you’re enjoying the final season!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Arrow 3x11 "Midnight City" (A Mask Does Not A Hero Make)

"Midnight City"
Original Airdate: January 28, 2015

Why do little kids play dress-up?

Whether you identify yourself as a male or a female, whether you grew up in wealth or with less fortune, whether your family is Catholic or Italian or German or you live in rural, midwestern America, I feel like every child had the experience of playing dress-up at some point in time throughout their younger years. Maybe you did what I did when I was little -- sneak up the stairs and pry open your mother's wooden jewelry box to admire her sparkly rings and earrings. Maybe you placed one on your left finger and pretended you were married, like you saw all the grown-ups do. Perhaps you wrapped a scarf around your neck and sauntered around the house or placed your father's oversized baseball cap on your head. Maybe you pretended your french fries were cigarettes because it made you feel like more of an adult. It's endearing when children dress up and play house. It's cute when they put on hats and pretend to cook dinner or drive around in their toy cars and pretend they're on a highway. I love watching the vast imagination of these children. I love how they create worlds of their own. I love that they watch and emulate adults -- that even from a young age, their tiny hearts want to be just like us.

Adults don't play dress-up unless they're actors. At least, not overtly. Inwardly, I would argue that a lot of us play dress-up all the time. We put on smiles and when people ask us how we're doing, we respond with the simple and curt: "Good!" even though we just had a fight with our spouse, our kids are in trouble at school, and we spilled coffee on ourselves on the way to work. We feel the need to play dress-up in our lives because we want other people to think that we have our crap together -- we don't want them to see the chinks in our armor or the gaping holes in our self-esteem. So we don the fake smiles and we bury our problems in alcohol or food or deep within ourselves. And we all do this from time to time; no one is innocent because it's often easier to wear a mask than it is to let others see the real you.

"Midnight City" is the debut of Laurel Lance as Black Canary. As the fandom comes to grips with her becoming a vigilante or a hero, I'm intrigued more than anything else in this development of Laurel's. As I've said numerous times before, I've never hated Laurel as a person or a character. I think her writing in season two did her a disservice because I look back on episodes like "Home Invasion" which are extremely powerful for her and I think: "... How did we get HERE?" I keep pointing people back to it, but in my review of this season's "Sara," I quoted John Green and noted that grief doesn't change you; grief reveals you. For a great deal of time in season three, Laurel was angry. Anger isn't wrong, but what you do with it can be and what Laurel did with her anger over Sara's death WAS wrong -- she became reckless and careless and almost got herself and other people killed. Her rage blinded her but something happened in "Left Behind" -- Laurel realized that the people she lost (Oliver and Sara) were able to make a difference because they used that anger to save people, not to harm themselves.

And as Laurel embarks on her vigilante/hero mission in "Midnight City," I'm thrilled that we get the opportunity to see her stumble, because that's realistic. People who are grieving have setbacks. People don't pick up the whole martial arts and trained fighter thing easily. She's a baby bird right now with clipped wings who's trying desperately to learn how to fly but the way that she's going about that is actually quite noble; she's trying to do right by her city -- to be the kind of person that Sara and Oliver would be proud of.

I think every character in Arrow is trying to be the kind of hero Oliver would be proud of in his absence, really, and it's never more evident than it is in "Midnight City" when the new Team Arrow bands together to protect their home.

Supernatural 10x11 "There's No Place Like Home" [Contributor: Deena Edwards]

"There's No Place Like Home"
Original Airdate: January 27, 2015


It's something a lot of people struggle with every now and again, and as this episodes makes clear, it's not always easy to fight something that's a part of who you are. In fact, it can be almost impossible. Much like Dean is still struggling with keeping his own dark urges under control, our very own lovable redhead, Charlie Bradbury found her own inner darkness unleashed, quite literally.

At the bunker, we find the eldest Winchester, eating egg white omelets that he cooked himself.  “Dean can cook?” you ask. Well, as it turns out, not so well, at least in his opinion. In order to keep himself in check to help avoid any more incidents with the Mark, he’s apparently started eating healthy, quit drinking, and is actually sleeping like a regular human as opposed to his typical greasy burger eating, alcoholic, maybe-four-hours-of-sleep-every-other-night-at-the-most ways we’re all used to seeing.

He and Sam are doing the usual research thing, poring over old books and internet articles when Sam stumbles upon footage of a certain former IT girl beating up a district attorney. Okay, “beating up” is putting it lightly. She mentions torture -- not exactly a word that comes to mind when you think of Charlie Bradbury. Their first instinct is that Charlie is back from Oz, hunting on her own, and the DA was just a demon she was after. Still, it doesn’t sit well with them, and they decide to hit the road and talk to the recent vic -- who, as it turns out, has ties to Charlie’s past. More specifically, the car accident involving her parents’ deaths. They also find out her real name: Celeste Middleton.

The man denies to know anything about the case at first, but Dean sees through it, knowing immediately he’s lying. As much as he’s doing to ward off the Mark’s bad energy, he’s still on edge, which is obvious when he teeters on the edge of control and threatens the truth out of the DA, who finally gives in and reveals the name he gave to Charlie -- a woman named Barbara Cordry, a councilwoman who supposedly played a part in covering up the drunk driving incident. Upon hearing a scream from the woman’s house, they break in to find her with a knife to her throat, held by none other than the Queen of Moondoor herself, though it’s clear right away, from the way she talks to her overall demeanor, that there’s something off about her. This isn’t the Charlie we all know and love, the Hermione-loving fangirl who wouldn’t hurt a Hobbit.

After a little tussle with Dean, she escapes, leaving Baby’s tires slashed. Before he even has a moment to let that tragedy sink in, another car pulls up and behind the wheel is… CHARLIE? Sweet Lord of the Rings, what is happening?!

Charlie, the real Charlie, sits them down and explains to them that there’s two of her now -- one good, one bad. Back in Oz, she made a deal with the Wizard, who, with the Inner Key of Oz, forced her to unleash her true darkness, quite literally, in order to win the war. Charlie and her dark self are connected physically still; if she’s hurt, the other one will experience the same injuries, and vice versa. She also reveals that the dark version of her broke the key to Oz, so there’s no way to get back to the Wizard. Much like a Winchester, she’s wracked with guilt, blaming herself for the actions of her dark self, but Dean and Sam assure her this isn’t her doing.

Agreeing that they need to find Dark Charlie before she finds the drunk driver responsible for the car crash all those years ago, Charlie helps Sam hack into the council woman’s bank account, which leads them to a man named Russell Wellington, the same man who killed Charlie’s parents. Dean argues that she doesn’t need to be anywhere near him, and instead volunteers to go himself, but when he arrives to interrogate the man, he soon finds out they’re not alone.

Meanwhile, Sam and Charlie are back at the bunker, looking through old Men of Letters files for information about the key. After a bit of digging, they discover the Key of Oz was discovered by Clive Dylan, a former Men of Letters member who traveled to Oz, leaving the key behind on Earth. After being rescued by Dorothy’s father, he returned to Earth, changing his name. Despite being over a hundred years old, he no longer ages, due to how differently time passes in Oz. Little do they know, however, while stranded there, much like Charlie he was split into his good and dark sides by a coven of witches, the dark half becoming who we know as the Wizard.

Back at Wellington’s office, Dark Charlie convinces Dean to allow her near Russell -- a mistake that costs the man his life and allows her to escape once again, later on with the Impala, no less. She follows Dean to Clive’s house, where Clive explains that the only way to summon the Wizard is to mortally wound himself. Sure enough, a few moments after the bullet is buried in his abdomen, his Dark half appears, using his magic to choke Sam, while outside, Dean and Dark Charlie are fighting, inflicting the same injuries on the Good Charlie inside. Charlie realizes that the only way to stop the Wizard is to kill Clive, so with one last fatal bullet, Sam is released by the Wizard’s magic, and both Clive and the Wizard are dead.

Sam carries Charlie’s bloodied, beaten body outside, snapping Dean out of his violent daze. Dean steps back, staring in shock of what he’s done to her, that he allowed the Mark to take over once again. Sam lowers Charlie down next to her dark half along with the Wizard’s key, returning her dark half back into her own body.

The final scene is a heartwarming one, a sweet moment (I swear I got a cavity just watching it) shared between Charlie and Sam as they decide her next move, which is to hunt down a lore book that might help them with the Mark. She promises Dean they are going to fix what’s happening to him, and then proceeds to forgive him for what he unknowingly did to her back at Clive’s. Of course, he doesn’t forgive himself, as that is the Dean Winchester way of self-loathing, but he apologizes, pulling her into a brotherly hug that made me come very close to shedding actual tears.

After the events in this episode, it’s obvious Dean is going to have to do a lot more than quit alcohol and bad food cold turkey to keep himself under control. We can only hope that Charlie returns soon (because after this episode I love her even more, which I didn’t think was possible) and that the book she’s after proves helpful in some way later on. As much as I love Dark Dean, it’s safe to say these poor guys need a bit of a break.

Memorable Moments/ Quotes:
  • “Our Charlie? Yay high? Wouldn’t hurt a Hobbit? Practically sparkles?”
  • “What the hell is kale?” This line was even more hilarious to me given one of the episodes of Parks and Recreation I was watching before this also mentioned kale. 
  • “Should have known Rocket and Groot would track me down.” 
  • “Normally in a place like this, I’d be pounding Harvey Wallbangers and checking out the bartender’s ass. Now all I wanna do is sip club soda and send her to college.” 
  • “Blah blah blah, repressed feelings. Blah blah blah, passive aggression.” Dark Charlie just summed up the entire show in ten words, basically.
  • “Dick!Charlie just hotwired Baby!” Okay, but can people stop stealing and/or damaging that glorious car? You mess with the Impala, you mess with Dean.
  • I can’t get over the “little sister” dynamic Charlie has with Sam and Dean. Even though she’s only been in a handful of episodes over the past few seasons, she’s already become family to them.
  • “Arrivederci, bitches!” I love how, after getting her butt totally kicked, sleeping for two days straight, and going through something pretty traumatizing, she’s still basically the same old Charlie.
  • It was the small things that made this a really good episode for me. Dean’s occasional trembling hands, showing his struggle to keep the Mark’s urges at bay. The cute little interactions between Sam and Charlie and the way he gets to play big brother when she’s around. Dean constantly referring to Charlie as “kiddo.” The hugs near the end. THE HUGS YOU GUYS. I have so many feelings.

Strong Women Series #6: The Women of 'Jane the Virgin' [Contributor: Ann]

STRONG WOMEN SERIES #6: The Women of Jane the Virgin
Ann Susteri is a weekly contributor for Just About Write, reviewing The Mindy Project. In addition to her intelligent discussions of the television comedy series, Ann also contributes to the site by discussing television series like Jane the Virgin, You're the Worst, and Selfie. When Ann is not writing for this site, she's also analyzing television at her Tumblr and occasionally does things like go to school and stuff. Jenn is extremely thankful to have a writer like Ann on staff, if you can't tell.
I am a strong woman.

This has nothing to do with my physical strength, as I am still unable to do a legitimate, real push-up. Nor does it have anything to do with my strength of character (I took two naps today). It more or less is a symptom of being a person, and as a person who lives in the world, I have a developed idea of my ambitions, my fears, my flaws, my strengths, my background, my relationships with others. I have agency. I am the protagonist of my story, and there’s no way in hell that story’s going to be flat because I have the power to make it not that way. Being a person is great, by the way.

However, when you are developing a story—not, you know, “your” story, but your fictional creation—you assume the responsibility of bestowing on your characters those traits which you have been blessed with, being a person. Unlike people, characters are not more than they appear, because the only thing that can be judged is their presentation on screen or in books. That’s all that exists to the viewer or reader. (That is why JK Rowling’s retroactive judgment of her characters is infuriating, but that’s another topic, I think.)

Jenn asked me to write this Strong Woman Series post on Jane the Virgin and I am more than happy to do so because the show has done a very good and deliberate job of shaping its characters. I am also so happy to do so because Jane the Virgin asserts more than most shows on TV that “strong woman” is soon becoming a thing of the past in favor of “strong character.” “Strong woman” is a title that makes me feel like it is an extraordinary circumstance for a woman to be strong, and it shouldn’t be.

I list pretty much all of the main female characters in the series in this post—the ones that stood out to me as being especially well-written. In a show whose central relationship is the one between three women of different generations, their success of strength as characters comes through their interaction with each other and with the world around them, in addition to their own innate characteristics.

Sound good?


I read a lot of articles about television. I read a lot about Jane the Virgin, about its triumphs and accomplishments and distinctions, in so many ways. Being a bit of a masochist, I also love reading the comments section of these adulatory articles.

The single most annoying criticism of Jane the Virgin is when people evaluate the entire show based on its title. Jane—the VIRGIN—must, through being a (gasp) virgin, be preachy or staunchly conservative or super-chaste, without question or evaluation whatsoever.

Never mind that the title’s main purpose is primarily to highlight Jane’s virginity given her abnormal-as-hell pregnancy. The problem in this assessment of the show (and of Jane herself) is accepting her virginity at face-value. The show and Jane both refuse to do this; so many episodes delve into both a) Jane’s reasons for maintaining her virginity and b) her struggle in doing so. Jane’s virginity isn’t a dirty little secret; like her pregnancy it’s given the appropriate scrutiny and is addressed by Jane and by those who deal with it. Sometimes it’s fulfilling to keep the promise; sometimes it’s annoying; sometimes it leads to coins of your pregnant self being distributed virally.

But the show shines a spotlight on Jane’s beliefs, which in turn gives her character complexity. How you develop characters 101: their innate characteristics, how they respond in situations, how they interact with others, how others think of them and visa versa. Jane’s virginity and her pregnancy are the reason all of these characters are interacting, so both are kind of a big deal. Fortunately, this show uses both not as a platform for a political agenda but as an opportunity to examine who Jane is.

So… who is Jane?

“Jane was a virgin, but not a saint” is one of my favorite lines of the entire show because it condenses all of what I’ve said into a catchy little phrase. ‘Jane is a virgin’ obviously is a comment about her sexual activity but is also tied to how perfect she seems: she loves her family members unconditionally, is employee of the month, has like a bazillion jobs, a rich telenovela dad, gorgeous dresses on her and gorgeous men… well… on her, if you don’t mind me saying.

(For the record, Jane’s character is pretty deserving of all the good things in her life at this moment. She is moral in a world filled with immorality. She’s good. She works extremely hard, tries again and again, and she knows how to choose her battles. I personally love her devotion to her religion and her vow because both of those things are tied to her love of her family, too. Oh, and she loves grilled cheese and I ate one today.)

But Jane is not a saint. She’s not a saint when you look at her character as a member of the audience. She is very judgmental, entitled, kind of callous to Michael, and was not very cautious in her decision to be with Rafael. She often doesn’t realize how much her mother does for her and can be kind of a brat as a result. Oh, and by the way: accept money from Rafael, Jane! You didn’t have a problem accepting Rogelio’s nepotism!

She’s also not a saint when viewed by other characters. Plenty of characters love Jane. But a lot of characters treat her with skepticism, or use her for their own benefit (the nuns, Rogelio’s other daughters, Dina, her friends’ coldness towards her given her new situation). By giving this quality to Jane, the writers give her actions repercussions, because Jane is not above censure. Even those who love her challenge and confront her in very real ways, and Jane is not always right and sometimes has to acknowledge that. This is such an important character trait to have. No character is interesting when everyone loves them!

My favorite thing about Jane, though, is that she is emotional. You know how sick I am of characters that don’t cry, that don’t doubt themselves, that don’t yell at people (sometimes irrationally, sometimes not)? Oh my God – you know how sick I am of characters who are not funny? I watch so many comedies but you know how few of them actually involve characters making jokes to each other?

This is the mandatory wheelbarrows of praise for Gina Rodriguez, who takes the writing of Jane Villanueva and absolutely crushes it in her portrayal of the character. Jane is hilarious and Jane gets hammered and Jane is sexual and Jane sometimes needs her mom when things get tough. Jane gets angry, Jane gets mischievous, Jane gets bored and indignant. Jane gets in over her head. Jane gets insecure and Jane gets disappointed. Jane is unafraid to confront anyone who she loves when she feels she’s right and she is able to apologize to them when she is wrong. Sometimes Jane wants to fight people (Petra) and sometimes Jane feels awkward (Rogelio) and honestly at this point I need to start talking about Dick based on how much this sounds like a book for schoolchildren.

What makes a character the strongest, to me, is when their emotional reactions make sense. And while the most popular of all tropes in this Mad Men world is the stony straight man who drinks his problems away, I am just as much a sucker of someone more resembling me; you know, someone who expresses what they are feeling.

I need to praise Gina Rodriguez more for this, I think. She conveys all of these emotions with the most subtle and realistic facial expressions. I love so much of Jane the Virgin but she is the heart of it and her portrayal as Jane really drives home how invaluable of a character this is. She feels human. How much stronger of a character could you get?


I really wrote quite a mouthful on Jane. I think that this is fair because she is the main character of the series and in discussing her I think I made a clear outline of what I am looking for when I look at strength. I’ll look to be more succinct in discussing the supporting characters, though, but let me first introduce an idea that seems paradoxical but really isn’t when it comes to supporting characters: The perfect supporting character is a character who supports our main character’s story in some way, whether that’s as a foil or as a parallel or an opponent. The perfect supporting character enhances our main character’s story.

However, the supporting character in question should not act as if this is the case. Let me put it this way: I am the protagonist in my own story, but the people that I come across all in some way strengthen my “plot” or “character development.” They make me better (some of them make me worse) but everyone helps me grow. They are my supporting characters.

But to everyone else? I am their supporting character. I affect their lives in some way. To them, my story is far less important than theirs, which is fair because we are stuck with ourselves far longer than we are stuck with anyone else.

So, in short—what makes all of these supporting characters so A+ to me is that they enhance Jane’s story in some way, but also have stories that are treated with respect by the writers. They are distinct and they are their own and any one of them could front a TV show. But they are in Jane’s, so their lot in their fictitious lives is to enhance her story, a feat they all do.

Xiomara is easily Jane’s main comparison point. She doesn’t want to end up like Xiomara and a lot of her decisions are based off of how Jane evaluates Xiomara’s life.

The funny thing is that Xiomara is so great that Jane should hope she ends up like her. She is as flawed as Jane—she fights with her mother and is #TeamMichael, I mean, c’mon. But to me Xiomara is one of the most underappreciated characters on the show in that so much of what she does is based off of passion and love, even in making difficult decisions. Xiomara’s treatment of her own pregnancy (the lie), her reluctance to let Rogelio meet Jane, the “milkshake” dance, her submitting Jane’s rude story, her reluctance to date Rogelio (twice now—first because of Jane, now because of Alba). She doesn’t love Rafael because she is looking out for her daughter, and in other places where her actions are questionable, she always returns to love.

What is more motherly than to love, especially in the bumpy, maddening, and unconditional way family members love each other? Xiomara’s prime characteristic is love like this, and it makes her the most exemplary of mothers and the most relatable of daughters.


I love Alba because Alba is a great demonstration on what tradition is and should mean to us in our lives (or in this case in Jane’s).

Alba is on a whole other plane from these people; she is the only one that speaks straight-up Spanish! She is so on another plane that while Magda and Petra are scheming and holding someone hostage, Alba just wants to give them a piece of her cute drunk mind.

Great storytelling has diverse characters. Diverse in that they have diverse backgrounds, belief systems, experiences—they have different things to teach me and tell me and entertain me with! This is how life is and this is how storytelling should be. Truthfully, storytelling has even more of an obligation to represent diversity, because the author can choose to incorporate it in their stories or not. Life isn’t always deliberate, but storytelling should take the initiative and show me something new.

Alba is either the most or the second most controversial character in this series because of her staunch Catholicism and sexual conservatism. And I adore this about her.

I am a devout Catholic. So, so often, all over the place, I am inundated with unfair stereotypes (think Amanda Bynes’s character in Easy A) about what being Catholic means. What makes these stereotypes especially unfair is that there’s no balance or real opposition; as the audience, we’re meant to laugh at the hyperbole without questioning why the character is the way they are. But no real discussion between the two dissenting groups can actually happen if one is hyperbolizing the other to the point of ridiculous caricature.

There needs to be a spectrum of beliefs because from that comes conflict and conversation. I’m not above watching TV that preaches to the choir, but I hate when shows (and people, actually) pretend they are open-minded when they are disguising their refusal to actually confront dissent.

Jane the Virgin does this in more than one way, whether it’s class differences, cultural differences, gender differences, or religious differences. I don’t 100% identify with Alba—she is the staunchest of the staunch—nor do I 100% identify with any of these characters. I just want to hear their stories, their perspectives. I know why I am the way I am, but I don’t always know why people are the way they are. I would like to understand it better.

I call out Alba especially because her views are the most drastic, and she is one end of the spectrum that is so often not represented or misrepresented. She’s good (morally) but she deserves, just as everyone deserves, to be a part of a discussion instead of part of the punchline.


Is it, like, bad that I’m starting to warm up to Michael getting back with Jane? He’s super cute and also kind of a cop. The Latin Lover Narrator certainly made it sound like he’s gonna die soon, though.

Also, Sin Rostro. Could be Rose (Sin Rose-tro). Could be Luisa (?!?!). Could be Nadine (who knows what’s up with her and her hand placement was kind of suspicious). Could be Lachlan. Maybe Milos? That story has a lot in it that we just don’t know. Might be Rafael’s dad, but would more likely be his mom, in my opinion. Rafael’s dad kinda seems like the red herring.

I wish I had the name Roman Zazo. I’m a lady though so I guess it’d have to be Romana Zazo.



Petra is the last big character I’m going to dig into. She is the “evil” one, I guess, but I would think more that she is just misunderstood. Kind of like Alba, if you can believe—but where Alba is often misunderstood by us, the audience, Petra is often misunderstood by the characters she interacts with. This makes her a villain so endearing that TIME magazine wrote an article about it.

Think about it: does anyone know who Natalia is, really? I was stunned that Jane’s reaction to Petra’s slip-up was to blackmail her into silence, instead of showing compassion or at the very least curiosity. (I guess Petra had at that point faked assault and faked date rape, but still!) Rafael got cheated on, but the tag that Petra was a “man-eater” in the first episode is less true than Rafael being a playboy. Cheating is always gross but her reason is a fair one (I love, by the way, that Rafael and Petra fell apart the way they did instead of some icky contrived way, and the fact that both got burned from the trauma of Rafael’s cancer).

Lachlan doesn’t really know Petra, either. He doesn’t seem to care (he’s setting something really bad up soon, can you feel it? Do you think he might frame Petra?). Magda’s relationship with Petra is complicated—I’m not sure if it’s loving—but even still she doesn’t have the access to Petra’s wants and dreams and desires the same way that Xo knows Jane (or Rafael knows Jane). Petra might not even totally know because her life is so splintered, equal parts who she is and who she was forced to be.

The person with the best access to understanding Petra is us. Villains are normally the best characters to watch because we don’t have a horse in the race. Petra’s actions are diabolical and if anyone did to me what Petra does to Jane I wouldn’t love her, either. But we’re not characters here, we’re the audience, and we are able to oversee everything and draw conclusions that the characters can’t.
Petra is dynamic because of that difference between what the characters feel and what we know. What image does Petra present to these people in her life? There’s no clear answer. Their ideas of Petra are so scattered—from the man-eater of the pilot to the tulip-terrified person we saw in the most recent episode—that they can’t help but not make sense of the entire picture. We can, should, and must.


Give it time. ¾ are diabolical liars, and one is in a madhouse. If I am gonna evaluate their strength of character, let me just say this: I have no idea what’s going to happen and all four of them make me nervous. Sin Rostro-wise.
Endless thanks to Ann for this absolutely astute and beautiful post about the female characters of Jane the Virgin and their agency! If you enjoyed it or want to continue the conversation, be sure to hit up the comments below and/or tweet her your thoughts! :)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Galavant 1x07 "My Cousin Izzy" & 1x08 "It's All in the Executions" (This Is My Moment)

"My Cousin Izzy" & "It's All in the Executions"
Original Airdate: January 25, 2015

Everyone wants to have a moment of great triumph and strength in their lives. If we're all being honest with ourselves, we'd like to have one of those majestic movie moments, right? You know the ones I'm talking about: where the music swells and you're running down the street and everything just feels epic. We all want to be the heroes of our own story and that's what Galavant's finale really focuses on. It centers around two characters, primarily -- Galavant and King Richard -- who both really just want to have epic, heroic moments. They want to save themselves and the people they care about. They want to prove their worth.

But there are always obstacles for heroes or for those who are attempting to become heroes. And, ironically enough, Galavant and King Richard have always been their own obstacles. Galavant has always believed that life has to be epic and that his heroic moment would be the same. What he realizes, I think, is that heroism is simply doing the right thing no matter what. It's being brave even when there isn't an epic score. And King Richard has always been his own stumbling block, but we'll talk about that momentarily.

For now, let's review how Galavant's final chapters unfolded, shall we?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Strong Women Series #5: The Women of 'The 100'

STRONG WOMEN SERIES #5: The Women of The 100

When people on my timeline began watching The 100, a show on The CW about a bunch of teenage delinquents sent to the earth in order to determine whether or not it in inhabitable after an apocalypse wiped out civilization, I thought: "Well, this sounds like it'll get cancelled quickly." A show about teenagers seems fitting to find a home on The CW, a network that once housed Gossip Girl and 90210 and The Carrie Diaries. But as I said in my post about how the network is becoming the home of some of the best and most well-rounded female characters on television, I decided to put aside my prejudices of the network and actually sit down to see what this show was all about. As it turns out, I got sucked in pretty quickly to the action and the drama and the stories of these characters.

And, as you may gather by the title of this post, I was incredibly impressed with the portrayal of women in the series. I wrote my post about The CW when I had only watched the pilot episode of The 100. Now that I'm officially caught up on the show, I thought I would discuss the four leading ladies of the series and their incredible and wonderful nuances. At the moment, I don't think any other show on television has the bravery to tell stories of young, strong women like The 100 does. Whenever you see teenagers on television series, they're usually trying to figure out who they are -- they're always portrayed as having less and less valuable life experience than adults. And while there is one adult female I would like to discuss on this series, the rest of the women are young but already extremely grounded (pun not intended). They have beliefs and morals and values and incredibly tragic, beautiful stories that have shaped the way that they see the world, humanity, and themselves.

Just because a woman is young doesn't mean she isn't confident in who she is and what she wants out of life. Strong women aren't just those who are of a certain age or a certain class or have been through certain experiences. What defines a strong woman is her layers -- her ability to be compassionate or vulnerable or stubborn or loud or meek or manipulative. Strong women don't have to be likable. They don't have to be relatable. They just have to exist on television in such a way that surpasses a trope or a prop. They have to have agency and stories that reveal more about their character. They have to be real, in other words. All of the women on The 100 are real and quite frankly amazing. So let's discuss them, shall we?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Arrow 3x10 "Left Behind" (It Hurts Hardest For the Ones Who Remain)

"Left Behind"
Original Airdate: January 21, 2015

"A shadow passed, a shadow passed, yearning yearning for the fool it called a home. [...] And it whistles through the ghosts still left behind." - Spring Awakening

Are you the connecting thread in your group of friends?

There's a moment in New Girl'second season where two characters named Winston and Schmidt realize that their friend Nick is their connecting thread. Whenever the three men are together, everything is natural and easy -- they joke and laugh and enjoy each others' company. Winston is Nick's friend from childhood and Schmidt his friend from college. But in one particular episode ("First Date"), the two men vocalize the fact that as soon as Nick leaves the room, awkwardness ensues between the two of them. They don't have anything to talk about except Nick and he provides a kind of buffer for them during conversations and activities. That's because Nick is Schmidt and Winston's connecting thread -- their glue -- and without him... they really have no friendship with one another. He truly is their only common ground.

Oliver Queen is the connecting thread of Arrow. Without him, Laurel would have no reason to interact with Diggle or Roy or Felicity and vice versa. Without Oliver, there is no "them." He is the reason Felicity and Diggle are friends; he is the reason Roy has a purpose; he is the reason for it all -- for the lair and the heroism and all of the fights and victories. Felicity says it best "Left Behind" when she tells Diggle and Roy that "there is no this [foundry] without him." When connecting threads leave friendships either momentarily or permanently, awkwardness can ensue... if you happen to be in a sitcom. But Arrow isn't a sitcom. When Nick left the apartment in the episode "First Date," shenanigans and hijinks occurred between Schmidt and Winston. When Oliver left, there was only stillness, sadness, pain, and genuine confusion over how to proceed. A loss hurts the hardest for those who remain, after all.

In "Left Behind," Oliver Queen is dead and Diggle, Roy, Felicity, and Laurel don't quite know how to proceed. How do you go on when the person who gave you purpose -- the one whose life drew you all together and made you a team -- is gone? 

How do you move forward when you are left behind? 

That's the question that the team struggles with during this episode and it's a question that isn't meant to have an easy or quick answer. It's also not a question that has the same answer for everyone. Grief does things to people. Remember what I said in my review of "Sara"? Grief does not change you. Grief reveals you. And in "Left Behind," a lot is revealed not just about these characters themselves but of the impact Oliver Queen had on their lives.

Parks and Recreation 7x03 ("William Henry Harrison") & 7x04 ("Leslie and Ron") [Contributor: Jaime]

"William Henry Harrison" & "Leslie and Ron"
Original Airdate: January 20, 2015

Parks and Rec returned last night with two characteristically strong installments, one of which might be one of the show’s best episodes ever.  Both of them, when you put them together, highlight the unique sense of humor and sentiment that the show possesses, and just serves as yet another reminder of how much we’re going to lose when this season comes to an end.

"William Henry Harrison"


So let’s start with episode 3, “William Henry Harrison”.  Leslie and Ron are still fighting over the Newport land, and things are heating up – Ron, Tom, and Donna are asked to meet with Roscoe, the vice president of Cool New Shizz at Gryzzl (played by Jorma Taccone, my favorite Lonely Islander), who tells them that, as Pawnee residents, he wants them to find a famous Pawneean to endorse Gryzzl, in the hopes that it’ll make the town accept their company.  Meanwhile, Leslie is meeting with various people, trying to find any historical or religious reason to use as reason to keep the land from being sold.  Of course, this task means she has to consult with Pawnee residents, so, you know.  It’s not going too well.  The Church of the Reasonablists insist that the land is essentially their holy land, but their claim maybe isn’t as strong as it could be, so Leslie’s left with nothing.  Hail Zorp.

She finally catches a lead when Bill Haggerty from the Pawnee Historical Society, who’s just written a book about William Henry Harrison, comes to tell her that Harrison (a famous Indiana resident who didn’t wear his coat at his presidential inauguration, caught a cold, and died after thirty-two days in office) had a hunting cabin on the Newport land.  Harrison’s an “embarrassing footnote,” as Leslie puts it, but he’s their embarrassing footnote, and might be just the hook they need to get the land declared a historical landmark.

But as it turns out, there’s nothing left on the land except for a couple piles of bricks.  So Leslie does the only thing she can: she goes to the Harrison Museum and takes as much memorabilia as she can to use in her press conference, where she plans to explain exactly why this land is significant and thus shouldn’t be sold.  She’s going for quantity over quality – hit them with so many facts that they can’t ignore her point.  And the most important part of her presentation?  Zach Harrison, the last living descendant of the former president.  Somehow, despite this amazing claim to fame, Zach has managed to stay humble.  He’s just the descendant of some guy, you know?  It’s no big deal.

Meanwhile, Ron and his team have been working on getting a celebrity to endorse Gryzzl.  Ron’s completely opposed to the idea – he’s not a flashy guy, after all, and believe that hard work speaks for itself.  But after finding out from Terry that Leslie’s working on finding a reason to declare the land a historical landmark, Ron realizes they need to beef up their presentation.  So he agrees to go after the celebrity chosen by Tom and Donna: Annabel Porter, editor of the Bloosh newsletter, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Best Top 10 Listicle.  She’s kind of a big deal.

The Gryzzl presentation begins right after Leslie’s, and neither go very well.  The audience has no interest in what Leslie has to say, and unable to use images of Harrison’s cabin (since, you know, there is no cabin), she shows renderings of what the cabin may have looked like.  Even with her giant coup of getting Zach Harrison, it just doesn’t make her presentation good.  And then Gryzzl’s presentation, while it earns the attention of their audience, just has nothing to say.  Leslie at least accomplished her goal of finding quantity; Ron, who was pushing for quality, lost it among all the flash that Tom and Donna went for, all in an attempt to beat Leslie’s presentation.

The problem is that neither presentation, neither side, is balanced.  Sure, Gryzzl’s exciting, but what does it do?  And while Leslie’s proposal, and her fight for the land, represents meaning, both for the town and the Newport family, there’s nothing about it that’s exciting.  I think this episode was meant to show that neither side, based on their own merit and what they’re representing, is going to win the bid for the Newport’s land; they’re going to have to work together somehow, either as Gryzzl and the National Parks Service, or as Ron and Leslie, to come up with the best possible plan for Pawnee.  And considering the events of the next episode, I don’t think it’s that unlikely that we’ll see Ron and Leslie working together over the course of the season.

Elsewhere in Pawnee, Ben is trying, without success, to get Ron and Leslie to sign a form, a city point of sale document, since the land falls within the city limits.  It’s very normal, totally procedure – and Leslie refuses to be in the same room as Ron, even for the thirty seconds it would take to sign the form and get it notarized.  Ben insists on them doing it at the same time – otherwise, he’d have to make two separate appointments with the notary, and ugh, who wants to do that?  But never fear – everyone’s favorite co-worker Terry is a notary public, so if he goes with Ben, Ron and Leslie would be able to sign separately.

Of course, this incredibly simple task proves to be one of the hardest things Ben has ever had to do.  He gets both signatures, but it turns out the form was missing a page; it’s not a huge deal, but it renders the form itself invalid because it’s incomplete.  So Ben has to start all over again – this time, he gets both their signatures, but Annabel Porter sees it, assumes it’s meant for her, and signs it.

On his third attempt, he manages to get Ron and Leslie when they’re actually in the same room, in the middle of a huge fight.  This time, Ben’s had enough.  He yells at both of them, saying all he needs is for them to sign this stupid form, then goes on to add, “Not that it matters, I’m definitely going to wake up tomorrow with the same forms for you to sign because I’VE DIED SOMEHOW AND NOW I’M A GHOST, living in purgatory until I complete my unfinished business.”  But Leslie just reasserts her refusal to have anything to do with Ron, even something as small as signing her name to the same document as him.  Ben is furious: “Did you just hear what I said?  No, of course you didn’t, BECAUSE I’M A GHOST.”  It might have been my favorite part of the episode, hence why I’m transcribing it here.  Besides the fact that it was hilarious, and that Adam Scott is always good at losing his cool, it shows just how much this feud between Ron and Leslie is affecting everyone else.  The relationship between these two has always been one of the central relationships on the show, and probably, until this season, the one that’s provided the most unwavering respect and support between characters.  So while it’s vital to repair Ron and Leslie’s friendship because of what it means to the show, this episode made it clear that the other characters are suffering because of it.  Ben’s being ignored in both his attempts to do his job and to stay neutral between the two of them.  Donna, Tom, Andy, and April have been forced to take sides in this fight for the land.  Having a rift this huge in the group means that, even if everyone else is on good terms with each other, the group cannot function.  They’re all still friends, but they’re not a group.  So the people affected by Ron and Leslie’s war do the only thing they can: they lock the two of them in the parks and rec offices and refuse to let them out until they’ve made up.

My final thought on the episode isn’t necessarily specific to this episode, but the ending of this episode (a title card that says “To be continued…right now”) makes me wonder how far in advance the Parks crew knew how these episodes were going to air.  Even regardless of the title card, that ending moment is a direct link to the beginning of episode 4 – it’s a cliffhanger, sure, but not one that I could see working to set up a week-long break between episodes.  The same thing happened in the first two episodes; the end scene of the first episode didn’t feel like the end of an episode, more like a bridge.  It’s not hugely important, but there was a huge outcry when NBC announced they would be airing two episodes a week.  Considering how short the season is, it sounded like NBC was just trying to burn off the remaining episodes as fast as possible.  But these four episodes haven’t felt like four half-hour episodes that happened to air in pairs; they very much feel like they were constructed to go together, to form hour-long episodes.  Now, I have no way to know what came first, NBC’s decision on how to air the episodes or the show’s decision on how to produce the episodes, but either way, it helps each episode feel a lot stronger.  The first episode every week has been setting up themes that pay off in the second episode in a way that wouldn’t feel so direct if these were airing one at a time.  I think it goes back to the idea of this season being an epilogue, like I discussed last week; we’re getting very well-structured, very pointed episodes every week that are able to focus more narrowly on a specific idea and aspect of the show that we as the audience need to start saying goodbye to.  I’ve never seen a final season quite like this, and for as much as I’m not ready for the show to end, I can’t wait to see where these final episodes take us.

Some other thoughts on the episode:
  • I loved seeing Andy try to help April find her dream job, and the differences in his approach vs. Ben’s.  His final conclusion that to find the job, they need to focus not on what April likes to do, but why she likes to do it, just shows how well they’ve gotten to know each other in the last seven years, and how much they’re meant for each other.  No one gets April the way Andy does, and that’s exactly the way she likes it.
  • I was in tears over the different rooms at the Harrison Museum.  If He’d Worn a Coat, which shows how history may have been changed if Harrison served a longer term, including a week-long Great Depression and a whole slew of Emmys for The Wire.  Then there was Other Things That Were Famous for One Month (“Tubthumping” and the Harlem Shake, to name a few), as well as Other Famous Harrisons.  April’s right - $14 for admission to this museum might be a bit too much.
  • “So hold onto your straws, everybody, ‘cause Mama’s going grasping.”
  • The running joke of Ron’s refusal to sign his name in cursive (because, again, he prefers content over flash), and Ben’s immediate note that Ron needs to sign the form in cursive because “it raises a lot of red flags” when he prints his name.  I love the little moments like that on the show that reveal just how well these characters know each other, and just how much time they’ve spent together.
  • What’s hot this season, according to Annabel Porter?  Asymmetrical overalls, angora toothbrushes, and locally sourced Italian flip-flops, of course.
  • But the hottest new craze?  Beef milk.  “It’s like almond milk that’s been squeezed through tiny holes in living cows.”   Ron’s immediate response: “It’s f***ing milk,” but Tom sets him straight.  “Regular milk “costs $3 a gallon.  Annabel’s Authentic Hand-Strained Teat-to-Table Beef Milk?  That costs $60 a gallon.”
  • “That feud’s, like, Biggie-Tupac level.  Maybe even Morgan Freeman-Shailene Woodley level.”  2017 seems like such a great time, you guys.
  • WHAT ARE THE TRIPLETS’ NAMES?  It seems like such a huge piece of information to keep from us.  I know they didn’t want the kids to become a focus of the show, but come on, what are their names?
That’s it for “William Henry Harrison”!  My review of “Leslie and Ron” is to be continued…right now.

"Leslie and Ron"

Ben explains the situation to Ron and Leslie: the doors are locked, he has their key cards, and no one will be disturbing them until 8:00 the next morning.  Their only options are to work things out between them and then call Ben over the triplets’ baby monitor to come get them – otherwise, they’re going to have to sit there all night.

Immediately, Ron and Leslie make an escape attempt – by pleading to Terry, and asking him to let them out.  He gets close to opening the door, but April stops him.  With all the doors locked and safety wire in the windows, Ron’s unable to break out, so Leslie suggests simply waiting a few minutes, then calling Ben and letting him know that they’ve made up.  The problem is that neither of them can agree even on a fake resolution – Leslie wants Ron to be the bad guy, and the opposite goes for him.  Ron reaches for the monitor, and Leslie, as always, reacts instinctively – by throwing the baby monitor on the ground.  Needless to say, they’re not going to be able to contact Ben, even if they do talk things out.

Now, Ron’s no stranger to stoicism, so he’s ready to wait out these next ten hours without saying a single word.  Leslie’s willing to talk about their problems, but Ron refuses to talk, so Leslie decides to take it upon herself to annoy Ron into talking to her: by hitting him, blowing a fan in his face, and then waterboarding his mustache with a straw.  Finally, she finds a method she’s sure will work: she finds a mix tape the department made in 2007, and plays Jerry’s pick: “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (such an awesome little note that she calls him Jerry instead of Terry because that’s what they called him in 2007).  And sings to it.  But doesn’t know any of the words.  Ron cracks before she even finishes the song.

He agrees to talk for three minutes, so Leslie plans to make the most of her limited time.  She shows Ron a chart she’s made that details the timeline of the end of their friendship.  I talked about this conflict a lot last week, and while we weren’t given a lot to go on then, I concluded that the fight must have been Ron’s fault somehow.  And when Leslie presents her timeline, that’s exactly how it sounds – he visited her in her new office for the first time six months after she started her new job, and a week later, Leslie returned from a business trip to hear that Ron had left the parks department.  And then, two months later, Morningstar happened.

It turns out Morningstar is a development Ron was contracted to build – right next to Pawnee Commons, Leslie’s passion project at the beginning of the show.  The problem with Morningstar was that its presence not only obstructed views from the park, but it meant the neighboring houses would have had to be torn down.  Including the former home of Ann Perkins.  To Leslie, always sentimental and emotional, tearing down Ann’s house was absolutely unforgivable.  She lists just some of the memories the group has had in that house over the years, but the worst part of all is that Ron didn’t tell her it was happening.  She views the whole incident as Ron “basically spitting on everything [they] did together at Parks,” and even though Leslie’s prone to overreacting when she feels she’s been wronged, I don’t think you can blame her for how strongly she reacted to this incident.  She’s been calling Ron evil and refusing to even be in the same room as him this season, and when his offense is that he tore down Ann’s house?  Well, it kind of explains a lot.

But after Leslie explains her side, Ron tells her that she doesn’t know the full story.  And then his watch beeps – the three minutes of conversation he granted her are up.  So, in her special Leslie way, she takes it upon herself to figure out what the missing part of the story is.  Ron, meanwhile, has whittled himself a key, and uses that to get into the locked director’s office.  Throughout the episode, there’s a push and pull between Leslie and Ron: they’re close together, both physically and emotionally, then move apart, then close again.  It’s really interesting to kind of track these waves, and see what’s causing them.  For Leslie, she’s always pulling; she wants to resolve this, she wants to have all the answers.  Ron’s the one pushing.  They’re both acts of self-preservation – I don’t think Leslie wants to accept that she did something to hurt Ron, so while she’s devoted to figuring out why he left the parks department, so she does what she always does.  She goes overboard with information, and pushes people to tell her that she was right.

Leslie goes back to old project reports to use those to piece together any theory as to why Ron left.  She thinks her job application will be the key, but his comments on it are too classically stoic to reveal anything.  Still, it gets them talking about her job interview, and why he even hired her in the first place since their personalities are so drastically conflicting.  They reminisce about her interview, and about how she yelled at him in the middle of it, and for a moment, they’re getting along.  It’s clear that Ron still respects and admires her, and that if he was just willing to explain himself to her, that they could rebuild their friendship.  So Leslie pushes, and Ron pulls back; then he gets up and pulls the fire alarm, hoping that will lead to them being freed.  Except, it turns out the alarm was disconnected years ago, after April kept pulling it.  Now, pulling the alarm only triggers the sprinklers.

Finally, Leslie points out that Ron has no other options.  He’s tried every possible way to escape, and there’s no way out.  So he relents, and explains why he left the parks department: because Leslie left.  Then Jerry.  Then April, Tom, Donna…eventually, he didn’t know anyone in the department.  So when he went to visit Leslie in her new office, he asked her to lunch the following day, which she enthusiastically agreed to.  But as soon as he left, something came up at work that demanded she her immediate attention, so she had to leave Pawnee for a week – and in the process, stood Ron up.  And the worst part?  He had asked her to lunch with the intention of asking her for a job.  Ron Swanson was going to ask for a job in federal government, he missed his friends, and he was left with nothing.

It’s a total gut punch, made worse by the fact that neither of them were totally wrong in why they were so angry with each other.  That lunch was a big deal to Ron, but Leslie had no way of knowing that.  And really, that’s the only thing that could have kept these two apart for so long – not a genuine betrayal, like I guessed last week, but a huge misunderstanding that led to accidental personal attacks on each other.

After reflecting on the fact that nothing is the same, the two spent the rest of their night fixing up the parks department to its former glory.  They replace the furniture put in by Craig, the new director, and put things back how it should be: Leslie’s flags on the desk, Ron’s breakfast food portrait up in his office.  Oh, and they drink.  A lot.  So much so that, later that day, April has to reschedule all of Leslie’s appointments, which works in her favor when Ron comes by to ask Leslie to lunch.  Oh – and he gives her a present.  A picture of them with Li’l Sebastian, in a frame made from the wood from Ann’s front door that Ron saved while the house was being demolished.  For the first time in her life, Leslie Knope is presentless – so they go to JJ’s to gorge themselves on breakfast food.

Besides all the obvious narrative reasons why this episode was important, it also felt important in how it was structured.  I don’t think Parks and Rec has ever done a bottle episode – it always jumps around to different locations, going back-and-forth between every character, because there’s just always so much going on.  It always manages to bring the important moments to the forefront, but while creating a balancing act between everything else that needs to happen.  But this episode is so different from every other episode in the series.  It sticks to one location, the parks department (because, after all, the parks department is the heart of the show, is it not?), and though the other characters appear to bookend the episode, the bulk only features Ron and Leslie.  Now, shows seven seasons in don’t suddenly produce episodes like this.  Over seven seasons, a rhythm develops – not necessarily a formula, exactly, but a sense of convention.  For that convention to change so drastically, it shows just how important Ron and Leslie’s friendship is.  The show cannot continue if they’re not talking.  Their fight has to be resolved, and it has to be resolved now before anything else can continue.  The fact that no other characters appear proves that – they don’t have a storyline, they have nothing going on, because the fight between Ron and Leslie has created this huge pause in everyone’s lives.

A lot of comparisons have been drawn between this episode and Mad Men’s “The Suitcase,” which similarly featured two characters, Don and Peggy, almost singularly throughout the episode.  Like “Leslie and Ron,” the episode came late enough in the show’s run that when it focused on this relationship, it did so with years of weight and backstory behind it.  It was time to see this relationship be fixed because enough years of brokenness had passed.  I’m not alone in my belief that “The Suitcase” is one of the best episodes of television ever produced, and I don’t think it’s unfair or premature to say the same about “Leslie and Ron”.  All of its meaning came from the fact that we’ve had six seasons to watch their relationship grow and twist, and the length of time invested in building this relationship only goes to strengthen the show itself.  It says something about a show, what it contains, what it means, if it can – if it wants – to take the time to slow down and focus on a central relationship like this.  In this case, it’s saying that it matters.  The connection two people share matters, to those two people, to the people around them.  Parks and Rec has always, always been a show about love, and this episode in its final season cemented that its legacy and its message will deservedly be remembered as such.

Beyond the beauty of being fully immersed in Leslie and Ron’s relationship for an episode, I think my favorite part of “Leslie and Ron” was all the callbacks to previous episodes.  Ron referenced his habit of calling co-workers by the wrong name to dissuade anyone from thinking that they’re friends, and, most importantly, their recreation of their conversation about breakfast foods that they had all the way back in season two.  “Why would anybody ever eat anything besides breakfast food?”  “People are idiots, Leslie.”  It was such a beautiful moment when it first happened – such a simple way to show the connection between these two characters in such a quiet way.  Bringing it back here accomplishes many things.  For one, it shows their connection is just as strong as it ever was.  Sure, we spent this entire episode watching them repair their relationship, and just watched Leslie hug him and eagerly exclaim that she has three years’ worth of hugs to give him.  We know that they’re fine.  But knowing that and seeing it are two different things, and things like this can’t be made certain so explicitly.  It’s all in the little moments – how these characters interact on a normal, everyday level, the language they use with each other.  To call back to such a specific moment in their friendship and on the show is the biggest, and most efficient, way to make it clear that Ron and Leslie are good.

The other accomplishment of this line is a bit simpler.  For as important and meaningful as that season 2 scene was, it’s also very subtle, and easy to forget in favor of bigger moments like Ben and Leslie getting married or Leslie planning Ron’s birthday surprise.  That moment was recalled in this episode to appeal to the fans.  To remind us of where the show has been, and as a small thank-you to the fans who care enough about the show that they can pick up on moments like that and have it matter.

Some other thoughts on the episode:
  • Leslie’s appeal to Ben not to lock them in based on the fact that the Game of Thrones finale is that night.  “Khaleesi is marrying Jack Sparrow.  God, that show has really gone off the rails.”  “Look, it makes sense if you’ve read the books.”
  • “I would rather sit here and bleed out than talk about my feelings for ten hours.”
  • Personally, I could (and would) watch Leslie dancing and making up words to “We Didn’t Start the Fire” for ten hours, but what do I know
  • “You mean to tell me I have had a toy on my desk for ten years?”  “You mean to tell me you thought you had an actual landmine on your desk?”
  • Ron’s reaction of pure joy when Leslie uncovered his breakfast food painting was the reason I woke up today.
Let me know what you thought of “William Henry Harrison” and “Leslie and Ron” in the comments!  I’ll be back next week with reviews of “Gryzzlbox” and “Save JJ’s!”  Until then, who wants to eat breakfast food?