Dear TV Writers: Your Fear of the Moonlighting Curse is Killing Your Show

What is the Moonlighting Curse, and why is it such a big deal to television writers? Read this in-depth look at the crippling phenomenon and find out!

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

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

In Appreciation of the Everyday Heroine

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

Monday, August 31, 2015

VMAs Fashion 2015: The Good and The Oh-So Bad [Contributor: Rae Nudson]


The fashion at the VMAs is different than other awards shows. It is crazy and out there, and weird and wonderful. Whereas The Oscars contain fashion that is timeless, the VMAs contain fashion that is trendy. The biggest mistake you could make at the VMAs is showing up in a classic (boring) little black dress. For better or worse, the show features fashion that just wouldn’t work anywhere else. Usually, I think it’s for the better. Anything in fashion that pushes boundaries, or is straight-up weird, makes fashion interesting and fun. And when you have permission to go totally off the rails at these kind of awards ceremonies, I tend to hope that people go as far as they can. Here are my picks for the top fashion moments from the VMAs which include the good, the bad, and the oh-so bad. 

Miley Cyrus

I clearly can’t continue until I talk about Miley Cyrus. Her red carpet look was the suspenders she wore in the VMA commercials, but turned up to an eleven. It was Versace Atelier, and it was very on-brand. The greatest sin at the VMAs is to be boring, and this is definitely not that. It is very Cher at The Oscars, or Cher at a concert, or Cher, like, running an errand on a Tuesday — look, it is just very Cher. (Only Cher would not be so toned down.) I’d like to see Miley try something new, but bless her for at least bringing the weird. The hair, though, is problematic.

My favorite look of Miley’s was the rainbow jumpsuit she started out in on stage. It was very mod and cute, and I thought it was fun and flattering while still being in Miley’s wheelhouse. ... The hair was still problematic.


Nicki Minaj

Best-dressed of the evening was Nicki in La Bourjoisie. This was actually very restrained for Nicki, but it works. It is beautiful, and her hair and low-key make up really make the look. Only at the VMAs could a partly see-through gold sparkly evening gown with a deep V be considered "restrained."

Demi Lovato

If you’re going to arrive at the VMAs wearing a bodycon minidress, you better make sure it is the best bodycon minidress at the event. Demi looks fantastic, the color is great on her, and her hair and make up are fresh and don’t distract from her look. She looks great. 

Taylor Swift

This is what I’m talking about — houndstooth sparkly pajamas (they are Ashish) are not a look that would work at any other event. She is on point for the VMAs. Not to mom her, but I wish she would have stopped pulling up her pants on camera. I liked this very much when Taylor got onstage and was the sparkliest disco ball around, but I wish she hadn’t abandoned her signature red lip. And her hair could be a little edgier, now that I’m thinking about it. And I love the shoes, but they maybe compete with the houndstooth a little too much. But having said that, if you’re done with it, Taylor, can I borrow it?

The real fashion winner of the evening was Taylor Swift — but not at the show. Her video for Wildest Dreams premiered, and the fashion in the video is so good. It was classic and glamorous, and the yellow gown blowing in the wind is absolutely stunning. 

Selena Gomez

Selena, I love you, but this boring black Calvin Klein dress is not your best look. (That length? Those shoes?) Her hair looks amazing though; that whole Pantene spokesperson thing must be going very well for her. Selena appeared to be wearing a different dress once she was inside of the awards that I thought was way better on her.

Emily Ratajkowski

Emily came out on stage to present an award, and she looked very chic while still being VMA-appropriate. It was an all black look, sure, but the metallic pattern was interesting, and it looked great on her. Her make-up and hair were also very low-key, which I think is a good choice with this dress, so not too much was going on at once. A great choice for not being up for an award, but still knowing she’ll be on stage.

Jared Leto

I haven’t forgotten about the boys, but honestly they were mostly so boring they didn’t give me much to talk about. Jared Leto combined some of my favorite things into one look: polka dots, pink hair, and a leather jacket. It all fit him well, and it matches his style enough that he looked cool and not totally out of his comfort zone. This look also works better at this event than it would anywhere else, so he gets points for that too.

What do you think — who was your favorite, and who really missed the mark at this year's VMAs? Let us know in the comments below or by tweeting us!

An Open Letter to Taylor Swift: Thank You For Being A Friend


I’ve written a few pieces for our site about a tall, blonde pop star named Taylor Swift throughout the years. I’ve reviewed her recent albums, discussed her “Bad Blood” music video, and even defended her against those who would shame or dismiss her. But now I’m writing this post-VMAs piece, mostly because I don’t have much to say about the awards themselves, but also because Taylor Swift continues to genuinely impress me as a human being. And rather than simply repeat that she impresses me, I'd like to actually elaborate on why.

So this is an open letter to Taylor, because I feel like we could be friends. And I don't know about you all, but I’m always in desperate need of more female friends who are genuinely supportive and kind-hearted and representative of the true values of feminism. It’s an open letter because even though I’ve never met Taylor and will probably never meet her, I feel like I know her. Maybe you do too. This letter is for you, also.

Dear Taylor, 
Hey there. Should I call you Taylor? Tay-Tay? T-Swift? Maybe I’ll just stick with Taylor for now. I’m writing this letter mainly because I wanted to thank you for who you are. And as I’m sitting here, thinking about writing this out, it strikes me as sort of odd that this is even something I have to thank you for. Maybe that is because we live in a world where it’s so common to wake up every day and wear a persona as commonly as we would wear our jacket. It's just something that we do so often that we don’t even think twice before donning that persona before we leave our homes every morning. We’re all actors, in a way, I guess. But what I’ve noticed about you, Taylor, is that you’ve kind of started refusing to do that (in the most polite and genuine way possible). I think that so often we’re terrified to be who we really are around other people, especially if they’ve already put us on a pedestal in their minds and hearts. We don’t like to disappoint others. We don’t like to have our masks forcibly removed and our true selves beneath the personas revealed. We don’t like being vulnerable. It’s terrifying because it’s exposing; it's terrifying because people can see us and recoil in horror or run away. Because there we are – all of us. Our flaws laid bare and our feelings uncovered. It’s gut-wrenching to be real with other people. And it's always a risk. It really is. 
So that’s why I have to thank you: thank you for showing everyone that it’s scary to be vulnerable but that being real with others is what makes us human and it makes us more relatable to other people and is what will ultimately make us better. Recently, I saw a video of the introduction you gave at your 1989 tour before “Clean.” I watched it on my phone, sitting on the floor of my living room and I started to cry into my chicken lo mein. And I couldn't stop. So I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for making me cry. Thank you for saying the things that other people are too jaded or scared to say. Thank you for reminding us all that who we are is often defined by what we believe about ourselves, for better or for worse. I needed to hear that and I feel like we all need to hear that, multiple times every single day of our lives. 
I’m writing this open letter mainly because of what you’ve done in the media recently. You made a mistake on Twitter and you made amends. I’ve been there. You’ve been scrutinized by the media for years because of your romantic life. I… okay, admittedly I don’t have experience at all with that aspect of your life. But regardless of the situation you have been thrust into or encountered on your own, you always managed to handle these things with grace and poise and tact that made me think you’re a lot wiser than your years might suggest. But most recently, you’ve done some things that have endeared you to me even further. You’ve chosen to share your spotlight. I mean, you’ve always done this, but you’ve now actively chosen to share it with women – all kinds of women. And your feminist squad is the kind of squad anyone should be proud to join. 
Fun fact: I’ve been referred to by people as “Taylor Swift” before. Once, it was by a guy who did not mean it as a compliment but an insult. This guy was cute and I liked him a lot and yet that was (among a few other things) pretty much a deal-breaker for me. More recently, though, I’ve been referred to as “Taylor Swift” and it’s been used as a compliment. So let me tell you what people mean when they say that. They use your name as something that is synonymous with “kind” and “generous” and “good-hearted,” all of which you are. You’re not a celebrity who is seeking attention and fame. You’re not someone desperate to be noticed in the spotlight, eagerly waving your hands around like a toddler begging: “Notice me! Notice me!” You’re comfortable in your own skin and I’ll venture to guess that you didn’t always feel that way and you probably still don’t, in some moments. Because we’re all human and we're women. Insecurities follow us around like annoying little mosquitoes we just can't stop from biting us. What people mean when they use your name as an adjective in a positive way is that the person being talked about and complimented exudes selflessness. You deserve a lot of credit for all the work you do, between writing and playing music, touring endlessly, and shooting videos and interviews among all kinds of other demanding things. You have every right in the world to be selfish given the life you lead and the schedule you must have and the lack of sleep you must endure during tours. 
But you don’t choose selfishness. You don’t use your fame as an excuse; you don’t brandish it as a weapon. Instead, you could easily take the stage at every awards show and talk about your success and yourself, or at the very least, keep the microphone in your hands. But you choose to step aside and give your platform to others – whether with Joseph Kahn or seventeen amazing other women. You don’t let your status or your success become a way to distance yourself from others, but as a way to bring yourself closer to us. 
I suspect you’re a great friend. And a daughter. And a sister. And you’ll be a great godmother. Because from all that I’ve seen of you, I have no reason to believe anything otherwise. See, it’s one thing to surround yourself with women and call yourself a “feminist” – it’s another for women to willingly gravitate toward YOU. That’s the marker of a true feminist, in my opinion. Do women want to be around you or do they keep themselves at a distance? If the latter, you have to ask yourself why. But if the former, you don’t need to question whether you’re doing something right. You are. You, Taylor, are a feminist. And you’re this way, I believe, because you’ve learned the value that can only come through genuine female friendships and through co-existing in those valuable female friendships. Anyone can surround themselves with women and boast about how much of a feminist they are. Anyone can write feminist diatribes online. Anyone can reblog quotes on Tumblr or retweet articles on Twitter. But I know women who claim to be feminists who delight in cutting other women down. I know women who claim to be feminists who revel in the fact that they are always right, all of the time. I know women who claim to be feminists who can’t hear the opinions of others over the sound of their own voices. 
I've never met you and even I know that you’re not that kind of person. You’re not a woman who claims to be a feminist and then turns around and hangs other women out to dry. You invite them into your life – into your home, into your celebrations, and – most importantly of all – into your success. That’s not something that would be easy for some people to do, honestly. But the fact that you share everything with women makes them draw closer to you. The ones who stick around, matter, Taylor. And I’m sure you know this already, but the ones who don’t matter – those superficial friends – will make themselves pretty clearly evident in your life. You’re a lot like one of my best friends, you know. She used to surround herself with a lot of guys and a lot of relationships. And there is nothing inherently wrong with having a number of boyfriends or dating. At all. But I think she recognized that there is something fundamentally lacking in romance with a man that you get from a platonic female friendship. I assume you’ve learned that, too: love is so very important in life, but love in female relationships is one of the foundations that we need to build our characters, as women, upon. 
Okay. The bottom line here is that I feel like I know you and I’m friends with you. Is that strange? Even though you’re a songwriter and I mostly write poems and articles and the occasional short story, I feel like we’re connected in that sense. Writers know these things about one another. Your music has gotten me through some of the most difficult periods of my life. (You and Demi Lovato got me through some thorny romantic hurdles, let me tell you.) And what you’ve managed to do as a writer is inspiring. You’ve taken your personal story and invited us into it, like it was a warm, cozy cottage complete with a crackling fire, a warm blanket, and fresh cinnamon sugar cookies. You’ve not just invited us in though – you’ve allowed us to stay there. You’ve taken your home and asked us to make it ours as well. So when you write, you write your experiences as if we’ve been there with you, too, the entire time, listening right by your shoulder. You’ve taken an intimate moment and made it even more intimate. You’ve allowed us all to tether our pain to yours, our joy to yours, and our hope to yours. That is truly the mark of an amazing writer: to take something personal and to make it universal is no easy feat. 
So that’s why I feel like I know you. It’s because you feel like a friend who’s been with me for years, as constant a presence as my roommate or my childhood best friends are. I know it’s weird to say that a person feels “real” to them because yes, obviously you’re a real person. You are living and breathing. There’s no doubt about that.  
But the reason people connect with you, Taylor, and the reason that they love you and sell out your shows and vote for you in awards and celebrate you online is because you feel like you’ve been our friend all along. 
Maybe you have. 
- Jenn

Orange is the New Black 3x11 "We Can Be Heroes" (Playing the Hero) [Contributor: Rae Nudson]


"We Can Be Heroes" 

Most of Orange is the New Black focuses on the women’s stories. Yet it didn’t seem out of place to me to focus on Caputo’s backstory this episode because men and toxic masculinity are so intertwined with the women’s experiences. Caputo’s version of being a man means saving women, becoming a hero, and doing the right thing. Which sounds good at first, until you realize the people he thinks he is saving are real, whole, human people just living their lives. Caputo never saw his wrestling opponent or his girlfriend as people who were as capable as he was. He never saw them as real people at all — only things to help to make him look good.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this idea that women’s honor needs defending (I’ve been watching Bachelor in Paradise). It’s so indoctrinated that it can be hard to spot — like before your eyes become adjusted to the dark. Caputo had a girlfriend that he seemed to be really in love with. They had broken up and gotten back together, and while they were apart, she slept with his bandmate and got pregnant. But Caputo loved her and wanted a family with her, so he said he would skip the tour, stay home, and take care of her and the baby. She told him he should follow his dream, that she had her parents to help, and wasn’t he mad even a little she was pregnant with another man’s child?

But he wasn’t. He was choosing to do the right thing for someone he loved. How could he be angry? Only, instead of seeing his girlfriend for a person who was capable of taking care of herself and making decisions that mattered as much as his own, he saw her as someone he needed to watch over and help. So he kept a running list of what he was giving up and how pathetic his life became because of this. And he expected her to stay with him out of gratitude for "saving" her.

On the surface, that might look like Caputo did a nice, "right" thing. But it’s a pretty dark story if you look a little bit deeper. Fig had it right when she said “you fancy yourself a nice guy, Joe, but you’re not. You’re a deeply angry and resentful man because the world hasn’t appreciated you the way you think you deserve.”

I don’t think Caputo is a bad person. Not really. He does some good things, and it does seem like he has grown as a person since his girlfriend left him all those years ago (he is becoming a hero again by leading the union, even though he is in management and that may only end up hurting them all). But Caputo has been infected with a masculinity that sometimes leads him to view others as less than himself. No one wants to believe they actually feel that way toward other people, and it’s a pretty easy behavior to ignore; you can keep seeing yourself as noble and under-appreciated. After all, how could you think someone is less than human if you are just trying to help them? Isn’t helping a good, noble thing to do?

Healy and Coates are also both examples of this toxic masculinity, but they are easier to spot because they are so terrible. But the path that led them to becoming rapists, misogynists, and racists is also the same path that Caputo is on. They are just further down the road than he is. I would bet that Healy and Coates also see themselves as noble heroes just trying to help theses poor women out.

Poor women like Tiffany. Big Boo and Tiffany’s scene was so real and so geat. Tiffany blames herself and makes excuses for Coates, just as so many women do in her situation. It’s her fault, she says, for being confusing and flirting too much. It breaks my heart, and it horrified Boo to hear her friend defend her rapist and blame herself. Big Boo came out swinging later in the episode when she confronted Tiffany and tried to make her accept that she wanted to stand up for herself and go after Coates. I know that Boo wanted to make a point and push Tiffany into what she thought was right, but it was still really brutal to hear the things she said. And it will be even harder for Tiffany to get anything close to justice — they are still at Litchfield, after all.

Once again, there was some levity to balance out the sadness and pain. Angie had a great moment where the prison mixed up her prisoner number with a different woman with her same last name. She left the prison, and when the guards realized their mistake, Caputo had to deal with an escaped prisoner. Danny wanted to keep it under wraps — of course he did — and Caputo decided to skip calling the marshals in order to save both of their jobs. Listening to Danny will only end poorly; he’s an overgrown manchild who has no idea what he’s doing. He proves that yet again when he puts Berdie on leave instead of waiting for Caputo to review.

Caputo does end up finding Angie, who is still at the bus station. She had nowhere else to go, and she knew the $40 she took from prison wouldn’t get her very far. Before he takes her back, they have a nice moment where she tells him about the frog they kept in the laundry room. “We named him Benny. But then he suffocated, and he died.” “That’s what happens in prison,” Caputo says.

A little on the nose, but it's accurate nonetheless.

Other notes:
  • Inmate of the episode is Angie, who saw an opportunity for freedom and went for it.
  • Rosa in a flashback! I loved seeing her again
  • Piper should maybe listen to her girlfriend who is in prison for running an illegal drug business and not start a crime ring while she’s in prison. But if she is going to start a prison gang, Red is the person to turn to. 
  • I never would have thought the day would arrive when I would say to myself, “Yeah, Alex seems like she really has her head on straight and is the moral compass people should look toward,” but here we are.
  • Suzanne is quitting her erotic fiction, to Poussey’s disappointment. 
  • “Encyclopedia Brown and the case of the Missing Meth Head”
  • Oh my, they cut Soso’s hair. I bet she’s going to look real cute with a bob. 
  • #TeamBerdie

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Series - Summer Lovin': Week 10


Welcome to another week in one of the most fun series we've done on the site thus far! I've learned a lot about television and movies and books thanks to the brilliant writers who have spent this summer contributing. I've added movies to my Netflix queue because I thought: "OH. I remembered so-and-so talking about this in a Summer Lovin' piece!" We hope that you all have expanded your repertoires this summer too and that we've been able to provide you with some entertainment while our usual television series are off the air.

Since summer is winding down, we'll only be doing a few more weeks of Summer Lovin'! After that, we'll transition right back into our TV MVP series (which you should totally check out if you haven't already) for the fall. But until then, we're still talking about what we're reading, watching, and listening to this week. So let's do that, shall we? Joining me this week are:


  • Sass queen, amazing mama, and cute-as-a-button Mer!
  • The princess of cornfields, Lynnie
  • Sweet, adorable, and lovely writer Hope
  • Pink lipstick aficionado and cutest human being, Maddie
  • Boy band lover and my spirit animal, Megan
  • Soul sister, name twin, and one of the best people I know, Jen

Let's get to it!

Hannibal 3x13 "The Wrath of the Lamb" (The Valley of Death) [Contributor: Rae Nudson]


"The Wrath of the Lamb"
Original airdate: Aug. 29, 2015

Hannibal has been seen as the literal devil, having powers no one else has, doing evil no one else could. He may be the devil, but everyone else became a ghost. Francis was like a phantom. He was at the door before Reba could escape, he showed up in Will’s hotel room after Will presumed him dead, and he came as if from nowhere to free Hannibal in a police car. (How did he get the car? Doesn’t matter. I believe he could.)

Alana and Margot left their lives like spirits. Quickly and gracefully, they fled through the air to escape their fate with Hannibal.

And Will has passed through the veil and left his life behind. He couldn’t save himself, so he left the world he knew to join the underworld with Hannibal. Instead of killing them all to save himself, he damned them both to save his family.

Francis tried to save his family, in a way. He shared with Reba that he was the Red Dragon, and then he left her alive, allowing her to believe that he had killed himself. Fake deaths are not my favorite, but this one was both disgusting and awesome, and I thought it was great. Making Reba believe Francis killed himself was his way of getting her out safely and getting the police off his back. It was also terribly cruel. He left her alive, technically, but the memory of crawling through brains to escape a burning building will haunt her forever.

That shot of Reba through a headless corpse may haunt me forever. Rutina Wesley and Richard Armitage were wonderful in their scene together. Armitage has never been scarier, and Wesley had never looked more terrified. Seeing Reba screaming, framed by a body that she will never see, added a layer of voyeurism to this horror story and made the audience complicit with Francis’ scheme. We watched her scream, and then we watched her crawl through a fire, lit up like the woman clothed in the sun in William Blake’s painting. (And I liked watching it. Maybe I am condemned, too.)

Francis’ fake death was the first OMG moment in an episode full of them. (Let it never be said Hannibal didn’t go out with a bang.) The next one was Francis pulling up in a police car next to Hannibal and Will, and shooting the driver with expert proficiency. It seems that Francis took a few pages out of Hannibal’s book on how to be a supernatural force of death. I love that Hannibal jumped out of the van like he absolutely expected this all to happen, and isn’t everything going just swimmingly, and c’mon Will don’t you want to come with me so we can get on with our afternoons?

But nothing beats the moment of the fight between Hannibal, Will, and Francis. Every shot was delectable and the music was so perfect. Will and Hannibal finally became the murder team Hannibal had wanted since he planned his escape with Will and Abigail in season two. This was Will’s becoming, and he gave in to Hannibal’s darkness.

It started with Francis shooting Hannibal. The red wine Hannibal was holding spilled, like their blood would later. Hannibal falls to the ground, and the camera shoots him from above, making Hannibal look truly small and vulnerable for maybe the first time. But Francis turns to Will first, stabbing him in the face. Will is the only one who ends up covered in bright red blood, showing he is a mortal in combat against two supernatural beings. When blood spills on Francis, it looks black in the moonlight, like a dragon’s blood, not a human’s. The murder team of Hannibal and Will hack at Francis until he is gone, and the wings of the dragon no longer appear. (How cool were those dragon wings?!) “This is all I ever wanted for you Will,” Hannibal says. “For both of us.” Will lets Hannibal think he got what he wanted, and they embrace, finally, before Will jumps off the cliff, taking Hannibal with him.

There is a lot to unpack in that ending, and probably a hundred ways to interpret it. Not to mention the kicker, with Bedelia -- legless -- at an extravagant table set for three. In my own interpretation, Will chose to go off the cliff with Hannibal in order to try to destroy them both. It was the only way he knew to finally rid the world of the darkness that emanates from Hannibal and destroys everything it touches. But at the same time, Will did give into the darkness, at least in part. He knew Hannibal would escape as soon as he made a plan to get him out of his cell and into police custody. He knew that those cops were likely to die if they were transporting Hannibal. And he knew he’d want to kill Francis. He chose to run away with Hannibal so they could kill together.

I’m also choosing to believe that Will and Hannibal survive the cliff fall. If Dr. Chilton can survive being shot in the face, having his lips ripped off, and being burned alive, why couldn’t Will and Hannibal survive a fall into the ocean? And why couldn’t they decide to go on the run together, as Bedelia did with Hannibal to Europe? She has always been fascinated by Hannibal, and did she look a little excited -- as well as scared -- when she was sitting at that table, about to dine on her own leg?

On the other hand, it could be Hannibal by himself, or a copy cat cannibal, or Bedelia could have also gone over the edge, finally giving in to the darkness, and prepared her own leg while setting the table for the ghosts of Will and Hannibal, who may never arrive.

Oh yes, there is a lot to unpack from that explosion of an ending. Some of the quieter moments, though, were equally stunning. Hannibal and Will’s conversation sounded like a real conversation between toxic exes. Hannibal almost begged Will to think of him later on in his life, and he asked — dying to know, wanting to believe — if it was good for Will to see him. “Good?” Will says. “No.”

Bedelia and Will had their last therapy session, where Will informed Bedelia of his plan. She, rightfully, thought it was the most thoughtless, worthless plan she’d ever heard. Bedelia delivered a sick burn, calling Will a “righteous, reckless, twitchy little man.” (She’s not wrong.)

I could go on and on, but now it’s your turn. What was your favorite part of this finale? Do you think Hannibal and Will survived?

I’ll miss writing about Hannibal each week here, but you can always find me on Twitter or subscribe to my newsletter where I talk about what I’m reading and watching. Thanks for reading along! I love you all more than Will loves his dogs.

Dessert:
  • Coolest shots: Will in Bedelia’s office, Will’s face so large and close to the camera it looks like he could open his mouth to eat her up; the blood oozing out of Francis, and the film strips spreading out from him as they burn, just as the strings of blood spread out from Will when he investigated Francis’ crimes; the entire fight scene from start to finish; a headless corpse in front of a screaming Reba; the beautiful confusion of Will and Hannibal’s van crashing; the beauty of Margot and Alana leaving their home, Alana looking back at what she’s leaving behind.
  • It was good to see Team Sassy Science again!
  • Jack has so much blood on his hands. It was fitting to me that the last time we saw him, he was dealing with the bodies left in Hannibal’s wake. It was like he was walking through the underworld he helped create.
  • Margot and Alana looked stunning, as always. Glad to get a glimpse of their son. 
  • If I were a cop assigned to Hannibal, I would quit my job and leave the country, probably. Do you think those cops knew that they were part of a scheme to catch Francis?
  • Where was Molly in this plan? Do you think Will shared it with her? 
  • I’m in complete denial that this could really be the end of the series.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Fixer-Upper: How to Remedy the Problem of Laurel Lance on "Arrow" [Contributor: Lynnie Purcell]


“You take people, you put them on a journey, you give them peril, you find out who they really are.” - Joss Whedon

Let me first start out with a little bit of a disclaimer here: I am approaching the problems with Laurel Lance on Arrow as a writer,  first and foremost. I am not delving into the rabbit hole of production, and/or acting problems that I have. My full disclaimer, of course, is that I am not a fan of Laurel Lance in this show. Her problems are numerous, and I’m not particularly fond of the actress’s choices, either. But instead of whining about what I don’t like about Laurel, I decided to write down the version of Laurel Lance that I would like to see on this show -- the version that would make her a character worth watching, worth rooting for, and worth appreciating. So, with that in mind, let’s dive in.

The CW is known for its angst. This is a network that loves to torture its characters, and I -- frankly -- love to let them. But Laurel’s angst has been problematic from day one. The writers gave her a love story instead of an origin story, and then tried to squish her into a mold that no woman would be particularly eager to fill. I mean, this is just me, but I don’t know too many people who would be excited about getting back together with someone who cheated on them with their sister – no matter how much the person has changed or claimed to change. A giant, flashing neon sign and lots of flags would flash in the air in front of them every single time that thought would even enter a woman's head. The Arrow writers, however, led her down that path. And then, they let her lose yet another man in her life when it was clear the Oliver storyline wasn’t working for her character. And as a result of the aforementioned stories, the show took her down the thorny road of alcohol addiction and built her back up from there.

Now, I didn’t mind the alcohol addiction storyline, as addiction is truly a crucible many people do not conquer. It’s a rough road, and it is one I hope the show continues to explore with Laurel instead of forgoing it in favor of making her magically better. On the flip side, I also think that this story is one they didn’t spend enough time letting her truly live in. Honestly, the writers didn’t really give her too much to do in season two other than cry, sink into self-flagellation and misery, and blame everyone else for her problems. Season three saw Laurel trying to crawl her way out of the pit of addiction and pain, but they had to kill off another woman to accomplish this. Arrow has few enough strong women, writers. Please stop killing them. (Although I am so, so glad that Caity Lotz is coming back to life for Legends of Tomorrow. She deserves all the awards and really makes me want to try out Parkour. Bad Ass Level = 1 billion for that chick.)


Laurel trained and she failed in season three, and it was nice to see that she didn’t immediately jump into being a superhero. Stumbles, falls, and failures should be part of every hero’s journey, and -- because we are seeing a pre-comic Black Canary -- we got all of those in vivid technicolor. The issue though remained with her interactions with Oliver, which were barbed at best (downright cruel at worst) and did not add to the story at all.

So the problem, ultimately, with Laurel Lance is that her story is being told through the lens of Oliver Queen, a man who cheated on her, disrespected her, and still sees her as the girl he left behind so many years ago. These two people have little in common now, but her growth is still tied to his story, and is never going to look healthy if continually looked at through that lens.

This is where I come in. Let’s delve a bit into how I think Laurel's problematic storyline could potentially be rectified.

First and foremost, Laurel needs a plot to follow that has very little to do with Oliver Queen . She needs her own villain. I understand that the show is called Arrow, not Laurel Lance Spends Twenty Hours Figuring Out the Buckles on Her Costume, so they have to limit her storyline in favor of Oliver’s and the team’s, as it should be. But if the writers managed to devote even six episodes out of the year toward giving her an arc that is centered solely to a problem that only she can face, unravel, and ultimately fix without having to call in Oliver to help it would be a good start in creating the legend that is the Black Canary.

I would like to see a version of Laurel Lance who doesn’t lie to her father about her sister being dead, and I would like to see a version of Laurel Lance who is smart enough to follow point A to B to C in order to figure out the given mystery of the season. (I mean, she IS a lawyer after all. Let her be smart.) The writers, additionally, need to let her develop platonic relationships outside of Team Arrow – see the point about strong women on the show, writers – and allow her to grow via a separate storyline so that when she comes together with the team, she is a stronger ally for them. I don’t intend this to mean that she should immediately be on Nyssa’s level of fighting skill by the end of season four. Laurel still needs to fail, and stumble, and create problems for herself and the team, but her actions and consequences to them need to feel as if all of it is in the name of stopping the bad guy instead of being on a spiral of grief and pain. Speaking of pain, Laurel’s lost a lot of people. Could she just... I don't know, make a friend who doesn’t get maimed, damaged, or thrown off a roof? Could that friend potentially be, like, linked to the villain that she may face in season four? Could said friend not end up married to Oliver Queen? Food for thought.

Here’s a breakdown of how a potential arc for her could go if I was in charge of writing it:

Season four, episode one: Laurel encounters a weird situation at the dock. In keeping with the theme of Damian Dhark, perhaps it has something to do with one of his shipments or maybe even a bit of magic. She informs the others, but they’re dealing with a larger and more complex problem and don’t have the time. Felicity and/or Diggle tell Laurel to follow her instincts and pursue this problem. She does, looking all determined and fierce. Pat Benatar’s "We Belong to the Night" plays in the background. (Potential screentime is five to seven minutes)

Season four, episode two: Tension arises with Captain Lance when, following a lead, father and daughter intersect on a case and he doesn’t approve of Laurel's interference. She tries to explain that he needs to let her handle it and notes that Damian Dhark is extremely dangerous. The Captain ignores her (of course), and she has to save him from himself. A clue is unraveled in the process, one that appears to be oddly magical. Dramatic cliffhanger at the end of the episode. Organs play the standard, “duh-duh-duh.” We wait breathlessly for the next episode. (Potential screentime is seven to ten minutes)

Season four, episode three: Magical object is being secretly magical, and Laurel is running into dead ends. After Laurel beats up a bunch of bro-dude criminals, a woman comes into her life saying she knows what’s up with the magical object. But the woman’s spooked, frightened, and definitely on the run. Laurel, the hero that she is, doesn’t like the idea of the woman being in terror and decides to follow. She sees the girl gets attacked, saves her, and takes her back to her house. They have a heart-to-heart and the girl explains that the thing is potentially a weapon. More ominous organ music plays. (Potential screentime is five to seven minutes)

Season four, episode four: Laurel takes what she learned about the object to her father and, because he trusts her to be a freaking intelligent human being who managed to get through law school, he believes her. They have a back and forth about telling Oliver. But as it turns out, Oliver is off dealing with Felicity’s father, who is being coerced by Damian Dhark to be all evil and stuff, so Laurel rationally decides to wait until she has a solution for him before adding another problem into Team Arrow's life. Captain Lance meets the woman Laurel rescued and he tells Laurel that the girl has a record. Laurel doesn’t care. She respects her friend. The two decide to dig deeper, uncovering a name that sounds remarkably like one associated to someone Laurel knows. Captain Lance begrudgingly agrees to help his daughter and the girl. The dynamic trio is off to be awesome. Slightly less dramatic music plays. (Potential screentime is near five minutes)

Season four, episode five: Secrets are revealed, names are divulged and the magical object is revealed to be a piece to greater uh-oh that leaves Laurel speechless for the first time in the history of this show's run. She’s then trapped with Captain Lance and her new friend in a building with the baddies and the weapon after they follow the mystery to its origin. Seriously ominous music reaches the mother of all crescendos. (Potential screentime five to seven minutes)

Season four, episode six: We pick up where we last left off: with Laurel, her father, and the girl that is near best friend territory for our angst-y baby Canary. Together, they logic and science the heck out of a solution, fight the bad guys, get beaten up a little, almost die, like, a billion times, and end up winning. They bond because of the experience, and know that they are gonna BFFs for life. Laurel struggles with the fact that she had to kill several people in order to survive and save the world. The show explores Laurel's darker side, what she's willing to do to win. (Potential screentime ten to twelve minutes)

And that’s just me spitballing, seriously. In my world, Laurel gets to be awesome. She gets to bond with someone who might be looking for a family in the same way that she is, and she gets to reconcile somewhat with her daddy Lance.

In order to fix Laurel as a character, the bottom line is to separate her from Oliver, give her back the kind of agency that is not dependent on a man or romance, and allow her to be a freaking hero.

The Great One Direction Hiatus [Contributor: Megan Mann]


As I was walking into Soldier Field last week, ready to live while I’m young, my friend and fellow Directioner sent me a link. I clicked it and immediately refused to believe it.

One Direction to Disband in March

Well, color me depressed/angry/disbelieving/sort of relieved. I know, I know. You’re about to ask me how it's possible to be feeling all of those emotions at once. I understand where you’re coming from and I’m here to explain myself.

Three years ago, I spent two nights back-back in Tinley Park, Illinois belting out the lyrics to the songs from Take Me Home. Last year, I flew all the way to England in order to throw myself into the throngs of girls at Manchester City’s stadium and Wembley Arena, gaining new life from the high notes in "You & I." This summer I spent my best friend’s birthday in Indianapolis having Spice Girls flashbacks with a now-foursome of Brits. Last week, I even locked eyes with the beautiful Liam Payne.

It’s been a wonderful three years. I've been having the most fun with some of my favorite people. So to hear that One Direction will take a break after releasing their upcoming fifth album makes me sad, especially after the release of the "Drag Me Down" a few weeks ago. That song proved to be a departure and a progression from what the band had previously done. You could tell that the single was less about pleasing the pop radio masses and more about going in the direction the band had wanted to all along.

I’m sad because the fun aspects of this summer won’t repeat again next summer. I’m sad because I won’t get to dance around at concerts alongside people of all ages while screaming the lyrics to some of the best pop music. I’m sad because we’re going to get this phenomenal album (I won’t say it’ll be their best one yet because the papers always say that kind of stuff for us) and then the band won't be touring it. So the question is... what am I supposed to do with that?

Until it was confirmed via Twitter by both Louis and Niall, I was in disbelief that this was even happening. Why would the band have just finished a fantastic new album and then decided to not even tour it? Surely Simon Cowell wouldn’t allow his cash cow (neither Little Mix nor Fifth Harmony have the colossal success or global draw that they do) to release an album, do mere promotion and then not tour it, right? ... RIGHT? He likes money. I mean, he likes taking our money, so that doesn't seem like a logical move.

Shortly thereafter, I transitioned back to grief. Because, as the fake version of Joey Fatone of my beloved *NSYNC pointed out (yes, I know the article is not  real but it's absolutely worth reading for the kernels of truth in it and, you know, humor), that was *NSYNC’s plan as well. They were going to take a hiatus in order to pursue solo efforts and now here we all are without another album of theirs, with no tour and has anyone heard from Chris Kirkpatrick since Justin, one of the most successful pop icons of the last decade, was given the vanguard award at the VMAs a few years ago? [Jenn's Note: One of my local radio DJs just got married recently and is friends with him. He was totally at their wedding. True story!] What would I do if I received this precious fifth album and then never got the chance to hear more than "Drag Me Down" played from it live?

After I let the disbelief and the anger and the sadness subside, I was almost relieved. (I really think I'm going through the stages of grief with this news.) And I feel that way for them because... come on. What they’ve managed to do is unprecedented. They went from just five guys auditioning alone to becoming a group and hitting huge success. And this was all before they were even done on X-Factor. They’ll have: put out five chart-topping albums in five years, circumnavigated the globe on almost a constant basis doing both promotion and touring for aforementioned albums, done both a documentary and live concert that debuted theaters and, finally, had a meteoric rise to superstardom. Seriously. In five years. I mean, that has to be absolutely exhausting. It’s exhausting for me to just think about and I’m not even doing half of what they are.

Not only have they each as individuals and as a band had to deal with all of the stress and effort of what I mentioned, but then there are the fans. These guys can’t go anywhere without being literally chased down the streets or even sometimes (and more dangerously) on the highway by the people who love them. They’re constantly being photographed. Their personal lives are infiltrated constantly and yet, somehow, despite ALL of that, they’re still supposed to take on the responsibility of being some of the fans' saviors. That’s a whole lot of pressure on five dudes who probably didn’t think in a million years that their auditions would lead them to this. So yeah, I'm a little relieved to hear of this news. I'm relieved that the boys won't have to be constantly shoved in the spotlight. And who knows, maybe they'll even be allowed to walk down the street without wondering if they have to duck into a random store or a girl is going to hurt herself while hurdling fire hydrants to demand a photo. (I mean, seriously, ladies. They’re real people too. you know.)

I’m also totally relieved for myself. Did you catch that earlier? I’ve seen One Direction every summer for the last three years, traveled across an ocean to see them at England’s largest stadium (and also in the den of that gross team Manchester City). I've thrown so much money at the band (not literally), have forfeited sleep before flights and work to see them and have totally made my friends fans. But... I’m tired, too, guys. I love them dearly, of course, but now maybe I can catch a little bit of a break, you know? I’m sure once the album officially debuts (I don’t mess around with leaks, okay) that I’ll be changing my tune and itching for a tour. But maybe a little distance before that happens is good. Sure, I’ll miss Harry trolling the audience and I'll miss Niall’s terrible dancing and I'll  miss Liam reading inappropriate signs. I'll definitely miss that and I'll miss them. But as an adult, I also just understand.

So long as those three dashing Brits and one four-leaf clover come back to us eventually, I will accept this hiatus. To One Direction: enjoy your time off and I look forward to the day when we meet again. I walked out of Miller Park in Milwaukee last week with a smile on my face and I’ll be ready and willing to snatch a seat the next time around, too.

Oh, and one more thing, One Direction: just make sure you bring back "Live While We’re Young," during the next tour, okay? This is the only change that I’m not sure I can accept and forgive you for.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Rookie Blue 6x10 "Breaking Up the Band" (Coming Full Circle) [Contributor: Hope]


"Breaking Up the Band"
Original Airdate: August 27, 2015

That’s an ominous title, isn’t it? No good can come from a title like that.

And yet, it can. This was one of my favorite episodes of the season. It had everything, and by everything, I mean: suspense, arguments, character growth, heart-to-hearts, and a puppy. Sam secretly ordered Andy a puppy months before, and it finally arrived in this episode. And it came in the form of an adorable golden-doodle bearing the name Boo Radley. Look at this gem of a GIF I stumbled upon:


I hate to admit it, but I don’t remember this scene at all. But the biggest amount of kudos I can muster goes to the Rookie Blue writers for some seriously stellar continuity.

However, the whole "breaking up the band" thing hasn’t come to fruition yet, so maybe we should wait and see if our celebration is short-lived or not. It would be bad enough to have just one character leave the team (I’ll get to that later), let alone have the team split up beyond repair. Either Jarvis or Jarvis’ bosses need to have a change of heart, or we’re likely looking at some major changes. Since that was only mentioned this week, we might see it carried out in the season finale.

Duncan 

Duncan handled this whole blow-up with his stepfather in the opposite way that Gail is handling things with her brother. He doesn’t want to be associated with Santana, and he makes it clear. Instead, he’s happy, he’s helping out, and he’s gaining the respect of those around him. He's moving on. It’s just a really interesting parallel between the characters, their different circumstances, and how they’re handling it all. Duncan’s not going to stop being the little kid of the group any time soon, but this storyline has forced him into major character growth we’ve been waiting a long time for.

Gail 

Gail had a huge decision to make in this episode: lie and say she was with her brother at the time of the bombing, or send him to prison (where he likely would have a very rough time). It didn’t help that her father was pressuring her to lie and fed her what she was supposed to say. For those of you keeping count at home, Gail lying would mean that BOTH Peck siblings would then have committed crimes. And for the bitter cherry on top, Gail missed her meeting with the adoption agency and got to hear about the nice couple who also wants to adopt Sophie. It was so interesting how they didn’t let Gail make a decision. She wasn’t caving in and telling the story her father wanted her to, but she wasn’t sealing her brother’s fate, either.

I think it was important for Steve to actually confess and own up to his crimes, but what Gail’s decision would’ve ultimately been will be one of the great Rookie Blue mysteries. Gail didn’t know the answer herself. Juliet’s advice about being able to still see yourself in the mirror made Gail think about her own actions and conscience. She admits that she doesn’t know what her indecisiveness says about the kind of person she is. So she asks about the other couple and realizes they’ll be a wonderful fit for Sophie. Then she cries. In the middle of the Black Penny, in front of the adoption agent. How many times have we seen Gail cry over the past six years? It was just such a raw moment and the way they tackled that moral issue was extremely well done.

Chris 

In case I don’t get around to this next week, I want to pause here for a moment. This season, the writers took Chris, who had been on a pretty rough track and whose storyline had been a thorn in my side, and turned him completely around. He was there for Gail multiple times this episode, and I just love the two of them. It hasn’t mattered whether they were a couple or best friends – they have this dynamic that stands out above everything else. Gail knocks sense into him, and he helps bring out the light in her. And this wouldn’t be the case once again if the show hadn’t evolved his character.


Oliver 

He didn’t have much to do in this episode, except failing at giving Sam relationship advice and actively rooting for Andy/Sam and Nick/Juliet. He also came up with duo names for Andy and Dov (McStien) and Chris and Chloe (Dice). That scene alone made up for his lack of screentime in this episode.

Dov and Chloe 

When they realized the guy who ran the music festival was the one who framed the band, Chloe was in the office/trailer with him. The door burst into flames in a crazy-good action sequence. Chloe and the guy were inside, with Andy, Dov, and Chris outside. They call the fire department and Chris runs for the extinguisher... but it’s not working fast enough. So Dov runs THROUGH THE FIRE, kicks down the door, RUNS THROUGH MORE FIRE, and finds Chloe unconscious inside. There was so much emotion in this scene and it was one of my absolute favorites of the night. While this episode hadn’t even addressed the two of them as being a couple again, this pretty much set it in stone (for me, at least). Chloe almost died again, and this time Dov was able to help her.

Nick 

I’m going to be back to not liking Juliet again if she’s the reason Nick leaves town. Look, I think we all knew Andy wasn’t going to Vancouver when Juliet offered her the undercover job. But Nick going is something the show could feasibly do and I don’t like it. Yes, Nick’s not in a relationship at this point. Neither are Chris, or Duncan, or Gail for that matter. Nick doesn’t need to be paired up with someone. He took Andy breaking up with him without fighting it, even though it clearly pained him. And he's been there for her ever since. He should find a happy ending with someone eventually. It just doesn’t have to be on the other side of the continent.


Andy 

This isn’t the first time Andy has had the chance to run away from her problems. She and Nick got into that car at the end of season three in order to embark on an undercover operation without letting anyone else know. This time though, Andy didn’t leave. Here’s the thing: Sam has always been the one who most needed to become better at communicating and working through problems. HE was the one to shut down. We can’t forget, however, that Andy’s always been the one to run. Like when Sam first told her the news about Marlo, she walked away from him. She needed space. And it’s perfectly fine to need space and to process. It can actually be really healthy to take a time-out from life and relationships, step back to see the bigger picture, and remove yourself from drama. Andy shouldn’t have to always deal with this drama, and if it gets to be too much, she deserves some space. But there’s stepping back and then there’s avoidance. Andy says to Juliet: "I wish I could fast forward through all this." But she can’t. You can’t run away and tell yourself that time will make everything that was once difficult, better. Andy is lying to herself. She’s scared, and she has every right to be. But being scared isn’t a free pass to flee.

The wonderful thing is that Andy DID consider leaving and actively chose not to. Sure, she "only told [him] about the offer to give [him] an out," but she considered it all the same. At this point, Marlo had already stepped out on a serious limb and talked to her. She apologized for what had happened the night before, and they had a heart-to-heart about everything on a very low-key level (although I suppose you can’t start shouting when there’s a sleeping baby in the room). I think she realized that they’re ALL trying to figure their situation and their drama out.

Andy was in a slightly better place when she went to talk with Sam, but she started off the conversation by yelling at him anyway. Whether she realized it or not, what she was really doing here was pushing him away in order to see what he’d do in response.


Okay, so at the start of the episode, Sam wasn't reacting so well. But even then, he was being open and truthful about how he felt. In the last scene, he freely expressed his emotions, his perspective, and how much he has changed because of Andy. He didn’t shut down emotionally. He didn’t walk away. The aforementioned puppy also chose this moment to enter the scene, and it was... well, honestly, it was perfect.

Next week marks the final episode of season six, titled "74 Epiphanies," and it’s going to be one landmark one. Cross your fingers for a seventh season, and savor this next episode like the cornerstone of the series it’s destined to be either way. And thank you all for reading my reviews so far! I’ve had a blast, and it’s been a thrill and honor to know you guys take the time to read these. Until next time.


Notepad
  • Sam did laps around the block to keep the "Little Frog" happy. I think he’s doing this father thing right.
  • Gail: "What does this outfit say to you?" Chris: "I’m wearing clothes?"
  • "I hate to admit this, but I really don’t know what I would do without you." - Gail to Chris. These two are the best.
  • Oliver: "McStein… Dice." *perplexed officers* "Not every one of these names can be winners." A nice wink to the fandom, right there. And no one better to do it than Oliver.
  • "Yeah, that extra half-a-sugar really makes all the difference."
  • Hope’s Unedited Notes returns with this: "AH, the vending machine, you poor cursed creature destined to be a makeshift punching bag."
  • Oliver is such a shipper. Not always a helpful one, but one nonetheless.
  • Juliet: "[Steve] put himself here." Gail: "Juliet, how’s my ex doing?" Eeek, Gail’s bristly side really came out in this episode. It was awesome.
  • Chloe: "Hey dummy… Basic rules of criming!"
  • Duncan: "I messed up so much since being here." Traci: "You’re nothing like him. You’re a good cop." Duncan: "Wow. No one’s ever said that to me before." *beams* Hard-earned. But deserved.
  • Chloe: "What took you so long?" Dov ran through fire to save her, and this is the first thing she says. Yep, they’re perfect.
  • "I can live with myself. I can look in the mirror and still see me. Sometimes that’s all you can hope for."
  • I don’t know how Chris ended up at the courthouse, offering to give Gail a ride. He just appeared like a guardian angel.
  • "How did you know this was my car?" "I didn’t. This is the fourth one I’ve pulled over." Okay, so Nick chasing Juliet down in the squad car was an wonderful gesture. Still doesn’t mean he has permission to go to Vancouver.
  • "The only reason I ever thought I could be a dad was because of you… you changed me."
  • "I don’t know how to say that to you without feeling like I’m making you choose between me and your family."
  • "Let’s please try the one thing we haven’t." The dialogue leading up to this was too long for me to copy down in time, but it was beautiful. It summed up their relationship over the entire series.
  • "Do whatever you want. We’re all yours."

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Of Mulder/Scully and the Birth of the "Shipping" Phenomenon [Contributor: Lizzie]


Mulder/Scully - The Truth - mulder-and-scully Screencap


Shipper: short for relationshipper; one who believes there is, was, should, and could be a relationship between two characters in a certain fandom.


IN THE BEGINNING...

The definition above is mostly, for the uninitiated. I’m not even sure there’s a person online right now who needs the term "shipping" described to them, but I decided to play it safe and include it anyway. After all, my mom could be reading this article. And she would probably need the definition.

But the rest of us… we’re clear. We know what shipping is. We’ve probably actively engaged in shipping (or currently "engage," present tense, whatever). We’ve discussed the merits of one ship over another; we’ve written fanfic, created GIF sets, analyzed every little word and/or touch to distraction, and written thousands of words about character motives. And we’ve probably even told our friends -- or maybe our editors -- that they’re wrong to ship a certain pairing (Jenn, I still love you, but Harry/Hermione?!).

Shipping is a part of life. Well, it's a part of fandom life, at least. And something pretty great is that shipping not a rational thing: we don’t always ship two people because the writing is dictating that they become a couple, though that’s a reason. Sometimes, honestly, we ship two characters because of the chemistry. Other times, it’s just purely for the sake of aesthetics – we want the pretty people to get together, dang it! We may even ship two characters because their interactions speak to a part of ourselves and our lives that we keep hidden from the rest of the world.

The point is, there are many reasons to ship one couple or another. I’m not here to discuss, in-depth, those particular reasons or my own preference of ships. I have mine (many, many ships... too many to count, really but hit me up on Twitter if you want to know) and you have yours. You probably won’t change your mind about your ships, and I won’t change mine. And, actually, that doesn’t even really matter.

What matters is this: this whole shipping phenomenon, as we know, it started a little over twenty years ago, because of David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and a purposely vague relationship between the male and female leads of The X-Files.

The rest, as they say, is TV history.

Now, this isn't to say that Mulder and Scully were the original ship. They were not the first time people looked at two people and said: "I want THOSE two to get together." People have been shipping characters for as long as there have been books, TV, and movies. Heck, I would not be surprised if people shipped Romeo and Juliet in Shakespeare's day. But the actual term and the frenzy associated with it? Well – you can thank fans of The X-Files for that.

ANCIENT HISTORY

In the old days of usenet groups and modems, when fanfiction.net and Tumblr were still pipe dreams, X-Files fans were divided in two groups: those who wanted Mulder and Scully to get together (a.k.a, the relationshippers) and those who wanted the relationship to remain platonic (a.k.a. the noromos). One of those terms stuck, the other one… well, the other one went the way of their desires.

Since this is the Internet, of course, and the word relationshippers is far too long of a word to use in normal conversation, the term was pretty quickly thereafter shortened just to "shippers."

How’s that for an ancient history lesson?

Even during the show’s run, however, the term "shipping" was rarely talked about outside of specific fan circles (namely, nerds on the Internet). Yes, there was media coverage focused on the fans who liked the idea of the couple getting together, but that coverage was never as widespread as it is today.

It’s not that people were less passionate about shipping back in the day though, lest you think that – they just had less of an opportunity to connect with the people behind the show and actually affect outcomes. Think of Mulder/Scully as the little ship that could – the relationship that developed despite the creator's best intentions (you can’t rewrite history now, Chris Carter, we know), and despite the fact that, for at least half of its run, the shippers weren’t even that vocal. In fact, for the inevitability of a Mulder/Scully romance I see in retrospect, watching live I was often convinced that it was never, ever going to happen.

(... Did it happen? Did I dream it? Are Mulder and Scully together right now?)

For me, shipping started with these two characters. I’ve evolved now, of course. I ship just about everything there is. But there was a time I didn't. And I spent much of my teenage years obsessing over gestures between Mulder and Scully and/or hoping for at least a hug between the two. And I wasn’t the only one, obviously. So what was it about them, you ask? (If you’ve never seen the show, this is a valid question. If you have, then… are you a noromo?) What was it about Mulder and Scully as characters and as a ship that drew such a passionate fanbase that we’re all still here -- talking about them -- twenty-two years after the pilot first aired?

Okay, I’m going to try my best to answer you. I really am. It’s probably going to take a lot of words in order to do so, because, well… the show lasted for eight eight seasons (technically nine, but we all try to ignore season nine), and there’s a lot to analyze. Too much, maybe.

And it started right from the pilot episode.

A LITTLE BIT OF CHEMISTRY GOES A LONG WAY

Chemistry between actors is a funny and an inexplicable thing. Sometimes the spark is there, sometimes it isn’t (and sometimes shows attempt to force chemistry out of two actors who don't, but that's another case altogether). And boy, do David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson have chemistry. They have so much chemistry, in fact, that sometimes I find myself wondering about if that chemistry translated to real life or originated there. As Mulder and Scully, though, the spark and sizzle was readily apparent from day one.

In fact, it was so apparent that before there were real signs of the ship in the writing itself, Chris Carter was already answering questions about the possibility of romance between the two leads. In an interview published before "Ghost in the Machine" (literally THE FIFTH EPISODE OF THE FIRST SEASON) aired, the show’s creator gave this response to a question about the nature of Mulder and Scully’s relationship.

“No, it’s a relationship that is much stronger and more passionate. First of all I would call it a cerebral romance, in that these characters sort of delight in each other’s approaches and it isn’t the pat or standard or expected television romance between them. There is no physicality between them. I don’t see it in the near future here. They don’t end up in the sack together. At least I don’t see it happening yet. I think it’s refreshing. I mean I was raised on shows like The Avengers which are smart and the characters were very attractive for those aspects. They didn’t have to end up in bed together.”

We should have known just by how defensive Chris Carter got (and by the fact that he felt compelled to deny the possibility of a romantic relationship three times in one paragraph) that he didn’t really understand what was happening between the two leads on his own show. (No physicality, Carter? What’s with the whole Mulder straightening out Scully’s necklace in episode three?!). But we’re not here to talk about Chris Carter and what he did or didn’t understand about the romantic relationship between Mulder and Scully. We already had that chat. We’re here to talk about what we saw, not what he saw.

(Hint: we saw plenty)

From the very beginning, the whole set-up of the series felt like a slow-burn couple with a clear endgame in sight. After all, Mulder and Scully were, in the early days of The X-Files, the only two characters you saw episode in and episode out. Have you heard the phrase “it’s you and me against the world”? Well, it WAS Mulder and Scully against the world.

And what a world it was.

A strange, strange world where unexplained was the norm, where evidence disappeared, where you were expected to report on your partner. A world where you’re given a job that -- just by accepting it -- would make you a pariah. A world where you’re the only one who can see the truth, and are ridiculed for it.

So, it was only natural that these two people would develop chemistry, that we would be drawn to them as viewers and invested in their relationship. When there’s no evidence of the crazy stuff you’ve seen, the only person who’ll believe you’ve seen some crazy stuff... is the person who was there with you for it. And yes, the show took Scully’s skepticism to extremes sometimes, mainly by having her conveniently “miss” most of the moments that would have proven Mulder right. But in general, Scully was always there for the weird and for the unexplained. She just usually managed to have a rational explanation for it.

This is the beginning, the basis for everything in their relationship. You have this person, this one person who’s there with you – there for you, and you sort of end up trusting that person by default. And then that trust is put to the test. (See "Ice" and "Darkness Falls" just in season one alone). And after a while, it’s not that you trust them because they’re there, and it’s easy. You trust them because they’ve proven themselves to you. That person has become your friend, your confidant – your partner.

THE EVOLUTION OF A SHIP

Early on in the show, we see Scully attempting to maintain a normal life outside of work. If we hadn’t, we might have -- as an audience -- wondered about her or have been concerned for her. Mulder was wholly devoted to his work from the start, for many, many reasons. He’d given up the pretense of a life outside of it. Scully, however, had to choose to join him on his quest. And join him she did – to the detriment of most of the relationships in her life.

There’s a moment in the season one episode "Jersey Devil" where Scully turns down a date to join Mulder in an investigation. He teases her about having a life, but it’s clear from that instance early on that Scully is choosing to make Mulder her life. She’s not choosing the quest, but him. She’s following him.

(Now read that line three times and tell me you don’t ship them.)

At the end of season one, after time spent fighting against the system all by themselves, our heroes are put in the stereotypical season-finale cliffhanger of being separated from one another. The X-Files are terminated, and Mulder and Scully must go their own ways. And I promise you that if you somehow made it through an X-Files initial watch (or re-watch) without somehow shipping Mulder and Scully, the premiere of season two is the moment you would start.

Because Mulder is depressed in that premiere. He has no evidence to back any of his claims. And, look, that doesn’t seem like a big deal. But understand this – HE’S NEVER HAD EVIDENCE. That has never really bothered him before. He was that lonely guy screaming at the sky before Scully. Now he’s better. He’s grown. He might not have all the answers, but at least now, thanks to the woman The Powers that Be assigned to debunk him, he’s asking the right questions.

And Scully’s grown, too. She’s the one to encourage Mulder not to give up. He’s expanded her world, just as she provided a foundation for his.

(Crying? Nah, I’m not crying. I just have a little something in my eye.)

And to think I've written this entire article and haven’t even gone into Scully’s abduction, Mulder’s rage, Mulder wearing her cross necklace for the entirety of that horrible episode where she was missing, Mulder’s rage again, when she returned, Scully’s family being all like: "we know you’re in love with her, dude," and that little moment when Mulder decides being with Scully is more important than revenge. We haven’t even talked about any of that yet, you guys.

And we won’t, mostly because we need to talk about something even more important that’s not often discussed. Mulder’s entire reason for – well, for everything, is his sister, Samantha. Samantha was abducted when he was 12 years old, and he not only blames himself for it, but dedicates his life to figuring out what happened. To finding her.

... ONLY TO TRADE HER LIFE FOR SCULLY’S WITHOUT A SECOND THOUGHT.

(And, yes, fine, that wasn’t the real Samantha, just clone Samantha. But he didn’t know that. Mulder really thought he was giving up his long-lost sister. Remember when you asked me, like a thousand words ago, why I shipped them? THIS IS EVIDENCE OF WHY.)

As an aside, just for those uninitiated into The X-Files, I’m not even up to the end of season three here.

There’s more of this throughout the series -- more of the same, and more of different ways to show love. I’m not here to do a play-by-play of all the Mulder/Scully moments for you, though. (For the record, I totally would be, but this has already taken many more words than I planned). I’m merely here to give you a glimpse into what made these two idiots the couple to ship back in the 90’s. I'm here to explain to you what made people who never watched the show when it originally aired be as invested in their relationship as I was when I was a teenager.

I'm here to explain to you what made Mulder/Scully the jump-off point for this crazy, beautiful, wonderful phenomenon called shipping. (And I hope I managed to do that.)

Because they were the starting point, there’s no doubt about it. Do you love a couple on TV today? Have you ever fallen in love with a fictional character’s love story? Do you enjoy fanfiction, the GIF sets, even the debates and meta commentary? Then take a moment to thank Mulder and Scully. Or, better yet, go watch them and THEN thank them.

The original ship always has room for one more member.

The X-Files returns with six new episodes beginning January 24th, 2016 on FOX.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Suits 5x10 "Faith" (Being Sure of What You Hope For)


"Faith"
Original Airdate: August 26, 2015

"If you do come work here, we're gonna be family too."

Jessica Pearson, in a flashback, utters this line to Harvey about half-way through the Suits mid-season finale titled "Faith." There are few things closer to my heart than the two themes of this episode -- faith and family. As his wedding approaches and the web of lies becomes thicker and more difficult to navigate, Mike seeks out the counsel and advice of his former priest (which is interesting because I don't think we ever got the sense that Mike was a religious person to begin with), but there's something that is holding him back. In the same vein, Harvey seeks out Dr. Agard's advice on whether or not he should resign to get Forstman to stop backing Daniel Hardman. Instead of discussing that, they discuss deeper-rooted issues in Harvey that are preventing him from making decisions he knows he needs to make in the ways he needs to make them. Meanwhile, back at Pearson Specter Litt, Jack has called for an emergency vote and Hardman has made it impossible for Louis to vote for Jessica by threatening Esther's company.

All of "Faith" seamlessly navigates flashbacks between Jessica, Harvey, and Mike and seeks to explore what exactly causes us to make the decisions that we do. Is faith alone enough to save us? Will family be the thing to redeem and restore us? The mid-season finale seeks to answer these questions and the emotional fallout of their answers.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Getting Rid of the Stigma: Mental Illness in Young Adult Fiction [Contributor: Megan Mann]


As I have said before and will probably say a hundred more times within the next month: books are powerful. Books are important. They aren’t just there to provide us with an escape from reality, entertain us, or give us something to do on a cold or rainy day. More important than all of that, books are there to give us a new perspective on a familiar topic, teach us something, or erase a stigma.


That is what is so important about Neal Shusterman’s latest title: Challenger Deep.

Caden Bosch is a high school student who is convinced that another guy at school is trying to kill him. He explains this to his parents but they feel he’s simply overreacting. He can feel pressure all around him and his brain never stops. Questions and scenarios fill his head, causing him to do things he never imagined. He lies about being on the track team. To make his downward spiral stop, he walks until his feet bleed. He thinks the dolphins on his sister’s wall are watching him. He gets so far out that he thinks he’s on a sea voyage he’ll never get off, believing so deeply that he’s on the great vessel.

Challenger Deep is the first time, probably, since I read Fight Club that mental illness (specifically of schizophrenia or manic psychosis) was discussed thoroughly and was at the very foundation and core of the book. We see Caden reacting to his troublesome mental state with both fear and a sense of irrationality. We see how common it is to lead a normal life one day, and then have these sort of feelings the next day. For most people who don’t suffer from a mental illness, it can be easy to question the validity of the disease when “you were fine just yesterday.”

The problem with mental health is that it is that easy for it to just... appear. No warning. I was fine one day and then the next my mind was a little bit out of control. Boom. Now I have really bad anxiety and panic attacks. Mental illness often happens just like that. And what’s so great about Challenger Deep is that it shows how easy it is, how quickly the disease can evolve and twist in shape. Neal Shusterman doesn’t skimp on any details and details or sugarcoat how hard it is to deal with mental illness. Not only that, but Shusterman also conveys how difficult it is to treat mental health. Caden goes into a treatment center and observes other patients suffering with their issues. What he sees while there is how easy it is to get better and then get worse again. Caden also goes through changes in his medication, as some medications help and others don’t. What Shusterman conveys is that the fact that there is no "cure all" for mental illness: it is a matter of discovering what treatment works best for an individual.


And treating a mental illness that has consumed your life is a large part of Corey Ann Haydu’s OCD Love Story. Bea is at a school dance when the power goes out. She listens closely and hears someone showing signs of a panic attack and goes over to help the person. The two flirt and kiss but when the power comes back on, the mysterious boy is nowhere to be seen. Until Bea's therapist recommends OCD group therapy to her... and the mysterious boy from the school dance is sitting there. He’s what you think of when you think of OCD: he counts and recounts, he’s a germaphobe, etc.. But Bea isn’t like the rest of the stereotypical OCD patients. She doesn’t pull her hair out or count to eight over and over again. In fact, it almost seems like she doesn’t need OCD therapy.

But she does.

Bea listens in on the couple seeing the therapist before her and she takes notes. She fills up an ugly notebook with a shooting star on the cover with the intimate details that she shouldn’t have and starts to drive by the couple's lavish apartment complex in order to look in on their lives. Except that it takes her forever to get there, because she can’t drive the speed limit or she remains convinced that she hit a dog in the street and didn’t know, or killed a child playing with a ball. So Bea has to turn around and check once, twice, before she feels that she can move on. She’s even taken to pinching her thigh when things in life get out of hand, a pinch that has painted a deep black, blue and purple bruise on her skin.


(It’s very similar to what happens in Cammie McGovern’s Say What You Will. Only instead of seeing it totally from only one side, we actually see it from the another side as well, which is equally as important.)

In Say What You Will, Amy suffers from cerebral palsy and, during her senior year, seeks out a group of peer helpers in order to make friends. She wants a boy named Matthew specifically to apply, so he does. As the two grow to become friends, Amy discovers that Matthew suffers from crippling OCD. He believes, much like Bea does in OCD Love Story, that if he doesn’t check in on someone or something, bad things will happen and it will be his fault. He has panic attacks as his thoughts repeat themselves and can’t see straight. He sweats through his clothing but doesn’t want anyone to know.

Amy does what she can to help him. She challenges him to do a small task every day and see how he fares. She reminds him that the panic attack is only temporary and that what he’s worried about isn’t reality. Amy has him repeat back what she says to him and reminds him of his challenges. Matthew slowly gets better and almost looks forward to her challenges. Through her help, they both explore what it means to love someone's faults but also help them and others heal.

Like I said: it’s important to note the other side that is displayed in Say What You Will. For most people struggling with mental illness, it’s easy and common for those around them to not understand what it is like. They’re not in your head, after all, so how could they? And it’s not like it’s exactly all that easy to explain what you’re going through either when you're suffering from mental illness. Most of the time, your description is inadequate or it doesn’t quite sound right. It’s important to note in the novel that Amy does her homework about OCD and finds out how to help Matthew little by little. She talks him through his panic attacks and reminds him that the panic is only temporary. She has him do realistic, manageable tasks instead of requiring him to accomplish tasks that someone with OCD would see as requiring a Herculean effort to accomplish. She may not fully understand what he’s going through, but she’s doing her best to help him and to empower him.

I knew very little about OCD before reading those books. I mean, I knew what True Life: I Have OCD told me back in the day, but that was about the extent of my knowledge. I knew of the hand-washing and the counting. I didn’t know about the troubles with driving or the belief that something bad was going to happen if a ritual of some sort wasn’t performed. These were very informative novels for me, while still being works of fiction. They brought to light how difficult OCD is and how consuming mental illness can be even while a person is still seeming “normal” on the outside. Some issues can be eating away at a person  while they appear fine.

You may have read this article thus far and thought, “But, Megan. You have yet to discuss how easy it is to appear fine when suffering from something like depression!” You’re right. I haven’t mentioned depression yet, though I've touched on anxiety and OCD. There are plenty of books that have depression as plot factor that didn’t quite capture -- in my opinion -- the depth of the disease. It felt like these books were missing some facet of depression as a disease or were just diminishing it entirely.


The only title that captured depression well for me was Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story. In it, Craig feels the pressure of his fancy school’s workload and the future he’s not sure he’s capable of achieving anymore. He stops eating and sleeping and finally... he becomes overwhelmed by his disease and all of the expectations placed upon him. So he takes himself out on the Brooklyn Bridge, prepared to end it all. Instead of jumping, however, he calls the suicide hotline and -- as a result -- is checked into the hospital for a 72-hour psychiatric hold. His friends don’t visit and he wonders if they were even good friends to begin with. Without all of the distractions of his daily life, though, Craig is finally able to confront his issues head-on.

The reason this novel worked so well for me was that the author suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts himself. That sounds awful to say, but I am glad that, while he was alive, he understood what it was like to suffer from these things. I think he did an excellent job of wanting to share the mindset with others. This story's purpose was to remind those suffering from mental illness that they’re not alone, that the pressures of life can sometimes be extremely overwhelming and can often cause you to lose control. He knew that firsthand and though his story ended tragically, hopefully his novel will provide hope and healing for others.

What makes these books I've listed above so special is the fact that they’re aimed at younger readers -- readers who may not know or be able to fully identify what they’re going through or how to deal with it. No book will ever portray mental illness flawlessly or provide an easy solution for every person, but these few books tackle the topic with grace and with class.

When it comes to young adult fiction, it’s important for this demographic of readers to understand that they’re not weird or abnormal because their brains function a bit differently from others'. They need to know that it’s okay -- more than okay, actually -- to discuss how they’re feeling with someone. It's important that these books conveyed the fact that that they don’t have to keep their struggles to themselves. These stories don’t gloss over the obstacles one may face with mental illness, but they do show that it’s possible to live a happy and full life despite your brain chemistry not exactly playing fair with you.

It’s time to break through the stigma of discussing mental health among all literature -- not just young adult -- and getting those who need it the help they deserve. If these few YA novels represent the future of mental health issues in literature, it’s a future I’m greatly looking forward to.