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, November 30, 2015

Heroes and Villains Fan Fest: Roundtable Recap [Contributors: Meredith, Jen, Laura, and Maddie]


Last weekend, a few of your favorite Just About Write contributors had the opportunity to attend the first ever Heroes and Villains Fan Fest (HVFF) in San Jose, California. This convention — run by the same people who deliver the Walker Stalker conventions — focused on bringing together cast and crew from the various shows within the comic book/superhero genre. The convention, which Stephen Amell (Arrow) helped organize, promised a fun-filled, interactive experience. It was a relatively small convention, but that simply meant it felt more personal and engaging.

In addition to the typical con activities (like autographs, photo ops, and panels) this weekend also included a Nocking Point Wine Party. These parties are run by Stephen Amell and his business partner, and they allow fans an opportunity to meet Stephen (and in this case, other cast members) while also sampling some of his winery’s delicious fares.

Overall, the weekend was impressive from start to finish, really delivering on the convention’s promises. Below, Jen, Maddie, Laura, and Mer discuss their thoughts and impressions from the convention. Join them as they chat about all things HVFF!

Damien Darhk himself and princess mama Jen!

Q: What was your favorite thing you saw at HVFF?

Mer: My favorite aspect of the con was getting to see the actors in a different way than we normally see them. Though Stephen is a pretty accessible celebrity (posting Facebook videos and answering questions), the rest of the cast aren’t generally as “out there” with their fan interactions, so cons give the opportunity to engage with them and see who they are when they aren’t playing our favorite characters. Getting to talk to them, share our love for the show with them, ask questions and get unguarded and in the moment responses, provides another layer of engagement with the show.

Every single actor/crew member I spoke with and interacted with was lovely and invested and genuine and sincere in their appreciation of the fans. I was almost surprised by how open and chatty some of them were — willing to talk for a while about different topics (like chatting with Robbie Amell about his upcoming wedding, or with James Bamford about the protectiveness Felicity Smoak fans feel for her.) Going to a convention and interacting with the actors and crew members in this way really takes you to another level of fan engagement, where you feel much more a part of the entire show experience. It’s a totally unique opportunity.

Maddie: My favorite thing about this amazing and unforgettable experience was just the feeling that I was amongst my people. Arrow is a show with a large fanbase, but it is also very niche and I don’t have any people in my real life to fangirl about the show with. At HVFF, Arrow and its talented cast/crew were able to shine, and fans were able to interact with a love of this show tying us all together.

FELICITY SMOAKS ERRRYWHERE, including two of our lovely staff writers.

Laura: This kind of covers a lot, but my favorite thing was being able to see the cast interact with each other and the fans, and seeing the fans themselves interact with each other. Throughout the convention, the cast would crash each other’s panels or autograph signings with Nerf guns and silly string, and it was obvious just from this and their other interactions how well they all get along with each other. They were all also super sweet to the fans, making time to talk to and have personal interactions with everyone who came up to them. Willa Holland, for instance, spent a solid five minutes while she was supposed to quickly be signing autographs talking to me and Jen — something she did not have to do. And David Ramsey even went so far as to invite a superfan up on stage with him during his panel, clearly making her day.

Obviously, being able to see and meet up with other fans was just as amazing as seeing the actors. The great part about conventions is that everyone is there for the same reason: their love of television. Being able to talk about your favorite show with people who are just as obsessed as you is truly an amazing experience.

Jen: I think everyone has covered it for the most part! It’s a kick to see the stars of your favorite TV show not more than ten feet away, visiting with fans. Every actor I met was incredibly kind and gracious. They all took a moment to have memorable conversations with me. I was consistently impressed with each actor’s enthusiasm, genuineness, kindness, and professionalism.

For me, the star interaction is always secondary to spending time with friends and fellow Arrow fandom members. Most of us live across the country from one another, so conventions are one of the few ways we can all spend time together and share in our mutual love of this show. I love it when someone takes the time to introduce themselves. It’s a blast meeting new friends and putting faces to blog and Twitter handles.

Robbie Amell, Mer, and Stephen Amell at HVFF.

Q: Who was your favorite celebrity to meet and why?

Mer: I’m going to have to go with Robbie Amell for this one. It was a tough choice, because every single person I spoke with and met was wonderful, and I had some lengthy conversations with more than one of the celebrity guests. But Robbie really got me with his genuine affection for fans, and the way he engaged with them as if they were just anyone he was meeting. He never made anyone feel like he was the “celebrity” and they were the “fan.” He spoke to a group of us at the Nocking Point Wine Party for quite some time, and even FaceTimed his fiancee (Italia Ricci) when he found out that some of us were huge fans of her (sadly now canceled) show, Chasing Life. Robbie also proved his sincerity when he remembered me the next day, making references to our previous conversations, and taking time to compose a really sweet message to my son. I wasn’t expecting to be so impressed with him, but I really was.

And to add to the personal interactions, Robbie’s panel with Stephen was my favorite of the weekend, mostly because of Robbie. He’s hilarious and charming and so down to earth, and watching him tease Stephen and generally act like an annoying little brother on stage in front of a thousand people was a ton of fun. I’m not really an X-Files fan (I know, I know), but I was considering watching the revival anyways because it’s a major TV event. Now, after having met Robbie and hearing how excited he is for his role in it, count me in for sure.

Maddie: This was Stephen’s con, definitely. The man was positively non-stop all weekend, yet remained so engaged and genuinely enthusiastic about each and every moment. If it was possible, I admire him so much more after this weekend. It is so clear from the panels how much he loves the show and its fans, as well as how much thought goes into his performance as Oliver Queen. I had the privilege of interacting with him twice. (Unfortunately, I was the only one amongst my group that didn’t get to talk to him at the Nocking Point mixer.)

The first time, I was kind of shy because I was a little in awe of his presence and the moment was so surreal. I may have melted a little when I made him laugh. However, it was when I got his autograph on Sunday that meant the most to me. Now, I’m about to get a little personal up in here. Arrow, and Olicity in particular, got me through a very dark time in my life last year and I need to express to Stephen how thankful I am for the fact that he gives his all to the show and to its fans. Stephen immediately leaned across the table and gave me a hug, and it meant so much. At that moment, I was filled with a sense of validation and satisfaction. Those who we admire so much and are a part of a show we care about so dearly, care about us right back. While Arrow and Stephen have been there for me metaphorically in the past, Amell was actually there for me with a simple hug and genuine thanks for me sharing my story with him.

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Laura with Willa Holland!

Laura: I had met a few of the actors at previous conventions so my focus going into Heroes and Villains was to interact with those members of the Arrow cast that I hadn’t gotten to see before. Obviously, they are all absolutely amazing people who genuinely care about their fans and try to make the best experience possible for them (well, except for one but we won't discuss that).

For me, my favorite to meet at this convention had to be Willa Holland though. She was absolutely hilarious during the game of charades she played with Barrowman and McDonough, holding nothing back during the dance-off. Willa really is a firecracker, full of an energy that almost matches her on screen father’s.

Not only that, but Willa is wonderful with the fans. Jen and I had an amazing experience meeting her when taking the $20 selfies that many of the talent offered. When I complimented her on her dance moves, Willa immediately lit up and lamented the fact that no one had taken a video of it. Luckily, I had thought to do so but only caught the second half of her dance, while Jen had caught only the first half. She stood there laughing and watching our videos with us, even retweeting mine, for a solid five minutes — which I’m sure was not something they were supposed to do when a line of people was waiting to meet them. So many of these actors throughout the weekend went out of their way to give us all unforgettable personal interactions and at least for me, Willa’s will be the one from this con that I will never forget.

David Ramsey, Jen, and Mr. JBuffyAngel. ;)

Jen: David Ramsey all the way. I was the most excited to meet him. My Diggle obsession runs deep. I was thoroughly impressed by his panel and his energy blew me away. David came to play. He told great (and NEW) behind-the-scenes stories, and he was hysterical in almost every response. His answers showed a deep understanding of not only Diggle but all the Arrow characters. He truly cares about the show and his fans.

When he signed my photo, David and I had a nice long talk. This was not unusual for David — he made the same effort with every fan who purchased an autograph. My husband tagged along to the con and was in the photo as well. I explained to David that I named my blog (Something To Live For) after the John Diggle quote from season one, and how happy I was to have a photo with both him and my “something to live for” (my husband). David said he thought my husband was a lucky guy (I may have swooned). Then David and my husband proceeded to tease each other about the photo. It was sort of an out-of-body experience. I complimented David on his performance in "Brotherhood" and he thanked me profusely, and then gave me an insider’s peek on the scene — James Bamford had told him to think of his son during the scene in the bar. I almost started crying right there. David was truly wonderful.

Q: What was the highlight of the weekend for you?

Mer: The highlight of the weekend was actually adjacent to the con itself, but still connected. The Nocking Point Wine Party was a really wonderful addition to the weekend’s events, and it just upped the entire experience by providing even more personal, one-on-one interaction with some of the celebrities. It was a chance to unwind and interact with them in a purely social environment, without waiting in a line and hurrying away so that the next person could get their autograph or photo. Because Stephen was involved in the planning of HVFF, it made sense for him to throw a wine party during the event. And the con advertised the party in the weeks leading up to it, as well. It definitely elevated the entire experience, and gave the opportunity to feel like you were really getting to know some of the celebrity guests. I was able to have lengthy conversations with more than one of the cast/crew, and shorter but still personalized conversations with others. HVFF promised an interactive, personal con experience, and the con on the whole delivered. But the Nocking Point party really took it to the next level.

Post-Nocking Point party!

Maddie: There are countless moments to choose from, but I will pick one of the last memorable moments I had on the trip. I cosplayed as Felicity Smoak both days and, for the most part, received an overwhelmingly positive response. It was an easy conversation starter. People love this character and enjoyed seeing her represented at the con.

However, while I was towards the front of a line for an autograph I couldn’t help but overhear and young man boldly declare that no non-blonde could ever cosplay as Felicity Smoak, and that she’d just be a girl in a tight pink dress. Internally, I was livid at this idiocy, but I let it go and turned to him with my sassiest head tilt and just replied “Oh really?” Shortly thereafter, David Ramsey, whom I am now guessing heard our exchange, loudly greeted me exclaiming with “Felicity Smoak!” When I replied by telling him not everyone recognized what I was going for with the look since I was brunette he simply remarked, “No, you’re definitely rocking the Felicity thing.” I have to say that it was a pretty perfect note to end this weekend by having Diggle himself stick up for me and show some love for my favorite fictional character.

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The epic photo to end all photos.

Laura: There’s really only one way I can answer this question. My highlight of the con had to be the photo op I took with Stephen Amell and David Ramsey. I had been planning for months to cosplay for my first time ever at this con as Felicity Smoak, but last minute realized that the wig I had wasn’t going to work. Felicity has meant a lot to me though, so I still went for it, simply putting my brunette hair back in a ponytail. When thinking of ideas of what to do for my photo op with Stephen and David, it was my friend Natalie who suggested Stephen and I pose as Olicity while David looked on, shipping it.

I’m not the kind of person to normally go up to someone like Stephen Amell and ask for this, but at conventions you often do things that you never thought you’d do. So I went for it, asking Stephen if we could take a picture of us hugging while David "shipped it." They immediately understood what I meant (I’m actually kind of impressed that they knew I was Felicity since I had forgotten to put on her signature glasses before the photo op), and before I even knew what was happening, Stephen had taken my hand and pulled me close, laying his head on mine. All I could do was turn and smile at the camera, having no idea what the other two were really doing. Seeing the photo for the first time was quite an experience, as they absolutely went above and beyond what I had asked for. I went into it expecting a simple hug from Stephen, not knowing how David would respond and ended up getting quite possibly the best picture I’ve ever been a part of.

Jen: The Nocking Point party was AMAZING. I spoke with every actor and one I did not expect (HELLO ITALIA RICCI!), Neal McDonough played the harmonica, I met other Arrow fans and partied with my friends. It was a total blast.

James Bamford and his new BFFs.

Q: Did any of the cast/crew surprise you? Were they the same or different than you expected?

Mer: Yes! Aside from Robbie, who didn’t as much surprise as he did impress, I will say I was surprised by James Bamford (stunt coordinator and recent director for Arrow). I will admit that I had previously been not so impressed by some of Bam’s tweets about his episode and the characters/actors involved, and I had expressed that sentiment on Twitter (politely, of course.)

I’m not one to shy away from speaking my mind in person, so I approached him at the Nocking Point party to discuss some of my concerns with him. He was really open and listened to what I had to say, and responded really respectfully. We ended up having a pretty in-depth conversation, and he was receptive and engaging and funny and overall just a really nice guy. On top of that, his panel at the con where he demonstrated how he choreographs a stunt scene with Caity and David was amazing. It was interesting and dynamic, and interactive (he got audience members involved, too!) while still feeling casual and informal and fun. He totally exceeded my expectations, and surprised me in the best way possible.

Maddie: Neal McDonough was a hoot. This was his first con and it was obvious that he was so genuinely excited to be a part of the event. He was having a blast all weekend. Between Nerf gun fights with David Ramsey, epic six-minute harmonica solos at the Nocking Point party, and adorable interactions with small children, Neal was positively delightful. I’m so glad he took Barrowman’s advice and joined the con at the last minute.

Laura: No one really knew what to expect from Neal McDonough when he signed on for the convention, but I think it’s safe to say that we’re all happy that he did. Obviously, I wasn’t expecting him to be villainous like Damien Darhk, but I will say that he shares one thing in common with the character in Arrow that he portrays: he’s got an amazing way of talking to people and is incredibly personable to the point that I could easily see myself being persuaded by him to do something I normally wouldn’t do (just probably not, you know, murder). But he’s also a genuinely sweet and appreciative person, as it was clear he was overwhelmed by the love and support he received from the fans at his first convention ever. Also, watching a two-year old boy dressed as Arrow take down Neal and Barrowman might have been the most adorable thing ever.

Jen: Robbie Amell totally surprised me. He was completely down to earth, funny and probably the most accessible of all the cast at the convention. I had a hilarious conversation with him regarding my disgust over Jay Garrick moving in on Caitlin Snow far too soon after Ronnie’s death. Robbie not only shared my disgust, but gave me his full-fledged support in voicing our mutual disapproval in my Flash reviews.

When I told him of my love for his fiancee Italia Ricci and how heartbroken I was over Chasing Life being cancelled, Robbie decided to give me a thrill of a lifetime and FaceTimed her. Talk about your surprises. I was blown away. Not only did he want to surprise me and the other fans, he genuinely wanted Italia to know how adored she is. After we expressed our undying love, Italia cried because she was so overwhelmed. It was such a genuine display of Robbie’s love for his fans and his future wife. I felt honored to be apart of it. Then, Robbie really got down to business and we talked wedding details. He could not have been more fun or gracious.

Two amazing staff writers and an amazing Canary! ;)

Q: If there is something you would change about the con what would it be?

Mer: Make it longer? (Although not actually because I was so exhausted by the end.) I honestly can’t think of a suggestion to improve the con. It was run really well, the panels were excellent, and I did everything I wanted to do! I’m sure one of the other ladies will think of something brilliant.

Maddie: Heroes and Villains Fan Fest is a spectacularly run con. Every aspect of it was virtually perfect. My only slight qualm was the surprising lack of Arrow-themed merchandise/vendors available. In all of aspects, all things Arrow was the crown jewel of the event yet there wasn’t even a single booth where I could buy a t-shirt related to the show. However, my wallet is grateful for that.

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Maddie, Stephen Amell, David Ramsey, and Amanda!

Laura: Logistically, I know it would have been impossible for them to do any more panels and I absolutely loved the ones that we got, but it might have been nice to see a panel with the full Arrow cast. And selfishly, I would have loved a Stephen/David panel. But their aim was to give us more individual panels so that the actors weren’t overpowered by each other on stage and we could hear more from each of them. So really, my thing I would change isn’t really a thing I would change because this convention was organized and run perfectly.

Jen: Not a single complaint. I went to a Wizard World convention earlier this year, but I enjoyed HVFF more. I liked the smaller venue and you got more bang for your buck with the amount of stars in the attendance. Logistically, it was easier too. If Stephen Amell was busy — no big deal. You just went to David or Caity’s booths instead. There were a bunch more panels and they were all excellent.

Q: How great is John Barrowman though, really?

Mer: John Barrowman is as great as you expect him to be. He is 1000% uncensored, fun, wacky and engaging, and totally real. What you see is what you get. What I love about him (and a trait I think I share) is that he is the same online as he is in person. Anything he tweets or posts, he would say or do. And I respect that, immensely. Unfortunately I didn’t attend his panel because it conflicted with photo ops I had purchased, but I heard great things, and I did get to interact with him a few times otherwise. He was lovely, and I have only amazingly positive things to say.

Maddie: John Barrowman is a treasure and a pure delight. He is genuine, bonkers, a captivating storyteller, and one of the most charismatic presences I have ever come across. He made me laugh out loud countless times and gives great hugs. Also, if I may take credit for this, I had mentioned my obsession of Hamilton to him and he told me he had only heard a couple of songs from it but would give the entire show a listen. I added that he would be fantastic at playing King George III in the show and he responded by telling me to start a Twitter campaign. Therefore, readers, I call upon you all to help me make #BarrowmanForKG3 happen, pretty please.

Laura: John Barrowman is exactly how you would expect him to be, which is great because you would expect him to be amazing and unhinged. He’s basically just a big kid, and it’s clear that he thoroughly enjoys himself at these conventions. His energy is like no one else’s and he brings so much joy with him everywhere he goes. For those who are lucky enough to occasionally be in his orbit, they get to experience something truly special.

Jen: Barrowman kept his arm around me the entire time we took our group photo. Even when the photographer had to pause for a few minutes to get a new memory card. The man is perfection.

Robbie Amell and Maddie!

Q: Was there anything that happened that you weren’t expecting?

Mer: I don’t think I was actually expecting the con to be as interactive as it was. It was advertised as such, but I was sort of thinking “well how interactive can you get?” But I was wrong! Almost every panel I went to involved audience members, and there were activities (ziplining, bounce house) around the con that both con attendees and celebrity guests could and did partake in, making the entire thing kind of feel like a big fair. The Nocking Point party definitely added to that interactive feel, and I know that I left the weekend feeling as though I had really engaged with the celebrity guests on a personal level.

Maddie: I was not expecting John Barrowman and Neal McDonough dancing to “Turn Down For What” and stage diving. Enough said.

Paul Blackthorne!

Laura: Pretty much all I was expecting from this con was for it to be amazing and it was. It’s all the little moments that you could never have expected that end up making these events so incredible. There’s no way I could have known that a group of us would make Italia Ricci cry when Robbie let us FaceTime with her about Chasing Life just like there’s no way I could have known that I’d run into Stephen in the hotel lobby right before leaving to catch a plane back home. All these small things that you could never have imagined happening always add up to an unforgettable experience and this con was no different.

Jen: I never go into a convention anticipating any special interaction with any of the actors, so whenever they happened it was a total surprise. What was particularly shocking was that I had a special moment with every single actor, which I certainly did not expect and couldn’t have been more overjoyed — me and Laura’s Willa Holland moment, the David Ramsey autograph chat, discussing "Brotherhood" with James Bamford, talking about the upcoming midseason finale with Neal McDonough, Paul Blackthorne calling me “darling,” snuggle time with Barrowman, talking about White Canary with Caity Lotz, everything about Robbie Amell, and even a quick chat with Stephen about spoilers.

Stage diving, charades, Amell zip-lining, Nerf gun wars, and Neal McDonough’s harmonica skills were also shockers as well.

Q: Alternately, was there anything you were expecting that didn’t happen?

Mer: Though we knew about it a few days in advance, I will say I was a bit surprised that there wasn’t an Arrow group panel with all the cast members in attendance. Willa Holland actually wasn’t on a panel at all, nor was Neal McDonough. I won’t necessarily say I’m disappointed that there wasn’t a big group panel, because those can be tough to effectively moderate so that everyone gets equal time to talk, but it was the first con I’ve heard of that didn’t have one. I know these things can be tricky to coordinate, but it did surprise me a bit that Willa and Neal didn’t have the chance to engage with fans through a panel.

Laura: I was expecting to have to wait in lines for a lot longer than I had to. Thanks to the incredible organization from the people who ran Heroes and Villains, fans were able to go out and do and see the things they wanted instead of waiting in lines for hours and hours. The autograph, photo ops, and panel lines were handled beautifully, much better than any other convention I’ve been to.

Jen: Umm... I ate on a regular basis, which is odd for a convention. I brought my husband which is how I avoided starvation. So really,s it was probably a one time thing.

You have not failed this hug.

Q: What tips do you have for anyone attending a Heroes and Villains Fanfest Convention?

Mer: If it’s feasible for you, get a VIP or higher ticket. It’s very much worth it, to avoid lines and just sort of “fast pass” your way through the con. Basic things like: bring snacks and water, wear comfy shoes, plan your schedule in advance but stay flexible. I would add to that — don’t be shy! Say what you want to say, ask the questions you want to ask. As long as you do so politely, and are respectful if your question goes unanswered for whatever reason, you won’t regret it. 

I wasn't always someone who would get up in front of a convention full of people and ask a question at a panel, but I approached this weekend with goals in mind and I wanted to achieve them. I feel so good knowing that I left the con having said and done pretty much everything I wanted. If there’s a certain photo pose you want — ask. If there’s a question you have for one of the actors  ask. This is your chance (and sometimes, your only chance) and it’s what the con is for. It’s your experience, but it’s up to you to make it everything you want it to be.

Maddie: For the love of all things that are good in this world, if you have the opportunity to ask a question at a panel, please do not ask something a simple Google search could answer. I’d say at least half of the questions Stephen received at his solo panel could have been resolved with just a five minute internet search. Mer is right, as she often is: don’t be shy! I paid for two different Stephen Amell autographs because I was too shy to really talk to him the first time. 

Lastly, this con is best experienced with friends. Of course you will meet amazing people at cons and be amongst “your people,” but this experienced is best shared in a group. The joy, exhilaration, and general surreal yet insane wonderfulness of cons is best shared with others who love and get you. Plus, each experience is communal. I didn’t get nearly as much interaction with the celebs as Mer did (partially because I am not as much a hurricane-level force of nature as she is), but being there with her for that still made me feel a part of it.

Laura: Cons can be a little bit overwhelming if you’re an introvert like I am, but for me they tend to be the one place that I’m more extroverted than introverted. Like Mer and Maddie said, this is your big chance to interact with these actors that you’ve watched and admired for so long. Once you’re actually at the convention, it’s pretty easy to let go of everything that usually holds you back from interacting with large groups of people and simply enjoy yourself. Take in and enjoy every moment and don’t let fears hold you back from talking to the actors — they’re all super nice, I promise.

Jen: If you have limited funds and can only choose one convention to go to, make it an HVFF. This is Stephen’s convention and I was thoroughly impressed with how it was run. Yes, the VIP tickets are great, but if you can’t afford it, don’t stress. The general admission lines were nowhere near as long as a Wizard Con because of the smaller venue. Stephen seemed to like the smaller venue and wants to keep it that way for future HVFF conventions.

When attending any con, it's good to be organized — know what photos/panels/autographs you want ahead of time. But otherwise, relax and have a good time. I would highly recommend splurging on a Nocking Point party. It’s the single best place to meet and interact with fellow Arrow fans and it is so much fun. The star interaction is just a bonus. 

That said, I was a bit bolder at HVFF than Chicago, which probably resulted in increased Arrow cast stories (also there was more of them). So, don’t be afraid to visit with them if you get the chance. Everyone is incredibly nice and they are there to spend time with us. That’s the whole point.


Q: Any other closing thoughts?

Mer: Major kudos to the team at HVFF. The staff and volunteers are amazing. The entire convention was run impeccably. Everyone was friendly and helpful, the event was super well organized, engaging, fun, and unique, which is no easy feat when fan conventions are a dime a dozen nowadays. 

I almost want to make the bold claim that I won’t attend a con unless it’s an HVFF con, but I don’t want to paint myself into a corner, after all. Even the HVFF twitter (@heroesfanfest) is superb, engaging with fans and running contests, answering questions, and being generally helpful and excellent. You can tell that this is a company that really cares about the consumers, and I’m not sure if that’s because the Green Arrow himself has a hand in it or what, but the entire team goes above and beyond and delivers on their promises. I had a truly remarkable weekend, and much of that was due to the beautifully run convention.

Maddie: I wanted to give thanks and awesome point to all of the staff and volunteers that made this event happen. HVFF was one of the most special and unforgettable experiences of my life. I cannot even remember the last time I had this much fun in one weekend. With the exception of SDCC, I’m really not interested in a con experience from another outlet. 

HVFF gets us, they love us, and they delivered in all that they ask for. If this gives you an idea about how much I loved this con, my best friend and I had not even driven all the way out of San Jose before we were planning to do this again next year. This was one of the greatest weekends of my life and I encourage anyone passionate about this genre of TV to give it a try.

Laura: Like the other writers here, I was more than impressed with how wonderfully run and organized this event was. The volunteers blew me away with how helpful they were in answering any questions I had, something that is rare at these kind of conventions. The whole team that worked hard to put this event together did an amazing job and I’m already planning to attend the one in Chicago next year. If you have the means to, I highly recommend going to a Heroes and Villains event.

Jen: The HVFF staff was amazing. Everyone was kind and courteous, even when giving instructions. They went out of their way to ensure you had a nice experience. I’m type-A, and the organization was excellent. There was even food ON SITE. More than anything, it was such a wonderful weekend with friends and I have a lot of memories to treasure.

10 Things You Need to Know About the "Jessica Jones" Pilot [Contributor: Lynnie Purcell]


Jessica Jones is exactly the hero the Marvel franchise was missing. The show’s tribute to 1930-40s film noir is matched only by Krysten Ritter’s deadpan delivery, masterful sincerity when dealing with Jessica’s trauma, and the subtle funny moments that linger in the spaces between crumbling marriages, hunts for missing people, and Jessica dealing with the consequences of the past.

Here are ten things you absolutely need to know about the pilot (if you haven't binge-watched the entire series already):

Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Lovely Mess of Contradictions: A Carmilla Karnstein Appreciation Post [Contributor: Melanie]


Vampires are a huge trend in media and pop culture in recent years. And, unfortunately, this is not very often a compliment.

Back in the mid-90s, Buffy the Vampire Slayer helped to reignite a lot of the interest in vampires by painting them with their own in-world mythology, and creating sympathetic, human-envying creatures of the night. Fast-forward to 2007, and Twilight’s off-brand version of angsty teenaged vampires begin to dominate the field, quickly followed by The Vampire Diaries and True Blood. Needless to say, vampires were everywhere. Fast-forward again to August 2014 when another addition to the canon of vampire media enters the field, this time with a very different take on what it means to hold the mantle of the undead.

Carmilla, by literature's standards, is the mother of all vampires (well most of them). While John William Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819) was the first work to fuse vampire plot elements with literary writing, Carmilla (1872) was the first vampire novel (technically a novella) to truly set the bar for many vampire motifs — things that would eventually be attributed to the copycat novel Dracula published over 20 years later. So what does this mean? Carmilla, traditionally, stands out among her vampire brethren in fiction as one of the few females of the species and became a feminist and lesbian icon in the late 20th century, enjoying a few adaptations of her story here and there. But the 2014 webseries adaptation (and something of a sequel) to the novella portrays a lens on a vampire who is worth of some attention.


Carmilla is a lazy, bump-on-a-log, peanut gallery-ing, philosophy digesting, snarky, quiet observer who sits in the corner for many of her scenes throughout the two seasons of the webseries, Carmilla. She’s not some ethereal, dark temptress gliding through the night. She’s apathetic, sarcastic, and usually has one hand occupied by a cup of blood and the other by a book. She sleeps until 5 PM, doesn’t clean up after herself, casually commits theft when takeout and unattended wallets are concerned. And while it’s all funny and great characterization with more than enough opportunity for physical comedy (nailed by actress Natasha Negovanlis), there’s an interesting flip side to these facets of her personality. Because Carmilla does get off her butt to protect Laura, she cares what Laura thinks of her, and stomachs a lot of annoyances on her behalf. And while it’s the exact type of thing Tumblr fans will squeal over for their ship, it also makes for some interesting character study.

The way in which Carmilla lives is very believable, because after over 300 years enduring the world withering away around you, why wouldn’t you become disaffected and disinterested by people and things? But then the series enters a tenacious 19-year-old journalism student who tells Carmilla “even you deserve better.” At face value, it’s kind of an adorable line, but on deeper analysis it reveals a lot about Carmilla’s view of her own self worth. And having a self-conscious, self-loathing main character is something a lot of young adults out there can relate to and don’t often get the opportunity to see portrayed media — especially when the main character is a woman.

This little exchange sets of a string of events involving Carmilla awkwardly admitting to liking Laura, Carmilla awkwardly volunteering to risk her life for Laura, and Carmilla, finally losing the awkward, making good on her promises and returning to win fair lady’s heart. Season one is a supernatural rom-com both as far as the tone is concerned and the way Laura and Carmilla’s story plays out.

Then season two comes to ruin everyone’s life. A lot of the more unfortunate parts of Carmilla’s character come out to play after she and Laura break up. And it’s awesome. Where else do you get to see: a woman deal poorly with a break-up that she initiated, look like a mess, act like a complete jerk from the audience's perspective, and make jokes out of using the communal tampons (thanks, U by Kotex)? The writers — much like with Laura this season — were not afraid to make Carmilla look awful (both internally and externally because that looked like quite the hangover).

And furthermore, they had her reject, time and time again, the idea of heroism for heroism’s sake. In doing so, they created an interesting dialogue about why we do the right things, who decides what the right things are, and if microcosmic efforts to protect just one person are enough to be considered a hero. And the icing on all of it? She goes on a rampage, she threatens Laura, she starts biting students at random and even, in some cases, mauling some down as her panther other half. She ain’t pretty or nice and loses a lot of sympathy in the middle of her heartbreak. But at the end of it all, she comes running when Laura calls for help, despite her betrayal. And the question is posed: is that enough?

What does it all add up to? Carmilla’s got a soft underbelly beneath some very ugly facets she presents to the world. She’s not torturing herself for a human soul or desperately wishing she was never made. She prides herself in her vampirism, watches vampire media, she makes jokes about her own “de-fanging” thanks to Laura’s influence. She waxes philosophic and looks at the stars and has almost no filter. She lets people get hurt and bargains others’ lives for her own gain. And at the end of the day, Carmilla puts herself through some serious physical and emotional suffering for the sake of a teenager she admits is “sacred” to her. It’s a lovely mess of contradictions that all make perfect sense and elevate what means to be a vampire. Because Smokebomb’s portrayal goes beyond a simple trope or genre and paints an extremely human character out of an extremely inhuman condition.

Also, leather pants.

You can watch the first two seasons of Carmilla on the VerveGirl TV YouTube Channel and Season 0 on the U by Kotex YouTube Channel!

Blindspot 1x10 "Evil Handmade Instrument" (A Moment For Us) [Contributor: Jen]


"Evil Handmade Instrument"
Original Airdate: November 23, 2015

Blindspot capped off their successful first half of the season with a poignant and suspenseful midseason finale. As is typical with this show, the cognitive and emotional answers lead to more questions. However, "Evil Handmade Instrument" asks us to focus more on the here and now rather than the future.

CASE OF THE WEEK


Sadly, the case of the week was solving David's murder. It turns out Mayfair put an agent on the reference book that Patterson and David found. The agent was the man following David in "Authentic Flirt," and he discovered David's body. The reference book ultimately leads the team to three Russian sleeper agents. All three spies are married to American citizens. David's murder triggers their plan to assassinate targets who threaten Putin's rule.

Kate — the Russian spy who murdered David — mistook him for an FBI agent. She killed him because she believed her cover was blown. It's salt an open wound. Yes, there was an FBI agent following Kate, but it wasn't David. He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or rather, he put himself in the wrong place in the wrong time.

David hoped to crack Jane's case so he could reunite with Patterson. The reference book had merit, which is why Mayfair put an agent on it. David didn't need to investigate it because the FBI already was. If David stayed away as instructed, the other FBI agent may have discovered the fingerprint leading to the Russian spies. The difference being, of course, that David would still be alive. Somehow it makes his death all the more heartbreaking.

That said, maybe Kate would have murdered the other FBI agent instead. It's impossible to know for sure. What we do know is that David did not die in vain. His death lead the team to the Russian spies and, as a result, they saved two lives.

David's death also illuminates a thin, but connective, thread between Jane and the Russian agents. One of the Russian spies, Olivia Delidio, was a starving orphan. She had nothing and no one when she was recruited. Becoming a Russian spy was a means of survival.

Jane flashes back to a memory, shortly after her abduction, of the basement filled with malnourished children  All of the cases thus far revealed government corruption. Is it possible the United States has a similar program as Russia? Poor, starving, and orphaned children are recruited and trained as spies. What if the children aren't orphaned, but kidnapped and sold? It could explain why the tattoos target government corruption. It could also explain why Jane willingly wiped her memory. Perhaps this program molded into Jane into whoever she use to be — someone she didn't even recognize. Maybe the only way to break that mold was to eradicate its existence.

TEAM BLINDSPOT


The MVP of "Evil Handmade Instrument" was Ashley Johnson, who plays Patterson. Johnson slowly and deliberately moved Patterson through the stages of grief. Her subtle performance was elegant without being cliche. That said, Johnson did not shy away from the emotional scenes, giving them the weight they deserved.

Patterson served as a microcosm to Jane's nine episode journey — her need to solve David's murder mirrored Jane's need to solve her own case. Because solving David's case gave Patterson control over chaos. Jane continually tries to controls what little she can. It is Patterson's interrogation of Olivia Delidio, along with her fingerprint and handwriting analysis bluff, that cracks David's case wide open. Jane is often the linchpin in the case of the week.

Their mirrored experience allows Jane and Patterson to connect on a deeper, emotional level. Solving David's murder brings little comfort to Patterson. He's still dead. Just like solving the tattoos brings Jane little comfort. No matter what answers she finds, her memory is still gone. Answers don't change the end result for either woman. And that is a difficult, painful and hollow reality to accept.

Patterson opens up to Jane because she understands her pain and knows Jane can understand hers. Finally, Patterson breaks down. The grief, regret, and pain overwhelm her. She admits to Jane what she could never admit to David — she loved him. Instead of holding onto David for dear life, she let her fear push him away and now it is too late.

Just like Patterson can see herself in Jane, Jane can see herself in Patterson. Patterson's emotional microcosm, and the lesson that accompanied it, is one Jane can apply to her journey so far. Jane is searching for control over chaos. One of the few things she has control over is her emotions. Her fear of the unknown is pushing Weller — and her feelings for him — away. Only for Jane... it's not too late.

KURT AND JANE


Early on, Jane confesses to Kurt that she's never lost anyone before. Kurt tells her she's lucky. The pain Patterson is experiencing is pain that Kurt is familiar with. He lost Taylor Shaw. But Jane's amnesia gives her a reprieve from the pain of any grief she experienced in her life before. So, yes, in that way, Jane is lucky.

Still, I cannot agree with Jane's assessment. Because she has lost someone — herself.  While every tattoo brings her closer to answers, they also serve to reveal how much Jane has lost. The continual loss of her identity is just as painful as the loss of a loved one. Perhaps, even more acute. It is why Patterson connects to Jane in her moment of grief.

Regret is one of the worst feelings in the world. Not only is Patterson dealing with the grief of David's death, but also the regret of all the things left unsaid and undone between them. Jane can see herself in Patterson and doesn't want the regret the woman is carrying.

Throughout the first half of this season, Kurt and Jane's relationship has been a series of push and pull moments. Their connection pulls them together, in an almost instinctual way, but their fear of that connection and what it means is what pushes them apart. Every episode, every moment, is an ebb and flow of this dynamic.

"Evil Handmade Instrument" is when the push and pull stops. After Patterson's emotional breakdown, Jane sneaks out to see Weller. He's angry she skipped out on her protective detail, and then concerned when she explains she needed to see him. Kurt asks Jane if she's all right and... she kisses him in response!

(I'm pausing for a five-second fangirl freak out.)

It's almost as if time stood still during that kiss. Jane wrapped her arms around Kurt in a very romantic, but also very innocent way. After all, this is her first kiss. While there is a moment of hesitation, probably from pure nerves, Jane's intent in clear. No more second guessing. No more fear. She cannot remember her past. She doesn't know what the future holds. All she knows is the here and now. Jane gives up control, so for one moment, she can just be. The only one person she wants to be with is Kurt Weller.

Jane may not know who she is, what clothes or music she likes, her favorite food, or even her favorite color. Her cognitive abilities — like flying a helicopter or speaking Russian — are as surprising to Jane as they are to everyone else. Even the known is an unknown. But love is not merely a cognitive thought. Love is more than memory. It is emotion. It exists beyond the mind and in the heart. It is why Jane cannot know who she is and still know she loves Kurt Weller.

Perhaps they are not ready to call it love, but they are ready to act on it. It had to be Jane to make the first move. Kurt's natural instinct is to protect Jane, even from himself. He would never want to push her too far or too fast into something she wasn't ready for. Jane's kiss eradicated the boundary line they both had an equal role in creating. Kurt's sweet and joyful smile when Jane referenced them as an "us" meant defining their relationship in such a context was equally as important to Weller as the kiss. Jane isn't just some girl to Kurt Weller. She's the girl.

Some will say it is too early for a first kiss between the pairing, and that Blindspot is moving quicker than they should. But a midseason finale is often the fork in the road for a show — especially one in its freshman season — and midseason finales are known for twists and shake-ups. Jane and Kurt's kiss was simply a pause before that turn at the fork in the road is taken. It was the perfect moment. Time stood still. The point, I think, isn't to question the timing. The point is simply to enjoy the moment. We need to allow Kurt and Jane to just be, to exist together, with no regrets.

Kurt's nephew interrupts (Seriously, kid. Worst timing ever.) and the clock begins ticking once again. It seems as if their paths are finally merging into one, but when Jane is kidnapped and thrown into a van, the truth is revealed. And the truth is that Kurt and Jane are headed in separate directions.

Earlier in the episode, as Carter pontificated to Mayfair yet again, I said to my husband, "Carter is the worst. Can't they kill him already?" Suffice it to say, I was overjoyed that Carter met a bullet after waterboarding Jane. However, my joy was tempered at the sight of Jane's savior — Mr. Tree Tattoo. Great.

Jane's past — Mr. Tree Tattoo — is crashing into her present: Kurt. Whatever her relationship with Mr. Tree Tattoo is, and it looks significant because there was a ring involved, it will serve to confuse her, especially in her relationship with Kurt. Jane will do battle with what she should feel versus what she is feeling. And Mr. Tree Tattoo is definitely a sharp left in Jane and Kurt's journey toward one another.

That is why we were given the first kiss now — it was finally a moment of clarity. When the world grew quiet, Jane reached for Kurt and held on tight. These two may be headed down divergent paths, but they will find one another again. When all is said and done, what Kurt and Jane want is each other. They just want to be an "us."

Stray Thoughts:

  • "Give me one day to be here with my team because I know that I can help." Ugh, Patterson just broke my heart this episode.
  • Existing skill alert! Jane can draw. That was quite the murder board, complete with red string and everything.
  • "Of course you speak Russian" HA!
  • Jane's new wardrobe includes a super cool black leather jacket. Strong choice, Zappata and Patterson.
  • Carter is dead, so I don't anticipate Zappata's resignation will last very long.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Jessica Jones 1x02 "AKA Crush Syndrome" (What Makes You Strong, What Makes You Tick?) [Contributor: Lynnie Purcell]


"AKA Crush Syndrome"
Original Airdate: November 20, 2015

The antithesis of strength is weakness, or so says common ideology. But weakness is, more often than not, a counterpoint to strength — a part of strength’s unique individual make up, not an opposition or wholly separate thing as the phrasing might suggest. In strength there is sometimes weakness, and in weakness there is often strength. This is a core truth of life that is not taught in school. There is no doubt that everyone on this planet has a weakness, whether it masquerades as strength or reveals itself in vulnerability. It is a universal truth that no person is without that thing that weakens them to the influence of others or the villainy of self-destruction.

The crux of "AKA Crush Syndrome" is weakness, or a perceived lack thereof, of almost every character. Jessica Jones’ weakness seems obvious on the surface — Kilgrave is the monster she fears the most. He is the source of her continued forward motion in the episode.

After the horrendous murders of Hope’s parents, Jessica sets out to bring Kilgrave in, clear Hope’s name, and, in the process, discover exactly how far the extent of the bus accident has weakened him. Her mission is to find a way to defeat him, not only for Hope’s sake but also her own. She seeks justice through the only way she knows how: her detective prowess and knowledge.

The thing about weaknesses is that they are never as simple as they seem. For every Kilgrave, there is a Trish — willing to mother, poke and prod, and show Jessica her unending love. Jessica fears something happening to Trish perhaps even more than she fears Kilgrave repossessing her. Kilgrave took from her sanity and the right to her body. Trish provides her a link to love and the good that Jessica has in her heart, no matter how hidden it may be behind the snark and the occasionally incidental half-strangulation.

Jessica believes Trish to be vulnerable to Kilgrave. She doesn’t see her as able to hold her own against such a man and this is the reason for their estrangement. Jessica doesn’t want to be held responsible for something happening to her best friend but Trish is secretly training in Krav Maga, determined and intensely focused never to be the damsel in distress of the weakness for any person outside of herself. She is not the picture Jessica has painted her as. She is a strength in potenia, waiting for the moment Jessica needs her most (#LadiesSupportingLadies). She is the lioness rather than the cub people think her to be, but it is uncertain in this episode if her willingness to throw herself into the fray is for good or ill. She is strength and weakness rolled into one fierce package that can only be defined as human.

Luke is feeling the repercussions of Jessica’s incriminating photographs. He slept with a married woman and the husband, in a bout of awesome dude-bro mentality that never gets old, decides he’s going to get a bunch of buddies together and beat the crap out of Luke. Jessica rushes to his rescue, feeling responsible for the photographs that were handed to the police without her permission — and perhaps feeling an inkling of like for the man she so recently slept with.

At his bar, Luke reveals himself to be untowardly strong. He takes a broken bottle to the neck and shrugs it off with a sigh. This fight is also the best thing to ever happen to fights. Luke’s totally bored expression is a thing of legend and I wish to give all the high fives in the world to Mike Colter for playing it so well. In the end scene of the episode, Luke reveals that he is like Jessica — different, stronger, potentially Inhuman, but that does not mean he is unbreakable. The things that break him will not be physical. His breaking happens on the inside, and they have already happened to him. His damage is real but unseen, much like Jessica’s.

Even Hogarth is revealed to have a weakness for beautiful secretaries and having Jessica Jones owe her a favor.

The focus of the episode is, of course, the play of Jessica’s unnatural strength, her ties to Kilgrave, and her self-imposed loneliness against the decision to hunt down Kilgrave and take him out on her terms. The three themes play against each other nearly continuously.

Jessica is physically strong but personally isolated. She wears her defensiveness like body armor, but her heart aches to let someone in and be the girl she was before Kilgrave came into her life. She wants to push everyone out on the surface, but she rushes to Luke’s aid without hesitation and makes the first step toward rekindling her girl-mance with Trish despite her misgivings. She is fighting to find a balance — desperate for something to change, but, along the way, she becomes the change she is so determined to find.

Around the themes of strengths and weaknesses, the plot is etched into unraveling the past — or at least the very last day Jessica saw Kilgrave. A bus rolled on top of him, as buses tend to do, supposedly killing him. That was the beginning of horror for a poor paramedic, whose kidneys were stolen from him to save Kilgrave. Jessica tracks him down and encounters the man, who has suffered a stroke, presumably from Kilgrave, and his religious mother, who sees Jessica as the devil and a godsend in nearly the same breath.

The scene with the man is beautifully tragic. It is shot with careful attention paid to emphasizing the man’s entrapment in his own head and Jessica’s dawning horror as she realizes that he is in hell and there is nothing she can do to stop his suffering. She is either too strong or too weak to end his life, though he wants nothing more. Though it is not explicitly stated, it is clear that Kilgrave visits him in flashbacks as much as he does Jessica, only Jessica has the means to redirect her thoughts and her body. The man is what she could become should her looming confrontation with Kilgrave fail.

Jessica’s next stop is the doctor who performed the surgery on the paramedic — a doctor who saved Kilgrave from certain death. After a bit of a chase, she manages to convince him to tell her what he knows in the darkness of a college basement. Interestingly, the truth is found often in the dark in this series, a constant that adds to the realism and tone of the show. Jessica is focused on Kilgrave’s potential injuries, his weaknesses, anything that can bring him down and offer her a solution to his powers. Her fear and trauma have turned him into the boogeyman and she is desperate for some sign that he is human enough to defeat. She finally finds what she is looking for in the doctor. He reveals that Kilgrave cannot be sedated without losing his powers. She has his weakness. It is clear she intends on using it. It is also clear that things will not be as easy as she hopes. His weakness may not be the one she truly needs.

The most striking scene is the most talked about one from the episode, with good reason. The entrance of Kilgrave in the present suggests a man who is narcissistic, sociopathic, and so typical of this world that he would never stand out from a crowd. He is not hulking or broad; he is not a mutant, nor painted by the colors of the devil. He is you and me, and his entrance is beautifully shot from the start. From the moment the door is thrown back, he radiates. Though he is off camera at first, you feel the power of his evil in his request. When he enters camera, he is shrouded in darkness, still a mystery, still ineffable. As he stands at a glass window, seemingly revealed for all to see, he remains in that half-darkness, the shadow that Jessica very much has a right to fear.

His treatment of the family is as scary as it is revealing. On the surface it shows his evil and is indifference to human life. On a deeper level it reveals that Kilgrave has a weakness that Jessica has not yet realized. He sees people as expendable, and can control them with a word or a gesture, but he does not know true love. He demands it, but it is not the sort that settles in the bones and sinew of a person. Jessica inspires it unconsciously, despite her determination to eschew all relationships. Her abilities to draw people in to her circle make her as vulnerable as it does strong. The same goes for Kilgrave but in reverse. He has no one in his corner, and this will inevitably come to haunt him.
The entire entrance is also an example of great directing and cinematography. The setup is perfect from start to finish, the controlled, steady shots exactly as they need to be. The result is a scene that’s creepy, sad, and terrifying. Kilgrave is not on camera nearly as much as the family, which puts you in their shoes more than maybe you want to be. His entrance is unforgettable, and it provides so much character detail in a remarkably short amount of time.

Jessica Jones’ second episode is all about character — what makes them strong, what makes them tick, what weaknesses are strengths in disguise, and vice versa. Jessica is tasked with facing herself, her past, and her abilities to do real good in New York City. She is blossoming into the hero she is meant to be, and her story remains beautifully feminine, quiet, and perfectly balanced between the shadows of the past and the hope of the future.

I have a feeling Kilgrave has no idea how much she has grown and how seriously he needs to take this new Jessica. I also have an idea that he will absolutely find out.

Stray Thoughts:
  • We’ve all thought about strangling that one loud neighbor. Jessica keeps it real. Don’t be jealous.
  • I’ve heard of a wizard in a cupboard, but never peeing in a cupboard. That scene was seriously disturbing, and all the props go to the writers for daring to show that abuse happens to all ages.
  • I’m developing a complex about the number of Englishmen who play villains. [Chelsea Note: It's a film trope that has bled into TV.]
  • Trish is the nagging mom of the friend group. It’s like she gets me.
  • I totally thought Trish was Kilgrave-controlled and running off to jump in place after her conversation with Jessica. Which was the point. Well done, show. Well done.
  • Twin siblings who act like jealous lovers is the very definition of my nope zone.
  • Luke Cage took his shirt off and sawed himself until he sparked. This is not a sentence I thought I would ever write.
  • Hope was mean to Jessica and all blame-y. It was kind of weird and the only moment that I didn’t track the writing.
  • Can people who have been cheated on stop blaming the person that their spouse cheats on with and blame the freaking spouse? I know it’s realistic, but you married one of those people, not the other. Okay?
  • How long until someone else’s head goes through that new glass pane?

Jane the Virgin "Chapter Twenty-Eight" & "Chapter Twenty-Nine" (Sparkly!) [Contributor: Connie]


"Chapter Twenty-Eight"
Original Airdate: November 16, 2015

Between two jobs and pretending like I sleep, plus writing and TV time, I felt like I didn’t have the time or the energy to write this. Then I turn on Jane the Virgin, and I feel lazy. Two jobs is no joke for sure, but watching Jane Villanueva struggle with balancing Mateo, grad school, her family, Rafael, her heartbreak over Michael, and sometimes sleeping — I still got to use watching Jessica Jones as rest time — Jane doesn’t have that luxury.

What’s been another of the many wonderful things about Jane the Virgin is the way people respond to it. Mothers all across Twitter have praised the show for showing what it’s like to be a new mother who also wants to work or go to school or develop their life outside of their child. I saw so many tweets from mothers relating to Jane leaving her breast pump plug at home while on her retreat. While I haven’t experienced the baby/work balance, I still felt so much empathy towards Jane (and mothers like her in the real world), that my own time management problems felt minuscule in comparison. Of course, one person’s struggle isn’t necessarily more valid than another’s, but shows like this one are important in giving people a glimpse into a life they don’t know so that they can feel that empathy, can have that perspective. And it, of course, lets working mothers see their struggles portrayed in modern media, thereby allowing the normalization of their circumstances for others.

Jane the Virgin treats summer like most shows treat summer. Meaning, in this episode, we skip the summer and head straight for the fall holidays. It’s been easy to forget that Mateo was born around May or June — and that we haven’t already skipped ahead to October/November — but this episode gets us to Thanksgiving with a series of photo memories for each month that passes.

When we left off in our story, Jane really had chosen Michael, but then she removed him from her life and he disappeared on a weird road trip with Nadine. Despite the violence that occurred the night before, Jane is still in mourning over Michael, and the length of time that passes in this episode helps her move forward believably so that the audience doesn’t have to wait for her to give Rafael another shot.

Jane and Rafael have an estate planning discussion meeting, where Jane is reminded that Rafael — and therefore, Mateo — is worth 40 million dollars. And growing! While many may ask how Jane could forget that Rafael is super rich, it’s actually refreshing to know that she can forget. It means that Rafael’s former lavish lifestyle isn’t what he’s about now and he’s not constantly rubbing his wealth in her face or flashing it at the hotel. That he is trying to be modest, but still fighting for the right to spend necessary money on his son. He’s not going to treat Mateo like he’s poor, even if that’s what Jane is used to, and Jane needs to learn that while it’s fantastic she doesn’t want to use Rafael’s money, that she can still instill a grounded mentality for Mateo without denying him comfort. All parents want their children to have better lives that they do, and both Jane and Rafael need to understand that each of their definitions of “better” brings them to the same place.

Meanwhile, Petra gets her mother out of prison to assist her with her pregnancy (it’s gonna be twin girls!), but Petra soon remembers that Magda isn’t quite the maternal type. Petra often looks to Jane and thinks she’s having an easy time, but in a wonderful conversation between the two women, Jane reveals what we’ve seen this episode: Jane isn’t handling it at all. The women solidify a bond that’s been growing in previous episodes, which stems mostly from the fact that their children will be siblings. I hope this friendship continues, and not just to fulfill the ideals of #LadiesSupportingLadies.

Because each woman needs someone to talk to, someone not just a new friend from their mommy groups. I love that Jane’s warm heart isn’t used to thaw out a cold, mean man, like in a lot of media. It’s used to warm up everyone around her, including the women. That’s a rare sight — as we know, most media rarely have more than one woman in a single scene, speaking to each other so getting this dynamic is even more rare.
“I would rather be with you at your worst.”
At the end of the episode, Rafael reveals to Jane that even though he has dated someone in the interim six months, he will choose her every single time. Jane gets both Michael and Rafael to confess their adoration of her even when she’s sweaty, mean, achy, itchy, boobs fevery, and bursting — amazing.

Rattles and Rockets:
  • So what do we think Nadine and Michael got up to all those months? Since we didn’t check in with them much, time passed slower for them in my mind than the rest of the team, but it’s been just as many months for Michael, so what has he learned in all that time that he presents to his former boss? Has he been working? How’s the search for Sin Rostro going? Things we should keep in mind. 
  • Jane’s grad school teacher is a douche. Ugh. I didn’t know grown ups in grad school could get locked out of class. [Chelsea Note: They don't.]
  • I like that Rafael was already in agreement that if they should both die, Xo would get Mateo. He knows his family can’t be in charge of that kid. 
  • Baller Mateo, Oliver Twist Mateo, and Charitable Mateo were all so great! I love the way this show has shown us these possible futures Jane dreams up. 
  • Charitable Mateo references #62milliongirls — the campaign to bring awareness to the educational opportunities millions of girls lack across the globe — which has been making its way into a few TV shows lately, including Scandal. Have I mentioned I love the brilliant ways Jane the Virgin incorporates real life issues into their show? 
  • Doesn’t the reveal of twin girls for Petra mean that Mateo gets a third of 40 million? I wonder if that will be an issue down the road between Jane and Petra, who technically also has money from Milos. 
  • “I think the Russian redheaded lady in the kitchen is trying to poison me.” OH SNAP. MAGDA GOES TO THE ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK PRISON. 
  • I really hope they continue with Rogelio’s telenovela version of Mad Men. The cease and desist order is a bit of a problem, but maybe this can be a thing: telenovela versions of current TV shows, with a producer/showrunner cameo? “Mine will move much faster. It will be a masterpiece.”
  • “Thank you grips. For everything you’ve... gripped. Gaffers, thank you for all your gaffs.” 
  • Net-worth 2,622* *Returned shirt to mall. Filed under reasons why I LOVE this show. 
  • More Rafael at mommy class please, if only because knowing Justin Baldoni is a devoted dad in real life means that he probably knows these kinds of baby dances already. 
  • I should’ve known Wesley Masters was a spy. No way he’s in GRAD SCHOOL and his last name is MASTERS is a coincidence. I’m so mad at him for pretending to be Jane’s friend. 
  • “Boobs bursting” makes me think of the Star Spangled Banner. “Boobs bursting in air!” 
  • A little obsessed with Rafael sitting on Jane’s tiny cabin bed at her retreat. 
  • Who thought giving a recent ex-convict a hook for a hand was a good idea? She’s in jail for hurting someone! As soon as I saw it, I knew it would Czechov’s Hook.
  • Aww, caught the Rogelio/Desi Arnaz comparison on the second watch and it made me smile. Rogelio is equal parts Lucy and Ricky.


"Chapter Twenty-Nine"
Original Airdate: November 23, 2015

"Chapter Twenty-Nine" of Jane the Virgin made it so sparkly, I got glitter in my eye. Team Flower Petals picked up steam this week, but then went from pulling a “she loves me” petal, to tearing off four “she loves me not” petals in the blink of a sparkle-filled eye! I’m so upset by Rafael’s betrayal, but we’ll get to that later.

CLEAR EYES, FULL CARTS, LET’S SHOP!


It’s the day after Thanksgiving and the Villanueva women + a Solano head to Target! Now, I love Target. I saw a few critics tweeting annoyance or snark that this episode would basically be a Target ad, but I love it. Not only am I thankful to Target for sponsoring this great show, but unlike a lot of other product placement, it works for the characters. It’s a natural fit for lower income families to have a Target Black Friday plan, and for #BlackFridayVirgin Rafael to amusedly follow along. Target appeals to families like the Villanueva's — families like mine.

Most ads and product integration on TV appeal to people in higher income brackets than me. Rolex, Audi, car after car, jewelry, high end appliances, more cars. The show and Target know that they can appeal to not only lower income demographics, but also younger viewers, who go to Target but aren’t wealthy or advanced enough to be ready for a car or have a house for that fancy appliance. Target is relatable. That kind of thoughtfulness towards the audience? Important. It means they understand who is watching their show, making them — us — feel important. Which creates brand loyalty to both Target and the show. So I’m glad Target sponsors Jane the Virgin, because it means more to me than just product placement.

Besides all of that, that was the tamest Black Friday at Target I have ever seen. They left at what was probably 10 AM, and all the good stuff was probably sold out already. We didn’t even really get to see their haul. Which, if you think about it, makes sense. Villanueva Black Friday isn’t about the stuff, nor does it speak to the consumerist nature of the day. It’s a family outing, a tradition, a chance to get Christmas presents and have a little fun doing it. I’m pleased and fascinated in the way the show handled a materialistic day and made it about family.

THEORY TIME


After the reveal that Michael’s firing and disappearance were all a part of an undercover operation (GASP!), I want Rafael’s involvement in the case to be a part of it, too. I want to believe that he didn’t betray Michael or Jane — that Michael asked him to do this. Mateo getting hurt from their fight was, of course, accidental and awful, but the fight itself was all for show (though, I don’t know for whose benefit).

I just can’t believe that Rafael would manipulate Jane so much without it being for a larger plan. He has issues, but he’s not quite that petty. Maybe that’s the Team Flower Petal in me, but this helps Team Snowflakes, too. It would mean that Michael’s anger — which we all agree was sudden and out of character — has meaning. I think Michael recruited Rafael’s help in planning this so they could take down Sin Rostro, which is the one thing all members of the Seasonal Love Triangle agree on, plus Rafael has the money to help Michael and the cops with less of a paper trail to blow their cover. Hiring Eric gets Michael in trouble, but leaves Rafael blameless in Jane’s eyes. Michael possibly wanted to ensure that Rafael would be there for Jane while he wasn’t around? Yes. It’s ALL a plan. I just need it all to be a plan! *wishes and hopes*

PETRA BURIES HER FRIENDSHIPS WITH IVAN


Petra... oh, Petra.

With Ivan very dead in her very open air bathtub, Magda has her pulling a Weekend at Bernie’s to get him out of the hotel. But in the process, Petra ruins her burgeoning friendship with Jane! As I said in my recap above, Jane warming Petra’s heart and opening her up to love is something we rarely get to see between women on television (again, #LadiesSupportingLadies). Petra needs her potential friendship with Jane, so that also means that she needs to cut Magda out of her life. She thinks she needs her mother in order to care for her twins, but Magda is just poisoning her and ruining her chance at friendship. Also she MADE A PREGNANT WOMAN HELP HER DIG A GRAVE FOR THE MAN SHE KILLED. Magda’s got to go.

UNDERCOVER EX-LOVER


Okay, so let’s see if we can break this down. Michael PRETENDED to get fired. Nadine caught up with him and they had some adventures over the summer that ended up with her dead as he returns to the precinct. She gets shot in Mexico when they attempt to meet Rose, taking a bullet for Michael and he seems authentically shaken up about it. But since the firing was a cover up, could Nadine’s death be faked as well? I know she’s not a major character, but I feel like they wouldn’t push her death to only a flashback.

BABYSITTING IDOL!


Jane struggles to find someone she can trust to leave Mateo with. After what happened with Sin Rostro, her concern is of course sensible, and it’s Jane, too — we know she goes overboard with these kinds of things. But while Chepa may seem great right now, I still don’t trust her. She’s too perfect, and we are not sure if she’s working for Sin Rostro or if — like Wesley — she has a long con planned. But perhaps she will prove me wrong.

THE CURSE OF THE SOLANOS


First of all, why does everyone tell Wesley their life stories? Second of all, Luisa’s mom was the crime boss Mutter? Then Papa Solano later married her apprentice/rival Sin Rostro, who Luisa is in love with? And Luisa’s mother is still alive somewhere, having faked her death. But this also means that Luisa’s mother KIDNAPPED HER AND HAD HER GOONS BASH IN HER KNEE. But it explains why they were so gentle at times — it wasn’t for Rose’s benefit, but for Mutter’s!

And we thought Magda was bad for Petra.

Rattles and Rockets:
  • Will we get to hear Xo’s theme song?!
  • “Two hand grab, this is serious.” 
  • Baby Mateo is SO. DARN. CUTE.
  • That black Target dress Jane wears to her Christmas party is amazing and I need to get to Target to find it. [Jenn's Note: I have a Christmas party coming up and I need to find it.]
  • Never drink and email!
  • The shot of “Matt Weiner” posed as the Mad Men poster was great. 
  • “But I love new pants Wednesdays. It’s the perfect antidote to the midweek blahs.” 
  • “I think Petra just asked me out on a date.” “She said yes!” Team Petra and Jane friendship! 
  • Man, that adviser's writing “advice”... #facepalm. But we’ve all been there, trying to write something based on someone’s vague notes and it makes the writing worse. Don’t let bad criticism get into your heads, fellow writers!
  • “The problem is the tonal shift is too jarring.” “He’s right. That’s just clumsy storytelling. Now: TO THE POLICE STATION!” 
  • Rafael WANTS TO BUY A HOUSE. GUYS. Lots of flowers in the yard, yeah? A tree in the backyard with beautiful FLOWER PETALS?!
  • Rogelio’s De La Condo.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Limitless 1x10 "Arm-ageddon" (There's A Difference Between Complacency and Contentment)


"Arm-ageddon"
Original Airdate: November 24, 2015

I love that when Limitless is making arm puns, it still manages to be poignant. This week's episode was a little bit lighter on the emotional weight that has pressed down on Brian throughout the course of the season, but that doesn't mean it was any less important. In fact, we got a little more of a glimpse into the relationship that Brian has with his father, Dennis, and a glimpse into the kind of man Dennis is. But what is truly setting apart Limitless as an outstanding procedural is its committment to the core of the show — Brian Finch. Of course the show would pay attention to him, you might be thinking. He's the main character!

What the show continues to do though is reveal different layers of Brian's personality throughout the course of its episodes, and "Arm-ageddon" is no different. Let's discuss, shall we?

"BE SMART. MAKE ME PROUD, SON."


Even though that particular quote above comes from Hamilton, its resonance in this week's episode is not lost on me. We pick up nearly exactly where we left off — with Brian telling his father all about the FBI recruiting him to be on NZT and solve cases. While Dennis listens intently to Brian's energetic ramblings and recounts, there is one particular thing that Brian's father seems to be honed in on, and that's the idea that the FBI is using Brian. They are, in a way, using the young man as a test subject for NZT. It's a top-secret project that nearly no one outside of Naz, Rebecca, and Boyle technically are supposed to know about. 

But Brian doesn't see it the same way that his father does. In fact, Dennis even goes so far as to see the situation as an opportunity to sue the FBI for using his son as a lab rat. And what surprised me most of all was that, for quite a while in the episode, Brian actually was willing to let his father find a way to extract him from the FBI's blackmailing. But Brian essentially answered that decision for me, when he tells the audience that he didn't believe his father would actually find a way to do that. When it becomes clear that Dennis is serious about getting Brian out, it's time for the young man to come clean — he doesn't actually want out. He feels like he has a purpose at the FBI, even though he is under the influence of NZT. He feels like he's found his calling for the first time and it's really interesting that Brian essentially tells his dad that "his calling" means being a drug addict.

There's no way to skirt around the fact that this is exactly what Brian is. He tells his father in this episode that he would never be able to actually be an agent on his own merit. He is only at the FBI because he doesn't have life-altering adverse reactions to NZT. That's it. And Brian's father continues to insist that Brian find something else to do with his life — that he not spend it complacent. What's really interesting to me, of course, is that Brian respects and reveres and loves his dad so much, but he also still seeks his approval.

Rebecca tells him as much, actually, when she tells Brian that if he's happy with his life and choices, he needs to tell his dad that. He needs to stand up to him and tell him that he's happy with where he is. He shouldn't be afraid to do that... even if Brian is standing up to his father. It's really interesting because we haven't seen a lot of Brian and Dennis' relationship at this point. We know Brian would do anything to care for and protect his dad. And we know — by the end of the episode — that Dennis would do similarly.

What was really great, though, about this episode of Limitless was that it reminded us that even the people we look up to aren't perfect. Even the people we admire are wrong sometimes, and even if they are right... it's okay to clash with them. Brian's been so afraid for so long of disappoining his father that he's managed to just be complacent in their relationship. This episode proved that Brian can take a stand and still love his dad. He can look his father in the eyes and essentially say: "I'm happy. Get on board, or don't, but this is my decision. Not yours."

Now, the show could have made Dennis into a villain by having him go against Brian's wishes. Instead, Dennis proved his love for Brian by approaching Naz and threatening her. Brian makes choices that Dennis doesn't agree with. But being a parent means that he protects his son first and foremost. So if Naz ever lets anything happen to Brian... she will be the one to pay. It was such a powerful, wonderful little moment that exemplified — simultaneously — how loving Brian's father is and also how ruthless he could be if necessary.

ARMED WITH THE TRUTH


I couldn't resist an arm pun, of course. The case this week wasn't especially focused upon, but I thought it was really important nonetheless, especially because it involved Boyle. We are beginning to learn more about Spelman Boyle and what makes him tick. This week, we get glimpses into Boyle's time in the service, and then everything that happened after. His friend and comrade, Aaron, lost an arm in the line of duty, and we got the opportunity to watch Boyle and Aaron's friendship post-service develop. Unfortunately, this all comes crashing down when Aaron's wife ends up dead and he claims his arm was in control, not him.

The team spends the entire episode confident that they've found the killer (based on finding similar bionic arms being hacked around the country), but something doesn't add up. It's then that Boyle realizes the man he served with is actually a cold-blooded killer. What I really love about Boyle is the fact that he values loyalty above pretty much everything else. We don't know much about him, but each episode we are slowly uncovering little foundations of his character. And one of those foundations is that he actually cares more than he lets on. While on the job, he's by-the-book and very goal-oriented. He's much more relaxed, prone to smiling and laughing when off the job. And, because of that, his friends have become a sort of blind spot for him. Boyle admits that in the episode to Aaron. But he will always value justice and doing right by others over a friend.

What's really great about this episode, too, is that it draws a (slight) parallelism between Boyle and Brian as characters — both are loyal. Both are driven. And both care about others a heck of a lot more than they care about themselves sometimes. If that's not great... I don't know what is.

Bits & pieces:
  • "He's your friend. I'll help." This single quote tells us more about Brian Finch's character than pretty much anything else on the show and I LOVE it.
  • I went to Target yesterday and saw long, colorfully patterned cardigans. Immediately, I thought of Brian. I don't know what that says about me except for the fact that Brian has awesome cardigans.
  • TECH TALK!
  • "I'd like to think I'm somewhat of a late bloomer."
  • "Arm-pocalypse Now. ... Give it to me?" "No."
  • "It wasn't Ellen and it wasn't for the lulz!"
  • There were so many puns in this episode and they were all so amazing.
  • A portion of this episode featured Brian showing us — the audience — adorable Vines of kittens doing cute stuff. It was probably the best thing to ever happen on this show.
  • "There's a difference between complacency and contentment."
  • "BOOM! Boyle for the win!"
  • Brian and Rebecca have one of the greatest relationships on television. The fact that she a) immediately knew he needed to talk when he mentioned "beer-o'clock" and b) gave him solid advice, as well as c) presented him with the special tech at the end of the episode... all of it was absolute perfection. Again I say: I love them so much as platonic best friends. Thank you, Limitless, for being brave enough to write two wonderful characters and not feeling the need to descend into trope-y madness with a "will-they-won't-they" dance.
There you have it, friends! Are you enjoying Limitless as much as I am? Hit up the comments below and let me know your thoughts. For all of my American friends... Happy Thanksgiving! :)

From Cinnamon Roll to Problematic Fav: A Laura Hollis Appreciation Post [Contributor: Melanie]


The second season of Carmilla has really been full of standout moments for Laura Hollis, and not necessarily in the most flattering way. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t good, amazing to watch scenes. And hey — she’s a growing girl and that ain’t always easy, especially when your first year at school is plagued with kidnappings, virgin sacrifices, and Lovecraftian monsters. That's not even including the amoral girlfriend, the confusing lines of loyalty, and a heck of a lot of wolves in sheep’s clothing. So here’s some real talk: the saga of how Laura Hollis went from cinnamon roll to problematic "fav" and it how crazy entertaining it was to watch that character evolution.


Back in season one, Laura was an adorable, gay-as-the-day-is-long, cookie addict with a lot of chutzpah and uncontrolled flaying. In the second season, she still is all those things, just with a little more sadface. She’s an awesome break from the typical leads you would encounter in supernatural romance — you know, the ones who end up being some kind of Bella Swan reject pretending that they’re Buffy. Laura is a modern day everywoman: she’s a frantic college student, she reads fanfiction, she eats exorbitant amounts of junk food, her pop culture vocabulary stretches from Veronica Mars to Dragonball Z. She’s quite possibly the most realistic depiction of a young adult there’s been in modern media in quite a while.

And while Laura spent most of season one on a bit of linear track with no real flaws or non-environmental issues (Carmilla was doing a lot of the heavy lifting when it came to character development), this season has widened Laura’s range. That, in turn, has lead to some fun consequences (definitions of "fun" may vary). Laura’s made all the wrong decisions this year. This character act has been one entertaining trainwreck filled with emotional breakdowns, shouting matches, and tears. And while she’s gotten her fair share of hate on Twitter and Tumblr, all of Laura's decisions have served to give depth to her character. Because, as many fans pointed out multiple times, we don’t know a thing about Laura.

The season finale was probably the greatest showcase of what a complicated character Laura really is underneath all that sugar and webcam mugging. After an eleventh hour decision to save Carmilla leads to some shock, catatonia, and epic levels of guilt, Laura shuffles through her conflicting emotions. And while not much is solved, all of the plot builds a pretty intense portrait of what is contained within Laura’s head. She knows now, too, all of the ways in which she massively messed up. Yet, as Carmilla pointed out, it’ll be okay. One thing I think that we can all definitely appreciate is that the writers of Carmilla delivered some real, tangible consequences and some solid character growth in Laura. Actress Elise Bauman played this character with some amazing honesty, calling Laura’s arc this season “a gift” and noting in a Periscope interview:
“My favorite thing about Laura is that she’s got a lot going on underneath what she presents to people... I kept in mind all the time that Laura feels responsible. She feels like it was her fault and that she needs to make amends for everything that’s going wrong with the school and that, to me, justified everything that she was doing... and that’s where she goes astray a little bit.”


So if you loved Laura Hollis for her quirks and cringed at her choices, that’s okay. She’s a real, breathing character now with a lot of stuff to work out, not just in the department of failed relationships, but within herself. Like all good coming-of-age stories, she’s asking questions that may change how she fundamentally sees herself. But that is necessary. Ultimately, Laura’s relatable, because even in the most supernatural of situations, her choices are intensely human. Few things in life are more awesome than seeing a female lead being treated by the writers and actors as a character study and not just some eye candy. So I applaud you Laura Hollis (and her creators Jordan Hall and Ellen Simpson) for being real, gritty, and still entirely sympathetic.
Check out the first two seasons of Carmilla on the VerveGirl TV YouTube channel and Season 0 on the U By Kotex YouTube Channel