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.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story 1x09 Review: “Manna From Heaven" (Under Pressure) [Contributor: Rae Nudson]


“Manna From Heaven"
Original Airdate: March 29, 2016

Well, I could use an ice cream cone and a hug after watching that episode. In an emotionally draining and tense hour, The People v. O.J. Simpson showed how the people involved with the trial — and the trial itself — began to break under the pressure.

THE DEFENSE


Johnnie’s investigator finds that there are tapes from an interview with Mark Furhman where he says the N-word, along with tales of police corruption, sexism, and violence. And on top of all that, he insults Judge Ito’s wife.

The defense is thrilled. Johnnie wants to show the court and the public the racism that black people deal with every day, and F. Lee Bailey wants to nail Mark for perjury. (Remember, Bailey was the one who set this up when he asked Mark if he’d ever used the N word and Mark denied it under oath.) But to get the tapes, the team has to go to North Carolina and request that the subpoena be upheld.

Unfortunately, the judge is not impressed with Johnnie’s grandstanding. And, as Bailey puts it, Johnnie may not play as well in a Carolina court. So Bailey steps in, using words as sugary as a sweet iced tea, and the team gets access to the tapes.

These tapes act as a tipping point that shoves this trial from a circus to pandemonium. The focus has shifted entirely from accused murderer O.J. Simpson to accused corrupt cop Mark Furhman. Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman are hardly mentioned at all.

The Goldman family in the background of so many scenes serves as a literal reminder of the victims becoming lost details, rather than the main focus of this trial. Actually, much of what’s important get placed in the background of the frame during the episode. When Bailey is presenting to the court in North Carolina, the camera shows Johnnie’s face in the background, slightly incredulous while watching Bailey do his own version of grandstanding, which includes talking up the importance of the judges and the fairness of the South — the same court that seemed like it wasn’t giving Johnnie a fair chance because his skin was too dark. Just like what’s happening in the courtroom in L.A., truth and justice gets pushed to the back and a narrative that that furthers an agenda comes to the forefront.

Both the prosecution and the defense mine the tapes for information they can use in the trial, and once again the device of cutting back and forth between the two teams as they grapple with the same event is effective. The depth of violence on the tapes is harrowing to listen to in just the hour-long episode, much less listening to all 13 hours of the tapes as they did in reality. The show repeats the N-word over and over, and focuses on it in writing over and over, and it slowly wore me down each time. It’s brutal, but the repetition worked to make me feel exhausted and defeated, just like the people going through the trial.

Also effective was the way the show handled the protests outside the courtroom. Protesters chanted “no justice, no peace” — certainly a mantra for the way this trial was handled — over and over, just as the N-word is repeated over and over. And as the camera cut from the protestors to the courtroom, the chants of “no peace” echoed and lingered as court proceedings began.

THE PROSECUTION


Marcia has been walking around in a stupor for weeks, all of her bravado gone. With the admittance of the tapes to the trial, she and Chris start to truly lose it. Chris starts yelling at the judge, at Johnnie, at anyone who has been complicit in turning this case into the chaotic mess it is. And in a beautiful move of solidarity, when the judge threatens to hold Chris in contempt if he doesn’t get it together, Marcia joins in the fracas and almost gets herself held in contempt as well.

The frustration Chris is feeling comes out later in an excellent scene in an elevator with Marcia. Slamming his briefcase to the ground, he says that he told Marcia not to include Mark Furhman. “You put me on this trial because you wanted a black face,” he says. “But the truth is you never wanted a black voice.”

He is right to be angry, and he is right in what he says. Marcia didn’t listen to Chris when she should have, and now they are in a position they know they can’t recover from. They’ve lost control of the narrative, and therefore of the trial.

Later, when the two are alone in the office, they apologize. Marcia for not listening to Chris about Mark, and Chris for not listening to Marcia about the gloves. They shake hands, holding on for a little too long, and I start yelling “Kiss! Kiss!” at the TV yet again.

THE WITNESS


After all of this planning, grandstanding, and discussion, Mark Furhman finally takes the stand again. Chris is so frustrated he walks out of the courtroom. Johnnie questions him, but Mark answers every single question by pleading the Fifth Amendment. In a brilliant move, Johnnie then asks if Mark Furhman planted any evidence in the O.J. Simpson case, knowing that no matter how he answers this, Mark will give something away. And, once again, Mark pleads the Fifth.

This is great TV, y’all. It was intense, it investigates so many themes of racism, sexism, truth, fame, justice, all of which America is still grappling with in much of the same ways 20 years later. That it is also based on a true story makes it both better and worse to watch. Watching this reinterpretation of this real-life event has given me a greater understanding of America and has given me more context for issues we face today. (It sounds cheesy, but it’s true!) But knowing the pain and violence is very real makes it stomach churning to consume.

I’ll see you next week for the verdict.

Notes from the case file:
  • I can’t believe we are going to go this entire series without ever seeing Marcia and Chris kiss. This is so unfair.
  • When Judge Ito is saying that women in a male-dominated profession are tougher than most, Marcia’s face is heartbreaking. Emmys for everyone! 
  • In real life, I read that Judge Ito’s sexist behavior toward Marcia was so blatant that people intervened and showed him a tape of how he acted toward her versus how he acted toward men. After he saw the tape, his actions got better. For a few weeks.
  • I cannot overstate how great the acting is on this show. Every week it seems like it gets better and better.
  • Thank goodness Marcia got primary custody of her kids. She badly needed a win.
  • That last scene of Marcia standing in her office made it look like she was standing in a cage. Which, of course, she is.

Quantico Roundtable: "Answer" and "Turn" (Whiter Than Snow) [Contributors: Jenn and Meredith]

(Photo credit: ABC)

"Answer" & "Turn"
Original Airdates: March 20 and 27, 2016

Because Mer and I love each other so much, instead of splitting our reviews for the last two weeks, we decided to combine our powers and discuss both episodes together. So sit back, relax, and enjoy as we talk about the highs and lows of the past two weeks on Quantico.

So, “Answer” was a bit different in terms of pacing and subject matter for Quantico. How do you think the episode worked overall?

Mer: Not well. I found this one of the weakest episodes of the season. I understand that the show was trying something new — a more in-depth look at characters and relationships. But unfortunately, I didn’t find it successful. The pacing was off, the exposition was overdone, and there was nothing to pull the viewer in. I can barely remember what even happened in the flashbacks, and really the only part of the episode that interested me at all was the very end, when Simon shook off his melancholy and rejoined Alex. I generally like the dynamic between Alex and Simon, but for whatever reason it really only seems to click when they’re working together, and not at odds.

Jenn: I agree with Mer. I honestly couldn’t tell you what happened in the flashbacks without looking up a recap of the episode first. While I appreciate the quieter, less drama-filled moments of this show, something about this episode felt off. Perhaps it was because both past and present stories were really slow, pacing-wise. Nevertheless, I think it needed a jolt of energy to the flashbacks, considering most of the present-day was spent in quiet, snowy fields.

What were your thoughts on the Simon/Alex dynamic in this episode?

Mer: I like Simon and Alex working together. I understand the need for a bit of a rift, but Simon’s descent into madness so to speak seemed rushed, like it mostly happened off-screen. And I felt like I was missing pieces of the puzzle. The episode felt like it dragged, with nothing to break up the dialogue. The best part was definitely the end — I am happy to see Alex and Simon working together again. I actually find them the two strongest team members, and they do really good work together.

Jenn: I agree somewhat. I think that the problem that Quantico is dealing with is the time jump. Although I appreciate what the writers are doing with not having to drag us through three months of those trials and conspiracy theories from Alex, this is a show that begs the audience to connect threads between the past and present constantly. So we spent the first part of the season connecting the past, and the present, and now we’re expected to connect the past, the midseason finale present, and the current present which is three months after THAT. The show’s consciously created a little rift in time in which apparently all of our characters have fallen apart, but it’s not working well for me that they’re trying to connect pre-command center characters to post-command center characters AND connect both versions of those people to the ones we saw in flashbacks. Nevertheless, I kind of like unhinged Simon. I think he makes sense, because out of all of the NATs, he’s the one who I don’t really have to stretch to imagine went a little crazy.

The relationship between Simon and Alex has always been compelling, but I liked that the first half of this season focused more on them, and that Simon ended this episode going to Alex and being by her side. It doesn’t feel right if he’s not, and I’m thankful that they had that intense conversation in the woods. However you feel about them individually or as partners, that was one crazy emotional scene and Priyanka Chopra and Tate Ellington knocked it out of the park.

Anything else about the episode you’d like to talk about?

Mer: I like the idea of trying new character dynamics — Ryan and Nimah could be interesting to explore as friends and co-workers... but they didn’t really do that? I wish they had. Really, I felt this was a ho-hum episode.

Jenn: Agreed 110% with what Mer said. Also, my interest level isn’t extremely high in any Miranda/Nimah tension in the present-day, so no thank you, show. Booth asked a question I didn’t really care about the answer to.

(Photo credit: ABC)

“Turn” saw a very different, more common Quantico episode than “Answer.” How did you feel about the tension between the terrorists in the flashbacks and the Claire Haas-related plot in the present?

Mer: I really, really enjoyed the flashbacks in this episode. Perhaps one of my favorite flashback episodes ever. So many things happening, most of which I was actually interested in! The present-day plot was more interesting to me in terms of the Hannah/Alex dynamic. And I don’t really care much about Claire Haas. But having Simon and Alex working together like old times was great. I think the flashbacks and present-day story are starting to feel more connected, the threads between them are starting to make more sense, which I like. Overall, I enjoyed this episode a lot and it was a nice, pleasant contrast to the previous episode.

Jenn: I don’t really care about Claire Haas either, but I love Hannah. Perhaps it’s because she’s played by Eliza Coupe and I feel like Hannah has a little bit of Jane Williams in her (R.I.P. Happy Endings), but I enjoy the wit and sass she brings to the show. And the flashbacks were actually interesting! (Minus the parts in which the show attempted to make us believe Miranda or Liam would die when we, you know, JUST SAW THEM in the present). I really think that this episode worked well with the integration of the upper-class NATs, too — probably the best since the episode in which they were all introduced.

There were some big surprises in this episode: between Shelby’s parents being alive (!!!) and Hannah being roped into the present-day terrorist plot (!!!), to Miranda’s son getting shot (!!!) what did you think was the most powerful “shocker” of all?

Mer: Miranda’s son! That whole scene was beautifully tense and so hard to watch. I had the thought while watching, as I often do now, that perhaps my reaction was somewhat more visceral and emotional than someone watching who is not a parent. But my heart BROKE for Miranda, the entire scene. Even the outside shots were beautifully done to add to the tension of it all. This scene was heartbreaking and suspenseful and surprising. I will say that I enjoyed all the shockers in this episode — the stuff with the Golden Retrievers is really intriguing me (especially male Golden Retriever — didn’t I text you that while watching, Jenn?) and I really enjoyed Hannah by the end of this episode. I haven’t liked her much until now, but having her as the next one brought into the fold is an interesting and bold move. All of it was really well done!

Jenn: Even though the scene was super tense with Miranda and her son and Raina, for me, knowing Miranda was alive took me out of the suspense of it all. It’s hard when a show does flashbacks to make me care about the characters if I know they’re alive in the present. But I basically knew that either the terrorist kid or her son would wind up shot, and I will agree that the scene was extremely well-acted all around.

Yes! You totally texted me about the Golden Retrievers! I really think that the scene in the woods between Caleb and Shelby was very well-acted too (great acting in this episode in general), and their whole side-story wasn’t what I was expecting. Also, I want to know more about Mark Raymond and what this means!

I loved that Hannah’s immersion into Alex’s world was more comedic and frantic than we’re used to. This show generally only allows for small interjections of humor in the flashbacks, so a character like Hannah who is so sassy and quippy is perfect to integrate into the present-day. I loved her reveal and the final few lines of the episode (Eliza Coupe’s delivery!) were on-point.

Slowly but surely, more and more of the NATs are becoming a part of Alex’s new crusade. Is this working for the show? Do you feel like it’s a retread of the first half of the season?

Mer: It is a retread, in a way, but it also works. I have always said the show works best as an ensemble endeavor, when they work together to move the story forward, and I still believe that. I’m interested to see where some of the new NATs from the flashbacks tie in to the present day story. The one thing I hope the show steers clear of is letting this become formulaic. I don’t want to watch every half season a new piece of the mystery that Alex latches onto first, only to be shunned, and then believed. That is something to avoid. But since this is the first season, for now it works just fine.

Jenn: The lack of new NATs in the present makes me think we’re probably still supposed to suspect one of them. And is it just me, or does that voice on the phone sound distinctly like a woman, every time?

I like the re-tread I think because it’s an ebb and flow of characters — we aren’t getting the exact same pairings every single time, especially now that all of our common NATs are scattered. Bringing in Hannah, I hope, means that the show will also bring in other flashback characters too.

I’m totally with you about the formula. I know she’s our lead character so she’s always right, but for once, I kind of wish Alex would be wrong. I’m worried the show will constantly return to a “Alex has a theory and is right, no one believes her, something BIG AND DRAMATIC HAPPENS, and one by one, everyone believes her again” formula they’ve stuck to.

I suppose we should talk about Booth and Alex, or Liam and Alex. Or maybe we could just talk about Caleb’s “Mark Raymond” sub-plot instead!

Mer: Yeah, Mark Raymond! That’s all I care about right now. What is this secret identity? But for why? What is happening? I need to know more. I may like Mark Raymond more than Caleb Haas. He’s cool.

Also Booth and Alex all the way.

Jenn: Why are we dredging back up this Liam/Alex thing? It’s icky. He’s icky. I’m not sure how I feel about Booth/Alex still, because they’re on their way to becoming one of the on-again, off-again couples on television that annoy me, but for now they’re okay. I understand why they’re separated and why it’s best that they are. Also, we know Booth will find out about Liam and Alex some day, and that’ll be yet another soapy and dramatic minefield to play in!

PLEASE TELL US MORE ABOUT MARK RAYMOND, SHOW. I NEED TO KNOW WHAT THIS ALL MEANS.

Any final thoughts?

Mer: I really like this episode. It was one of the stronger episodes, and it laid the groundwork for some interesting developments. I’m interested to see how the different storylines play out now. I hope that the show can find solid footing, because it has had some uneven outings recently.

Jenn: As usual, I agree with Mer.

Empire 2x11 Review: “Death Will Have His Day” (An Evil Empire) [Contributor: Rae Nudson]


“Death Will Have His Day” 
Original Airdate: March 30, 2016

Empire is back! And I mean really back: back to the intense Shakespearean drama that was season one. It picks up where it left off before the break, with Rhonda at the bottom of the stairs, and Lucious in his office after the board — including Hakeem — voted to remove him as CEO.

Empire works best when it’s tightly focused on the Lyons. After all, the Lyons put family above everything — well, everything except Empire. Every scene with the Lyons crackled with chemistry, but the scenes involving Jamal’s award nomination or Hakeem’s many ladyfriends fell a little flat.

FATHER AND SON


The most powerful storyline for me was Rhonda losing her baby. I sort of wish, though, that they had some sort of warning for seeing Rhonda covered in blood going through her miscarriage. It was quite graphic and pretty upsetting!

Empire began with a conflict between Lucious and his sons. This episode worked because it focused on that conflict. Almost every storyline could be traced back to daddy issues, including Rhonda and Andre losing their son. Rhonda feels like she is letting Andre down by not keeping his heir safe, and Lucious lost the grandson he was so looking forward to meeting. Of course, part of why Lucious looked forward to a grandson was so he could have another minion to try to control, but he’d never admit that out loud.

Rhonda voiced what so many women have felt after they miscarry (of course, there is no regular reaction): guilt for not being able to bring their baby into the world safely, loss of faith in God for letting this happen, and just being heartbroken. I was touched when Cookie told Andre that she and Lucious went through a miscarriage before Andre was born. They lost a daughter. They were so upset they just moved forward and acted like it didn’t happen. But not talking about miscarriages, which are sadly so common, can make women feel more alone and more stigmatized when it happens.

The other huge father and son issue this episode was, of course, Lucious threatening to kill Hakeem because Hakeem took his company away. I mean, talk about daddy issues. Cookie manages to hold Lucious off — for 48 hours. Cookie says that Lucious would regret that decision for the rest of his life, but I’m gonna be real with you guys, I don’t think he would regret it at all.

In maybe the most twisted move in a twisted relationship, Lucious asks Hakeem to meet him alone, at night, under a bridge, in the same spot where Lucious killed Bunky. I certainly wouldn’t meet Lucious anywhere, but the hold Lucious has on Hakeem is strong. So Hakeem shows up, only to have Lucious hand him a gun and try to convince Hakeem to kill Lucious before Lucious gets a chance to kill Hakeem. Worst father, or the worst father, am I right?

Hakeem keeps his cool, which is actually showing some personal growth for Hakeem in the middle of the mess he got himself into, and he walks away, saying that he doesn’t have to do what Lucious tells him to do.

All of Lucious’ sons are messed up, but it seems like Hakeem really got the short end of the stick. On top of his own father threatening to kill him, his mother is ready to cast him away and destroy the relationship they worked hard to rebuild the second that Hakeem makes a mistake. In a nice callback to season one, Cookie is waiting for Hakeem to get home, with a broom in her lap, so she can beat him with it the second he comes through the door.

Hakeem is all over the place, one second doing Camilla’s bidding and the next picking a fight with Laura. In spite of being in love with Laura, he’s getting into bed figuratively with Camilla and literally with Laura, even though he thinks it’s a bad idea. Laura, when a boy tells you it’s a bad idea to sleep with you, don’t do it! I’m sorry you lost your virginity to someone who is running a company with his controlling ex and is possibly the father of another ex’s baby. (Wow, Hakeem’s love life is hard to keep track of.)

MAMA DRAMA


Cookie is in peak form this episode. I love that Cookie is not always right and doesn’t always do the right thing. She is messy and sometimes terrible, and I think it’s great that her character is given the room to not be loveable — or even likeable — all the time. When she cast Hakeem away while the family was gathering in the hospital to comfort each other about Rhonda and the baby, it was maybe the coldest Cookie has ever been. It’s too bad that she threw away her relationship with Hakeem, which she was working hard to repair when they worked together at Lyon Dynasty. It also looks like she’s throwing away Lyon Dynasty to get another chance at Empire.

Anika finally makes an appearance in a striking white and beige cape dress thing when she comes to comfort Rhonda in the hospital. We don’t have confirmation, but the show is trying hard to make it look like Anika is the one who pushed Rhonda down the stairs. Maybe she did it so that her baby would be the only baby in the Lyon family? Hopefully her baby will be born healthy and then get as far away from the Lyons as possible, but it never works out like that on Empire, does it?

Cookie crumbs:
  • I generally hate miscarriage plots because I find them really upsetting, but we all know a Lyon baby wouldn’t have worked on the show, right? Well, maybe the writers don’t know that because it looks like both Anika and Laura may be pregnant with Hakeem’s baby.
  • Becky’s triumphant return to my TV screen came when she burst into Lucious’ office on the tails of Camilla and the cops to tell him Rhonda was in the hospital and possibly dying. That girl does not get paid enough. 
  • Cookie is a manipulative master, and I don’t doubt she can take down Camilla. 
  • Okay, literally who would vote for Hakeem to be CEO after he walked on top of that table? He does not have his daddy’s gravitas.
  • The lighting on this episode was great. When Cookie woke up in Lucious’ bed in her fur coat, she looked like a queen. And Lucious was bathed in red light like the devil he is.
  • Subtlety is not one of Empire’s strengths. Every single song was about a crown or a kingdom.

New Girl 5x13 Review: "Sam, Again" (Who's Up For a Field Trip to Season Two?)


"Sam, Again"
Original Airdate: March 29, 2016

When New Girl's season two aired, I feared that it would hit what is known in television as the "sophomore slump." That slump is the reason I stopped watching The Flash and Jane the Virgin this season — both shows were excellent in their first seasons. More than that, really: they were prime examples of how great television writing could be in terms of drama and comedy. And they were beacons of hope for The CW, a network looking to bolster its credibility among the other, more prominent networks. But then, the shows — in my opinion — began a gradual slide downhill. I've stopped watching them and I feel like I've missed nothing, really. The challenge with television is that first seasons are often so jam-packed and captivating because the writers want their audiences engaged; they want them to really care. So they pull out all the stops — dramatic winter finales, hook-ups and break-ups, and cliffhanger endings. And then, when season two hits, the shows are generally unable to continue the momentum that powered them through their first years.

But not New Girl. Arguably, New Girl's second season is the direct opposite of a "sophomore slump" (they saved that a little bit for their third season, which I still argue is not as terrible as everyone claims it to be). The second season's stellar writing, excellent directing, and top-notch storytelling are to be credited for its success. But one other element captured our attentions: the relationship between Nick and Jess. The second season was a gradual build-up to the romantic tension that had been there since the pilot. And when "Cooler" ended with a sizzling first kiss, the show's already-great season was catapulted into "phenomenal" status. Everything post-"Cooler" is quality (just look at the grades that The AV Club writer Erik Adams gave every episode after that point). The show found its groove with those two, and it found its heart and comedy as well.

Flash-forward to season five, which is maintaining the same level of consistent hilarity that the second season did. And "Sam, Again" is — I believe — the first step in New Girl completing that parallelism, especially in regards to the Nick/Jess relationship.

APOLOGY NOT ACCEPTED


This episode focused on the return of everyone's favorite child's doctor, Sam. We remember Sam, right? The tall, ruggedly handsome man Jess was dating when Nick planted that life-changing kiss on her. Well, Sam returns but not in the way we left him. He's got a beard, long hair, has become somewhat of a hippie... oh, and did I mention that he's dating the principal of Jess' new school? The school is a Montessori one — a perfect fit for Jess, who carries around things like "talking sticks" and makes people tea to get them to open up. The principal, Genevieve (played excellently by the wonderful Lucy Punch) is hesitant to fully accept Jess into the school once she finds out about the history she has with Sam. 

And then, one of Jess' best — and worst — qualities resurfaces: her inability to let things go. 

One of the most admirable aspects of Jess' character is that she's an eternal optimist. She never sees obstacles as insurmountable. No person is too far gone to become a friend (recall how Jess desperately wanted Schmidt's mom to like her?), and nothing — no conversation or problem — can ever really be dropped. So when the rest of the loft roommates tell her to not pursue Genevieve's approval, Jess... well, does the exact opposite. She shows up at the woman's house, where Sam is there half-naked, and proceeds to let Sam work through his relationship issues with her. And when Genevieve and Jess learn that Sam still holds bitterness toward Nick for what he did, the wide-eyed titular new girl jumps at the chance to fix her problem: she'll just get Nick to apologize.

I love and admire Jessica Day for how resilient she is. She is the person who fixes problems, who hates conflict, and who will do anything she possibly can to prevent people from disliking her. She's a bit of a Pam Beesly in that regard ("I hate the idea that someone out there hates me. I even hate that Al-Qaeda hates me"). But the best part about Jess is that her strengths are always her weaknesses. I would argue that most great characters find this to be true of themselves. It is Jess' unwillingness to let Sam's anger toward her go that causes her to pursue a conversation and ultimately a confrontation. Jess wants the job at this new school so badly that she drags a fever-ridden Nick into the fray.

And what happens after that is really interesting. Nick begins to apologize to Sam for kissing Jess in "Cooler." But then... he doesn't.

   

   

What I love about New Girl as a show is that it never forgets where it came from. It's not always excessive in the way that it incorporates callbacks and Easter eggs, but it's always intentional. And the fact that the show is making an effort to re-integrate Sam into the loft dynamic again makes it pretty clear that the show is setting this season up to be a parallel track to season two. The question is: knowing how that season ended and the Nick/Jess dynamic that evolved, how might season five parallel this?

And with another Cece wedding set to end this season, just as it did in season two, what could this mean for the two roommates? My hope is that by bringing Sam back, Nick and Jess might parallel their romance from the second season — this time for good. What New Girl has subtly done over the past few years is carefully re-construct the Nick/Jess dynamic. Nick has become more confident and successful. He's learned how to embrace his weirdness and confront things and feelings. Look at what happened with Reagan: after years of forcing himself to panic moonwalk away from awkwardness, Nick openly admitted his feelings. That's a step forward from the same sidewalk-stoop conversation Nick and Jess had in "First Date" (a parallel I just now realized, and is kind of brilliant).

And Jess needed to be in a serious relationship in order to realize how much Nick cares and will always care about her. I think she took him for granted a lot, and seeing his response in "Oregon" to her heartbreak was an indicator that he'll always be that guy for her, no matter what. Nick and Jess had such a solid friendship and that's the thing this series was built on, in regards to their relationship. Their chemistry — however powerful — is always secondary to their genuine love for one another as people.

So, when given the chance to re-live season two (because spoiler alert: from episode descriptions, it seems that Jess and Sam will get back together at some point this season), will Jess choose differently this time? Or will Sam always come in second place when it comes to Nick?

Only time will tell!

Additional de-lovely aspects about this episode include:
  • During this episode, I was sick. So literally art was imitating life as I curled up on my bed to watch "Sam, Again," blowing my nose into a pile of tissues just like Cece. Yay! Also, how fun was it to see a sick Nick and Cece banter? I could watch them watch Poppycock Palace all day.
  • "We met a lot. Sometimes in the day... and sometimes in the... nighttime."
  • I didn't talk about it above, but the other plot of this episode involved Winston freaking out over his first date with another girl since admitting his feelings for Aly. Schmidt, naturally, freaked him out so he pretended to be sick in order to avoid the date. Eventually though, Winston went on the date.
  • Schmidt's presentation is called "I Hope You're Sitting Down for This" and I cackled. Also, I love the return of Schmidt's boss and co-workers.
  • Schmidt's inability to pronounce the word "fury" ranks among one of the comedic bits Max Greenfield can totally sell (along with his pronunciation of "buttons").
  • "All these puppets do is sing about how they're friends. I'm starting to not believe them."
  • How much would I have to pay Liz Meriwether in order to get an entire episode featuring Poppycock Palace?
  • Hannah Simone's physical comedy bit of blowing her nose disgustingly was GREAT.
  • "You haven't met Nick. He's the most throat-punchable boy in the world."
  • "Sam, 'bro' is a beach term."
  • I love that Sam punched Nick in the throat AGAIN, and Jess had the exact same reaction.
  • "I'm not sorry that I kissed your girlfriend. ... We fell in love with each other. Like, crazy love." Guys, I just love Nick and Jess so much.
  • "LOOK AT THESE RIDICULOUS SHOES!" I've missed you, David Walton.
  • Further proof that Jess cannot let things go, even when people tell her to: she returns to Sam's house at the end of the episode with a tray of apology brownies after she accidentally causes his break-up with Genevieve. Sam is not amused.
What did you all think of "Sam, Again"? Are you excited for the return of his character? Hit up the comments below!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Flash 2x17 Review: "Flash Back" (Second Time Around) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]


"Flash Back”
Original Airdate: March 29, 2016

This week on The Flash: Barry is terrible at time travel! Thawne-Wells is back and whispery-er than ever! Iris is sad! That one guy with the creepy face and explosive hearing aids from season one somehow ends up on Team Flash because, as I mentioned, Barry is terrible at time travel! Seriously though, Barry is so bad at time travel it’s actually remarkable. Literally everything that could go wrong, short of creating a paradox that destroys all of existence, goes wrong because Barry is about as skilled at subterfuge and lying as a pudgy Golden Retriever puppy would be. And we all know Golden Retriever puppies can’t lie.

TIME TRAVEL IS REALLY HARD TO WRITE ABOUT


The reason why Barry has to go back in time in the first place isn’t because a villain is threatening the city or because all his friends have died in a freak accident. No, he wants to go back so he can get the secret to faster speedster powers from Evil Eobard. I can already tell you this plan is going to fall apart within seconds, but the geniuses at S.T.A.R Labs want to go along with it anyway. Probably because they’re running out of options for speeding Barry up that aren’t “all the drugs.”

So Caitlin and Cisco pinpoint a period of time in which little was happening, so Barry could focus on getting information out of Thawne-Wells without having to worry about a metahuman somewhere killing innocent bystanders, and the friendship with Thawne-Wells was strained enough that any of Barry’s weirdness should seem fine. Unfortunately, the team failed to predict exactly how terrible Barry would be at acting like his former self. Barry, I get your awful acting skills on Earth-2 because you were basically a different person, but this is being you from a year ago. How are you this bad at it?

It goes wrong from the start: Barry ends up getting spotted by his former self, interference in his ear piece distracts him, past!Barry escapes tranquilization over and over... But eventually past!Barry is knocked out, his badge is switched, and Barry’s ready to awkward his way through interacting with his past-greatest enemy.

... who figures out he’s not who he says he is when a Time Wraith shows up, because — and I can’t emphasize this enough — Barry is really terrible at time travel. He should not be allowed to have the power to travel through time, because it’s actually impressive how much he manages to screw up within a very small window of opportunity. Barry can’t help but change something (the captive Hartley Rathaway, a.k.a. Pied Piper, gets his explosive ear-implants taken away when Barry remembers the explosion-to-be) even though he’s told repeatedly that he needs to keep the timeline in order, and once he’s changed one thing it’s like everything else is fair game. This is in spite of the fact that the little changes he’s making have actually caused a Time Wraith to appear and come after him but no no, Barry. You go ahead and confront your past self and tell the whole team that you’ll be able to travel through time. You go ahead and hint about things to come. Please proceed, you speedy doof.

Never send Barry on any more missions to the past. If you do, everyone will end up in a Planet of the Apes post-apocalypse, with President Grodd and Vice President Congorilla. I just know it.

Barry gets sent back to the future before he can do any more damage, trailing the Time Wraith behind him. Hartley is the one who stops the Wraith in the present — because he’s good now and occasionally helps out at the lab. Hartley’s survival/turn to the side of good might be important later or it might be one-off, inconsequential time travel aftereffect (which I really hope is the case because it would be hilarious).

After an initial failure to make the technology work, Barry opens up the 3D hologram file that holds the speed equation from Thawne-Wells and can already tell that it’ll be helpful. Apparently the team is on the path toward speeding Barry up and eventually defeating Zoom, thereby saving multiple Earths from his reign of terror. Despite spending so much time in the past, this episode has led to a surprising amount of progress.

IRIS



I don’t focus a lot of talking about the romantic entanglements on any of the shows I review because usually I’m not that invested in them, but I was reading some negative buzz on social media about fans who are upset over Iris entering into yet another relationship with someone who isn’t Barry, and I have to confess: I’m okay with it. I’m not okay with Iris dating her boss, but I’m okay with her putting off dating Barry for a while longer because it makes sense for someone whose relationship was cut abruptly short by a death to cling to the “what ifs” that occur in the aftermath.

I get that Westallen fans want their OTP to just get together already, and that they’re upset about yet another short-term relationship getting in the way of the Barry/Iris inevitable endgame, but I personally think that anything other than what the writers are doing — i.e., slowly allowing Iris to deal with her loss — would be rushed and unrealistic. It also wouldn’t be a good fit for a character as highly empathetic and considerate as Iris.

Iris did not get closure on her relationship with Eddie. She loved him, she was going to marry him, and then he was gone. Even considering that she definitely had feelings for Barry around the same time, the fact that she never got to work through whatever she had with Eddie would understandably weigh on her. Maybe they would have well and truly broken up — before the wedding, or divorced after — and maybe Iris would have gotten involved with Barry at some point in their future, but Iris never got to figure it out, never got to know for sure if she and Eddie could have made it as a couple. We all know that Barry and Iris will probably get together, but in-story, Iris has no clue how her future with Eddie would have turned out.

As for Iris’s feelings for Barry, it makes sense that she wouldn’t want to damage her relationship with him by using him as a “rebound.” And I don’t mean that in the usual “damage the friendship” way that shows, books, and movies like to use it — I mean, Iris would likely feel some level of guilt in moving on past the death of her fiancĂ©, and that would hurt her relationship with someone new. It would be bogged down by her comparing that relationship with what she could have had with Eddie, and then she would feel guilty for the comparison and everything would inevitably self-destruct. Iris probably knows her relationship with Barry would last (they have plenty of alternate reality/time travel evidence to support this) but only if she’s ready and no longer haunted by the ghost of her hypothetical marriage to Eddie.

So yes, I understand why yet another person has been introduced in order to forestall Barry and Iris getting together. I don’t really understand why this person has to be Iris’s boss, nor do I particularly agree with Iris dating her boss, but I get and appreciate the general idea of this. I’m glad the writers are, in this situation, writing Iris as a thinking, feeling person rather than simply having her cut off her emotions and bounce back from a tragedy like losing her fiancĂ© just to get to that inevitable endgame couple.

The scene of her watching Eddie’s “birthday message” to her was both sad and heartwarming, excellently acted by Candice Patton in yet another scene displaying her aptitude for emotions. Plus, Barry providing another element of closure for Iris was a lovely show of support. Hopefully, this pushes Iris a step in the right direction of letting go and moving on.

BARRY ALLEN PUPPY GIF OF THE EPISODE:

BACKTRACKING PUPPY



Other Things:
  • “With Wells last year, I should have learned my lesson and dug deeper into Jay.” Dug deeper into the guys who was from another universe, Joe? I’m not sure if the CCPD has access to those databases.
  • “Your boss?!” Yeah, Iris. Your boss. Don’t date your boss, even Barry knows that.
  • Joe carrying the casserole dish with bare hands and Iris yelling at him about mittens was really charming. More West-Allen family dinners, show!
  • Thawne-Wells calls Barry “Mr. Al” and it’s weird.
  • "Run. Barry." Barry's like "Ugh, that catchphrase."
  • “What is it with you guys? It’s like you think I have ESP or something. I can’t just magically sense where things are.” Ha!
  • Barry can’t even manage to fake shock at seeing Wells walking. He’s so bad at this.
  • “You are good." NO HE'S NOT. Between this moment and Cisco saying that Barry on Earth-2 deserved an Oscar: show, you can’t just tell us Barry is good at this stuff because he is demonstrably not.
  • If you re-watch the episode, watch Thawne-Wells as Barry digs himself deeper and deeper into the paradox hole by talking to Cisco, Caitlin, and his past self about time travel. He makes the best “why did I choose this idiot as my arch-nemesis?” faces.
  • “He’s—” “Your doppelganger!” “Nope, not yet.”
  • “Every time at the end you turn to me and you say, ‘I have been and always shall be your friend.’” Adorable!
  • “Hartley knows where Ronnie is.” “Okay... What?”
  • “The Time Wraith!” “That’s a good name.” Priorities, Cisco.
  • So I guess the speed equation Barry learns in this episode is what makes him fast enough to travel through universes and to Kara in the Supergirl crossover?

Arrow 4x17 Review: "Beacon of Hope" (#LadiesSupportingLadies)


"Beacon of Hope"
Original Airdate: March 30, 2016

It might surprise you — or maybe it won't — but my favorite character on Arrow isn't Oliver Queen. My good friend (and amazingly articulate one, at that) Jen and I discussed this recently in a three-hour long video chat with our good friend, and Just About Write staff member, Maddie. No, my favorite character is Felicity Smoak. I say this now, because I want there to be no confusion throughout this review, especially in regards to the relationship between Oliver and Felicity as it currently stands. I love female characters, and I love female villains. In spite of the fact that Felicity is not my favorite female character of all time (television-wise, that honor belongs to Community's Annie Edison), she ranks among the best because of her resilience, strength, wittiness, and intelligence. But it's Felicity's pride in herself that has always impressed me. She isn't afraid to walk away when situations aren't helping her. It's why she walked away from Oliver during "Sara," and it's why she did the same thing again in "Uprising" and yet again in "Broken Hearts." People seem to forget that Felicity isn't afraid to stand up to Oliver. She doesn't hold back her feelings and she doesn't allow him to bulldoze her, whether that's by withholiding information or refusing to confront his feelings or treating her with kid gloves.

Felicity loves Oliver, but loves herself more.

And that's super important to convey in a female character on television, especially when so many writers are content to dismiss women as "love interests" and give them no real identity apart from that. Felicity was always more than just one half of "Olicity," and this week's episode titled "Beacon of Hope" proves that. She's come to identify herself primarily as a part of Team Arrow, but this episode reminds her — and us — that Felicity's dreams and goals aren't inherently tied to her vigilantism. She joined Team Arrow in order to make a tangible difference in the world. Meanwhile in the episode, Oliver gets some help in processing his emotions from Laurel, while Curtis fills in for Felicity to some hilarious results.

Let's dive in!

MORE LIKE BEE-CON OF HOPE, AMIRITE?


(That pun was way too obvious not to be made. I would apologize, but I'm really not sorry at this point... even with all of the horrible bee puns in this episode.)

Our favorite Felicity-esque foe, Brie Larvan, from The Flash's "All Star Team Up" last year returns. She's a bit more unhinged and providing 110% more bee puns, but she's come to seek out Felicity for one thing and one thing only — the technology that made her walk. There's only the small matter of the fact that this implant is currently attached to Felicity's spine. Apart from wanting some cool new tech, Brie's motives initially seem to be about revenge for Felicity putting her in jail (until we realized she didn't know it was Felicity who put her there). I thought that Brie's motive lacked prowess, and I'm glad that I was proven wrong. Initially, Brie was only after one thing: the tech within Felicity's spine. She reveals, in a rather somber moment, that she has a tumor on the base of her spine. The only way to remove the tumor is through a surgery that will render her paralyzed.

In that moment, Felicity's compassion is evident, and she tells Brie where she can find the schematics for the tech. Brie then departs, wordlessly, but seemingly grateful. In another episode of Arrow, this would be a moment where the two would have a heavy-handed conversation about how Felicity knows what it feels like to be paralyzed. But I'm glad the writers of the episode left those emotions swirling in the air. Brie knows what Felicity went through, and there's this part of Felicity that I think wants to tell her and be that beacon of hope to her in the moment. In the decision to not say anything, however, the writers let their audience do the inferring. And that worked much better.

Unfortunately, what didn't work was the fact that Brie — upon finding the schematics — recognized Felicity's code from the time she beat her in Central City and, you know, sent her to prison. Whoops! That discovery lends to Brie's vengeful side showing, but ultimately the young woman is taken down by Team Arrow (and her own bees).

In a lot of ways, "Beacon of Hope" is a set-up — a tamer, more zinger (or stinger, if you will)-filled episode before next week's big death takes place. So it makes a certain level of sense that this week would be more shenanigan-driven, with laughter and some character development before our heroes face the death of someone close to them. In spite of the fact that this episode felt like filler, it was the kind of filler I could enjoy. The show's energy and pacing seemed to be similar to that of season two, where Team Arrow had to constantly band together in order to take down a Villain of the Week™. For the first time in a long time, Arrow was not dredged down beneath the weight of angsty Oliver or relationship drama. The layers were in perfect balance, like a souffle. (Oliver/Felicity reference intended.)

I think one of the primary reasons this episode worked was because the show remembered what made it so special in the first place. Arrow isn't The Flash — it doesn't welcome the silliness of Curtis Holt with open arms. It fights it a little; there's friction and darkness there. But there's also growth. And this week saw a nice resetting of characterization for Oliver (I'm still mad at him and I likely will always be), as well as some great story for Felicity. This is a woman who is strong enough to know what she deserves, but also gentle. She doesn't walk away from Oliver or Thea or from her life of fighting crime because she's being vindictive. She's not doing it to cause Oliver heartache.

She's doing it because she deserves a better life than Oliver can provide for her right now, and she's doing it because — by walking away — she's going to be able to provide better lives to people who use Palmer Technologies. She's going to become her very own beacon of hope.


OH HONEY, HONEY


... But admittedly, I like seeing a pricklier side of Felicity Smoak every now and then. It proves to us all that she's not just a pretty face  not meant to sit behind a computer screen and spew out innuendos or give little smiles and waves to the team in the field. I think that a lot of people would reduce Felicity to the "pretty blonde hacker," and are content to see her rather than hear her. (I'm just spitballing here, based on some comments I see from the Internet.) But what I really enjoy is seeing how Felicity's emotions generally lead her to become more productive, not less so. While Oliver, unfortunately, lets his emotions run rampant.

What I find to be so interesting is that Donna Smoak makes a valid point: sometimes Felicity has difficulty opening up to others, and it's like cracking an exterior shell to get to the heart of her issues. Felicity may be more emotionally mature than Oliver in some ways, but she's also not in a lot more. Sure, she is able to walk away from her life on Team Arrow, but her refusal to talk to her mother is two-fold: 1) she's her MOTHER (come on, how many of you really enjoy talking about your boy issues with your mom? Anyone? Bueller?), and 2) Felicity doesn't like processing things before she has answers to problems. Felicity Smoak enjoys having blueprints and roadmaps, and if she doesn't have an easy answer, she'd rather not give it. She's not emotionally repressed, but sometimes she's emotionally distant. And that's one of her faults that we saw this season.

In spite of the fact that Oliver and Felicity are still on the rocks, they love one another. Also loving one another? The ladies in this episode. (And no, not like that.) I really enjoyed seeing so many women interact. It was refreshing to have a story with the overeager, shrieky Donna Smoak and the hilarious, drippingly sarcastic Thea Queen. Those two haven't interacted much  or at all, correct me if I'm wrong  and to see the stark contrast between them with Felicity playing middleman was so great.

But what was just as great was the conversation between Thea and Felicity at the end of the episode. The two women have a natural ease of talking to one another, in spite of the fact that they haven't shared many scenes together before this season. Thea is the kind of person who is persistent — she doesn't easily let things go — and so she continues to press Felicity about joining the team. For Thea, a life of crime-fighting is like a drug: she feels a rush of energy, and the high of saving lives. That fills her with happiness and purpose.

Not for Felicity, though. And it's something we've known to be true of her but haven't really heard her vocalize much. Team Arrow wasn't a place where Felicity could stop bad guys and feel that rush of energy. Sure, she loved putting villains in jail, but the true rush was whenever Felicity helped make an actual difference. She wants to make the world better, and she's doing to do that on her own. How refreshing is it to see two female characters talk about making the world better in their own ways? And how great is it that neither is presented as "right" or "wrong"?

LAUREL LANCE: UNLIKELY VOICE OF REASON*


Speaking of ladies, this review is just going to be a continuous love letter to them, because now I'm going to be talking about Laurel Lance.

I know Laurel is a divisive character in fandom, and a lot of people who love the Oliver/Felicity relationship hate Laurel. Conversely, a lot of staunch Laurel Lance fans hate Felicity and people who ship Oliver/Felicity. Honestly, I try not to get involved in these arguments, mostly because they're exhausting and I would rather spend my free time binge-watching Daredevil than getting into Internet spats with people who are utterly convinced I'm wrong, and vice versa.

I loved Laurel in season one, when she was being a kick-butt lawyer who didn't take any of Oliver's crap. And I loved her with Tommy. I've talked before about how Arrow turned Laurel's character into a fiery trainwreck, so I won't rehash my problems with her addiction storyline or her rush to Black Canary status. I won't even talk about the fact that this season has found me flip-flopping on Laurel's characterization every other episode (one moment: utter defiance and naivete; the next, profound wisdom... what is up with this, Arrow writers?). No, instead, I'm going to talk about  how Oliver Queen desperately needed a smackdown, and I'm glad Laurel was the one to deliver it.

Laurel confronts Oliver near the beginning of the episode, intent on making sure he knows that she's there for him, should his emotions get the best of him. Oliver, of course, appears affronted and confused at Laurel  his ex-girlfriend — trying to give him relationship advice or a shoulder to lean on. He wonders aloud whether she's the best person to be doing this, given their history. Her argument? Of course she is, because she knows he loves hard and when he hits the ground after a relationship ends, he hits REALLY hard. Oliver seems to appease her, but the response is lacking in emotion.

So when Curtis temporarily joins the team in order to help stop Brie's bees (say that ten times fast), and they manage to stop them, Curtis celebrates in the adorably nerdy way only he can. This doesn't amuse Oliver. In fact, it downright angers him, and the Oliver we've come to know and (not) love rears its ugly head. The Green Arrow snaps and barks and Laurel, being the brave soul she is, decides to talk some sense into Oliver.

And this is the part of the episode in which I loved Laurel so hard, because she's said what I've desperately wanted someone  ANYONE  to say to Oliver for half a season: his lies are his fault. They're not the fault of his hero lifestyle. It wasn't the Green Arrow who lied to Felicity. It was OLIVER who did that. Felicity didn't wreck their relationship  he did. He lied, and now he has to own up to those consequences. It was his fault. And after weeks of Diggle telling Oliver he had no choice and Thea justifying Oliver's behavior, and what's-her-face Baby Mama taking the blame, I wanted to wrap my arms around Laurel's severely-buckled waist and thank her for being the only sane on in the lair.

Because she's right. Oliver's lies are his own fault. He can't shift the blame and he can't pretend that his emotions don't affect his actions. Laurel freakin' Lance is the first person to call out Oliver on his crap, and I am eternally grateful she did. The truth is that Laurel has nothing to gain now from lying to Oliver or sugarcoating things. He messed up and she is unafraid to tell him that. 

Laurel vocalized an important theme of this episode: emotional crutches aren't meant to be leaned on. And sometimes it takes a dramatic change of circumstances or an honest heart-to-heart in order to set you back on the right path again.

Observations & favorite moments:
  • * I will never waste an opportunity to make a reference to The Soup.
  • This is the first time in quite some time that I've had very little criticism for an Arrow episode. It's unsettling. In a good way!
  • MVP for the episode is without a doubt, Echo Kellum. Between Lucy Punch's guest stint on last night's New Girl and the return of Echo on tonight's Arrow, I'm swarmed with a bunch of Ben and Kate nostalgia. Echo is such a perfect addition to this show (even if I did think of how great it would be if he could cross over to The Flash), and his comedic timing was never more on-point than it was in tonight's episode. Everything he did was golden, from his rapid-fire delivery to his hilarious physical comedy. I'm glad Curtis Holt was integrated into Team Arrow briefly, and I would welcome a return to the Arrow cave in the future.
  • Grave Predictions: With all her lovely speeches and logic, Laurel is likely going to be in that grave. Logic doesn't have a lot of place on this show, and Laurel's been wrapping up loose ends lately like it's her job. Sorry, birdie, but if you're gone... at least you went out with solid life advice to Oliver's dumb self.
  • Harry Potter references in tonight's episode? Aces! Not aces: all the horrible bee puns.
  • I still don't know what's happening in the flashbacks since I mute them. From what I gathered, Boring Love Interest shot Less-Annoying Army Dude, who is somehow invincible or hard to kill because curses? And then she fell down somewhere and Dumb Island Oliver was worried about her. Sound correct?
  • There was a minor sub-plot about Malcolm Merlyn taunting Damien Darhk in jail, and Damien forming some alliance with that creepy dude Murmur from last season's "The Offer."
  • "So can ANYBODY just walk in here?"
  • "And you're...? I'm sorry, I know we've met before but I can't place your name right now." Curtis not knowing who Diggle was? HILARIOUS.
  • "Too soon for bee puns?" "Let's assume that it is." #meta
  • "I have to force your feelings out of you sometimes, like a... like a pistachio!" Charlotte Ross' delivery of that line was EVERYTHING. She sounded so hysterical and so concerned.
  • "Any puppies you wanna kick while you're at it? Bags of kittens you want to send down the river?" God bless Laurel Lance is all I have to say.
  • "I know you're probably asking yourself: 'Self, what the hell just happened?!'" Neal McDonough is so perfect with his deliveries that sometimes I forget I'm not supposed to find him adorable as the season's Big Bad.
  • Okay criticism: the bee puns and the "beacon of hope" stuff was laid on pretty thick.
  • "LAY DOWN, BEE-OTCH." That is a pun I can accept.
  • When Andy Diggle appeared, I literally said: "Ahhh, craaaaaaap." 
What did you all think of this week's episode? Who is in the grave?

Blindspot 1x15 Review: "Older Cutthroat Canyon" (The Burning Rose) [Contributor: Jen]


"Older Cutthroat Canyon"
Original Airdate: 

One of Jane's most prominent tattoos is revealed in "Older Cutthroat Canyon," but what makes it truly interesting is the hidden emotional connection to Kurt and Jane.


CASE OF THE WEEK



There is a general excitement among Blindspot fans (Blindspotters) that the "Burning Rose" tattoo will be revealed. I feel this is an appropriate time for a confession. This is a safe zone right? Right.

I had absolutely no idea what anyone was talking about — no clue what the "Burning Rose" tattoo is.

I consider myself an enthusiastic fan, but I don't keep track of Jane's tattoos. Mostly I just look at Jane and think "pretty" because Jaimie Alexander is the living embodiment of a goddess. Given that it's one of the most prominent tattoos on Jane's body I am a little embarrassed by my cluelessness. In my defense, I did notice the "Kurt Weller" tattoo in the pilot. I get points for that, right? Anyway, I am extremely appreciative of any Blindspotters who do keep track of the tattoos. I'd be lost without you.

Now that this is off my chest, what is the "Burning Rose" tattoo, exactly? It's a stolen painting by a reclusive artist. As the team investigates the theft, a bomb goes off in the studio. Shrapnel slices Kurt's throat and he's nearly killed. All together now, kids: "NOOOOOOO!"

The team starts putting two and two together when Jane is nearly taken out later by a sniper. The bomb was meant for Jane. Someone is trying to kill her. Jane gets another memory flash and recognizes the shooter as someone she and Oscar worked with. Those memories are getting awfully convenient, aren't they?

Long story short, the sniper's name is Cade. He use to belong to Oscar and Jane's group (whatever that was), but once Jane was inside the FBI, Cade went rogue. Oscar decided the FBI couldn't protect Jane from Cade and tried to have her moved. Remember the night "Ruggedly Handsome Man"(yes, his actual IMDB description) tried to kidnap Jane from her safe house? Before he could remove Jane, he was killed by a sniper. Cade is the safe house sniper!

So what does this all have to do with the "Burning Rose" tattoo? Cade threatened to expose the reclusive artist's identity if he/she did not paint the image of the "Burning Rose" tattoo and display it. He used the "burning rose" painting to draw Jane out.

Why this elaborate plan is necessary is a bit more boggling. Jane has been running around town with Team Blindspot for several weeks. By all accounts, Cade is an excellent shot. He didn't need to draw Jane out because she's not hiding. It's a fairly complicated plot that ends up being a bit of a stretch. It was extremely entertaining, so I'll over look the contrivances.


TEAM BLINDSPOT


Once again, Jane aligns herself squarely with "her team" (a.k.a. Team Blindspot). Jane's loyalties are not confused. If Oscar wasn't threatening Kurt every chance he gets, I'm pretty sure Jane would tell him where to stick that GPS tracker he forces her to plant. She's between a rock and a hard place, but Jane cares about these people and not just Kurt. Jane disappears to draw Cade away from the team. After Team Blindspot tracks Cade's location, Jane refuses to abandon them despite Oscar's protests. Her number one priority is the safety of "her team."

I am not unsympathetic towards Oscar. His team members are dropping like flies and he's afraid Jane is next. It's clear he's very much in love with her. It must be very painful that Jane barely remembers him. The big heart eyes for Kurt Weller can't be much fun either. Still, Oscar is threatening Kurt and nobody threatens my baby. It's going to take a lot more than tackling Cade off a boat to square things with me.

Jane, Kurt, Zappata, Mayfair, and Patterson have all played the "rock in a hard place" game. Most are still playing it. Now it's Read's turn. He's getting too close to Carter's murder.  A masked man holds him at gunpoint and tells Read to drop it, or else he'll kill Sara and Sawyer.

Read is madly in love with Sara, so he immediately backs off the investigation. He also breaks up with Sara. He wants to make sure it sticks though, so Read tells Sara he doesn't love her. I was screaming at my television, "DON'T DO IT, READ!" And yet, Read did not listen to me. Ugh, how annoying. So now Read can officially join the "Push Away The One You Love To Protect Them Club." Jane is the President. Kurt is the Vice President. And I'm pretty sure they are looking for a treasurer.

KURT AND JANE


I readily admit Kurt and Jane are not together. Except... they are so together! They are just one of those couples. I don't think my heart will be able to handle Jeller as an official couple. Their "not together, but together" moments are giving me heart palpitations as is.

Kurt is post-op and is still the first to figure out someone is trying to kill Jane. Mayfair tells Kurt Jane is missing and immediately Kurt asks, "Has he got her?" There's a lift in his voice and it shakes ever-so slightly. He is absolutely terrified. I don't even think the anesthesia has worn off before Kurt rips out the IV. The man nearly has his jugular sliced in half and he's back on the job to save Jane. THAT'S LOVE. Sorry Oscar. Jugular beats boat. Paper covers rock.

Jane is not to be outdone. She returns to the boat to save the team (but mostly Kurt) even though she knows it gives Cade the opportunity to kill her. Of course, as Jane tries to free Kurt Cade puts a gun to her head. Kurt screams her name helplessly as Jane begs Cade not to kill her in front of her team... in front of Kurt. It is so intense! It is also an homage to Alias. If you aren't feeling Sydney and Vaughn warm fuzzies then I advise you to start a Netflix binge. Specifically the Alias season one finale. You can thank me later.

Of course, the real emotional juggernaut is when Jane explains to her whereabouts to Kurt and Mayfair. Okay, she lies but let's focus on the big picture:
Jane: I'm sorry. Are you okay?
Kurt: No. I'm not. I lost you once before. I spent most of today thinking I lost you again.
Jane: What would you have done if you were me?
Kurt: Exactly the same thing.
SWOON. I nearly passed out. No joke. This is the dialogue when they are not together? What are they going to say to each other when they go on a date? What will the wedding vows be? Sure, I might be jumping the gun a little, but you know I'm right. This is where they are headed. There is an almost cosmic connection between Kurt and Jane. Kurt only has his childhood memories of Taylor. Taylor has no memories of Kurt at all. And yet, they know in their bones who the other person is. With that knowledge comes a deep understanding. No matter what comes between them: time, distance, other lovers or lies Kurt and Jane will always manage to bridge the divide between them.

The image of a burning rose is fraught with symbolism. Unequivocally one of the great symbols for love is the rose.The rose on Jane's back is very much engulfed by the flames, but it is not consumed. A black rose typically means tragic love and certainly Kurt and Jane are a tragic love story thus far. Certainly, in "Older Cutthroat Canyon" Kurt and Jane come close to losing each other. The threat, or the flames, is Jane's past. However, it's the flames I find most interesting. The fact that the rose remains resilient as it burns symbolizes a fortitude to the love. There may be tragedy. There may be sacrifice. But ultimately, love will survive.

Kurt and Jane are the burning rose.

Stray Thoughts:
  • It's official. Kurt Weller is Macgyver and it only makes him hotter.
  • "You don't know who you work for?" Uh -h. Jane is identifying with another witness again.
  • There were so many great lines in this episode!
  • "This guy makes JD Salinger look like an extravert."
  • "Well if it can't it's one terrible bomb sniffing dog."
  • "She's not running. She's protecting us."
  • "I don't give up on my friends for anyone!"
  • "Oh nice! Think we'll fit through it?"
  • Who's the old man?
  • I feel like a sniper would go for the head shot, but I may have watched one too many movies.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Series: Lessons from the Citadel -- House Stark
[Contributor: Melanie]


House Stark is one of the Great Houses of Westeros and possibly the oldest noble house on the continent, as they trace their lineage back to the First Men 8,000 years ago. Though they currently sit nearly extinct and deposed of their lands and titles, they controlled the largest stretch of land among any of the Great Houses.

  • Words: Winter is Coming
  • Sigil: A grey direwolf on a white field
  • Region: The North (formally)
  • Seat: Winterfell
  • Titles: Warden of the North (formally), Lord of Winterfell (formally), King in the North (formally)
  • Bastard Names: Snow
  • Members on Screen: Eddard “Ned” Stark (deceased), Benjen Stark (missing), Catelyn Tully Stark (deceased), Jon Snow (deceased), Sansa Stark Lannister, Arya Stark (officially missing), Brandon “Bran” Stark (officially deceased), Rickon Stark (missing)
  • Current head: Disputed 
The Starks claim lineage from Brandon “Bran the Builder” Stark (through whom they claim further descent from High King Garth Greenhand), a legendary figure during the Age of Heroes who fought in the War for Dawn against the White Walkers. During the Long Night (a period of winter and utter darkness) when the White Walkers (also known as the Others) attacked, Bran built the 700-foot Wall out of ice and stone to keep them back. He is also credited with constructing Winterfell a few hundred miles south of the Wall, which served as the seat for the Kings in the North and later Wardens of the North.

As the first defense against Wildling attacks, several Starks have served as Lord Commanders of the Night’s Watch (including the thirteenth Lord Commander, who later became the Night’s King — that creepy ice dude giving Jon the business last season). They have a cadet branch, the Karstarks (the man Robb beheaded in season three) and have a strong connection with the North and the people residing there. This fierce loyalty the people of the North have towards the Starks continue to make it difficult for the Boltons to maintain absolute power over Winterfell.

The Kings in the North fell to the Targaryens like the others. King Torrhen famously bent the knee to Aegon without question after witnessing the might of his dragon Balerion. The Inn of the Kneeling Man now marks the spot where this oath of fealty took place. The Starks were loyal servants to the crown, and signed the Pact of Ice and Fire with the Targaryens after declaring allegiance to Princess Rhaenyra during the succession crisis known as the Dance of the Dragons. Within their own borders they faced the issue of dwindling volunteers for the Night’s Watch and attacks from Wildlings. 


However, toward the end of the Targaryen reign, House Stark played a pivotal role in supplanting them. Lyanna Stark, the daughter of Lord Rickard Stark, was engaged to Robert Baratheon but captured the interest of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen (despite already being married with children). The nature of her feelings toward the prince are unclear (though her disdain for Robert was obvious) but she disappeared with him a year after he made his first advance toward her. As a result, Rickard and his eldest son Brandon marched south and demanded Rhaegar answer for his crime. In response, the mad Targaryen king had them executed. Eddard Stark, now Lord of Winterfell, called his banners, along with his fosterfather Lord Jon Arryn, and Robert Baratheon. Together, the three of them waged a yearlong campaign to place Robert on the throne.

Ned married Catelyn Tully, who was originally promised to his late brother during the course of the war, and had a falling out with Robert after learning that Rhaegar’s innocent wife and children had been brutally murdered by the Lannisters, who had switched to support the rebels at the last minute. One of the last skirmishes of the war was fought by Ned and his bannermen at the Tower of Joy where his sister, finally located, died in his arms. It is unknown what Ned and his sister discussed but he returned from the war with an infant Jon Snow, whom he claimed was his bastard son. A few years thereafter he took on Theon Greyjoy as a hostage after ending the Greyjoy Rebellion.

The Starks have been pushed to near extinction since the death of Robert Baratheon. With Ned executed, Robb and Catelyn betrayed and murdered, Bran and Rickon officially presumed dead, Arya missing, and Sansa forced into marriage with the Lannisters, the Boltons now claim the title Wardens of the North and hold Winterfell. Jon Snow, an illegitimate (though in the book Robb legitimized him and made him his heir) bastard stands as the last living descendent of the family, along with his trueborn sister Sansa.

Traits and Customs

Like many highborn families, the Starks boast traits common among them. Their facial features are often described as “the look” and their temperaments are known as “wolf-blooded.” They’re known for their dark hair and eyes and for their headstrong and wild nature, as well as a thirst for battle. Unlike other houses, however, they seem to possess innate, almost magical, abilities passed down from their First Men ancestors. Many members of the family have been shown to possess warging abilities (the ability to mentally enter the body of an animal for short periods), including Bran and Jon Snow. Bran also has the gift of greendreams, prophetic and clairvoyant visions through dreams, as well as some apparent telepathic abilities as the Three Eyed Raven communicated with him thusly. The Starks also seem to have a natural bond with direwolves, the sigil of their house.

In accordance with their ancestors, the Starks continue to keep the Old Gods as their faith rather than convert to the Faith of the Seven. They have a weirwood tree and a godswood within Winterfell that they use for prayer and religious services.

Check back here for more histories on the Seven Kingdoms!

Supergirl 1x18 Review: "World’s Finest" (Cuteness on Infinite Earths) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]


“World’s Finest”
Original Airdate: March 28, 2016

I think it’s amusing to imagine this crossover happening with any of the other DC shows out there right now, and how things would not have meshed as well as Supergirl and The Flash do. It’s always kind of baffling when The Flash crosses over with its sibling-show, Arrow, because the tones of the two shows are so different. Arrow is brooding, dark, perpetually rainy and desaturated while The Flash has a lot more brightness to it, more humor, and more lighthearted plots. Even though we know that — literally, in-story — Supergirl and The Flash don’t belong to the same universe, the way they blend together is natural and terrifically fun to watch. The tone of the shows go well together, the lighting and coloring of the shows go well together, and (this is the most important bit) Kara and Barry go amazingly well together.

For those of you who don’t read my The Flash reviews: I do this thing at the end of every review where I choose a puppy GIF that best represents Barry’s emotional state for the episode, on account of the fact that Barry Allen is a human-shaped puppy made of angel giggles and the sun’s rays at Golden Hour. Kara also exhibits decidedly puppy-like qualities. The two of them together? Too much puppy to be represented by one single GIF, so be warned of multiple adorable GIFs in the following review. It still doesn’t do justice to exactly how adorable this super-duo was throughout this episode, but I suppose we’ll have to settle for what we can get.

KARA AND BARRY


The first hurdle in any crossover event is always “How can we get these characters to meet each other?” and Supergirl tackles that by just, you know, having the Flash coincidentally swoop in as Kara is blasted out of the window of the CatCo office building by Siobhan’s banshee shriek. Is it a million-to-one chance that Barry would transport to that place, at that time, and have enough forethought to actually catch the woman randomly falling from the sky? Yeah, you bet it is. Do I care that something so astronomically unlikely happened? Nope. Not if it gets these two adorable dorks together as instant BFFs.


Well, first Kara has to get over the disorientation caused by Siobhan’s scream and realize that a strange, superhero-suited individual showed up out of nowhere. Barry lists a bunch of other CW heroes — none of whom exist in the Supergirl universe — and realizes that, oops, he’s zipped his way onto a different Earth. Earth-3, everybody! Barry enlists Kara’s help in tracking down people with the know-how to get him back to his Earth, but there’s no S.T.A.R Labs and no S.T.A.R Labs technicians. A world without Cisco Ramon? I’d want to leave, too.

The mission to return Barry home is interrupted by Siobhan breaking Livewire out of her DEO prison in order to kill Supergirl, Cat Grant, and — from Siobhan’s perspective — Kara Danvers. Because apparently that’s what Siobhan needs to do in order to get rid of the banshee curse that was put on all the women in her family, and she’s instantly okay with committing murder because she’s clearly a sociopath. Seriously, her aunt tells her that using the scream erodes her soul or whatever but she only used it a few times and still lands on “murder in the first degree” as the only solution to her problems. Aaaaand Winn wants to date this woman, why?

Supergirl and the Flash team up to stop Livewire and Siobhan — now calling herself Silver Banshee — but a lack of proper planning means their first attempt goes awry. Apparently, Kara has been low on the planning and high on the desperation ever since the city turned against her, and her “let’s just go do it, it’ll be fine!” approach to superheroics isn’t exactly the best one when they’re dealing with two fairly powerful enemies. This screw-up is very embarrassing for our heroes.


They survive to try again, however! It’s a good thing, too, since Cat Grant gets kidnapped and used as bait to get Supergirl and the Flash to some park, where Livewire and Siobhan are waiting to kill them. Livewire can literally go anywhere there’s electricity — why does she give her enemy warning, thus giving them time to regroup and think up a plan (and devise earplugs to protect against her new ally’s power) when she could sneak-attack them through computers? Eh. Moving on.

In a little twist of the way these things usually go, it’s not Supergirl or the Flash who save the day (though Kara is the one who saves Cat Grant, specifically) but the citizens of National City, who realize the error of their Supergirl-shunning ways and rise up to stop the attack against their hero. Some firemen blast Livewire with a hose, dousing her powers and catching Siobhan up in the electricity spike at the same time, and help Supergirl to her feet. It’s unbelievably cheesy. It’s so cheesy that the scene should have been preceded by a Viewer Discretion Is Advised warning to anyone who suffers from lactose intolerance. But I don’t really care, because occasionally I enjoy some cheese in my superhero shows and at least this means the city’s not against Supergirl anymore.

It proves that they are still unbelievably fickle, of course, but they’re no longer against her.

With the villains’ villainous activities stopped and the villains themselves in jail (actual jail, not a secret DEO underground prison, because Barry somehow gave National City the technology required to keep metahumans locked up) all that’s left is getting Barry home. Barry figures that, with his speed and Kara’s strength/speed combined, he could possibly cause a dimensional breach that would send him back to his Earth. I’m not so sure how he could pinpoint exactly which Earth he’d be sent to, but, whatever. Puppies running in a field!


After saying goodbye to his new BFF, Barry goes home. I try my hardest not to think about the fact that these two darlings can never check in with each other or talk about silly things or be proper BFFs again because they’re separated by differently-vibrating realities. Who else just wants to go ahead and assume that Cisco’s going to devise something that allows Barry to Skype to other Earths and Kara will be the first buddy he adds to his contacts list? Because I’m adopting that as my headcanon and you can’t stop me.

NO MORE PUPPY GIFS


Here is where the puppy GIFs have to end, sadly, because although we get one final bit of adorable when Kara invites James over to her apartment so they can just kiss already, it’s really terrible timing. As soon as they kiss, James gets a dazed look on his face and walks out of Kara’s apartment without a word. Kara is understandably confused by this, but goes to her window to see that James isn’t the only one who has entered a zombie-like state. It looks like a huge portion, if not all, of National City’s population is being mind-controlled by Non and his evil Kryptonian cohorts.

“Myriad” has been activated.

Krypto-Bits:
  • "Last night, I helped a family assemble their IKEA table!" Kara is a true hero.
  • "How many Earths are there, other than this one?" Infinite Earths, Kara! Infinite! There was a crisis once!
  • Okay, I know I have a history of hating on Winn but his excited hugging of Kara while Barry tried to explain the multiverse was really cute.
  • "[An Earth] where all of us are evil!" "Been there. It sucks."
  • Did Barry steal those ice creams?
  • "So, you're a superhero too?" "Mhmm." "That's cool, I guess." Haha, I thought I was going to hate jealous!James because jealousy is a really terrible plot device, but he's so dopey about the jealousy that I actually enjoyed it.
  • "I have traveled through time before, by accident." "That's cool!" Winn is such a Barry fanboy throughout this whole episode, and it's beautiful.
  • "You like donuts?" "Who doesn't like donuts?" Kara's giddy joy at having a superfriend is also beautiful.
  • "Jealousy! Thy name is Olsen." For real though, thank you writers for this crush-free Winn. I wish this had been the character we'd gotten the entire time, because then I wouldn't have said so many mean things about him.
  • "National City may have lost faith in Supergirl, but I haven't." Aw!
  • "Wait, you have a sisterrrr?" Cutest line read of the episode. Series? Both series? Ever?
  • Another thing I'm really grateful about in this episode: James and Lucy having a mature talk about their relationship and how both of them really messed up the whole thing. She shouldn't have followed him to National City after their breakup, he shouldn't have gotten into a relationship with her when he had feelings for someone else.
  • "I see bad guys love their abandoned warehouses on your Earth too, huh?"
  • I'm imagining a hilarious makeover montage involving Livewire convincing Siobhan that no, no, the zombie look is totally cool. I'll steal you some silver colored contacts and grey hair dye, it'll be awesome.
  • "What do you say we step away from the nice lady, settle this like women?" ... "What? There are more of you guys here than me." I love Barry Allen so much. He’s the hero we want, deserve, and need.
  • Hey, Supergirl writers: LET CAT GRANT KNOW ABOUT KARA BEING SUPERGIRL.
  • For a second there, I thought that the show was going to pull the "Kryptonian amnesia-kiss" and got really scared. But nah, just an evil mind control plot! Whew.