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.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

American Gods 1x01 Review: "The Bone Orchard" (A Storm is Coming) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]


"The Bone Orchard"
Original Airdate: April 30, 2017

[Warning: The following review contains all the spoilers. All of them.]

While reflecting on the process of writing American Gods in the foreword of the 10th Anniversary Edition, Neil Gaiman tells us, “I wanted to write a book that was big and odd and meandering, and I did and it was.”

The trickiest thing about American Gods, the novel, is that it is not a straightforward novel with a straightforward plot. It is a big, odd, meandering novel that trips through time and viewpoints and dream sequences. It’s a novel that’s one part mystery, one part horror, one part romance (in several strange ways), one part fantasy, one part mythology, and I have no idea how many parts actually make up the recipe of this book, but I know that it’s delicious and that this metaphor got really weird.

I don’t eat books, by the way.

American Gods is a confusing, magical reflection on the confusing, sometimes magical country of America, which is all mixed up with a tangle of cultures and mythologies and opposing viewpoints that create something oddly precarious — and that precariousness, too, is reflected in the novel. This book was never an action-packed page-turner full of twists and gunfights and explosions. It’s a story that creeps along the edges, rolling out slowly like a fog and — if you allow it to do so — seeps into your mind and takes root. The word I always use to describe it is “atmospheric,” which is both accurate and inaccurate, since the book might be a slowly rolling fog, but it also has murderous gods, and the undead. So yeah,  it’s not just some plotless thinkpiece, either.

That atmosphere thing is critical to me, though. I know that the television show American Gods can’t be identical to the book American Gods (side note: no show can be identical to the book, no show will ever be identical to the book, and setting your hopes for a show to be “identical to the book” is just setting yourself up for disappointment). But to me, as a devoted fan of this big, odd, meandering story, the most important thing for the show to capture and replicate is not exact details of the big, odd, meandering story itself — but the atmosphere that boils up when all those big, odd, meandering ingredients get together and create something fantastic.


IF YOU ARE TO SURVIVE, YOU MUST BELIEVE


The story of American Gods begins with a tale of Vikings arriving in the Americas, as narrated by Mr. Ibis (who, I assume, will probably be narrating all the flashbacks we see in the series). The travelers left their homes to seek out riches in a new land, but find only hostility, starvation, and misery as soon as they step foot on foreign soil. Desperate to return home but lacking the wind to sail away, they maim themselves in the name of their god by each stabbing out an eye, then they sacrifice one of their number in the name of their god by burning the man alive. And, finally, they realize that the one they worship is a war god. So they start a war.

Their methods of worship are bloody and brutal, but effective — the god they were praying to evidently grants them a sailing wind that will send them back home. But when they leave, they leave the god tied to the land, waiting. Mr. Ibis’s narrative establishes the main premise of the series, which is that the manifestation and power of the gods rests solely on whether or not people believe in them, remember them, and worship them.

Now in the story of present-day America, a man named Shadow Moon is in the last days of a three-year prison sentence. In his waking hours, Shadow has a feeling that something big and menacing is coming for him — something he can’t see, but can’t help believing in. When he sleeps, he dreams of an orchard of bones beneath a starry sky and a noose hanging from bone-white branches. It’s evident that Shadow’s life is teetering on a precipice of change, and when he gets news that he’s to be released early because his wife, Laura, has died in a car accident — well, there is really no way that whatever’s coming is going to be good for him.

After a brief flashback while Shadow’s standing in the airport, waiting to get on a plane and go back to his hometown for his wife’s funeral, we get the introduction of Mr. Wednesday. Everything about Mr. Wednesday screams “con-artist,” from the smooth way he finagles a seat in first class to the cryptic references he makes to Shadow, to his bizarre theory that the plane he and Shadow are sitting in owes its flight not so much to physics, but to people’s belief in the plane’s ability to fly. So when Mr. Wednesday offers Shadow a job, I’m sure everything within Shadow is screaming at him to reject it. Which he does. Unfortunately for Shadow, he’s the protagonist of this show and he doesn’t really have a choice in whether or not he participates.

Shadow falls asleep on the plane and dreams again, but not just of the Bone Orchard from before. In a captivating and incredibly surreal scene, Shadow dreams of a massive buffalo with flaming eyes. “Believe,” says the Buffalo.

When Shadow wakes, Mr. Wednesday is gone — but not gone for good. After getting a car, Shadow drives, alone, to his next destination. He pauses for a moment to scream at the sky, which I don’t begrudge him. His life just turned very rough and, sadly, it’s only going to get rougher. After this moment of anger at the (ha!) gods, Shadow stops at a truly ridiculous place called “Jack’s Crocodile Bar” (the bar is literally in the mouth of a giant fiberglass crocodile) for food. While there, Shadow runs into mysterious Mr. Wednesday and gets the job offer again. After informing Shadow that the job waiting for him back home no longer exists — Shadow’s wife and his best friend (Robbie), who had lined the job up for him, are both quite dead — Shadow is tricked into working for Mr. Wednesday via a coin toss.

The scenes in Jack’s Crocodile Bar are absolutely wonderful, from the set of the bar itself to the introduction of Mad Sweeney the Seven-Foot-Tall Leprechaun to the character and story elements it establishes. Mr. Wednesday fast-talks his way through a lot of expectations for Shadow Moon before Shadow signs on as his “aide-de-camp [and] castellan” through the ritualistic drinking of mead.
Not only is Shadow to be Mr. Wednesday’s all-around assistant, but also essentially his bodyguard. Shadow is also the one who, in the event of Mr. Wednesday’s death, is expected to hold his vigil. Ricky Whittle plays Shadow as impatient, angry, and skeptical enough — not to mention distracted by Mad Sweeney’s perfect darts game going on in the background — that it’s unclear whether Shadow is even listening to what Wednesday is saying. This depiction, as well as the other bursts of anger and emotion throughout the episode, is a departure from the almost preternaturally cool and collected Shadow of the novel, but it still manages to be perfect.

Mad Sweeney challenges Shadow to a fight out of nowhere and, reluctantly, Shadows fights him. Sweeney promises gold that he pulls from who-knows-where and basically just lives up to his name, madly ranting about fighting for the joy of fighting and laughing when Shadow pummels him bloody.

The fight ends with a cut to black for the audience, but Shadow wakes in the back of a Cadillac, with Mr. Wednesday driving, and seems to have won — though he can’t remember doing so. Mad Sweeney had even taught him the coin trick that involved pulling gold from nowhere and gave Shadow a shiny gold coin as a prize.

At Laura’s funeral, Shadow learns from Robbie’s widow, Audrey, that Robbie and Laura dying on the same day wasn’t just some weird coincidence. The two were having an affair, and died in the car accident together. When the funeral is over, Shadow throws the gold coin he received from Mad Sweeney on Laura’s grave and spends a few moments shouting at her, telling her that he read books in prison and he wanted to surprise her with what he’d learned. It’s genuinely such a good performance by Ricky Whittle, and another example of how show-Shadow’s emotional turmoil is much more clear than book-Shadow’s. The performance of a half-mourning, half-furious, all-drunk Audrey (played by Betty Gilpin) that follows Shadow’s rant to his dead wife is also pretty great — great enough to distract Shadow from seeing the coin he’d dropped on Laura’s grave getting sucked into the soil.

There’s just one more meeting Shadow must suffer through before he’s allowed to return to... whatever life he’s about to have as Mr. Wednesday’s employee, and that meeting is with a boy in a limo. As the scrawny, strange hipster across from Shadow vapes on toad skins (what?) and occasionally tells his faceless robot henchmen to punch Shadow in the face, he rants about how Wednesday is old and Shadow will be deleted. It’s a visually trippy scene, full of smoke and the implication that Shadow probably thinks he’s hallucinating when the world around him digitizes, then he goes flying up into the sky.

He lands in the mud and rain, the faceless henchmen beating him and eventually stringing him up to a tree with the noose that had haunted his Bone Orchard dreams. Before Shadow chokes to death, the rope around his neck is cut and the rain and mud has mixed with the blood of his attackers, who have been very, very killed by some unknown and unseen force.

And that’s it for the pilot of American Gods! Personally speaking, I think “The Bone Orchard” delivers the atmospheric requirements I was hoping for in an American Gods adaptation, while also sprinkling in some of its own flavor and character interpretations. It’s visually captivating, superbly acted, and I am so looking forward to more.

Afterthoughts:
  • I think the only iffy aesthetics of the show might be the non-scenery CGI, like the trees and the noose in the Bone Orchard in Shadow’s dream. Everything else looks amazing.
  • “I’ve got an eye for these things. Just the one.” Hee.
  • “What should I call you, if I were so inclined?” “Shadow Moon.” “Oh, my boy, that is one outstandingly improbable name.”
  • I love that the show recognizes the “road trip novel” aspects of the story by giving us a few very nice driving scenes, with large vista shots of the American landscape.
  • Yes, I skipped talking about The Scene with Bilquis in the main review. I try to keep something of a narrative flow with my reviews, and the Bilquis cut-away didn’t quite fit. All I really have to say is this: The “holy moly, what?!” factor does not diminish in the book-to-screen translation. 

Series: This Week’s TV MVPs -- Week 59

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We're baaaaaaack, folks! I know that the series has been on hiatus for a little while, but we've returned and are prepared to celebrate some incredible performers on television this week. Joining me this week are:

Friday, April 28, 2017

Grey’s Anatomy 13x21 Review: “Don’t Stop Me Now” (Worms!) [Contributor: Julia Siegel]


“Don’t Stop Me Now”
Original Airdate: April 27, 2017

In an episode where whining and complaining spoiled the fun, Grey’s Anatomy doesn’t seem to be setting up the promised strong ending to the season. With only two more episodes left, Catherine and Richard are barely talking, Owen and Amelia rarely acknowledge the others’ existence or their marriage, and Jo — whose story has the most loose ends — hasn’t been seen in weeks (although actress Camilla Ludington was pregnant while filming this season). Egos have gotten too big in the hospital, which has turned the hostile workplace into an annoying one to watch. Other than Meredith and Nathan, it doesn’t seem like any other character is moving forward on any level, so here’s to hoping that the season can end on a strong note and finish what it started.

GET OVER YOURSELF


Sometimes, I feel the need to pause the show and just yell at Maggie because she has become so obnoxious. I can’t be the only one who can’t stand when Maggie acts like a child when something doesn’t turn out the way she wants it to. The character is so immature, and although she has gone through some powerful story arcs, Maggie hasn’t progressed at all. At this point, there needs to be a major change in the character. It has gotten old watching her moan and cry over trivial things.

That said, it is totally understandable why she would be hurt by Meredith and Riggs dating. Maggie was into Riggs, and Meredith never told her the truth about the on-and-off relationship. However, Maggie never went on a date with Riggs, so she really doesn’t have the right to be that upset over this. Why she can’t just be happy for her sister, who has been dead inside for several years, is beyond me. Maggie needs to learn how to be happy for herself and others because the selfish act is stale.

THE THINGS OF NIGHTMARES


It’s always awesome and terrifying when any medical show does a worms episode. There is something so intriguing about a patient with a stomach or intestines full of worms, yet it might just haunt your dreams at the same time. In this episode, a patient has three boluses of worms in her small intestine. The surgery scene was one of the most fun scenes of the season, as Richard, Stephanie, April, and Andrew have some fun with de-worming their patient. The worms are so clumped together that it looks like masses of spaghetti inside this poor fictional person. Yuck! This is a real thing that does happen, which is why it is so unsettling.

WHY’D YOU HAVE TO BE SO COMPLICATED?


Catherine and Richard are still at odds, which is the most understandable rift of the season. She won’t admit that she forced him out of his job, so it’s totally fine for Richard to still be holding a grudge. To make matters worse, Bailey enlists April’s help to try and convince the couple to talk and forgive each other. Seeing as all these characters have massive egos, it didn’t go well for most of the episode. There was a character arc for Bailey because she was able to set her ego aside and talk to Catherine from the heart, which convinces Catherine that she needs to make amends with Richard. There is a little progress at the end of the episode, but knowing Grey’s Anatomy, this battle isn’t over yet. There should be a final blow up to end the season to close this chapter.

The other couple in limbo is Owen and Amelia, but does anyone really know what’s going on there? Amelia has a super rough day at the hospital, and Owen finds her crying in an elevator. Like the good guy he is, he joins her in the elevator and gives her a big hug. When the elevator hits the next floor, he leaves without ever saying a word to her. And she is still crying. This scene really confused me. I couldn’t figure out what just happened or why Owen didn’t try to help more when he wants Amelia back. Or, has he given up on her? We might know if the show would address this relationship! This hot and cold mentality has plagued the show for most of the season. They need to decide whether to stay together or not, but I’m quite fed up with both of these characters at this point.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine 4x15 Recap: “The Last Ride” (The G-Hive Saves the Day) [Contributor: Alisa Williams]


“The Last Ride”
Original Airdate: April 25, 2017

The fate of the Nine-Nine is in peril. Captain Holt announces that the precinct is getting shut down, even though the actual hearing isn’t until later that evening. It’s between them and the Seven-Four, which has the distinct advantage of housing an elite gang taskforce. Jake hasn’t given up hope, though. He says as long as they can solve a huge case before the hearing, they’ll be saved. Unfortunately, no new cases are being filtered down to them from HQ and so the only open case they have left is a 10-year old whose bike was stolen. Jake and Boyle decide to give it their all anyway and ride out in matching leather jackets, driving the best undercover vehicle in the impound lot (a Mustang with a stripe down the middle).

Meanwhile, Terry enlists Rosa’s help in breaking the record for the most solved cases so he can be crowned “Mr. Nine-Nine.” Terry currently ranks at number two behind – of all people – Hitchcock (who is just as surprised by this information as Rosa). Hitchcock may be dumb, but he’s been with the precinct for 20 years and as Terry says, the 80s for the Nine-Nine were basically like The Purge.

Gina has other plans for her last day on the job: pranking all her coworkers by putting cement in their coffee and live-streaming it to her “G-hive.” While she carries out her potentially deadly day of pranks for the amusement of her fans, Amy stops by Captain Holt’s office, where she learns that he has been secretly mentoring her this whole time. There’s a binder and everything. Not wanting to lose out on Holt’s remaining wisdom, she encourages him to use their remaining 10 hours together to teach her everything he knows.

Out on the streets, Boyle and Jake quickly track down the stolen bike. While arresting the man who was caught with the bike, they discover a huge stash of heroin in his backpack. This has officially turned into the big case that could save the Nine-Nine! The bike-stealing, heroin-toting man gives up his dealer — named “Dom” — who also supplies half the heroin in the city. This case just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

Apparently Dom uses BMX riders for his drug deals. Jake tells Boyle he used to be a BMXer in his younger years and is sure he’s still got it. (He doesn’t still have it, but that doesn’t stop him.) When he meets up with Dom and his men to try to get in on the action, they’re dubious about his abilities and challenge him to a BMX race against one of the men. Unfortunately, Jake loses spectacularly. Fortunately, Boyle was able to sneak a GPS device onto the other racer’s bike when he passed him on their race route, and now they’ll know the location of Dom’s warehouse full of drugs.

Back at the precinct, a man walks in to report his cell phone stolen. Terry sees this as his chance to beat Hitchcock’s record and instead of just filing a report, decides to track down the missing cell phone. The man would really prefer to just file the report and get a brand new phone from his insurance company, but Terry will hear none of it.

Unfortunately, while Terry and Rosa race off to the bar where the man supposedly lost his phone, Hitchcock discovers the man’s phone wasn’t really stolen — the man broke it and lied so he could get a new phone. So, Hitchcock arrests him for filing a false police report, thus increasing his lead over Terry even more.

Meanwhile, Amy has procured a stenograph and is diligently taking notes while Holt tells her all he knows, from the correct type of shirt collar to the only two acceptable sleeping positions to what people mean by various greetings. They finish their lessons with two hours left before the hearing. Amy’s mentorship with Holt is officially over, and Amy is terribly sad about it.

Jake and Boyle head back to the precinct to gather up a bunch of nifty gadgets to help them take down the heroin ring. While staking out Dom, they discover that he and his men are planning a major drug transaction later that evening — after the hearing. Boyle wants to just swoop in and arrest Dom now and not wait for the bigger supplier, but Jake disagrees. Even if it means they miss the hearing and the Nine-Nine gets shut down, they’ll end up taking down a bigger fish, which is for the greater good. They successfully take down the entire organization even though it costs them their chances at the hearing.

While the team commiserates at the bar, Rosa comes up to Terry and tells him that he HAS beaten Hitchcock’s record if Terry counts all the cases he helped the rest of the team solve. Rosa starts listing off cases that wouldn’t have been solved without his input and it equals far more than Hitchcock has ever solved. This cheers Terry up immensely.

Just then Holt walks in and announces that the hearing is over and the Nine-Nine will NOT be shut down. The city decided to close the Seven-Four instead because there was a surge of support from the community to keep the Nine-Nine open. Turns out this surge came from Gina’s “G-hive,” who called the commissioner’s office throughout the day, demanding the Nine-Nine stay open. And Holt surprises Amy with one more bit of good news: he only shared Volume One of his wisdom with her — there are still more volumes of mentoring to be completed. She couldn’t be happier.

Bullets on the Bulletin Board:
  • “Well, this is on you, sir. I begged you for a taskforce, but no! You wouldn’t give me funding for Strike Team Thunder Kill Alpha Colon Hard Target.” “You never told me what it was for.” “It’s a strike team! That... kills thunder and puts its colon on hard targets.”
  • “I know you may not see yourself as my mentor, but —” “Of course I do. I’ve been mentoring you all this time.” “Whaaaat?!” “This is day 1,282 of a nine-year mentorship I had mapped out for you. Under ordinary circumstances I wouldn’t reveal this to you until day 3,300.” “It was real?! There was a binder!” “Not anymore!” 
  • “When people say, ‘good morning’ they mean, ‘hello.’ When people say, ‘how are you’ they mean, ‘hello.’ When people say, ‘what’s up?’ they mean, ‘I am a person not worth talking to.’”
  • “Do not trust any child who chews bubble gum flavored bubble gum. Do not trust any adult who chews gum at all.”

Arrow 5x19 Review: “Dangerous Liaisons” (Team Arrow vs. Team Helix)


“Dangerous Liaisons”
Original Airdate: April 26, 2017

I don’t think I’ve ever gone shopping with an unlimited budget. I watch a lot of Say Yes to the Dress re-runs on TLC, and occasionally there will be a woman who waltzes in and says that she has an unlimited budget for her wedding dress — she’s willing to pay whatever, and couldn’t care less about the price tag. The truth of the analogy is that everything in life has a price tag and we must decide what we are willing to pay or sacrifice in order to get the thing we want most. Arrow has always been a show that centers on the cost that Oliver pays. In fact, this can best be summed up by another CW show quote (this one from Clarke in The 100): “I bear it [the burden] so they don’t have to.”

Oliver has always paid the price so that his team would stay safe — so that their souls would be clean and his would be darkened. But what happens when Oliver and Diggle are forced to watch the two people they love darken their souls? That’s what “Dangerous Liaisons” is really about, at its core: the struggle between protecting the person you love and being forced to watch them take a step onto a dark path because you can’t and don’t want to control them.

Usually storylines with this subject matter on Arrow frustrate me because Oliver tries to be in control of everyone and the enforcer of their decisions. But this week, we got to see Oliver take a more passive and tactful approach to Felicity, which was very appreciated on my end. I think that this episode did a pretty good job of setting up the rest of the season, and focused just enough on Adrian Chase that it wasn’t overwhelming (even if he was the driving force behind the decision-making). So let’s take a little bit of a deeper dive into the way this episode pitted some of our characters against each other.


DIGGLE VS. LYLA


When Helix discovers that there’s someone inside of ARGUS who is working for Chase, Alena makes the executive decision to do something about it. She goes a little too far by manipulating the elevator that he’s in, and ends up killing him. But it turns out that’s not all that Alena needed this double-crosser for: she wanted a key card from him. And she doesn’t just need one — she needs two.

You see, unbeknownst to everyone apart from Helix and Lyla, ARGUS is holding former Helix captain Cayden James at a black site (you know, on U.S. soil). Rather than try Cayden for crimes that ARGUS claims he’s committed — Lyla says that he’s extremely dangerous and could do a lot of damage — they’ve locked him up and are keeping him in essentially the Arrow equivalent of Red’s box on The Blacklist. Just less fancy. And with restraints.

Alena needs the two keys to free him and convinces Felicity to embark on the extraction mission with her. As all of this information begins to unravel, Diggle is having a harder and harder time convinced that his wife is doing the right thing. In fact, he tells Lyla that she’s beginning to resemble Amanda Waller in her decision-making. Lyla uses the excuse that from the outside perspective, Waller looked to be a terrible person. But it’s different when you’re on the other side of the desk.

Diggle has no idea what that means, but I do — it’s the central theme of our episode: the fact that we can justify a lot to ourselves and end up becoming convinced we’re doing the right thing. Lyla tries to convince Diggle that while her methods were unorthodox, she’s making the world a safer place because of it. And there’s this scene toward the end of the episode where Lyla flat-out tells Diggle that looking around at the world, things have gotten worse. It’s hard to argue with her as we, the viewers, examine our own world. There are horrible things that happen every day and we wish we could do something about them. Lyla is arguing that she is — she’s helping the world become safer.

But Diggle makes a really great point in that there’s a distinct difference between something being safer and something being BETTER. Sure, Lyla might be making the world safer by extracting criminals and placing them in black sites. But is she making the world better by doing that? Is she making herself better? Or is she slowly and inadvertently becoming as meticulous, unfeeling and justified as Amanda Waller once was? Because there had to be a point in Waller’s life where she slowly made one decision that pushed the boundaries. And then another that pushed things further.

Diggle’s argument (and really the argument of the episode) is that when you’re justifying your limits to yourself, it’s easy to push further than you normally would. But soon you’ll find that the more you push, the easier it becomes to justify things you would never have justified three months ago. Lying to ourselves is one of the things we’re best at, as human beings. And though it’s painful to watch Diggle and Lyla go through this experience together because it’s what broke them apart before, it’s really assuring to know that Diggle isn’t leaving or running away.

He’s fighting his hardest to tell Lyla who she is and who she’s destined to become if she doesn’t think about the implications of her actions.

And that brings us to the next part of our story.

OLIVER VS. FELICITY


Next week’s episode will feature these two characters solely, from what I hear, so I feel like “Dangerous Liaisons” was set-up for that, and the episode worked really well by contrasting Oliver’s journey with Felicity’s.

As I mentioned above, Alena asks for Felicity’s help in finding the one ARGUS agent not yet in a safe house and retrieving her key card. Felicity agrees, because if the crew rescues Cayden James, he has the tech to locate someone based on their heartbeat. That means that Felicity will be able to find out exactly where Adrian Chase is hiding. At the same time, Lyla asks Team Arrow to protect this ARGUS agent as she’s on her way toward a safe location.

And this is where Team Arrow and Team Helix collide. Helix’s motorcycle gunmen chase down the vehicle the ARGUS agent is driving, just around the time that Team Arrow arrives on the scene. After some scuffles, Felicity frantically tells Diggle that Team Arrow needs to stand down. She has more information than they do about Cayden James, and reasons for needing that key card.

Begrudgingly, Oliver listens to Felicity… who then gets chewed out by Lyla for compromising an agent and potentially endangering her life. (Sidenote: I think it’s entertaining that Lyla lectures Felicity about boundaries and pushing limits because of what Lyla is actually doing in the episode.) When Felicity looks to Diggle and Oliver to back her up, she finds they’re both siding with Lyla.

In fact, they tell Felicity that she’s crossed a line by aligning herself with Helix — an organization filled with cybercriminals, one of whom just (accidentally) killed a man. Felicity points out the obvious: that they’re the last people who should be talking about crossing lines, since that’s pretty much all Oliver and Diggle (well, mostly Oliver) have done in the last few years. Felicity chastises them for sitting on their hands and doing nothing, while she’s getting real results — no matter the cost.

The thing is, “Dangerous Liaison” works because it makes compelling arguments for both sides of this Oliver/Felicity debate. Typically, I’ll unequivocally side with Felicity Smoak. Generally she makes the most logical sense and is able to smack the stupid out of Oliver. But this week, I was surprised to find myself able to rationalize both characters’ decisions. Oliver clearly loves Felicity and always will. And beyond the surface-level frustration he had with Felicity keeping secrets, he’s just flat-out worried about her. And not, thankfully, in a patronizing way (though I could do without Oliver and Diggle thinking it’s their job to tell Felicity what she can and cannot do). It stems from a place of genuine concern. In a heartbeat, Oliver would sacrifice his soul for the sake of Felicity’s. And he has done that, multiple times.

Now Felicity wants to do that for him.

She’s willing to taint her soul a little darker if it means putting an end to the man who has caused so much darkness. I haven’t been entirely on board the Oliver/Felicity train since last season, but this episode might have helped me turn a corner. I enjoy watching Oliver and Felicity team up, but I like it even more when they’re at odds and have to figure out their relationship. Conflict like this is entirely organic, and is what the show would have been doing all along. Felicity tells Oliver that because he gave up so much for her, she needs to do this — for herself, and for him.

But Oliver can’t fathom a world in which Felicity goes dark so he tells her that he can’t let her darken her soul even a little bit for his sake. It’s then that the two are officially at odds, and Felicity informs Oliver that he’s going to have to stop her. Again: I love this! I love the fact that Felicity and Oliver are both sort of wrong and also sort of right. It makes taking sides nearly impossible, and rounds out the characters — this conflict illuminates characteristics that are fundamental in both of these characters. Felicity is, at her core, someone who fights for what she wants and the people she loves. But she’s also a character who is completely underestimated by nearly everyone in her life.

That’s why Helix was so important to Felicity — it gave her purpose in a time in which her life felt directionless. And she was adored by the people there. Alena made Felicity feel competent and needed. Because for as much as she is confident, Felicity is also still broken inside: from Oliver’s betrayal and Billy’s death and Laurel’ death and… oh, right. Did we all forget that Felicity is also still technically paralyzed? Without her tech (as we saw in the promo for next week’s episode), she has to return to the pain and frustration she experienced back then — all of it. She has to relive the moment she found out she was paralyzed over and over again.

So maybe this is the little bit of control that Felicity has left in her life and is latching onto it and intent on not letting go. For once, Felicity is in charge of her own fate and not letting things just happen to her or the team. If she can find and stop Adrian Chase — if she can be a part of that — then she has some semblance of control in her life. And while Oliver tries to understand, he can’t support her. He can’t watch the woman he loves turn into someone else (something else) and stand idly by.

Apart from their conversation in the loft, I think the most telling moment is when Felicity constructs a literal wall of lasers between herself and Oliver. Helix manages to extract Cayden James and in the ensuing chase between Team Arrow and Team Helix, Felicity finds herself at a crossroads. She instructs Alena and the rest of the team to drive Cayden away, and to prevent Oliver from following, she arms the laser wall. It’s the first moment in a long time when we’ve seen a physical manifestation of a personal conflict. There have been walls up between these two for so long that it’s hard to remember a time when they were completely and utterly vulnerable with each other. But in this scene, there is literally a wall between them — and it’s a dangerous one. Felicity doesn’t want to hurt Oliver and vice versa, but it doesn’t matter that Oliver was never physically hurt by the lasers; he was hurt by Felicity’s actions.

Again, I think this conflict works so well because the show has refused to paint either party as totally right and Oliver’s concerns stem from a genuine tension of wanting to prevent Felicity from going dark but also realizing he can’t control her. That shows some hefty growth on Oliver’s part. I think that understanding where each character has been, separately, and where they’ve been as a couple helps enforce to me how genuinely in-character their responses are in this episode. Everything felt organic about their debate and about Felicity’s earnestness to help alleviate some of the pressure on Oliver’s soul. While I do think part of that is genuine, I think the layers of complexity in her desire to catch Chase will come to a head in next week’s episode. Felicity might be convincing herself of the reasoning she wants to catch Chase, but there’s a lot more beneath the surface and it has to do with everything that has happened in her life in the last year or so.

Oliver doesn’t yell in this episode, which is really refreshing. He drinks alone after Felicity returns to Helix (which is empty, by the way, apart from a video from Alena with a gift — the tech Cayden designed to find anyone based on their heartbeat). But he doesn’t yell. He doesn’t scream. After Felicity makes her decision, he doesn’t really fight her. It’s not that he’s tired, necessarily. It’s that he’s come to the place in his relationship with Felicity that he’s recognized she is her own woman and he wants the best for her. Even if that means watching her walk down a path he doesn’t agree with.

But Felicity returns to the Arrow Cave, a bit upset that she’s been abandoned by Helix and convinced Oliver will be happy about it. He’s not, of course, because the last thing Oliver wants in life is for Felicity to feel a sense of abandonment (especially if it’s initiated by him). But as the tech begins to do its work, Oliver and Felicity realize something harrowing when the tech locates Adrian Chase.

He’s inside of the Arrow Cave.

The episode ends with an explosion, as Oliver and Felicity are thrown backwards. Dun-dun-DUN.

Overall, I think that “Dangerous Liaisons” was a really solid episode. The focus was shifted away from Adrian Chase’s evil schemes and onto how those schemes have affected and influenced the decisions that our characters make. And really, whenever Arrow chooses to focus on the characters and their motivations rather than a convoluted plot or absurd villain, the episodes are better.

Additional bits & pieces:
  • I’ve missed writing Arrow reviews! Especially positive reviews. This is weird but welcomed.
  • There was a sub-plot in the episode that had to do with Rene and Lance (Rene doesn’t want to fight for custody to get his daughter back because he doesn’t believe he’s good for her, blah blah blah). I enjoyed, for the most part, the Rene/Lance interaction. It’s nice to see them find some common ground — both being fathers of daughters — for once.
  • I’ve realized the Canary Cry is boring no matter who does it.
  • “Might be crossing a line, Felicity.” “Well you might be the last person on earth to give that lecture, Oliver. ... Second last.”
  • “Nice of you to use the front door for once.”
  • “You are willing to sell your soul to destroy a threat I created.”
  • There were no flashbacks in this episode and that made my heart so happy.
  • “I got Felicity’s friend.” “I have a name, you know.” I think I will miss you most of all, Alena.
  • Did anyone else find Curtis SUPER irritating in this week’s episode? Usually I find Echo Kellum to be charmingly aloof as Curtis, but his persistence and unnecessary, forceful comedy really didn’t work with the tone of the episode. Fail, writers.
What did you all think of the episode? Sound off in the comments below!

The Handmaid’s Tale 1x01 Review: “Offred” (Not All Men... Actually, No, ALL Men) [Contributor: Melanie]


“Offred”
Original Airdate: April 26, 2017

Note: Spoilers for the book also included toward the end of the review.

It took approximately 30 seconds into the first episode of The Handmaid's Tale for me to get angry.

The pilot opens with June (Elisabeth Moss), her husband Luke (O.T. Fagbenle), and their daughter Hannah (Jordana Blake), making a break for it into Canada (sound familiar?). They get within two miles of the border before they’re apprehended. Luke is shot and presumably killed while June and her daughter are separated. June is taken to a training center for Handmaids — fertile women who have been chosen to follow the Biblical precedent of Bilhah and bear children for the barren wives of government leaders. June is indoctrinated with Scripture, obeying to avoid punishment (one woman has an eye gouged out on her first day after speaking out of turn). A few years later, June finds herself now named Offred (as in “of Fred Waterford”), tasked with serving as the resident working uterus.

Naturally, Fred’s wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahvoski) — suburban white mom names didn’t go away post-apocalypse, praise be — is icy toward her. An attitude only further chilled after their first Ceremony, the censored name for the act of the Commander (Joseph Fiennes) having sex with Offred while she lays on Serena Joy’s lap. It’s a mechanical act, preluded by a reading of Scripture, then, with all clothes still on except for what absolutely has to be removed, the act, as it were, happens and then everyone goes to their bedrooms for the night. After this ordeal, Offred begins to suspect that the Commander’s driver, Nick (Max Minghella), might be an Eye. She spends her days going out into town to do the shopping based on a list provided by the Marthas (household women), always accompanied by her assigned companion Ofglen. They two have scripted conversation, both thinking the other is pious until they eventually bond over shared memories of a former ice cream store.

Offred has been passively but persistently looking for her friend Moira (Samira Wiley), who was a friend from college. However, on the day of a Salvaging  — a mob-based punishment for criminals reminiscent of The Lottery — she learns from Janine (Madeline Brewer) that Moira was declared an Unwoman and sent to the colonies for attempting to run. She has likely died from radiation poisoning there. In devastation, Offred takes her anger out on the Guardian who was convicted of raping a Handmaid and causing the miscarriage. The mob of Handmaids beat the man to death, with Offred moving in first. She realizes later — after she and Ofglen have their moment of understanding during which she warns Offred that there is an Eye in her house — that she must do anything she has to to survive and find her daughter.

That was the most cohesive recap I could muster since this first episode was heavily layered with world building, exposition, and flashbacks within flashbacks. But it was a great first start to the much-anticipated adaptation of the “grandmother of dystopian novels.”

The thing I really found myself focusing on in this opening episode was the changes between book and screen. The book, like the show, is constantly blending past and present — Offred remembers when life wasn’t utter crap, while trying to reconcile it with the now. In the first few pages she declares “I intend to survive,” which is a mantra she decides upon at the the end of the first episode after learning Moira is dead. But one thing the book and show continue to share is how scarily parallel this world is to our own. You switch a few bits of context around and much of what’s happening there could easily be happening here.

Ofglen tells Offred: “They’re good at making us distrust each other,” with the "they" being the men who have taken control of the government. The unfortunate reality is that that is a fact now. Whether it’s in TV shows, movies, staring at that really fit woman at the gym with envy, calling each other derogatory names, women are conditioned to be in constant competition with each other. While competition between men is a form of encouraged ambition, competition between women is a method of division. The power that comes from women joining together and communicating was palpable during the worldwide Women’s March in January which was the largest single-day protest in the history of the United States and held similar records all over the world with an estimated five million participants worldwide (of which I am proud to say I was one). But that joining together is a testament to what anti-feminists fear from the sorority of women.

That’s a theme here: Offred notes her daily walks with Ofglen aren’t for companionship as they’ve been told, but so either woman can act as a spy on the other and report back. The method worked, as both Ofglen and Offred refused to have any real conversation with each other, both believing the other was a “true believer” of the national religion and propaganda. It is only after it’s revealed that they’re on the same moral side that Offred makes the decision to no longer remain passive in her world. As we always say here at Just About Write... ladies supporting ladies.

The other very poignant moment in this first episode was the treatment of Janine at the Red Center. She is another captured runaway, brought into the center on the same day as June. Janine has an immediate rebellious attitude and finds herself short one eye within minutes of being at the center (“And if the right eye offend thee, pluck it out”). Later, she recounts the story of her apparent gang rape. Aunt Lydia — the instructor and caretaker of the Handmaid’s in-training — has no sympathy for her, and follows the story with a very familiar question: “And who led them on?” It’s a poignant moment as Janine struggles to find an answer. Aunt Lydia then declares that her rape was punishment from God, before forcing the other women to verbally state her guilt and shame her.

While that doesn’t happen in a room full of women in a clinical setting, it happens in a much worse place: at home, at work, on the street, everywhere. It’s an internalized part of our culture that we blame victims for their own rape, often — but not always — women. Evidence of this is found in the lenient punishments for rapists (most recently Brock Turner being released after only three months in jail on a six-month sentence — commuted down from what was originally requested to be 20 years). In fact, many rapes aren’t reported as a result of harsh backlash against the victim for several reasons.

One deviation from the book that I found interesting was the diversity and inclusive cast and character backstory. This doesn’t change the fact that our protagonist is still a white woman, but Samira Wiley, a queer woman of color, plays Moira, June’s best friend. Moira, a gay woman, escapes the purges — though her partner is not so lucky. June’s husband is a played by a Black man, her daughter being played by a Black actress. Ofglen’s backstory reveals she had a wife, with whom she had a son. While the original novel does not overtly state race or orientation on many characters, the inclusion of these points here is poignant, especially if you look at the characters to whom these changes have been applied.

Recently, in a Q&A and signing for the book that I attended at Toronto’s Eaton Center, Margaret Atwood was asked if she felt the story, which takes place in the U.S. (shocker) could happen in Canada. She replied that while Canada has not, historically, behaved well in some situations of oppression (citing their policy for allowing the U.S. to come in and extract runaway slaves during the 19th century, which is mimicked in this story when they bar refugee women and families) she felt that Canada was too diverse for something like this to happen. She qualified this by saying diversity was the ultimate enemy of monolithic government systems. This world works in the United States because the majority is white Christians with roots in theocratic government systems in its early life, in Canada, this theocracy is a harder sell.

That’s important here. Ofglen is — spoiler! — a resistance member (or at least she was in the book). Moira was an outspoken protester of this government and eventually survives deviantly from the prescribed Handmaid life. Nick — another character who will turn out to be (also spoiler!) a resistance member — is played by an actor of Chinese and Jewish heritage. The diversity is placed in those characters who are already fighting this system. This is also indicative of our current state of affairs as it is those marginalized minorities who are fighting for change.

I know, I know: this was long! But this was a great opening episode to The Handmaid’s Tale. Check back here for more recaps as we move through the season.

Supergirl 2x18 Review: "Ace Reporter" (Nano Trouble) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]


"Ace Reporter"
Original Airdate: April 24, 2017

It’s been three weeks since we last checked in with our favorite alien superhero and her helpful pals, so I’m predicting that most of my time writing this review will be spent looking up all the stuff that happened in previous reviews because my memory? Not so great. I’ve got the basics down, though: Kara Danvers is Supergirl. She saves people and is kind of a reporter? Even though her identity isn’t tied up in being a reporter at all and that’s just the typical occupation writers like to give superheroes? Anyway, she lost that job as a reporter an eternity ago (“eternity” in this sentence means “a month”), but I’m going to take a hint from the episode title and assume she’s going to get her job back.

Hey, here’s an exciting aspect of this week’s episode: Lena Luthor is part of the A-plot!

A LITTLE BIT OF LENA LUTHOR


Even though Kara was calling her unemployment “funemployment” before the hiatus, she’s grown bored of being jobless and it doesn’t help that National City appears to be completely without crime. Alex explains that “It’s like someone slipped law-abiding serum into the reservoir,” and no amount of offering to stop this law-breaking literal lawmaker gets Kara anything to do. And I know that the show is just trying to frame Kara’s life as moving rather slow so that she gets all pumped for the action of the episode, but hey, Kara? You have super speed and you can fly. Go help New York. Detroit. Chicago. Literally anywhere else. Hey, come to my city — we could probably use you. Get out of your National City bubble a bit more, is what I’m trying to say here.

Kara turns to baking to kill all her boring free time, and I do have to admit to being charmed by the fact that she doesn’t wear oven mitts to take her baked goods out of the oven. It’s the little things in life we have to find joy in, people. Anyway, Kara’s baking is interrupted by everyone’s favorite future probably-villain: Lena Luthor! She wants Kara as a sort of emotional bodyguard for meeting up with her ex-boyfriend, Jack Spheer (played by iZombie’s Rahul Kohli). Lena calls Jack her “kryptonite,” which I feel raises some questions about how that word entered the common lexicon in a universe with actual Superman and Supergirl. Wouldn’t literally anyone who wanted to keep the Kryptonians safe — or personally destroy them — want to keep that a secret?

Lena and Kara go to Jack’s presentation and, to my dismay, Kara runs into Snapper Carr. I can’t be the only one who abhors Snapper Carr, right? He basically just serves to belittle Kara at every opportunity, and in the same “tough love” way that Cat Grant utilized. I don’t know if it’s the way he’s written or the way he’s played, but Snapper genuinely seems to hate Kara whenever he has to talk to her. His cutting remarks have too much genuine dislike behind them for me to laugh them off as part of a grumpy, well-meaning character. He isn’t well-meaning. He’s just mean.

After the presentation — which is on Jack’s invention of nanobots that can heal people and how he’s launching the program in National City — Jack catches up with Lena and, by association, Kara outside the theater. Since Kara’s no fan of being the third wheel, she scampers away to let Lena and Jack make googly eyes at each other and discuss the past.

But what’s this? Intrigue! A bespectacled man claiming to “know Jack Spheer” asks to meet Kara in the parking lot later on. It’s like that man doesn’t know he’s in a TV show and planning secret meetings in parking lots is the number one cause of death for unknown, nervous characters. Poor fella. Anyway, he definitely dies and it’s nanobots that kill him, with the help of a big, fiery explosion. Later on, another source bites the dust due to nanobots and there is really no hiding the dots that are lining up for Kara to connect, here. The combination of cause of death and the fact that both sources had secrets to share about Jack’s company sets Jack up as the most likely villain.

Because this episode is trying to be about Kara getting back into being an investigative reporter, we get some sleuthing from Kara and Mon-El (“Mike”). They discover footage of Jack injecting himself with the nanobots during what should have been a legal testing phase of the project, which means that the only test subject for the project is Jack himself and there’s plenty in that fact worth killing people over. Kara saves the footage, which triggers some security breach in nanobot-Jack that causes him to walk out on his impromptu date with Lena, who is displeased and confused — and doubly displeased and confused when Kara shows her the footage, explaining that Jack very likely killed some people.

But turns out that Jack is not the villain of the week — he’s the weapon of the week. His business partner has been controlling him the entire time, though I’m not sure if it’s made clear that he had zero free will and getting close to Lena was part of the evil-doer’s plan or if the control only occurred occasionally, like when she was using him to murder. In the episode, Jack seems legitimately confused by the killer nanobots and doesn’t seem to think he’s suffering from blackouts or anything — so I guess everything about his life was controlled by his partner from the point when he injected himself with nanobots onward?

Jack’s fusion with the nanobots means that shutting them down equals shutting him down, and — because the show is very cruel to her — it’s Lena who has to press the button to kill her ex. An ex, by the way, she still had really strong feelings for. Jeez, Supergirl. Harsh. And the fact that we don’t really know if she actually reconnected with this guy she seriously cared about before being forced to kill him to save Supergirl, who was being threatened by the nanobots, doesn’t help matters.


After Jack is gone and the evil business partner is captured by Supergirl, Lena has to deal with the aftermath. In an incredibly well done scene, Kara tries her best to comfort Lena, who is starting to feel numb to the constant source of misery that is her life. I’m not certain if the scene is meant to sow the seeds of evil in Lena (I mean, she does say that the only thought that makes her feel anything is the thought of people who have wronged her rotting in jail, which is... morally questionable) or if it’s meant to make us think she’s going to be evil and it’s actually just adding character layers. Regardless, the scene is well acted by both Katie McGrath and Melissa Benoist and I like that the show took the time to have a quiet, emotional little scene toward the end of the episode.

It’s not the very last scene of the episode, though! Nope, that belongs to the sudden appearance of Mon-El’s mom, who will doubtlessly be doing evil very soon.

Other Things:
  • “I am here to kick some ass, take some names, and do it all with an endearing smile on my face.” Why isn’t that the tagline for this show?
  • So Kara lives in the “rent-controlled side of town”? Is that the show’s way of explaining why she could shrug off losing her job even though she lives in a beautiful, massive apartment?
  • I think Katie McGrath might have chemistry with most people. Her run on Merlin certainly reinforces this theory.
  • Katie McGrath’s accent slipped more frequently into her natural Irish throughout this episode than in previous episodes. I wonder if being around Rahul Kohli’s London accent tripped her up?
  • Speaking of Rahul Kohli: he was really great in this. He’s a terrific comedic actor, but between this and the drama he’s been given (and handled perfectly) on this season’s iZombie, I really wouldn’t mind seeing him in more serious stuff. I kinda wish they hadn’t killed his character off on Supergirl, because it would’ve been nice to have him pop up again in the future.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Flash 3x19 Review: "The Once and Future Flash" (Flash Forward) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]


"The Once and Future Flash"
Original Airdate: April 25, 2017

This week on what used to be the fun CW DC show, Barry Allen travels into the future in order to solve the mystery of Savitar. Fun fact: I almost wrote “the mystery of Zoom” in that previous sentence because, if you guys haven’t realized it yet, this is the exact same plot as the Zoom plot from last season. Speedster villain + mysterious identity = snooore. And you know what makes all of that worse? When the show wastes my time with inconsequential storylines occurring IN THE FUTURE that don’t answer any questions, provide little in the way of potential fixes, and just serve to stretch the incredibly thin plot out even further.

Hey, imagine someone sitting down next to you and starting a conversation with the words “I had the weirdest dream last night!” then proceeding to describe their dream for a solid hour and you want to scream at them because no one cares, dream stories are pointless, they aren’t real and mean nothing and affect nothing and shut up about your dreams! Yeah, that was this episode.

WE NEED TO GO BACK TO THE FUTURE, MARTY — I MEAN, BARRY!


I really hope the writers of The Flash are done with the time travel stuff after this season because it’s getting to be an exhausting plot point. They aren’t even really making things complicated anymore, it’s just a constant story well they keep drawing from because what else are they going to do with a hero who can run really fast? Personally, I have my fingers crossed that next season hinges on Barry’s ability to throw self-generated lightning or phase through solid objects instead of this time travel stuff.

We’re dealing with this season, though, and this season is all about figuring out the identity of Savitar so that Barry can save Iris. Barry’s genius plan for figuring out Savitar’s identity this week is to travel into the future and ask someone who probably knows it, which I guess is a pretty solid plan. Better than most of what Barry does with his time travel, anyway. And it’s hard for him to retroactively erase a friend's baby when he moves forward in time, so that’s good.

Barry ends up eight years in the future, where there is no Flash and metahuman villains have made Central City their playground. He gets accosted by Top (still a terrible villain name) and Mirror Master (not much better, but at least it’s alliterative) but manages to flee before they can beat him up too much. They’re what passes for villains of the week for this episode.

After Barry manages to get away from Top and Mirror Master, he runs to a ruined future version of his and Iris’s apartment. Wow, no one snatched that quality real estate up while Barry was in deep, deep mourning? That’s actually the least believable thing about this episode. While he’s there, Cisco shows up — and how did Cisco know Barry would be there? Or that Barry was the Barry of 2017? He just had a feeling! Yeah, the writers don’t even try to pass this huge coincidence off as part of Cisco’s Vibe powers or anything, they just decide that Cisco had a hunch about his time-traveling BFF and we’re just gonna go with it. Sure, fine, that’s cool. Keep it coming, “The Once and Future Flash”.

Barry asks Future Cisco — who is wearing the ugliest, saddest, frumpiest, old-man-iest sweater you will ever see, because The Future! — where he could possibly find Future Barry so the mystery of Savitar can be solved (spoiler: it isn’t solved). Future Cisco is very chipper in a sad way but sends Barry off to S.T.A.R. Labs. Much like the Westallen home, S.T.A.R. Labs is decrepit and covered in broken glass. Unlike the Westallen home, S.T.A.R. Labs has Future Barry who, uh... Well...


Listen, I know that I’m supposed to be very moved by Future Barry’s heartbroken self-isolation and, somewhere inside my soul, I am — but honestly, that hair? He doesn’t look sad and neglectful of his appearance, he looks like he time traveled back to a Hot Topic circa 2008 and he’s one studded bracelet away from being literally every kid who wrote “deep” poetry in middle school. This Barry spends fifteen minutes every morning making sure his bangs cover just the right amount of angsty face, then hairsprays that mess into a state of shiny, coiffed perfection that not even super speed could disrupt. Then, I assume, he writes in his diary.

Anyway, Future Barry can’t tell Present Barry who Savitar is because Future Barry never found out. This is the section of the script where the writers should have gone, “Hey, maybe if Barry can’t get answers from this trip we should just scrap it?” but they didn’t, so I have to continue finding different ways to explain how we learn nothing, Barry learns nothing, and all of this is pointless. Like, yeah — Iris dying will make Barry sad, you guys! And Iris dying will make Joe sad! And Caitlin becoming Killer Frost is a bad thing! We really needed this trip into the future to uncover all those incredible truths.

Barry bounces around to different future versions of people he knows, from Caitlin as Killer Frost to a catatonic Wally to a heavily grieving Joe West, but no one can (or wants to) tell him who Savitar is. Since this lack of information makes the trip to the future pointless, Barry decides to leave. It’s like Barry took a trip to the grocery store on only to figure out that it’s closed for a holiday he’s forgotten about, so he has to make the sad, empty-handed trudge back home. Except that his grocery list in this scenario is information on saving his future-dead fiancĂ©e.

After Barry attempts to run back to his proper timeline and fails, he assumes that Top and Mirror Master had something to do with it. But it wasn't them — it was Cisco! Future Cisco, by the way, is the best thing about this episode that isn't Future Barry's stupid hair. The manic loneliness that he projects is at least interesting and played very well by Carlos Valdes. Also, the reveal that Cisco's hands had been frozen away by Killer Frost and replaced by ROBOT SKELETON HANDS was, unlike literally anything else in this hour of television, pretty shocking.

After confessing that he just wanted to hang out with his best friend and fight crime again, Cisco removes the thing that had been keeping Barry from opening a breach back home and tells him he's free to go. Barry, however, has been properly guilted into staying and trying to help out the future, at least a little bit, and, hey! Two villains were conveniently introduced earlier! They’re really lame villains and I don’t actually care about whether or not Barry stops them, but whatever gets this interminable episode over with is fine by me.

Barry scoops up the surviving, non-catatonic, non-evil members of Team Flash and deposits them at S.T.A.R. Labs in order to explain that he’s getting the band back together. (This moment really shows the lack of female Team Flash members, by the way.) When everyone has agreed to help out, Barry goes after Top and Mirror Master and... immediately gets vertigo and Rubber Building Vision (I think the show’s visual effects people were inspired by the Doctor Strange movie) so he’s incapacitated immediately.

But then Future Barry shows up at S.T.A.R. Labs wearing a shiny new suit and he offers to run a device that counteracts the Top/Mirror Master powers to Present Barry. Because of course this episode is going to end with the Future Team Flash getting back together. If you ran the data of this episode through a computer designed to spit out the most cliche ending possible, this is what it would spit out.

Barry returns to the past and hugs his friends and promises himself that he’ll never, ever let his hair get so weird looking. Or, like, forget to take care of the people around him or something. Whichever.

Other Things:
  • Barry also brought back some device that’s supposed to help him trap Savitar, but it’s so inconsequential during the episode that I forgot about it until just now.
  • Apparently seeing Savitar’s true identity caused Wally’s catatonic state? Yeah, there’s no way this build-up is going to pay off, show.
  • In a perfect display of how inept this episode is, the team promises to get to Caitlin before she pairs up with Savitar and then the scene cuts immediately to Caitlin pairing up with Savitar.

Bates Motel 5x10 Review: "The Cord" (Checking Out) [Contributor: Erin Allen]


"The Cord"
Original Airdate: April 24, 2017

“It’s like there’s a cord between our hearts.”

The finale of Bates Motel is a near-perfect ending to a near-perfect series. The showrunners set out to do five seasons and wrote toward an end. It’s not too often writers are able to do that. They told the stories they wanted to tell and arrived at the conclusion on their terms. The fans and the characters alike benefited from this. Connecting the first episode to the last reminded us why we started watching and why we stayed.

Spoilers will be included in this review. Read at your own risk.

A BOY AND HIS MOTHER


The show was always about this intense bond between a mother and son. It was “the cord” that ran through the entire series. Whether it’s the true embodiment of Norma, an ethereal vision bathed in a warm glow, or the protective Mother creation, the show focused on her and Norman’s unique connection.

The series began with Norma determined to start over. Dream Norma convinces Norman that he can do the same. “You had a bad dream, honey. You need to learn how to wake up from them. You can if you just try hard enough.” And with that Norman resets. He goes back to the time his mother was filled with hope for a new beginning. 

They cut between scenes from the first episode, “First You Dream, Then You Die.” Norma brings Norman to White Pine Bay to start their new lives. She talks to him from the past and he responds in the twisted present day with the same dialogue. It is a chilling effect, and the nostalgia tugs at your heartstrings. 

Norman sets up the motel and even takes guests — a mother and her two boys, one of which is named Dylan. He invites Dylan over for dinner. “This can be a new beginning for all of us.” Problem is, Dylan lives in the real world, and he has the brotherly responsibility of trying to make Norman see that reality. 

Norman gives himself two options: stay in this fantasy land playing house with Norma’s corpse or join her in her final resting place. Either way he's with her. Dylan takes away the first option and Norman forces him into the second option. It's a mercy killing, the only way that Norman can be free. Norman thanks him as he's dying. 

Freddie Highmore and Max Thieriot are phenomenal in that scene. Norman is spinning out of control, becoming untethered from that vital cord, and Dylan wants his suffering to end. Both actors play this with raw emotion — their actions come from a place of love as they are thrust into this extreme situation. 

Once Norman is finally free, we see him as a young man and a young boy running to his mother. Both Norma and Norman are smiling and it is really, really beautiful. The final shot is the dual gravesite for Norma and Norman where they will be together forever. It is the most merciful ending for Norman, who, despite his crimes, deserved some peace. 

NORMERO


Alex Romero’s ending is truly heartbreaking. He went through so much to avenge Norma’s death, and failed at the last minute. As upsetting as that is, we know that ship was endgame. They both died fiercely loving each other. 

His final scene with Norma is majestic, fit for a unicorn like Alex Romero. Co-creator Carlton Cuse said that “this shot of Romero finally seeing Norma’s body is one of my favorite of the whole show.” The way he strokes her face and says “I’ll always love you” is filled with so much love and anguish. The scene is set in the snowy forest, and Norma looks angelic. In contrast, a violent struggle happens between Romero and Norman, and Norma’s porcelain face has her eye sockets rimmed in black. I don’t what that black is supposed to be. Rot? Whatever it is, it is friggin’ beautiful in a morbid way, just like the whole scene. 

It is an epic moment in a season full of epic moments. Shockingly, Romero meets his end within the first 11 minutes of the finale. I was expecting the whole episode to build up to that moment, and it happened before the first commercial break. That was gutsy, and it paid off. It gave us the shock factor as well as ample time to concentrate on the fundamental Norma/Norman element.

DYLEMMA


I am two for two on my Bates ships! Dylan and Emma get a happy ending. The last half of this season had me wondering, especially the last episode, “Visiting Hours.” Even leading up to the final scene, I was worried. The phone call between Emma and Dylan before he goes to see Norman felt like Dylan saying goodbye. I guess he was, in a way, not knowing what he would encounter in that house. Emma pleads with him to involve the sheriff telling him that he has a child. He responds, “I know I have a child. Do I have a wife?” She doesn’t answer the question! Which is infuriating! And then she won’t tell him she loves him when he asks her to. “I’m not going to arm you up so you can go and do something stupid.” When Emma argues that Norman is dangerous, Dylan, says, “He’s not dangerous to me.” Emma tells him he sounds like Norma, and I swear I see the slightest hint of a smile. That is a compliment to him. He always wanted to be a part of a family, and he is finally accepting the family he was dealt, taking responsibility for his brother and understanding his mother. 

LOOSE ENDS


I love this series finale, however I have a few minor complaints. Sheriff Greene tells her team to get deputies to check on the Bates residence. It is the next day when Norman shows up back at home with his mother’s corpse and there are no police in sight. You know they would’ve had at least one cop surveying that place. She called in the U.S. Marshal, for crying out loud. This is just a little unbelievable, logistical nitpick, but it’s there nonetheless. Also, there was way too much focus on this Regina person. I get that Romero needed her for his getaway, but did he really? It was so much nicer when it was just Norman and Romero. Sheriff Greene tells Dylan that Regina is the only person that she cares about in this hostage situation, and Regina is the person we, as the audience, care about the least. I did laugh when Regina finally makes it back to the station and Sheriff Greene looks at her disappointed. In the same vein, I didn’t think the chick that hits on Dylan in the bar was necessary. I don’t even think that scene had to take place in a bar. He could’ve gotten that phone call from Norman anywhere. These things felt superfluous. If they are adding extra stuff how about tying up some loose ends like Dylan finding out Caleb is dead or what the heck happened to Dr. Edwards. 

As I said, these are only small criticisms. The episode as a whole and as the final chapter of the Bates saga is remarkable. It did the series and its iconic source material justice. It’s sad to say goodbye, but I am happy with its ending. 

Motel Amenities:
  • If you’re interested in crying again after watching the finale, may I suggest reading showrunner Kerry Ehrin’s farewell letter to the show.
  • “I’ll get hypothermia.” “Walk fast.” Bye Regina. 
  • Norman/Mother calls Romero “Sheriff Lonelyheart.” I’m hoping this is a nod to Hitchcock’s Rear Window.
  • Romero said the F-word! On A&E! I didn’t think that was allowed. Did they get special permission or is there a new guideline for Standards and Practices?
  • “You know everything now, and there’s nothing for me to protect you from.” This is the last we see of Mother, I believe. What we see after this is Dream Norma. That’s my theory anyway. 
  • Remo isn’t the only returning season one character. The realtor in the final montage is Jiao, the girl Norman and Emma saved from Shelby’s sex trafficking ring. 
  • “It’s safe here, right?” 
  • “I don’t know a Romero.” 
  • Fantastic uses of Doris Day’s “Dream a Little Dream Of Me” and “Que Sera,” and Patsy Cline’s “You Belong To Me.”
  • “I’ll never love anybody else but you. You screwed me there, Emma Decody.”
  • The last image in the Bates house is a spooky but gorgeous tableau. Norma is propped up at the head of the table while her sons say their final goodbye in the corner.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Prison Break 5x04 Recap: “The Prisoner’s Dilemma” (The Sin of Deceit) [Guest Poster: Rebecca]


“The Prisoner’s Dilemma”
Original Airdate: April 25, 2017

Our hearts broke as we watched Michael surrender to Ogygia guards at the close of last week’s episode. The look of disappointment and defeat on his face was enough to make my gut do a total flip-flop; however, as Michael has told us so many times before, we just need to “have a little faith.” For the last forty-five minutes, we’ve watched our favorite prisoner put his meticulous planning and genius brainpower to work once again to craft a “Hail Mary,” as we see in this week’s episode.

“The Prisoner’s Dilemma” opens with Lincoln sitting beside Sheba in the hospital, who is still recovering from her injuries. C-Note shows up at the hospital and informs Lincoln the terrorists will shut down the airport soon. Lincoln realizes they are out of time and asks C-Note to get Sheba and her family on a plane ASAP; he will take care of getting Michael out.

Sheba tells Lincoln and C-Note her father went to grammar school with a federal judge, who may be able to get Michael out of Ogygia. Sheba’s father arranges a meeting between the judge and the group, and the judge offers Michael a full pardon in exchange for a car.

"I HAVE A HAIL MARY."


Michael, Ja, Whip, and Ramal have been sent to solitary and are growing worried as the bombs finally reach just outside the prison walls. Speaking to each other through their cell walls, Michael asks which one of them has an “S” carved into a brick in their cell. Much to the group’s dismay, Ramal’s cell has the “S,” meaning the escape has to start from his cell. At first, he doesn’t want to help, but Michael finally convinces him as the prison begins to enter a full-out riot. The guards, fearing for their lives, abandon the prison and leave the prisoners unattended; however, one prisoner, Mustapha, manages to snatch the keys to the prison gates from one guard and escape. He brushes past Lincoln on his way out.

When Lincoln arrives at the Ogygia gates, the prisoners tell him the only person with keys is Mustapha. While Lincoln runs back to the city to track down Mustapha, the prisoners band together and plan to get Ramal out of solitary to negotiate with the terrorists (remember, Ramal is the terrorists’ leader).

Lincoln finally locates Mustapha, and hides behind a wall as he watches Mustapha confront a group of terrorists. They ask him if he’s police, but don’t believe him when he says “no.” The terrorists shoot Mustapha, killing him instantly.

"I WANT TO SEE THE TRUE FACE OF WHO'S PULLING MY STRINGS ONCE AND FOR ALL."


In New York, T-Bag follows Kellerman, whom he is convinced is the mysterious Poseidon, from the Department of State to his house. T-Bag breaks in, much to Kellerman’s surprise. T-Bag berates Kellerman for not exonerating him when he did so for the other surviving members of The Fox River Eight before accusing him of hacking Sara’s phone and sending assassins after her and her family. Kellerman denies hacking the phones and tells T-Bag that Poseidon is a rogue CIA operative with loads and loads of power.

Back to Ogygia. Michael instructs Ramal to remove the brick with the “S” and he’ll find string and a metal spoon. Michael explains how to use the string and spoon to yank down the cell’s water pipe. As Ramal works, Michael hears the prisoners threatening to kill Sid if Michael doesn’t get Ramal out of solitary.

Ramal fishes the water pipe through the slot in his cell door and removes the pins on the hinges of Michael’s door, but only after making Michael promise to get him out. Michael grabs keys and quickly unlocks Ja and Whip, but pauses at Ramal’s cell. He tells Ramal he won’t release him unless he helps Michael and his cellmates get out of the country.

The gang makes their way to the infirmary and Michael tells Ramal to use the phone to secure cars to get them to the Yemen border. Ja considers stealing pills from the infirmary, but Whip talks him out of it — or so we think.

Outside of the prison, Lincoln is still waiting for terrorists to leave Mustapha’s body so he can grab the keys. Michael’s messenger, the kid who referred to him as “Bubble Gum Man,” runs into Lincoln and they work together to create a distraction so Lincoln can get ahold of the keys.

"THE ENEMY OF MY ENEMY IS MY FRIEND."


Kellerman tells T-Bag what he knows as the latter. Apparently, Poseidon was upset with U.S. foreign policy and went rogue; the state department has been looking for him since. Kellerman suspects Poseidon sent Michael to Yemen to break Ramal out of Ogygia. Suddenly, A&W and Van Gough (I know you were wondering when they’d show up!) shoot Kellerman and T-Bag through the kitchen window. T-Bag manages to escape out the basement window and call 911. Kellerman begs Van Gough just to tell him who Poseidon is, so he can die peacefully, but Van Gough shoots him, killing him. The duo leaves Kellerman’s house as sirens approach.

Meanwhile, the rioting prisoners have realized Michael and his crew have escaped and scour the prison for them. The crew hides under some cots in a cell and Michael solemnly asks Whip that if he dies, to find a Mike Scofield in Ithaca, New York and tell him that his father loves him. One of the prisoners finds the crew hiding in the cell, but Sid shows up and shanks him, allowing Michael, Whip, Ja, and Ramal to flee.

Finally, Lincoln makes it back to the prison, just in time to watch Michael climbing over the roof, making his escape. He yells out for his brother, but Michael doesn’t hear.

Michael, Ramal, Whip, and Sid run for the auto shop, leaving Ja behind once they realize he’s high and therefore a liability. Michael asks Ramal to have his men shoot Ja if he tries to follow.

"OUR WAY OUT IS UNDER THE WOOD BENCH."


The whole group of escapees, including Ja (who had stolen a map Michael had drawn of the auto shop), arrives at the rendezvous where they are met by a large group of rebels. Michael realizes Ramal has double-crossed him — Ramal even plans to slit Michael’s throat on camera.

Lincoln finally tracks down his brother and manages to get to a machine gun on one of the rebels’ cars. He threatens to kill Ramal if he doesn’t let Michael go, but Whip abruptly launches himself at Ramal and manages to turn the knife around on Ramal, killing him instantly. Lincoln kills the other rebels and the group flees. Once they get to a safe spot, Michael embraces his brother and promises to explain everything. They watch Ramal’s murder on television and learn the entire terrorist group has declared war on them.

T-Bag is driving when he notices A&W and Van Gough standing near a tree. T-Bag parks and hides at first, until he sees a third person has joined them. He takes out his phone to get a picture of the third person, and it is revealed that A&W and Van Gough were meeting Jacob, Sara’s husband.

THE VERDICT 


I’ve mentioned before that “gotcha” plot twists are Prison Break’s signature, and we’ve encountered multiple of these just in this past hour. There’s so much good stuff to unpack, but I’d really like to focus on Jacob, who went from “poor, immobilized husband” to “potentially evil power player” in the blink of an eye.

Here’s my prediction: Jacob is Poseidon. It seems far-fetched, but it’s exactly the kind of far-fetched tale Prison Break would weave. Us fans who have watched the previous four seasons have been through our share of crazy upside-downs and surprises; heck, we’ve even seen people come back from the dead to hold positions of crazy high power (Michael’s mother and Paul Kellerman [R.I.P. for real this time], for example). Characters we thought were meek and innocent turned out to be masterminds.

Even if he’s not the infamous Poseidon, Jacob is definitely in on this whole thing somehow. And it actually makes total sense; his involvement doesn’t come completely out of left field. I have wondered for weeks now why A&W shot him in the leg and didn’t just kill him, but if he is an ally, it makes sense why she’d want him alive. Additionally, we don’t really know that much about him. He’s a dark horse, an underdog, someone to whom we aren’t (or weren’t) paying attention. He would be the perfect character to be behind this whole scheme.

On a side note, I was kind of hoping Kellerman would stay alive, but I’m not that heartbroken. He needed to die in order for the pressure to be on T-Bag and Sara to find Poseidon. And I will end this review/recap with how I’ve ended the other ones: Sucre. Where. Are. You.

Honorable Events Worth Mentioning:
  • Kellerman tells T-Bag that Poseidon got his nickname because he is so untouchable that a nuclear submarine couldn’t even find him.
  • “It’s a freaking Mexican soap opera out here!” 
  • The reason Ramal needed to pry the hinges off of Michael’s cell door was because his side of the solitary chamber was old and hadn’t been remodeled, unlike Ramal’s side. The hinges on Michael’s cell were rusty and old.
  • T-Bag drinking the kale smoothie. The whole scene was just way too funny.

Veep 6x02 Recap: "Library" (*Gary’s Voice* Holla, Holla, Holla!) [Contributor: Erin Allen]

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"Library"
Original Airdate: April 23, 2017

My notes on the second episode of season six are basically the entire thing verbatim with laugh-cry emojis, and “Gary” written a bunch of times with a ton of exclamation marks. This is an episode I will watch over and over. It is so hysterical. Do yourself a favor and watch it immediately. I’ll try to make my praise brief, although I can’t make any promises.

Determined to make something out of her joke of a presidency, Selina embarks on building her presidential library. Her attempt at this goes about as well as her stay in office did: horribly. She feels the need for one after attending the opening of President Hughes’ Library and Museum. “I don’t understand how a guy who never cracked a book can open up a library.” I will have the same thought if our current president ever gets a library, so someone save me that in GIF form for when that time comes. The jabs at her short term as a president are great. Former President Stevenson says, “Can you even have a library? I think it’d be more like a bookmobile.” Selina herself insensitively compares her short stay with Kennedy’s, saying “he was also a part-termer.”

Her staff gets excited about the potential library. Richard is ready to hit the ground running, until he remembers they are on an plane. “Let’s do this! Oh, you know what, we are on an airplane. I know that.” Gary starts thinking about all the possibilities. “Your outfits alone are going to be a wing. Dresses. Belts!” Andrew starts racking his brain for unethical ways to get funding, such as reallocating money from The Meyer Fund (“That’s actually a felony.”) and shuffling papers around so it looks like they have the money (“That’s also a felony.”).

Alternatively, Yale is not excited. They come back to Selina with an emphatic no. Their next best bet is Smith College, where Selina did her undergrad. Smith is “open to exploring.” Andrew creepily responds, “Nothing like a Smith girl open to exploring.” To which Selina comes back with: “Lesbians really know how to run a library, I can tell you that.” All this lesbian talk leads us to meeting Regina “Gigi” Pell who is the president of Smith College and Selina’s former schoolmate (with benefits, apparently — if only Selina could remember).
Regina: Do you remember that night, junior year?  
Selina: No. 
Regina: Chardonnay on the quad after Julia Child Day?   
Selina: I’m strictly a Scotch girl. Always have been. I never really experimented with ... um, Chardonnay, so I think you’ve got me confused with somebody else.  
Regina: I don’t think I was confused.  
Selina: Good for you.
Regardless of Selina’s seeming amnesia, Regina is enthusiastic about the library... until a sex scandal rocks Selina’s team. The scandal is perpetrated by Andrew. Yeah, real shocker. Mike weasels his way into a job as communications director for all of 30 seconds until he reads what the press is saying, out loud.
Selina: You’re hired. 
Richard: Congratulations. 
Selina: What are they saying? 
Mike: They’re mad at you for victim-blaming Helen for Andrew’s behavior. 
Selina: You’re fired. 
Richard: Tough break, buddy.
Not everyone faults Selina, though. Amy commiserates via phone telling Selina she’s right to dump Andrew. “You can’t just be that woman standing by her man like Lobotomy Barbie.” Catherine is sorry that he did this to her. Marjorie pipes in with her unique comforting words: “Ma’am, you are unstable and manipulative, and I worry about the genes you will pass down to our child, but your ex is worse.” Selina sincerely responds, “I appreciate that. Means a lot. You’re like a son to me.” And then she almost lets Marjorie call her “mom.” Almost.

The library gets put on hold until Selina gives in and rehires “Frida Swallow” as her portrait painter. Smith still backs out, giving Selina the opportunity to tell Helen to “pack up your crayons.” Gary gives the painter a death glare, and trips up Selina by stepping on her dress, which is the perfect wrap-up to this whole debacle.

Amy has to deal with a scandal of her own in Nevada. Her Howdy Doody fiance/candidate can’t handle her unscrupulous campaign tactics, and goes on a bender which results in him spending a night in jail. The dash-cam footage gets released and it is bad. The episode ends with Lobotomy Barbie... I mean Amy, standing by her man during his public apology.

Jonah also has to deal with romantic troubles. Kent and Ben convince him that it would be better for him, career-wise, to get married. “If it’s any consolation, statistically speaking, married congressmen have sex with more single women than single politicians.” We see Jonah go on three dates, and they all go badly. The first two are unsuccessful because the women get to know Jonah as a person and run the opposite way. The third actually hits it off with him until Dan comes in and outs Jonah as the deplorable human that he is. Dan tells him: “This is for trapping me in a job that makes me long for the days of Selina Meyer.” It was nice to see Dan in that scene because his storyline without the other veteran cast members isn’t as interesting as the rest of the strong subplots.

So much for keeping it brief, huh? And I’ve even got more below! “Library” is an outstanding episode of an outstanding series.

Stray Observations: 
  • That first scene with the physical comedy between Selina and Gary is hilarious! I’ve watched it probably a thousand times already. Julia Louis Dreyfus and Tony Hale are almost balletic in their execution of that move. I am so impressed. 
  • “If only the American people could’ve known you for your sense of humor and not your bizarre indifference to apartheid.”
  • “Where is La Presidenta?”
  • Richard sees Selina and Gary running, and joins them. “Are we running from something scary, ma’am?”
  • Gary running! 
  • In response to considering a female architect for the library, the first woman President of the United States says, “Well, we’re not redoing a kitchen here.” A feminist, Selina is not. 
  • “Nobody in Congress cares about ethics.” 
  • Furlong to Jonah: “Good luck trying to get your precious back from those mean hobbits, Smeagol.”
  • “A job’s a job.” “That’s a false equivalent, but I appreciate the sentiment.” Gary Cole delivers Kent’s robot feelings in the best possible way.
  • The artist, Helen Wright, is played by June Diane Raphael of Burning Love and Grace and Frankie fame.  
  • “I guess AIDS had a good run.” 
  • Richard is so resourceful: “My pen’s out of ink. I’m just going to scratch it into the paper, and go back and trace over it to see what I wrote, like a suspense movie.”
  • Kent’s face after Jonah says, “Find me Mrs. Right. Not my mom.” is priceless.
  • “Can you play that back? I want to see him cry again.” That’s my Amy. 
  • Richard Splett’s family calls sweatshirts “Splettshirts” because of course they do.
  • “It’s what I’ve come to expect from the gatekeepers of the patriarchal ‘phallus quo.’” 
  • “You just rolled your eyes like you’re the world’s bitchiest mime.” This is such a great description of Gary. 
  • “If Catherine’s uterus is as loamy as the doctor says, you’re going to be a grand-ma’am.”
  • Gary’s freak out on Andrew is epic. “You are the devil!”