Sunday, March 11, 2018

Life Sentence 1x01 Recap: "Pilot" (Of Life and Families and Baggage) [Guest Poster: Ashvini]

Original Airdate: March 7, 2018

Families are impossible. Families are unpredictable. Families come with baggage. And Stella Abbott cannot handle her family’s baggage.

Welcome to Stella’s life sentence: she’s a former terminally ill, twenty-something year-old, who was taught to live life freely from a young age in order to take all that the world had to offer. Through embodying this mantra, she had many adventures — bungee-jumping death-dying heights and traveling to Paris to find true love. And that she did, in the very handsome, very British Wes, who she married within months jumping head-first into their relationship.

Through it all, Stella’s parents and siblings created an emotionally supportive, loving, problem-free environment for her so she that would feel comfortable and thrive despite her illness. This was successful on her family’s part. So for eight years, Stella didn’t notice her family falling apart at the seams. They hid so much for her in an attempt to protect her from any further pain. But after she finds out that she is in fact not dying and that her doctor cured her, she’s left with dealing with the mess her family secretly created.

Her mother and father put on a show of a healthy, functional marriage. In reality, her dad had mishandled money and put their family in dire financial circumstances, while her mother fell in love with Stella’s godmother, Poppy. Stella’s brother Aiden struggled with Stella’s life sentence so much that he became emotionally closed off, unwilling to move on from his childlike state of naivety, irresponsibility, and havoc. Meanwhile, Stella’s sister Lizzie — while trying to pursue the perfect life of having a successful job and husband and kids — gave up her true passion of writing and a scholarship at Columbia so she could stay home and care for Stella.

Wes’s lies were not as dramatic, but they were hurtful to Stella all the same. He told her things she wanted to hear throughout their relationship to make her happy and sacrificed his happiness in the process. Did he want kids? Yes. But Stella said she didn’t, so he lied. Does he like cuddling at night? Not for too long, but he did it anyway, because it would make Stella comfortable. Did he want to have long love-making sessions set with dozens of lit candles and the music of Sara Bareilles? No, because he’d rather “get ‘er done.” But again, Wes gave her that because it was what she wanted.

They fell in love with each other, but Wes didn’t give all of himself to Stella as not to upset her. There was no certain future for them, so why make things difficult? There was no point.

Finding out that Stella was in fact not dying shook their relationship to the core; it shook her relationships with her family members as well. Stella, as a result, is left feeling guilty and compelled to pick up the pieces. After all, the states of these messy relationships were caused by her and she feels responsible. Soon she discovers that she’s running from her own fears, essentially. Dealing with other peoples’ fears is easier than facing her own — at least, that’s what a young, sweet cancer patient named Sadie tells Stella when she drunkenly reminisces in a familiar hospital bed to escape a disastrous family dinner/thank-you dinner that she threw for Dr. Chang, the doctor who cured her.

It’s not Stella’s fault that her family lied to her. It’s not. She never asked for it. I understand why she would feel responsible for them in their time of need, when all they have done for her most of her life is give her so much love and peace so that dying wouldn’t have to be difficult for her.

However by trying to piece back together the broken seams of her family, Stella fails to piece herself back together. Yes, she got to experience so many incredible moments over the past eight years of her illness, but she was still ill. She still thought she was going to die, and the adrenaline of that truth is what mainly drove her life decisions. Now without her illness, who is she? Among the secrets and lies of her family and Wes, what remains important to her?

Well, that would be the love of Wes. In the hospital, toward the end of the episode, Sadie tells Stella that life is nothing if there isn’t someone who has your back, who you can talk to, who you can feel alive with. And Stella knows that that’s Wes — especially when he comes looking for her at the hospital after leaving the disaster of a party as well. Despite them not fully knowing each other, their love for one other is the one real thing that she can hold onto. So she runs into his arms and they reconnect. Truly, it was the loveliest bit of the episode.

Frankly, I don’t know where Life Sentence is going. I assume it’s going to follow Stella as she tries to understand/navigate her humanity with Wes along for the ride. I hope we find out more about him, because besides being vaguely British, we don’t know much about him. Also, I hope we get flashbacks of the past eight years when Stella was sick — of what her family members went through, what she went through — so that their incredulity and chaos with the entire situation feels earned and justified.

The Nielsen ratings for the pilot of Life Sentence were weak, but it did air right after Riverdale — which for whatever reason is wildly popular — so it’s kind of unfair, but fingers crossed that more people tune in. I know I’m going to be shouting for people to watch it from the rooftop of my apartment. I live by mostly fraternities, but who doesn’t love a good tearjerker?

I want to see more from this show. I really do. I wasn’t expecting to like it — since melodramatic teen shows are not in my wheelhouse anymore — but it’s Lucy Hale and she’s so charming and genuine and it makes the show so real. I believe her as Stella, and I want to see what Stella gets to do. I want to see what Stella is capable of.

What did you think of Life Sentence? Sound off in the comments below!


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