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

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

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

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

In Appreciation of the Everyday Heroine

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

Monday, April 29, 2019

Avengers: Endgame is the Series Finale We All Deserve [Contributor: Jenn]


When you’re an avid TV fan, you know the satisfaction or, conversely, disappointment that comes with watching the series finale of a beloved television show. There are great series finales but there are also some pretty terrible ones. Numerous components make a great series finale — one that feels earned on emotional and plot-based levels, that leaves the audience feeling satisfied and that, most importantly of all, feels like a fitting send-off to characters we've come to know and love.

Both TV critics Daniel Fienberg and Mo Ryan (along with others, I am sure) mentioned recently that Avengers: Endgame feels like the series finale of a 22-episode television series. Until I read those tweets, I couldn’t pinpoint why I enjoyed the film so much (there was certainly plenty to love though). But every TV-loving fiber in my body realized that this is exactly why it worked so well as a movie.

So as we talk about Endgame, I’m going to frame my discussion of it within the context of a television series finale. After thinking about it and polling some of my Twitter followers, I’ve narrowed down a few things that great TV series finales accomplish and will apply them to Endgame, while also providing you with some actual television-based examples.

(And please note that yes, I watch a lot of comedies so a lot of these examples will be sitcoms and while I love the MCU if I get a detail or two wrong here and there and/or do not remember every exact detail about the comic book canon... forgive me. Be kind, people.)

So grab your tissues, popcorn, and some movie theater-style candy (Twizzlers for me, please) and let’s get started.

NOTE: MAJOR SPOILERS FOR AVENGERS: ENDGAME WILL FOLLOW. You’ve been thoroughly warned.

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Great series finales focus on in-character resolutions and payoff.


Let’s kick off our discussion of finales with arguably the most important achievement: character-rooted resolutions and payoff. There’s nothing worse than spending years with characters — seeing them fail and then evolve — in a television series, only to have all of that fantastic character development undone in the final hours.

There are a few core character arcs in the MCU we focused on in the “series finale”: Tony, Steve, Nat, and Thor. As our premise suggests, let’s assume that the MCU really has been a series of events leading up to a finale. How did the finale’s writing do with their development?

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Tony’s arc made the most sense to me. It is your typical heroic journey from beginning to end — from a self-centered, genius playboy billionaire to a devoted father, husband, and true hero. Tony is the prime example of character growth. He’s stumbled over the years. When we met him, he was charming and funny but not always likable. He hasn’t always made the right choices and even if he has, he’s been no stranger to struggle and loss. He’s overcome his own demons and in Endgame, we got the chance to see him finally happy.

It wasn’t an unrealistic sense of happiness though that can plague series finales — a saccharine filter over years of trials or trauma. No, everything that happened in the last 22 films led up to Tony’s ultimate sacrifice for his friends, his family, and his world. His arc, as even he noted, didn’t end with a “happily ever after” coda on it, but it ended in a way that honored the man Tony Stark became and the ultimate hero he always was.

I’ve always been a fan of Tony, mostly because even in his most unlikable moments there was something so utterly real and redeeming about him. Endgame was another recognition that even in a character’s low points (that bitter speech about defeat Tony gives to the team for example), as a writer you don’t have to assassinate the character in order to make them complex. Tony went out exactly who he was. And that will always be enough.

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Steve’s journey does end with a “happily ever after” coda that I’m still trying to decipher because of time travel logistics, y’all. Time travel and branch reality issues aside, while I’m happy that Steve got his dance and his girl and lived out his life happily, it felt a little off. But I also have to remind myself that every hero’s journey doesn’t end the same way. Tony’s journey had to end in sacrifice born out of love; Cap’s had to end in rest out of a life well-lived as Steve.

And I have to assume that this means he lived a life as Steve Rogers, not “Cap.” An old Steve tells Sam that he followed Tony’s advice to live his life, but I think some part of Steve knew he was going to need to do that as himself, not Captain America. Maybe a life of normalcy is what he secretly wished he could give himself all along? As Cap told Nat earlier in the film, he just didn’t know how to get a life; he kept coming back to the heroics. I think at some point (perhaps after Tony’s death), Steve realized he’d have to return to the past and deliver the Infinity Stones as Captain America but come back to 2023 again someday as Steve Rogers.

And while it’s unclear, again, how this time travel business worked or HOW he managed to live his life undetected (is this a Captain America-less branch reality? Or is there another Cap? How did this happen?), I think Endgame!Steve wanted the thing that Tony had: something, as the TV show Arrow would say, to live for. And it needed to be personal, and it needed to be quiet.

While I know a lot of people have mixed reactions to that final scene as it relates to his arc throughout the series, I think it made sense to me in the lens of thinking about how Tony and Steve chose similar but different paths. At some point, even the people who give the heroic speeches arrive at a place where they’re not sure if they can go on anymore.

Or maybe I’m totally wrong and the end of Steve’s character arc was just a writing misstep. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, right?

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Thor’s end is another stereotypical, but no less satisfying, end to a character-based saga. Sometimes the hero doesn’t die: sometimes he just realizes he needs to switch gears entirely and move from something known to somewhere unknown. Not only does Thor do the expected “passing of the torch” of leadership to Valkyrie, but earlier in the film he also experiences the scene many main characters do: being visited and advised by a mentor.

The scenes between Thor and his mother don’t just serve as sweet, sentimental moments — they’re also critical to propelling Thor into discovering who he is. He’s spent his whole life forcing himself into what’s expected of him; with everything he loves more or less gone and everything he’s seen in Endgame, it was time for him to move forward and leave his previous life behind.

It’s time for a new journey — maybe one featuring the Asguardians of the Galaxy?

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And finally we have Nat. I’m torn with this ending, honestly. Because there’s a part of me that believes Clint’s arc would have been more satisfying had he died: an atonement for the sins of his (recent) past, giving up his life for the woman who never gave up on him, etc. Nat’s arc makes sense too in other ways (she believed in her family so much that she was going to have to give up that which she loved most to save them all), but if we’re talking personal opinion? I still think it should have been Clint.

Nat’s always been messy in a beautiful way, but in Endgame alone she spent five years desperately clinging to saving the world because it was all she knew how to do. She was scared to move on because... what would she move on to? Her whole world was the Avengers. Nat’s unwavering commitment to the cause was her strength to the very end. And the Avengers really did avenge her death.

(TV notes: How I Met Your Mother is a perfect example of what NOT to do with character-related stories in your series finale. I’ll never be over the out-of-character ending and the storyline that existed just so the show could use a years-old filmed reaction shot. The Office teetered on that line with its downhill character development of Andy in the final season or so, too.

Meanwhile, shows like Psych and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend were far more successful in the character development and payoff department.)

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Great series end with hope for the future... and just a little tease.


I wanted to leave this series of the MCU knowing that even though the characters wouldn’t be perfect, they’d be okay. When a television series ends, chances are you’ve spent years getting to know the characters (main and recurring), so there’s a desire for us all to believe that the town will go on without us — that things will be okay and the next generation will be too. Thor passed the torch on to Valkyrie, so we know that New Asgard is in capable hands. Steve gives his shield to Sam. Happy comforts Morgan. Scott and Hope watch fireworks with Cassie. T’Challa, Shuri, and Ramonda look over Wakanda proudly. Clint and Wanda carry on the memories of those they lost.

Sad things happen. But the MCU is okay. It moves on, and the characters who remain carry the legacies of those they’ve lost. The world isn’t falling apart (that day), but the people who remain have been permanently changed by the people they loved. And life continues to move on. That’s what gives us hope for the new “season,” if you will, of the MCU: Wakanda is out there. Carol still patrols the skies. Heroes are being born and reborn.

That funeral shot near the end of the film made me cry both times I saw it. Apart from it being touching, it was a distinct visual reminder of everything Tony Stark helped create — of everything the original Avengers inspired.

So yes, let’s weep for the fallen.

But let’s celebrate that the MCU doesn’t die with the OGs — quite the opposite, actually. This universe continues to thrive on the examples they set.

(TV notes: We don’t speak of the final season of Scrubs, but in this instance I will. The series finale passed the torch to a series of new doctors. And even though the show didn’t work well in its final season, it’s important for those who loved the show to know that Sacred Heart changed but still kept going.

Parks and Recreation did a great job of flashing forward and showing us that the characters we loved and rooted for in Pawnee over the last seven years continued to thrive long after we left them.)

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A series finale should be entertaining and well-paced.


Avengers: Infinity War was narratively set up for difficulty. It had to cram every MCU character into an almost 3-hour film, which meant constantly jumping back and forth to different locations in space and Earth. As a result, I didn’t feel like it was a satisfying film holistically (it really served as part one of the series finale), though it was ambitious in all the plot it jammed in there and had its great moments of action and character development.

Conversely, Avengers: Endgame was three hours long but felt incredibly well-paced. Only a few scenes felt like they were stalling or rehashing old information (the Avengers taking stock of all the Infinity Stones and their history really just served for Scott to hear what he’s missed), and most of those scenes were still necessary to the plot overall. While the first third of the film was a bit slow, the final two acts — and third specifically — flew by.

Not only was Endgame engaging and well-paced, but it was also wildly entertaining. My favorite part of a second viewing in theaters was getting to witness everyone’s reactions to Scott’s taco lunch, Thor’s BIG reveal, Bruce’s fiddling with time travel, and even Hulk’s awkward lunch. So much of this MCU series was focused on the balance between humor and drama. The final film didn’t disappoint at all, and I’m glad that it managed to perfect the line between sadness and resolution.

(TV notes: Friends used the few episode leading up to the series finale to set up a lot of the plot that the show wrapped up in the series finale, which was a great move (Rachel and her job offer, Phoebe and Mike deciding on a future, Monica and Chandler moving away, etc.). Too many shows do slow builds in the series finale alone that end up making the episodes too rushed and packed with plot to breathe.)

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 A series finale succeeds when it remembers its roots. 


My favorite thing about finales is the plethora of callbacks. Throughout all of the MCU, callbacks and little Easter eggs were more than just commonplace — they were expected. Everyone waited on the edges of their seats through scrolling credits. More than any other MCU film, though, Avengers: Endgame did what some great series finales do: take a literal walk down memory lane.

In order to get the Infinity Stones in the past, the Avengers literally take some trips down memory lane (in 2012 where the battle for New York is raging, 2014 where we re-meet Peter Quill, and even in the 1970s). It serves a plot-related purpose but it’s also the kind of stuff that leaves me with little warm fuzzies. Endgame remembers where it’s been — where it came from — and it’s not ashamed of it. (And who didn’t love the culmination of that callback from Age of Ultron of Cap being worthy to wield Mjolnir???)

A lot of movie series try to move past their histories. A lot of television shows do similarly. But there’s a joy when people recognize the missteps and successes of their pasts, embrace them, and celebrate them.

(TV notes: New Girl’s series finale twist featuring a flash forward, sentimental game of True American left me with more than a few tears in my eyes. Psych and Community were the kings of callbacks in their finales and throughout their series as wholes. And Ugly Betty came full circle when Betty became a boss and Daniel joked about being her assistant. Plus how wonderful was it for the show to drop the “Ugly” from its name in the final title card?)

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A series finale deserves earned emotional moments. 


No writer should ever try to evoke emotion in a person just for the sake of emotion. The moment an emotional scene feels exploitative is the moment it loses all power and credibility. Many a television show and film have suffered from unnecessary deaths for shock value. And that’s the danger in a series finale — with a franchise like the MCU, you might expect bloodbaths and major deaths. But that’s not what was true to most of these characters. Endgame wasn’t going to give us death for death’s sake. And I’m glad for that.

The emotional moments in the film each served a purpose — to remind us of where we’ve been, to display incredible character growth, to demonstrate the power of a legacy, etc. Tony’s death wasn’t long, drawn-out, and dramatic; it was sad and simple (it did feature a heartbreaking repeated “Mr. Stark” from Peter).

Even the smaller emotional beats in the film served a purpose. I got chills when Cap’s radio began to crackle and we heard Sam’s “on your left.” I got a little weepy when Captain Marvel returned on the scene with an army of women beside her. I felt surges of joy and sadness when Tony got to say a hello and goodbye to Howard. And there was sweetness and emotion in the final shot of Steve and Peggy.

Emotion doesn’t equal sadness — good media will always understand the “why” of the emotional scene and focus on its depth rather than its tear-to-tissue ratio. If a film or television show does its job right, you should feel emotional but ultimately satisfied.

(TV notes: Parenthood was always a series that delivered emotional one-two punches and the series finale was no exception. The emotional moments were so well-earned, and the character development that led up to and through the finale was perfect.)

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Finally, a finale needs an appropriate sense of... well, finality. 


A series finale (unfortunately in the age of peak TV, this happens more often than not) deserves to be the culmination of a journey. Too many great television shows are gone so soon that their writers don’t have the opportunity to wrap up the storylines before cancellation, leaving gaping cliffhangers and holes and stories that they’ll never be able to tell.

Ultimately the goal for the series finale of a television show is for viewers to acknowledge that the arc has ended, the journey has concluded, and all — for the most part — was well with their favorite characters.

I’ve spent the last thousand or so words talking about how I feel like Avengers: Endgame accomplished this. Was the film perfect? No, but there will never be a perfect film. Did I feel satisfied with the way every character’s journey ended up? Yes, for the most part, I was. Even more minor characters in the Avengers-verse got the chance to say their farewells and continue their journeys in 2023.

Tony can rest. Cap can rest. Thor can rest. Nat can rest.

The universe is in safe hands. And Avengers: Endgame reminds us that as long as there are heroes out there — people willing to make sacrifices for strangers and loved ones and planets — there will always be hope. That’s enough.

That’s a series finale.

(TV notes: I enjoyed The Newsroom’s series finale in terms of its finality and wrapping up of storylines and arcs. Despite my earlier qualms with Andy, The Office provided great closure for every major character on the series and the assurance that they’d all be fine.

Conversely, shows that were cancelled too soon like Pitch, Pushing Daisies, Sweet Vicious, Selfie, Go On, Happy Endings, etc. ec. didn’t get proper wrap-ups to storylines and, unfortunately, left viewers hanging on cliffs forever.)

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What did you all think of Avengers: Endgame? Did it feel like a television series finale of the MCU? Sound off in the comments below!

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Flash 5x19 Review: "Snow Pack" (An Icy Reception) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]


“Snow Pack”
Original Airdate: April 23, 2019

This week on The Flash: two storylines tenuously linked by... making the right choices where one’s loved ones are concerned? Family trouble? Suffice to say, the connection between Metahuman of the Week plot and the Westallen family drama is an emotional one, rather than any interlocking stories. Also, Cicada II shows up out of absolutely nowhere. And here I thought “Snow Pack” was gonna be a filler episode.

I’M OUT OF FAMILY-RELATED SUBTITLES


Man, this one starts off with an emotional bang. Right out of the gate, Iris and Barry are having a total blow-out over Barry taking Nora back to the future in the previous episodes. It turns into a broader fight about Barry’s tendency to act based off his emotions — and only his emotions — without consulting anyone else in his life. Including, ostensibly, the most important person in his life: Iris. While Barry is hung up on how he can no longer trust Nora after her partnership with Thawne, Iris’s point is that Barry shouldn’t speak for the whole team, and he certainly shouldn’t speak for her.

We know the Westallen couple will be okay by the end of the episode (thankfully, the show left relationship drama in the dust early in its run) but there’s something more... real, I guess, about the fight that opens the episode. Like, it’s not the usual “you take risks and it worries me” fight you usually see between couples in superhero narratives: it’s a deeper issue regarding trust, open communication, decision-making. Y’know, couple stuff. Except it also involves transporting one’s grown daughter who hasn’t been born yet back to the future without consulting one’s wife or team of superheroes first.

When Barry uses the “you don’t understand how I feel about Eobard Thawne because you didn’t watch him kill your mother” card against Iris, that’s Iris’s cue to step away. She apparently saves whatever (likely vicious, likely focused on Barry’s utter stupidity) words she would have said to him for a letter, which Cecile and Ralph stop her from writing. Instead, Iris and Ralph decide to take a trip to the future to either bring Nora back or, at the very least, just talk to her.

And what is Nora doing now that she’s back in 2049? Why, the exact thing that made her father turn against her and banish her from the past, of course! Yes, although Eobard Thawne only has short amount of time left to live (allegedly) he’s spending at least some of it coaching Nora West-Allen in the ways of the Negative Force. Nora wants to get back to 2019 undetected by Barry, who would sense her presence in the Speed Force, so she needs Thawne’s help tapping into the rage-fueled Negative Force instead. Unfortunately for her, she’s not angry enough to use it. Unfortunately for us, she’s about to be.

Back in 2019, Caitlin Snow’s ice-powered dad shows up looking like Jack Frost on the cusp of a midlife crisis. Thomas Snow — or Icicle, I guess — wants to make his “Snow Pack” whole again by turning Caitlin’s mother Carla into an ice meta as well, then destroying the human sides of both Caitlin and Carla. Caitlin and her mother spend most of their time arguing bitterly, and when they’re not arguing they’re dealing with Icicle’s... uh, icicles? He throws ice knives at people a lot is what I’m saying.

Carla gets captured and put into a meta-making machine. Barry shows up just in time to take over rescuing Carla while Caitlin/Killer Frost chases after her dad via many swirly ice slides. Icicle apparently didn’t really have his heart set on a nuclear family after all, because he tries to kill Caitlin outright — only to be stopped by Thomas, who resurfaces and banishes his frosty personality long enough to have a heartwarming reunion with Caitlin and Carla. Then Cicada II shows up, stabs him, and absconds with a piece of cryo-tech. Woops! You almost made it, Thomas. Unfortunately, everyone Caitlin loves is doomed in some way.

If it makes everyone (sans Thomas, who is dead) feel better, Caitlin and Carla don’t really seem all that broken up about the situation? In fact, their relationship appears to be much better after the events of the episode. So much so, in fact, that neither one of them notices a testing vial changes color, signifying the continued presence of dark matter in Carla after Barry “stopped” the process to turn her into an ice meta.

From a repaired mother-daughter relationship to a fracturing one: In 2049, Iris and Ralph have tracked Nora down to Iron Heights, where they know Thawne is being held, and Ralph has managed to knock out (and impersonate) a guard so that Iris can talk to her daughter. Quick aside: I really liked the duo of Iris and Ralph, and I’m shocked to realize that Ralph seems to pair well with just about everyone? It’s a far cry from last season, when he paired well with literally no one. I liked the Ralph/Iris plot so well that I was pretty disappointed that it wasn’t more of a focus, perhaps with a small subplot dealing with Nora’s interactions with Thawne and virtually nothing with the rest of Team Flash. While it was nice to see a conclusion to the Snow family saga, that half of the episode felt out of place this late in the season, with a tacked-on appearance by Cicada II to keep it from being narratively pointless.

But anyway, Nora doesn’t respond well to the presence of her mother without Barry. While I get that Nora was, on some level, betrayed — how awful must Iris feel about that reaction from her daughter? Iris was the one who let Nora out of the holding cell, Iris was the one who stole a time machine to get to her, Iris was the one who stood up for Nora while Barry completely wrote her off as untrustworthy. Beyond those most recent actions, Iris has consistently been in Nora’s corner while Nora herself treated her like dirt, and when they actually made up and developed a decent relationship, Iris made an adorable list of all the stuff she wanted to do with Nora and pushed for them to spend as much time together as possible. But all Nora cares about is Barry? Jeez, I can’t even imagine how much that blatant favoritism must break Iris’s heart.

Since only one parent matters to Nora and that parent isn’t the one who shows up, Nora throws a temper-tantrum big enough to access the Negative Force and zips off, showing up in 2019. Thawne shows some confusion concern for Nora as well as the West-Allen relationship, imploring them all to stay together and work through their problems as a family. Uh. Thanks for the impromptu family counseling, time-traveling murder man.

Other Things:

  • “Thawne is manipulating [Nora]!” Barry says, while defending his decision to send Nora back to the future. Where Thawne is. And can manipulate her.
  • Joe West just... rips a metal door off a cabinet when Barry is in danger. Why is no one mentioning this?
  • I’ll never understand why Killer Frost consistently chooses to fight in close combat when she can just... throw ice at people. That Cicada II battle? Could’ve ended with an icicle right in Grace’s glow-wound.
  • I don’t know why Barry and Iris act like Nora belongs in 2019. She doesn’t. The only thing keeping everything from unraveling due to time travel shenanigans is the writer’s blatant disregard for their universe’s rules. Nora should be Time Wraith chow.

Grey’s Anatomy 15x22 Review: “Head Over High Heels” (Overexposed) [Contributor: Julia Siegel]


“Head Over High Heels”
Original Airdate: April 18, 2019

Whether it was a weakness or strength, most of the characters on Grey’s Anatomy found themselves overexposed in the latest episode of the medical drama. Jo continues to cope poorly with meeting her birth mother, while the love pentagon of Owen, Amelia, Teddy, Link, and Koracick gets a peek under the hood. Meredith and DeLuca deal with two surprising situations, and Nico and Schmitt have their first really big fight.

WHAT COMES AROUND GOES AROUND


Once again, there were a lot of moving parts in the latest episode. The ongoing storyline of Jo trying to come to terms with the truth she learned from her birth mother still weighs heavily over the entire episode because she refuses to discuss it. She claims she needs more time to process things before talking about it, but Jo is more than likely stalling until she makes a decision on whether she runs away again or gets help.

Jo finally decides to live a little and shows up for work after taking at least a week off. She’s clearly not doing any better, considering that she shows up drunk and with a thermos full of alcohol. Jackson tries to get through to Jo by inviting her to help him with his spray-on skin project. Jo tells Jackson that he was right about not digging up the past, but she refuses to tell him anything further than that she made a mistake by seeking out her mother. Jackson tries his hand at giving her the wake-up call she needs by letting her know that he knew she showed up to work drunk and threatens to have her fired if it ever happens again. Jackson does tell Alex off-screen that Jo was drunk at work because Alex is in a real mood when he gets home. The inevitable fight between Jo and Alex occurs, and Alex is worried that he is going to have another situation on his hands. The newlyweds are not in the best place at the end of the episode, and it doesn’t seem like things are going to change anytime soon.

Richard also finds himself in a pickle when an old friend, Jemma, from AA winds up in the ER with a stiletto sticking out of her chest. Jemma has fallen off the wagon since their shared sponsor, Olive, passed away. Richard wants to help Jemma get sober, but she wants nothing to do with him. Jemma doesn’t even want Richard to help on her case, but she doesn’t have a choice when Maggie gets called into another surgery, leaving Richard to complete Jemma’s surgery. Jemma isn’t pleased to learn that Richard wound up operating on her, but the two make up when Richard tells her about how he lost it after Olive died too. They bond over his story about destroying a bar with a baseball bat and getting arrested, and it’s nice to see Richard getting a little stability back in his life when it comes to talking about being an alcoholic.

THE TRUTH ABOUT LOVE


When season fifteen was dubbed “the season of love,” I don’t think any of us imagined that a love pentagon would happen. The relationships between Owen, Amelia, Teddy, Link, and Koracick continue to intersect and cause each person to contemplate where they stand. Owen spends the day at his first therapy session, at Megan’s request. Owen’s therapy session was pretty uncomfortable at times. I don’t know if it was the therapy he was getting or the writing, but something in those scenes was off. Also Owen winds up in a pretty good place following his first session, and it is highly unrealistic that he would be that cured after one session. The only good thing that came out of it was the therapist making Owen realize that he sabotages every decent thing that happens to him.

Amelia and Link appear to be becoming more of a couple and spend the episode working with Koracick using stem cells to treat Kari Donnelly, the woman who was paralyzed in a snowmobiling accident a few episode ago. Amelia and Koracick have a few heart-to-heart conversations about their current relationship statuses and what the future holds. Koracick feels that he and Teddy are in a really good place, but Amelia tells him that he shouldn’t get too invested because she feels it is inevitable that Owen and Teddy will want to get together. She reveals that she still does, and may always, have feelings for Owen but it’s too complicated to try and work things out with him.

Amelia says that she is happier taking the easier option — being with Link — because she is happy and can enjoy herself. She suggests that Koracick not get too infatuated with Teddy because Owen and Teddy still love each other. Koracick doesn’t want to believe Amelia and wants to keep fighting for a future with Teddy, which is really sweet. We unfortunately don’t get to see whether the stem cell treatment cured the paralysis, but the ongoing storylines with the patient and the romantic advances should continue to be very entertaining. I also want to take a moment and praise the writers for their brilliant writing for Greg Germann, who plays Koracick. Germann is so wonderful to watch and constantly lightens the mood with his quippy one-liners and sarcasm. They utilize Germann and his character perfectly and deserve some recognition for doing so.

SURPRISE!


Meredith and DeLuca wind up having a crazy day when they have not one, but two surprises thrown their way. As teased before the episode aired, DeLuca finds himself in an awkward situation when he tries to leave Meredith’s house in the middle of the night, only to be caught in the act by Zola. Meredith has not told her kids about her new relationship with DeLuca yet and feels that she is being forced into telling them now that Zola might know something. She turns to Bailey for advice, since she had to have the same conversation with Tuck when she started seeing Ben. Bailey suggests that Meredith be honest with her kids and tell them that she will be spending more time with DeLuca, but won’t be taking time away from them. Meredith is worried about what her kids will think, so DeLuca reassures her that he loves kids and kids love him.

DeLuca finds himself in another odd situation when he takes on a case from the ER. His new patient is complaining of intestinal distress and thinks that she has a bowel obstruction, based on previously having several. While the woman is getting an MRI, DeLuca has Meredith stop by for a consultation because he thinks that his patient’s bowel might be perforated and require surgery. The two doctors are shocked to discover that the scans show that the patient is pregnant and crowning. Turns out, the patient didn’t even know that she was pregnant and Bailey comes to help and sees on the images that the patient has two uteri and is pregnant in only one. This super interesting case gets quickly thrown to the sidelines and doesn’t get any attention once Meredith delivers the baby. It was odd that a rare medical condition was revealed, only to not be discussed in full.

OVERCONFIDENT


The saddest plot of the episode focuses on the aftermath of a complex surgery. Nico divulges to the audience for the first time that his fellowship year is almost up and that he is looking for permanent positions across the country, much to the chagrin of Schmitt, who wants his boyfriend to stay in Seattle. Top hospitals and sports teams are trying to woo Nico, which has gotten his confidence level pretty high. Nico has Schmitt assist him on a difficult surgery to fix a young man’s fractured vertebrae. The surgery seems to be a huge success, but a post-op complication occurs when the patient collapses after standing up.

Nico brings Maggie onto the case when he realizes that the patient’s heart has a problem. Unfortunately, they are unable to save the patient, who dies in surgery. Nico is pretty shaken up about his mistake and goes off on Schmitt about how he isn’t like him and never fails. Schmitt is hurt by Nico’s words, and I’m hoping the incident will take Nico’s ego down a notch. However, this actually turns out to be setting up the big Grey’s Anatomy/Station 19 crossover that airs on May 2. At the end of the April 18 episode of Station 19, Schmitt is at a flower shop looking to buy apology flowers for Nico when he bumps into Station 19’s Chief Ripley, who doesn’t look like he’s feeling well. Ripley leaves the shop before Schmitt, and Schmitt finds Ripley face-down on the pavement on his way out the door. It seems like Schmitt will have a big part to play in the crossover.

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Flash 5x18 Review: "Godspeed" (Back to the Future!) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]


“Godspeed”
Original Airdate: April 16, 2019

We’re back from hiatus and things are... not happy in the world of The Flash. This week, we’re taking a trip into the future to see what Nora was up to before ending up in the present. So, I guess it’s technically a trip into the past, but the past that we’re seeing is actually the future? Because the future events that we see via Nora’s translated journals are actually the events that led up to her taking a trip to the present, which is her past, which is the rest of Team Flash’s future.

This show feels more complicated than it needs to be sometimes.

TWO STEPS FORWARD


The episode starts pretty much where we left off weeks ago: Team Flash is still reeling from the reveal that Nora’s been lying to them the whole time they’ve known her, and she’s secretly been allied with Eobard Thawne. Since Sherloque was the person who exposed Nora’s secret, the team kind of takes their frustration out on him a little bit. He had suspicions since the start but never told anyone, which the others take issue with — this, despite everyone knowing that any accusations against Nora would be ignored. But yeah. I’m okay with just writing this off as the team shooting the messenger, so to speak.

Our episode is more properly set off when the team decides to read Nora’s journal of the days leading up to her trip into the past. That means we, the audience, get to see the narrative. Hurray! Probably the best thing about this episode is the casual way it establishes what 2049 is like, although it’s a little weird to see a sunny, relatively normal Central City of 2049 when every establishing shot of the future we’ve seen so far has looked more like Gotham than Central City. I guess there’s just a permanent noir filter over Iron Heights to keep morale down for the inmates.

In 2049, Nora is a regular ol’ CSI like she thinks her father used to be. She’s a bit like Barry, too, in that she’s apparently constantly late for work, incredibly awkward, and adorable. (Related note: there are a lot of parallels to the first episode in this episode — see if you can spot them all!) Nora’s boss has no patience for her adorableness however, and tells her to get to work figuring out who stole some very specific chemicals from a truck.

With the help of her best friend and fellow CSI, Lia, Nora tracks down a chemistry professor who can tell her what the stolen chemicals could be used for. They’re interrupted by a speedster who, in the usual evil speedster style, calls himself the “god of speed” and is just overall way more dramatic than he has any right to be. Seriously speedsters: you run fast. Your powers aren’t even the coolest variety of powers we’ve seen on this show. I mean, you’re definitely better than the guy with a snake in his head, but still.

The encounter with newly-dubbed Godspeed sends Nora to the hospital, where she discovers two things: first, the paramedics found a little piece of metal inside her; and second, she has super speed now. Nora and Lia assume Nora’s new powers are because she got hit by Godspeed, but we already know that the aforementioned discoveries are more connected than either Nora or Lia know. Anyway, Nora decides she gets to be a superhero now and tries to help CCPD stop some fleeing bank robbers, but she is really not that great at being a metahuman just yet and does more damage to the cops than the criminals.

Nora realizes she’ll need more than good intentions and new powers if she wants to stop Godspeed, so to stop a villainous speedster she decides to get advice from a villainous speedster: Eobard Thawne. Eobard isn’t a whole lot of help though so Nora regroups with Lia to see if they can make it on their own. Meanwhile, Lia shares the bad news with Nora (that the audience already knew about), which is that the device the paramedics found in her was a device meant to suppress metahuman powers. Nora had always been a meta — her mother just kept it from her.

Nora’s personal crisis is interrupted by her supervillain crisis while she and Lia are looking into another chemical Godspeed will need. Sure enough, Godspeed shows up. This time, though, he doesn’t just blast Nora and run; he kills Lia in front of her, further cementing the parallels between Nora and her father. What this episode might lack in answers to the questions of the season, I guess it makes up for in clever narrative parallels. It also did a pretty good job making the Lia character charming enough that her death was genuinely sad, even though it made sense. After all, Nora’s made the trip back to 2049 several times but she never stopped to have coffee with her best friend, did she?

With the help of the info at the Flash Museum, Nora figures out Godspeed’s powers are coming from an enhanced version of the Velocity-9 chemical cocktail introduced a few seasons back. She also returns to Thawne for help, and he agrees this time. After all, he’s got a little over a day left to live so what else is he going to spend his time doing?

Thawne coached Nora through a battle with Godspeed. It’s on par with any other speedster race/battle we’ve seen on this show, just with different colored lightning streaks. Not terribly impressive, if I’m honest, but then I haven’t impressed by a speedster villain since season one so who am I to judge?

To top it all off, Nora learns a couple more things: she has access to the Time Vault and Gideon the all-knowing hologram-face, and her dad was The Flash and sent her a goodbye video before (I assume) dying during Crisis. Boy howdy, Nora has had a tough couple days!

Back in the present, Team Flash is feeling a lot more sympathetic toward Nora’s plight. Iris has made the decision to let her daughter out of her cell but Barry clears the room to have a one-on-one chat with Nora. Credit to Grant Gustin and Jessica Parker Kennedy, who spend most of their present-day time with unshed tears in their eyes. You can definitely feel the emotions naturally associated with the personal aspects of this plotline: betrayal and outrage from Barry, desperation and apology from Nora. The scene with the two of them alone is especially good, with Barry asking Nora why — even after she found out Thawne was responsible for Barry’s mother’s death — Nora kept going back to him for help when Team Flash was there for her.

Nora doesn’t have a good answer. But even if she had, I’m pretty sure Barry still would have done what he does, which is speed her back to 2049. He tells her she has to stay there, because he doesn’t trust her anymore and he can’t allow someone he doesn’t trust to remain on his team. He makes this decision, by the way, without consulting Iris at all. Sure, great move, Barry. You idiot.

During his trip to the future, Barry pays Thawne a visit just to gloat about Thawne’s impending death. Hey Barry, I’ve said this a million times: please stop gloating at villains. It literally never works out for you.

Other Things:

  • This episode was directed by Danielle Panabaker. That’s nice!
  • I assumed that Thawne was the one who told Nora about the power-suppressing chip, thus earning her trust with the truth, but no. It’s still not clear what Thawne wants from the past, why Nora trusts him beyond him just being the first person to coach her as a speedster, or what Cicada has to do with Thawne.
  • Did anyone else feel like Tom Cavanagh kept slipping into his Sherloque accent while playing Thawne?

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The World of Dystopia: A Review of The Voyage of Poe Blythe [Contributor: Megan Mann]

(Image credit: Penguin Teen)

Years ago young adult literature was leaving the world of vampires and werewolves behind. The mythical creatures and their love stories were on the way out, making room for a new genre: dytospian fiction. Yes, dystopias took the world by storm with books like The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, Divergent by Veronica Roth, The Selection by Kierra Cass, and Matched by Ally Condie.

It was a genre that focused on the future rather than the past. Dystopias ask the questions, “What if everything goes south? What would that world look like? Would the human race survive, or tear each other to pieces? Does our past influence what comes next when the world is unrecognizable?”

While some of these novel’s landscapes are unfathomable to us, they also aren’t exactly out of the realm of possibility either. That’s what allows writers the freedom to create a future that’s just enough to make you wonder, “Is this possible? If so, would I survive?”

And Ally Condie does just that. In her dystopian trilogy that began with Matched, Condie showed a future where we meet our life partner at seventeen years old in a tightly controlled society. In her latest dystopian take, the focus is less on believing that you’re in a Utopian society and instead discovering its seedy underbelly. This book is about knowing exactly where you stand in a future where you have to do what you can in order to survive.

That’s exactly what Poe Blythe intends to do: survive and seek revenge.

At the beginning of The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe, we meet Poe and her best friend turned boyfriend, Call, as they sail down the river in a mining ship. It’s a less-than-desirable job since there are often Raiders lurking on the shores waiting to rob the ship of whatever gold it dredges from the river. It’s a dangerous journey, but Poe believes not as important for Raiders anymore as there are less and less outlets willing to trade in gold.

Poe and Call have a plan: they’re going to set sail as if they are going on a regular mission but instead of turning around and heading back to the Outpost, they’re going to keep sailing and see what the wilderness has in store for them. It could change their lives for the better and they’ll be together in this new adventure. As they talk about their escape plan during an excursion, Poe’s help is needed inside the ship. When she comes back on deck with two other crew members, she can immediately tell that something is wrong.

Raiders.

As the Raiders take over the ship, she notices that Call is missing. Poe hopes that he’s simply hiding and didn’t have time to raise the alarm letting the rest of the crew know they were in trouble. But when they bring him up to the deck, she knows with certainty that Call is dead. Her hopes, her dreams, her heart is shattered in that moment. The Raiders take the ship and allow the rest of the crew to leave with a message to the Outpost that the Raiders, or drifters as they call themselves, will no longer allow them to take the gold from the rivers. As the group makes the long trek back to the Outpost, with the ship exploding in the distance, Poe feels the fire ignite in her.

“I make them a promise, as their smoke and fire blot out the stars. I will make you nothing too.”

Over the next two years, Poe does seek revenge on the Raiders. Through dreams, she sees Call creating armor to protect the mining ships and sets to creating it. Ever since she brought the dream to life, the last remaining ship has yet to be raided and its gold taken. This has allowed Poe to move up at the Outpost and live in her own apartment while working with the Admiral. But her need for revenge has not yet been quelled. When the Admiral tells her that she will be making another voyage, this time on a river that has yet to be mined by the Outpost, Poe isn’t sure how to feel. However it’s not an option; it’s an order.

It’s been two years since she had been on a ship and now as Captain, she’s unsure how to feel. She wonders about the crew and whether or not they can be trusted. She wonders if they will have a problem with being lead by someone who is just 17 years old. She wonders why the Admiral wanted her on this voyage in the first place. The ship fills her with memories and also suspicion. This is surely going to be the voyage that Poe was not anticipating.

Dystopias have to draw me into a version of our future while keeping me grounded in something relatable in order to be good. They have to make you believable in the relative impossible while keeping you glued to the page. The story has to be intense with great plot and action sequences because if you have to fight to survive, it better be a good fight. As a writer, you have to build the suspense and make the reader feel like they can’t put the book down.

The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe did all of that and more for me. It kept me guessing and wondering what was going to happen next. It was a story of survival, sure, but it had so much heart as well. It was, as somehow most dystopias are, a coming of age story set against an impossible backdrop. Being the captain of a ship where your boyfriend was killed and dead set on revenge at such a young age is a lot grapple with.

I enjoyed the mystery aspect of the story as well. Since Poe doesn’t know what all of the mining is for, we don’t know and you’re constantly wondering along with her. There are little tidbits here and there throughout the plot that come back around brilliantly. I love when writing brings small things back around and proves they were actually big pieces to the story.

If you’re looking for a story that is going to pull you in and keep you guessing, The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe by Ally Condie is the perfect read for you. It’s a fresh take on the pirate story that will have you racing through the pages trying to figure out the mystery of it all. It’s fresh, exciting, and it’s the perfect summer read just waiting for you to dive into!

Get your copy of the book today!

Grey’s Anatomy 15x21 Review: “Good Shepherd” (Three-Ring Circus) [Contributor: Julia Siegel]


“Good Shepherd”
Original Airdate: April 11, 2019

Family reunions are always awkward. Just ask the Shepherd family. We have slowly been introduced to the opinionated, overbearing, and dysfunctional Shepherd clan since Grey’s Anatomy’s pilot, and finally meeting the last unseen sibling is the icing on the cake of their family saga. No episode featuring even a quasi-Shepherd reunion goes smoothly, and this one is no different.

Amelia and her new “friend” Link make their way to New York City for a complicated spinal surgery only to get bombarded by Amelia’s worst case scenario: keeping up false pretenses and lying to her family. Amelia surprises herself, her family, Link, and the audience when she introduces Link as her husband, Owen, setting up a hilarious series of events to follow in this excellent bottle episode.

RING ONE


The episode begins with Link and Amelia in New York City enjoying some alone time together the night before their big surgery. We all knew that one-and-done scenario that Amelia pitched a few weeks back wasn’t going to stick. The two surgeons seem to have a good connection, yet Amelia doesn’t want the relationship to go any further than its current status. Too bad she goes and wrecks that the next morning when they arrive at the hospital and bump into Amelia’s sister, Nancy, who is covering the OBGYN department. Nancy has made one previous appearance on the show, in a season three episode back in 2006. If you don’t remember, she is the kinder, most understanding sister.

Nancy is thrilled to see her youngest sister for the first time in years and even happier to meet the guy she is with, whom Nancy presumes is Owen Hunt. Amelia goes along with it and introduces Link as her husband Owen. Link has no idea what’s going on and plays along for the moment to help get themselves out of going to Nancy’s house that night for dinner. Nancy is sad that they won’t be in town long enough to catch up, but doesn’t push. Amelia and Link can’t believe they dodged that bullet, but Link is upset that Amelia didn’t tell her sister the truth... prompting her to admit that her family doesn’t know anything that has happened to her over the past two years or so.

Link and Amelia continue about their day and see their teenage patient before the surgery. Afterward, they are caught by Nancy in the hallway talking about how they will have at least 24 hours between the surgery and their flight back to Seattle to keep checking up on their patient. Nancy is thrilled that their trip has been extended and convinces them to come to her Connecticut home for a nice meal. Link really doesn’t want to go, but Amelia caves to her sister and gets her “husband” to do the same.

On their way to Nancy’s, Amelia drills Link about the details of their “marriage” to make sure they are on the same page about every little detail imaginable. Link doesn’t believe when she says that her family is super intrusive and will grill them about anything and everything. Just as they feel that they are prepared as much as possible, they arrive at Nancy’s home to find that they have a fourth dinner guest: sister Kathleen, the psychiatrist.

RING TWO


Amelia is visibly frightened when she learns that Kathleen will be joining them for dinner for two reasons: Kathleen is the most intrusive sister, and there are now two sisters who can team up against her. The previously mentioned yet never seen Kathleen has been quite a mystery over the years, as the only details ever revealed about her were her name and specialty. Amy Acker makes her first appearance as Kathleen, and this might be one of the best guest casting decisions the show has ever made. Acker was the perfect choice to play the nosy, overly analytical sister who makes it her personal mission to share a psychoanalytic profile about every sentence.

Amelia and “Owen” try not to fumble when Kathleen and Nancy start grilling them about details of their lives. Link almost trips up when Kathleen asks him about his army days, including where he was stationed, how hot it got in the summer there, and the best tourist destinations in the Middle East. The Shepherds are quite impressed with “Owen” and immediately think he is a surprising and great match for their sister. Kathleen makes several great quips during the dinner conversation like how “Owen” isn’t anything like she pictured, “Owen” is full of fun surprises, and somehow Amelia has the hottest husband of the bunch. Between Amelia and Link trying to keep up with Nancy and Kathleen’s rapid-fire questions and the sisters’ side remarks, this might be the most entertaining meal the show has put on. Everything goes according to plan until dessert, when matriarch Carolyn Shepard walks in unannounced and asks who Link is.

RING THREE


While reeling from the surprise visit from her mother, Amelia quickly introduces Link as her husband Owen. Carolyn immediately says that this man is not Owen, as she met the real Owen Hunt when she visited Derek. With the cat out of the bag, Nancy and Kathleen can’t get enough of the drama that unfolds as Amelia tries to scramble to tell the truth about her divorce from Owen and her new situation with Link. It’s always wonderful when someone like Tyne Daly walks into a room and totally disrupts everything. Daly was last seen on the show in a season five episode in 2009, and having her back as the sassy and straight-laced Carolyn is a real treat.

Now that her lies have been exposed, Kathleen and Nancy take the opportunity to start hashing out Amelia’s dirty secrets and past mistakes to show her that she is still the black sheep of the family and to scare off Link, who doesn’t know anything about Amelia’s past. The two older sisters, especially Kathleen, act like ravenous wolves preying on the fearful, unstable, and emotional Amelia.

Eventually, Amelia shuts them all up by telling them that she is happy in her current relationship with Link, at the top of her field as the chief of neurosurgery at Grey Sloan Memorial, and had a massive benign brain tumor. The whole family, and Link, are shocked to hear about the tumor, but the sisters say that Amelia was always impulsive way before the tumor and imply that she is making up excuses.

Link has had enough of the blackballing at this point and decides to intervene and support Amelia by telling the family off. He paints a wonderful picture of Amelia and all the good that she does in the world. He tells them that the Amelia they are describing isn’t the person he knows and that they don’t know their own sister. Link goes on to accidentally spill the beans about Betty and Leo, whom neither Carolyn nor the sisters know about. That piece of info puts Amelia over the edge as she storms out of the house full of shame. She is quite upset at Link for sharing personal details about her life with her family. However, they are forced to get serious when they simultaneously get paged with bad news.

Their patient has gone into respiratory distress, so the surgeons make their way back to the hospital. The surgery that they performed earlier that day wasn’t successful so Amelia proposes a very risky option to the patient, which includes removing a vertebra and replacing it with a metal cage. Link advises against the surgery, but the patient decides to have the operation. After hashing it out in the scrub room, Link and Amelia perform their most daring surgery to date, and this time, it actually works. Amelia proves to herself that she is better than what her family thinks of her, which should be a big confidence boost for her down the line.

After the surgery, Amelia finds Carolyn in the hospital lobby. The two have a lovely heart-to-heart conversation and apologize for all the wrong they have both done. Carolyn is sorry that she didn’t attend Amelia and Owen’s wedding and hasn’t been there for her daughter as much as she should have been. She also apologizes for substituting Derek as her mother and wants to be more involved from now on. She then compares Amelia to her father, which hits Amelia hard. Amelia is very happy to make up with her mother and even tells her about Betty and Leo and how motherhood has been her hardest challenge. While the trip might not have turned out anything like Amelia envisioned, she should be happy that she was able to reunite with her siblings and create a better relationship with her mother. Unfortunately, we don’t get a scene where Amelia goes back to stick it to Nancy and Kathleen, but I guess that wasn’t necessary to the story.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Ask an Author: The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky’s Jana Casale [Contributor: Megan Mann]


With her debut novel, Jana Casale tells a story that is more identifiable than most literature. Instead of relying on literary tropes to tell a story about a woman as she navigates life, Casale instead looks to the realities a woman goes through. It's a relatable read and it's a book that, unlike Noam Chomsky, you won't just purchase and never read.

So what does Jana Casale think of her book? Keep reading to find out!

Congratulations! Your debut, The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky, is now in paperback! How does it feel?


It feels many different things, but overall I feel incredibly grateful and very humbled by all the amazing things that have happened to my little book. 

What was the catalyst for this story?


I was in class at Emerson College and a student was giving a presentation on Noam Chomsky. The professor asked her, “Have you read any of his work?” and she said, “No, but I’d like to when I have more time.” And I thought, "That’s never going to happen." Nothing against that young woman or course, it just seemed like one of those things in life you hope to do but never get to.

I found myself identifying with a lot of this book (especially when Leda’s mother said, “Dreams first, boys second”). Were you hoping that female readers would identify with Leda in one way or another?


I felt that there was a real gap in literature in terms of representing much of the female experience, and I really wanted to write something that was as vulnerable and honest as possible. I think when you do that you run the risk of alienating people because you’re usually talking about very specific, very personal things. But without being that open and raw about your own experiences, I think you are unable to really give your reader something to fully connect with. It’s thrilling when I hear that women do see themselves and can relate to my character because that was really my hope with this novel. I wanted women to feel a little less lonely when reading it.

Including Rochelle’s rape story may be too much to handle for some readers. But for many women, this situation occurs far more than it should. Was that what made you want to include it?


I really appreciate this question because this chapter to me is such an important one in the novel. I didn’t think it was right to write a book about womanhood and the female experience and to not talk about rape. Rochelle as a character was a way for me to be frank about the violence women face and the way that violence is just part of so many women’s lives. To some degree Leda acts as a mirror to the way society does and turns her back on Rochelle, which is why that final image of Rochelle at the end of the chapter is so important. It’s a complicated chapter, but I feel very proud of it. And even though it’s not essential to Leda’s narrative, I think it is incredibly essential to the narrative of the book thematically.

The difficulties of friendship segued into Leda’s spiral into depression about upending her entire life from Boston to San Francisco for John’s job. This left her entirely without aspects of her identity: friends, family, job, school. This is more common than ever now. Why choose for them to uproot their lives for him instead of her?


Part of what I wanted to do with this novel is talk about the ways in which women get so much self-worth from having men in their lives. In reality Leda is so happy with having John [that] she is willing to make that sacrifice for him and move to California. We see later on that having a great boyfriend in and of itself is not fulfilling enough for her, but the initial decision is based very much around that. And I would suspect the reason they don’t leave is because John does not feel the same sense of accomplishment by having a partner as Leda does and so is likely less motivated to make a big change just for her. To be fair it was also a smart financial decision for them and life, I think, just gets away from you very often when you make a big move like that, so that was part of it as well.

Something that I think is so important for you to bring up in this story is how social media has turned motherhood into a competition. It’s also creates this insidious world of mommy shaming. Do you think mothers reading this will scream “YES! THIS!” when reading your novel? 


I hope so! I find social media to be so depressing in my own life, and I think very often it feeds into the worst of ourselves and our relationships with other people. Women can be so hard on each other, and I hate the way all too often we use each other’s faults and failures to feel better about our own lives. The good thing about social media is that it’s very useful for writing. So many interesting and complicated human interactions happen through it, and because it’s all written, it really lends itself to the medium of prose. We’ve all seen those scenes in television and movies where they try to integrate texting or social media, and it really doesn’t work but it’s absolutely perfect for books.

I think we’ve all had the experience in the dressing room with the bathing suits. (Except for maybe Kendall Jenner.) Instead of creating a story that’s clear-cut, you created a story that’s realistic and messy. It makes it easy for the reader to identify at some point. What made you want to tell a straightforward story that didn’t rely on the themes we generally see in fiction?


The bathing suit scene is the one most frequently brought up to me which isn’t surprising because every woman (probably even Kendall Jenner!) has gone through something similar to that. Hating our bodies is so intrinsic to the female experience, but it’s almost never discussed. Honestly, so few protagonists you read about seem to struggle with many of the experiences women struggle with in their lives, and I think the reason is that many writers write in a way that is more derivative of art than of reality. I really wanted to write something that was not built on women that I’ve read about but built on women that I’ve known, and so I tried to be as messy as possible. And what’s messier than bathing suit shopping?

Okay, so here’s a few fun questions! If this were to become a Netflix series, who would you cast?


Believe it or not I never think about this kind of thing! I think I’d just want Leda to be played by someone with a sense of humor.

What are you working on now?


I’m working on my second novel which is about three different women who are in love with terrible men. It’s tentatively titled, How to Fall Out of Love Madly.

(Megan’s note: I’m here for it. Very excited for this already!)

What’s the best writing advice you received during this process?


To think about your career holistically and to only publish what you really want out in the world. 

What are you reading right now?


I just finished Mary Laura Philpott’s book of essays called I Miss You When I Blink. It’s coming out this spring and it’s amazing. So hilarious. So touching. I highly recommend!

(Megan’s note: This book is, in fact, incredible and I also think everyone should read it.)

And last, because I have to ask, what’s a book you bought and then never read?


Honestly, there are too many to name! I love books, which means I over buy in a big way. But I did read Noam Chomsky!

The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky is available now in paperback! And find Jana on Instagram!

Grey’s Anatomy 15x20 Review: “The Whole Package” (Old Habits Die Hard) [Contributor: Julia Siegel]


“The Whole Package”
Original Airdate: April 4, 2019

It seems that we have at least a three-episode arc of family visits in the back half of season fifteen of Grey’s Anatomy. In the last episode, we learned the devastating truth of Jo’s origins when she met her birth mother for the first time. This week, the Hunt family is examined, and it seems a similar situation will play out in the next episode which will feature a Shepherd family reunion. Plenty of characters have been struggling lately and are unwilling to open their eyes without someone blatantly calling them out. This episode actually doubles as a great catch-up because all of the big storylines are exposed and cross-examined.

SURPRISE VISIT


After last week’s depressing dual plotlines, this was the perfect time for Megan Hunt to show up and lighten the mood of the show. While she is only checking in for one episode, it is always a pleasure to see her feisty spirit come alive and take action. Meredith and Jackson have assembled a team to operate on one of Megan’s patients: a military veteran who suffered several devastating injuries while in battle and needs abdominal wall, penal, and scrotal transplants. The writers couldn’t have come up with a better case to get Abigail Spencer to reprise her recurring role and talk some sense into her character’s very stubborn brother.

Meredith greets Megan when she arrives and accidentally spills the beans about Owen and Teddy’s baby in the process. Owen didn’t know that Megan was coming to visit and had yet to mention anything about his unborn baby, most likely because he didn’t want the ensuing attack from his sister. Let’s just say that Megan is very disappointed to hear that Teddy and Owen are not a couple and gives both of them several earfuls of her opinions. Megan knows that Teddy and Owen have loved each other for long enough that a baby in the mix should have catapulted them into a real relationship. She is beyond angry at Owen for his treatment toward Teddy (i.e. how he went to Germany for a one night stand and didn’t try to win her over), and can’t believe that he gave her his job instead of a marriage proposal.

Megan’s antics are quite entertaining, and she is incredibly spot-on with everything she says. Teddy and Owen have a complicated history which they have been trying to avoid like the plague for too long. Since trying to convince both together and separately that they belong together didn’t work, Megan decides to take a more drastic step at the end of the episode. She catches Owen off-guard with a very accurate mental health profile of him and how he is unwell. Citing the Germany incident, being with his ex-wife, and fostering Leo and Betty as examples, Megan paints a picture of Owen being mentally unstable and in dire need of help. This is something that I haven’t thought of and wasn’t necessarily apparent until Megan says it. Now that she mentions it, it does make a lot of sense.

GETTING BACK ON THE HORSE


Meredith and Jackson recruit Megan, Owen, Catherine, and Schmidt to help out with their extremely difficult surgery. When they present Catherine with the idea of the surgery, she is overjoyed that her son has given her the best gift ever. The light and fluffy demeanor of the episode is quite charming in this moment and provides a good laugh. The surgery is quickly in jeopardy when the team finds out that the patient lied about having a support system in place. Catherine refuses to operate if the patient isn’t going to have the help he needs post-op. Jackson confronts her about her decision to see whether she is more afraid for the patient or of her first time back in the OR since her own surgery.

Owen has a heart-to-heart with the patient and learns that he is really insecure about not currently having his manhood. This is exactly what Owen thought the problem was, so he gives a speech about how letting people in is the best way to deal with the problem. The patient had broken up with his girlfriend after the accident and doesn’t want to let her back into his life. Owen convinces him to give her another chance, and it all magically works out. Since the patient has a support system, Catherine agrees to do the surgery, which goes perfectly.

CREATIVE SOLUTIONS


This episode also marks the end of Alex’s reign as chief of surgery, as Bailey officially takes back her full duties. Alex takes on a new patient, while Bailey is left trying to figure out where all of the business reports are and how to teach some high school students about leadership, which was an unfortunately-timed prior commitment. Helm helps Alex treat a young autistic boy suffering from chest pain and fatigue. The boy doesn’t like to be touched and has trouble communicating, so they have to get creative to do an exam. The parents tell Alex that their son loves architecture, so Alex strikes up a conversation with the kid about a building.

Alex uses architecture metaphors to get the boy to tell him exactly what is wrong. They find that he has a tumor on his thymus gland, but they can’t surgically remove it right away because the patient is anemic. Alex brings Maggie on the case, and they give him a blood transfusion to treat the anemia, but the boy’s body rejects the blood. After several blood tests, the doctors find out that the kid has the rarest blood type in the world: AB with no Rh factor. Since the child’s blood isn’t AB+ or AB-, they need to find blood that is an exact match. However, only a few people in the world have this rare blood type, so finding a donor will not be an easy task. Maggie is surprised to hear Alex tell the patient’s parents that he will do whatever it takes to find a donor and treat their son.

Meanwhile, Jo has spent the past week curled up in bed and not talking to anyone. Alex sends Link to the rescue to see if he can get Jo to talk about what happened with her birth mother. Jo isn’t thrilled to see Link, who tries to take care of her even as she constantly rejects his help. He gets Jo laughing and having a decent time after she downs almost an entire bottle of vodka. She begins to tell him about how whenever a situation gets tough she runs away. She says that it’s in her blood to handle problems by running away and states that her mom still does the same thing. Jo almost tells Link the truth, but quickly shuts down and finds more alcohol to drink. When Alex gets home, Link tells him that he has seen Jo go through some rough times, but nothing like this. Both men are very concerned for Jo and are both silently hoping that she doesn’t revert back to her old pattern of disappearing when things get tough.

SHOWCASING TALENT


The last important story of the episode sees Richard giving DeLuca a solo surgery. DeLuca is worried that it is a test of both his surgical skills and his commitment to Meredith, as he will be trapped in an OR under the watchful eye of Richard. Meredith is also nervous that the surgery will take a hard turn and DeLuca won’t be able to prove himself. It’s odd that Meredith has next to no confidence in her boyfriend, which is a telling sign that their relationship probably won’t work out.

DeLuca decides that Richard is going to be more of a father figure rather than a teacher and wants to impress Meredith’s pseudo dad. Since this is the comedic episode, DeLuca is very wrong in his assumption and continuously says and does the wrong things. It’s fun to watch DeLuca trip over his words and try to find hidden meanings in everything Richard says, especially when he keeps saying way too much about caring for Meredith.

However, when he discovers dead bowel in the patient, DeLuca stay calm, cool, and collected and easily converts his laparoscopic surgery to an open procedure. Richard wants to take over at this point, but DeLuca tells him that he can do it and wants to see it through. DeLuca shows Richard that he knows exactly what he is doing and wants to become a general surgeon. Richard is impressed and even puts in a good word to Meredith about DeLuca’s surgical and personal skills.

Friday, April 5, 2019

You Do, Don't, Wanna Be Crazy: A Farewell to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend [Contributor: Jenn]

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I grew up listening to musicals.

If you met me today, you might not know that, given the fact that once I got to college, I didn’t follow the Broadway musical circuit as much. Today I couldn’t even tell you what musicals are nominated for the Tony Awards. It’s a little sad, actually.

The reason I loved musicals then and still do today is because of their escapism. There’s something so unbelievably satisfying about spending a few hours engulfed in a world where people randomly burst out into song whenever they’re feeling something deeply. In musicals, people get the chance to live in fantastical worlds. There is no limit to what is possible, generally, in a musical.

When Crazy Ex-Girlfriend came onto our screens a few years ago, it sought to be a conversation-starting, groundbreaking musical comedy. It was racy and funny, but also incredibly poignant. And it followed on the heels of other shows, mostly dramas, with its portrayal of a complex anti-hero. As the show ends tonight, I wanted to take some time to reflect on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s significance. Looking back, it made such an impact on me that I wrote multiple posts about it (here | here | here).

The little-show-that-could ended on its own terms, and credit goes to Aline Brosh McKenna and Rachel Bloom, as well as the show’s numerous writers, for constructing such an interesting and crucial arc for Rebecca Bunch. The woman we met in the pilot is not the same woman we watch sing in the finale — and for that, I’m eternally grateful.

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SING ME A SONG OF AN ANTI-HEROINE


The rise of the anti-hero in film and television in recent years has been an interesting one. People are quick to point out Walter White from Breaking Bad as a typical example, but essentially an anti-hero is someone who’s the central figure of a story but lacks a lot of the traditional heroic characteristics.

It leaves the audience a little confused — on the one hand, we are conditioned by popular media to root for the main character. But anti-heroes do things that heroes don’t. So are we supposed to root when Rebecca Bunch lies to Josh, breaks into homes, steals, manipulates the emotions of others, and seeks to split Josh up with Valencia? Are we supposed to reward her bad behavior just because she’s the main character in the story we’re watching?

I think Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s ability to ask that central question without telling the audience how or what to think of Rebecca is important. While so many television shows are heavy-handed with exposition or “subliminal” messages about what to think about a character or situation, a lot of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s storytelling has involved allowing the viewer to craft their own thoughts and opinions about Rebecca Bunch and her behavior. We’re given permission to root for her, but also be disappointed by her. We’re allowed the space to dismiss her actions as villainous altogether (“I’m the Villain in My Own Story” is my favorite song from the show for this reason).

Ultimately the show portrayed a character who was incredibly broken and flawed, surrounding her with characters who were broken and flawed (sometimes in less obvious ways), while also not allowing Rebecca’s actions to be without consequence. Did you root for Rebecca to get away with her lies? Or to get caught? Did you want her to find love with Josh? Or Greg? Or Nathaniel?

The importance of an anti-hero is their arc: Rebecca didn’t stay the way she was in season one. And she faced consequences for her actions too by actually owning them.

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A FUNNY AND SOMETIMES DARK LOOK AT MENTAL HEALTH


Rebecca began to truly own her behavior when she identified the root cause of it. For most of her life, Rebecca was misdiagnosed by mental health professionals; she received incorrect or dangerous diagnoses. Mid-way through the third season of the series is a pivotal moment in the show’s trajectory — Rebecca’s attempted suicide. Not only was the moment a tonal shift for the series (I cried when I watched the screener), but also a pivotal character-centric and plot shift as well.

When Rebecca is diagnosed with BPD, she begins to approach life, her recovery, and therapy differently. Armed with a reason for her behavior and a path forward, Rebecca begins to actually take ownership for her issues rather than blame-shift them onto others. As a result, she starts her journey in becoming a healthy, honest individual.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s contribution to a national (or worldwide) discussion on mental health can’t be overstated. The show isn’t the first to tackle the discussion but its musical comedy format allowed it to have an entire La La Land-themed number about how common it is to be on antidepressants. Rebecca sings a song called “My Diagnosis” when she receives her BPD diagnosis. A musical format is the perfect way to approach these discussions in funny, accurate, and engaging ways.

The way the show didn’t oversimplify the issues that come with mental health was of utmost importance. It didn’t minimize struggles or try to present a neat and tidy solution where there is none. Sure, Rebecca begins to improve when she receives her diagnosis and is on the right medication. But it also showed us a musical number where someone’s medicine isn’t working for them and they need to switch. Mental health is an ongoing conversation and a complex issue. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s constant dedication to the honoring and elevation of the subject matter is not just admirable — it’s downright invaluable.

I’m incredibly grateful this show allowed us all the chance to explore our own motivations, issues, and watch a woman grow and heal from the wounds that she and others have inflicted.

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THE GIRL AND GUY SQUAD


The character development in the series isn’t just limited to Rebecca Bunch though. I’m incredibly grateful that the series conveyed the importance of community. One of my favorite images of the series is Valencia, Heather, and Paula sleeping outside of Rebecca’s door after her suicide attempt just in case she needed them. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend actually managed to flip a tried narrative on its head (two girls rival for the same guy), by allowing Valencia to grow and Rebecca to grow as well — to the point that they’re now more evolved versions of themselves and actually very good friends.

Paula changed so much from the beginning of the series too, and it was important to me (even if earlier on it felt like this part of her life was neglected by the writers) that Paula wasn’t a young single woman. She’s a married mother of two who serves more as Rebecca’s mother than her sister — a dynamic, of course, the show readily explored. But how amazing is it that Paula advanced in her career and became a lawyer? That she wasn’t just brushed aside as “only a mom” by the series, and was allowed the chance to have dreams and goals independent of motherhood.

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Furthermore, members of the supporting cast were allowed to be fully-realized characters and grow on their own. Valencia, Heather, Nathaniel, Greg, and (to some extent) Josh all became better versions of themselves by the end of the series. Valencia found love and vulnerability, Heather found her purpose, Nathaniel found his empathy and humanity, Greg found release from his addiction and anger, and Josh found... well, I’m not sure yet. Forgiveness and closure, maybe?

There are people in our lives who shape us into who we’re meant to be, and I feel like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend did a great job at reminding us that healing happens in community — whether sitting on a couch with your girl group, in therapy with others, or by having an honest conversation with your best friend.

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GOODBYE, WEST COVINA


So much of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was... well, crazy. It had intensely catchy, lyrically genius songs. It had nuanced, layered characters who grew and changed and became people we wanted to see succeed. It had production-breaking musical numbers (I’m looking at you, “Love Kernels”). Its fourth-wall-breaking humor cannot be praised hard enough.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was meta and wild and wonderful. It celebrated so many things that, as women, we’re told to be quiet or delicate about. It stepped boldly into conversations about difficult subjects without pretending to have all the answers. It opened up a space where we could grapple with our own issues and feel like we belonged — no matter what.

There’s nothing like this show, nor will there likely be anything else like it. As Rachel Bloom hoped, I do believe we left Rebecca Bunch in a better place than when we first found her.

Is there anything better than that?

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Ask an Author: Field Notes on Love’s Jennifer E. Smith [Contributor: Megan Mann]

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For the better part of my almost 30 years on this planet, I have been a complete and total hopeless romantic. I simply love love. Sure, I love the saccharine stickiness that comes with it but I love all of the messy, salty bits too. Because that's what love is: a mix of salty and sweet. So it would come as no surprise when I tell you how much I love a good love story.

This is why I love Jennifer E. Smith's work and am always coming back for more. She writes a good love story that draws you in and keeps you there. Not because there's so much drama, but because she's mastered the will they/won't they theme in the best possible way. This is work written by someone who understands love on a level that has created a loyal fanbase always clamoring for more. It's beautiful storytelling that has you wistful and hopeful and starry-eyed with each turn of the page.

Her newest novel, Field Notes on Love, delivers all of this and more. In fact, it's probably now become my favorite of all of her books. (Which is astonishing since I loved The Geography of You and Me so much.)

Hugo is dumped just a week before his cross-country American train ride, and is obviously sad. Not just because Margaret broke up with him, but because this was a chance to do something on his own, and not as a packaged deal with his sextuplet siblings. When Margaret suggests he still go on his trip, Brit's joy is quickly dashed when he realizes everything is in her name and non-refundable. With the help of his siblings, they hatch a plan to find another girl with the same name willing to go on the adventure with him.

This is where Mae comes in. After her friend sends her the ad, the budding filmmaker responds with a video of her Hudson Valley hometown with its stifling (for her) tranquility. By chance, he ends up picking Mae when someone else falls through and the two meet in New York to embark on an adventure that shows them more than just the countryside. It shows them what they want out of life.

The story is stacked with love, but not in an overwhelming way. The scenes involving Hugo and Mae's families and friends are truly heartwarming and you hotly anticipate the next moment they'll share, leading you to believe that something is happening between these two strangers.

Here's what author Jennifer E. Smith had to say about her latest novel.

Congratulations! Field Notes on Love is finally out! How does it feel?


It feels great! I’m really proud of this book, so it’s fun to finally have it out in the world, and I’ve loved getting such enthusiastic responses from readers so far. It’s by far the best part of the job!

The story takes place primarily on a train. Where did the idea of a cross-country train ride as the center of your story come from?


I’ve always loved trains. There’s something so soothing about the rhythm of them and the way the world passes by out the window. I’ve never taken a train all the way across the country, as Hugo and Mae do in the book, but I’ve been on some long rides, and I wanted to explore what would happen when you took two complete strangers and put them together on a journey like that.

There's a certain nostalgia, and even romance, to rail travel. Did that play a part in your decisions? 


Absolutely. I think there’s something inherently romantic about the idea of train travel. Though I will say, after taking one overnight for research, it’s not quite as dreamy as it might seem. Don’t get me wrong — I loved the experience. And the views were incredible. But those sleeper rooms are tiny. As are the bathrooms!

(Megan's note: This is important to mention because after I, too, traveled overnight on a train and had a "sleeper seat," I realized that sleep was a loosely defined idea and maybe I should have done research first on what that meant.)

I also love that you wrote about the view of a single person among a packaged deal like sextuplets. What made you want to explore that?


Honestly, I’ve just always been fascinated by multiples. When I was dreaming up Hugo, I knew he would be looking for an excuse to escape his life for a bit. At first, I thought maybe he’d just come from a big family. But then I realized he’d feel more boxed in if his siblings were the same age — and if there were a lot of them.

Plus, I just figured it would be fun to write, and it really, really was — especially their group texts, which made me laugh. I feel like I could write a whole book just about the sextuplets. I love them all!

One of my favorite parts about your books is chance. In almost all of them, a chance encounter sets two people off on this epic love story. What makes the idea of two strangers happening on each other at the right moment so appealing for you?


I always say that I love to write about moments in time that act as hinges — days where there’s a clear split between a before and an after. Where yesterday your life was one way, and tomorrow it will be totally different. Fate, timing, chance, serendipity — whatever you want to call it, there’s something really fascinating about the idea that the right person could drop into your life at just the right moment. So I find myself returning to that theme again and again.

One of the things that Mae’s Nana says really struck a chord with me. She said that love is love and it doesn’t have to be for life — it could be for a week. I feel like that’s something that’s missing in books, specifically in YA. Love doesn’t have a timeline. It just is what it is. Why was that important for you to include?


Readers sometimes get frustrated because my books usually end in a way that’s hopeful but unresolved. Don’t get me wrong — I’m a sucker for a great happily ever after But life is long, and that doesn’t always happen when you’re 17 or 18. If it does, that’s amazing. But I also like the idea that life can be full of interesting experiences, and that it’s possible to have more than one great love story. Nana certainly did!

I also loved what Hugo said: “The truth is, love isn’t just one word. It’s different things for different people.” This is so important for readers, specifically teenagers and young adults who believe love is supposed to look a certain way. Am I reading too much into that or would you say the same?


No, I agree. I think it’s helpful to remember that love isn’t one size fits all.

But I think my favorite part about the whole book is that this isn’t just about romantic love. It’s all encompassing in our lives. There’s familial, romantic, platonic love and they’re all represented. Did you set out to showcase all aspects of love or was it a happy coincidence?


I always try to showcase different types of love in my books, and often the family stories are just as important to me as the romantic ones. In this book, in particular, there’s so much heart to the other stories: Mae’s dads and her grandmother, and Hugo’s parents and siblings. I wanted those to feel as real and meaningful as what was happening between the two of them on the train. Their story takes place over the course of a week, but those other relationships have existed their whole lives; they’ve formed the bedrock of who these two people are, and that’s no small thing.

With the book so open-ended, what do you think happens with Mae and Hugo?


I have my own ideas, but of course I’d rather leave it to the reader to decide!

Field Notes on Love is not the first book that involves travel. (See: The Geography of You and Me and The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight.) What makes the transient nature of travel so appealing? Why do so many of your books feature it?


There are so many reasons. On a personal level, travel has always been an important part of my life, and there’s something really fun about getting to revisit the places I love most in the world through the eyes of my characters. More broadly, I think it’s important to break out of your bubble and be a little uncomfortable and experience new things, and it makes me very happy every time I hear from a reader that my books have inspired them to travel too.

And then on a narrative level, there’s something about the forward motion of it all — literally moving the characters from one place to another — that always feels inspiring to me. I realize it’s getting a little ridiculous, how many books I’ve written about travel, but I just really, really love it. So this definitely won’t be the last.

Now to the fun parts! We know that your last release Windfall was optioned for film. (Any information would be so greatly welcomed!) Has there been any talks about Field Notes on Love becoming a film? 


I’m not sure what will happen with Field Notes, but yes, Windfall is still in development, as are several of the others. It’s a long road from the page to the screen, but there are some great people working on them, so we’ll see what happens. Fingers crossed!

Is there anything specific you were listening to while writing the story of Mae and Hugo that inspired you?


You know, I don’t really listen to music while I write. Sometimes I’ll put on the score from a favorite movie, but mostly when I work, I’m just listening to the sound of my beagle snoring beside my desk!

What are you reading right now?


I’ve always got a few books going at once! I’m actually reading Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier for the first time ever, and also The Friend by Sigrid Nunez. I recently finished Bad Blood by John Carreyrou, which was riveting, and Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, which was so impressive. I also loved Becoming by Michelle Obama, of course.

In terms of YA, my most recent favorite was XL by Scott Brown, which just came out this week. It’s funny and moving and smart, and the voice is just so clever and unique. Next up: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, which I’m so excited to finally read!

I want thank Jennifer for taking the time out to talk to me about her amazing new book. Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith is available now. You can find Jennifer on Twitter for updates on the movies and her next work!