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.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Flash 6x07 Review: "The Last Temptation of Barry Allen, Pt. 1" (Never Trust Evil Goo) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]


“The Last Temptation of Barry Allen, Pt. 1”
Original Airdate: November 26, 2019

Crisis is barreling toward us and, since The Flash takes a key role in the whole thing, we’ve fallen into some serious drama territory in the lead-up to the crossover event. As evidenced by the title, this week is the first half of a two-parter focused on Barry’s inner struggle with the death that virtually the entire multiverse is saying will be his destiny. He’s put on a strong front so far, but since “The Last Temptation of Barry Allen” pushes the focus on Barry’s internal struggle, it’s harder for him to hide how very much he does not want to die. The result of that dip into Barry’s psyche? A rather trippy episode that — again! — is phenomenally well-acted and, at times, more like a horror movie than a silly comic book show.


A LOOK INSIDE THE MIND


We open on the continuation of the fight between Ramsey Rosso and Ralph that was left on a cliffhanger last week. After some metahuman scuffling, it looks like Ralph gets the upper hand on Bloodwork, but then he makes the critical error of gloating about that upper hand and loses it. Ralph, I’ve said it to Barry and I’ll say it to you: Don’t. Gloat. At. The. Villains. When you seem to have won and you take time to rub it in the villain’s face, guess what happens? The villain stabs you with dark matter blood goo!

Killer Frost arrives just after Ramsey leaves and finds Ralph unconscious, which makes me wonder how everyone on Team Flash automatically knew it was Ramsey who attacked Ralph. Frost lets Caitlin take over for a bit so she can come up with a way to save Ralph, and the method she arrives at is a blood transfusion between him and Barry. Barry’s speed healing can repair cell damage, and now I’m wondering if that’s always been the case. Has anyone on Team Flash tested Barry’s blood for the sort of cure that sent Ramsey on his path toward villainy in the first place?

The transfusion between Barry and Ralph leads us down the psychological rabbit hole of the episode, since a small bit of Bloodwork’s evil goo-blood ended up in the transfer and is trying to take Barry over. The first manifestation of this is Ramsey himself — looking a lot less gross — appearing in Barry’s home, asking questions about the upcoming Crisis. One of the questions is whether or not he was seen at all in the visions of the future Barry experienced, but Barry says he was not.

Later, Barry is visited by the other side of this opposing struggle between good and evil: the Speed Force, using the form of Barry’s mother. That’s when Barry gets the explanation of what’s actually going on. Ramsey wants to take control of Barry and bend him to his will, but Barry seems adamant that Ramsey will lose. Let’s see how that plays out, everyone!

Ramsey reappears and plays Barry like a fiddle. Apropos, since he’s the stand-in for the devil, here. Ramsey starts with the false normalcy of Barry’s friends and family sitting down to a nice home-cooked meal, everyone acting as if Barry’s already fought off and won against the Bloodwork infection and had just been sleeping the rest of his fever away on Joe and Cecile’s couch. This quickly morphs into one of the most nightmarish sequences I have ever witnessed on primetime network television, as Ramsey arrives with a goo-filled lasagna and everyone at the table starts chowing down on what looks like viscous oil. When Barry understandably starts freaking out, Ramsey says he’s just there to eat and offer Barry “a gift.” Barry questions what Ramsey could possibly have to offer him, and everyone at the dinner table turns to Barry with black-stained mouths and says in unison, “Everything.” Thanks for those nightmares, show.

But wait — there’s more creepy ahead! Well, creepy and really, really sad. Ramsey teleports Barry to the time vault where the newspaper article written about his future disappearance is hanging and taunts Barry with how little effort he’s put into trying to stop that fate from coming to pass. Then Barry ends up in a room of gravestones bearing names of people Barry has known and lost, including Nora and Henry Allen, Eddie Thawne, Martin Stein, and the future Nora West-Allen.

That last gravestone transitions us to a nursery, where Baby Nora is laying in a crib. Barry is thrilled to see his daughter but when he tries to reach in and pick her up, his hands pass right through her. When the nursery disappears, Barry is left in a red-lit black void, where phantoms of people (Ralph, Iris, Joe, and Eobard Thawne) tell Barry how everyone will die and the city will burn without him there to save it. And wow, I know this is probably the third or fourth time this season I’ve applauded the acting on this show, but I have to do it again anyway: Grant Gustin is incredible in this entire pseudo-dream sequence. He buffets between rage and sadness and desperation so expertly, you can really see the psychological pressure that drives Barry toward Ramsey’s promises.

The Speed Force shows up again to act as another weight in the other direction, but Barry seems too far tempted for the Speed Force’s argument to sway him away from Ramsey, who is promising not only a life after the Crisis but also what essentially amounts to immortality and the ability for Barry to heal the people around him.

We get a struggle for Barry’s soul, with the Speed Force fighting to keep Barry from taking Ramsey’s deal and Ramsey dangling the possibility of Barry getting to live a life without Crisis cutting it all short, and while a part of me understands how desirable all that must be for Barry another part of me wonders how he can possibly fall for what is an obvious trap.

But fall for it he does! When Barry awakens from his fever, all seems right with the world — until Iris notices there’s something off about her husband, and Barry goes all evil black goo zombie and runs off. He finds and bows down to Ramsey, who is fully embracing his identity as a supervillain.

Next episode, I guess we’ll be dealing with Barry as a mindless goo zombie.

Other Things:
  • I felt like there was something off about the Barry and Iris plots this episode. Every time we returned to the real world, it sort of diminished Barry’s struggle against Ramsey. I think I would have preferred if this whole episode had focused on Barry’s trippy trip into his psyche, so that Iris’s struggle with writing her article about Barry’s disappearance could be saved for an episode where Iris could be the A-plot and shine a little more. That said, I suppose it’s emotionally fitting that both halves of the West-Allen couple spends their time coming to grips with Barry’s future demise in the same episode.
  • “Barry’s identity cannot be exposed,” Iris says to Allegra, as if the entire universe isn’t humoring Barry about his obvious secret identity.
  • Oh, I forgot about Barry being called “The Streak” way back when. Man, that was a terrible superhero moniker.
  • “Soon, the entire world will embrace — Bloodwork!” It’s really hard to make your villainous declaration sound suitably dramatic when your villain name is also a noun. Ramsey sounds like he’s going to force everyone to love diagnostic testing.

Friday, November 22, 2019

In the Era of Peak TV, Dollface is a Must-Watch [Contributor: Jenn]


When Disney+ was released, millennials everywhere dove head-first into nostalgia, rapidly consuming Disney Channel Original Movies and old Disney shows with fervor. I know, because I was one of those millennials. Then I quickly devoured new series like The Mandalorian. I essentially forgot that I owned Hulu and Netflix accounts for a few days, and only resurfaced to catch up on currently-airing series. But because Hulu is great at social media marketing, I kept seeing ads for their new series, Dollface. I honestly hadn’t even heard about it before an ad in my Instastory alerted me.

I resolved to watch the series, if only because it starred four criminally-underrated actresses, and was a show about women and female friendships. The end result? A 10-episode series that I absolutely adored. It’s got a few bumps and clichés along the way but overall, Dollface is a show that is quirky, fun, and utterly focused on what it looks like to have female friendships after college (hint: Sunday brunch makes a very, very fun appearance in the show).

Mild spoilers for the series to follow.

Let’s get the plot out of the way first: Jules (Kat Dennings) is a young woman who’s just been broken up with by her boyfriend of five years. Because she’s spent the last near-half-decade with one guy, Jules’ female friendships have been sorely neglected. So she vows to reconnect with the women she left behind, including her best friend from college, Madison (Brenda Song) and her other friends Stella (Shay Mitchell).

But it’s not easy for Jules to connect. She hasn’t really had female friendships in years, and while other women put them on hold for the short-term, Jules has apparently neglected her friends for a long time. Understandably, Madison isn’t keen on reconnecting with someone who abandoned their friendship in favor of a guy, but Stella is a little more accepting. Add to the mix the unlikely friendship Jules cultivates with a woman, Izzy, at work (Esther Povitsky) and you have a recipe for shenanigans.

Dollface’s primary charm is in its magical realism — when life is confusing or chaotic, Jules imagines her life in various scenarios. When she’s dumped, she boards an imaginary bus of sobbing women who all eventually arrive at a terminal and greet their female friends like they would if they’d returned from a long trip. Jules plays an imaginary game show in her head (“Should She Go Out?”), imagines a literal rift forming when Madison and Stella fight, and has an entire episode-long Wizard of Oz fantasy, which is so genius. The way she gains advice, primarily, is through conversing with a cat lady (Beth Grant) who tells her what she should do about her female friendships.

But there’s another charming layer of Dollface — the women themselves. Female friendships are complicated, especially when you get older. And while Ramona, the sister of Jules’ ex-boyfriend, tells the heroine that she should accept a dwindling group of female friends as she ages, it’s clear that the show (and Jules) don’t buy that. Ramona’s argument is that when you’re in your twenties, you need your female friends. Your squad, as it were. But when you settle into a relationship, it’s okay to let those friendships go. Ramona tells Jules about how she chose bridesmaids — but it’s not because she’s close to the women; most of them she hasn’t spoken to in over six months. She chose them because of how they’d look in her wedding party. Jules might have been fine with that life at the beginning of the series, but now that she’s reconnected with her friends, she can’t go back to that way of life.

The truth is, Jules found a deeper connection with her friends than she had earlier in life. Their college relationship was based on fun and seeing each other all the time. Now they’re older, trying to navigate life and expectations and work and their futures. There’s still drama and fighting and emotions because they’re human beings, but there’s something more powerful that connects them now.

Most of the first season is devoted to Jules learning how the world works when it comes to female friendships — and these women are hilarious as they teach her. Brenda Song is consistently underrated when it comes to comedy. There’s a way that she’s able to perfectly punctuate lines of dialogue with sarcasm that makes her so endearing. Madison is an interesting character, too, and I love that none of the women in the show are elevated as the “cool” or “flawless” one. Madison’s pride is a stumbling block. Izzy’s constant need for approval gets her into trouble (at least she’s self-aware of her codependency), and Stella’s tendency to numb or ignore her feelings causes issues.

Jules is the protagonist of the series and manages to transform pretty splendidly. She learns not just how to open up, but how to step outside of something that is comfortable and familiar and into the unknown. The season ends essentially with Jules standing up for herself — but most importantly, standing up for her friends. She doesn’t do everything in the series perfectly (she lies and tries to appease others rather than challenge them), but she grows. She learns how to become a better woman and a better friend. She stops being scared and starts actually living.

Kat Dennings, by the way, does a fabulous job at conveying Jules’ emotional journey. Not only is Kat just a hilarious actress, but also emotive (the endings of “Mama Bear” and “Feminist” prove that she can do a lot with small scenes). Something else I’m thankful for is that this show didn’t use Jules’ magical realism as a way to convince the audience that something was wrong with her, or use it as a problem-solving tool only. Jules’ imagination continues to run along even as she’s evolving and growing. It isn’t used as an escapist tool but rather as a way to process the world — and something super quirky too!

Madison, Stella, and Izzy get to grow a bit too. Shay Mitchell does an excellent job with dry humor, and that’s definitely Stella’s forte. But she also takes charge of her life and future, applying to business school because it’s something she wants. Everyone expects Stella to be the beautiful, fun party girl all the time. And Stella bitterly decides to act the way everyone sees her in one episode. But it’s really important not just to highlight the fact that Stella is beautiful and smart, but also ambitious. She’s a woman who seems, to outsiders, like she has no plan or purpose. But she cares about things and bettering herself.

Meanwhile, Madison undergoes her own little transformation too, learning how to trust people and show emotion. Madison’s so driven and career-centered that it can be hard for the audience to relate to the girl who seems to have it all. I’d liken Madison in Dollface to Ainsley in Four Weddings and a Funeral — both are gorgeous, fancy, self-made women but both are also people who are stubborn and prideful and can let that stand in the way of what they know they need to do, It definitely affects their friendships. But Brenda Song just does an excellent job of toeing the line between Madison’s tough, take-charge exterior and her vulnerability, which is why she is so compelling.

And then there’s Izzy, who’s so afraid of being excluded that she clings desperately to the people around her for validation. She’s also just weird and awkward sometimes and Esther Povitsky had already sold me in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and she sold me here. (Speaking of, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend alum Vella Lovell guest stars in the show as a coworker of Jules.) Dollface also boasts an array of guest stars including Malin Akerman (who plays Jules’ boss), Matthew Gray Gubler, Margot Robbie, and more.

So while the series toys with clichés about plot and character, and occasionally falls into stereotypical story traps, it does do a great job of portraying female relationships in a fresh, funny, whimsical way. And that’s really all I can ask for in a show.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Grey’s Anatomy 16x09 Recap: “Let’s All Go to the Bar” (McWidow) [Contributor: Julia Siegel]


“Let’s All Go to the Bar”
Original Airdate: November 21, 2019

Meredith is back at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital where she belongs! The fall finale kicks off with life starting to get back to normal for our core group of doctors, who have all faced difficulties in the first half of season sixteen. This episode also doubles as a pre-kick off to the weekly Station 19 and Grey’s Anatomy crossovers that will begin airing on January 23, 2020. With plenty of laughs and tragedy to go around, let’s dive into the final episode of Grey’s Anatomy for the year.

FIRST DAY JITTERS


Maggie and Meredith are both back at work, and everyone is welcoming Mer back with open arms. We see screen images of Mer receiving texts from Cristina that say she has sent Mer a welcome back/sorry you got dumped present. DeLuca is surprised to see Mer at Grey Sloan Memorial, as he seems to be the only person in the hospital who didn’t know Bailey rehired her. Mer chimes in the best comeback and says, “I was going to tell you, but you were too busy dumping me.” DeLuca is confused and doesn’t think they are broken up, but Mer assures him that wanting space is the equivalent of ending a relationship.

Things at Pac-North seem to be going smoother these days. Gemma continues to try to be supportive of Richard and brings him a peace offering yogurt to get him to talk. She encourages him to be easy on Maggie over the death of his niece, Sabrina, but Richard doesn’t seem convinced. With Alex out for the episode to visit his mother in Iowa, Owen is left to give Dr. Daphne Lopez a tour of the hospital. The UCLA emergency room doctor is deciding whether to bring her services to Pac-North or Seattle Presbyterian, who apparently can’t afford her.

Romance is also back in the halls, and ambulance dock, at Grey Sloan. Catherine pulls up to the hospital to find Jackson being touchy-feely with Victoria Hughes. Since she still thinks her son is dating Maggie, Catherine is none too pleased to meet Vic. Catherine gets the award for best zinger of the episode by responding with, “Station 19? What is that, a TV channel?” after Vic introduces herself as, “Victoria Hughes, Station 19.” Amelia and Link and Nico and Schmitt are getting hot and heavy in different rooms of the hospital too. The romance factor drops a notch when Amelia and Link run into Jo, who tells them she has signed up to be a safe haven volunteer and has gotten a notice about a baby that was dropped off at a nearby firehouse. Jo asks Link if he will go with her, but Link has to get to surgery. Jo decides she will handle it alone, which probably wasn’t her best decision. Amelia and Bailey have also become pregnant buddies and check up on each other when they cross paths, like they did when Amelia walked away from Jo and Link’s conversation. It’s an odd new friendship.

Elsewhere in the hospital, the residents are doing their daily rounds and are all still mad at Schmitt for turning Mer in to Bailey. They go with Maggie to meet her first patient since coming back: a new father whose wife gave birth to a premature baby. The patient, Elliott, has chronic aortic stenosis and needs a fourth aortic valve replacement. This instantly makes Maggie nervous, as she doesn’t seem ready to be back at work yet. The next patient on rounds is Station 19’s former captain, Pruitt Herrera. Bailey sends the residents away and wants to take care of Herrera herself, as she formerly treated him for mesothelioma. He thinks his cancer is back and asks Bailey not to tell Ben. The third patient on rounds is one of Meredith’s former child patients, who presents with a mass in between her ribs. They get interrupted by Dr. Cormac Hayes, who was hired as the new chief of pediatric surgery that same morning. The Irish doc is immediately brash and rubs Mer the wrong way.

UNCERTAINTY


Jo arrives at none other than Station 19 to pick up the surrendered baby and is greeted by Vic, who thinks Jo is the baby’s mother. Jo recognizes Vic’s name and says that she must be Jackson’s girlfriend, which freaks Vic out because she didn’t think they had a label. Ben and fellow firefighter Dean Miller bring the three-day-old baby to Jo, and Ben decides to give Jo a tour of the station. Back at Grey Sloan, Maggie tells Teddy about Elliott’s surgery and asks her if she would like to scrub in. Teddy questions why Maggie would need help, but decides to scrub in anyway because she misses heart surgery. This is also direct confirmation that Maggie is unsure of herself and not ready to operate after taking responsibility for killing her cousin two episodes ago.

Back in Mer and Hayes’ patient’s room, the two docs are butting heads. Hayes asks Mer if she ordered a CT scan yet, and Mer says that she was about to order one before he interrupted her exam a few minutes before. Over in our third patient’s room, Bailey is giving Herrera an ultrasound and fielding questions about her pregnancy. Bailey is happy to say that she has an ultrasound later that day and is excited to find out the sex of the baby. Unfortunately, Bailey sees a mass in the ultrasound and needs to take Herrera for a biopsy.

Jackson decides to find his mother and set the record straight. Before he can do that, Catherine accuses him of sneaking around with another woman in plain sight. Jackson finally tells her that he broke up with Maggie a while ago and that he is seeing Vic now. Catherine reveals that she is unsure whether her marriage to Richard will last much longer, but Jackson reassures her that Richard loves her and wouldn’t cheat on her. Richard and Catherine have apparently barely spoken in weeks, so Jackson recommends she try and listen to her husband. Over in Elliott’s room, Teddy gives him and his wife some tips on being new parents while prepping him for surgery. Maggie is still clearly nervous, which at this point should be making the audience nervous as to what is going to happen next.

BABY FEVER


Back at Pac-North, Gemma and Richard have an impromptu AA meeting in his office. Richard tells her that he hasn’t been doing too well and learns that his friend is a widow, which is why she started drinking. The action switches over to Station 19, where Jo is chilling with the baby while Ben gets a bottle. Station 19’s Lt. Jack Gibson pops in to see how Jo and the baby are doing. Jo opens up about how she is having a surreal moment since she was also dropped off at a firehouse as a baby. Jack and Jo proceed to bond over growing up in the foster system before Ben comes back. Ben and Jack reveal that they get about seven surrendered babies a year after Jo asks, and Ben tries to explain that the babies are given up for good reasons. While Jo feeds the baby, you can totally tell that she is starting to wish that she wasn’t joking about being pregnant during her Halloween wedding.

Over at Grey Sloan, Schmitt and Helm are taking Elliott to surgery, but he asks to go by the NICU to see his baby in case he doesn’t make it through surgery. Bailey and Amelia find each other and start chatting again. Amelia reveals that she hasn’t had an ultrasound yet at 20 weeks pregnant and doesn’t care about finding out the baby’s sex. Bailey yells at her for being dumb, and Amelia has been too terrified at what she might find out from the ultrasound to actually have it done.

While waiting for their patient’s CT scans to load, Hayes and Mer continue to disagree. Hayes thinks the patient has a tumor, while Mer thinks it could be some gall stones that migrated to the patient’s back after taking out her gall bladder two years ago. Hayes accuses Mer of screwing up the prior surgery. Mer rebuttals by asking Hayes if Bailey or Koracick hired him because she doesn’t think Bailey would hire someone with that massive of an ego. Mer is also having the residents try and hunt down her package from Cristina, which they have yet to find.

FROM BAD TO WORSE


Ben offers to give Jo and the baby a ride from Station 19 back to Grey Sloan, as he’s taking the rest of the day off to go to Bailey’s ultrasound appointment. The baby is making Jo question her past even more, and Jo is failing to understand how her mother could give her up. Jo is quickly going into potentially bad territory here, as she doesn’t look like she wants to give this baby up. In the OR at Grey Sloan, Maggie continuously asks for Elliott’s estimated clogging time, which is what she forgot to ask about during Sabrina’s surgery. Teddy reveals she is being courted by Pac-North to run their cardiothoracic department. Speaking of Pac-North, Catherine shows up to visit Richard, but hears from another doctor that her husband is in his office with another woman and has the door shut. Catherine immediately assumes the worst and storms out.

Hayes decides to ruffle Mer’s feathers some more by telling their patient and her mother that she might have cancer, even though Mer specifically asked him not to worry them before finding out what was going on. Mer walks into the room as they find out the news, and she tries to calm the hysterical pair down. Elsewhere in the hospital, Amelia informs Link that she hasn’t had an ultrasound while he is walking to the OR with DeLuca. Link is more than a little surprised, and Amelia takes out her frustration on DeLuca by asking Link why DeLuca is on his service after dumping her sister. DeLuca is still convinced he didn’t break up with Mer and explains what happened to Link and Nico, who are all scrubbing in for the same surgery. Link surprises DeLuca by saying that he is not Mer’s equal and that it is okay. Link continues to say that he knows he isn’t Amelia’s equal either, and Nico seconds with how he’s not equals with Schmitt. Nico sends the message home by saying that even though he and Schmitt aren’t equals, he respects his boyfriend, but wouldn’t respect him if he asked to take a break to figure things out. Link urges DeLuca to correct his mistake with Mer and undo it before it’s too late.

Maggie and Teddy are almost done with their surgery, which is being carefully watched by Koracick in the gallery. Maggie thinks Koracick is still following Teddy around and feels he may think that he still has a future with her. Maggie wants Teddy to clear the air with Koracick instead of stringing him along, and their conversation gets cut short when Teddy gets paged to the ER and leaves Maggie to close with Helm and Schmitt. After Teddy leaves, they realize that Elliott’s heart isn’t restarting, which causes Maggie to start freaking out.

A quick break shows Bailey telling Herrera that he has lymphoma. Bailey is happy to report that the treatments are straightforward even though the cancer is aggressive. Herrera starts to imply that he might not want treatment, but notices that Bailey is bleeding. Ben, Jo, and the baby arrive at the hospital at the same time, and Ben gets the bad news text from Bailey and leaves Jo and the baby alone. Back in the OR, Elliott is crashing, and Maggie is losing her mind. She asks how this could be happening again, and Teddy comes back to save the day. She proposes a plan to keep Elliott on bypass and wait and see if his heart will restart itself while also trying to calm Maggie down. The scene cuts to Ben running through the halls and into an exam room, where he finds Herrera and Carina DeLuca comforting Bailey, who has suffered a miscarriage.

In another OR, Mer and Hayes are performing a biopsy on their teen patient. Mer is still complaining that she can’t locate Cristina’s package, while the lab confirms that the mass is not a malignant tumor. The news immediately perks Mer up, and she takes Hayes’ place to remove the mass and find out what is plaguing their patient. Upon removing the mass and opening it up, Mer finds that it was a gall stone all along. Hayes eyes show that he is quite impressed that Mer knew the mass was a gall stone and not a tumor from a scan. Mer takes a victory lap by verbally putting Hayes in his place.

Owen then finishes up his tour of Pac-North with Dr. Lopez and seems a bit smitten with his potential new colleague. Richard sees their interaction and warns Owen to be careful if he doesn’t want his relationship with Teddy to blow up. Even though he is projecting his problems onto Owen, Richard isn’t wrong, as Catherine and Jackson are sitting at a bar at the same time and talking about the same topic. Catherine fears that Richard is having an affair, while Jackson isn’t convinced and thinks they have just had a massive miscommunication.

Another couple in potential tragedy could be Ben and Bailey, as it’s unclear how they are going to handle the miscarriage. Ben wants to take Bailey home, but she would rather stay at the hospital and work to take her mind off things. She asks for some alone time because she can’t face her husband. On her way to her office, Bailey bumps into Amelia again. Bailey urges Amelia to have an ultrasound, and Amelia is happy to report that she already scheduled one for that night. Amelia makes the mistake of asking how Bailey’s ultrasound went, but Bailey doesn’t tell her that she had a miscarriage.

THE SHOE DROPS


Maggie and Teddy have the difficult task of telling Elliott’s wife that they need to keep him on bypass indefinitely to see if his heart will restart itself. The wife isn’t happy that they don’t know how long it will take or if her husband will wake up at all. Maggie gets too emotional and has to leave the conversation. To make matters worse, she runs into Koracick in the hall, who wants to know what happened with the patient. Maggie fully spirals out of control and tells her boss that she doesn’t trust herself anymore and quits on the spot. Teddy walks out of the room to find a stunned Koracick, who immediately asks her to be the new cardio chief. Unfortunately, Teddy thinks that Koracick fired Maggie to give the job to her as a sign of love. Teddy apologizes for hurting Koracick and proclaims her love for Owen while telling her ex that he needs to move on. Koracick is even more shocked at Teddy’s speech. He manages to tell Teddy that Maggie quit and would still like her to take the job. Koracick goes on to say that he would marry Teddy tomorrow if she said yes and wants a future with her. He asks Teddy to seriously consider whether she wants to close the door on him since Owen hasn’t proposed to her and he has.

While telling their patient that she doesn’t have cancer, Mer is surprised to see that Hayes has a softer side. He gives the teen advice on how to deal with boys her age, as he has raised a few teen boys of his own. On his way out of Pac-North for the night, Richard gets a text from Catherine saying that she is leaving for a conference. Gemma believes that Catherine must think Richard is involved with her, and Richard fears the same. The episode then goes into a series of four shocking/surprising moments/cliffhangers to end the year. The first comes from Jo, who has invited Link over to her and Alex’s home. Please note Alex is still out of town. Link is shocked to see that Jo has kidnapped the baby she picked up from Station 19, but considering how she acted throughout the episode, I wasn’t surprised at all. Jo admits that maybe becoming a safe haven volunteer was too much too soon. Maybe it will all work out with Jo and Alex adopting the baby without Jo getting in legal trouble.

The second sort-of surprise occurs when Mer and Hayes share the same elevator at the end of the night. Hayes informs Mer that he gives his patients all the info good or bad regardless of whether or not he knows what is wrong with them because his wife’s doctors didn’t give him that courtesy before she died. It is surprising that he is also a widow, but Mer is more taken by Hayes saying that he wants to learn how to work with her and understands why she was missed. Mer then gets her big shock when Cristina sends her several texts stating that her package isn’t an “it,” rather a “him.” The next text says “McWidow,” which is followed by three separate four-leaf clover emojis representing that Hayes is both Irish and the third doctor she has given a “Mc” nickname. Granted, McWidow doesn’t rhyme with McDreamy and McSteamy, but we’ll let that one slide. Considering the amount of times Mer couldn’t find her package with Hayes in the room, it wasn’t hard to guess that he might indeed be Cristina’s package, especially since she still likes to interfere in her person’s life form afar. Will Mer take Cristina’s bait now that Hayes has started to loosen up?

I also predicted the third cliffhanger way back at the beginning of the season. Amelia has her ultrasound and is relieved that everything is fine. However, Carina reveals that Amelia is actually 24 weeks pregnant, making Amelia realize that Link may not be the father of her baby. For the record, I called this the moment Amelia found out she was pregnant. This ought to severely complicate many lives! The big cliffhanger happens when Jackson, Nico, Schmitt, Ben, Herrera and a bunch of residents find themselves at a bar. Herrera is comforting Ben and says that his wife miscarried before having their daughter Andy, who is one of the few Station 19 characters missing from this episode.

As Ben asks Herrera why he was at the hospital, a car crashes through the side of the bar and becomes the night’s promised tragedy. It’s unclear what the outcome of the accident will be, but thankfully we don’t have to wait very long to find out. Station 19 and Grey’s Anatomy return Thursday, January 23, 2020 at 8/7c and 9/8c respectively. That’s right, Grey’s Anatomy is moving back to the 9/8c timeslot to allow the weekly crossovers to run more smoothly.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Flash 6x06 Review: "License to Elongate" (Division of Plot Labor) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]


“License to Elongate”
Original Airdate: November 19, 2019

Welcome back from that random week off, everyone! If it’s not completely obvious from the title of the episode, we have a Ralph-focused plot this time around. To balance out the focus on a relatively minor member of Team Flash, Barry partners up with Ralph while other offshoots get to handle their own things. Even Nash Wells and Allegra get to carry a plotline, which is surprising since we don’t really have a handle on either of those characters quite yet.

There seems to be an underlying theme of trust — in the self or in others — this episode that echoes the faith themes in “Kiss Kiss Breach Breach,” but to a much lesser degree and lacking that episode’s heaviness. “License to Elongate” does manage to pull through with a passably good episode, though, and an occasional focus on second string characters is turning into a necessity for this show as the cast just seems to keep growing.

NOT-SO-SECRET AGENT MEN


Barry is still planning for when he bites the big one in Crisis, and while he has finalized his decision to make Cisco team leader in his absence, Central City still needs an actual meta to take up the reins of the Flash himself. As the only meta on the team who doesn’t occasionally slide into borderline-villainous apathy, Ralph tops Barry’s list. And, okay, Ralph does prove this episode (and has proven in times past) that being the only one left with powers besides Killer Frost isn’t all he has going for him. He does also have a capacity for leadership, good instincts in times of crisis, and surprisingly decent detective skills.

All those skills are put to work when Ralph returns to his search for Sue Dearbon in Midway City. Barry, who wants to ensure that Ralph returns for the surprise ceremony officially naming him a hero of Central City, tags along. Because this is an episode with a spy thriller pastiche, Ralph’s quest leads him to a fancy-schmancy party full of rich people looking to buy nefarious wares for nefarious deeds. Also, Barry and Ralph wear tuxedos.

When Barry is out of his usual element he seems to revert back to his dorky awkwardness of the past: he almost chokes on an appetizer, nearly gets them kicked out of the party before they can get anywhere close to finding Sue, and fails the James Bond “Surname — First name, Surname” line so hard the villain of the episode, Meister, thinks he’s named “Allen Barry.”

Ralph, meanwhile, is nailing this role as a super spy, and it’s only Barry’s fumbling that knocks the two of them off course and into a situation involving meta-dampening restraints and a laser weapon pointed at them. Barry thinks he knows better than Ralph despite this clearly being Ralph’s wheelhouse and suits up as the Flash to speed-search the whole building for Sue. That sets off Meister’s metahuman detectors and gives him the opportunity to get the jump on Barry and Ralph — thus, the whole tied-to-chairs and laser weapon thing.

In a real display of self-restraint, Ralph doesn’t lay into Barry about his inability to follow directions. Instead, he uses their imminent laser-guided doom to gently scold Barry about his failure to see his human identity as equal to his metahuman one. They could have calmly cleared the building as Barry and Ralph, but Barry couldn’t conceive of solving a problem without being the Flash. You would think this lesson would have been learned by now but, alas. Anyway, Ralph takes the lead on getting the two of them out of their predicament and they’re able to crash Meister’s evil auction, where he’s selling off the rights to a massive weapon.

Oh, and Ultraviolet is there too. You remember her? Allegra’s evil cousin who got swiped by a shady organization? I’m not sure if this employment by Meister is the answer to the shady organization or if more about that will come into play later. If it’s the former, it’s a disappointing revelation. I was expecting some back-half plot about a secret metahuman black market. Anyway, Barry (pretending to be drunk at first, and Drunk Barry — even Fake Drunk Barry — is always a delight) and Ralph fight off Ultraviolet and Meister while battling the ticking clock of Meister’s weapon firing on Central City. It’s funny how the huge missile getting aimed at a city sort of falls to the back burner in this fight, by the way.

Later, to drive home how much his friends and family love Barry Allen — not just the Flash — Ralph hijacks his own ceremony inducting him as an official Central City hero to call Barry Allen up on the stage. Once in the spotlight, Barry is rewarded with a medal of honor and a public display of how much the people around him respect and love him. Aw!

Less aw!: upon returning from the award ceremony, Ralph is attacked by a very gooey Ramsey Rosso. I almost forgot about that guy.

MEANWHILE, IN CENTRAL CITY


When the Flash is away, the... other team members... will play? That started out almost clever and sort of crumbled in the end, there, but the point is: secondary Team Flash members had their own adventures while Barry was with Ralph in Midway City. Cecile spent her time trying to help the newly-awakened Chester P. Runk finally get the girl he’s had a crush on since before he accidentally became the conduit for a series of dark matter black holes. She’s also dealing with a bit of an identity crisis, now that she’s quit being a DA and is starting her own practice as a lawyer for metahumans.

Cecile seems to be capable of pairing up with just about any character on this show and making it a winning duo, even when she’s utterly messing everything up for the people she’s meant to be helping. Also, I’m really glad we got to see more of Chester, since he’s energetic and charming while still being able to deliver more poignant beats when it matters. And when it’s clear there are no hard feelings about the Cecile-aided failure of his romantic endeavors, Chester seems to get an invite to join S.T.A.R Labs (but not Team Flash, I assume?) so I think we’ll be seeing him more in the future.

Somewhat tying into the Crisis plotline, Nash Wells spends this episode with Allegra, whose UV powers are necessary for Nash to figure out where Monitor is hiding. There’s some standard superhero struggling with her powers and the fear of turning as evil as her Ultraviolet cousin and, in his effort to assuage her fears, Nash drops the truth about Barry being the Flash. Allegra’s reaction to this is about on par with someone getting a mild spoiler to a show they were vaguely thinking about watching one day. Anyway, Allegra does lend a hand and I suppose we can assume Nash is one step closer to finding the Monitor. What the end result of that will be, I don’t know.

Other Things:

  • “No, Mr. Dibny. I expect you to die.” “Aw, come on! That line is literally from Goldfinger.” The Bond references were actually pretty fun.
  • “I love Mortal Kombat!” whispers wonderful Fake Drunk Barry to Ultraviolet, who definitely does look straight out of Mortal Kombat.
  • If anyone in this universe cared one iota about the Flash’s secret identity, I’m pretty sure putting both Barry and the Flash on TV within minutes of each other would give it away.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Flash 6x05 Review: "Kiss Kiss Breach Breach" (All In Good Faith) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]


“Kiss Kiss Breach Breach”
Original Airdate: November 5, 2019

Our most recent episode of The Flash features a Cisco-focused murder mystery plot, plus someone has apparently declared that the word of the day is “faith.” So, so much faith going around. Have faith in other people, have faith in yourself, have faith in black-fingered proto-supervillains controlled by a hunger for blood. Sometimes that faith pays off; sometimes it almost gets you killed. I guess you just have to have faith that having faith won’t get you killed though.

CISCO: TEAM LEADER?


Remember how, in last week’s episode, Barry told Cisco he’s his choice for leader of Team Flash after Barry bites the big one during the upcoming Crisis? Well, that’s still the plan, and Barry is giving Cisco something of a trial run of things while he and Iris take a vacation to Tahiti. Despite the fact that Ramsey’s been a no-show for two weeks and the West-Allens will only be gone two days, Cisco is still feeling the pressure and has developed an artificial intelligence computer program called B.A.R.I to help him make the same choices Barry would make in any given scenario while the real Barry is sipping tropical drinks on a beach and/or eventually dead. This is clearly not what Barry had in mind when he wanted to leave Cisco in charge, but Barry has faith that Cisco will figure all that out while he’s away. Since this show is this show, Cisco — of course — does.

But plot must happen first! After (I assume) a day of taking orders from the B.A.R.I program, Cisco returns home and he and Kamilla go to sleep — only for Cisco wake up holding a pair of scissors to his hair. According to Kamilla, Cisco has been sleepwalking a lot lately. She chalked it up to general exhaustion and the pressure of what’s been going on in Cisco’s life and he buys that explanation. They settle back down to sleep the rest of the night, Cisco almost tells Kamilla he loves her before awkwardly exiting that confession. And then Breacher, a.k.a. Cisco’s ex-girlfriend’s dad, slices a hole in the universe and steps into Cisco’s bedroom. He sits down and tells Cisco that Cynthia is dead.

To the credit of Kamilla and the writers of this show, there is zero relationship drama resulting from this plotline. Kamilla is so far from jealous or uncomfortable about Cisco mourning his ex-girlfriend, she even offers his intelligence (since he’s no longer a metahuman) up to the investigation into her death. When the topic of Cisco’s lack of powers comes up, Breacher mentions a side-effect called “breach psychosis,” the symptoms of which — we are led to believe — coincide with Cisco’s new sleepwalking habit.

Cisco and Kamilla go to the crime scene on the order of B.A.R.I. Once there, they meet Earth-19 collector agents and, more specifically, Zak Zeal — a man so immediately hostile and unlikable he can only be the red herring of a murder mystery. Regardless of their distractingly unsavory team leader, the collector agents have been doing their jobs. They’ve narrowed Cynthia’s time of death down to a two-hour window between 2:30 and 4:30 in the morning, have arrived at the cause of death, and have marked out the place of death. Cynthia was completely vaporized — all that’s left of her is an ashy smudge on the concrete, which understandably strikes the mourning Cisco. He starts crying at the crime scene while Kamilla comforts him.

After a third failure to tell Kamilla he loves her is interrupted by Zak Zeal, Cisco voices his suspicions of the obvious suspect. He devises a plan to, with Breacher’s help, mimic his Vibe power of seeing events based off physical items. On top of the breaching devices that have been around for a while now, this really raises the question of whether Cisco lost anything at all when he gave up being Vibe — can he just come up with a technical solution for everything? Sure, the device is a bit slapdash and Cisco implies it only works because of his memories of Cynthia, but if he were to make improvements would it render his entire “stop being a meta” subplot last season pointless?

Anyway, Cisco and Breacher concentrate on Cynthia and use the bullet that killed her as a focus for the time and location. They watch her get shot and vaporized, then the killer pushes back the hood shrouding his face and reveals not Zak Zeal, as everyone assumed, but Cisco himself!

Breacher attacks Cisco. His suspicions are not only fueled by what he witnessed, but also Kamilla finding the vaporizing gun that killed Cynthia, and the revelation that Cisco has been sleepwalking — including a sleepwalking session that coincides with Cynthia’s time of death. Though Breacher concludes that breach psychosis is to blame, not Cisco himself, he still can’t let his daughter’s killer go unpunished. He gives Cisco an hour to get everything in order and turn himself in to the collector agents, or else Breacher will kill Cisco.

Kamilla still has faith in Cisco, though. She urges him to have faith in himself, to get past all the doubts he has about living up to Barry’s expectations and legacy and recognize that he’s a good person with good instincts and he did not kill his ex-girlfriend. During her speech, Kamilla gives Cisco a eureka moment and he checks the white noise machine he’s been using to relax. Turns out, it’s in wifi mode (really, Cisco?) and got hacked into brainwash mode. Cisco recognizes the code as his own.

It turns out Echo, the hacker Cynthia had been hunting down for some time now, is a Cisco from another Earth. Echo used this to get the jump on Cynthia, who hesitated when she saw her ex-boyfriend’s face and breached them both to Earth-1 — giving Echo the chance to vaporize her. Cisco outsmarts his evil twin in the end, though, by altering the vaporizing gun into a force field that encloses Echo long enough to call in the Earth-19 agents and get him hauled away.

Later, Breacher theorizes that Cynthia, though dying, brought Echo to Earth-1 because she knew Cisco would be able to bring him to justice. More of that faith going around. Breacher takes his leave and Barry and Iris return from their vacation to a Cisco who has learned a valuable lesson in having faith in himself as a leader and a hero in his own right.

Other Things:

  • Secondary plots of this episode: Joe finds Nash Wells in some underground tunnels and they get caught in a standard cave-in story. Joe teaches Nash a little something about having faith in the people around you. Meanwhile, Frost gives over to Caitlin just long enough for Caitlin to try — and fail — to get through to the villainous Ramsey, who wants her to join him in his pursuit of immortality. Both thematically resonant plotlines but too tiny to warrant sections in the review.
  • Cisco’s middle name is Baracus, named after the A-Team character. I don’t know what to do with this information.
  • Barry’s favorite thing that Iris makes for breakfast is, hilariously, “banana.” A callback to Iris’s terrible pancakes last season.
  • I love every instance of Joe calling Barry his son.
  • Cisco apparently owns adorable kitty cat pillowcases.
  • I don’t know if I’ve mentioned yet how much I appreciate the Joe’s in the show a lot more this season. It’s nice that you’re feeling better, Jesse L. Martin!
  • “I knew I smelled SPF-90.” Hee.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Flash 6x04 Review: "There Will Be Blood" (Always Be Saving) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]


“There Will Be Blood”
Original Airdate: October 29, 2019

We’re dealing with death again this week on The Flash. Appropriately, to accompany Team Flash’s struggles with the probability of Barry’s demise during Crisis and Ramsey’s struggle to defeat death itself, we have more dark matter zombies. Zombies make a great metaphor for mortality and the dangers of attempting to circumvent death, only to end up a monster of your own making. Also, it’s Halloween week, so they’re great spooky decorations! Anyway, while all that is well and good, the real star of “There Will Be Blood” is acting. My goodness, there was some stellar acting this episode.

NEVER GONNA GIVE (LIFE) UP


Team Flash still seems to be coming to terms with Barry’s future doom. It’s actually really sweet how much everyone — even a newbie like Ralph and the prickly Frost — cares about Barry. Say what you will about any other element of this show, but The Flash does the “found family” trope incredibly well.

Cisco is reacting the worst out of the lot. Even when Barry manages to pull a promise out of him to just accept that Barry has to die, you can tell that Cisco’s lying through his teeth when he says it. Barry catches on to Cisco’s mood and decides he can ease his friend through these dark times by giving him something else to focus on: saving Ramsey Rosso instead.

I always like when an episode of The Flash gives us a thematic center that all the plots revolve around, and this week’s version of that is: “You can’t always save everyone, but you can always save someone.” This is Barry’s approach with Cisco, trying to get him to understand that being unable to save his friend doesn’t mean forever failure — that, as a team of heroes, there is always someone else out there they can save or help in some way and in this case, it’s Ramsey. Iris delivers a little bit of the theme to Ralph, who’s working on a missing persons case (searching for Sue Dearborn) but has given up in the wake of hearing Barry’s news, and Joe practically embodies the idea as a genuinely good police officer dedicated to serving Central City.

So Barry wants to save Ramsey. He manages to get Cisco to agree, but only because the perpetually smudged Nash Wells shows up and seems to distract Barry and Cisco into making a deal with him. Nash wants Cisco to build him a circuit necessary to his plans on Earth-1, and in return, Nash will get Barry and Cisco into McCulloch Technologies. The McColloch lab holds a serum capable of healing organic tissue of anything, which is exactly the sort of cure for all ills that never, ever works in TV shows or movies. The trio breaks into McCulloch Technologies, but Cisco secretly swipes the serum and lies to Barry, saying it wasn’t in its special sub-zero safe.

Cisco’s lie backfires immediately, which I find pretty wonderful. That’s something that would usually fuel an angst-fest for at least three episodes on this show, and it lasted an act break. I hope that bodes well for this season’s pacing. Despite being found out, Cisco holds his ground and threatens Barry not to go near the serum, then gives us the first stellar acting moment of the episode. Goodness, the pain Carlos Valdes delivers when Cisco talks about the unbearable possibility of waking up in a world one day without his best friend in it — I easily forget how talented the actors on this show are because it’s a silly comic book show, but man.

Barry explains that he wanted Cisco to be his partner on saving Ramsey because he wanted Cisco to take over Team Flash after he’s gone, and being the leader means making tough decisions for the greater good. In Barry’s mind, the tough decision was ignoring the serum’s potential to protect Barry from the antimatter blast during the Crisis, and using it to save a single person, now, instead. Grant Gustin perfectly balances the empathy and disappointment of Barry finding out he’d chosen wrong in his decision to name Cisco the new team leader, by the way. (Acting! It’s the star of the episode!) Chastised, Cisco tells Barry he can do what he wants with the serum and Barry delivers a possible cure to Ramsey.

Unfortunately for Barry’s heroic dedication to saving Ramsey, Ramsey quickly turns to villainy when the STAR Labs cure fails. The dude goes from “just a man desperately trying to survive” to “I gotta murder all the people” in, like, fifteen seconds. He thinks the key ingredient in Romero’s blood that made it a viable healing solution when combined with dark matter was the adrenaline (epinephrine) coursing through Romero at the time of his death. Apparently Ramsey got his magnificent reputation as a doctor and a scientist without ever realizing that you can literally buy just about any chemical, including epinephrine, online for remarkably cheap and just combine that with his blood samples. Buying necessary testing materials from reputable online sources? Nah. Time to murder!

And murder he does. Barry is understandably shocked to find the guy he just got into a fight with his best friend about saving has turned murderous — and has turned multiple people into undead, black-fingered dark matter zombies. Barry and Frost try their best to stop Ramsey, but he gets away while his creations go all gross and melty. Why did that happen? Does Ramsey have a self-destruct button on all his dark matter zombies now?

I gotta be honest, there’s a lot about the Ramsey/Bloodwork plotline that seems... convenient, I suppose, is the right word for it. Barry just met the guy and he’s suddenly top on his list of people he can save with that serum, even knowing that Caitlin/Frost no longer trusts him and Barry himself caught him trying to steal dark matter. Then Ramsey’s turn from a well-meaning but desperate doctor to a perpetrator of multiple gruesome homicides was far too fast and, as I mentioned earlier, completely unnecessary for someone who could buy the ingredients he needs off the internet. Now his powers have expanded to being able to liquify his creations — which I assume will be his “calling card” for CCPD/Team Flash to find throughout the season in order to remind us he’s out there — and I get the impression that the writers were desperately trying to find ways of making what really looks like a metahuman-of-the-week-level villain into a season arc foe.

But I can’t criticize the show too much because then it smacks me in the face with even more stellar acting, this time delivered by the duo of Jesse L. Martin and Grant Gustin. Joe, who hasn’t weighed in much regarding the impending Crisis over the past couple episodes, finally breaks down at how unfair Barry being the Flash truly is. Joe gets to help people as a police officer and then retire and live out the rest of his life, but Barry gets to die? He saves the world over and over, never truly being recognized for his efforts, and then has to die at the end of it all — it’s unjust, and for a man who sees Barry as his son, unbearably painful. Barry tries to comfort Joe by telling him he’s thankful for all the inspiration and lessons in being a real hero Joe has given him over the years, but his kind words just make Joe sob harder while they hug.

Well, that was heartbreaking.

Other Things:

  • I’m glad the new Wells isn’t a whisper-talker or a person with a funny accent this time.
  • Maybe that cure for Ramsey would’ve worked if the actual biochemist of the team hadn’t been riding shotgun to a surly ice meta.
  • “It’s not like I’m looking to get married,” Ralph says about Sue Dearborn. Cute, show.
  • It appears that Nash is actually hunting down The Monitor. Intriguing.
  • Next time: Looks weird! Can’t wait!

Dickinson Proves to Be an Insane Ride and a Hot Mess [Contributor: Jenn]

(Image credit: Apple)

In 2018, I got my first tattoo. It’d been something I’d contemplated for a few years and finally decided to get. The tattoo is an anchor breaking apart into birds, and I felt it represented two elements of the word “hope,” a word that I leaned into throughout 2017. One part of the tattoo is representative of a verse from the Bible saying hope is an anchor for our souls, and the other is representative of my favorite Emily Dickinson poem about how “hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.”

When I saw that Apple TV+ was making a show about Emily Dickinson I was intrigued. And I was even more interested when Hailee Steinfeld, of Pitch Perfect and Transformers recent fame, would be playing the lead. And then the first trailer for the series dropped and I immediately felt a simultaneous sense of confusion and disappointment. Emily Dickinson was using the word “dude,” the characters were implementing 2019 slang, and it all seemed to be representative of the kind of show that happens in a world where Glee and Riverdale also proudly exist. Was I signing up for a period comedy/drama or a soapy teen series where people wear period clothes but also dance around to Lizzo?

I’ll readily admit that for the first half (or perhaps a bit more) of Dickinson, I hate-watched the series. Like I did with Glee. Like I did with Smash. And like I’ll undoubtedly do many more times. I texted two of my best friends, former English majors like me, and told them that it was a trainwreck but I also couldn’t stop watching it. Isn’t that just like modern television though? TV doesn’t always have to be particularly award-worthy to keep us invested, especially these days — it just has to be more interesting and bizarre than anything else rivaling our attention.

And I won’t lie to you: Dickinson is certainly bizarre.

I think what could have made this show immediately genius is if Emily Dickinson, poet ahead of her time, was the only one to speak in modern slang. If everyone else in the series seemed stoic and stuck and a little rigid, Emily Dickinson would’ve stood out. She’d be imagining Death as Wiz Khalifa, and slipping into fantasies and challenging the status quo, and she would’ve been misunderstood and genius. The audience would have clearly seen that.

But that’s not what happens in Dickinson. Emily’s sister Lavinia says “woke.” The young adults dance like they’re in a 2019 club. And even Emily’s parents seem to slip in and out of modernity. That’s what’s so jarring about the series: everyone feels like they were told they’re on a different show. Some were instructed to act only as if they were in a BBC period drama (Toby Huss, who plays Emily’s father, is one such example), while others were not. It’s... incredibly jarring and off-putting to watch the characters slip in and out of modernity.

And honestly, it’s what makes the show hard to connect with. Is Emily Dickinson supposed to be a poet ahead of her time or just Hailee Steinfeld in a teen drama on the CW? The constant shift between Emily Dickinson’s deeply 19th century voice in her writing (the episodes open and generally close with her reading a poem aloud while the text is also floating across the screen) and her modern-day slang keep me unable to understand what the show’s trying to accomplish by it’s seemingly random use of modernity. Nothing else about the show focuses on 2019: the costumes, sets, and technology are all distinctly period elements. So for the dialogue and musical decisions to be a jumbled mess of current and past rhetoric feels... well, less than ideal. It takes the viewer out of the story, and leaves us questioning why we should believe any character would be saying the things they are in the 19th century.

That doesn’t, however, mean Dickinson is without redemption. While the plot of Emily Dickinson’s life lends itself to some scandalous soapy drama (she’s pretty much explicitly depicted to have romantic, reciprocal feelings for her best female friend in the show), the highlight of Dickinson comes in the form of Hailee Steinfeld’s dramatic acting.

The show excels when it leans into the things that made Emily Dickinson compelling, not just scandalous. The series seemed to jump out of the gate trying to be edgy, fun, and relatable (hence the dialogue and incorporation of pop music), but that didn’t work for me as I noted above because it was haphazard and lifeless. The true highlight of the series was found in the exploration of Dickinson’s emotional complexities.

There’s a scene later in the series where Dickinson pleads with Death, and it proves that Hailee Steinfeld can really elevate whatever she’s acting in. She’s the emotional heart of the series and when she’s allowed to be a poet who feels like she’s alone — in her head, heart, and world around her — you palpably feel that pain and tension between where Dickinson is living and where she wants to be. We hear her inner critics and people beyond her own head, like her brother, tell her that she’s ordinary. They tell her that there’s nothing special about her.

It’s heartbreaking, but it works because it allows us to see cracks in Emily Dickinson’s exuberant, larger-than-life character. Tonally, the final three or four episodes of the show began to prove to me what the series should have been from the beginning. Dickinson works when I’m compelled by its characters, not distracted by their dialogue. The problem is that it takes most of the first season to get to that point.

I pretty much only stuck around with the show because I wanted to watch it implode on itself (which it does throughout the first six or so episodes), and because I needed to see John Mulaney play Henry David Thoreau. But then I found myself genuinely struck by the ending of “Faith Is a Fine Invention” and wondered why it had waited so long to try and hook me, emotionally. I still don’t know where I land on Dickinson — it’s a trainwreck and a hot mess and, because of that, genuinely compelling for (probably) not-so-great reasons. But it also has something right there, beneath its surface: a genuine possibility to be something great if it’s willing to shed its need to be shocking or subversive. The mish-mashed dialogue doesn’t work; Steinfeld’s performance does.

Emily Dickinson was interesting on her own, and I wonder if the creators were worried she wouldn’t be compelling or interesting or fun enough without trying to turn her into some soapy heroine. Episodes in the latter half of the first season strip those parts away gently. While the modern dialogue still exists, we see characters subvert expectations in other, far more organic ways (there’s an absolutely wonderful moment where Lavinia decides to stand up for herself at the end of episode nine, and some touching moments with Austin in the seventh episode).

I hope that Dickinson allows more people to discover Emily Dickinson’s poetry for exactly what it was: complex, deeply emotional, rooted in questions about faith and life and hope and death. And far, far ahead of its time. If the show manages to do that, at least, maybe I can forgive its transgressions.

Maybe.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Grey’s Anatomy 16x06 Recap: “Whistlin’ Past the Graveyard” (Happy Halloween!) [Contributor: Julia Siegel]


“Whistlin’ Past the Graveyard”
Original Airdate: October 31, 2019

Unlike last year’s tear-jerking Day of the Dead episode, Grey’s Anatomy has gone all out on a comedic Halloween hour. This might be one of the most fun episodes to watch as of late. Between the haunted hospital and characters in “scary” situations, it’s impossible not to snicker through this one.

SPOOOOOOKY


The scare fest begins with Meredith snoring in a jail cell. Upon waking up, we learn that she is getting out of the brig today. The scary part is that we never learn how long Meredith was imprisoned for, or why we have never heard her snore before now. Jo has decided to properly celebrate Halloween by donning her wedding dress as a costume. With her face painted to make her look like a corpse, Jo tells Alex she is going to have a relaxing day off at home. Alex, on the other hand, is stressing about his meeting with potential investors.

Halloween doesn’t get off to the best start at the Grey/Pierce/Shepherd household. Zola asks Maggie when Meredith is coming back from sleep over community service, which might be the best analogy for jail that I’ve ever heard. Maggie is having a hard time looking after the kids and is grateful when DeLuca arrives to drive them to school. Unfortunately for him, trying to help Zola with her costume prompts a “You’re not my dad!” outrage.

Over at Pac-North, Alex and Richard are trying to complete their investor pitch without a hitch. Their pitch includes how they are trying to enhance the flow of the ER and teaching programs, with the hope of getting more funding for a much-needed skills lab. Right as Alex mentions that the new research wing construction is on budget and schedule, a construction worker interrupts with a problem. Alex leaves Richard to finish the tour, and you know the patient with a geyser of blood shooting out of the abdomen in a nearby room signifies how bad things are about to become.

Things start to get spooky at Grey Sloan Memorial too when Bailey confides in Amelia about her pregnancy. These two practically never share scenes, yet they become quick friends when Amelia gives Bailey advice about how to deal with the stress and cravings. Amelia giving Bailey advice is something I never thought I’d see. After getting away from her boss, Amelia is stopped in the hall by Link, who wants her to come to lunch with his parents. Halloween happens to be Link’s “cancer-versary,” or the day that his doctor told him he was cancer-free. Apparently, Link and his divorced parents meet every Halloween for lunch to celebrate. The more Link talks, the more nervous Amelia becomes. She is less than psyched about meeting his parents for the first time and having to tell them she is pregnant.

Jackson, DeLuca, and Schmitt have a young patient named Mary Rose who can’t be exposed to UV light without getting severely burned. Mary Rose has been treated by Alex her whole life and wants to see him. She presents with burns on both arms and claims not to know how she got them. The patient is upset by the news that she will have to have surgery and stay the night in the hospital because Halloween is the only day she can go outside and be a normal kid. As we collectively wipe the tears from our eyes, Jackson tells Schmitt to organize the annual Halloween party that Alex used to throw in order to lighten the spirits of the children in the hospital. Speaking of Alex, the construction worker at Pac-North brings him to a pit they have been digging. Work stopped when they found several skeletons in the ground.

SURPRISE!


Bailey, Teddy, and Koracick are outside to help with an incoming trauma. When the ambulance arrives, they learn their new patient is a teen who was hit by a car while walking to school. Don’t worry, the ax sticking out of his body is fake and part of his Halloween costume, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t cause real damage. Back at the potentially haunted hospital, Alex finds Richard and tells him about the mass grave the construction workers found. He isn’t sure how to break it to investors that a 100-year-old burial ground for mental hospital patients happens to be right where a new research wing is to be built. Richard says that Pac-North is haunted just as Jo walks in with her wedding dress coated in fake blood. Alex doesn’t like her joke or the fact that she too thinks the hospital is haunted upon learning about the mass grave. Things get real spooky when all the patients in the ICU have arrhythmias at the same time, prompting Alex to ask Jo to stick around and help out.

Before Link and Amelia’s lunch from hell begins, we get a quick shot of Link’s parents waiting in the restaurant saying how they hate surprises. On that good note, Link and Amelia arrive, and Link’s mother asks how long they have been seeing each other. She’s a little surprised it’s only been a few months, but the surprises keep coming when Amelia goes into full word vomit mode... everything from her living with her ex-husband and raising two kids with him to Link trying to get with her sister Meredith first makes an appearance. The shock factor only increases when Link’s parents then announce that they are getting remarried, and the bewildered look on Link’s face says it all.

OOPS, I DID IT AGAIN


The laughs take a short break to check in on Jackson and DeLuca. Jackson asks how Meredith is handling jail, and DeLuca complains about trying to not be her kids’ parent. The advice from Jackson that follows makes DeLuca realize that he can have a relationship with the kids without them thinking he is trying to be their new father. Now it’s time to get back to the comedy. Teddy and Bailey start to have a very real conversation in the OR. Teddy feels she is a bad mom because Owen threw her off by showing her the handmade costumes that his mom had made for him and Megan as kids. Owen’s mom was an army nurse and super mom at the same time, which makes Teddy feel inferior. She then declares that she and Owen skipped too many steps and went from being best friends to a family of four overnight.

As she says she doesn’t know what they are doing, the camera pans over to Koracick, who has been in the room the whole time and quietly listening. Awkward doesn’t even begin to cover it, and Teddy feels very embarrassed by forgetting about Koracick once again. After putting in his two cents and leaving, Teddy and Bailey are left to remove the teen’s pancreas after realizing that the fake ax caused some very real damage.

Jail doesn’t seem to be suiting Meredith too well, as she is pacing in her cell while staring at the clock. Her cellmate tells her to stop, but Meredith is mad that her paperwork hasn’t arrived from the courthouse allowing her to leave. Things aren’t going well over at Pac-North either. Owen, Alex, and Jo are trying to figure out what is happening to all the ICU patients. They find a transfusion form in every patient’s chart and come to the conclusion that they all must have been given bad blood. As they go to check the blood bank, all the patients start to crash again.

Link might be having the worst day of any of the characters. At the already cringe-worthy lunch, Link’s dad tells the story of how he got back together with his ex through dating apps that kept matching them up. They met up to laugh about it and realized that those apps weren’t so wrong. The usually level-headed Link loses it when his father asks him to be his best man at the upcoming low key wedding. Link laughs in his face and describes the terrible details of their divorce. His parents forced him to pick sides, making Link hate his life. Link describes all the horrible things they made him do, but the worst has to be the reveal that he double majored in college just so his parents could go to different graduation ceremonies. Link says that he literally doesn’t know what to say about his parents getting remarried, blurts out that Amelia is pregnant and that they won’t put their child through what happened to him, and storms out. The icing on the cake is that his parents look less than thrilled that Amelia is pregnant.

REALITY CHECK


The Pac-North blood mystery gets solved pretty quickly when Alex finds that the blood bank is not at the right temperature, which has made the blood go bad. Good news is that they now know how to help their patients. Bailey and Teddy’s patient is also going to be okay, but the two doctors might not be. Bailey is clearly struggling with hormonal issues and tells Teddy not to worry about her kids’ costumes. She says spending time with the kids is more important, but Teddy doesn’t look convinced.

Over at the prison, Meredith tells her cellmate how she got jail time. After Meredith is done griping, the cellmate tells her story, which is way sadder. The cellmate has two kids and works two jobs to make ends meet. After her childcare for the night fell through, she put her kids to bed and went to work her night shift. One of the kids woke up, realized they were alone, and called 9-1-1. The police didn’t want to listen to her story, and she accidentally hit a police officer with an errant gesture while talking. She was arrested for assault and still hasn’t had a court hearing. She also can’t afford bail, her kids are in foster care, and it might be another month before she gets a hearing. If this doesn’t scream reality check for Meredith, then I don’t know what will make her realize her situation isn’t so bad.

Outside of the restaurant, Amelia tries to calm Link down. He is quite mad, but manages to divulge a hilarious story about attempting to Parent Trap his parents as a kid. Amelia tells him that she thinks he’s angry that his parents are making his cancer-versary all about them. She goes on to say that she understands family dysfunction and that he needs to decide whether to leave or give his parents a chance to do better. Back at Grey Sloan, Schmitt is approached by a small child while setting up for the Halloween party. The kid asks Schmitt to help him find a costume, which leads to Schmitt taking the rest of the day to embrace the holiday and make the kid the sunflower costume he wants. Maggie has arrived at the hospital after picking up Meredith’s kids from school and wants DeLuca to watch after Zola after she refuses to go to daycare. Zola is not happy about the situation, but doesn’t have a choice since Maggie has a surgery to get to. DeLuca is just as unhappy, but he tries to be a good person anyway and agrees to help.

BONDING


DeLuca leaves Zola outside of Mary Rose’s room before joining Jackson to check up on their patient. The girl is still asking for Alex, so Jackson does a decent impression of him. Mary Rose says that she got the burns on her arms from running outside to catch her kitten that had gotten out of the house. She didn’t have time to put on her jacket and apologizes for her mistake. She asks Jackson not to tell her parents and assures him she won’t leave the house without her protective clothes again. As they leave the room, DeLuca notices that Zola has run away.

Amelia has convinced Link to give the lunch one more chance, so they rejoin his parents. Of course, his parents say that there could be two weddings in the future, which doesn’t go over well with Link. He and Amelia both immediately say that they have no plans to get married and simply want to raise their child together for the time being. The parents go on to discuss their wedding and ask Amelia when her due date is because they have already put down a deposit on a place for the third week of April. Link nearly launches himself across the table, but the look on his face is enough to have his dad backpedal and say they can work the wedding around when the baby is born.

Just as Meredith has finally started to bond with her cellmate, her paperwork arrives and she is free to finally go home. Her boyfriend had better hurry up and find Zola if he wants the family reunion to go well. DeLuca luckily finds Zola hiding out in one of the OR galleries and takes the chance to ask her what he did to upset her. Zola explains that Derek helped her fix her Halloween costume before he died and that she doesn’t want to forget him. DeLuca is touched by the story and launches into a “you will never forget him” campaign. He finally starts to bond with Zola by telling her stories about Derek, who he never met. Zola particularly likes the story about lab tech with the massive spinal tumor, which should make the entire audience smile with nostalgia.
Even though things are going much better over at Pac-North, the staff is convinced that the hospital is being haunted by the skeletons found in the mass grave. Alex has pretty much had it with the conspiracy theories and explains how everything that has happened has a rational explanation. As he says that he wants everyone to get back to work and stop worrying about the burial ground, Richard and the group of investors walk by. This prompts the stunned investors to turn around and walk away.

YOU MAY KISS THE BRIDE


Back at Grey Sloan, Bailey finds Koracick, who is being a major grumpy pants. Bailey calls him out, so Koracick explains how Halloween was his and his son’s thing. He gets very emotional when he starts talking about a Luke Skywalker costume that his son was so excited to wear one Halloween, but he never got to wear it because he died two weeks before the holiday. Bailey bursts into tears, and the scene quickly turns and has Koracick consoling Bailey instead of the other way around, leading to some more laughs. Pac-North’s day is also coming to a close, and Alex wants to take Jo home. She tells him how good of a job he is doing at the hospital, and Alex reveals that the investors decided to give him the funding in spite of the whole burial ground fiasco. Alex wants to celebrate by going to the courthouse and getting married for real, which is easily the biggest and best shocker of the night.

Celebrations continue at the Grey/Pierce/Shepherd house when Amelia makes Link a plate of candy with a candle in it to mark his cancer-versary. Meredith surprises everyone when she walks in still dressed in her jail attire. Of course, the kids think she has a great costume, while the adults are trying to hide their smiles. Back at Grey Sloan, Teddy tells Owen that she won’t be a super mom and can’t live up to his mother’s standards. Owen says he only brought the costumes to see if they would fit the kids, not to shame Teddy. Too late because Teddy was inspired by the costumes after all, as she shows everyone that she dressed Leo and Allison up as zombies, much to the dismay of literally everyone who works at the hospital.

The episode ends with a trio of happy endings. The hospital’s Halloween party is a big success, and everyone has a great time. Alex and Jo are finally officially married, but the ceremony doesn’t go quite as planned. Jo decides to prank Alex, and the audience, by announcing that she is pregnant in the vows. Alex couldn’t be more excited, but she says that she is just joking. They get married as the audience does a collective sigh, but maybe that’s a hint that it won’t be long before a little Karev will be running around. The third ending shows that Meredith posted her cellmate’s bail, and it seems that Meredith has an idea of what she wants to do with her life if the medical board takes away her license.