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Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 in Review: Jon's Top 3 Video Games [Contributor: Jon]

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While we cover many aspects related to films and TV on the site, one item that rarely gets talked about is gaming.

2016 was a phenomenal year in gaming. Many new intellectual properties were introduced to the public, garnering massive critical acclaim for innovative gameplay and unique stories. Other existing IPs released new entries in their respective franchises, which not only furthered the continuing mythos of each franchise, but allowed new ideas into the series as well.

With this list, we’re going to be doing something a little different. There were many video games out this year, and I unfortunately can only play so much (my backlog is ASTOUNDING). Therefore, I’ve selected three from this year’s crop as the games that really stood out this year.

And before anyone says anything, no, I have not played Overwatch. Therefore, Overwatch is not on this list. It’s know it’s on everyone and their grandmother’s top lists, but not this one. We cool? No one’s going to get mad here? Awesome.

These three games are the games that truly stood out for me in 2016.

3. The Last Guardian

For a decade now, this game was the one everyone would joke about never coming out. Its status of release reached near Half-Life 3 levels, and some feared it may have never seen the light of day. But finally in December, we saw the release of Team Ico’s (Shadow of the Colossus) next project.
The game is a simply beautiful one showcasing, at its core, the relationship between a boy and his pet... even if that pet happens to be a cross between a chicken, another bird, and a Chihuahua. The story never goes for slam-bang action throughout, rather opting for slow, more intimate moments. The background scenery is stunning, and the animations on the creature, Trico, are some of the best animation I’ve seen in years.

The gameplay itself is similar to how Shadow of the Colossus is played, in that it is a mix of puzzles and platforming. However, the introduction of Trico into the gameplay is when things really become intriguing. With most support characters in games, you call them over and they heed right away.
With Trico, it may take a few tries to coerce it into doing the right task, similar to how one might behave with an actual pet.

But at its heart, this game is about the relationship between a young boy and his pet, which is pulled off so well that you feel the emotional connection throughout the entire game. It is truly an emotional experience.

2. DOOM (2016)

By all purposes, there’s no way this game should have worked. In films, rebooting or remaking a film is difficult to begin with, but rebooting/remaking a classic game? Not just that, but rebooting or remaking the game that’s basically responsible for bringing first-person shooters into modern-day gaming?

There’s no way that the DOOM reboot should have succeeded.

Yet, it does. This is, hands down, the most entertaining first-person shooter I’ve played in years. What makes this game so much fun is what it boils down to: shoot stuff first, and keep on shooting until every monster is pulverized. As the eponymous DOOMGuy, it’s either kill or be killed, as you have to take down every monster you see in sight (this is especially seen when using “Glory Kills” to take them down in brutal fashion).

The game’s hard-hitting gameplay, accompanied by a heavy metal instrumental soundtrack, provides the biggest adrenaline rush in gaming this year.

1. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Nathan Drake and the Uncharted franchise has been a staple of gaming for the better part of ten years now. With Uncharted 4, the final adventure starring Nathan Drake, we get to see the character in a much more vulnerable light. We see the internal conflict Drake goes through in wanting to help his long-lost brother Sam find the lost pirate city of Libertalia (their White Whale, so to speak), or to remain safe for the sake of his love, Elena.

Because of this, this is a much more personal battle for Drake, as he’s fighting not only to save his brother, but also against his own personal demons. Drake, while still trading his usual one-liners, knows that he’s got one more hunt left in him and is conflicted over wanting to fully leave the life behind, or stay with the adventure (it should be noted that Nolan North, Troy Baker, Emily Rose, and the rest of the cast give career high performances here).

It’s a beautifully well-told story from writers Neil Druckmann (who also co-directed) and Josh Scherr. Druckmann seems to have carried over the personal drama he learned from The Last of Us and mixes it seamlessly with the breathtaking action of Uncharted.

And breathtaking might be an understatement, as this is truly the most exciting game I’ve played all year. From new ideas such as stealth kills or using a rope to swing from one area to the next (which is WAY more fun than expected) to heart-pounding set pieces that the franchise is known for — all of the action in this game is the best action since the train sequence in Uncharted 2 — the game has everything one could hope for in a video game.

What were some of your favorite games of 2016? Sound off in the comments below!

Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 in Review: Erin’s Top 11 Feminist Moments in Television [Guest Poster: Erin]

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This year the small screen was filled with larger-than-life women. Audiences are demanding a better representation of the female population and the entertainment industry is starting to deliver. From BAMFs to Queens and everything in between, women’s voices could be heard and with that feminist issues were addressed. I love seeing sexism confronted, gender norms subverted, and the patriarchy challenged. My television viewing was not lacking in these enlightening and inspiring situations.

I wish I could watch all the shows. There are so many for which I, regrettably, just did not have the time. I know there is a surplus of strong, but flawed characters out there I have yet to meet. I did keep the company of some pretty cool chicks that faced an array of barriers and smashed through them this year. Of the fantastic shows I was able to keep up with here are some of my favorite standout feminist moments of 2016, in no particular order.

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1. “First Feminist City” (Portlandia)

Candace and Toni are two of my favorite characters on the sketch comedy Portlandia. This episode is entirely devoted to the Women and Women First bookstore owners. Portland is named the first feminist city and their quiet, non-for-profit shop becomes overrun with people who want to give them (gasp!) money for their products. Toni shouts, “We don’t want your money!” The attention, however, is tantalizing to Candace and she goes to the dark side of commodified feminism and becomes a “feminist celebrity.” She consults for Femimart, a new feminist superstore that “womanizes” all products from “blenders to blankets.” The employees wear pink shirts and and there are cute girls dancing in the commercial. This shows two extreme sides of feminism and neither of them are very helpful in fighting against the oppression of women. Portlandia glaringly and hilariously points out the problems of how feminism is perceived. It also shows the unfortunate divisiveness that exists surrounding the word when really it is completely and totally inclusive.

Toni storms in on one of Candace’s interviews and makes an impassioned plea for Candace to come to her senses. “You want to try feminism on? There’s nothing to try on. ‘Cause it’s in our blood! It’s our skin and bones! We are not for sale!” It works and Candace joins Toni and other feminists in infiltrating and dismantling Femimart. “The only thing that can destroy feminism is feminism itself.” They create confusion and chaos within the superstore. The logo becomes a pregnant vegan holding a cat. They succeed in destroying it and retreat back to their comfort zone where they sell nothing, work a 15-minute to an hour workday, and drink month-long steeped tea.

2. Scully’s takedown in heels (The X-Files)

Let me first say that the disappointment I felt in season ten of The X-Files was profound. At this year’s Festivus celebration, my Airing of Grievances were aimed heavily at Chris Carter. However, Dana Scully, one of my first fictional feminist heroes, had one of my favorite feminist moments. Mulder tells Scully that he doesn’t do stairs anymore and she reminds him that “back in the day” she used to do the stairs and in three inch heels (and got paid less, too). She had also just taken down a perp in said heels and a pencil skirt, all while grieving her recently deceased mother, by the way. Talk about a strong female character. You could argue that the major feminist moment is in the finale when it's revealed that Scully’s alien DNA is going to save all humankind, but I like this simple nod pointing out workplace inequality. You don't want to get me started on the mess that is “My Struggle, Pt. 2,” believe me.

It’s also worth noting that Gillian Anderson fought the unfair pay gap back in the 90s and had to fight it again when negotiating for her return to the iconic role. She was offered half (let that sink in — half) of what her male co-star was offered. Bringing attention to the disparity of wages in Hollywood is a step toward fighting it. Anderson told The Daily Beast that she was “surprised that more [interviewers] haven’t brought that up because it’s the truth. Especially in this climate of women talking about the reality of [unequal pay] in this business, I think it’s important that it gets heard and voiced. It was shocking to me, given all the hard work that I had done in the past to get us to be paid fairly. I worked really hard toward that and finally got somewhere with it.”

It goes to show that there is still so much work to be done in this area and we are so fortunate to have someone like Gillian leading the fight.

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3. Blanca’s stand (Orange is the New Black)

Orange is the New Black is known for tackling topical, hot button issues regarding race, LGBTQ concerns, addiction, mental disorders, etc. Misogyny and sexism are confronted in practically every episode, but Blanca’s stand was especially powerful. As a result of some prison politics, the guards are targeting the Dominicans to search for contraband. The male officers are taking advantage of the situation to grope and assault the inmates. Blanca has had enough and she finds that if she smells bad they give her a pass. She becomes “the Che Guevara of hallway frisking.” They get on her to bathe and she refuses as an act of civil disobedience. One guard — not really knowing how to handle it — makes her stand on a table in the cafeteria until she stops.

Blanca endures two days standing on the table. Chapman sneaks her a granola bar, gets caught, and is given the same treatment. They get a reprieve when the prison goes on lockdown, but the act of standing against the abuse doesn’t go unnoticed by the women. It mobilizes the inmates, and the idea of a peaceful protest starts to get around. Alas, the groups are too polarizing to get along long enough to organize. An incident in the cafeteria incites Blanca to stand again. She defiantly steps up to the table and the rest of the room joins her. They make it clear that it is a peaceful protest, but the officers use force and it ends with one of the saddest (and dare I say, unnecessary) character deaths on television this year.

This season of Orange is the New Black was very dark, but so is our reality. It’s just more visible now and society is more vocal about injustices. It’s difficult to stomach, but we can’t shy away or change the channel. When women are treated inhumanely — whether they are criminals or not — we need to stand up to the patriarchy, just like Blanca.


4. God save the Queen (The Crown)

The Crown is a rich tapestry chronicling a young woman’s struggle to maintain an identity under the heavy burden of other people’s expectations. While most women can’t relate to the difficulties of being the Queen of England, they can relate to that particular struggle. When her father King George VI dies, Elizabeth's grandmother sends her a letter telling her she will have to grieve for herself along with him. “And while you mourn your father, you must also mourn someone else. Elizabeth Mountbatten. For she is now replaced by another person — Elizabeth Regina. The two Elizabeths will be frequently in conflict with one another. The fact is the crown must win.” A lot of women struggle with these different selves. Being under the scrutiny of her family, the Cabinet, the country, and the world makes it even more difficult. How devastating to suffer the loss of a parent and then face the inevitable loss of one’s self.

Elizabeth rises to the occasion with strength and grace even as she feels her own identity is dying inside. She makes her husband, Prince Philip, the head of her coronation preparations. He gives a fervent speech to the planning committee saying that the coronation needs to reflect the changes and advances of the world, “the wind of change that [a young woman] represents.” He pushes for it to be “modern and forward thinking.” But, he’s mostly speaking in regard to using technology to televise the event. There is nothing “forward thinking” in his view of man and wife when he tells the Prime Minister that he doesn’t intend to kneel before Elizabeth. He’s afraid of how a husband kneeling down to his wife will look. Philip asks why Elizabeth doesn’t kneel to honor the monarchy. “Because I’m already flattened by the weight of this thing,” she responds.

Rather than empathize with her on how challenging this transition is, he only sees how it affects himself. He petulantly argues, hoping she’ll acquiesce. Claire Foy superbly portrays the inner conflict during this exchange. He’s guilting her into bending to his will, but she stands firm. When he asks if she is his queen or his wife, she brilliantly answers, “I am both. And a strong man would be able to kneel to both.” YAS QUEEN! (Literally.)

Suffice it to say, the dude kneels.

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5. Awkward black girl (Insecure)

Women are underrepresented on screen as it is, and women of color even more so. There has been some progress made, but not nearly enough. Women do not experience sexism the same way and for feminism to be intersectional — as it should — we need to hear all voices. Issa Rae’s voice can be heard in the new HBO show, Insecure. Awkward as she is, her voice is strong. I find this especially appealing being aggressively awkward myself. In the first episode, she gets up at an open mic and raps. She may be insecure and have to give herself pep talks in the mirror, but she’s going to get her voice out there.

Insecure is breaking ground in many ways. Rae is the first black female lead to star in an HBO series. The production focuses on hiring a diverse behind-the-scenes crew, not just including people of color, but women. There are females in all of the above-the-line positions: producer, writer, director. There are women in the technical departments like camera, sound, and editorial. Today’s television landscape is grossly lacking representation of black female friendships and Insecure puts that at its core. Girlfriends and Living Single focused on black female girl squads, but those have been off the air for almost 10 and 20 years, respectively. There have been countless series that center on white groups of female friends on our TVs since. Being insecure and awkward is rough — it’s nice to have friends to get you through. And it’s nice to see it on the screen.

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6. Madam President (Veep)

Women make up half of the world's population, so why would Hollywood portray anything less? But Hollywood has been doing just that since the advent of motion pictures. Although advances are made, we are still so far from a suitable representation when it comes to depicting equality in the workplace. And even more disparaging is the under-representation of females holding positions of political power. This year, real life showed us how difficult it is for a woman to break that highest glass ceiling. Veep was doubly progressive than reality in season five with not one, but two women serving as POTUS. Selina Meyer assumed the presidency and then fought tooth and nail to keep the position, as well as any scrap of respect. A recount and then a Senate vote resulted in Laura Montez swearing in as Commander in Chief in the season finale. The fact that neither of them were elected by the people is another example of what needs to change, but the fact that they were sworn in at all was a step in the right direction.

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7. Mic drop (Grace and Frankie)

Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin show us through Grace and Frankie that feminist fierceness does not diminish with age. These two women combat both sexism and ageism thrown at them by their own family. Throughout the final episode, they are both being “managed” by their families. They treat Frankie like she’s a little old lady who’s losing her mind and Grace is being looked past and dismissed. “I am being treated the way I was for forty years and I’m not going to settle for it anymore,” she says. Nor should she.

The reaction by their ex-husbands and children when they find out Grace and Frankie are going into business together for some more... adult items, is dismissive and disgusted. The pair, however, respond to the family's mocking skepticism with unabashed truthfulness. They don’t want to be looked at as asexual automatons with one foot in the grave. They want to be known for the passionate, full of life women that they are. And Grace tells them that they are sick and tired of being dismissed by them. Frankie mimics a mic drop and they bounce. The camera turns to slow-mo speed as they walk out on the party leaving their shocked family behind in the wake of their truth bomb. It was a thing of beauty.

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8. Rogue nun (The Exorcist)

As the demon in Casey Rance gets more powerful, Father Marcus starts to lose faith in himself and his abilities as an exorcist. He is guided in the direction of Sister Bernadette. She leads a group of nuns that perform exorcisms. Exorcism is a man’s game. Only specially appointed bishops and priests can perform the sacramental ritual, and it requires express permission from the diocese. These nuns are operating against the law of the church, but they feel they are doing the Lord’s work nonetheless. Marcus’ visit with Sister Bernadette gives him a fresh perspective. She invites him to participate in the exorcism of a possessed man. The nuns approach the ritual in a gentler way than is traditional. He is successful using their tactics and gains the confidence he needs to continue with Casey.

A female point of view can be of great value. In this story of two men fighting against evil, on the verge of giving up, it is a woman’s strength and compassion that motivates the plot. The scene of the exorcism with the group of nuns is powerful. All we know of exorcisms is male priests attempting to exorcise the demons. The Exorcist shows us a group of women facing evil head on with benevolent kindness.


9. Stellaaaaaaaa! (The Fall)

Let me think, a feminist moment on season three of The Fall? Hmm. How about every time Stella Gibson was on screen and every time she opened her mouth? All the moments. ALL. THE. MOMENTS. Seriously, this fictional character should be used in women’s studies classes to teach flawless executions of feminist rhetoric. Whether she’s reminding someone to not blame the victim or trying to help a young woman learn to find worth in herself, she is teaching the audience to fight misogyny and to support our fellow woman. I will gladly take feminist lessons from Stella Gibson and the woman that plays her any day.

Actually, next year, Gillian Anderson has a book that she co-authored with Jennifer Nadel coming out that is just that. We: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere aims to mentor women of all ages to overcome feelings of low self-esteem and to find empowerment within. In a very dark and intense show about a serial killer, The Fall was able to instill this message with everything that is the brilliant Stella Gibson.


10. A cold and broken hallelujah (Saturday Night Live)

The days following the election filled me with hopelessness and despair. I cried a lot. It was like grieving the loss of a loved one, but it was worse than that. With death comes an understanding — you know what happened, because someone has died. How do you begin to comprehend the death of something like your faith in humanity? The majority (yeah, that’s right, I said majority) of the country was in mourning. The threats against women’s rights increased drastically. The biggest display of sexism was on the world’s stage for all to see. It was disheartening and tragic.

Saturday Night Live, like so many other late night shows, was a balm to my anxious soul leading up to election night. Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton and Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump made me laugh at the absurdity of it all. And when that absurdity turned into a horrific reality, McKinnon was there again to comfort and console. The cold open of the episode that aired four days after the election was McKinnon as Hillary donning a white pantsuit and playing the piano. She sang Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” This choice of song was perfect with its lyrics and emotional, soulful melody. With Cohen’s passing just a day before the election, the selection of it made it even more powerful. My steady flow of tears turned into a deluge.

Some of the words that are from Cohen’s original and alternate lyrics struck a deep chord particularly in relation to the exhibition of misogyny by the Trump campaign. “Baby, I’ve been here before. I know this room. I’ve walked this floor.” Women have been here before. We have fought these battles. We’ve seen rampant sexism try to hold us back. It is nothing new. “And even though it all went wrong. I’ll stand before the lord of song with nothing on my tongue but hallelujah.” Even though we get knocked down, we get back up and keep fighting. McKinnon ends with that exact sentiment: “I’m not giving up and neither should you.”

Knowing that McKinnon must've felt the same sorrow that so many were feeling she mustered the strength to give us hope. It was moving in much the same way Hillary’s concession speech was. This loss was painful and difficult, but “love is not a victory march. It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah.”


11. Eleven's existence (Stranger Things)

One of the year’s fiercest characters came in the package of a young girl named Eleven. Imprisoned and abused, she breaks free and befriends a group of boys and aids them in the search for their missing friend. Eleven learns the meaning of friendship from them and then asks it of them in return, holding them to the high standards they had taught her — “Friends don’t lie.” She escapes the oppression of her father figure and flees the only life she’s known. She finds out that she’s being used for something sinister and she fights to bring it down. It takes bravery, courage, and conviction.

Eleven is a complex being that doesn’t know much of human interaction, but she innately feels human compassion and expresses moral fortitude. Millie Bobby Brown is the breakout star of Stranger Things that plays this incredible character with amazing depth. She is a true superhero, but unlike what we are used to. And that is refreshing.

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Bonus: The reality show Alone

This is a show my husband and I watch with my son. I was so annoyed that the first season didn’t have any women competing in the survival competition. Thankfully, the second season had three female contestants. It’s important to me that my son sees that women can do anything a man can do. Women still weren’t equally represented with only three out of the ten, but it is an improvement. Nicole Apelian made it 57 days in the wilderness and came in fourth place. The winner was crowned just nine days later. She physically could have made it a lot longer, but she wanted to get home to see her kids. That outweighed the desire to win. In one episode, David (the man who went on to win), is having trouble catching fish. They intercut that with Nicole catching an abundance of fish. So much, in fact, that she released some back into the water. She had such an upbeat and positive attitude the whole time, while a few of the men in the same position experienced bouts of depression and despair. She was always smiling and thanking Mother Earth for its bounty. She was the opposite of the rugged mountain man you expect to see on a survival show, and that made her even more of an inspiration.

What were some of the best feminist moments on television for you in 2016? Sound off in the comments below!

The Man in the High Castle 2x04 Recap: "Escalation" (Family Matters) [Guest Poster: Stephanie Coats]

Original Airdate: December 16, 2016

If you could hop into another reality, what would you hope to see there? If you came from a world of war, maybe you’d hope to find peace. If you lived in squalor, perhaps you’d want to find prosperity. Or maybe it is something far simpler than that: to see a lost loved one again.

For Trade Minister Tagomi, his deepest longing seems to be for his wife, who is dead in his world. After disappearing from his office last episode, he “wakes” in this other life and sees his wife. But he reappears in his office before she sees him.


Joe is having more family drama. The story he’s always known is that his dad abandoned him and his mom to a life of poverty. But the Reichsminister says Joe’s mother left him and wouldn’t contact him. He wants to make amends and tries to convince his son to stay in Berlin but Joe isn’t interested. At the hotel, he bumps into Nicole — the beautiful woman from the party. Over a drink, she again presses him to stay and do important Reich-related things in Berlin. “Did you come all this way just to tell [your father] how hurt you are?” she quips, and dang if that isn’t insightful. It’s very hard to believe she has any kind of pure intentions though, especially when she sounds so much like Elsa from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. She even kisses Joe as she leaves.


Obergruppenführer Smith is in a somewhat sticky situation because the widow of the man he murdered last episode has come to his house for comfort from Helen. That night, Helen confesses that she knows what John did but doesn’t know why. He reveals Thomas’ incurable illness to her and, like any other mother, she is terrified for her son. Moreover, she knows John’s position will make it impossible for them to escape the rules of the state. There’s a real possibility the Reich will take their daughters, too, if they do not comply.

But Smith swears he won’t let any of it happen: not Thomas’ death or their family being torn apart. “All you need to know is everything I do — everything — I do it for the family, to keep our children safe,” he tells her.

Even though Juliana has been granted asylum, she’ll need to pass a test to become a real citizen of the Reich. When she arrives at Smith’s house for tutoring, Thomas steps in to help. As we expect, he teaches her justice comes from the Fuhrer. The clever and startling part about this show is sometimes things that should be outlandish and incorrect are actually horrible truths. So when Thomas asks Juliana about “American exterminations” prior to the war and she is confused, he clarifies simply by saying, “The Indians.” And that’s when I feel a bit sick.

Continuing with her theme of not waiting for anyone else to help her, Juliana hunts down George Dixon, Trudy’s dad, and visits him. A man recognizes her at the apartment complex and pursues her through the train station, even shooting at her. Juliana manages to get away. That night, Dixon calls her at home from the payphone on her street.


The General is getting angrier with Tagomi by the episode. The Trade Minister sent photos of the effects of the atomic bomb in D.C., attempting to persuade the General against creating another bomb. The plan is dead on arrival. Over drinks, the General tells Chief Inspector Kido the Japanese nation is seen as weak. The bomb is the solution. Kido attempts to probe about the High Castle films but the General will not discuss them. Instead, he gets drunk and Kido uses his inebriation to have the General sign an order that we don’t get to see yet.

In addition to touting the benefits of nuclear armament, the General also seeks retribution for the death of the Japanese soldier during the Resistance’s good deed. See, the Resistance has been feeling pretty good about saving that busload of innocent people. Frank, in particular, feels great and isn’t even bothered by having killed someone. “I kept my head down so long I’d forgotten what it feels like to stand up,” he says.

But the Japanese demand retribution. Six soldiers grab people at random in the market and shoot them. Frank and Ed witness this but Effin’ Gary is coldhearted and literally doesn’t care. Instead, he’s glad the Japanese are scared enough to retaliate. He and Sara convince Frank and Ed to help disassemble an old war bomb for the parts. Slowly but surely, they’re able to do this. While Ed rides off with Gary, Frank and Sara have a heated hook-up. Last episode we learned it had only been two weeks since the show started. Which means two weeks ago, Frank was in a relationship with Juliana. Just sayin’.

Left with less hope and even more questions than at the start of the episode, Tagomi again jumps into another reality. In a brilliant shot, the camera shows him disappearing gradually. As it pans left through the windows, Tagomi is slowly wiped away against the window pane. This time he spies his wife through the window of the house and doesn’t leave.

Final Thoughts:
  • During her tutoring session, Juliana definitely noticed a tremor in Thomas’ hand. How long before Smith asks for her help concealing his son’s diagnosis? 
  • In a blink-and-you-miss-it moment, Kotomichi — Tagomi’s aide — is seen to be hiding radiation burns on his long sleeves. Was he in D.C. when the bomb dropped? Or was he in Japan in another reality? 
  • Is it possible I care about Frank even less than I care about Joe? Yes. Yes it is. 

2016 in Film: The Best Three Horror Films [Contributor: Melanie]

So, if any year deserved to have a ranking of the best horror films, it’s 2016. In fact, the year itself could be considered the universe’s great horror masterpiece. But all good horror exists to give us a place to decompress and take inventory of our fears, reflected from real life (unfortunately, Purge: Election Year seems to have taken the cake for most relevant among the horror that came out this year).

But this year has been filled with some great additions to our horror canon, and some not-so-greatones (looking at you, the reboot-that-shall-not-be-named). So here’s my pick for the top three that that came out this year in a sea of moderately average horror attempts.

Don’t Breathe

This one was almost tied with Hush, but one of the reasons I’m going with this is because of its unique take on the home invasion. I’m not a huge fan of home invasion films and I’d probably consider this film more of a thriller than anything else (which is why Green Room isn’t on this list). But, the reason this gets props as a nice little hybrid film is, first, owed to its director Fede Alvarez, who created a demonic and pretty disturbing rendition of Evil Dead. This film was his attempt to prove he could create horror without the shocking gore of his last endeavor. He succeeded in creating an incredible stressful experience and a pretty scary movie monster in the form of the Blind Man.

The Conjuring 2

I loved The Conjuring. I don’t mind its slight derivative nature of it because I love all the works that inspired its mood, tone, and direction. Farmiga and Wilson are probably one of the most believable on screen couples I’ve seen in a while, and their devotion to each other always serves as the heart of these movies. While the spin-offs in this Warren version of the MCU aren’t exactly spectacular, this second installment of the main story proved to be an excellently achieved work of horror. It wasn’t perfect, but the world and motifs James Wan has created continue to impress.

The Witch

This is probably going to rank as one of my favorite horror films, period. The Canadian sleeper hit combines a family drama with The Crucible in an isolated environment to create a great film with some very intelligent scares. This was a horror film that carried some unsettling atmospheres, minimal jump scares, and an interesting point about feminism. It also utilized age old fears in the human psyche and the breakdown of exactly why the woods is such a scary place (which I outlined in detail in my original review of it) to get at the crux of fear.

Among these greats, there were some misfires though. Lights Out failed to live up to the hype and well craft scares of its source material. Blair Witch should have just never happened. 10 Cloverfield Lane had a confused atmosphere and genre. The Forest was just not good and borderline racist in its depiction of the source culture. And the list goes on.

Here’s to 2017 providing some terror! But only in the form of films, books, and television.

A Tribute to Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds [Contributors: Chelsea, Mel, Erin, Megan, Rae, and Marilyn]

The loss of mother/daughter duo Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher this week has been a blow to us all. Yes, we live in a celebrity-obsessed culture and we don’t actually know these people, but it’s okay to be sad about losing your heroes. These are the people we aspired to be growing up and helped shape our personalities. They both showed us that women could be complex, smart, and have so much more to offer the world than a smile. Debbie and Carrie broke the mold for women and let us be princess-generals and magical songbirds.

From Star Wars to Halloweentown, our staff shares their memories of these two fine women and how their presence has impacted them.

Chelsea: I knew about both of these women separately before I had any idea they were related. I was that kid who was OBSESSED with books and movies, absorbing every cool story I could find. Like so many, I first saw Carrie Fisher in Star Wars. I was, like, seven or eight when I really started understanding the films, but the one thing that really kept my attention was Princess Leia. She was super smart and told everyone what to do, and she had brown hair. I had brown hair in a family of dirty blondes, and she was surrounded by blondes and dirty blondes. I took this as some sort of cosmic sign. Leia got herself out of trouble. She was pretty AND got to shoot the gun!?! I had never seen anything like her.

I was also seven when Halloweentown premiered on Disney Channel. The star was a young girl with brown hair (I’m starting to see a life pattern), and she had the COOLEST grandma. Grandma Aggie was a whimsy genius of a witch and I wanted her to be my grandmother so bad. She was mischievous and never let a guy walk over her. It wasn’t until my teen years that I realized they were mother and daughter, and then everything just made sense. Together, Princess Leia and Grandma Aggie were Hermione Granger, the coolest brunette of them all. 

Growing up, I saw more of Debbie’s films and fell in love with her musicals. I got lost singing in the rain with The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Getting to watch them in music class in junior high, and now being able to teach them to a younger generation myself has made me appreciate everything Debbie did for the genre. She showed that women can be feminine and strong, and that these concepts weren’t mutually exclusive. She was one of the few talented actresses and singers before every young starlet had to do both. And a whole new generation falls in love with her work every Halloween season.

I would always try to find more films with Carrie that weren't Star Wars and wondered why the most iconic woman wasn’t in a lot of films. Turns out, she was probably the person writing every other film I loved. Being more than the princess of the galaxy, Carrie was a witty and amazing writer. She even rewrote parts of Star Wars to give Leia more agency and intelligence. She struggled with bipolar disorder and addiction, and didn’t shy away from frank discussions about it. She embraced her struggles and turned them into art. When I found that side of Carrie Fisher, I came to appreciate her for more than the princess she was. She showed us what it was really like being born into Hollywood and was hilariously frank about its glamour and trappings. If someone insulted her or had a dumb question, she shut them down in with wit. I’m glad Carrie Fisher had The Force Awakens press tour to really show who she was and how she was always the best. She’s the honest, dog-loving princess general I aspire to be. She drowned in moonlight and was strangled by her own bra.

My heart broke when she passed away this week. It had been days of sadness and rewatching Postcards From the Edge and The Force Awakens to keep in the holiday spirit. I was in my car when I heard of her passing, and pretty quickly Mel and I were texting each other our stories and GIFs, because we couldn’t comprehend her being gone. Debbie passed just a day after her daughter, with her last words being “I want to be with Carrie.” The two were inseparable, living next door to each other and will be inseparable in the afterlife. It will never be a real goodbye to these ladies because I can watch any film or television show and see how they inspired generations of women to be more than just props. I’m trying to not be sad about them being gone but appreciate what they left. Carrie was an amazing author and I recommend going to buy everything she ever wrote. Go watch Singin’ in the Rain with your family, and marvel at its charm and artistry. Introduce new generations to these wonderful women and keep their legacy alive. 

Melanie: It took several days to think about how to articulate exactly how and why this hurt so much. It didn’t help that I was sleep deprived from a 12-hour bus ride just before hearing the news and burst into tears for a solid half hour thereafter. I lost one of the first female role models I’d ever known. I had to quickly realize the next time I saw Carrie Fisher on screen for Episode VIII it would be for the last time. Princess Leia was my only model in Star Wars for the longest time, and the best one I could ask for with her take-no-crap attitude and her ability to completely hold her own in a galaxy invested with nothing but men (and Mon Motha for two hot seconds in Return of the Jedi).

I realize now, a few days later, what really hurts me more than anything. Leia will live on — she’s immortal now. My memories of Carrie saving the galaxy will never go away and can never be taken. What really brought into perspective the pain I was feeling, was the often quoted line from Hamilton: “Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?” One of the most outspoken and blunt people in entertainment has been silenced. I will never again get to hear her talk about the trials of being an older woman in Hollywood, about how you should never care for what the world wants to think or say about you. I won’t ever get to hear her shutting down the misogyny and ignorance of her fellows.

She was never shy about the things in her life that never seemed to go right. She talked often about how she was talked about: her appearance, her weight, her mental state. She was candid about it because someone had to be, and she knew she was a voice millions would listen to, even if the other million were trying to find ways to tear her down. For kids out there and adults alike, struggling to understand the chaos in their own heads, Carrie Fisher was there to be their champion. She was inspirational as an actor, a writer, and a woman who refused to be quiet when something needed to be said.

So, it’s up to us now to do just that — tell her story. I hope we never forget the good she brought into our world through the movie screen, the pages of books, and eloquent interviews. Carrie is gone, and it leaves a gaping hole for a lot of us. But all that means is that time for us to fill it in ourselves and become the hero you lost.

So rest in power, princess. She drowned in moonlight and was strangled by her own bra. What a way to go. 

Erin: Unlike most people my age, I first became aware of Carrie Fisher because she was Debbie Reynolds’ daughter. I was a big fan of old Hollywood musicals, and Singin’ in the Rain is one of my all-time favorites. I didn’t see the Star Wars movies until I was an adult although Carrie was on my radar well before I finally succumbed to that fandom. I was first introduced to her as an actress in The ‘Burbs and When Harry Met Sally. “I will never want that wagon wheel coffee table” is one of the best lines in a highly quotable movie. I adored Postcards from the Edge because I loved any behind-the-scenes look at Hollywood, and Carrie was Hollywood royalty. That was my introduction to her writing and her humor. And that is the reason I became a true, die-hard fan.

She was charmingly irreverent and unabashedly honest. On the page and in life, her acerbic wit and sardonic comedy shone a light on difficult topics. Her willingness to talk about and destigmatize issues like feminism, mental disorder, and addiction was and remains vitally important. She spoke from experience and she spoke the truth. She was a bright light and an influential voice in this world, of which we are in need now, more than ever. This is a heartbreaking and heavy loss. I will forever be inspired by her words and her courage. May the spirit of her moonlight shine down and drown us. 

Megan: I loved Carrie Fisher. Not because she was the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and not because she was Princess Leia. (Though, admittedly, those were some pretty great things about her.) Sure, she was a Hollywood icon and one of the most beloved characters in cinema history, but she was real.

She was never the cookie-cutter celebrity we’ve grown accustomed to. Carrie was brash and brazen and she was never one to shy away from the truth, however difficult it was for many to hear. She was forthright when it came to her addictions and, most importantly, frank about her struggles with mental illness. Carrie became an advocate for making the hard discussions — like braving your addictions and the stigma of mental health — more accessible and easier. She was never coy about those topics. She believed we should discuss them as freely as we discuss the weather. It was remarkable for someone of her fame and standing to be so upfront in that fight.

Carrie was a feminist who believed that all people are created equal, and she fought sexism and ageism. When people came at her saying she looked old and out of shape for The Force Awakens, she clapped back saying she was old and who cares if she was out of shape? That’s why they got her a trainer. It was refreshing to have such a humor about things that others were taking so seriously.

Carrie Fisher was honest, talented, humorous and will be sorely missed. 

Rae: Over the past few days, plenty of people have been jumping to point out that Carrie wasn’t just a princess, that she wasn’t just an actress, or a writer, or a daughter, or a mother, or a mental health advocate, or a fiercely brave woman. I feel like people are still struggling to grasp the complexity of what she was, and what she did.

But the truth is, just bringing Princess Leia to life would have been enough. Just being an advocate would have been enough. Just being a mother, daughter, actress, writer, or fiercely brave woman would have been enough. The difference with Carrie is that she was able to show her complexity to the world, when so many other women can’t — or are overlooked if they try.

These attempts to define what she is and what she isn’t still feels like people trying to place her into a box. If Carrie had only ever accomplished one of those things, that would have been enough to have a life well-lived. If you only knew her as one of her many roles, that would still be enough to love her.

Women are shoved into boxes all the time, but Carrie broke the mold on all of them. I hope her legacy reminds people that even if you only know a woman as one thing, she has a complex life and mind behind her, even if you can’t see it. That Carrie showed us so much of herself is a blessing, and I am so, so grateful. She, in any of her roles, makes me braver, and I will live loudly and try to show my whole self to the world in her honor. 

Marilyn: It’s hard to know what to say. When the news of Carrie’s heart attack first hit on that Friday before Christmas, it felt like a blow to me personally — as though I was getting news about one of my own loved ones. In a way, she is a loved one because she’s been a part of my life since I was a child. I grew up with Carrie Fisher. Star Wars was such a big deal when I was a kid. Everyone had the toys, everyone talked about the movies at school, everyone knew Princess Leia, and all the girls idolized her. She wasn’t just a princess, a damsel in distress. She took charge, picked up a gun and saved Luke and Han’s butts just as much as they saved hers. That’s huge for a young girl, growing up in the world, to see such a strong female character be so beloved.

As I grew older, I learned more about Carrie’s other roles and I learned more about her as a person. And the more I learned, the move I loved her. I don’t want to use the word fearless to describe her because she certainly did have fear. But she never let that fear beat her. She turned her tragedy into comedy and took away the fear’s power. If that’s not inspirational, I don’t know what is.

The world has lost an amazing figure in Carrie Fisher. Her talent goes beyond her acting, her writing, her comedy, and her candor.

To have lost her mother as well, the great Debbie Reynolds, just a day later... that’s a level of tragedy that I can hardly comprehend. But it speaks to the bond between this mother and daughter, a bond that was only hinted at in books (and movies and comedy shows) such as Postcards from the Edge.

This has been a hard year, having lost so many icons that are important to so many of us. And it hurts my heart more than I have to say added Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds to that long and tragic list.

But let us all make like Carrie in the new year, and find a way to turn that tragedy into comedy.

2016 in Film: A Compilation of Superlatives [Contributor: Chelsea]

Image result for moana gif

2016 has been a crazy year to say the least, and film did not escape that madness. Overall, this was a pretty weak year for films — few blew my mind or changed the game. There were, however, plenty of average, fun problematic films that were still incredibly enjoyable. While most of these won’t make my Top Films of the Year list — which will be published as soon as I can see a few more films — I wanted to shed some light on the good and bad films of 2016 that you should still check out. Because sometimes cheesy and silly movies are the best ones. Most of them won’t win Oscars, but they’re still worth your time.


Best Dramas

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 
Black Mirror: San Junipero 

Somehow the marketing of a return to the wizarding world and playing with cute creatures turned into the reality of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them as one of the darkest installments in the Harry Potter world — and I was here for it. On the flip side, Arrival seemed like another dark alien invasion film but was one of the most hopeful and beautiful films about motherhood and unity around the world. And don’t fight me on San Junipero not being a film. A feature film is classified as being more than 40 minutes and this romantic sci-fi drama was more compelling and grounded than almost anything I watched all year. (Yorkie and Kelly 4EVA!)


Best Comedies

Bad Moms
Dirty 30 

If I have any type in life, it would be female-driven comedies. Each of these films had me crying laughing but also hit me in the feels. People weren’t the butt of jokes and female friendship was at the core of each of these films. Smart comedy that isn’t mean is hard to come by these days, but these films manage to be that, while also being a little deep.


Best Animated Films

Finding Dory

There’s something special about a film that teaches young children about gender politics, and systemic racism, and encourages kids to have empathy for disenfranchised people. Or having a Pacific Island princess film actually cast actors with roots in the Pacific Islands and allowing the cast to shape their performance and dialogue so it would fit with their culture. These films do little, but significant things to show how they respect and care about the viewers. Finding Dory changed the setting and parts of the plot three years ago after seeing the documentary Blackfish and how ocean life has been abused in captivity, while also doubling down on telling a story about disabilities.

Disney usually is just a lot of fun, but they woke up in 2016 and we are better people for it. Plus, the young actress from Moana shares top billing with The Rock — a.k.a. the biggest film star in the world — and that’s a huge deal.


Best Action Films

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
The Shallows
The Accountant 

It’s so nice when a film comes together with the perfect balance of thrills, story, and over-the-top fighting. Rogue One gives Star Wars fans something different and refreshing, while managing to fit within the larger canon and universe. It was our most diverse space outing yet and releasing it during our current political climate sometimes felt too real, but still gave us hope for what’s to come.

Who knew the only thing I needed to make Ben Affleck engaging was to make him an accountant and pair him with Anna Kendrick?

And my only fear in this world is the ocean (WE DON’T KNOW WHAT’S UNDER THERE), but Blake Lively vs. the murder shark was the most stressful and thrilling thing I’ve watched all year. This was Blake’s Revenant and she deserves an Oscar.


Why Isn’t Anybody Talking About These Great Films? 

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Queen of Katwe
First Girl I Loved

Andy Samberg’s mockumentary about the music industry should win Best Picture but nobody bothered to watch it. The marketing for it made it look like just another dumb movie, but it was savage about the entertainment industry and celebrity culture.

Queen of Katwe on the other hand barely had any marketing but has one of the most inspiring stories of the year and the glorious return of Lupita Nyong’o to our screens — not as a CGI alien or animal.

And if there’s one film that I know nobody saw in 2016 that I recommend seeing, it would be First Girl I Loved. It captures a more honest portrayal of what high school was like (sorry John Hughes, but it ain’t what you sold), and that feeling of young love and teenage pressure.


Your Platform Release is Killing Me 

Hidden Figures
Toni Erdmann
20th Century Women

Seriously, these all seem so up my alley but the whole late platform release is killer to the Midwest movie viewers. These films either have complex females in front of the screen or behind the scenes in key production roles, and that’s all I need. Hidden Figures has THREE black women as the faces of this film and they aren’t slaves or maids, but SCIENTISTS. That’s so important.


Surprisingly Great, and I Shouldn’t Have Judged You

Dirty 30
Pete’s Dragon
The Accountant

I am a huge fan of Grace Helbig, Mamrie Hart, and Hannah Hart, so of course I was excited for them to do another film together after the joy that was Camp Takota. But Dirty 30 is actually super fun and thoughtful. Sure, it’s more fun because they are in it but I don’t just love it because it’s theirs. Watching the Holy Trinity grow as artists and creators is inspiring and makes me want to grow more in my own productions.

And while Pete’s Dragon looks super saccharine and The Accountant looks like every Liam Neeson or Denzel Washington film, they both shocked me with how smart and well-made they were. Pete’s Dragon is incredibly heartwarming and will make you sad you don’t have your own pet dragon.

Affleck gives a real portrayal of Asperger's that isn’t played for laughs (looking at you, The Big Bang Theory) and showed the tics, sensory sensitivity, and social awkwardness that you don’t really see portrayed. More fun and cool things like this please.


You Could Have Been Great But You Dropped The Ball 

La La Land
Hello, My Name is Doris
The Lobster

La La Land could have been my favorite film of the year. I’m a sucker for pretty people and musicals. But when so much of your film is out of focus, especially on those close-ups, you take me out of the experience and make me angry. We can also stop pretending that the white boy is going to save jazz music from John Legend, while the only other black people are relegated to the background and function as props supporting the aforementioned white boy.

Meanwhile, Doris was just so mean-spirited and made me uncomfortable. Sally Field deserves so much better. Why have we failed Mama Gump?

The dog dies in The Lobster and that was so unnecessary. How dare you.


Calm Down, You’re Not That Great

Manchester By The Sea
Captain America: Civil War

Deadpool’s foul-mouthed, ultra-violent anti-hero fell into every traditional superhero film cliché, just on a worse budget. And don’t tell me it's a super feminist film. I don’t do that faux feminism just because a girl is super tough.

Manchester By The Sea is just another sad white guy film that goes nowhere.

I almost feel bad having Civil War anywhere near Deadpool because it was a lot more enjoyable than that film (and SO MUCH BETTER than Age of Ultron), but there was nothing compelling to follow outside of Black Panther and some fun Natasha and Cap moments. It was fun, but not great.

Lights of My Life

Kate McKinnon
Greta Gerwig
Janelle Monae

What did we do to deserve these ladies? Kate gave us Jillian Holtzmann, the most delightful, beautiful weirdo, got us through the election on Saturday Night Live, and dropped into supporting roles in the most random films, making them 1000% funnier instantly.

Greta crushes it in Maggie’s Plan and Jackie, with 20th Century Women coming soon. Plus her Variety Actor on Actor with Mahershala Ali is the best 30 minutes of any TV show or film this year.

We already knew Janelle Monae had the voice of an angel but her performance in Moonlight makes me wonder why she hasn’t been acting all her life, and makes me even more excited for Hidden Figures. She can do it all. These women can do it all.


Pitch Perfect Award for Film I’m Going to Rewatch a Billion Times

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
Finding Dory
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

We all have those comfort films that just make us happy when we watch them. For me, it’s always Pitch Perfect, The Force Awakens, or any rom-com with Tom Hanks and/or Meg Ryan. Not all films hold up on the thousandth rewatch but I foresee these films going the distance — at least for me.

What were some of your best and worst films of 2016? Sound off in the comments below!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Man in the High Castle 2x03 Recap: "Travelers" (Doctor, Doctor) [Guest Poster: Stephanie Coats]

Original Airdate: December 16, 2016

Sometimes, it’s not so easy to be a Nazi. Juliana, Joe, and John Smith all discover this in different ways and their reactions vary. But what will it mean for them choices moving forward?


After dramatically throwing herself at the mercy of the Nazis in the last episode, Juliana learns what she’s truly in for. Before she’s questioned about her association with the Resistance and Joe, she’s given a horrifically invasive medical exam. The slight yellow tone of her skin is grounds for concern, as are the scars from the bus accident — which had also broken her pelvis. That means it’s unlikely she can bear children, which is a major issue because what value does she have to the Reich if she can’t produce new little Nazis?

When she finally gets to the questioning portion of her horrible day, we learn the most startling thing of all: everything on this show has taken place in the span of only two weeks! Juliana writes down everything that’s happened, but leaves out anything about the man in the high castle, and — for some inexplicable reason — Gary. If anyone deserves to be on the Reich’s watch list, it’s Gary. Obergruppenführer Smith is disappointed by both omissions, and suspects that she’s holding back. But he gives her asylum anyway, on his personal authority, despite the many “defects” discovered during her medical exam and issues with her story.

I’d like to say Smith does this out of the kindness of his heart, perhaps seeing Juliana’s questionable medical standing as no different than his son’s; but he just wants to use her against Joe and/or the Resistance. He and his wife set her up in a nice dorm for single women, also giving her clothes, make-up, and a new name: Julia Mills. It’s cultural shock on every level. The clinical cruelty of the Reich is counterbalanced by overt kindness once you’re “in.” Institutionalized racism is everyday but, unlike the Pacific States, there seems to be little fear. People don’t even lock their doors. Though when everyone is the same as you, what is there to fear?

Refusing to take Smith at his word that she can see Joe soon, Juliana (I’m going to keep calling her that because it’s just easier) puts on her best Nazi American face, even giving herself a haircut. She tracks down Joe’s address but when she arrives, Rita is there to tell her Joe is in Berlin visiting his big wig dad.


It would’ve been more accurate to say that Joe is in Berlin acting like a petulant manbaby with his big wig dad. Several times in season one references were made to Joe wanting to make his father proud, yet now we see them together and Joe has nothing but contempt for the other man. Reichsminister Heusmann apparently abandoned Joe and his mom to a life of poverty in the states. So, yeah, Joe’s not super cool with his pop showing him off at a swanky Nazi party and toasting to his ability to get a shipload of men blown up.

As he’s leaving, a beautiful woman suggests that Joe should consider staying in Berlin to help the Reich instead of returning to his honest job in the States. Why is every woman so hot for Joe? Is it just because he’s the son of a prominent Nazi or do these women have a sixth sense that he’s the guy in the show they’re supposed to like? Look, nothing against Luke Kleintank, who is very handsome, but someone please tell me what I’m missing here.


Having freed his BFF Ed, Frank is now going to work for the Yakuza. Their payment is due in a week. They set up shop in Childan’s house but Frank is immediately distracted by the presence of Gary, who, when asked for details on Juliana, says only that she got Karen killed. Which is lie because we all know effin’ Gary was responsible. Frank soon learns Juliana has defected to the Reich and so when Sara from the Resistance gives him a chance to help save a busload of people, he agrees.

Here’s what happened: two Japanese cops died during the shootout with the Resistance when Juliana escaped. As retribution, the Japanese are going to select 12 people at random from a factory and shoot them. Thankfully, the Resistance intervenes and in the course of the rescue, Frank kills a guard who was holding Sara at gunpoint.

While this is a big win for the Resistance, the Japanese are even more angry than before. Chief Inspector Kido visits Juliana’s family and all but threatens the couple if they don’t report in when Juliana calls. Then there’s the General. He’s peeved at Trade Minister Tagomi, who tried to change the plans to covertly transport radioactive materials. The General is going to move them on public buses that are only carrying American women and children.

Tagomi is horrified by this decision, knowing he is in part to blame. “When they die,” he tells Kotomichi, “it be because I failed to prevent it.” Late that night, Tagomi meditates in his office. When Kotomichi goes to check on him, he’s disappeared from his chair.


At the start of the episode, Smith received a house call from the doctor. The man knows Smith has not yet euthanized Thomas for being “defective.” It’s a crime against the state to both withhold Thomas’ diagnosis and to not kill him. The doctor tells Smith to “take care of it,” as if this were a chore like taking out the trash, or he’ll do it tomorrow.

Throughout the episode, we’re presented with moments of Smith’s struggle with his conscience. Almost immediately after all but pleading for his son’s life with the doctor, Smith breaks the rules by granting Juliana asylum. He watches sadly as Thomas plays outside with his siblings. Remembering back to his conversation with Helen in the last episode, it’s not hard to see Smith as a man weighed down by responsibilities, some of them too horrible to imagine. It’s also worth noting he spends most of this episode not in his officer’s uniform. It’s easy to forget he’s a member of the Nazi Party. He’s just a father facing a terrible decision.

When the time of reckoning comes, Smith persuades his son to skip a Hitler Youth meeting so they can go fishing at the lake together. They sit on the dock and Smith makes a point of telling Thomas how proud they are of him. Thomas is undeniably a good son, as kind and just as the Reich allows boys to be. We know he doesn’t deserve to die. Smith listens only half-heartedly as Thomas tells him about a girl he likes and as he talks, we see Smith’s face change. Where he’s looked like a grieving man most of the episode, now his expression hardens into something else. This is the look of a man who last season pushed another man — a fellow Nazi, no less — from the top of a building with little ceremony.

Later, he meets the doctor at his car and the other man offers him comfort. But we already know now what’s going to happen. Smith injects the doctor with the fatal cocktail meant for his son. Then he leaves the dead man, the only other person who knew of his son’s illness, in his car.

Final Thoughts:
  • As soon as Thomas’ diagnosis was revealed in season one, the question has been lingering of how far Smith’s loyalty to the Reich extends. Now we know. Not that far.  
  • While I hope and believe his decision in this episode will be the catalyst for Smith to eventually join the Resistance, I can’t help wondering what Thomas’ reaction will be. He’s potentially an even more devout adherent to the Reich than his father. Would Thomas take matters into his own hands? 
  • After being unsure if Tagomi universe-hopped or just had a vision, now we know he’s physically traveling to these other realities. Holding on to the theory this means people from those realities can do the same. 
  • Two weeks ago, Frank Frink was a frustrated artist wasted at a factory. Now he’s a freedom fighter? Didn’t take much. 
  • My interest in Joe and his personal problems is very low. I find it continually hard to sympathize with him and I can’t even really say why. Here’s hoping his story becomes more compelling and less whiny. 

Jenn's Year in Review: 2016 (#ALLTheSuperlatives)

tv friends new year happy new year new years eve

Welcome to the final few days of 2016, y'all! A lot of good has happened this year around Just About Write: we've welcomed quite a few new writers, got the chance to travel to Comic-Con again and party with celebrities, and honored some stellar television shows in this year's #GoldenTrioAwards. But I would be remiss if I didn't discuss the dumpster fire that was this year. It's been rough, in terms of the political, economical, and pop culture landscape (and the recent death of the iconic Carrie Fisher seems to cement this).

But that's also precisely why it's so important to celebrate the good stuff that happened. I've forced myself to stop and recognize the good in addition to the bad, since it can be so easy to focus on the latter and get sucked into that dumpster fire. And that's really the point of this post — celebrating the good stuff that happened!

(If you'd like to read my 2013, 2014, and 2015 superlatives, go right ahead!)

Let's get this show on the road, kids.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Scorpion 3x11 Review: “Wreck the Halls" (Attaboy!) [Guest Contributor: Yasmine]

“Wreck the Halls”
Original Airdate: December 19, 2016

"Wreck the Halls" is Scorpion meets Home Alone, only it gets a more bitter ending than the old holiday favorite. Instead of a family coming back together, this version has the family slightly breaking apart.

Following a string of holidays being overtaken by disasters, Paige decides that for Christmas, the team will get as far away from the garage as possible, leave every computer, phone and tablet behind, and have a normal Christmas in Cabe’s friend’s virtually-secluded cabin. And in that, Toby sees this the opportunity to give Happy the perfect joyous Christmas she never had as a child: decorations, tree, cookies, and perfect gift all included.

Up at the cabin, while Paige and Toby are busy baking cookies and putting up the decorations in preparation for Happy’s arrival — as she is coming up later with Sly — Cabe, Tim, Walter, and Ralph head out in search of the perfect Christmas tree. Out in the great outdoors, they come across three gun runners dragging a man who claims to be a federal agent into the middle of the woods and trying to kill him. Naturally, the team “rescues” the man and take him back to the cabin.

With no weapons to speak of, and with the gun runners on their tail, the team has to think out of the box, way more than usual, to fashion any sort of weapon or means of defense against the heavily-armed gunmen. They ultimately use anything they find in the cabin, and take apart the gifts that had been intended for each other in order to build their own Home Alone trap house and take down the gun runners. But once they do, and think they have saved the agent, they realize that he had lied to them. He takes Ralph hostage and makes a run for it. A three-way car chase ensues, and Ralph all but rescues himself, proving once again that he is steadily becoming the most competent version of all these geniuses and non-geniuses alike — which makes Tim’s ultimate departure mostly harming to the young boy’s growth.

The team then returns to the garage after yet another holiday gets hijacked by disaster. Following the day’s events, and a couple of altercations with Walter, Tim decides to take the job in Jordan and says his goodbyes to the team. A little bit more on that later.

This episode saw the return of Toby and Happy’s relationship to the storyline after almost disappearing for a few episodes (since it had been the focus for the opening few episodes, with the whole “Happy’s husband” storyline). With the B-plot — or the C-plot — of the episode focused on Toby trying to give Happy the first good Christmas experience of her life, this relationship is once again “remembered” by the writers and given some of the screentime it deserves. I know fans of the couple have been disappointed in recent weeks, and while this was probably not enough, it at least put the couple back on screen and pushed them slightly forward. Toby manages to track down the toy robot Happy had once wanted as a kid, and while it took some beating in the shoot-out at the cabin, receiving it “in parts so she could rebuild” is perfect for Happy. In return, Happy does step out of her own comfort zone to get Toby something. Again it’s small, but considering who she is and her insecurities, a keychain with a small audio player on which she has recorded “Attaboy” is the perfect gift for Toby, and very in-character for Happy.

Unfortunately, this episode also marked the end of Tim’s journey with Team Scorpion, and I say unfortunately, because I really disliked the way it happened. It could have been in done in such a way that no one needed to look bad in it, and especially not Walter, who was made to regress a lot, given the growth we have seen lately. Apparently, Tim’s choice the previous episode to stay with Team Scorpion was not something that Walter welcomed and, in return, he fell back to childish and immature behavior — including giving Tim a ridiculous desk and work space, photoshopping a team photo to cover his face, and ultimately clashing with him in the cabin and putting his feelings about Tim out there, which was something that Paige witnessed.

As Toby pointed out, this position is not right for Tim. He is a leader who needs to be in a position where he is leading, so the situation with Team Scorpion was never meant to last. But still, it is sad to see that a team that is always such a tight-knit family should have a member break out under such circumstances. As Tim says his goodbyes to the team, he also makes peace with Walter. But it is clear that these two would never really be friends and, in a way, it’s disappointing. Because they did make a great team together, whether they liked it or not, and learned a lot from each other.

And the whole Tim/Walter debacle, at the end of the day, is just a device to throw an obstacle in the way of Walter and Paige’s relationship — which is nonexistent at the moment, of course. After making much progress last week, Walter's behavior toward Tim and his fight with him served nothing but to drag him back and undo all the great work he had done in regard to becoming the man that deserves to be with Paige. She will undoubtedly blame him for Tim’s departure and it will be a long time before she can forgive him for his attitude. I hope the writers don’t forget the great work they have been doing with Walter’s character this year and that this only is a small bump in the road.

Another fun-filled, albeit with a bitter ending, episode of Scorpion, in which emotionally crippled Happy delivers one of the most heartfelt moments in her support for Sly and Ralph proves once again to be the real hero of the team.