10 Shows and Movies That Have Brightened Up Quarantine Life

As we navigate a global pandemic, here are 10 shows and movies that might bring some much-needed joy into the mundane.

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.

Jenn's Pick: Top 15 Jeff/Annie Moments

In 2013, Jenn put together a list of the 15 best Jeff/Annie moments. Revisit and discover those memories!

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Grey’s Anatomy 17x08 Recap: “It’s All Too Much” (Pain and Suffering) [Contributor: Julia Siegel]


“It’s All Too Much”
Original Airdate: March 18, 2021

Last week’s shocker doesn’t get any easier to handle in the latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy. The grief is fresh and continues to hit the characters and audience hard, especially with the promise of DeLuca appearing again being fulfilled. The show seems content with getting darker and more depressing with each new episode with no end in sight. Even the lighter moments are filled with pain and suffering, which is an accurate depiction of what life has been like for the past year. This episode’s title might be the most apt one yet.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

It seems to be a few days after DeLuca’s tragic death at the opening of the episode. There’s a quick montage showing how key members of the hospital staff have been affected by the tragedy, including Richard planning a memorial service in lieu of a funeral and hugging Catherine, Bailey in her office with a solemn look on her face, and Owen cleaning out DeLuca’s locker. Teddy checks in on Mer, who is still unconscious and on the vent, and tells her that her latest COVID-19 test was negative. Mer is slowly starting to improve, so Teddy believes that it’s possible to wean her off the vent later that day. 

Someone calls Teddy’s name from the doorway and she freaks out when she turns around and sees DeLuca at the door. It’s actually Hayes, but it takes Teddy a moment to realize who she is seeing. Hayes has volunteered to help out even more in the COVID ward in the wake of losing DeLuca. The scene changes to Mer’s beach, where Mer finds Derek fishing on the shoreline. The pure joy on Meredith’s face at seeing Derek again will make your heart swell. These lovely moments pop up throughout the episode, but the real levity of the hour comes from Jo’s apartment. Jackson has spent the night on Jo’s couch, and they are still in a friends with benefits situation. Jo is excited to have a day off and decides to tell Jackson that she is switching specialties. He’s a bit surprised, but ultimately gives her the encouragement she is looking for.

Over at the Grey/Shepherd/Pierce house, Maggie, Winston, and Link are outside watching the kids play. Maggie is having a hard time handling DeLuca’s death and doesn’t feel that they can tell the kids due to their attachment to him. Zola asks Maggie to dance with her, Bailey, and Ellis, so Winston wins some brownie points for stepping in and giving Maggie a break. The gesture leaves Maggie in tears.

Back at the hospital, Bailey summons Richard, Teddy, and Owen to her office. Teddy updates the doctors on Meredith’s status and reveals that she will attempt to take her off the vent. Owen states that the hospital is running smoothly, but the staff is discouraged by DeLuca’s death. Bailey reports that she is awaiting the results of DeLuca’s autopsy because she believes that something must have gone wrong. The insinuation that Teddy and Owen didn’t do everything in their power to save DeLuca and may have done something to cause his death really pisses them and Richard off.

THE BEST MEDICINE

Winston has tagged along with Maggie to Grey Sloan Memorial, and she gives her beau full privileges. They respond to a call from a trauma room and find Helm helping a patient who passed out on his porch. Maggie introduces Winston to Helm after the resident asks if Winston works at the hospital. The patient, Byron, picks that moment to wake up and freak out about being in a hospital. He is beyond paranoid about getting COVID, but the doctors need him to stay put until they can get a CT scan to see if he has a heart issue.

At the house, Amelia finds a bottle of whiskey hidden in the back of a kitchen cabinet and confronts Link about it. She accuses her boyfriend of having a drinking problem and being an alcoholic. Link is not surprisingly unapologetic about drinking now and then because he is stressed. He talks about how he likes to have a drink in the garage and play his guitar at night, which he does to be respectful and not drink in front of Amelia. She’s not buying the story, so Link continues by revealing that he is having a hard time dealing with DeLuca’s death and not being able to tell Mer’s kids what happened. Link also admits that Amelia is driving him insane, so he decides to take the bottle of whiskey and leave for a bit before he says something that he will regret. He shouts that he will be back because he is a good guy before slamming the door.

To lighten the mood, we then see Hayes sitting and talking to Mer. Spending time with his unconscious potential love interest appears to be the real reason why he wants to spend more time in the COVID ward, but he’s doing it in the least creepy way possible and has been doing a lot to help Mer. Hayes tells her that they all need her to pull through because they can’t suffer another loss. Teddy walks in and declares that it’s time to lower the vent’s output and see if Mer will breathe on her own. Hayes thinks Teddy should go get some rest and let him handle it with a respiratory therapist, but Teddy needs a win and wants to do it herself. Naturally, the scene cuts to Derek and Meredith on the beach. For the first time in six seasons, the couple can finally talk to each other. Mer feels that it is torture that they are so close to each other but they can’t touch. Derek distracts her by telling her all about how he’s seen their daughter Ellis grow up. Mer is upset that he never got to meet Ellis or even know she existed, but she’s incredibly happy that he knows everything about her. 

Maggie, Winston, and Helm have gotten Byron to CT and gave him a mask, face shield, and gloves to feel more comfortable. They have to assure him that everything is clean before he considers allowing the scan, but won’t agree to it unless everyone agrees to not touch him. As the scans start to load on the computer screen, Maggie and Winston try to find the underlying causes of the nodes on Byron’s hands. Winston turns on the mic to ask Byron if he has had any teeth problems lately. The patient replies that he had a popcorn kernel stuck in his teeth, which makes Winston think that Byron must have had a dental infection that led to endocarditis. The scans confirm Winston’s theory, and the doctors now know how to treat their patient.

Elsewhere, Catherine finds Richard in one of the hospital’s conference rooms. Richard confides that his whole sobriety has been rooted in faith of a higher power but that faith is now being tested after DeLuca’s demise. He is struggling with his faith and trusting anything because he can’t see any wisdom in DeLuca’s death. Catherine responds that she lives with stage four cancer which should be a death sentence. Yet her latest test results show that not one of her tumors has grown. Her cancer not getting worse nor DeLuca’s death make any sense, but she explains that Richard needs to look for the miracle instead of focusing on the bad. Hearing Catherine’s positive results does lighten Richard’s mood and talks him off the cliff.

Jo and Jackson are still talking from the bed and couch about random topics (like Jo asking what the stock market is) when someone banging at the door catches them by surprise. Link has shown up to day drink with Jo and wasn’t expecting to see Jackson there. He already knew about their arrangement, but Jackson didn’t know that Link knew, so it makes things momentarily awkward. Jo is happy to day drink, while Jackson says he won’t partake since he is on call. Link pours some shots to celebrate what he calls “All Our Friends Are Dying Day.”

HUMAN CONNECTION

Byron needs a surgical procedure on his heart, but has a panic attack on the table before being put under. He rips everything off of him, including his hospital gown, and runs out of the room. Maggie and Winston take off running after Byron and eventually find him huddled in the corner of a staircase naked and crying. He apologizes for running away and blames his paranoia for his actions. He explains that his best friend died of COVID one week after being diagnosed, which has made him very careful. Maggie tells Byron that she won’t stop him from walking out of the hospital, but she will follow him because his heart will give out. She goes on to say that she knows his pain because she lost someone close to her too, but she thinks they owe it to the ones they lost to live the lives they can’t. She explains that they can fix his problem, so he needs to let them help. Byron takes Maggie’s hand and agrees to the surgery. Maggie is a total rockstar in this scene and is so unbelievably good with Byron.

Jo and Link are now drunk after consuming most of the bottle of whiskey, and the three doctors have a lively discussion. Jo tells the story of Val, the patient she lost in the previous episode, to reveal to Link that she is switching specialties. She talks about how she wants to hang out with babies, so Link quips that she can hang out with all his kids. Jackson, who continues to not drink, goes on about how he would prefer to live in the woods. Hearing the three friends have a more normal conversation while hanging out makes you want an entire episode to be this light but the dark, serious content comes right back. 

Richard meets with Bailey again, and the autopsy results show that Teddy and Owen did everything they could to save DeLuca and did nothing wrong in the process. Even though Bailey knows what happened, she won’t let it go and wants to hold a morbidity and mortality conference (M&M). Richard gets very angry that Bailey is treating her surgeons in such a cruel manner. He wants her to let them grieve and stop causing them harm. Richard is right in saying that it isn’t fair to parade Teddy and Owen out and force them to recount every moment and step of the procedures that ultimately led to DeLuca’s death. He reinforces his argument by explaining yet again that DeLuca was a victim who lost too much blood and that no mistakes were made. He feels that Bailey’s suggestion that Teddy and Owen didn’t do everything possible is a pain that he wouldn’t put on anybody. That line seems to get through to Bailey a bit more than the rest of the argument, which ends there.

Back on the beach, Mer wants Derek to come closer. He’s trying not to laugh at her and explains that he can’t come to her because it’s her beach and she needs to make it happen. Derek talks about how Zola writes him letters in her journal, while Mer scrunches her face and tries to summon him with her mind. I have to say, it’s really nice to know that Derek has been keeping close tabs on his family from beyond the grave. He tells her to relax, so she takes a deep breath and relaxes. The trick works and Derek gets a little closer. Mer happily laughs at her success. The scene cuts to Mer’s hospital room, where Teddy and Hayes are still waiting to see if Mer will start breathing on her own. Hayes thinks they should lessen the sedation, but Teddy doesn’t think it will help because nothing has changed in the time since they turned the vent settings down. She decides to put the vent back to full power and keep Mer on it for the foreseeable future.

Over at the sister house, Amelia asks Zola how her book report is going. Poor Zola doesn’t want to do her homework because she doesn’t see the point in doing an assignment that requires her to write about living forever. Amelia feels for her niece and talks about how she likes the impermanence of mortality. That leads Zola to say that if she had the correct medicine, she would give it to her mom right now. To cheer her up, Amelia decides to FaceTime Mer. Hayes answers the call and points the screen and camera at Mer. It’s really sad to see Amelia and Zola saying hi to the unconscious Mer and talk to her about their day as if she were awake and well. Hayes leaves the room as Teddy is telling Richard about their unsuccessful attempt with the vent decrease. They are all sad the plan didn’t work, and Hayes doesn’t like that any family, particularly Mer’s, has to process their grief through a computer screen.

MOVING FORWARD

There’s enough whiskey left for one shot, so whoever tells the saddest story will get the last drink, Link declares. The scenes at Jo’s apartment are exactly what we all need! Link starts the game by giving the top three reasons why he is miserable: he’s raising four kids in a crazy world, his parents are going ahead with their second wedding despite the pandemic, and his last shred of quality “me time” was ruined by Amelia. Jo tries to top her best friend’s story by talking about how she finally had plans the weekend that everything shut down due to COVID-19. She was ready to move on from being depressed by going on a series of dates, which all got cancelled. She bought a closet full of new outfits for the occasions, and she pulls out each one to show the guys while recounting a horrible COVID ward story with each outfit. She ends by being sad that DeLuca doesn’t even get a funeral, and Jackson declares Jo the winner of the last shot. Link disagrees because Jo has a loft all to herself, so he steals the bottle and downs the last of the alcohol. All three doctors simultaneously get an alert that the memorial for DeLuca will start shortly, which sobers them up.

Back in the hospital COVID ward, Teddy sees DeLuca again in passing. The quick glimpses of DeLuca are quite disorienting. Teddy’s reverie is interrupted, and she realizes she is seeing Owen, who wants an update on Mer. She tells him her plan didn’t work, so Owen gives her the good news that DeLuca’s autopsy showed that they did everything they could and everything correctly. Teddy responds by saying she knew they did everything right, but it doesn’t change anything because DeLuca is still dead. With each human interaction, it appears that Teddy is a little deader inside.

Hayes spends more time with Mer and doesn’t know if she can hear him or the daily FaceTime calls from her kids. On the beach, Derek tells Mer that she looks perfect before she starts to hear Hayes talking to her. Derek says it’s up to her whether to listen or not, but he thinks she should hear him out. Hayes suddenly replaces Derek on the beach and starts telling Mer all about what her kids have been up to. For a brief moment, it appears that Mer and Hayes can talk to each other, but it quickly becomes clear that he can’t hear Mer’s responses. The stories that he tells about Mer’s kids shows how much time he has been spending by her side. He has gotten to know a lot about each of them and seems incredibly interested in learning more. After talking about the kids, Hayes tells Mer that she needs to fight. Mer knows she does, but explains that she doesn’t know if she can fight. She’s so relaxed on the beach and likes that there’s no pain. As if Hayes knows that would be her response, he says she wouldn’t want her kids to be orphans and that he believes she can win the fight. It is crazy how well Hayes seems to know Meredith even though they haven’t known each other that long. Derek reappears and senses Mer’s unease about her conversation with Hayes. He reassures her that he will be right here, so she walks off to think through her options as we see her start to move her head on her hospital bed. 

Bailey continues to torture herself by hanging out in the gallery of the OR that DeLuca died in. Schmitt, who has been trying to process his own grief and guilt over DeLuca’s death, finds her there and takes a shot at getting through to her. He tells Bailey about Richard’s memorial for DeLuca. Even though he questions his faith, Schmitt finds the traditions are the most helpful, especially the ones pertaining to a death, because it starts the healing process. He thinks Bailey needs some healing because she lost her mom and DeLuca in a matter of days. Schmitt also tells her that it’s okay if she falls apart because she has people that will be there for her, and that there are people that need to grieve with her. His words do the trick and change Bailey’s mindset.

On their way to the memorial, Maggie and Winston find Helm crying on a bench outside the hospital. Helm feels like a bad person for not having nice thoughts about DeLuca before he died and now thinks she is turning into Byron. She’s struggling with not having any sort of human contact since COVID began, so Maggie continues her nurturing ways by helping Helm. She stands back to back with Helm to give her some human contact, which causes more tears to stream down Helm’s face. The three doctors then make their way to DeLuca’s memorial service.

The memorial is held outside in the evening in what appears to be one of the hospital’s parking lots. Ben, Carina, and Maya from Station 19 are in attendance, and it’s a little odd that the whole Station 19 cast doesn’t turn up. Before the ceremony begins, Bailey approaches Richard to tell him that she needs to take time off and go home. Richard is relieved that Bailey is going to take care of herself and will give her as much time off as she needs. Bailey goes over to Ben and gives him a huge bear hug. The doctors have gathered, and it is time for the memorial to begin. Richard tells the crowd that they can still honor DeLuca even though he is gone and plays a collection of videos that the staff recorded about their best memories of DeLuca. Unfortunately, we don’t get to hear the messages, but we know they are touching based on the looks on everyone’s faces. Quick cuts show every main and background character that is currently on the show, and even Tom is allowed to be in attendance. Teddy is sitting by herself on a curb in tears, and Owen watches her the whole time from his seat.

Not hearing each individual’s tribute is made up for tenfold when the final video is DeLuca’s residency application video. It’s very fitting and touching that this is the only one we get to hear. Everyone is in tears as DeLuca talks about his life, how excited he is to apply to be a resident at Grey Sloan Memorial and how great of an opportunity it would be to work alongside and learn from “surgical legends” like Richard, Bailey, Jackson, and Meredith. The video ends with DeLuca saying: “I will give you the very best of me,” which is who he was to his core. No matter what you think about DeLuca or his death, he always gave the best of himself every single day. 

We then see the memorial playing on the iPad in Mer’s room with Hayes sitting there with her. It’s nice that the memorial was live-streamed for those who couldn’t be there in person. Back on the beach, Mer is sitting on a log inches apart from Derek, but we will have to wait to see their next interaction. Amelia was also able to watch the memorial online and is on the porch when Link comes home. She has decided that she doesn’t want any more secrets between them and really wants to know him. He says they have a deal, and she hugs him even though he reeks of whiskey. At the hospital, Teddy is still sitting on the curb way after the memorial has ended. She looks like she is in shock when Owen finds her. He picks her up and tells her he will take her home. The ending confirms that it is Teddy who is out of control spiraling from DeLuca’s death, which will continue to play out next week in epic fashion.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Flash 7x03 Review: "Mother" (Goodbye Mirrorverse) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]


“Mother”
Original Airdate: March 16, 2021

The Mirrorverse storyline of The Flash finally draws to a close this week and does so with all the finesse of sweeping dirt under the rug because you don’t have the energy to hunt down the dustpan. Well okay, that’s a little unfair. “Mother” does some interesting things with what’s left of this plot, namely in the way it dispenses with our villain and the focus put on the Barry/Iris relationship as a foundation for Barry’s role as a hero. But I still detected a certain element of impatience in the way the Mirrorverse plot, specifically, is wrapped up. Considering that it’s all just lingering threads from a year ago, I can’t exactly blame the writers for just wanting to move on to something else.

IT’S THE POWER OF LOVE

Only moments have passed in-show since the last episode. We open up to Cisco, Allegra, and Frost waking up on the lab floor. They’re initially wary when they see Barry, but his teary expression and repeated pleas for them to help Iris — who is still unresponsive, despite her eyes now being open — signal that last week’s Robo-Barry is no more. We’re back to regular ol’ Barry Allen, though a very sad variant.

Getting forcefully yanked out of the Mirrorverse seems to have scrambled Iris’s brain via “molecular anomaly.” So much of Iris’s plot in the Mirrorverse involved how it was physically changing her that it’d be weird if getting pulled through the portal actually was what remapped her brain, but I’ll assume the characters are just making guesses based off the information they have.

As Team Flash deals with the tragic recovery of one of their own, Joe and the rest of CCPD are trying to get a handle on the invasion of Mirrorverse duplicates infesting Central City now that Eva has embraced her own duplicate-ness and decided to take over the world. By the way, at this point in my notes for this review (which are written in real time as I watch the episode) I mention that Eva’s plan doesn’t make sense because what’s the point of taking over the “real” world if you’re just going to replace everyone with your mirror-made minions, but I make the assumption it’ll be clarified later. Now that I’m actually typing up the review, I’ve got a spoiler for you all: this is not clarified.

The team figures out what’s going on with Eva’s takeover and sets to work minimizing the number of reflective surfaces throughout (the very, very shiny) S.T.A.R Labs. Comically, just as Cisco and the others finish emphasizing how much they need to dim the lights and cover up anything with even the slightest bit of gloss, Barry catches his reflection in a glass window and gets swiped by Eva into the Mirrorverse. Remarkable.

Eva delivers an Evil Speech of Evil (or maybe an Evil Speech of Eva?) about how she’s the “mother of a new world” and she still doesn’t want to fight Barry because she still doesn’t see him as her enemy. Not just because she doesn’t see what she’s doing as evil (despite the speechifying) but because she doesn’t see Barry or his teammates as a threat. In Eva’s eyes, she’s already won — the rest is just settling into her new world, and Barry trying to oppose her is just delaying the inevitable.

Barry is released from the Mirrorverse to deliver the news to Team Flash, fully believing that their fight against Eva is a lost cause. I’m sure it doesn’t help that Iris is still unresponsive and Barry has officially given up on getting his super speed back, since he no longer trusts the artificial Speedforce after it turned him into an emotionless robot. That’s when Harrison Wells appears for a patented Wells Pep Talk.

This show often throws a lot of sci-fi technobabble nonsense at us, but the explanation for how Harrison Wells has been revived via the combined lingering particles of Wellses throughout the now-defunct Multiverse is on shaky foundations, even for The Flash. I suppose that’s why Harrison Wells: Original Recipe (kinda) doesn’t stick around very long, just long enough to deliver a “run, Barry, run” that doesn’t have the usual oomph to it, possibly because we just had one of those two episodes ago and they should be used sparingly.

After, Barry is talking to still-catatonic Iris about his current woes and he touches her, getting a literal spark as well as a spark of inspiration. To the rest of the team, Barry says he always wondered why he was the Paragon of Love during Crisis and how that related to his speed. He theorizes that the Speedforce lives on in Iris, extrapolating from the fact that Iris was a speedster once and Nora’s speed lightning was a Barry/Iris combo of yellow and purple. “That is so romantic!” says Chester P. Runk, joining the WestAllen fanclub.

Gather round the Fusion Sphere, my friends — it’s time for Barry to get his speed back. Again. This time, powered by LOVE! Wells warns Barry that if he’s wrong about Iris being a conduit for the Speedforce, “Every atom in your body will be split in two.” Just then, Iris herself appears in a trance-like state and touches the Sphere, and Barry confidently starts running. Sleepwalking Iris kinda took that leap of faith out of his hands, but I’m guessing they were just on the same wavelength or something. Memories of Barry’s time with Iris flash by as he runs and lightning sparks from the Sphere and hits Barry. Cisco is somehow able to monitor the existence of the Speedforce in terms of organic vs. artificial power, and the one Barry gets struck by when everything flashes and sparks is apparently “100% organic.” Yeah, okay, everything is made up and Barry and Iris being fully reunited is too cute so I’m ignoring how convenient all this is.

With Barry’s speed back for realsies this time, he, Cisco, and Frost head out to confront Eva and her doppelganger army wreaking havoc on Central City. A fight set to rock music (as fights last season often were, once again reminding us all that these past few episodes have been holdovers from last year) ensues, but the team can’t beat Eva’s ability to duplicate herself. Watching from S.T.A.R Labs, Iris realizes they’ll need more than superpowers to stop Eva and goes to help.

Iris shows up on the scene and engages in some “you can stop this and get back on the right path”-style conversation. Eva doesn’t buy it and throws some mirror shards toward Iris, but Iris is able to manipulate the shards the same way Eva can and tosses them away. So that’s two superpowers Iris has had now, right? Barry joins in with Iris, both of them telling Eva that her destructive Mirrorverse minions are not ushering in the peaceful, benevolent new world she’d originally wanted when she was just a scientist hoping to help people with her technology.

This call to Eva’s better nature works, but Eva realizes that her “children” are too strong for her to control. Iris and Barry hold her hands with the intention of magnifying her abilities (which makes sense for Iris because she has temporary mirror powers, but what’s Barry doing?) and it works. The duplicates shatter around Central City, and then Eva waves her hands and all the stolen people are back. 

Iris asks Eva what she’ll do now that she’s no longer bent on world domination and Eva says she’s going back to the Mirrorverse, to take care of the world there. Which implies that Eva has the ability to create people without stealing them, so what was the point of all this? If she can create mirror-people without having to steal real people, why was she trying to take over this world?! I mean, credit to The Flash for finally giving us a villain they could do this whole “forgive and forget” redemption-esque storyline with since Eva didn’t murder swathes of people before going good, but this thing turned out messy. Motivation, intention, power limitations — all messy.

Everything is all smiles and hope for Team Flash when the dust settles. Their friends are back, Eva’s gone home, Barry has super speed again. All good! And then we get a flashback to “18 hours earlier,” when the Speedforce was powering back up, and there’s a shot of multicolored lightning flying off into the sky.

Other Things:

  • Huh. Guess Robo-Barry was right about pulling Iris from the Mirrorverse, since none of this would’ve worked without her.
  • Hilarious note: Ralph has begun the process of recasting by melting his face and sticking a helmet on him.
  • The new Harrison Wells can time travel, which I suspect is just a way for the writers to be able to pull him into the story whenever necessary.

Friday, March 19, 2021

WandaVision and the MCU: Art vs. Commodification [Guest Poster: Hannah E.]

The following contains spoilers for WandaVision.

Since the release of Iron Man in 2008, Marvel has slowly grown into an unstoppable juggernaut of entertainment. They’ve just entered their so-called Phase 4, which includes 11 movies and 13 TV shows planned through 2023 and beyond. As they’ve grown more confident in their broader cinematic universe, there’s been a push to make everything more interconnected. It’s not enough for each movie to be successful on its own — Marvel wants every movie to be the wild chart-topping success that the Avengers movies are. Individual stories are consistently sacrificed in service of the bigger picture. All of Thor’s character development in Thor: Ragnarok is quickly forgotten because his role in Avengers: Infinity War was decided several years prior to that film and wasn’t going to bend for Taika Waititi. That’s why the most popular critique leveled at the MCU films is that they all feel the same. They aren’t movies made in the service of art as much as they’re movies made in service of cultivating a brand to make the parent company, Disney, more money. It’s a never ending, interconnected web of content aimed at creating cradle-to-grave watchers.

Enter WandaVision, easily the most avant-garde project the MCU has greenlit so far. Due to pandemic-related filming delays it became Marvel’s first TV show to air on Disney+ (the original plan was for Falcon and the Winter Soldier to air a few weeks prior), and found a substantial audience with people who hadn’t been interested in the MCU before. I myself had only seen a handful of Marvel’s other movies, largely against my will, and had no interest in investing in a series of movies that — to me — represented the most cynical, cash-grabbing side of Hollywood and filmmaking. 

But the trailers for WandaVision felt so unique compared to every other Marvel property I’d seen, so I decided to give the show a chance. And broadly speaking, the show delivered on the uniqueness of the advertising. Six of the nine episodes are filmed in period-accurate pastiche of famous sitcoms from the past, and the recreation is startlingly accurate. It’s especially impressive how they adapt Wanda and Vision’s characters to both fit the stereotypes of “dad” and “housewife” from the eras while also feeling true to their real characterizations. 

What really made WandaVision stand out from other MCU properties was the commitment to the emotional journey of Wanda. The show takes place three weeks after the events of Avengers: Endgame, where she comes back from the “blip” — meaning it’s been only three weeks for her since her partner, Vision, died twice. Relegating normal Marvel trappings to the B-plot, the show was largely focused on Wanda’s arc of accepting the loss she had suffered, letting go of her false reality, and moving on.

There’s just one problem with that: WandaVision isn’t even a show in its own right. It exists to set Wanda up as a character in the upcoming Doctor Strange sequel, because prior movies had forgotten to give her much meaningful screentime. And unfortunately because of that, a show genuinely interested in the process of grief ends up having a fairly muddied ending; while Wanda has to give up the family she’s created, there’s still another version of Vision flying around and sure to appear in some upcoming Marvel property. And the final post-credit scene reveals that her kids, who she thought were gone, are actually alive somewhere just waiting to become plot devices in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Wanda’s arc in accepting grief is harshly undercut by the realization that none of it is permanent, everything she had to let go of is already primed to reappear in the MCU proper. WandaVision cannot conclude a chapter in Wanda’s arc because that would be a lost storytelling opportunity for future movies years from now. And worse, if the show had a conclusive end, viewers might not show up on opening night of the new Doctor Strange

Which leads me to the question I’ve been struggling with ever since the finale aired: Is WandaVision art or content? Art is made because someone wants to communicate something, any small piece or heartbeat of the human experience. Content is the commodification of art; a business model for corporations to make money. The MCU is the embodiment of art’s corruption into content: a massive studio latching itself onto a pre-existing project with millions of fans that runs indefinitely and is intentionally built around the idea of selling merchandise. They also have an agreement with the military; in return for receiving funding and permission to use real equipment, the Pentagon gets to have say in the script and edit of their films. They even used the feminist cred of Captain Marvel to lead a recruitment campaign for women to join the Air Force. All of that feels a little gross. Where is the artistic merit in making the same movie 20 times, wrapped in a slightly different package, made to be as inoffensive and broadly appealing as possible? When looking at the forest instead of the trees, the MCU seems irredeemably bad. 

But that perspective feels unfair to some of the trees. Taika Waititi and Ryan Coogler especially pushed the boundaries of the MCU with Ragnarok and Black Panther, which are both films pushing back against imperialism. Those two films marked a clear progression in how willing Marvel was to allow individual creators to influence their product. The big features, like Infinity War and Endgame were still done by the Russos to feel as bland as possible, but some of the smaller projects were given room to breathe. 

WandaVision marks an odd meeting ground for the art and content sides of Marvel. The MCU’s push into TV is clearly a cynical cash grab, as they try to corner an even bigger share of the entertainment market; and not only that, it’s also clearly a storytelling device giving them several extra hours to interconnect storylines, making the movies more dependent on each other, raising the odds that viewers will see all of them instead of just a few. 

As if to counterbalance the shamelessness, Marvel went out of its way to create a genuine artistic vision for WandaVision. The concept was born from Kevin Feige’s childhood love of sitcoms, and the entire format is a love letter to the unique storytelling of TV. Showrunner Jac Schaeffer worked extensively to pull every tiny detail that had been dropped about Wanda in the MCU films and blow it into an actual backstory, making her and Vision’s love story feel real. It also didn’t shy away from the profound sense of grief Wanda grapples with; the entire penultimate episode is a walkthrough of Wanda’s most emotionally harrowing experiences. The best scene of the episode is a quiet moment between Wanda and Vision, set before Civil War, where he consoles her as she grieves her dead brother; it beautifully captures Vision discovering what it’s like to be human in giving comfort to someone else and how grateful Wanda is to have someone again. The line, “What is grief, if not love persevering?” is genuinely beautiful (if also meme-able) and speaks to the central theme of the show — the power of love and grief, and how inseparable the two are. 

Elizabeth Olsen may have said it best in a recent interview, discussing how the hand motions Wanda uses to access her powers were rooted in her character’s backstory: “There is a lot of thought that goes into how those relate. And, you know, that’s when you’re like ‘We did a character piece, and we’re in the Marvel world.’”

A “character piece” and “Marvel world” are two opposite forces, struggling to exist in the same space. Reading interviews with both Elizabeth Olsen and Jac Schaeffer, it’s clear that it was a struggle to script an end to the grief arc while also servicing the upcoming Marvel projects; that led to the somewhat muddied ending I’d mentioned earlier, where Wanda’s acceptance of loss is undercut by the audience’s knowledge that it isn’t permanent.

So where does that leave WandaVision? The entire creative team behind the show was fully committed to a character piece, but couldn’t end things exactly how they wanted because it exists within the Marvel franchise. It couldn’t exist solely as art, because it had to do legwork for brand content. 

Pondering this question, I found myself thinking of Princess Diana. Bear with me for a second, and I promise these two things will relate. She became the People’s Princess at the height of royal unpopularity; the entire nation had just about had it with Prince Charles before they fell madly in love with his wife. Because of Diana’s charity work and human kindness, the approval ratings of the entire royal family shot up. Where it once seemed like the monarchy was on its knees, Diana had brought it back. Taking this in as a forest, that was very bad; the monarchy was outdated a hundred years ago and does nothing but hurt everything in and around it. But looking at the trees, it’s hard to believe it could be bad for Diana to be kind. 

The unfortunate nature of her circumstances meant that Diana gave a human face to a monstrous institution. But at the same time, she was just being kind; she didn’t intend to make the Crown look good, she just cared for people and couldn’t hide it. Diana was art, and the Crown is content.

WandaVision is putting a human face on the monster that is Disney corporate hegemony. Where I couldn’t stomach engaging in the MCU before, I fell hook, line, and sinker for WandaVision and will probably show up in theatres to see the Doctor Strange sequel. Marvel’s content model is working on me now. 

But that doesn’t take away from the artistic highs WandaVision reached. Elizabeth Olsen is probably the best performer in the MCU, and she put on an Emmy-worthy performance as Wanda in all nine episodes. When the show was allowed to just simply be, free of its Marvel restraints, it had a lot of very insightful things to say about grief and how to move on. “What is grief, if not love persevering?” is a line that will stick with me for years. 

I don’t think there’s an easy answer to be had here. WandaVision is both art and brand content, and that’s both good and bad. If the MCU is going to take over entertainment, I’m glad to see they’re willing to let talented creators really swing for the fences. But those home-runs help people forget just how terrified we should all be of Disney taking over the big and small screen.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Grey’s Anatomy 17x07 Recap: “Helplessly Hoping” (The Hero) [Contributor: Julia Siegel]


“Helplessly Hoping”
Original Airdate: March 11, 2021

If you’ve been missing the drama of Grey’s Anatomy for the past three months, then this midseason premiere is for you! The two-hour Station 19/Grey’s Anatomy crossover event is a must-see for all fans. It’s intense, emotional, and one heck of a pulse-pounding ride. Haven’t seen both episodes yet? I can’t stress how important it is to watch the midseason premiere of Station 19 first, so make sure you carve out some time to watch for the sake of closure.

LET THE ACTION BEGIN!

The story of the crossover picks up immediately on Station 19 from the endings of the previous Station 19 and Grey’s Anatomy episodes before carrying straight through the end of the Grey’s Anatomy hour. This will more than likely be the case with the next episodes on March 18. Both episodes take place over the course of the same day. For those who missed Station 19, Carina and Andrew DeLuca continue their chase of sex trafficker Opal. They stealthily follow her car as she drives through Seattle to meet up with another potential player within the sex trafficking ring. All the while, the siblings try to get the authorities to help but the Seattle PD is about as helpful as they were the previous day when the Station 19 crew suspected a kidnapping situation. 

The exasperated siblings get in touch with Station 19’s Captain Maya Bishop, who is Carina’s girlfriend. The firefighters don’t want to wait for the police to get involved, so they decide to jump into action. Ben Warren and Jack Gibson set out in an ambulance to find the DeLucas and provide backup while Maya continues to hound the police and eventually gets the cops and the FBI involved. The DeLucas eventually follow Opal to a train station and board the same train as her and tell the firefighters to meet them at the next station. Opal starts to suspect that she is being followed and makes a phone call while on the train before getting off at the first stop. Andrew quickly runs after her with Carina not too far behind. He gets within a few feet of Opal when a burly man runs right into him. Opal walks out of the doors where the cops and firefighters are and is promptly arrested. Inside, Carina finds Andrew on the floor bleeding. The man that walked into him stabbed him in the abdomen, and he’s losing blood quickly. Luckily, the Station 19 crew runs in and transports him to Grey Sloan Memorial in their ambulance, which signals the end of the first episode.

Grey’s Anatomy picks up immediately with Ben, Jack, Maya, Carina, and Andrew in the ambulance on their way to Grey Sloan Memorial, and Andrew is now coughing up blood. We are then treated to a nice montage of what the other doctors were up to that morning: Maggie and Winston are enjoying some grown-up time, as are Nico and Schmitt, a hardcore workout is Jackson’s way of coping with the events of the previous day, Teddy FaceTimes with her kids, Bailey is passed out in a chair at Meredith’s bedside, and Mer is enjoying a gorgeous sunset (or sunrise) on her beach. 

Jo is still treating Val, the new mother whose baby arrived prematurely in the first half of the season. Val is now septic and very disappointed that she can’t see baby Luna until she beats the infection. The scene changes back to Winston and Maggie’s happy hotel room, where they are oblivious to the outside world. Winston has ordered room service breakfast and Maggie is the happiest she has been in a long time, especially because she was able to shut her brain off for a night. She picked the wrong night though, as she still isn’t aware that Mer was put on a ventilator. Amelia has been attempting to call and text Maggie for hours to no avail. Amelia starts to lose her cool about not being able to get in contact with one sister and having another sister on the brink of death, and Zola accidentally overhears the conversation. Poor Zola asks whether her mom is going to die, and Amelia is so shocked that she doesn’t know what to say.

ANXIETY LEVELS RISE

Back at the hospital, Owen and Schmitt wait in the ambulance bay for the incoming trauma. However, they were not aware who they would be treating until the rig’s doors opened and Carina, Ben, and Maya jumped out and wheeled Andrew’s gurney out. Carina tearfully begs Owen to save her brother before they go inside. In a trauma room, Owen quickly finds that Andrew has fluid in his abdomen and around his heart. He’s still bleeding profusely and has a hemothorax, which means Owen will need to put in a chest tube with his patient conscious. Ben helps Owen while Maya and Carina watch in horror. Owen wants to move Andrew to the OR immediately, and Helm happens to walk past and see what’s going on.

Upstairs, Richard goes to visit Mer but is stopped in the doorway by Helm who informs him about Andrew; Richard quickly runs off to help. The scene shifts back to Mer’s beach. Mer is looking out at the ocean and the crashing waves with Andrew standing next to her. He asks her if they are alive, and Mer believes they are. The fact that they can talk to each other should be a hint at Andrew’s current situation.

Over at the Grey/Shepherd/Pierce residence, Amelia manages to calm down Zola and finds Link outside again walking Scout around to get him to fall asleep. Amelia continues to freak out about not being able to contact Maggie. She also doesn’t know what to tell Zola. Link convinces Amelia not to go hunt Maggie down; instead, he will find a way to get in contact with Maggie.

Back at the hospital, Schmitt runs into Ben and asks him to tell Carina that Andrew is stable and heading into surgery. Ben is looking at a photo of Opal on his phone, which Schmitt sees and instantly wants to throw up when he realizes who it is. He immediately thinks that Andrew’s injuries are his fault because he treated Opal the night before and let her leave the hospital. Ben assures him that Schmitt did nothing wrong, but that doesn’t stop Schmitt’s downward spiral.

Teddy has finished her shift and decides to visit Tom in order to be in a room where someone doesn’t hate her. Tom looks like he is doing much better today and starts chatting up a storm. He even admits to visiting Mer the day before, which is probably the source of his good mood. Teddy informs him that she had to put Mer on a vent a few hours ago, which upsets Tom. He asks Teddy to have a seat and picks a heck of a moment to have a hard-truth conversation. Tom explains to Teddy that he doesn’t hate her but he needs to hear her admit that she never loved him in order for him to move on. He doesn’t expect her to say it right this second, but wants to hear it soon so he can start over if he beats COVID. Teddy looks broken but is paged away before anything else can be said.

Richard finds Owen on his way to the OR and asks to scrub in on Andrew’s surgery. Owen explains that Richard hasn’t operated in some time and this will be a complicated surgery that will need surgeons that know how to operate as if they are in a war zone. Richard tries to convince Owen that he’s the best man for the job because Bailey is still sleeping and Teddy just got off a 24-hour shift that ended with putting Mer on a vent. He also wants to repay the favor of Andrew saving his life a few months prior. Owen isn’t moved by Richard’s pleas and asks him to get Teddy since she will be able to handle the situation no matter what mental state she is in. It also appears that Owen has been acting like he’s in a war zone since the pandemic began, which explains why he has been so emotionally unavailable. 

Intern Khan brings the latest set of Val’s labs to Jo, which shows that their patient’s liver is failing. Hayes then walks up and informs Jo that Luna needs an operation to remove a small growth on her lung and wants to know if she would like to tell Val with him. They go to Val’s room, and Hayes tells her that Luna’s surgery should be simple. Val is distraught that Luna can’t be held and that she still can’t see her. Jo decides that enough is enough and that it wouldn’t cause much harm to let Val see Luna for a few minutes before the surgery. In an on-call room, Nico consoles a distressed Schmitt. He recalls the previous night’s events and feels that he should have put the pieces together. Nico tells Schmitt that he’s not in a state to scrub in on Andrew’s surgery and that he’ll find a surgeon who is up for the job.

FIGHTING FOR SURVIVAL

Andrew’s surgery gets underway with Owen, Teddy, and Khan, who is the perfect choice to replace Schmitt with his background in vascular surgery in Pakistan. Even though she was running on fumes moments earlier, Teddy seems ready to go and is immediately in the zone. The three surgeons try to work as fast as possible to repair the extreme damage. The injuries are far worse than they imagined: the knife went through Andrew’s spleen, stomach, diaphragm, and pericardium. They quickly realize Andrew’s spleen needs to be removed, and they give him six units of blood in a short span of time. Richard watches the surgery from the gallery and prays for God to not take Andrew. Carina and Maya wait for news in the chapel, where Carina is a total wreck. She’s not processing the day’s events well, and who can blame her. She tells Maya a very moving story about how her and Andrew are two halves of the same whole in another grab the tissues moment. 

Andrew’s blood pressure begins to rise, which is great news for the audience and the surgeons. Teddy places a drain to finish the surgery, and Andrew survives the touch-and-go procedure. Owen and Teddy bring the good news to Carina and Maya and tell the overjoyed couple that the damage was more extensive than they thought, but Andrew will live. Carina’s reaction is beyond relief, and she looks like she wants to smother Owen with love. On the way out, Teddy thanks Owen for letting her in on the surgery. Owen ruins the nice moment by saying that he only did it for Andrew, not her.

Maggie and Winston are still enjoying each other’s company when they are interrupted by a knock on the door. Winston opens the door to find a confused Jackson standing there. Reminder: Jackson and Winston have not met and aren’t familiar with each other. Neither man makes any effort to introduce themselves to the other, and Jackson thinks he has the wrong room until Maggie pops into view. Jackson says that Link called him to help find her because Link and Amelia need her to go home. Maggie, Winston, and Jackson arrive at the house and are greeted by Link, who immediately picks up on the extremely awkward situation and gets them all beers even though it is still morning.

In the NICU, Hayes is angry with Jo for suggesting that they allow Val to see Luna and explains that he needs to look out for the baby. Jo claps back by asking if he was nice before his wife died and goes on to say how she too lost the love of her life and that he might as well have died, but she still cares about other people. Hayes brings up how Mer was fine one minute then went on a vent. Jo wants to know if he would act the same way if it were Mer’s kid that he was taking care of, which effectively ends the argument. Hayes agrees to let Val see Luna for five minutes and doesn’t answer Jo’s question.

Teddy finds Richard in the COVID ward and tells him that Andrew is awake. Richard hasn’t woken up Bailey to tell her any of the day’s events yet. Back on the beach, Andrew and Mer walk side-by-side and have a great conversation about everything that is wrong in the world. Like the hero he is, Andrew backs up his decision by saying, “What I did — following that woman and not letting her get away with it, not letting her get away, not letting her harm another single human being. Yeah, it was dangerous, but it made sense. It's the only thing that made sense. So I don't regret it.” His speech is Andrew at his finest and is him right to his core. It’s really touching to see him be able to process his actions and be unapologetic for saving countless lives even though it wasn’t his job to do so. The scene changes to the ICU, where Carina visits her brother. He is on a vent, but is awake and responsive. Carina reveals that Opal and the guy who stabbed Andrew have been arrested, which is a great ending to the sex trafficking arc.

Teddy visits Tom again, and he wants details on the surgery. She cagily says that it was a trauma that went well and doesn’t tell him who her patient is. Tom’s oxygen saturation is up, which is another good sign for his recovery. Teddy then blurts out that she did love Tom and tried so hard not to because she also loved Owen. Tom doesn’t want to hear the truth; he only wants to hear what he wants her to say. He very rightly retorts by telling Teddy that she and him would be together if she really loved him. Tom explains again what he wants to hear from Teddy and why. So Teddy, with tears in her eyes, says the one thing she never wanted to say. Tom thanks her for telling him that she never loved him, even though Teddy’s face says that she didn’t mean a word of it.

Link, Jackson, and Winston are awkwardly hanging out in the backyard with Link still bouncing Scout so he won’t become a human ambulance (which is also the best one-liner of the episode). Link wants to know what will become of his life if Mer doesn’t survive. Jackson wants Link to give himself a break and says that Mer is also family to him. They all have reasons why they want Mer to survive and not all the reasons have to be selfless. Link doesn’t want the kids to grow up without both their parents and then apologizes to Jackson for having him find Maggie. Winston wonders why Link said that and comes to the realization that the man sitting next to him is his girlfriend’s ex. Inside the house, Amelia and Maggie are having their own private conversation in one of the bedrooms. Maggie feels that they need to step up and tell the kids what is going on. She explains that Mer told the kids everything about Derek, so they owe it to the kids to be truthful about Mer’s situation. 

THE TRAGIC END

Before we get to see Amelia and Maggie follow through on that conversation, the scene goes back to the hospital where Jo and Hayes are bringing Luna to see Val before her surgery. As they approach Val’s room, alarms indicating a code start going off. Jo rushes to help and finds that Val is crashing. Owen visits Andrew, who seems to be comfortable. Out of nowhere, Andrew starts crashing and blood starts pouring out of his nose. Owen calls some other doctors in and starts ripping staples out of Andrew’s body. With the chest cavity open, Owen starts throwing clumps of clotted blood onto the floor and thinks Andrew is going into cardiac tamponade. He yells for someone to page Teddy and have her meet them in the OR.

As he starts transporting Andrew, Owen has the other doctors enact massive transfusion protocol. There’s blood all over the hallway as they rush to the OR. Teddy bursts into the OR a few minutes later, and Owen exclaims that Andrew has gone into DIC. They work furiously to save their colleague’s life, but Andrew starts to crash again. Owen starts cardiac massage in an attempt to get Andrew’s heart beating normally. At the same time, Jo and Schmitt try to save Val and shock her a few times to restart her failing heart.

The action is interrupted by a quick scene showing Amelia and Maggie telling Zola that Mer was put on a vent that morning. Zola is familiar with what a vent is and wants to know if Mer will come off it because her dad never did. Her aunts truthfully explain that they don’t know, but they hope she will. Zola asks them to not tell Bailey and Ellis unless it is necessary because they are too young to understand. It’s incredible that such a mature thought comes from such a young child. Zola cries while Maggie holds her hand and gives her a hug.

At the hospital, Hayes and Luna return to the NICU after a successful surgery. Jo sadly tells Hayes that Val didn’t survive and that the baby is going to need to be a trooper. Hayes says that he was nicer before his wife died, which answers one of Jo’s earlier questions. Jo apologizes by saying she shouldn’t have made that comment and they make up. Hayes exits the NICU, and Jo sanitizes her hands so she can touch Luna’s hand while tears stream down her face. Oddly, neither doctor seemed to have any idea that Andrew was in critical condition all day.

Nico walks into an on-call room to console a distraught Schmitt for the second time. Schmitt can’t believe that he and Jo lost Val and that Andrew was okay and now he might not be. He goes into full breakdown mode and gives a speech about wasting so many years trying to be someone else and being afraid of what people would think. He feels that he has been wasting all the time he was supposed to be happy. Nico hugs him, which doesn’t seem to be enough.

Bailey finally wakes up after sleeping the day away, and Richard is standing there waiting to talk to her. He tells her what happened to Andrew, as the scene quickly flashes to the OR to show Owen and Teddy needing to push a round of epinephrine directly into Andrew’s heart. The scene shifts again to Mer’s beach, where Andrew is trying to build a sand castle before the tide comes in. The tide swells and wrecks the castle, which is the perfect metaphor for him having more to do in life and his time is running out. The moment the sand castle gets destroyed is when you should know Andrew is probably not making it off the OR table. 

Andrew launches into a beautiful speech which also indicates he is saying goodbye. “I don't know what happens from here, Meredith,” he says. “No matter what happens, I want you to know that I've never felt seen the way you saw me. I've never felt inspired the way you inspired me. You made me want to be not just my best self, but better. And yeah, I felt small around you sometimes. I felt insecure. I wanted something from you that I needed to give myself. But here, now, on this beach with you, I get it. I don't just get it, I feel it. I know who I am, my strength.” Mer is the only one with dry eyes at this point, and she asks him if he would like to take a walk and watch the sunset. He wants to feel this moment first and hold onto it a little longer.

Back in the OR, things are not looking good for Andrew. Teddy and Owen shock his heart several times. We are then transported back to the beach where Mer and Andrew are sitting and watching the sun set. A woman calls out from the other side of the beach, and Andrew recognizes his mother in the distance and is very happy to see her again. “I’ll miss you. If I go back and you don’t, I’ll miss you,” Mer says. Andrew responds by saying, “You’ll be okay, Meredith. I have to go.” Andrew gets up and runs down the beach to embrace his mom in a huge hug. Mer watches and smiles, accepting the fact that Andrew has made his choice.

We cut back to reality, where Andrew has been down in the OR for 40 minutes. Teddy and Owen look at each other with exasperated expressions because neither knows how to restart his heart. She begs Owen with her eyes to keep trying to save Andrew, but Owen slightly shakes his head in shocked acknowledgment that there is nothing more they can do. No one in the OR wants to call the time of death, and the flat lining buzz sound is incredibly ominous. Khan decides to call time of death. The episode ends with a shot of Andrew and his mom walking away together on the beach. He looks back at Mer just long enough to wave before walking away forever. 

Andrew DeLuca’s death comes as a massive shock. I never thought the repercussions of Andrew trying to stop a sex trafficker would lead to his untimely death. The show handled his demise beautifully though by allowing him to die a brave hero instead of a broken man in the midst of a manic breakdown. Andrew was able to turn his life around this season and showed what an amazing doctor he had turned out to be. His loss will be felt tremendously through the fanbase and the fictional hospital. It will be interesting to see how the loss will affect the characters, and we know that the death will put one over the edge. Best bets are Bailey, Richard, Maggie, Teddy, or Schmitt who were already teetering. Also, if Mer wakes up, how will she handle the loss of her ex-boyfriend? Will she handle it as well as her mother’s death, who she similarly saw pass on in a dream-like state? 

For those of you that are heartbroken, showrunner Krista Vernoff has said that this will not be the last we see of Andrew DeLuca. He will appear again this season, whether through flashbacks or on the beach remains to be seen. Last but not least, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a quick shout out to the incredible Giacomo Gianniotti for his brilliant work as Dr. Andrew DeLuca. He brightened every scene he was in over the past six years and will be sorely missed. 

The Flash 7x02 Review: "The Speed of Thought" (Think Fast!) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]


“The Speed of Thought”
Original Airdate: March 9, 2021

The lesson we all have to take away from this week’s episode of The Flash is that Barry’s primary strength is his heart and the love he has for the people around him. We’re on season seven of this show and that has literally been the defining attribute of this character since his introduction, but fine. Making another episode revolving around this concept is totally fine. Hey, show — maybe next week you’ll tell us that Barry Allen has super speed!

MIND VS. EMOTION

“The Speed of Thought” begins with a memorial service for the Wellses we’ve lost along the way (i.e., all of them). “Why does it always seem like for us to win, some of us have to lose?” Cisco asks, to which I answer: shoddy writing for the sake of drama. Even Joe has something to say about the Wellses, tying it up by declaring humanity and love as the team’s greatest weapon against darkness. It’s our first hint at this week’s “mind vs. emotion” theme, which gets hammered home when Barry questions whether his love for the people around him might be a weakness. Joe tells Barry he’s not to blame for losing Wells, but of course Barry blames himself! He’s the hero of the story and all heroes have to be full of angst. Does anyone remember when this show used to be so bright and lovable that I equated Barry with a puppy gif every episode? Those were the days.

The little memorial service disperses. Cisco shows off his “dud” of a portal to the Mirrorverse, which he built using technology from Atlantis but can’t get to work. As he starts running through ideas about why or how the portal could be functional enough to rescue their friends, Barry suddenly gets a flash of everything Cisco is about to write on the presentation board and spoils Cisco’s own thoughts for him.

Okay, this show knows that being able to think fast doesn't automatically grant you knowledge of everything in existence, right? Like if I could think at super speed, I might be able to recite Pink Floyd lyrics with great rapidity or rattle off fun facts about Star Trek: The Original Series (my areas of expertise) but no matter how fast I think, I won't be able to build a rocket to the moon because I don't know how to build a rocket to the moon. Barry doesn't speed-read every book in existence or download the entirety of the internet into his brain, he just suddenly knows things. There's a reason why Cisco and Caitlin/Frost have places on Team Flash — it's because they fill in knowledge gaps for Barry. Granted, they often have fuzzy limitations on what their particular fields of study pertain to depending on what the plot needs, but the point is that Barry doesn't know some stuff. Yet, for this episode, he knows all the stuff. Why?

Well, I suspect the show is trying to give us a contrasting path of some sort: Barry is so smart! He can solve all the problems with absolute efficiency! But alas, he simply is not Barry without his gooey nougat center, and no amount of data analysis can replace his heart. Except, again, the audience knows this. Creating a scenario in which it seems like Barry trading in his inherent puppy-ness (however bereft we've been of the True Puppyness of Barry Allen in recent, angstier seasons) would be the answer to all Team Flash's problems is a pointless endeavor because we already know there is no situation in which Barry not being fundamentally Barry turns out to be the correct path to follow. This whole episode is like a magician telling the audience that the disappearance trick is all just mirrors at the start of the show and then continuing to go through the whole rigmarole anyway.

It all plays out exactly as one would expect: Barry, Cisco, and rotating members of Team Flash have fun with Barry’s new power (although Cisco, to his credit, immediately declares him “freaky”) and they get enough out of Barry to conceivably solve the Mirroverse Portal situation. After that, it’s a steady decline for Barry’s emotions until he’s just an emotionless robot that Cisco feels he has to stop before something awful happens. And then something awful happens, proving once and for all that heart is the real power and not at all a weakness Barry should want to get rid of.

Also, Cisco proves Barry has fast-thinking powers by throwing a “Quantum Ball” (trademark pending) in a room full of dangerous scientific equipment and getting Barry to predict what objects it bounces off of. Is prescience a side effect of being able to think fast? How? I suppose Barry’s complete knowledge of all science and math that came with his fast thinking allows him to determine the angle of the ball based off... the sound of it hitting a pole, or something.

Although Cisco gets a hint of things to come when Barry refuses to save Caitlin from Eva because it would result in an astronomically low chance of breaking the tachyon device they’re using to get the Mirrorverse Portal to work, the danger isn’t really solidified until Barry decides he needs to rescue Iris and leave Kamilla and Chief Singh to rot in the Mirrorverse. And not because Barry loves Iris despite his dive into emotionlessness, either — no, he wants to save Iris purely because she’d have the most information on Eva.

Barry arrives at his conclusion to save Iris over the others by thought-experimenting a scenario in which he asks the team to vote to save either Iris or Kamilla and Singh, and concludes that they would all vote for the latter. Of course, this is faulty from the start since there’s no way the others would vote to literally let people die — something Cisco brings up to Barry shortly before pulling a speed-dampener on him when Barry’s plan is revealed. A tussle between Barry, Cisco, Allegra, and Frost commences but ultimately ends with Barry using the Quantum Ball introduced earlier to knock everyone else out.

This leaves Barry free to proceed with getting Iris out of the Mirrorverse. The Mirrorverse portal works and opens up right where Iris is trying to drag the fainted Kamilla and Singh (it was a whole thing — their eyes glowed silver) to the medical lab. Iris, because she’s great, wants to help Kamilla and Singh through the portal first but Barry insists it can only be her. She fights against him, which causes some technical issues, but does eventually get yanked into the real world... only to pass out and have a seizure.

Barry is reawakened to his emotions upon seeing the love of his life in terrible shape (and maybe a little bit because Iris defied all Robo-Barry’s logical predictions and gave him that “does not compute” crisis they used to fight robots more than once on Star Trek: The Original Series). He looks around and sees everyone who could potentially help him passed out on the floor due to his own logic-driven actions. Man, it’s almost like this show wants us to think that Barry’s heart and emotions are key to his effectiveness as a hero and attempts to do away with them for the sake of logic ends in tragedy. I totally didn’t see that moral coming.

Other Things:

  • Cisco has protected the Wells memorial from timeline changes, which seems like something he should really apply to more than just a cubbyhole in a wall at S.T.A.R Labs.
  • Eva’s plot this episode: Robo-Barry broadcasted that video of real Eva dying we saw last episode, sending her into an emotional and mental spiral that ends with everyone in the world knowing she’s not the real Eva.
  • Eva has the absolute ugliest supervillain costume. I know that’s not a priority but it just needed saying.
  • Why do people who become emotionless robots obsessed with efficiency never use contractions? Contractions are efficient!
  • How does this episode have so many ending beats? After the ending with Barry, we cut to Eva decided to make “this” world hers or whatever, then we cut to a CCPD office getting pulled through a mirror on an elevator, and then it’s a flashback to when Eobard Thawne stole Harrison Wells’s identity and buried his body in a remarkably rectangular shallow grave. Some green dust (what is this, Smallville?) sparkles on top of the grave and Harrison Wells comes back to life. I have no idea what’s going on.

Julie and the Phantoms 1x05 Review: “The Other Side of Hollywood” (What You Want Comes at a Cost) [Contributor: Jenn]


“The Other Side of Hollywood”
Original Airdate: September 10, 2020

How much would you be willing to pay to get what you want?

I’m not talking about physical money though. What would you be willing to sacrifice to get something you think will make you happy? Would you sacrifice your friendships? Your integrity? Your time?

Recently on The Community Rewatch Podcast, our guest Gavin aptly noted that it’s often easier to convince people of things when they’re angry. And if we’re honest, that’s part of why it was so easy to convince Luke, Alex, and Reggie to stay at The Hollywood Ghost Club in this episode of Julie and the Phantoms. The boys are still mad and bitter at their former bandmate and friend, Bobby (a.k.a. Trevor), for stealing their songs and making money in the wake of their deaths.

The boys want revenge. They want Bobby to suffer, and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that happens. “The Other Side of Hollywood,” however, reminds us that even when we get what we want, it’ll cost us. And it certainly costs the boys — in more ways than one.

CURSES AND BETRAYALS

Let’s start with the obvious: the boys get some sort of hex or curse put on them after they visit Caleb’s club. It painfully zaps the boys to the point that they feel like they’re dying all over again. The zaps will only get worse as the series progresses, unfortunately. But Caleb knows exactly what he’s doing when he puts the stamp on them.

It’s implied, of course, that all of the “lifers” who are at The Hollywood Ghost Club are able to see ghosts because they sold their souls to Caleb so they can experience the club when they die. The boys are so enraptured with Caleb, the club, the dancing, the ability to eat real food again, and the prospect of having adventures like traveling the world that they ignore their commitment to Julie. They trade a hypothetical for their real friend.

And it’s easy to understand why. After all, even though they died 25 years ago, Luke, Alex, and Reggie are very much teenage boys whose critical thinking skills haven’t yet been developed (even in death). They’re so fixated on what THEY want that they forgo what Julie actually needs. They died in the prime of their lives — on the cusp of becoming superstars. And that fact has blinded them thus far. They’re focused on the praise and acclaim and fame they could receive if they accepted Caleb’s offer. They could travel the world and be seen all the time, no strings attached (or so they think). They could get back at Bobby. They could feel like their afterlives have a purpose again. 

But they forget one important thing that those of us who are blinded by revenge or our own selfish desires often are: it’s not about us.

The boys made a promise to Julie. They were going to show up to the school and perform with her in front of all of her classmates at the school dance. Instead, they get swept away with the promise of something bigger that they forget what’s in front of them. And while “The Other Side of Hollywood” is mostly plot-building and doesn’t really capture my attention as much as the episodes that’ll follow do, I love that when the guys finally do show up to the empty gymnasium, Julie lets them have it.

She doesn’t just tell them that she’s disappointed; she tells them how much it hurt to know that they KNEW how hard it was for her to sing after her mom’s death and they chose not to care. Ouch. The boys, especially Luke, are wounded by the consequences of their choices. And that’s really the thing about trying to get what we want regardless of the cost — we rarely think of other people or what will happen when we do get the thing we think will satisfy us. Julie tells the guys that joining their band was a mistake. And she reminds them that bandmates and friends don’t treat each other the way Luke, Alex, and Reggie treated her. It’s heartbreaking but a reminder that when you’re hurt, it’s okay to admit it and also demand better from the people you care about.

“The Other Side of Hollywood” ultimately reminds our characters that getting what you want may be easy, but it’s rarely simple and definitely never without consequences.

Hitting the right notes:

  • Even though I don’t love Caleb’s songs as much as the others in the show, there’s no denying just how talented Cheyenne Jackson is. Also it’s super weird to watch him as a villain here and the romantic lead in Call Me Kat.
  • I also enjoy that this is the first musical number that was shot so that Kenny could show the network just what they could do in the series.
  • “I always knew rich people did weird stuff like this.”
  • “We found out like two weeks okay, okay? We didn’t have the heart to tell him.” THE BEST JOKE.
  • Cheyenne and Charlie’s eyes look insanely bright in this episode for some reason and I’m here for it.
  • I want to know how much the boys hated having to eat that food take after take.
  • Are we just going to ignore the cute kid sliding over intermittently in the gym to sit closer to his crush or what? I NEED THAT STORY.
  • This episode leans a little too hard into the whole “Carrie is a mean girl” trope. Her burns weren’t that great and there’s no way an entire school would immediately be able to follow her to her house. SHE LIVES IN MALIBU. HOW WILL THEY GET THERE? THEY CANNOT DRIVE.
  • “Reggie, are you kissing that meatball sub?”
  • “That’s what we get for depending on boys.” I love how Flynn is a true ride-or-die bestie in this episode.

What did you all think of the episode? Sound off in the comments below!

Thursday, March 4, 2021

The Flash 7x01 Review: "All's Well That Ends Wells" (Farewell, Wells) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]


“All's Well That Ends Wells”
Original Airdate: March 2, 2021

Every time we come back from a hiatus I have to scramble to remember what happened last time on The Flash (and no, the “previously on” recaps don’t help as much as you’d think) but this hiatus has really done a number on me. Let’s just say it’s a good thing I have a backlog of self-written recaps of this show to help me out, because my brain turned to mush last April and the only things reliably retained in there now are my library card number and the lyrics to “Conjunction Junction” from Schoolhouse Rock.

GOTTA SAVE THE SPEED

Since we never actually got closure from last season’s non-finale (which, in hindsight, ending a season during a dark place of non-closure isn’t a bad plan as long as it’s, you know, a plan and not a side effect of a worldwide pandemic shutting down production) not a lot has changed between then and now. Barry’s speed is on the fritz, Evil Eva McCulloch is doing evil things, and Iris is still trapped in the Mirrorverse. But not the cool kind of Mirrorverse where Spock is there and has a goatee. Throughout the episode, it’s very obvious that this is not season premiere content — this is end-of-season content. Again, we can’t blame the writers at all for this, but it definitely affects the vibe.

The most pressing problem for Team Flash is the pending loss of our titular hero’s super speed. When the episode opens, we see Chester P. Runk manning the Team Flash control center, monitoring for signs of Eva doing villainous things in Central City. When he gets an alert, Barry is notified and drops out of a “cryo pod” he’s been using to preserve his speed, which is fading at a rate that will leave him powerless in days or even hours.

Barry ignores all the warnings related to his powers and speeds to Eva’s location in time to see Eva kill Sam Scudder (a.k.a. the first Mirror Master) and Rosa Dillon (metahuman identity: the far-too-short-to-be-pithy “Top”) mourn his loss. I remember last time really liking the idea of Eva as a reluctant adversary for the hero, and that’s continuing this season. She even says she and Barry are “on the same side” against the Black Hole crime organization, but Barry just wants Iris back. I don’t know why Eva refuses to return Iris if she wants Barry to leave her alone so badly, but I’m not confident enough in my memory of this plot to call the show out on it.

Back at the lab, Barry narrowly stops Chester from falling into a Fusion Sphere, which is a glowing ball with the power to use anyone who touches it as a fuel source and looks like something sold at your local mall’s Spencer’s gift store. So, with the danger of the Fusion Sphere should anyone ever touch it explained, we can all assume someone will touch it before the episode ends, right? Chekhov’s Glowing Ball!

And all signs are pointing to that person being Nash Wells, who is seeing manifestations of the other Wellses throughout the now-defunct multiverse. These Wellses explain how their existence as particles from the destroyed Earths means they could be used to re-power Barry’s speed, but an “organic receptor” is necessary to make that happen. Nash, as the focal point for the Wellses, would be the organic receptor — and he would die. Understandably, Nash is upset at the prospect of dying “so that Barry Allen can run fast.” Ha!

Nash busies himself trying to find an alternative to his untimely demise when Allegra shows up, giving him the inspiration to try something else: Allegra can use her powers to blast the multiverse particles from Nash and redistribute them into the sphere. Chester sees something wrong with this plan immediately, asking “Aren’t multiverse particles a little too chaotic to be contained in a Fusion Sphere?” and I love when this show says absolutely bananas stuff like it’s everyday logic. Yeah, of course! Multiverse particles are way too chaotic to be contained in a Fusion Sphere! Duh-doy!

Oh hey, it turns out that multiverse particles are too chaotic to be contained in a Fusion Sphere. Nash’s plan backfires and Barry dives in to stop a total explosion, getting zapped by all those multiverse particles in the process. He gets knocked out and wakes up with an absurd French accent, which seems like a really weird side-effect to being hit with multiverse particles until it’s made clear that the absurd French accent is actually Sherloque Wells’s absurd French accent.

We get a very brief reprieve from the psychological horror (see: Iris’s plotline) and angst (see: literally everyone else’s plotline) making up the bulk of this episode as Grant Gustin tries on various Wells personas. It’s fun and it seems like Gustin probably had a blast being versions of Tom Cavanagh’s character, but it doesn’t last long at all. Barry passes out and the team learns that having all those multiverse particles in him is essentially frying his brain. The only thing keeping Barry alive is his super speed, which is — as we’ve established — diminishing quickly.

After Chester mentions how an organic receptor would stabilize the particles, Allegra brings up that Nash had been researching organic receptors before his idea to use her powers and he comes clean. The only viable organic receptor is Nash, and Nash didn’t mention it because he doesn’t want to die. Allegra is angry about him keeping this knowledge from them, but... dude, he just doesn’t want to die! Like, self-preservation is Being a Living Organism 101, you can’t exactly blame him for wanting to try an alternative first.

The team devises a new plan to use Allegra’s powers to push the multiverse particles out of Barry and into a glowy vest worn by Nash. It works, but none of this fixes Barry’s speed issue. Which is bad because Team Flash learns that a jet full of Black Hole technology is flying toward Central City, rigged with enough explosives to kill thousands. Nash realizes that the Flash is kind of necessary, throws out his fear of dying, and touches the Fusion Sphere. Barry doesn’t want Nash to die for him, nor does he like the idea of there not being a Wells on Team Flash, but Nash has accepted his end. We get a quick zip through previous Wellses (but only the ones that were team members; Wells the Grey does not get a super special goodbye speech) before he sends Barry off with a final “Run, Barry. Run.”

Aw, that’s kind of nice. I’m unsure whether this actually is the end of all Wells variations on the show, but since they’re trying to write out the multiverse I don’t know how they’d bring back another one. Plus, it’s a nice enough sendoff to the character(s) that undoing it by just throwing another Wells at us in a few episodes would feel wasteful.

His speed restored and the day saved, Barry returns to Allegra and Chester, but finds Nash Wells to be nothing more than an ashy smear on the ground. Kinda gross. The reduced Team Flash has a bit of a memorial for their lost team member and Allegra mourns that she “never got to know” Nash. Well, Allegra, you were a bit busy dragging out a tedious feud that should’ve lasted maybe one or two conversations before ending. Anyway, Barry is sad about losing all those Wellses for the sake of his speed, but thanks Chester and Allegra for helping him through everything. All three of them promise to get everyone else currently missing in action back on the team.

Other Things:

  • The show asked itself “What do we do about that pre-existing Mirror Master whose powers and backstory we’ve already explained?” and answered “Kill him. Also, retcon him into being one of Eva’s mirror creations.” We just accept this.
  • Upon learning that Wells the Grey exists, Chester exclaims “There’s a wizard Wells?!” and asks him if he knows Gandalf. I really, really like you, Chester.
  • Also featured in this episode: Iris possibly having a mental breakdown, possibly just being toyed with by Eva. Still don’t get why Eva hates her so much. Eva herself learns that the real Eva is dead and the one going on a revenge spree through Central City is actually a mirror duplicate.
  • Cecile can now do the same kind of emotional manipulation as “Top” can do. She learns this from one scene to another, which seems a little unfair. Barry has to go through episode-long arcs to learn new powers!