The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (11/15 – 11/22)

This week in television started off strong on Sunday, with a powerful pair of Once Upon a Time episodes, a true test of Jake and Amy’s relationship on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and the introduction of Vanessa Williams on The Good Wife. On Monday, Dancing with the Stars asked its contestants to perform three routines, Castle further explored the shifts in both the Castle/Beckett and Ryan/Esposito dynamics, and Jane the Virgin showed Mateo’s growth and how his family grew with him through a series of time jumps. Tuesday’s episode of The Muppets featured a budding romance between Scooter and Chelsea Handler, and The Flash reminded us all why Barry has the best dads on television. On Wednesday, Nashville added some new obstacles for Deacon and Rayna to overcome and broke all our hearts when Avery sang Will’s new song. And this week’s Saturday Night Live was its most entertaining episode of the young season.

Even though there were plenty of great moments on television this week, it’s been seven days, and I still can’t stop thinking about Once Upon a Time. Everything about “Birth” was the best thing I saw on TV this week—the twists, the complexity, and, especially, the performances. Jennifer Morrison and Colin O’Donoghue were at their very best throughout the hour, allowing me to get lost in my emotions without ever once stopping to think about simplistic concepts of who was “right” or “wrong.” Those two actors are such an important part of this new fairytale love story we’re all watching unfold every week. And it was their incredibly vulnerable work that allowed this tragic chapter in Emma and Killians’ love story to resonate as fiercely as it did.

However, I think one my favorite things about this episode was the reminder to hope even in dark times. From Operation Light Swan to Killian telling Emma he loves her no matter what she’s done, there were hints that no matter how bleak things might look, there is still forgiveness, healing, and a happy future to look forward to. And at the center of all those hopeful moments was the scene in which Emma chose to let go of the darkness and light the flame that would make it possible. Emma’s fear of allowing herself to start planning for a future with Killian felt so relatable, because who hasn’t been afraid to actually start working toward a future that you know might not work out or might get taken from you? But what made that moment so beautiful was watching love conquer fear and, by extension, darkness. Their love was strong enough to light the flame that was meant to defeat the darkness. And if that doesn’t give you hope that their love will be strong enough to conquer the darkness once and for all, then I don’t know what will.

Once Upon a Time is a show about hope, and I love that, even in an episode that felt almost unbearably sad at times, there were still so many reasons to hold on to hope. Love is stronger than darkness. And that’s a message I will always believe in.

What was the best thing you saw on TV this week?

There’s Only One: A Letter to Sydney Bristow

This is the latest in my collection of letters to female characters who’ve inspired me throughout my life as a fangirl. If you have a character you’d like to write a letter to, click here for details on the book of letters I’m compiling!

Sydney red hair


Dear Sydney,

When I was in high school, my friends and I were talking about our dream jobs, and one of them turned to me and asked, “Katie, you want to be a CIA agent, right?”

No, I didn’t want to be a CIA agent. But I did want to be you. I wanted to be you so badly that apparently my friends thought I wanted to follow your career path, too. But your career path was probably the only thing about you I never tried to emulate. (I think I made up for that by choosing to major in English in college like you did.) I was the only teenager I knew who owned not just one but two black pantsuits, which I often wore with turtlenecks. I wore my hair in a lot of low, sleek ponytails while I was in high school (and I continue to do so today). And I don’t think my love for coffee ice cream developed by coincidence.

High school is often the time when we desperately search for role models, for people to help us develop into the best adults we can be. I was lucky: I had inspiring teachers, I had great family members, and I had you. When other kids in my class dressed up as Lindsay Lohan for “Celebrity Dress-Up Day” during Spirit Week, I dressed up as you—not Jennifer Garner, but Sydney Britsow, complete with one of my aforementioned pantsuits. I got more than a few strange looks and there was even some snickering behind my back that day, but I didn’t care. I walked through the halls confidently—with my homemade CIA badge proudly displayed—because I was channeling you, and you walked with confidence and poise through things much worse than rooms full of judgmental teenagers. Thank you, for helping me to learn to walk with that same confidence and poise even when I wasn’t wearing a pantsuit or homemade badge.

You were a part of my life during some of my most formative years. Alias premiered when I was in eighth grade, and it ended just weeks before my high school graduation. During that time, my love for your story introduced me to fan videos and the concept of spoilers (which I gobbled up like candy). It inspired me to create notebooks full of collages with pictures from my favorite episodes and folders full of (pretty terrible) fan fiction. It brought me to the SD-1 forums, where I learned the many ways fandom can connect people from all over the world and can help us all feel a little less alone. Alias was the first TV fandom I was ever a part of, so—while I might not have followed your path to the CIA—you did end up influencing my future in a very real way. And I will forever be grateful for that.

I might be biased, but I don’t think you get enough credit, Sydney. You were so much more than just a superspy with amazing fighting skills (which is what most people say about you when you’re remembered); you were a female character who embodied the idea that strength and vulnerability aren’t mutually exclusive concepts long before it became more common in the media. And watching you show that to the world had a profound impact on me as a teenager and continues to have a profound impact on me today.

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Fangirl Thursday: A Thankful Heart

I know Thanksgiving isn’t until next week for those of us living in the U.S., but posting on the holiday itself is never very convenient—even if it does always fall on a Fangirl Thursday. Besides, you shouldn’t have to limit your expressions of gratitude to one turkey-stuffed day each year. And I have far more than a week’s worth of things to be thankful for anyway.

I write the words “thank you” a lot. I write them so much that—to some—they might seem like meaningless filler or something I just say to say something. But I hope you know those words have never lost their weight for me—no matter how many times I write them. I write them so much because hardly a day goes by (and sometimes hardly a minutes goes by) without me experiencing a rush of gratitude. I mean those words with all my heart every single time I write them. Thank you.

I’ve always said that running NGN is a labor of love, and I’m thankful for both the labor and the love. I’m thankful that it is challenging and scary and exhausting sometimes to run this site. Because that’s when I know it matters—when it’s more than just some writing I do for fun. And it’s those moments that remind me to always look for the love, to look for the reasons I started NGN in the first place. And I always find those reasons. I always find that love. And I am so grateful that something I love so much and care so deeply about has become something other people love and care about, too. My writing goal is always to make people feel less alone in their intense love for the things they care about. And it turns out that’s exactly what all of you who visit NGN are doing for me.

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 5.08/5.09


Source: ABC/Jack Rowand

Title Birth/The Bear King

Two-Sentence Summary In “Birth,” Killian’s desperation to learn the truth about what happened in Camelot leads to a surprising revelation not just about why Emma fully embraced the darkness but what happened once she did. In “The Bear King,” Merida’s quest to find her father’s killer and retrieve his lost magical helmet brings her, Mulan, and Red together.

Favorite Lines
Emma: But our future…
Killian: I’ll just be happy to know that you have one.
Emma: That’s not enough for me!

My Thoughts “Birth” and “The Bear King” highlighted so many of the things that make Once Upon a Time special: its ability to be both intimate and sweeping, its darkness and its light, its focus on creating beautiful romantic love stories and its focus on the bonds of family and friendship, and—most of all—the talents of its cast. From a thematic or even a plot perspective, there was very little tying these two episodes together, but their different elements helped create a comprehensive picture of all the things fans have come to love about Once Upon a Time. And, let’s face it; we needed an episode like “The Bear King” to give us time to process everything that happened in “Birth” without worrying that we’d missed anything too important for the main characters.


“Birth” was a perfect one-hour tragedy. Everything about it was carefully crafted and expertly acted to inflict maximum heartbreak. But it wasn’t just heartbreak for heartbreak’s sake; it wasn’t just for shock value. Every decision and every line made sense for the characters, and that’s where the best angst comes from. Even if I didn’t agree with certain choices or the actions of certain characters throughout the hour, I understood why they all acted the way they did, and that’s a sign of writing that reflects complex and well-developed characters. And even though I know the road ahead will be rocky and perhaps even more heartbreaking than this episode, I still believe that all hope is not lost. “Birth” might have been a tragedy, but it’s just one tragic chapter in a larger story—a story that has always been about the power of love and light to defeat darkness, even when things look bleak.

Let’s not put off the pain any longer: The title of “Birth” referred to so much more than just the birth of Zelena’s baby girl. (I need one second to say how adorable Sean Maguire looked holding that baby before I continue to talk about sad things.) It also referred to the birth of a second Dark One—none other than Killian Jones himself, the man who spent centuries trying to destroy the Dark One. The way the episode built to that reveal, amplifying the sense of dread with each scene, was nothing short of brilliant. It used the contrast between the bright daytime scenes in Camelot and the midnight scenes in Storybrooke so well, visually creating a captivating tension between the past and the present. And Colin O’Donoghue’s increasingly desperate performance as the hour went on was some of his best work on the show to date, painting a picture of a man rapidly coming apart at the seams until he reached a chilling depth of pain, hopelessness, and simmering rage in the episode’s final moments.

What made the revelation of Killian’s fate even more painful was the way it was preceded by incredible moments of faith, hope, and love in both Camelot and even in Storybrooke. This was the saddest chapter in Killian and Emma’s love story so far, but there were still so many reminders throughout the episode that their love is a powerful force against the darkness and something worth fighting for. Besides, what’s a good fairytale without darkness to overcome? In this case, that darkness is something Killian and Emma will have to fight within themselves and not something an outside villain has set upon them—and that reinforces the idea that this is a new fairytale romance with relatable roots. And that’s what makes it so special.

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Scandal 5.8: Is Olivia Now Fitz’s Personal Prisoner?

It’s time once again for Laura’s weekly rundown of all things Scandal!

There’s one big question throughout this episode: Should Olivia (and others) trust her gut, or has it started to fail her?

When a translator from Bandar asked to defect to the U.S., Liv’s gut told her he was afraid to return home and honest about having intel. Navid Turani offered up a soda factory that isn’t what it seems. When Olivia’s team told her there was no uranium at the facility, she thought her gut got it wrong and took out her frustration on Navid. She was furious she might have misjudged such an important situation when she relies on her gut so heavily.

Jake also made Olivia question herself in their brilliant scene in the Oval Office. There was some fantastic writing and acting in that scene! It started when Olivia summoned Jake to the White House, letting him believe the president himself issued the summons. Naturally, Jake was livid to find out the truth. When Olivia said she needed to talk to him, he told her, “Do you understand how much I do not care about what you need?” That was especially true when she said she thinks her father might now be an innocent victim, and she hinted that she wants Jake’s help to protect him:

Jake: Have you ever lied to someone’s face when your back was completely against the wall to get what you wanted? Have you ever looked someone in the eye and made them think you loved them? Really truly loved them? So you could take whatever is it you needed from them?
Olivia: I believe him. My gut says he’s telling the truth.
Jake: Of course… Otherwise you’d be a fool with daddy issues who just got played by a mass murderer.
Olivia: What if he is innocent and someone really is trying to kill him?
Jake: Honestly, Liv, I just hope I get to him before they do. … What did you think, that I’d come here and spoon you? Give you a shoulder to cry on? Listen to you talk about all the dark places built inside of you? That train has left the station, and you do not get to ride this anymore. If you want someone to talk to, tell your boyfriend that you just let his son’s killer out of prison. See how that works out.
Olivia: Jake, I am going to tell him.
Jake: You are? That I’d like to see.
Olivia: I was supposed to choose you… When you told me Fitz loved me and that I should go to him, what you meant was that you wanted me to say I didn’t love him and that… I was supposed to choose you.
Jake: No. You were supposed to be too good for me. It never crossed my mind that I would be too good for you.
Olivia: The crimes, the violence I have forgiven you for, and you won’t even consider that I might be….

That’s when Fitz came in and interrupted them. Personally, I found that scene brilliant and emblematic of this season so fare as a whole. Jake used to be the one who needed forgiveness, who made mistakes and needed Olivia to pull him back into the sun. Now, she hasn’t yet realized she needs him to do the same thing for her. She isn’t wearing the white hat anymore. Sometimes I think Jake’s more upset about that than he is over her choosing Fitz, like he said in this scene.

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 5.07



Title Nimue

Two-Sentence Summary While most of the Storybrooke crew attempts to get Excalibur from Arthur in Camelot with Zelena’s help, Merlin takes Emma on a quest to face the original Dark One in order to get what’s needed to make Excalibur whole again. In flashbacks to Merlin’s past, we discover the identity of that original Dark One and her connection to Merlin.

Favorite Line “I am not nothing! I was never nothing!” (Emma)

My Thoughts Belief is everything in the world of Once Upon a Time. And most of the time, that belief is rooted in the same idea: that love is strength and that love can be enough. Those who choose a dark path don’t believe that love can be enough. They want power, too. They always want to be more powerful because they don’t love themselves for who they are—with their weaknesses, flaws, and human vulnerabilities. They believe they’re nothing without an outside source of power because they never believed they could be enough exactly as they are.

The beauty of Once Upon a Time is the way that damaging belief has been proven wrong time and time again. Love is strength. Love is power. And yes, the love of those around you can help you find that strength, but the real power comes from loving yourself and choosing to believe that you’re good enough and strong enough as you are.

“Nimue” was the best episode so far in this fifth season of Once Upon a Time (and that’s saying something because I’ve really enjoyed this season), and so much of its beauty and emotional power came from the way it wove the theme of choosing to believe you’re enough as you are through the episode’s three main stories. It came as no surprise to me that an episode as tightly written as this one was came from Jane Espenson. If you’re looking for episodes that capture the true spirit of Once Upon a Time, just pull up every episode she’s written for this show.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (11/1 – 11/8)

This was a slightly lighter week than normal for my TV viewing schedule, thanks to some World Series baseball, the CMA Awards, and my choice not to watch Saturday Night Live last night. That gave me some time to start Aziz Ansari’s Master of None on Netflix. I’m halfway through the first season’s 10 episodes, and I already want to go back and re-watch “Parents” about 10 more times. It also gave me a chance to watch the early streaming of the pilot of Starz’s new series Flesh and Bone, which was everything my high expectations were hoping it would be.

As far as my normal TV schedule goes, Sunday featured an episode of Once Upon a Time that put the focus on Belle (and Rumplestiltskin, but I was far happier to see the spotlight on Belle, to be honest), as well as an episode of The Good Wife that reminded me why I’ve had a crush on Jeffrey Dean Morgan for almost a decade. On Monday, Supergirl continued bring some entertaining action to the start of my week. Also, the contestants paid tribute to people they admire on Dancing with the Stars, and the dancing fun continued over on Jane the Virgin. (Although it was less fun to feel my heart break over the latest twist in what’s probably the only good love triangle on TV.) Finally, Tuesday’s episode of The Muppets brought Kristin Chenoweth into the mix, Fresh Off the Boat tackled the topic of representation in great way, and The Flash made me love Patty Spivot and her adorable relationship with Barry more than ever.

Looking back, there was a lot of dancing on TV this week, and I loved all of it. However, no dance made me feel more deeply than Nick and Sharna’s contemporary performance on Dancing with the Stars. Everything about it was beautiful: the song (“Can’t Help Falling in Love with You”—a personal favorite of mine), the choreography (Sharna is doing amazing work this season.), and the execution (Nick looked like a real dancer out there in those side-by-side sections.) But what I’ll remember most about that dance was the emotion Nick and Sharna poured into it. The dance was dedicated to Nick’s wife and the baby they’re going to have, and the love the came through in every moment of that dance was stunning. It was such a vulnerable, honest moment for Nick, and it showed me how much Sharna cares about her partner and telling his story. This performance is what dance is at its best—it’s an expression of all the things you feel but can’t say with words; it’s emotion and passion and total honesty. It’s a thing of true beauty, and I’ll never get tired of watching it.

What was the best thing you saw on TV this week?

Scandal 5.7: Does the Devil Really Deserve a Second Chance?

It’s time once again for Laura’s weekly Scandal recap!

This week’s episode of Scandal, called “Even the Devil Deserves a Second Chance,” dealt with the darker side of human nature and the lies we tell ourselves about the evil inside both us and others. The case of the week tackled a world-renowned feminist who’s been raping women for years with his wife’s help, while Olivia had to face the repercussions of her own selfish decision to free her father from prison to avoid marrying Fitz. Both surround themselves in a web of lies while fighting for truth and justice. The parallels are unsettling, to say the least, even though I think many of us viewers do feel for Olivia while fully despising the actions of the rapist.

The episode began with one of the best lines of the night, as Fitz celebrated the end of the impeachment hearings. He raised a glass and toasted, “To Congress: May their heads one day depart from their asses.” Yes, please! Can we give our own Congress the same toast and hope maybe they’ll listen? Fitz and Olivia have also smoothed things over. He’s not upset she returned the ring and ran out on the wedding, since getting married in that way wasn’t what either of them wanted. Fitz joked that Liv still “gets to date the most powerful man in the world.” How right he is, even as he cedes that power to his beloved girlfriend. Even Olivia and Abby are back to their close friendship. When Abby asked Liv about a rumor she heard that Congress was blackmailed into ending the hearings, Olivia told Abby she doesn’t want to have to lie to her so she can’t answer. Finally, the festivities turned to Vice President Susan Ross flirting with David as she offered to give him a ride to an event at the National Association of the Chiefs of Police the following day.

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Fangirl Thursday: Shared Joy Is the Best Joy

Today is the kind of day that reminds me why I love being a fangirl.

If you haven’t seen my next-level fangirling on Twitter, a new Once Upon a Time sneak peek was released today that sent a good portion of the fandom into the best kind of hysterics: gif-using, all caps Tweeting, I CANNOT HANDLE THE FEELS hysterics. In a not-so-shocking development, it turns out that Killian Jones loves Emma Swan. And he wants to give up the thing that’s protected him for 300 years in order to protect her now as she fights to defeat the darkness inside her.

Cue the happy “shipper” sobs (including my own).

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 5.06

Title The Bear and the Bow

Two-Sentence Summary Emma’s quest to turn Rumplestiltskin into a hero takes a dangerous turn when she sends Merida after Belle. In flashbacks, we see a better side of Merida and Belle’s relationship, as Belle helps Merida believe in her own ability to save her brothers and take back her place on the throne.

Favorite Line “You can make your own fate.” (Belle)

My Thoughts Heroism takes many forms. Sometimes, it’s a brave woman with a bow and arrow fighting for her family and her right to rule her people. Sometimes, it’s a group of people who will never stop fighting for the person they love—even when it seems she’s stopped fighting for herself. Sometimes, it’s a brilliant woman with a gift for seeing the best in people and a heart that’s always ready to forgive. And sometimes, it’s a man who spent his whole life running and hiding who finally chooses to stand up and believe that he—even with all his past misdeeds—can change his fate.

There are so many ways a person can be strong, and Once Upon a Time has always embraced the idea that emotional, inner strength is just as important as the kind of strength it takes to shoot an arrow or wield a sword. “The Bear and the Bow” was all about different kinds of strength and how they all contribute to different kinds of heroism. The bravery it takes to face down a bear or a group of warriors is important, but just as important (if not more so) is the bravery it takes to admit your faults and failings without trying to justify them and to apologize to those you’ve hurt.

Taking ownership of your actions and your choices is such an important theme on Once Upon a Time. But it doesn’t stop at just admitting the bad things you’ve done. You also have to believe that you have the strength within yourself to be better than those bad choices. You have to believe, as Belle told Merida, that you can make your own fate. You can define yourself on your own terms by believing you can be worthy, brave, and strong enough just as you are. Regina learned that last season. Killian learned it, too. Merida and Rumplestiltskin both learned it in this episode. And it’s a theme that’s been at the heart of Emma’s character since she first told us all the way back in Season One:

People are going to tell you who you are your whole life. You just gotta punch back and say, ‘No, this is who I am.’ You want people to look at you differently? Make them. You want to change things? You’re gonna have to go out there and change them yourself…

Emma seems to have twisted that beautiful sentiment into punching back and telling people she’s the Dark One now. But that’s not Emma talking; it’s the Dark One talking through her. The darkness convinced Emma that she needed it, that she was stronger and better with it than without it. And she let it creep into her heart and define her, to the point where she’s now trying so hard to convince everyone that this is who she is now, when we know Emma is still there underneath the darkness. But that little bit of Emma seems resigned to the idea that she’s fated to be the Dark One and live the lonely life that comes with that identity.

How a person decides to change their fate and the fate of those they love has always been an important theme on Once Upon a Time, and the stories of both Merida and Rumplestiltskin might prove to foreshadow what made Emma fully embrace the darkness back in Camelot. Both Merida and Rumplestiltskin believed they had to use magic to make themselves stronger to change their fate and the fate of those they loved. They wanted to use dangerous magic to protect their loved ones because they believed they weren’t strong enough to save them from almost certain death on their own. While Rumplestiltskin made the choice to become the Dark One to protect Bae hundreds of years before Merida tried to turn herself into a bear to save her brothers, both of them were fueled by desperation to save the people they loved. Could that be what pushed Emma to fully embrace the darkness? My gut says yes.

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