NGN’s Best of 2014: Character Arcs and TV Performances

The women of Once Upon a Time, including Emma Swan, had some of my favorite character arcs on TV this year.

The women of Once Upon a Time, including Emma Swan, had some of my favorite character arcs on TV this year.

With the holiday season upon us, it’s always fun to reflect back on the year that was. Here at Nerdy Girl Notes, that means reflecting on all of the best things to happen in the worlds of television, movies, and books in 2014. In the days leading up to the start of 2015, I plan to share some lists of my favorite things about the media I consumed in the past year.

Because one of the things I enjoy most about running NGN is hearing about why all of you love what you love, I hope these lists can serve as a starting point for discussion about what meant the most to you this year. I’d love to see you share your own lists in the comments, and I hope you’re checking out plenty of other “Best of 2014” lists, too, including the ones made by everyone’s favorite beautiful tropical fish, Heather!

Today’s “Best of…” list is all about character arcs. This was a fantastic year for rich, complex character development on television, which means it was also a year filled with outstanding performances, as talented actors brought these character arcs to life. From first ladies and lawyers to evil queens and clones, here are my 10 favorite character arcs of 2014.

1. Emma Swan on Once Upon a Time (Jennifer Morrison)
If Once Upon a Time’s motto is “Love is strength,” then Emma Swan’s character arc this year was all about becoming her strongest self by opening up to love. In 2014, Emma found a home, made a friend, confronted her forgotten past, fell in love, and made the choice to love her true self even when that choice seemed anything but easy. Emma’s journey this year was a journey of vulnerability, and Morrison made me feel every painful and beautiful step of that journey. But it was also a journey of joy, of coming to choose hope and happiness after a lifetime of pushing those things away out of fear of them being taken from her. And, for as much as Morrison showed Emma’s growth so well in moments of tearful vulnerability, she showed it even more in moments of quiet joy and intimacy. It’s not easy to make a smile feel as important to an audience as an emotional breakdown, but Morrison managed that feat, making Emma’s choices to believe in love, in the people around her, and in herself resonate with me. They felt as heroic as fighting any wicked witch or evil spell.

2. Regina Mills on Once Upon a Time (Lana Parrilla)
This was a fantastic year for the women of Once Upon a Time in terms of character development. Regina started 2014 ripping her own heart out to save herself from having to feel pain, and she ended the year choosing to cause herself pain in order to spare someone else loneliness and loss. Regina’s journey towards becoming a better, more selfless person was a true joy to watch this year. Whether it was shown through making peace with Snow White, giving her heart to Robin Hood (in every way she could), or choosing to let him go in order to do the right thing, Regina proved that she’s become so much more than the Evil Queen. And Parrilla has found the perfect balance of sass and sincerity to completely captivate me as a viewer every time she’s onscreen. I want a happy ending for Regina so badly even though I used to actively root against her, and if that’s not the sign of a well-written and well-acted character arc, then I don’t know what is.

3. Louis Litt on Suits (Rick Hoffman)
In the barren landscape of summer television, Suits is an oasis of great characters played by incredible actors. And this summer, it was Louis (and Hoffman) who stood in the spotlight. Louis’s character arc in 2014 was all about emotion and the pitfalls of letting that drive you in a world as cold as the one he inhabits. Louis lost so much this year—his fiancée, his job—but he seemed to gain a real friend in Donna and more respect than ever from Harvey. But ultimately, Louis’s character arc led up to a final, climatic moment of emotion where he discovered Mike’s secret and used it to demand the one thing he’s always wanted: to become a name partner. Thanks to the brilliant work Hoffman turned in this year, I cried for Louis, I celebrated with him, and I ultimately shared his anger and sense of betrayal, too. But the fact that I genuinely feared him in his final confrontation with Jessica is the real mark of Hoffman’s skill and the genius of the way Louis is written. He could have been a one-note office antagonist or bumbling idiot, but he’s now one of the most complex characters on television.

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 4.11

Title Heroes and Villains

Two-Sentence Summary As Anna, Elsa, and Kristoff prepare to go back to Arendelle, Regina also has to say goodbye to Robin, as he crosses the town line with Marian, who is still affected by remnants of Ingrid’s curse. Rumplestiltskin has his own goodbye to Storybrooke (and Hook) planned, but his plot is foiled by Belle, who forces him over the town line and into an alliance with Ursula, Cruella de Vil, and Maleficent.

Favorite Line “Cruella! I thought I caught a whiff of desperation and gin.” (Rumplestiltskin)

My Thoughts “Heroes and Villains” was a jam-packed midseason finale with a lot to process—so much so that it took me a few hours and a lot of thinking to figure out what I truly felt about this episode. My immediate reaction was to say that I was pleased overall with the way the important plot points in this episode were resolved, but I was left somewhat emotionally unsatisfied. After a long time mulling the episode’s events over in my head, I’ve come to the conclusion that my immediate reaction was a result of setting expectations a little too high. Not every midseason finale can be “Going Home” in terms of its ability to tug at my heartstrings. Ultimately, “Heroes and Villains” did an admirable job weaving a cohesive story of what makes a person a hero—selflessness, courage, and fighting your darker impulses to choose to do the right thing, especially when it’s not easy. And, in the process, it gave me so many moments I’d been hoping for and character interactions I’d been waiting to see.

If I had any major complaints with this episode it was that I wished it could have been two hours instead of one. There was just so much going on that sometimes it felt like emotional beats got lost in the shuffle, and certain moments of plot explanation got lost, too. That’s just me being greedy, though, because what we got for characters like Rumplestiltskin, Belle, and Regina was so good that I wanted everyone to have those kinds of moments in this episode. As a big Charming Family fangirl, I would have liked to see Snow and Charming have a little more to do, but with a big cast, it’s hard to have episodes where every character gets their time in the spotlight. (And last week had so much good Snow/Charming stuff that I really shouldn’t complain.)

Part of me also wished for a little bit more time spent on Emma’s reactions to things after a half-season so firmly devoted to showing her growth. But there was so much good, important stuff that needed to be dealt with for other characters that I could understand why the focus of the episode couldn’t be on Emma. Besides, Season 4A was beyond good to me as an Emma Swan fan. I got more development than I could have ever hoped for, and the beauty of Emma’s story is that this episode ended with hope and happiness for her. So I know that means there’s plenty of development to come in 4B with her continuing to be in a place where she feels safe and hopeful to explore her own growth, emotions, and relationships.

Emma was one of the only people (along with her immediate family, Hook, and the Frozen gang) to end this episode in a good place emotionally. And, just like in “Breaking Glass,” I think Emma’s sense of hope and happiness that was reaffirmed at the end of this episode allowed her to be a good friend to Regina when Regina needed it the most. But unlike in “Breaking Glass,” Regina allowed herself to accept that offer of friendship this time.

I think we could all use a friend like Emma Swan, who knows that there’s a time for hope speeches but there’s also a time for shots. Both Regina and Emma had been through a lot in this episode. (I firmly believe Emma wasn’t just drinking with Regina for the latter’s sake—having to put your boyfriend’s heart back in his chest is definitely something that would warrant copious amounts of alcohol being consumed.) It was nice to see both of these women allowing themselves a moment of slowly developing friendship after a long, chaotic day.

“Heroes and Villains” was another episode that showed us how far Regina has come from who she was. Even something as small as accepting Emma’s gesture of friendship went a long way towards showing her trying to become a better person. But the process of becoming a better person isn’t easy, and Regina has learned that over and over again. In this episode alone, she went on a crazy rollercoaster of emotions, but the important thing was that—through all of those twists and turns—Regina kept actively choosing to do the right thing. She put Marian’s heart back in her chest, which was a pretty symbolic moment of heroism and goodness in an episode that also featured Rumplestiltskin getting ready to crush Hook’s heart to get his happy ending.

That selfless act of saving Marian led to one of the episode’s most beautiful scenes, where Marian sought Regina out to thank her and to say that she’s coming to terms with the possibility of Robin choosing Regina. In that moment, I felt overwhelmed with love for one of my favorite female characters since childhood (a recurring theme in this episode for me). This was the brave, strong, selfless Maid Marian I grew up adoring. She’s a woman who doesn’t want to be just the honorable choice; she doesn’t want to be chosen out of a misguided sense of duty. She wants to be loved. And she deserves to be loved. In an episode that focused on heroism as doing something selfless and believing in your own inner strength to do the right thing, Marian’s conversation with Regina was shown to be nothing less than heroic.

While it was beautiful to see Marian essentially give Robin and Regina their happiness, it seemed my instinct to always wait for the other shoe to drop with Regina’s happiness was sadly right once again. I found it a little too convenient that the moment Robin said he’d chosen Regina, Ingrid’s magic kicked back in with Marian. It felt forced just to give Regina a moment of hope before ripping it away again. However, it led to some of the most stunning moments of development for Regina so far this season. I can forgive a blatant plot device when it gives us something as good as Lana Parrilla’s acting in the town line scene.

The scene between Regina and Rumplestiltskin in the car at the town line was my favorite in the entire episode because it said so much about these two fascinating characters and their relationship. What this season has showed us is that Rumplestiltskin really delights in being the devil on someone’s shoulder, tempting them to give in to their darker impulses (which is a brilliant bit of psychology at play, since it’s clearly because he doesn’t want to be alone in being unable to overcome his own darkness). And that’s always been his role with Regina—from the time he manipulated her into crushing her first heart.

But this Regina isn’t the same woman. Just as Rumplestiltskin and Hook’s scenes have highlighted how much Hook has grown and changed for the better while Rumplestiltskin has stayed on his dark path, this scene contrasted Regina’s growing sense of heroism with Rumplestiltskin’s continued darkness. It was so easy for him to suggest to Regina that she kill Marian and claim her happy ending, but Regina said it best—that’s not who she is anymore. Parrilla did such a great job of showing that for one moment Regina thought about giving in to the temptation to just take her happy ending by killing Marian like he was telling her to do. But ultimately she knew that was wrong, and that’s what is helping her become a hero—that ability to look at her own darkness and turn away from it, that ability to see the easy way out and choose to do the hard thing instead because it’s the right thing to do. That takes courage, and that’s what makes her different from the man who was telling her to kill Marian.

I also thought it was perfect that, just like Hook, Regina could tell as soon as she was alone with Rumplestiltskin that he wasn’t the changed man everyone else thought he was. That’s why I’d been waiting with bated breath for a scene between these two characters—she can read him so well, and I knew she’d be onto him right away because of all the history between them. That sense of history and unique intimacy between them allowed Rumplestiltskin to open up to her about why he’s still on the path he’s on, and I have to say I was really proud of some of you NGN readers for calling it from the start: It all comes back to his resurrection. He died a hero’s death, but he came back as the Dark One once again—and he came back under the control of Zelena. It makes sense to think of that as the reason why he’s obsessing over power and wanting to be free of the dagger, even if it doesn’t excuse what he’s done towards that end, which he sees as his happy ending.

Regina wants love. Rumplestiltskin wants power. And wanting such different things has completely affected how they view happy endings. For Regina, it’s something given to you. For Rumplestiltskin, it’s something you take. I loved Rumplestiltskin’s lines about no one controlling his fate because they were so complex. On one hand, I believe that with my whole heart—we control our destiny; we have the power to change our stories. But on the other hand, I couldn’t believe I was agreeing with the Dark One. Neither Regina nor Rumplestiltskin seem to understand, though, that everyone can get a happy ending—but not by doing whatever it takes to get one. They have to be earned by the choices you make and the life you lead. And they’re not easy to find and hold onto; they can’t be achieved by taking the easy way out. In the end, Rumplestiltskin might truly want Regina to have happiness, but I think he can’t even comprehend her idea of happiness at this point because it’s not power; it’s love.

While Rumplestiltskin planned to get his happy ending through murder and manipulation, Regina essentially gave hers up because she refused to be that person anymore; she knew that would never be a true happy ending because she couldn’t live with herself if she killed Marian. That’s what made her goodbye to Robin at the town line so painful. She knew what she was saying goodbye to, but she also knew what had to be done. She couldn’t let him say he loved her because it would make it too hard, and the struggle to keep from giving in to her love for him was written all over Parrilla’s body language in such a moving way. Seeing Regina doing the right thing—the selfless thing—at the town line at the expense of her own happiness reminded me in a really lovely way of “Going Home.” Regina has been choosing to walk a hero’s path for a long time now, and it hasn’t always been easy. Watching her rip of the pages of the book—effectively ripping up her hopes for happiness—broke my heart. Who would have thought all the way back in Season One that I would be rooting so hard for the Evil Queen to get her happy ending?

The ending of the episode gave us a little glimpse into Regina’s storyline for next season, and it’s one I’m still torn about. I like the idea of the sorcerer and the author being one and the same (or at least connected somehow), but I’m still not sold on Operation Mongoose. I’m still hopeful that this storyline will end with Regina getting her happy ending because of the choices she’s made to be a better person—not because she begged the all-powerful author to change her story. And I’m hoping that having Emma join the team means that she’ll help Regina get her happy ending by helping her be her best self, not helping her force the author to change her story. It seemed like a very sudden bit of agreement from Emma, but it’s what needed to be done to move the plot for next season forward in a short amount of time. I’m sure I’ll warm up to Operation Mongoose eventually. If nothing else, it will help develop all the relationships in the Emma/Henry/Regina dynamic, which I am always up for seeing more often.

I’m hopeful that this Operation Mongoose storyline will lead to the development of a healthy, mutually supportive friendship for both Emma and Regina because I’m more than a little sad that we had to say goodbye to Emma’s only real (non-family, non-boyfriend) friend in this episode. I know that most of the Frozen story wrapped up beautifully last week, but I do have to admit that this was one of the parts of “Heroes and Villains” I thought felt the most rushed. Maybe it’s because I found the beginning a little jarring with the way it jumped right into the whole group dealing with the ice wall in about two seconds. I didn’t need to see Anna/Kristoff and Emma/Hook’s reunions after the Spell of Shattered Sight, but it did feel like this episode picked up in the middle of the action instead of having a real beginning. But maybe I’m the only one who found the pacing a bit off.

I did like the fact that Rumplestiltskin saw Anna as a threat, and I loved that he was right to fear her in the end. I’m going to miss a lot of things about the Frozen crew, but the thing I will miss the most is Elizabeth Lail’s Anna. From her saying that Mr. Gold sounded “super helpful” to her getting to help save the day by revealing him to be the liar he truly is, this episode was a nice reminder of how much I’ve come to love what this actress and this show did for one of my new favorite Disney princesses.

I also liked the way Hook could pick up on Rumplestiltskin’s fear of Anna immediately because—like Regina—he knows Rumplestiltskin’s tells. Their confrontation in the shop brought out the best in both Colin O’Donoghue and Robert Carlyle once again. For as happy as I am to have the angst of this storyline over, I’ll miss this dynamic more than words can say.

“Heroes and Villains” reminded us of a lot of things about Rumplestiltskin, but one of the first things it stated in the flashbacks is that he’s a man who deals in manipulation. It’s not just about power for him; it’s about psychologically destroying people along the way. And that came back in the present-day storyline with his subtle but very apparent enjoyment of using Hook’s heart to manipulate his interactions with Emma. Carlyle perfectly showed Rumplestiltskin’s comfort and ease with using someone to get what he wants (in this case, using Hook’s heart to get Anna out of Storybrooke). It was chilling, especially the moment when he had Hook call Emma “love.”

But for as good as Carlyle was in that moment, even he couldn’t top O’Donoghue’s performance. Watching Hook say Rumplestiltskin’s words was so painful because O’Donoghue showed using just his eyes how much he wanted to break free from this control and tell Emma the truth. And then when Emma realized something was wrong, you could see his eyes soften at the idea that she cared enough to notice. Jennifer Morrison also played that interaction perfectly. I loved the soft intimacy of her touching his face, trying to soothe him despite not knowing what was really going on. Emma doesn’t often get to be anyone’s source of comfort, and I loved that you could see on Hook’s face how much it meant to him to have her reach out to him like that.

It was that brief moment—that moment of Emma showing him she cared enough to know something was wrong and that she wanted to make it better—that allowed Hook to find the strength to break through Rumplestiltskin’s control and show Emma through his shaking hand on her arm that he was lying about being fine, despite not being able to say otherwise. In an episode filled with heroic acts, this was another one—a man fighting the darkness literally holding his heart to reach out the woman he loves. Love is strength, and the love slowly growing between Hook and Emma has grown strong enough to fight darkness in its own, quiet way.

I loved that brief moment of strength for Hook and realization for Emma, so I was disappointed that it led basically nowhere, both emotionally and on a plot level. I would have at least liked to see Emma be somewhat skeptical of the portal since she knew Hook was saying things under duress. But things had to keep moving at this point in the episode, and there were characters to bid farewell to, leaving no time for Emma to worry about Hook.

The most important goodbye, of course, was Elsa saying goodbye to Emma. Their hug was lovely, and I was so happy to see this friendship end on such a warm note. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel a little lacking. (Maybe I shouldn’t have watched Parks and Rec’s “Ann and Chris”—the pinnacle of friendship goodbye episodes—this weekend.) For as much as I loved Morrison’s teary, huge smile, I wanted to hear Emma say something about their friendship before Elsa left. I know Emma’s not good with words, but this friendship was so essential to her growth as a person that it seemed strange to have Elsa say all of the emotional stuff. In the end, though, I was happy with the conclusion to the wonderful Frozen arc. Anna and Kristoff are getting married, Anna punched Hans again, and the two sisters are back where they belong: home, hand-in-hand, and with lots of chocolate waiting for them to eat (one last perfect movie reference).

I thought that Anna’s words about Rumplestiltskin were going to lead to a big confrontation with him and Emma. And while I’m thrilled with who ultimately got to be the hero in the end, I did think that the resolution to what had become a pretty big storyline this season was a bit anticlimactic. The blocking for the scene was strange because Emma never once tried to run up the stairs (despite being able to), which seemed to take away a sense of urgency from the moment. I know that the whole purpose of this scene was Belle and Rumplestiltskin and not Emma and Hook, but it felt like there should have been a little more drama and emotion (even in the background) at the climax of such an important piece of the show over these last few weeks (Hook missing his heart). It all wrapped up very quickly—maybe a little too quickly for my liking.

However, everything with Hook’s heart turned out to be more about Rumplestiltskin than it was about Hook—it was about who’s changed and who hasn’t, who’s the man trying to be a hero and who’s the man who never tries to be more than a villain. Hook was the hero preyed on by the villain, the pirate saved by the princess. But it was an unexpected princess who saved him, and that made it even better. I cheered when Belle turned out to be his savior because of the strength and selflessness it took for her to save the man who once shot her and made her lose her memories. It was the first of many heroic acts she would commit in a very short time in this episode. The anger Emilie de Ravin brought out of this character was brilliant, and it all started with her controlled orders in that clock tower scene, leading to my favorite line delivery of hers in the episode: the empty way she said “We need to be alone for what comes next.”

I’m trying to find the words to describe how proud of Belle I was as she finally confronted her husband. This—Belle finding out the truth and standing up for herself—was all I really wanted from this episode, and it delivered. This Belle is the Belle I’ve loved since I was a little girl: brave and strong and self-aware. As much as it killed me to watch de Ravin deliver all of those lines with such anguish, it was beautiful. Belle’s speech was literally like going through a checklist of everything I needed her to say to him: that he will always choose power, that he never changed, and that she’s done devoting her life to someone who will never make her his first choice.

Despite this scene being about daggers and magical powers, it felt achingly real. It felt like a woman in a terrible marriage finally finding the courage to walk away. When she told him all she wanted was him but she knows now he’ll never choose her, my heart broke. But I was so proud of her for doing what needed to be done, not just for the greater good but for her own good. One of my favorite lines in the episode was, “I lost my way trying to help you find yourself.” It was such an honest statement and such a powerful one. No one should feel like they have to give up their sense of self to be in a relationship. No one should feel personally responsible for a loved one getting over their addictions (which is what Rumplestiltskin’s love for power is). When you end up in a marriage where you feel like you only know who you are in relation to what you do for your significant other, you need to walk away because that’s not healthy. The best relationships are ones that allow both parties to become their best selves, not ones where one party loses their sense of self to build the other up.

Watching Rumplestiltskin try to reason with Belle was so painful. Even with the possibility of losing her staring him in the face, he still wants his power more than anything. And when she commanded him to go over the town line, I felt every bit of his fear thanks to the power of Carlyle’s acting. No matter how much I hate what this character has done, I can never stop wanting him to stop being afraid and start trying to be a better person, even when I know it’s useless to want that. Carlyle gives him such humanity even in his lowest moments, and I couldn’t help it; I felt for him when his legs collapsed under him, returning him to the cowardly, lonely man with the limp he once was. That ability to make me feel for a character even as I longed for his comeuppance is the sign of a great actor.

I felt a complicated mixture of emotions as I dealt with my pride for Belle finding her voice (How perfect was it when she basically told him to shut up, by the way?) and my sadness over Rumplestiltskin being unable to choose her first even now. The resolution to that storyline was so heavy that part of me is glad we were spared any intense emotional fallout from Hook’s heart in the scene where Emma put it back. As I watched, I thought the moment was too brief, but then I realized that—unlike Rumplestiltskin and Belle and Regina and Robin—these two characters have the luxury of time, and they know it and are enjoying it.

I thought Emma shoving Hook’s heart back in his chest was perfect for her character. She’s definitely a “rip the Band-Aid off” kind of woman. But what was even more in-character was Hook’s reaction to getting his heart back. I loved that the first thing he did was kiss her with what I can only describe as his whole heart. O’Donoghue used that kiss to really show the difference now that Hook is able to love Emma once again without fear of leaving her and with his heart free to do as it chooses again. And Morrison played Emma’s reaction to that intense kiss so well—you could almost see her saying Now that’s more like it.

The second thing Hook did with his heart back in his chest was reassure Emma, to remind her (and himself) that he’s a survivor. The bright, hopeful looks on their faces showed that this was the perfect note to end their half-season arc on. It started with Emma running away from quiet moments, but it ended with them taking a quiet moment to themselves and basking in the joy of it. This wasn’t a moment for intense, dramatic emotions; they have plenty of time for those. Instead, this was a moment to celebrate the fact that they’re okay. After everything, he’s alive and she’s in his arms again, and that’s all they needed to focus on at that moment. That’s also why I am happy Emma didn’t confess her love for him and we didn’t see them taking their relationship to the next level physically. When those things happen, I want them to be moments they choose because they want to do them, not because they feel overwhelmed by near-death experiences. Emma has always moved forward emotionally in moments of distress, and I like that it seems to be different with Hook. She feels secure enough with him to believe she can take her time; they can take their time. They both have a renewed sense of hope that this will be a relationship that doesn’t end in loss; he’s still her survivor, after all. And that sense of hope was written all over both of their faces after that kiss.

While Emma and Hook’s slow-burn courtship is teaching many of us patience, I was so happy that this season we don’t have to be patient waiting for the new villains to be introduced in the 4B premiere. Meeting Cruella and Ursula and seeing Maleficent again was wonderful. They were so much fun in the flashbacks, with Victoria Smurfit standing out already as Cruella. She may smell like desperation and gin, but that seems like a winning combination to me in terms of entertainment potential. Watching her and the Dark One sass one another has me eager to see so much more of her in the next half-season.

And of course I’m excited for Merrin Dungey’s turn as Ursula. It’s about time she was back on my television in a villainous role. (I wonder if Ursula likes coffee ice cream?) Her final scene with Rumplestiltskin in the New York City aquarium hinted at quite the complicated, layered dynamic between these women and the Dark One. As sad as I still am to leave Elizabeth Mitchell’s Ingrid behind, these three Queen of Darkness have the potential to bring such a great energy to the show. If nothing else, it will add even more strong, complex female characters to a show already teeming with them, and that’s a reason to celebrate—even if we have to wait until March to see how it all unfolds.

The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (12/7 – 12/14)

This was a very strong week of television, with plenty of midseason finales and penultimate episodes to keep us talking all week. On Sunday, Ingrid’s storyline concluded in a truly beautiful and emotional way on Once Upon a Time, and the holidays were in full swing on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Monday’s Castle winter finale ended on one heck of a cliffhanger, and Tuesday’s Christmas episodes of New Girl and The Mindy Project both made me happy cry. Wednesday’s Nashville was jam-packed with emotional moments—with one bright spot amid a whole lot of darkness. And Saturday Night Live had perhaps its strongest episode of the season in Martin Freeman’s capable hands.

It was incredibly tough to choose just one moment as the best of the week. Both Ingrid’s final scene on Once Upon a Time and Danny’s Christmas gift to Mindy on The Mindy Project were absolutely perfect. However, this week, I chose a moment that stood out for being a reason to smile during an hour of television filled with so much sadness.

The midseason finale of Nashville featured paternity problems, a possible cancer diagnosis, a potential death by overdose, and a canceled wedding. But in the middle of all of those things, my favorite couple on the show—Juliette and Avery—got back together, engaged, and married all within the course of a few minutes of screen time. Both of these characters have grown so much together and apart, and I loved that this was a moment of them choosing not to be without each other anymore, because they’re good together; they help each other be their best selves. Their love story grew to become one of my favorite things about this melodramatic primetime soap opera, and there’s nothing like watching a TV couple you’ve rooted for finally get married. And as someone who loved Juliette Barnes like I love only a handful of other ladies on television, it filled my heart with joy to see her get this moment of pure happiness, starting a beautiful family with the man she loves.

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

TV Time: The Mindy Project 3.11



Title Christmas

Two-Sentence Summary When Mindy is offered the chance at a Stanford teaching fellowship, both she and Danny are faced with difficult choices. Meanwhile, office Christmas party shenanigans abound, including a case of mistaken identity for Morgan.

Favorite Line “Doctors tend to think of compassion as a liability, not an asset, which is what makes Dr. Mindy Lahiri so truly exceptional among her peers. Her passion to help is a constant reminder of why we all first wanted to practice medicine. Of all her skills, her most impressive is her single-minded devotion to those in her care. Her only flaw that I can think of is that sometimes she doesn’t realize what a great doctor she really is.” (Danny’s letter of recommendation)

My Thoughts Don’t you just love it when shows can still surprise you? No show zigs when I think it’s going to zag like The Mindy Project, and I love that about it. I went into “Christmas” with a lot of reservations about what could happen in this episode, especially with so many previous episodes hinting at this as a make-or-break moment for a proposal. Never in a million years could I have guessed that my reservations would have been addressed as well as they were in this episode, with a romantic gesture far more satisfying than a rushed proposal and a Christmas gift perhaps even better than the one Danny got for Mindy last year. (Although I’m still not sure anything could ever really top that.)

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TV Time: Castle 7.10


Title Bad Santa

Two-Sentence Summary When Castle and Beckett investigate the murder of a mob doctor, things get dangerous as Castle makes a deal with the devil to find out the truth. Meanwhile, Christmas is in full swing around the 12th precinct, and a meeting with Lanie’s parents causes Esposito and her to rethink their relationship.

Favorite Line
“This has been an epic year.
Life’s been full of joy and tears.
Solving crimes and catching killers,
Just like Castle’s famous thrillers.
We share a passion every day.
As partners go, we’re here to stay.” (Kate Beckett’s Christmas poem)

My Thoughts I’m struggling to write about how this episode made me feel, if I’m being completely honest. I understand the logic behind the big twist at the end, as well as the logic behind the big breakup we saw in “Bad Santa.” But I can’t help feeling both of those big moments were rushed, dropped like bombs on the audience out of nowhere. I know, I know—that’s the whole nature of a cliffhanger ending. And good cliffhangers keep us talking, guessing, and speculating until the hiatus is over. I’m sure this one will do just that (though thanks to the promo we saw at the end of the episode we know this will all be played for laughs), but that doesn’t take away the feeling of being emotionally sucker punched that I’m still dealing with today.

Ultimately, this episode ended with a great twist. It blindsided me, but it arose organically from the situation. Castle did something wrong, and he has to deal with the consequences. It just seemed crazy that out of all the times Castle did things far from by the book, this one—on the heels of a pretty forgettable case—was the one that led to him being kicked out of the precinct. But that’s where the unexpected nature of the cliffhanger came from, and I have to give it to the writers, when they go for a cliffhanger on this show, they don’t do it halfway. For better or worse, we think about them until the show comes back (and long after even that).

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 4.10

Title Shattered Sight

Two-Sentence Summary As the Spell of Shattered Sight takes hold of the residents of Storybrooke, Emma, Elsa, and Anna search for a way to defeat Ingrid. In flashbacks, we learn what happened to Emma during her time as Ingrid’s foster child and how she lost all memories of that time.

Favorite Line “Still want to hold hands, sing ‘Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah?’” (Snow)

My Thoughts “Shattered Sight” was an emotional roller coaster. Throughout the course of one hour, it had me laughing, cheering, crying, ugly crying, swooning, feeling pride for my favorite characters, and feeling wonderfully nervous and excited about what’s to come in next week’s midseason finale. This was an incredibly well-balanced episode, and that actually took me by surprise. I was ready to laugh and maybe cry a little bit at the interactions brought about by the Spell of Shattered Sight, but I certainly did not expect to end up sobbing harder than I have at any point while watching this show since Emma drove away in last season’s “Going Home”—and to do that over a character we just met this season. But such is the magic of Elizabeth Mitchell and the power of a well-written redemption story.

Even before the brilliant emotional tour de force of the episode’s climax, I was already thinking of “Shattered Sight” as one of my favorite episodes of the season because it was so much fun to watch. Every little detail of the spell’s effects on the residents of Storybrooke was brilliant—from Happy somehow getting Granny’s crossbow to Kristoff throwing papers at Charming in the background of one of the scenes in the sheriff’s station. My only desire was that we could have seen even more of it—I wanted to see Dark Robin and Dark Archie and even more Dark Henry (I was so hoping he’d run into Regina or Emma because I think there could have been some really deep stuff to come out of those interactions). But I had a feeling this spell would get broken before this episode was done, setting up a climatic finale showdown with this season’s real villain: Rumplestiltskin. And, despite my love for all of the wonderfully snarky scenes this spell gave us, I don’t think this kind of campy stuff would have carried over well for more than one episode. It was perfect just as it was.

I could have watched any combination of cursed Kristoff/Charming/Snow/Regina interact forever and still wanted more because all of the actors were just so good in this episode. You could tell they were enjoying playing these different sides to their roles (or, in Lana Parrilla’s case, returning to a side she hasn’t gotten to show in a while). It was the most alive I have seen Snow and Charming as characters in a long time, and it was nice to see my favorite couple on the show get a lot of screen time after a half-season that has (understandably) seen them and their relationship mostly in the background.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (11/30 – 12/7)

This week in television featured a lot of shows gearing up for their winter finales, as well as plenty of holiday fun. On Sunday, Once Upon a Time gave us an hour filled with emotional reunions and even more emotional farewells, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine gave all of us Jake/Amy shippers a new sense of hope. Monday’s Castle had a fun action-move A-plot, but it will be remembered for its B-plot, which saw Beckett say goodbye to the apartment where she rebuilt her life. Tuesday’s New Girl gave us some more insight into Jess and Cece’s friendship, and The Mindy Project gave us some real character growth for Mindy. Wednesday’s Nashville Christmas episode was the relative calm before what looks to be a stormy midseason finale, and Friday brought out my generation’s nostalgic side with Girl Meets World‘s Christmas special.

There were a plethora of great moments to choose from this week when picking my favorite: Anna saying her wedding vows to Kristoff thinking they were about to die on Once Upon a Time, Mindy’s assertion that she would be fine without Danny if he didn’t want her as much as she wanted him on The Mindy Project, Juliette and Avery finally flirting again on Nashville

The moment that made me the happiest this week, though, came from an unexpected place: The Disney Channel. Girl Meets World‘s Christmas episode was a wonderful little dose of joyful nostalgia at a time of year when we all want to feel like kids again. Seeing Mr. and Mrs. Matthews and Shawn join Cory and Topanga for Christmas celebrations was enough to keep me smiling from ear to ear for 30 minutes. The episode told some pretty honest truths about growing up and becoming adults, but it did it in the charming way that Boy Meets World always approached its life lessons. And if you grew up watching Boy Meets World, there was no way you could watch Shawn and Cory reunite and not be swept up in the pure joy of lifelong friendship all over again.

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

Fangirl Thursday: An Underrated Christmas Classic


We all have a favorite holiday movie that we love with all our hearts, despite it being seemingly unknown by most people. It makes watching that movie even more special, like you have a holiday tradition few others could appreciate, a little hidden gem of Christmas joy.

My hidden gem of holiday joy is A Muppet Family Christmas. No, it’s not the same as A Muppet Christmas Carol—although I love that movie, too. A Muppet Family Christmas is a TV movie first aired in 1987 that features all of the classic Muppets, Sesame Street gang, and Fraggles visiting Fozzie Bear’s mom for Christmas during a snowstorm.

Most people don’t know this made-for-TV special exists, but those who do cherish it for the gift it is. My sister and I have to watch it at least once every Christmas season, but we can be heard quoting it and referencing it all year (especially telling people to “Look out for the icy patch!’). From interactions between Big Bird and the Swedish Chef to small talk between Ernie, Bert, and Doc, this is a mash-up of some of the most beloved characters of not just my generation but ones before and after me, too.

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TV Time: The Mindy Project 3.10

Title What About Peter?

Two-Sentence Summary When Peter moves into Danny’s other apartment, he interrupts Danny’s plans to combine his apartments to make room for more family someday, which doesn’t mean what Mindy thinks it means. Meanwhile, Jeremy is tasked with taking care of Lauren’s son, and he enlists Morgan’s help to get the baby to stop crying.

Favorite Line “I just want to be with someone who’s as excited and certain as I am about our future. And if you’re not, that’s fine. Just let me know—because honestly, I’m going to be fine no matter what happens.” (Mindy)

My Thoughts My feelings are all over the place as I reflect on this episode. On one hand, both the A and B plots featured characters showing surprising maturity and confidence (Mindy and Morgan). But on the other hand, both the A and B plots also featured characters who reacted to situations in ways that had me yelling at my TV: “YOU KNEW WHAT YOU WERE GETTING INTO, YOU IDIOT!” (Let it never be said that I passively watch television.)

Let’s start with the B-plot and work our way up to my complicated emotions about all things Mindy/Danny right now. After the strides Jeremy’s character made a few episodes ago, it was depressing to see him backslide into a pretty awful version of himself in this episode. Jeremy was Exhibit A in terms of my yelling at the television during this episode. When you date a woman with a child, you have to be prepared to interact with her child. You have to understand that she doesn’t stop being a mom just because she’s dating you, and the child won’t go away just because you want them to. Jeremy knew he was dating a woman with a baby, and yet he still wants nothing to do with the baby. I saw this storyline as a reflection of Danny/Mindy’s conflict on a less emotionally-compelling scale. Jeremy and Lauren have reached the point in their relationship where it’s time for Jeremy to decide whether or not he can deal with what being with Lauren—really being with her for exactly who she is—entails. And if I were Lauren’s friend, I would tell her he is no way, shape, or form ready for that.

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TV Time: Castle 7.09



Title Last Action Hero

Two-Sentence Summary The death of a 1980s action-movie star brings out Castle’s fanboy side once again. As Beckett works to solve the case, she also comes to terms with saying goodbye to her old apartment now that she’s a married woman.

Favorite Line “To him, this is just an apartment with creaky floors, but to you—this is where you rebuilt your life, where you solved your mother’s murder, where you fell in love.” (Lanie)

My Thoughts This was one of those “pleasant surprise” episodes that come around a few times every Castle season—episodes that seem like filler from the plot description, episodes with a case that isn’t super memorable, but episodes that have at least one moment that you’ll never forget. “Last Action Hero” had a few unforgettable moments—some of the comedic variety and some that packed an unexpected emotional punch.

The case in “Last Action Hero” was a lot of fun, even if it had a very convoluted conclusion. It was one of those fun Castle cases that brought the nerdy side out of one of the main characters—in this case, it was Castle. Nerdy Castle is the best. Nobody plays childlike enthusiasm like Nathan Fillion, and I love when Castle gets to geek out like he did in this episode. We all have those movies that meant a lot to us in our formative years, and it was incredibly entertaining to get a good dose of secondhand glee from watching Castle get to live his boyhood dream. (It also filled me with glee to hear Castle adorably call Beckett his boyhood dream. Those two have gotten even cuter since they’ve gotten married, if that was even possible.)

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