TV Time: Once Upon a Time 4.17

Title Heart of Gold

Two-Sentence Summary As flashbacks to Sherwood Forest reveal the origin of Robin Hood and the strength of his relationship with Marian in the past, he faces a difficult choice in the present between what his heart wants and what his sense of honor demands. Unbeknownst to him, though, Marian isn’t who she says she is; she’s actually Zelena in disguise, and she makes a deal with Rumplestiltskin to save his ailing heart in return for a happy ending of her own.

Favorite Line “You are quite possibly the biggest pain in the ass I have ever had the displeasure of writing about.” (The Author, to Rumplestiltskin)

My Thoughts Sometimes episodes deviate from the norm and fail. Sometimes they’re a breath of fresh air. “Heart of Gold” was an example of the latter, mainly because of the strength of the actors involved, its thematic connection to the overall arc of this half-season of Once Upon a Time, and one crazy twist. This episode could have felt boring or unnecessary; instead, it captivated me from start to finish.

Maybe my love for “Heart Gold” comes from the fact that I’ve loved all versions of the Robin Hood story since I was a little girl. There’s just something about an outlaw with a kind heart and a deep sense of honor that never fails to draw me in (which also explains my love for Killian Jones). And Sean Maguire brings the perfect balance of dashing fairytale spirit and real, grounded moral conflict to this character, whose deep sense of honor might turn out to be his undoing.

The Sherwood Forest flashbacks in this episode did a stellar job of giving depth to Robin and Marian’s relationship, which was absolutely necessary given Robin’s choices in the New York City portion of the storyline. For as much as I’ve loved Robin Hood since childhood, I’ve loved Marian even more, so I was thrilled to see Christie Laing capture both Marian’s kindness and her strong spirit in those flashbacks. Whether she was telling Robin she could speak for herself or supporting him in his new life as Robin Hood, this was the Marian I spent hours pretending to be when I was little. I thought Maguire and Laing had a lovely, easy chemistry in those flashbacks that allowed the audience to see what Robin was trying to recapture with Marian in New York.

The flashbacks also set up the idea of Robin being the kind of man who chooses to help people in need, sometimes at the expense of his own happiness. I loved his interactions with Will—not just because the world needs more Will Scarlet (Even in this episode I was left wanting more.) but because it showed just how big Robin’s heart is. When Will discovered the bottle after Robin had gone, I was surprised by how emotional I became. Robin is an incredibly selfless character, which in many ways makes him the perfect match for Regina. She spent much of her life devoted to her own selfish goal of vengeance, so I think loving a man like Robin helped her become more selfless. In the flashbacks, Robin sacrificed his own safety and happiness to help someone who was vulnerable. That same kind of sacrifice was put in front of Regina at the end of the episode, and I really believe she’ll make the choice Robin would want her to make (but more on that later!).

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TV Time: Broadchurch 2.06

Leah is back with her thoughts on the latest episode of Broadchurch!

Title Episode 6

Two-Sentence Summary While Tom’s testimony ultimately leads to a reunion with Ellie, Mark’s testimony creates a wedge between him and Beth. In the process of putting pressure on their Sandbrook suspects, Ellie discovers a picture of Claire wearing Pippa’s pendant, and the audience is shown a flashback of Claire stealing the necklace from Tess’s car.

Favorite Lines
“This isn’t about your dad; this is about your friend Danny. Because Danny can’t speak up for himself anymore. So our job is to find out what Danny would say if he was here.” (Jocelyn)

“Your father has done enough damage, and I won’t let him destroy us too!” (Ellie)

“I never thought it would be a part of this.”
“Everything’s a part of it, Mark.” (Mark and Jocelyn)

“I’ll give you money to shut up.”
“I’ll give you more money to stop being less of a knob.” (Alec and Ellie)

“They’d have ruined your career. I got away with mine…just.” (Alec)

My Thoughts This episode was very enjoyable, even though some of it felt like setup for the final two episodes. I enjoyed seeing Ellie gaining confidence and taking charge, and seeing more of Alec with his family. I’m glad we’re finally starting to narrow in on the Sandbrook case and figure out what happened, and that Joe’s trial will reach a verdict soon so we won’t have to keep watching people being attacked on the stand.

This episode didn’t have quite as clear of a theme for me as the past couple of episodes, but I did notice a few similarities between some of the characters. Our detective duo had some familial reunions, while Mark and Beth were torn further apart. Alec had surgery to put in a pacemaker to deal with his illness, and his ex-wife Tess showed up to help look after him. I don’t know if she is there because she feels obligated to him, since she said part of the reason she showed up was because she wanted to tell him she loved him for covering for her in Sandbrook. Or maybe she still loves him in the way divorced parents can think of each other as family, and she’s there because they’ll always be family through their daughter. Either way, these two seemed to have made peace with each other, as is evident by the somewhat heavy-handed “No more broken heart” Alec told his daughter (about the surgery) while looking at Tess. It’s nice to see they’ve gotten to the point in their relationship where they can talk and still care about each other without getting angry or resentful. Hopefully this means Alec will start to live for things outside of the Sandbrook case again, and he’ll be happier and healthier.

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TV Time: The Americans 3.11

Source: spoilertv.com

Source: spoilertv.com

Title: One Day in the Life of Anton Baklanov

Episode M.V.P.: Keri Russell
In “One Day in the Life of Anton Baklanov,” Gabriel asked Philip if he was falling apart. But Philip isn’t the only one in danger of emotional collapse. Elizabeth has never been more vulnerable than she is right now. While that might make things more dangerous in the world of espionage, it makes them so much better in the world of television. We’re finally getting to see through the cracks in Elizabeth’s dutiful façade, and Russell has done such a brilliant job of subtly, carefully showing these intense emotions and how they impact a character who has been taught for her entire life that emotions get in the way of doing your duty to your country.

Russell’s performance in this episode was absolutely heartbreaking. The Americans has done such a wonderful job this season of telling a story about mothers and daughters, and Russell is at the emotional center of that story. The moments when she finally told Paige about her own mother were so emotional because Russell played them with such warmth. You could feel Elizabeth’s deep love for both her mother and her daughter, and Russell conveyed such a palpable sense of relief, too. All Elizabeth wanted was to connect with her daughter—for her daughter to love her for exactly who she is, imperfections and all, the way she loves her own mother. And she saw this as her chance. That made it even more devastating to see her entire spirit crumble when Paige rejected her. It’s a rare thing for Elizabeth to be the emotionally open one in a given scene, and Russell always infuses those moments with a kind of tentative, quiet beauty that makes you want to hug this ruthless Russian spy and never let her go.

Nothing in Elizabeth’s life is going according to plan, and it’s breaking the heart she never wanted to expose in the first place. That idea extended to her encounter with the hotel manager. It was a fascinating way to show Elizabeth being faced with the “making it real” concept Philip first talked about in “Salang Pass” and how that affected her. For what seemed like the first time, Elizabeth couldn’t just fake it; she had to let herself get to a real place with her mark in order to sexually please him, and I loved that the show and Russell allowed us to see how deeply shaken Elizabeth was by it. The scene in the garage after she came home from the encounter was one of my favorite scenes Russell has ever done on this show. With just her eyes and her breathing, she was able to make me cry because I felt Elizabeth’s exhaustion, shame, and pain so acutely.

What impressed me the most about that scene was the complexity Russell was able to portray without using any words. It’s one thing to convey a single emotion in silence; it’s another to silently bring to life the overwhelming whirlpool of emotions a character would feel after a night like Elizabeth had. Elizabeth felt shame from being aroused by a man who wasn’t her husband; pain from having to give up control over her body once again for her cause; and sadness from knowing Paige will have to hear about (and maybe even experience) this part of the job someday. Elizabeth has never appeared more human, and that moment of emotional nakedness was followed by the incredibly symbolic scene of her taking all her clothes off before getting into bed with Philip. The sexual act that happened after wasn’t about Philip—and he knew it. It was about Elizabeth and the million emotions she was working through. To be able to portray a character feeling so many things so deeply while still not letting herself give into them completely is as difficult an acting challenge as it gets. But Russell has proven herself to be worthy of every challenge thrown her way.

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TV Time: Broadchurch 2.05

It’s time once again for the lovely Leah’s weekly take on Broadchurch!

Title Episode 5

Two-Sentence Summary The prosecution and defense teams trade off in witness wins with Susan and Nigel, and we start to finally get some sense of what the defense is going to provide as the alternative to Joe. Familial strife is abundant in this episode, and Ellie dives deeper into the Sandbrook investigation and manages to find a new clue.

Favorite Lines
“Look, Tom, I know you want that to be true, and I know you blame me. But your dad killed Danny. And if I could’ve spotted what was going on or if I could go back and make it un-happen I would, but I can’t.” (Ellie)

“I was reading about another family. They were saying that a trial was as bad as a murder, and I thought that can’t be right. But then going in there every day, seeing our lives get turned inside out…when all we did was love our son. I get it.” (Mark)

“Because I didn’t like you enough. And I always knew you’d blame me if you lost. Because that’s what you always did, every time you didn’t win, every time you missed out on a big brief—you always blame someone else.” (Jocelyn)

My Thoughts The more time we spend out of the courtroom, the more I tend to enjoy these episodes, and this hour was no exception. I also found myself enjoying the Sandbrook case more now that we’re focusing less on Lee and Claire, and more on the case itself.

The trial feels like it’s beginning to finally narrow in on a conclusion now that we know the basics of the alternative theory the defense will present to the jury. I am already dreading seeing Mark being attacked on the stand, but I do think that, from an outsider’s perspective, it’s a credible theory on some level. Tom’s testimony is probably going to be both frustrating and painful, because I’m not sure he understands what he’s getting himself into. From his conversation with Ellie, it seems like he doesn’t know very much about the details of the case and has tried to avoid dealing with the emotional fallout that would happen if he accepted that his dad killed Danny, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up hearing about a piece of evidence in court and has a moment of painful realization or (equally painful for the audience) denial.

Mark hit on the thing that I hate most about trials in his conversation with Jocelyn—that in some ways it’s as bad as the murder. When someone is killed, there are other people left behind who become victims as well. Trials too often feel to me like a reinjuring of those who are already devastated by the original event. It’s one of the worst parts of our imperfect justice system, and this second season is highlighting that through the way the Latimers have been attacked in this case, as well as Ellie, Alec, and a few other members of their community, too.

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TV Time: The Americans 3.10

Once again, I wan to apologize for taking an unplanned week off from my The Americans posts, but I’ve returned this week to talk about an episode that demands discussion!

Source: spoilertv.com

Source: spoilertv.com

Title: Stingers

Episode M.V.P.: Holly Taylor
The Americans had made many brave and bold storytelling moves in its first three seasons, but perhaps its bravest move was placing a teenage girl at the center of an entire season’s plot. Many TV shows—especially TV dramas—have no idea how to create compelling young female characters, so they often leave them in the background if they exist within the show’s universe at all. However, The Americans decided that Paige wasn’t just going to be a big part of the story this season; she was going to be the story this season, and that decision has made a great show even better. In order for Paige’s prominent story to be as successful and engaging as it has been, the young actress playing her needed to be not just good but great—and Holly Taylor has proved she’s worthy of being one of the main focal points of as brilliant a television season as I’ve ever seen.

Taylor has had strong moments throughout this season of The Americans, but those moments were nothing compared to the performance she delivered in “Stingers.” To be as young as Taylor is and have the talent to share a scene with Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell and command an equal amount of the audience’s attention is no small feat. Taylor absolutely broke my heart in this episode, and she did it in so many ways. When Paige first confronted her parents about her desire to know the truth, Taylor nailed Paige’s sense of righteous anger over spending so much time believing she was crazy because of their lies. What was so moving about that moment was that it never felt like a teenage girl whining; it felt like a profoundly adult desire to know the truth about her parents and thus the truth about herself. The hair and costuming forTaylor added to her sense of maturity in this scene; Paige has never looked more like an adult.

As secret identities were revealed, what was so stunning about Taylor’s work was her use of silence and stillness. The dinner table scene between Elizabeth, Philip, and Paige was as brilliant as it was because all three actors were playing on the same level, and that says so much about Taylor’s ability to hold her own against two of the most nuanced performers on television right now. Taylor said so much in Paige’s quietest moments—from her hesitation on the phone with Pastor Tim to her silence in reaction to her mother speaking Russian. And that silence was heartbreaking because it contrasted so clearly with who Paige has always been—a young woman of action, passion, and strong opinions that she readily voices. Seeing her shocked into silence by the truth of who her parents are felt so realistic—more so than any hysterics would have felt. It reflected the episode’s title in a wonderful way, too. “Stingers” happen when people are hit and experience numbness afterwards. Paige just experienced the most profound stinger imaginable. And the way Taylor played that numbness with real depth and not just emotionless acting fit into the overall tone of the show perfectly and made Paige’s harsh transition into adulthood feel as honest as it was painful.

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Fangirl Thursday: Three Years of Nerdy Fun

Today is a special day at Nerdy Girl Notes, and it seems very fitting that it should fall on a Fangirl Thursday. It’s NGN’s third birthday/blogiversary/whatever the kids are calling it nowadays. The point is, three years ago today, I picked out my hot pink color scheme, wrote a post about the joys of being a nerdy girl, and NGN was born.

NGN has evolved and grown so much since its earliest days, and in the process, I’ve grown so much, too. I started this blog as a way to reconnect with the kind of writing I wanted to do, and somewhere along the way, I also discovered the kind of person I want to be. That’s not something you think about when you write your first blog post, but it’s something I feel thankful for every day—that what started out as a writing exercise turned into a place where I was able to grow as a person not just through my writing, but through interacting with some of the smartest and kindest people I could have ever hoped to meet.

This year has been a year of new challenges at NGN. New TV shows were reviewed, new features were started, new lists were made, and new essays were written. I pushed myself as a writer this year not just in the sheer volume of posts I wrote, but in the vulnerability many of them required. And I am forever grateful for all of you who’ve responded with vulnerability and openness of your own. We share something special with one another when we talk about the media we love, and this year was filled with reminders of that belief, which has always been at the heart of everything I write here.

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TV Time: Castle 7.19

This week’s Castle post is brought to by the lovely and talented Heather!

SEAMUS DEVER, NATHAN FILLION, STANA KATIC

Title Habeas Corpse

Two Sentence Summary The precinct prepares for a talent show, creating a rivalry between the teams of Esposito/Ryan and Castle/Beckett. Meanwhile, after a personal injury lawyer is found dead, the team discovers a conspiracy he was on the verge of uncovering before his death.

Favorite Lines
Beckett: I didn’t want you to think less of me. And I really didn’t want anyone else to know. So, stupid.
Castle: No, not stupid. Just human.

My Thoughts What a fun episode! This is exactly the sort of stand-alone episode I love. The case kept me interested, and it gave me plenty of great character moments and interactions. In its seventh season, Castle has faltered a bit when it comes to the actual cases. But it more than makes up for it in its understanding of its characters and providing new and fun situations to put them in. As someone who has watched more than their fair share of procedurals that have run for multiple seasons, that’s all I ask of them. I don’t care if the cases are especially creative, but I do need to continue to love the characters. And Castle does this really well.

Let’s start with the case. Personal injury lawyers get such a horrible reputation for being greedy and representing everything that is wrong with the legal system, both in real life and in popular culture. So it was a nice surprise that the victim turned out to be a genuinely nice guy who was actually trying to get justice for those who would normally be overlooked. This simple trope inversion did wonders for my investment in the case.

First, it let the case be relatively free of twists that seem to come out of nowhere. Everything built on the information that came before it, and tiny leads that seemed to be insignificant at the time actually went somewhere. It felt like a better constructed case than many on this show because the writer had a clear idea of who the victim was. Second, it let me care about the victim. With just the little pieces of information we learned, I was genuinely sad that this man was dead. I believed that he was trying to do good in the best way he knew how, even if some of his methods weren’t entirely legal. He spent his life making up for the harm he did as a corporate lawyer and ultimately died trying to pursue justice.

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TV Time: Broadchurch 2.04

Leah is back with her thoughts in the latest episode of Broadchurch!

Title Episode 4

Two-Sentence Summary Joe’s trial continues, with each side introducing a surprise witness that throws a wrench into the other’s case. Claire and Lee reunite, while Alec and Ellie continue to look into the Sandbrook case by visiting the town and end up discovering new information that points them toward the grieving father.

Favorite Lines “Is that why it got to you? Because you could never be sure.” (Ellie to Alec, about the Sandbrook case)

“Willie Pep: 241 fights, 229 wins. Reportedly claimed he could win a fight without throwing a single punch.” (Ben to Jocelyn, about Jocelyn’s prizefighter metaphor)

My Thoughts This episode gave us some new information along with a few surprises. I enjoyed this episode a bit more than last week’s, probably because my favorite character (Ellie) wasn’t being attacked, and because I enjoyed learning more about the Sandbrook case as well as Alec’s psyche. I’m going to try a slightly different format this week, taking a look at some of the themes I saw in this episode.

First, a quick recap of the new information we learned: Joe’s trial introduced two new witnesses that provided a big hit to each side’s case. Jocelyn brought in Joe’s old paramedic shift partner, who told the story of a night when Joe snapped and seriously hurt a man, providing evidence of Joe’s temper and capability for violence. Sharon ended the episode dramatically by calling Susan Wright to the stand and revealing the defense’s alternative killer: Nigel. Meanwhile, Ellie and Alec traveled to Sandbrook to do some more investigating and discovered that Ricky Gillespie’s alibi is not as solid as it seemed, giving Alec doubts about whether he made a mistake going after Lee. Claire and Lee reunited, and the audience learned that Claire is definitely withholding information from Alec and Ellie about something she and Lee did in the past.

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 4.16

Source: ign.com

Source: ign.com

Title Best Laid Plans

Two-Sentence Summary When Rumplestiltkin’s plan to turn Emma’s heart dark is revealed, Snow and Charming realize they have to tell their daughter the truth about what they did to ensure she would be born a hero: stealing Maleficent’s child to transfer any of Emma’s future darkness onto the baby, who was then sent into a portal and grew up to be Emma’s childhood friend Lily. With her emotions running high, Emma decides to let the Author out of the book to question him, even though August told her this Author was the only one of the many throughout history who started manipulating events, which led to his imprisonment in the book.

Favorite Line “No one—not Rumplestiltskin or some Author—gets to decide who I am.” (Emma)

My Thoughts “Best Laid Plans” was an episode about free will and the importance of it—but also the uncertainty that it causes. There’s a beautiful freedom in knowing someone can choose to be whoever they want to be, but there’s also a fear of making the wrong choice. What helps abate that fear? Hope. As such, “Best Laid Plans” was also an episode about what happens when we lose hope—in ourselves, in the people we love, and in the ability for good to always defeat evil. On Once Upon a Time, hopelessness often leads to desperation, and desperate people do terrible things. Even good people do dark things when they lose hope, and that was the message at the very heart of “Best Laid Plans.”

It seems desperation is the driving force for Rumplestiltskin’s quest to get his happy ending, and I’m very intrigued by what his conversation with (unconscious) Belle implied about his future. While it made me uncomfortable to see him kiss her hand without her consent (especially knowing she’d never give him that consent at this point had she been awake), it was interesting to see that he needed to confess to someone about his motives and chose her—even if I wish he could be brave enough to tell her while she was awake. His statement that things must happen quickly raised the idea that he feels he’s running out of time. Is he dying? Did his resurrection have a time limit no one knew about? Or was he simply talking about Belle moving on? Whatever is actually going on, this much seems clear now: Rumplestiltskin has become that desperate soul he used to be so good at exploiting. And that makes his increasing darkness feel like it’s coming from a more believable place.

Regina is another character whose desperation for her happy ending has her seeking out the Author to get him to change her fate. However, while her desperation might still be blinding her to the idea of simply changing her fate by her own choices, it’s not pushing her toward darkness the way it’s done to Rumplestiltskin. However, Rumplestiltskin apparently has something up his sleeve that he believes will make her desperate enough to give in to her darkness again. (I’m guessing Robin is in danger, and Rumplestiltskin knows it.)

I have a feeling, though, that Rumplestiltskin is underestimating Regina’s growth. She’s not the same woman who craved darkness after losing the hope of getting Daniel back. Instead, she has people around her who want to keep her from becoming completely hopeless, and at the center of that support system is Henry. I loved the way those two characters were able to read each other in the scene in which Henry gave Regina the fake page. Their relationship has changed so much from its earliest days. And so much of that growth came from Regina letting go of her need to control her son. Regina kept Henry in the dark about everything for so much of his life, but instead of letting that define him and drive him to darkness, he forgave her and grew into a resourceful and genuinely good young man (who actually had some important stuff to do in this episode!). I know that the situations aren’t exactly the same, but if Henry can forgive Regina for making him feel crazy, then it’s not impossible to believe Emma will be able to forgive her parents eventually for their attempt to take away her agency before she was born.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (3/22 – 3/29)

This week in television started off with a look into Ursula and Hook’s past on Once Upon a Time. Also on Sunday, we made it through Election Day along with all the characters on The Good Wife. On Monday, Castle gave us another great Ryan-centric episode, and Tuesday was season finale night for The Mindy Project. Wednesday featured a Nashville concert special and an episode of The Americans that highlighted the complexity of Elizabeth Jennings and the brilliance of the actress who brings her to life. And this entire week was filled with plenty of March Madness fun for basketball fans.

Some weeks, it’s incredibly difficult for me to choose my favorite TV moment of the week. And then some weeks, I know from the minute I watch a particular scene that it’s going to be nearly impossible to beat. This week was an example of the latter. There were a lot of strong moments to pick from, but none made me happier than Hook telling Emma she’s his happy ending on this week’s Once Upon a Time.

Sometimes you just want to feel good when you watch television, and that’s what this moment was all about. It was a moment of deep, almost unbelievable joy for two characters who spent so much of their lives believing that kind of happiness would never be theirs to have. Throughout the episode’s flashbacks, we were reminded that Hook spent three lifetimes in darkness and despair. But in that scene with Emma, he told her in no uncertain terms that she makes him happy enough to believe he’s living out his happy ending just by being with her. And Emma spent so much of her life believing she was never enough to make the people she loved happy just by being herself. But in that moment, she finally had someone look at her and tell her that she’s enough exactly as she is to make someone she loves happy forever.

That scene was powerful on its own merit, but was even more powerful because of who we know these characters to be and how long we know they’ve struggled to find the kind of love shown in that moment. Colin O’Donoghue and Jennifer Morrison did such a fantastic job of conveying how monumental this was for both characters without ever making it feel heavy-handed. It was the first moment of this half-season of Once Upon a Time to make me cry, and it came by those emotions honestly.

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