Fangirl Thursday: You Never Forget Your First



When it comes to fandom, first loves often last a lifetime. The first character you ever really related to, the first “ship” that melted your heart, the first book or movie or TV show that kept you up way past your bedtime just thinking about it—they stay with you forever. And like the best first loves, they change you in ways you probably don’t even realize until years later. They become so wrapped up in the fabric of who you are that you don’t know who you’d be if you hadn’t picked up that book or changed the channel at the right time or popped in that VHS tape—and you don’t ever want to know, either.

For me, it always comes back to Star Wars. I first discovered the original trilogy as a little girl of no more than five or six, thanks to my two older cousins. I have fond memories of pretending to be Princess Leia as I ran around with them on the playground, rushing from the “Death Star” (the jungle gym area) to the “Millennium Falcon” (the swings) as we made our escape from my dad, who was always Darth Vader.

While these early years of Star Wars love gave me my first fictional role model in Princess Leia as well as a certain fondness for scoundrels before I even knew what that word meant, it took until I was 12 for me to really consider myself a Star Wars nerd, complete with the deep sense of engagement, passion, and enthusiasm I attach to the idea of being a nerd. It was the during the spring of seventh grade that I re-discovered the series that had been such a big part of my early childhood, but I now was able to throw myself into it with the single-minded devotion only a preteen girl can possess.

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Choosing to See the Best: A Letter to Emma Swan

This is my newest addition to my collection of letters to female fictional characters who’ve inspired me throughout my years as a fangirl. If you have a letter of your own you’d like to share, check out this post to learn more about the book of letters I’m compiling, and send your letter(s) to


Dear Emma,

I’ve spent a lot of time writing about a lot of characters over the years, but you’re the one I’ve written about the most. Writing about you pushes me to be more vulnerable, more honest, and more open—even when it’s terrifying. You’ve made me a braver writer, which has made me a better writer. And somewhere along the way—as I started writing all those posts and essays about your journey on Once Upon a Time—I started becoming a braver and better person, too.

Writing about you demands bravery that matches your own. But one of the things I love most about you is that your courage runs so much deeper than vanquishing villains and traveling to unknown realms. Breaking the Dark Curse at the end of Season One wasn’t accomplished because you fought a dragon. It happened because you were brave enough to finally believe you could truly love someone and have them truly love you, too. I don’t face too many dragons in my everyday life, but I do know what it’s like to be afraid to open your heart to people. So thank you for giving me an example of bravery I can relate to.

Thank you, also, for giving me an example of optimism I can relate to. Optimism is a part of your genetic makeup. However, heartbreak made you believe that shutting down those parts of you that wanted to hope would protect you from being hurt again. You spent so long looking over your shoulder—preparing for another disappointment—that you didn’t let yourself see potential happiness when it was right in front of you. And when you did see that potential happiness, it scared you. You feared that for every good moment, a bad one was waiting right around the corner. It was impossible for you to believe things could simply be good.

I know that fear all too well. I’ve struggled with anxiety for many years, which means I’ve spent too much time preparing for something bad to happen, waiting for the other shoe to drop. It was hard for me to appreciate good moments, because I was often worrying about the potential bad moments to come. My natural instinct is to be hopeful, but as you face the disappointments that come with growing up, sometimes it feels safer to just stop hoping.

That was the state of mind I was in when I discovered Once Upon a Time. Then, I started watching your story develop, and I started writing about that development. I saw someone who was scared to hope letting herself believe in the possibility of good things. I saw someone who was often too focused on bad moments starting to accept that things can be good. I saw someone choosing to be happy, and it didn’t make her naïve or weak; it made her stronger than ever.

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Find a Happy Place

First and foremost, I wanted to once again thank the lovely and talented Heather for steering the good ship NGN while I was away. The posts she wrote while I was gone were fantastic, and if you haven’t read them yet, I suggest you do so ASAP.


About a week ago, I returned home from another fabulous trip to Walt Disney World. I’ve said many times that I see WDW as my personal “happy place”—the place where I am the best, brightest, and happiest version of myself. Every time I visit WDW, I feel encouraged to be unashamedly enthusiastic about the things I love, and if that’s not balm for a fangirl’s soul, then what is?

I’ve written about Star Wars Weekends at WDW before (and I’m sure I’ll do so again at some point this summer), so I’ll try to keep this brief, but I think there’s no better representation of the way WDW fosters a true sense of community and joy among nerds of all kinds than this annual celebration of all things Star Wars. From the impassioned cheers when the movies’ theme begins playing before the park opens to the thunderous applause after the fireworks end at the conclusion of the day’s festivities, my Star Wars Weekends experience this year was once again filled with a sense of shared excitement and fun unlike anything else I’ve ever felt as a fangirl.

This year more than any other, though, I was reminded that all of WDW—not just Hollywood Studios during Star Wars Weekends—is a place where people come together to experience what I feel is the very essence of fandom: celebrating what makes you happy and sharing that happiness with those around you.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (6/7-6/14)

Hello again, this is Heather taking the reigns on the best of the TV this week. 

This week on television started with a heartbreaking sacrifice and a ride on a dragon on Game of Thrones and ended with a shocking reveal on Orphan Black. Along the way, we also saw the ceiling rain blood on Penny Dreadful, learned Jesus is alive and off to boarding school on the season three opener of The Fosters, watched Liv give up her chance of curing herself on the first season finale of iZombie, saw Evan and Paige experience their first setback on their quest to become parents on Royal Pains, and had nightmares after one of the more horrifying images Hannibal has served up for us.

There were two serious contenders for my pick for this week and they could not have been more different. One was quiet and chilling, the other made my jaw drop out of shock. While I loved the reveal that Mrs. S’s mom was both the Castor and the Leda original (though it was almost too much connection for me), I had to go with the quieter moment for my pick.

By now, it’s no secret that Hannibal is as beautiful as it is horrifying. It is capable of creating stunning visual images and accompanies them with a gorgeously operatic soundtrack. When that is combined with what is perhaps one of the most twisted, destructive and intimate friendships I’ve seen on TV, the end result is nothing short of spectacular.

The shot of Will wandering through the catacombs forced the viewer into his mental state. It was dizzying and disorienting with a sense of foreboding as we watched Hannibal silently follow him. It was an immersive moment of television that left the viewer unable to look away.

But what made this moment my pick were the three words Will spoke and how they get at the heart of what makes Hannibal such compelling television for me, even in the midst of all the gore and darkness. “I forgive you”. Not words often uttered to the man who killed the girl you considered as a daughter and who nearly killed you. Yet Will Graham is incapable of doing anything else when it comes to Hannibal Lecter.

Their exchange in the beginning of the episode was the best summation of their relationship. They have changed each other. Not necessarily for better or worse, but these two men are who they are at the start of season three because of each other. No matter what he does, a piece of Will belongs to Hannibal just as a piece of Hannibal is Will’s. So he offers forgiveness. Because as Inspector Pazzi recognized, there is power that comes from knowing. Hannibal and Will are inseparable and Will knows that, as much as he knows that the body in the chapel was left for him and as much as he knows that Hannibal is there, unseen, in the catacombs with him.

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

Embracing What You Want and Need from Television and Quitting What You Don’t

Hi everyone, this is Heather filling in while Katie enjoys a well-deserved vacation.

A few weekends ago, the first season of Outlander came to a spectacularly graphic end. The third season of Hannibal started last Thursday with its artistically dark and twisted viewpoint. This weekend, a brutally dark season of Game of Thrones will draw to a close. Each of these shows has sparked discussions about when the violence and darkness becomes gratuitous. This season of Game of Thrones has been especially prone to such conversations. Two episodes in particular, sparked such outrage and unhappiness that some viewers (myself included) have simply chosen to walk away rather than subject themselves to more of the seemingly increasingly violence.

These vocal choices that some have made came with an equally vocal set of assumptions about the way these viewers have previously interacted with the series. Whether those assumptions come out of defensiveness or passion for a favorite show, the result tends to be that the group who stops watching feels like their reactions are being dismissed or are somehow incorrect. While I can’t speak for everyone who has made the decision to stop watching, I can offer up my own perspective on my personal viewing habits and what I am asking for from a television show.

It’s not that we’ve suddenly found ourselves shocked by the horrors of this fantastical world. Those who are still around in season five have watched Ned Stark’s beheading, have made it through the Red Wedding, and have seen Ramsey destroy Theon and raise up Reek in his place. We’ve seen these characters become paralyzed, lose family members, be raped or threatened with rape, and inflict any number of smaller cruelties against each other. There is no doubt that Westeros and Essos are harsh, dangerous places to live or that this show has never shied away from portraying the darker side of humanity.

It’s not that we wish to deny that our world, in both past and present times, can be cruel place. There is undoubtedly darkness and evil. We see it on the nightly news or read about it in newspapers and online. To pretend as though any fictional universe could exist in a land that is free of all the problems of our own would be dishonest and frankly, probably a little boring. People are always going to struggle. Someone will inevitably do something terrible to someone else. They will face seemingly insurmountable obstacles and not all will make it out in one piece.

To pretend that the darkness is all that exists, however, to me seems equally dishonest. In previous seasons of this show, we’ve seen genuine connections between these characters and the goodness of which many are capable. These moments may not have ever been the most prominent feature of the series, but they were always there. Even in this season, we saw Varys placing his hope in Daenerys’s ability to bring about a better world. All I’m asking is for more of that sort of hope and more of the genuine connections of which I know this show and the world it is set in possess.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (5/24 – 5/31)

Sorry for the delay in posting this, friends! I had a lot of emotions to work through first. (Warning: This post centers around an episode that dealt with rape and torture, so if those topics upset you, it’s probably best to stop reading now.)

This week in television included the first week of dates on The Bachelorette, the start of The CW’s excellent plan to re-air its most popular new shows this summer (I loved the pilot of The Flash!), and a typically tense and exciting episode of Orphan Black that featured the wonderful first meeting of Mrs. S. and Helena, as well as plenty of fun new twists and turns for Allison.

However, the best thing I saw on TV this week didn’t come from any of those shows. In fact, it came from an hour of television that left audiences very divided: the Outlander season finale.

While there is no denying that this finale (which featured incredibly graphic sequences of rape and physical/emotional torture) was the most disturbing hour of television I’ve ever watched, I find myself firmly in the camp of viewers who were impressed with the way this episode handled the trauma of rape and the emotional/psychological ramifications of it,  beyond using it as a mere plot device. This wasn’t darkness for the sake of darkness or horror for the sake of shock value; it was a harrowing exploration of the effects of brutal sadism on a human being and the impact of rape and torture both on the survivor and those who care for them. This was an episode that cared about what the victim was going through on an emotional and psychological level, and, as such, it brought out the kind of intensely haunting and raw performance in Sam Heughan that I really hope earns him consideration when it’s time to announce Emmy nominations.

In an episode so dark and disturbing, it was important to have something to balance out the sense of despair that could have dominated the hour. And in order for that balance to be achieved against scenes as horrible as the flashbacks to Jamie being repeatedly raped and psychologically tormented, we needed to feel the depth of Claire’s love for Jamie more strongly than ever before. Thankfully, Caitriona Balfe was more than up to the task, turning in a stunningly vulnerable performance of her own.

While some might name the episode’s ending as its most beautiful scene because of its pure sense of hope and light after so much time spent in darkness, my favorite scene came before it, when Claire got through to Jamie by reminding him that—no matter what happened to him or how damaged or shamed he feels—he is her husband, and she has chosen to love him always. I’ve watched a lot of television shows with married couples in them, but I’ve never seen a moment that got to the heart of the vows to love each other “for better or worse, in sickness and in health” like this moment did. This moment was what a strong marriage is all about: two people who made a promise to choose to love each other—even when it’s not easy—and honor that promise always, because they believe what they have together is worth fighting for.

Sometimes it’s not easy to believe you’re worth fighting for, which is exactly what Jamie went through in that scene. He couldn’t believe Claire would still want him after what happened to him. But Claire doesn’t see Jamie as someone to be ashamed of or someone to pity; she never has. She sees him as someone to love. She sees a survivor rather than a victim, and that’s so important in a story about trauma. There are few fictional characters I know of who need healing more than Jamie Fraser, so I have always appreciated the beauty in the fact that he fell in love with and married a healer who is just as good at healing his physical wounds as she is at helping him begin to mend his emotional ones. Claire was right in this scene when she said everything worked out as it did in order for them to be together, and that’s the stuff of epic love stories that don’t come around every day.

Love can’t erase the scars of traumatic experiences. But it can be enough to help that same person learn to live with their own scars. Love can be a flicker of strength and hope where there once was only darkness, and the love between Jamie and Claire—and the way it was shown through the performances by Heughan and Balfe—provided moments of true beauty in an episode that could have been unwatchable in its bleakness.

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

The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (5/17 – 5/24)

This week in television kicked off on Sunday with a fantastic season finale of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and quite possibly the most controversial episode yet of Game of Thrones. Monday and Tuesday featured a pair of ABC reality shows, as Dancing with the Stars crowned its champion (the very deserving Rumer Willis) and The Bachelorette aired a two-night season premiere. Wednesday night saw the end of David Letterman’s reign on The Late Show. And Saturday gave us one of the most emotional and shocking episodes of Orphan Black in the show’s three-year history.

While nothing on TV this week made me happier than Jake and Amy finally sharing a great kiss on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, there was nothing better than Paul’s final minutes on Orphan Black—even if they did break my heart in the process. After multiple seasons spent wondering where Paul’s allegiance lies and what’s behind his stoic facade, we learned the truth, and what a beautiful truth it was: Paul is a protector, and once he fell in love with Sarah she was always the one he tried the hardest to protect. He spent so long trying to help the Castor clones, but once he realized the truth of what was going on (and what a terrifying truth it was—planning to use their sexually-transmitted defect as a weapon and testing it on Sarah), he turned his fierce protective instinct toward the women who were harmed, especially Sarah. He was willing to die to destroy the science behind those experiments and protect Sarah and all the other women who could have been sterilized by the Castor clones.

Paul died a hero, and it was the most honorable death scene I’ve seen for a character in a long time. He died with love in his heart and a brave purpose filling his soul. All of his interactions with Sarah in this episode reminded me why I was once so captivated by their dynamic—because, in a world where Paul’s loyalties always seemed to be a mystery, his love for Sarah (which was never supposed to happen) became his primary motivating factor. It shouldn’t have surprised me to hear Paul tell Sarah that it wasn’t Beth he loved, but I was floored by his honesty in that moment. It was the most beautiful way imaginable for Paul to go out, and it was the perfect way for us to say goodbye to Dylan Bruce as an actor. His little smile after saying that line just about killed me.

This episode of Orphan Black showed us Paul’s heart, and it also showed us Mark’s. I loved the comparisons drawn between them in this episode. Mark’s honest confession that he loved Gracie perfectly paralleled Paul finally admitting to Sarah he loved her. And Mark’s desire to defy orders to avenge the pain he never meant to bring to Gracie humanized him in such a beautiful way. Both Mark and Paul were motivated by their love for women treated as pawns in Dr. Cody’s experiments, and I loved the way that connection was shown, especially in the final scene between them. Ari Millen absolutely destroyed me when Mark told Paul to make things right. The tears started then, and they didn’t stop until long after the final credits rolled. I was so sad to see Paul die, but his death scene honored his character and the actor who brought him to life with deep respect and understanding. But, of course, I wouldn’t expect anything less from Orphan Black.

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

Find Your Team and Get to Work: Let’s Write a Book Together!

After years of dreaming, months of planning, and days of anxiously trying to find the right words to articulate what I want to say, I have some big news to announce…

I’m writing a book!

I’ve known for a long time that one of the things I’ve wanted to accomplish more than anything else was to write a book about pop culture and fandom. But I struggled for a long time with the idea of what that book would look like. How could I take what I do here at NGN and turn it into something that would resonate with people enough to work as a book?

However, once I wrote my thank-you letter to Leslie Knope before the series finale of Parks and Recreation (which, in turn, made me think of the letter I wrote to Princess Leia back during NGN’s earliest days), I knew with total certainty what I was going to do: I was going to write thank-you letters to the fictional women who’ve inspired me through the years—from my childhood and teenage years through the present. I would write about the way Sydney Bristow helped me hold on to my sense of self during my challenging high school years; the way Kate Beckett helped me find the strength to accept my flaws as a young woman; and the way Emma Swan continues to teach me to believe in myself and in my ability to be happy.

But my letters would only tell one story, and doesn’t the beauty of what we experience here at NGN come from the way we all share our stories with one another when we talk about the characters who inspire and move us? NGN isn’t just a shout into the void; it’s become a place of lively, loving, and sincere conversation about the fictional characters and stories we love.

As my personal hero Leslie Knope once stated, “No one achieves anything alone.” So let’s do this together, friends. It’s my hope that this book won’t just be filled with my letters of love and thanks to the female characters who’ve shaped my life; it will be filled with letters from many fangirls (and fanboys if you want to get in on the fun, too, guys).

My goal with this book is to show the positive impact female representation in the media can have on the lives of real women and men around the world. I want to show people that it’s not “weird” or “unhealthy” to connect with the journeys of fictional characters; it’s a way for us to see reflections of our strengths and flaws in the media we consume and to grow as people by watching the growth of characters we relate to. I want to shine a light on the ways the media can change lives for the better through sharing my story and the stories of others who grew into stronger, better people because they were inspired by female characters of all kinds in all kinds of media. I want to show the world how important it is to respect the idea that loving a fictional character has helped so many of us learn to love ourselves for exactly who we are, and that’s why diverse female representation in the media matters.

Does this sound like something you might want to be a part of? Awesome! How can you contribute to this project? It’s easy! Write a thank-you note or letter to a female character who has inspired you, sharing why they’ve made such an impact on your life. The letter can be a paragraph or 5 pages or something in between; write whatever you feel comfortable sharing. And if there’s more than one character you want to write about, you can write as many letters as you’d like. The more letters I have when I’m putting this book together, the better it will be.

Letters can be sent to, and I’ll start accepting them whenever you have them written. I won’t name a date when I’ll cut off submissions because I want to get as many letters as possible, but I’m thinking by this fall I’ll want to start getting everything together to send to independent publishers and agents. I’ll have a firmer date as the process unfolds.

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Grading the Season Finales 2015: Brooklyn Nine-Nine



Title Johnny and Dora (2.23)

Written By Luke Del Tredici

Two-Sentence Summary When Jake and Amy have to pose as an engaged couple to track an identity thief, their ability to separate their personal feelings from their professional partnership is put to the test. Meanwhile, Terry and Gina try to help Captain Holt find a way out of his new position, and Boyle helps Marcus plan a surprise for Rosa’s birthday.

Game-Changing Moment Changes were happening all over the 99th precinct at the end of this episode. Captain Holt decided to take the job with NYPD Public Relations rather than letting his team fall into the hands of Madeline Wuntch, and that decision sent shockwaves through the precinct, even more so when Gina decided to leave with him. Having Holt and Gina work separately from the rest of the characters broadened the scope for Season Three and shook up some of the show’s best dynamics—Jake and Holt, Amy and Gina, Terry and Gina, Amy and Holt, etc. I’m sure the show will find a way to believably (or at least entertainingly) bring those two characters back to the precinct soon enough, but until that happens, Brooklyn Nine-Nine will certainly feel different.

Captain Holt’s departure and the sense of change it brought with it also seemed to inspire Jake and Amy to change the game in their own way—with a real kiss after a pair of undercover ones earlier in the episode. While the fallout from that kiss wasn’t addressed yet (thanks to the arrival of the new captain), it was clear from both of their expressions after pulling away that this isn’t going to be something they try to ignore or excuse away because they regret it. Instead, this has the potential to be a major turning point in their relationship, and, as such, a major turning point in the show.

“Johnny and Dora” ended with a sense of confidence in terms of where the show is going and how it’s getting there. It swung for the fences on not just one but two major changes, and I think both of those swings will lead to big hits. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a show that has yet to let me down thus far. That makes it easy for me to watch large-scale changes unfold, because I have every faith that those changes will be handled with care.

Finale M.V.P. How do we start a campaign to get Andre Braugher an Emmy for playing Captain Holt? Because I want to lead the charge. This finale started with a typical “Holt vs. Wuntch” plot, which always brings fun things out of Braugher as an actor. From his description of her as a succubus to his face as she checked to see if he was wearing a wire, I loved every moment. However, it was when Holt actually had to leave the precinct that Braugher really got a chance to stretch this character’s range and tug at all our heartstrings in the process. I loved that he started his farewell speech with his usual unemotional demeanor, but then the emotions he felt became so overwhelming that they started to peek through. And best part was that the dominant emotions were pride and love for the family he’s become the leader of. That scene could have been played for laughs and nothing else, with him finally showing emotion by breaking down and crying, but the show instead chose to have him genuinely smile, which was a thousand times more affecting (for the audience and for the other characters). “Warm” is not an adjective usually used to describe this character, but that’s exactly what he was in that last scene. And the fact that Braugher managed to make Holt’s rare display of genuine affection feel so grounded, earned, and believable speaks to his ability to make what could have been a robotic, one-dimensional character always feel human and complex. I love when unexpected characters make me cry, and that’s exactly what Braugher was able to achieve with his performance in this finale.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (5/10 – 5/17)

This was a truly fantastic week of television, which is usually what happens when May sweeps time is in full swing and finales are airing all over the place. On Sunday, Brooklyn Nine-Nine set up its season finale with a great cliffhanger, and Game of Thrones aired another strong hour. However, it was a pair of season finales which made Sunday truly memorable. On The Good Wife, Kalinda said her final farewell and a surprise visitor showed up at Alicia’s door in the closing seconds. Also on on Sunday, Once Upon a Time‘s season finale gave us a fun trip into an alternate reality, but it also gave us a heart-wrenching sacrifice made out of hope, love, and true bravery. Monday continued the trend of strong season finales, with an episode of Castle so good it could have served as the perfect ending to the whole series. And Wednesday’s season finale of Nashville was as emotional as it gets, with moments of pain and pride that moved me deeply. Finally, Saturday’s episode of Orphan Black was a breathless thrill ride, and Outlander aired an episode that shook all of its fans to their core (an episode I still can’t think about without my hands starting to shake). In a week filled with some episodes that might end up as all-time favorites of mine in their respective series, choosing the best moment felt like a nearly impossible task. Was it Emma’s incredible moment of bravery or the emotional sacrifices in the alternate reality which inspired her sacrifice on Once Upon a Time (or even the very sexy sword fighting lesson between Emma and Hook)? Was it Mrs. S. welcoming Gracie as her guest on Orphan Black? Or was it Will finally learning to love himself and love someone else openly and proudly on Nashville? All of those were great moments, but only one moment I saw on television this week has made me cry happy tears every time I’ve re-watched it, and that’s the ending of Monday’s Castle finale. There was such love in that scene—between the characters, the actors, and the writers. Every word of Castle’s speech was beautiful. And the sight of the entire cast together in one room for the first time was incredibly moving, highlighting the sense of family this show has built over the last seven years. Nothing I saw on television this week made me happier than those final minutes of this season of Castle. They were a true gift to fans of this show, and I will treasure them. Always. What was the best thing you saw on TV this week?