TV Time: The Americans 5.12

the americans WCC


Title: The World Council of Churches

Episode M.V.P.: Keri Russell
“The World Council of Churches” wasn’t a particularly Elizabeth-centric episode, but it still allowed Keri Russell to show the many facets she’s given to this character over the years. When I think about the complexity of Russell’s work in this episode and in the course of this show as a whole, I keep coming back to the final 10 minutes of this episode, which showcased her brilliant ability to seamlessly transition between soft and hard, warm and cold, certain and conflicted.

I think I’ve watched the moment Philip and Elizabeth talk about the names they and their children will take back in Russia about 100 times, and I still can’t get enough of it. The matter-of-fact way Elizabeth tells him that Paige and Henry will take his name was sweet, but it was the beat after—when Philip asked her what name she’d take—that was most affecting. Without any words—with only the softest smile and nod—Russell conveyed so much about Elizabeth’s commitment to her husband and to making their marriage something real no matter where they are. Once again, this scene reminded us that when Elizabeth commits herself to something, she does so with everything she is. And now she’s chosen to commit herself to Philip. The most beautiful thing about that is how happy it makes her. This isn’t Elizabeth choosing him because she has no other options or because someone else forced her to be with him; she’s so happy with her choice that it makes her glow in the darkness. The way Russell has slowly allowed us to see the warmth Elizabeth has hidden underneath compartmentalized trauma and a devotion to her mission made this moment feel believable and realistic. A smile and a nod are not often monumental moments for a character, but for this character, they are. For one moment, Russell allowed us to see what a truly content Elizabeth looks like, and it was a beautiful sight to see.

On the heels of this moment of unguarded happiness and warmth, though, came a reminder that Elizabeth Jennings is still not a woman to mess with. The complexity of emotions that crossed her face upon hearing Tuan’s awful plan was brilliant—Russell showed in a brief flash that Elizabeth understood that Tuan’s plan could work, but her emotions as a mother were stronger than her emotions as an agent. When Elizabeth decides to do something, there’s no hesitation—no waffling. That was my favorite thing about the beat immediately after Philip told her the plan could work, but Pasha could also end up dead—they silently, definitively came to the same conclusion (a lovely reminder of the power of the partnership between Russell and Matthew Rhys and what they can convey without words), and then Elizabeth went into “badass agent mode.” Russell has a very specific tone to her voice when Elizabeth is giving orders, and it was wonderful to see it used to try to save a life this time. The cold, harsh way she shoved the phone at Tuan and the deliberate way she seemed to use all the force she had to press the numbers on the phone conveyed the kind of complete authority that Russell projects with effortless confidence.

Elizabeth Jennings is one of the most complex female characters I’ve ever seen on television. She can smile with such genuine affection that it’ll make you melt in one scene, and then she can immediately follow that with a reminder that she is also a force to be reckoned with and a terror for anyone who stands in the way of her getting what she wants. That dichotomy may have rang false in the hands of a lesser actress, but luckily, Russell has always been more than up to the task of showing us that Elizabeth—like all women—can’t be made to fix into one nice little box.

Favorite Scene: Oleg and his father talk
“The World Council of Churches” was largely an episode about parents and children (in the same way this whole season has largely been about parents and children). It focused on parents trying to do the right thing for their kids but struggling to figure out exactly what the right thing is and ultimately coming the realization that no matter how much you want to protect your child from any kind of struggle, there are some situations in which you can’t avoid watching them go through hardships. In this way, this episode did what The Americans does best; it took a universal truth about family life and applied to the heightened lives of spies and those who are caught up in their world.

This episode was designed to hurt, but I never expected the one scene that actually made me cry as I was watching to be between Oleg and his father. However, that was the scene that ultimately moved me to tears because of the overwhelming love present between parent and child in it. If you would have told me last year that I would grow to care so deeply about Igor Burov that he would make me cry, I would never have believed you. But that’s the beauty of this show; it makes you care even when you think you never will.

In this scene, it became so heartbreakingly clear that Igor’s political power was never about making himself look good; it was about protecting his family. The moment he revealed to Oleg that he couldn’t save Oleg’s mother but now he could crush anyone who wanted to hurt him was so powerful because reminded us that every character on this show is more than they appear on the surface. The man who once seemed like a bullying bureaucrat is actually motivated by the strongest force on this show: love. Political systems and ideologies are ultimately no match for human connection in this universe; Igor wanted to rise in power not to serve his country better or to have a higher social standing—he wanted to be able to keep his family safe and to never feel powerless in the face of their suffering again.

But what moved me the most in this scene wasn’t the revelation that Igor would use his power to help Oleg because he was his son; it was the revelation that he wanted to crush anyone who would hurt him because he’s good. Oleg is one of the good ones; he is driven by a desire to do the right thing, and Costa Ronin plays that so well it’ll break your heart into a million pieces. So to have his father acknowledge that was incredibly moving, especially when looked at as foreshadowing for the end of this episode. Philip and Elizabeth are moved to save Pasha not because he’s their own son but because he’s good—he’s innocent.

“The World Council of Churches” shined a light on the fact that so many of the children on this show—Mischa, Paige, Henry, Pasha, and even Oleg—are good. In this world of corruption, coldness, secrets, and violence, goodness can still exist. And in that revelation is hope for the next generation, if only they can escape the dark clouds swirling around them. For Oleg, however, it may be too late. Oleg knows he’s in trouble; the KGB is getting too close to the truth about his betrayal. But he loves his father too much to let him get caught up in the mess he’s in by trying to save him. There are some messes our parents can’t help us out of; it’s one of the hard truths we face growing up. And there are limits to what parents can do to help their children; it’s one of the hard truths parents face as their children grow. Watching Oleg and Igor come to these difficult realization was profoundly sad but also profoundly beautiful in the way only The Americans can be.

Extra Thoughts:
• The end of this episode was the very definition of “harrowing.” I don’t think I took a full breath from the time Tuan began describing his plan until after the credits rolled. I always thought there was a chance that Pasha might kill himself because of the bullying he was facing, but I never expected Tuan to be the one to coach him through it for the sake of the mission. I always knew Tuan was a loose cannon who was prone to violent solutions to problems, but I never saw this coming. Ivan Mok did such a great job of making it clear that Tuan was so focused on this mission that he had no concern for human life; he wasn’t doing this sadistically, but he thought it was the best way to get results. Unfortunately, he didn’t think about the fact that a suicide attempt by Pasha would probably make his mother less interested in her affair, which she needs to keep up for the mission to be successful.
• The parallels between who Tuan is and who Elizabeth was could not be clearer. Tuan puts the mission above everything and believes losses are sometimes necessary to achieve objectives, which we’ve certainly seen before with Elizabeth. However, Elizabeth has her limits now. Love, especially loving her children, has changed her. And when Tuan detailed his plan, she reacted not as an agent but as a mother—not as a machine but as a human being.
• The moments on the street as Elizabeth and Tuan raced to catch up to Philip and present a happy façade for the American agent watching them in the car were so tense it was difficult to watch them unfold. It’s a sign of how damaged and done Philip is that he walked out without thinking about how he could blow not just his own cover but also Elizabeth’s if he made one wrong move.
• I loved the different layers that could be read into Elizabeth grabbing Philip’s hand as they approached the house. On the surface, she needed to hold his hand to maintain their cover as a family walking to their friends’ house. However, it was also a way to show that Elizabeth is with him; they’re in this together. No matter what happens, they’re partners in work and in life, and whatever they’re about to face, they’re going to face it together.
• The theme of potential suicides weighed heavily in the episode’s final act. Not only did we hear about Pasha’s impending suicide attempt, we also saw Oleg leaning on the bridge with the weight of the world on his shoulders, and I couldn’t have been the only one who initially feared for the worst when Paige started stringing up that rope in the garage.
• Paige, however, faced a different kind of death in this episode—the death of her old self. By throwing out her cross, she showed her parents that she was letting go of who she once was and what she once believed. And I was captivated and more than a little disturbed by the deep interest in Holly Taylor’s voice when Paige was talking to her parents about their power to get Pastor Tim to move. It seems Paige is growing closer to completely embracing the “family business” at a time when her parents are looking to get out of it. That final scene with her expertly dodging and beating up on the laundry bag showed her doing what Elizabeth suggested—training to take control of her life. And while part of me is happy to see her feeling stronger, part of me is devastated that the strength she’s found is coming from a world I never wanted her to be a part of. The moment she threw the cross away crushed me because religion gave Paige something to believe in and a pathway to do good for others, and it felt like she was throwing away her belief in that for a new belief in what her parents do (which we all know is not doing much good for others), which is profoundly tragic.
• Pastor Tim gave Philip and Elizabeth some sound parenting advice, but did anyone else find it kind of unrealistic that they would go to him with their plans to leave the country? It was one of the few times I didn’t buy a writing decision on this show.
• I don’t know what to think of Sofia and her hockey player fiancé at this point, except that this storyline shows in a very overt way the fact that loving someone makes espionage much harder and that agencies like the FBI and KGB can’t control human emotions. The only thing I know for sure is that it led to some classic reactions from Stan and Aderholt. The way they tried to hide their confusion and frustration under a thin veneer of happiness was hilarious.
• Henry’s boarding school is the new EPCOT, right? He’s never going to get to go there, and it breaks my heart. This episode did such a great job of reminding us how genuinely good and kind Henry is. Philip and Elizabeth have done terrible things for their country, but they raised some great kids.

TV Time: The Americans 5.11

Title: Dyatkovo

Episode M.V.P.: Irina Dubova
What has always made The Americans resonate with me is the way it makes you care about basically every character—from Philip, Elizabeth, and Stan to the various men, women, and even children who find themselves caught up in the tangled web they’re weaving. The casting department for this show consistently manages to find actors who are able to break my heart in even the smallest roles. That was certainly true in this episode, as Irina Dubova (who only has 11 acting credits to her name dating back to just 2013, according to IMDB) made me feel physically sick over a soon-to-be victim’s fate in a way I haven’t felt since Lois Smith’s incredible work as Betty in Season Three’s “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?”

What I found most impressive about Dubova’s work in this episode was the way she embodied the very core of The Americans—the concepts of truth, identity, and reality versus artifice—in such a short amount of time onscreen. The fact that I spent most of her scene truly wondering whether or not “Natalie” was who the Center believed she was is a credit to Dubova. In order for the scene to work, we had to be unsure, we had to doubt the Center at first, and then we also had to ask the same question Philip asks: Does it even matter if she really is who she the Center claims she is? Does she deserve to die?

That question can be asked of every one of Philip and Elizabeth’s victims over the years, but for some reason, it weighed heavier on me during this scene than perhaps any other. So much of the horror of this episode’s final minutes came from the absolutely heartbreaking performance Dubova gave as the truth came out. Dubova made every word, every pause, and every breath feel deeply personal. When she begged Philip and Elizabeth not to let her husband know because “He thinks I’m wonderful,” I felt absolutely gutted. It was such a simple line, but Dubova’s delivery of it was devastating. The fact that what mattered most to her was not her own life but her husband’s belief that she was a good person made every second that came afterward even more painful.

When “Natalie” and her husband were killed, I found myself more horrified than I have ever been over one of Philip and Elizabeth’s kills on this show. Part of that was because her husband was completely innocent, but the main reason I was so viscerally upset was because Dubova made me care about her character despite my own best instincts. Did she do terrible things to survive? Yes. Was she perhaps “more deserving” (if that can ever be said) of the violence that befell her than Betty or the lab worker from earlier this season or the man Philip killed on the bus in that infamous “Tainted Love” scene? Yes. But the whole point of this scene was to put us in Philip’s shoes, asking if that matters at all. She might have done the Nazis’ dirty work, but she is still a human being who feels, who loves, and who has a family she wants to protect. And Dubova made all of that so horribly clear in that scene, making me feel every bit as broken as Philip over the idea of this woman having to die. “Natalie” wasn’t just a target; she was a person, and for the ending of this episode to hit as heavily as it did, she needed to feel like a fully realized, complex person, which Dubova did with heartbreaking honesty as her character’s true story began to unfold.

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.21/6.22



Title The Final Battle: Part 1/The Final Battle: Part 2

Two-Sentence Summary After the Black Fairy casts her curse, Henry has to try to get Emma to believe the truth about herself and her family, who are trapped in an Enchanted Forest that is rapidly disappearing along with her belief. Meanwhile, flash-forwards reveal the next generation’s Truest Believer and her skeptical parent.

Favorite Line “Now we get to do what’s next. Believing in even the possibility of a happy ending is a powerful thing, but living with that kind of belief—that’s the most powerful thing of all. That’s hope. So you ask ‘What now?’ Now, we get to keep going on. We get to keep doing what we love with people we love. An ending isn’t happiness. Being together is.” (Snow White)

My Thoughts
“Believing in even the possibility of a happy ending is a very powerful thing.”

Once Upon a Time has always been a show for believers and for those who want once again to believe. It’s a show that reminds its viewers that there is power in believing—in magic, in your loved ones, and in yourself. Belief—and the hope that comes from living out that belief even when others try to tell you that you’re crazy for it—is a saving grace in a world that all too often has forgotten that being hopeful isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength.

This chapter of Once Upon a Time was the story of a woman’s journey to believe in the face of incredible obstacles, and it was also the story of the boy who helped her find that belief. This chapter taught its viewers many lessons, but one of its most lasting messages , which was reflected in an important way in this finale, was that it’s okay to need help sometimes; you don’t have to do everything on your own—including believing in yourself.

The power of belief was at the center of “The Final Battle,” to the point where the titular battle wasn’t really referring to the swordfight that occurred near the end of the episode but was actually the battle for Emma’s belief, which began—as Rumplestiltskin predicted it would—when Henry brought Emma to Storybrooke on her 28th birthday with the goal of getting her to believe in her true self.

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.20



Title The Song in Your Heart

Two-Sentence Summary When the Black Fairy challenges Emma on her wedding day and brings her back to a time when she felt alone, flashbacks reveal that her mother’s wish to help her find her happy ending gave her a song that she’s always carried with her, which helps her understand that she’s never truly been alone. After facing the Black Fairy, Emma is finally able to marry Killian—right before a new curse descends on Storybrooke.

Favorite Line “They say that a captain’s heart belongs to his ship, but with this ring, it now belongs to you.” (Killian)

My Thoughts Greetings, fellow Oncers! I’m coming to you from my hotel room at Walt Disney World’s lovely Contemporary Resort, where I’m enjoying a much-needed dose of magic this week. Typically, I try to avoid writing of any sort on my vacations since I do so much writing when I’m home, but I couldn’t leave the NGN Family without a place to talk about this episode. And after hearing the news of Jennifer Morrison’s departure from Once Upon a Time this morning, I also knew I couldn’t leave you without a space to talk about what she has meant to you, what Emma Swan has meant to you, and what you think is going to happen to the show without her should it be picked up for a seventh season.

I know that I am going to miss both Emma Swan as a character and Jennifer Morrison as an actor on my favorite television show more than I ever imagined before learning the news today. Writing about Emma’s journey completely changed me as a writer and as a woman, and meeting Morrison remains one of the highlights of my life as a fangirl. While I’m incredibly sad to lose this character (and am really hoping the show just ends instead of trying to go on without her), I’m so thankful for what Emma brought into my life—including most of you reading this. NGN became what it is today because of how much fun I’ve had writing about Emma’s journey and how much I’ve loved connecting with all of you about it.

A few members of the NGN Family have reached out to me today about writing a letter to Emma for The Fan Mail Project, and I wanted to let all of you know that you can definitely do so. I haven’t started putting together that part of the book yet, so please don’t shy away from writing something about this character if she’s meant something to you over the years. You can send them to whenever inspiration strikes you. And if you already wrote to Emma but want to edit your letter, you can always do that, too. (Lord knows I’m going to be adding so much more to mine!)

But enough talk of endings…Let’s talk happy beginnings instead! Since I have to be up early to catch a flight on Soarin’ Around the World at EPCOT, I’ll leave most of the analysis up to you this week, but here are some discussion topics to get you started:

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That’s When the Fun Begins: The Best of Captain Swan

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Is there anything more magical than a wedding? On Sunday, Emma Swan and Killian Jones are finally tying the knot during Once Upon a Time’s musical episode extravaganza, and to prepare for their walk down the aisle, I thought it was the perfect occasion to take a walk down memory lane, reliving our favorite moments in their fairytale romance.

There’s never been a love story on television like Emma and Killian’s. From the very start, it’s been the perfect blend of sweeping fairytale and relatable realism. This pirate and princess have taken us on a journey that’s spanned years and realms; have found each other through lost memories, alternate realities, and a ridiculous number of curses; and have gone to the Underworld and back again for each other. Along the way, they’ve struggled with their own demons, fears, and emotional walls—forces of darkness just as strong as any villain they’ve ever faced—but they’ve emerged from those battles stronger as individuals and as partners.

Killian and Emma have proven their True Love many times—sacrificing for each other, choosing each other, fighting for each other, supporting each other, and making each other happy when they thought happiness might not be in the cards for them anymore. They’ve given each other hope, and in the process, they’ve given hope to so many people watching.

So before the next chapter in this love story begins, let’s take a look back at my 10 favorite moments along the way—from Never Land to the Underworld and from time-traveling adventures to breakfast table kisses. Don’t forget to share your favorites in the comments!

1. “Perhaps I would…” (3.02: Lost Girl)
There’s a moment in every “shipper’s” life when you go from liking the idea of a pairing and thinking they have good chemistry to being completely sold on what this relationship could be, and this moment of startling sincerity from Killian Jones was that moment for me. I appreciated Colin O’Donoghue and Jennifer Morrison’s chemistry and could see the potential in pairing their two character together as far back as “Tallahassee,” but this was the moment I went all in. The way the scene shifted from playful and flirtatious to suddenly sincere stopped me in my tracks, and it made me realize that what Emma Swan truly deserved in a partner was exactly what Killian Jones was offering her in that moment (and would continue to offer her from them on): someone who would love her for everything she is and would patiently wait for her to let him see the true Emma behind her armor.

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.19



Title The Black Fairy

Two-Sentence Summary When Rumplestiltskin, Emma, and Gideon travel to a dream realm to find where Gideon’s heart is being hidden, they actually discover the truth behind Rumplestiltskin’s abandonment by his mother. With this new knowledge, Rumplestiltskin makes a choice that will affect not just his future but also Emma’s—on the eve of her wedding.

Favorite Lines
Killian: This might be the most important mission yet: Operation Best Man.
Henry: Really? I’m honored.

My Thoughts Due to time constraints (and a certain other post I’m working on before next week’s big Once Upon a Time musical wedding extravaganza), I’m afraid I can’t go into as much depth as I’d like to when it comes to unpacking this incredibly rich episode. However, I still wanted to generate some discussion about what was another solid outing in what’s becoming a nice run-up to the Season Six finale. Therefore, here are my Five Fast Feelings about “The Black Fairy,” and I welcome all of you to share your feelings in the comments!

1. My biggest complaint with this episode was that I’m not sure even the writers can keep the show’s mythology straight anymore.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but Emma was originally considered the Savior because Rumplestiltskin built a “Savior clause” into the Dark Curse that he made, right? So much has changed in terms of the mythology of the Dark Curse and the Savior since then, though, that it’s basically impossible to keep it all straight at this point. This season has given us multiple Saviors, different definitions for what it means to be a Savior, and even a different origin of the Dark Curse. Things like that generally don’t bother me too much, but I’m so confused now about what it actually means to be a Savior that it takes me out of the show from time to time. I thought this season would be about Emma learning that she doesn’t have to do all the saving on her own (because that’s far too much of a burden to place on one person—especially since she already seemed to have fulfilled her role as Savior by breaking the Dark Curse), but it just seems to be reinforcing that point instead.

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.18

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Title Where Bluebirds Fly

Two-Sentence Summary Zelena’s confrontation with the Black Fairy leaves her with a choice: go back to Oz and live alone with just her daughter or give up her magic to help the only family she has. Meanwhile, Emma and Killian’s impending nuptials has her parents in full wedding-planning mode, until Charming is reminded of what Emma must face.

Favorite Lines
Emma: We were just making some pancakes.
Snow: Pancakes. Right. Maybe I should come back after you’ve made pancakes.
Killian: Don’t worry. I’ve lost my appetite. I have to go and have a quick and bracing shower.

My Thoughts Once Upon a Time is at its best when its plot works to serve its characters—not the other way around. As the buildup to the climactic “Final Battle” has begun, I was initially worried that this major plot point would dominate the show, but in a surprising turn of events, it seems the opposite is true. The last two episodes have been filled with lovely character-driven moments, and “When Bluebirds Fly” was perhaps the least plot-driven episode of this entire season. Nothing really moved forward as far as the Final Battle is concerned (It actually ended with things back at Square One for the Black Fairy.), but various characters—especially Zelena—took huge strides forward in their development. And that is a far more engaging and entertaining way for me to spend an hour on a Sunday night than watching a series of plot twists and turns that offers little to no time for characters to do anything other than offer up expository monologues or create new and unnecessary conflicts.

Every conflict in this episode came from a place that felt true to who these characters are and have always been. Nothing felt contrived or forced; everything felt earned and thematically resonant—tying back into the ideas of love and sacrifice, true happiness, and what makes a place a home.

For all of these characters, home is the place where you feel you belong—it’s where you’re loved. Home truly is where the heart is on this show. And for a long time, Zelena felt she belonged in Oz. But this episode’s flashbacks reminded us that she didn’t feel she belonged in Oz because she was loved there; she felt she belonged there because she was powerful there. Zelena’s entire arc has been about letting go of her need to define herself by how good she is at magic, which is a much more relatable story than it would seem at first glance. Haven’t we all defined ourselves by the things we feel we’re best at? Haven’t we all worried about who we would be if we suddenly didn’t have that talent anymore? Maybe it’s just my inner Slytherin coming through, but I related to Zelena much more than I was expecting to in this episode. When you spend your whole life wanting to be the best at something, how easy would it be to give that talent up for someone else? I know I’d struggle with doing the right thing if it meant losing the talent I’d always prided myself on having.

Zelena has become one of the most complex characters on this show. (Remember when I thought she was just a one-note, over-the-top villain back in Season 3B?) She wants so badly to be wanted, to feel important, which is a very believable byproduct of being abandoned the way she was as a child. And for her, magic was the key to making her mark on the world. If she could prove that she was the strongest, most powerful witch, then she would be able to feel she was worth something. Because otherwise, she was just a lost little girl whose mother left her behind because she wasn’t worth the trouble.

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TV Time: The Americans 5.07


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Title: The Committee on Human Rights

Episode M.V.P.: Holly Taylor
The Americans is a show that delights in the details, and nowhere is that more evident than in the performances its cast delivers each episode. Just the smallest change in facial expressions or body language can signal huge changes in a character arc if you’re paying attention. And that has certainly been true of Paige’s journey over the last few seasons. Holly Taylor has clearly learned from the example set by the brilliant actors around her, and she has become a beautifully nuanced actor in her own right. Her work in this episode especially was filled with tiny touches that revealed big things about where Paige’s mind and heart are at this point in her story.

Paige is at a crossroads, and this episode showed her both being drawn deeper into her parents’ world while also struggling with the weight of what it means to follow in their footsteps—to sacrifice for what she believes is the greater good. I loved the gentle, tentative warmth between her and Gabriel in the opening scene. Taylor’s small, sincere smile when Gabriel said Paige had courage made me happy and also broke my heart because she made it so clear that this is all Paige wanted to hear—that it’s taking courage for her to get through every day now that she knows her parents’ secret. I loved the way Taylor played Paige’s acceptance of Gabriel as the closest thing she’ll ever have to an extended family—with a complex but believable mixture of happiness and hesitation, a desire to know more about this person who clearly cares about her but also a touch of sadness that even her stuffed tiger’s origins were something she was lied to about for years.

As the episode went on, it became clear that introducing Paige to Gabriel worked as far as deepening her connection to her family and their work was concerned. All Paige has ever wanted was to feel like she was part of something that could affect positive change in the world, and Gabriel helped her believe that her parents do that in their own way. That hunger that’s always been part of Paige is something Taylor plays so well, and it came through in such a powerful way when she was asking her parents about the wheat, even though it kills me to think about what’s going to happen when Paige finds out the truth.

The way Taylor allowed us to see Paige processing all this new information about her parents, Gabriel, and the work they do made her decision to break up with Matthew believable. Paige thinks it’s her turn to sacrifice, and it broke my heart to watch her break up with Matthew, effectively walking away from any hope of a normal, teenage life. Taylor was phenomenal in that scene; she has a gift for projecting an honest vulnerability that is rare in young actors. Every beat of that scene was like a dagger in my Paige-loving heart, but the part that made me actually cry was her reaction to pushing him away using what she learned from her mother. The aftermath of that moment was when Taylor’s gift for subtle, expressive movement and physical details was used to its fullest. Watching her physically curl in on herself, holding her hands as if unsure what to do with them was devastating. And the total anguish in her voice when she apologized gutted me. In that moment, Paige gave up any hope of happiness in the service of something greater (made clear in the next scene when her eyes landed on the copy of Marx on her bookshelf), and Taylor made that moment feel deeply, profoundly sad.

No character on television right now ignites my protective instincts like Paige Jennings, and so much of that is because of the believable openness Taylor brings to the character. Unlike the other characters on the show, Paige is an open book; she wears her heart on her sleeve, which has left it far more beaten and bruised than any teenager’s heart should be. Watching Paige slowly close that book and hide her heart away has been hard to watch, but Taylor has done such a fantastic job with this part of Paige’s story that I can’t look away—no matter how much it hurts.

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.17

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Title Awake

Two-Sentence Summary As Regina’s plan to break the sleeping curse on Snow and Charming backfires, weakening both their hearts and forcing them to confront the idea that Emma might have to face the final battle alone, flashbacks reveal a time in which they chose to leave Emma alone to allow her to fulfill her destiny and save everyone. Meanwhile, Killian tries to find a way to reach Emma with the help of Tiger Lily.

Favorite Line “Swan, I know you face an uncertain future, but there is one thing I want you to be certain of: that I will always—always—be by your side. So Emma Swan, what do you say? Will you marry me?” (Killian)

My Thoughts It’s no secret that Once Upon a Time makes me cry a lot. I cry during happy moments and heartbreaking ones, romantic scenes and family-focused ones. But I’m not sure I’ve ever cried as often as I did during “Awake”—or as intensely. After six seasons and countless emotional journeys, this show still managed to knock me off my feet with feelings, and it did so by focusing on the reasons I first fell in love with this show (Snow and Charming’s relationship with each other and their relationship with their daughter) and the reason I devoted years of my life to writing about it (Emma and Killian’s relationship). At the end of the day, I have been and will always be a Charming Family fangirl and I will always love writing about Emma Swan more than perhaps any other fictional character ever created. So “Awake” felt tailor-made to both break my heart and fill it with hope by once again putting the parts of this show that have always meant the most to me in the spotlight.

“Awake” was an episode about the sacrifices we make, which made it heartbreaking, but it was also an episode about those moments in life when we don’t have to sacrifice—when karma works in our favor and people who deserve to be happy get to be happy, which made it hopeful. And all of that was told through the lens of Emma and her relationship with her parents and her pirate—relationships that make up the very fabric of Once Upon a Time.

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TV Time: The Americans 5.06

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Title: Crossbreed

Episode M.V.P.: Frank Langella
Frank Langella has been a scene-stealer for years on The Americans, but “Crossbreed” put him in the spotlight as Gabriel’s own crisis of conscience and fatigue with the work he’s been doing joined the chorus of the rest of the characters this season who’ve been beaten down by orders that feel less like work assignments and more like prisons. Langella was a perfect addition to this cast because he’s able to convey so much emotion through the smallest changes in his facial expressions and tone of voice, and that was put to use perhaps better than ever before in this episode.

Gabriel is tired—he’s tired of lying to Philip, he’s tired of assigning Philip and Elizabeth to missions that are breaking their spirit and testing their partnership, and he’s tired of having to swallow his own doubts and concerns because of his job. Langella has played that exhaustion perfectly, slowly allowing it to develop each season (especially after his near-death experience last season) so we truly believe that he wants to go home because the weight of everything he’s had to carry—especially the weight of this latest, major lie to Philip about Mischa—is too much for him to bear any longer.

What resonated most deeply to me in this episode was the sense that Gabriel’s exhaustion with this line of work stems mainly from the fact that he cares about Philip and Elizabeth, and he doesn’t like watching them suffer because of his orders. The first scene of the episode between Elizabeth and Gabriel said so much about both characters’ changing states of mind. As Elizabeth—the closest thing he’s ever had to a daughter—struggled with the fact that he was telling her to continue her honeytrap, Langella moved me with his paternal affection for this woman who he clearly cares about even more as a person than he does as an asset at this point. When Elizabeth asked if there was something wrong with her because she was having so much trouble sleeping with someone who wasn’t her husband, my heart broke for her—for the woman who was trained to see emotional connection as weakness and is having a hard time dealing with the way her love for her husband is affecting her work—but it broke for Gabriel just as much. Langella’s warm, gentle assertion that there’s nothing wrong with her said so much about Gabriel’s relationship with Elizabeth and with his own emotions. There was a small look of knowing pride in his eyes, making it clear that Gabriel isn’t a typical KGB handler; he’s happy that his agents have fallen in love, and he’s proud of Elizabeth for allowing herself to feel so deeply about her husband. Gabriel is so much like Philip—they both see genuine connection as something to cherish—and it’s both lifting his spirit and breaking his heart that his most prized asset is finally learning to open her heart.

Like Elizabeth and Philip, Gabriel can’t shut down his feelings for the sake of his work; he can’t completely convince himself that he’s doing the right thing anymore. And that means it’s time to leave. The scene with him at the Lincoln Memorial was such a gorgeous piece of wordless acting by Langella, a thousand conflicting emotions and the weight of too many lives impacted by his orders and secrets—including the lives of the two people he loves as children—evident in every step he took and every blink of his weary eyes.

Gabriel has always been a fascinating character because he clearly cares about Philip and Elizabeth, but he’s also had to manipulate them to get the job done. He loves them as children, but they’re ultimately not his children; they’re his agents. But it was especially clear in this episode that his concern for them outweighs his desire to put the Center first at this point. His warning to Philip about the Center watching him wasn’t something he should have told him as a handler, but it was something he had to reveal because he cares about Philip and is concerned about him—not as an agent but as a person. It was delivered with a sense of genuine concern that betrayed how much trouble Philip is actually in, which made it even more frightening than if it had been delivered in a purely professional manner.

The professional pitfalls of love—the way our innate desire to connect on a real level as humans conflicts with a career that is supposed to be composed of only fabricated connections—is one of the biggest themes of The Americans, and this episode extended that beautifully into Gabriel’s story. Gabriel loves Philip and Elizabeth; I have never believed that more strongly than in this episode. And he loves that they love each other. But love is testing everyone this season, and Gabriel was one of the first to break under the strain of having to hurt someone you care about for the job. Langella found the sweet spot in that struggle so brilliantly, making me care about Gabriel in this episode more than I ever have. And it all culminated in that beautiful moment he saw Paige—the closest thing he’ll ever have to a granddaughter—for the first (and most likely the last) time. The tears in his eyes and the smile on his face said everything about Gabriel’s humanity even after years of doing such a soul-sucking job, and that humanity moved me to tears right before the credits rolled.

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