What Makes You Extraordinary: A Letter to Kate Beckett

This is the latest in my collection of letters to female characters who’ve inspired me throughout my life as a fangirl. If you have a character you’d like to write a letter to, click here for details about The Fan Mail Project—you have two weeks left to get your letters written!

Dreamworld

Source: Tumblr.com

Dear Beckett,

I’ve tried to start this letter no less than 10 times in 10 different ways. In fact, I’m sitting right now with tear tracks on my face because I’ve been trying to come up with the perfect way to start this letter for the last hour, and nothing’s felt right. I want this letter to be perfect because you mean so much to me. I want it to be the best letter I write for this project that was inspired in no small way by the impact you’ve had on my life.

But the start of this letter doesn’t have to be perfect—none of it has to be perfect. Because the biggest lesson you’ve taught me is that it’s okay to be imperfect; it’s okay to struggle, and it’s okay to admit that you’re struggling. Your story taught me to take the parts of myself that I see as weaknesses and make them strengths, to acknowledge that my imperfections and flaws are a part of me, and to use that acknowledgement to grow into a better and stronger version of myself. So if this tribute is flawed, that doesn’t mean it’s without value. You taught me that, and that lesson changed my life.

We’ve been on a long journey together, Beckett. I’ve watched Castle since the pilot episode, and I’ve admired your character just as long. From the start, I loved your confidence and competence, your inability to suffer fools, your hair, and your coat collection. You were the reason I bought my first pair of stilettos and my first trench coat. It was your picture I brought to the salon when I decided to get red highlights in my hair. And, thanks to you, I hardly ever go to Starbucks without ordering a skinny vanilla latte.

But something changed during Season Four of Castle. Your story became the story. You’d always been a hero, but the narrative was suddenly laser-focused on you becoming your own hero. And that story helped me reclaim my story. It helped me see myself as a protagonist and not just a supporting player in other people’s stories. In becoming your own hero, you taught me how to become my own hero.

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NGN’s Best of 2015: TV Episodes

The Americans 3.10

Source: spoilertv.com

Today’s entry in NGN’s Best of 2015 series focuses on the year’s best episodes of television. From fantastic finales and shocking surprises to beautiful bottle episodes and half-hour romantic comedies, these episodes gave us reasons to laugh, sob, and cheer from our couches (or wherever we watch TV nowadays). These are the episodes we never stopped talking about—even to people who didn’t watch these shows. They’re the ones that kept us up all night thinking about what happened and what it meant for the characters we’ve come to know and love. And they’re the ones we reference when we want to tell someone why a particular show is so wonderful.

As you check out this list of my 10 favorite TV episodes this year, don’t forget to share your own list in the comments! And, as always, there are some wonderful year-end lists to check out at MGcircles and TVExamined if you’re hungry for more!

1. “Stingers” (The Americans) 
“Stingers” was as close to a perfect hour of dramatic television as a show can get. It used the element of surprise perfectly, lulling the audience into a false sense of security right along with Philip and Elizabeth Jennings. Just as they thought they’d have more time before revealing their identities as KGB spies to their daughter, Paige, we thought the show would have more time because this episode wasn’t the season finale or even the penultimate episode of the season. But Paige forced their hand, and in one wonderfully tense dinner table conversation, the entire makeup of the show changed. However, in typical The Americans fashion, it did so not with fanfare but with subtlety—with powerful moments of silence, whispered words in Russian, and achingly nuanced performances from Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell, and Holly Taylor.

2. “Leslie and Ron” (Parks and Recreation)
“Leslie and Ron” was the exact moment I knew Parks and Rec was going to have the masterful final season it deserved. If a show can deliver finale-caliber emotional beats and finale-level tears in one of the early episodes of its last season, you know you’re dealing with quality television. And “Leslie and Ron” delivered on both of those fronts. It was unafraid to aim for the heart and to ask both Nick Offerman and Amy Poehler to do much, proving that amazing things happen when writers and directors trust their actors to make magic together. The fact that a show could produce an episode like this one in its seventh season proves how smart, special, and brave Parks and Rec truly was.

3. “The Devil’s Mark” (Outlander)
Outlander is a sweeping romance the likes of which I have never experienced on television before, and no other episode of this show was as sweepingly romantic as “The Devil’s Mark.” Of course, the early scenes in the episode featured powerful acting and one heck of a twist involving a scar, but the reason this episode landed on this list was because of its final 20 minutes. Watching Jamie and Claire come to terms with the truth about her identity was the stuff epic love stories are made of: tearful confessions, emotional embraces, windswept farewells, and the hottest fully-clothed scene I’ve ever seen on television (which, coincidentally, took place in front of a fire). By the episode’s end, I was left with tears in my eyes and hands over my heart like a true swooning fangirl, and that’s exactly the kind of feeling I want to have while watching a show like Outlander.

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NGN’s Best of 2015: TV Moments

Our latest entry in NGN’s Best of 2015 series is all about the magic of a moment. A great scene, a great line, or even a great shot can stay with us for an entire year and beyond, and 2015 gave us plenty of amazing television moments to analyze, talk about, and remember for years to come.

Don’t forget to share your favorite TV moments of the year in the comments! And check out the Best of 2015 lists our friends have made over at MGcircles and TVExamined for even more fun!

1. Basement Tooth Extraction (The Americans: Open House)
This might be the single best moment I saw on television not just in 2015, but in my entire TV-watching life. It was all the reasons I recommend The Americans to anyone who loves great television rolled up into one brilliant scene. On the surface, it was a moment showing the ugly realities of life as a spy—with Elizabeth needing Philip to pull out her broken tooth because dental offices were told to be on the lookout for a woman looking like her. But what could have been just a gruesome moment was actually a scene of remarkable intimacy—a look at what it means to trust your spouse enough to be completely vulnerable with them in the most brutal way imaginable. Thanks to brilliant performances from Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell (I’ve never seen eye contact express so much.) and stunning direction from Thomas Schlamme, a dental procedure became the best love scene I saw on TV this year.

2. A Parks Department Reunion (Parks and Recreation: One Last Ride)
All good things must come to an end. And if Parks and Rec had to end, this is how I wanted it to happen: one final scene in the Pawnee Parks Department offices, with every love of Leslie’s life getting its time to shine—her friends, her beautiful tropical fish, her husband, and her career. Whether it was Leslie dropping everything to hug Ann or Ben announcing that Leslie was running for governor because it had always been her dream, this was a scene filled with love, light, and everything that has always made Parks and Rec feel good. This was a scene designed to spread happiness on a show designed to spread happiness, and it was the perfect way to say goodbye.

3. “I am not nothing!” (Once Upon a Time: Nimue)
The best fairytales are meant to teach us lessons we can carry into our own lives, and that’s exactly what happened when Once Upon a Time showed us Emma Swan facing the call of the darkness. When she was tempted with power that would allow her to stop being “nothing,” something inside her snapped, and the strongest version of Emma rose to the surface. “I am not nothing! I was never nothing,” she told the darkness, reminding us all that we have the power to push back against the negative voices in our own head telling us we’re nothing; we can all be our own heroes by choosing to love ourselves and believe in ourselves. It was the most empowering moment on television in 2015, and it’s one I know I’ll draw strength from in my own life for many years to come.

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Five Reasons “XY” Gave Me Hope for Castle’s Future

Source: abc.go.com

Source: abc.go.com

Hello, fellow Castle fans! While I won’t be writing about every episode of the show this season here at NGN, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on important episodes and moments as they present themselves, and this premiere seemed like the perfect place to start.

I’ll admit it: After Castle’s spectacular Season Seven finale, I was skeptical about Season Eight’s premiere. How could any episode follow “Hollander’s Woods,” which was written as a potential (and, had it been necessary, satisfying) series finale? How would the show survive without Andrew Marlowe and Terri Miller at the helm? How would it bounce back after a season with a handful of strong episodes but far more mediocre ones?

“XY” was the answer to all those questions, and what a confident answer it was. With Rob Bowman directing and new show-runners Alexi Hawley and Terence Paul Winter penning the script, “XY” was an episode with a point to prove—that this show could still be exciting, engaging, and surprising in its eight season. And the way it chose to prove that point made me wonder why I ever thought the show might have been better off ending with “Hollander’s Woods.” There’s still plenty of story left to tell, and if this is how the show is going to tell it, then I’m more than happy to keep watching until the final chapter is written.

Here are five reasons why this season premiere made me feel confident that this show still has a lot of life left in it and has found the right people to bring that life out of it.

1. It went back to the show’s storytelling roots.
I know that Season Six’s “Veritas” felt like the perfect ending to the Johanna Beckett murder arc that drove much of the show’s drama in its early days. However, after the 3XK plot was wrapped up last season, the show was missing something without a familiar dramatic arc to push these characters to new places emotionally in ways that still made us care. Castle’s disappearance never quite became the new dramatic arc I think it was supposed to be, so I found myself eternally grateful that this episode’s intensity was rooted in a familiar conflict: Kate Beckett vs. Senator Bracken—as well as Rick Castle vs. the secrets Beckett keeps when dealing with Bracken. Those conflicts have produced some of the best episodes in the show’s history, and they’ve always allowed us to explore deep things about Beckett. I loved that this episode was driven by the idea that Beckett’s obsession with Bracken and all he’s done wouldn’t just automatically stop once he ended up in prison. He’s the root of so much emotional trauma in her life, and it makes sense for her to be unable to put that behind her. Bringing Bracken back also allowed us to see Jack Coleman in all his twisted, evil glory once again. It’s good to have a familiar foe to root against, and I liked seeing these writers embrace that familiarity with a new twist that kept things exciting.

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Fangirl Thursday: Let’s Talk About Strength

Castle Teen Spirit

COLIN O'DONOGHUE, JENNIFER MORRISON

Today’s post is more of a straightforward essay than a typical Fangirl Thursday discussion-starter, but I hope it still inspires plenty of discussion in the comments because this is a topic very close to my heart.

I say it often, but it bears repeating: I’m a lucky fangirl. In the last few years, I’ve gotten to watch many of my favorite female characters on television grow in incredibly honest, believable, and inspiring ways. I’ve watched these characters grow from places of isolation and fear to places of love and hope. And watching them grow has helped me grow as a woman in ways I might never have without their example.

However, this growth that I find so inspiring is often met with skepticism from other fans—claims that these characters are “weaker” now than they were when we were first introduced to them; statements that people miss who these women were in their shows’ first seasons; and impassioned cries for a return to the “badasses” these women were before they started wearing lighter dresses and hairstyles, smiling more, and opening their heart to other people. These arguments present a fascinating look at the ways we define what it means to be a “strong woman” and how certain definitions of that phrase do more harm than good.

Female characters have often fallen into one of two extreme groups: the damsel in distress who always needs saving or the superwoman warrior who shows no emotion and never relies on anyone but herself. However, there’s a beautiful middle ground emerging in the media right now—especially on television. Female characters are being created who fight for themselves and others but draw the strength to fight from an open heart and steadfast support system. They do a lot of saving, but sometimes they need help to save others and even themselves. That doesn’t make them damsels in distress; that makes them realistic. That makes them human.

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Fangirl Thursday: Worth the Wait

Source: abc.com

Source: abc.com

I’m a pretty spoiled fangirl when it comes to “ships.” From Sydney and Vaughn to Leslie and Ben, most of my favorite fictional pairs got together after only a couple of seasons of waiting.

However, we all have those fictional couples who taught us patience. Whether it was for Mulder and Scully or Luke and Lorelai, we’ve all known the pain of waiting season after season (after season) for longing looks and banter to turn into something more. We’ve all known the fear that maybe the show would end before we’d know what it’s like to see them as a couple. But we also all know the pure fun of these long-term “Will they or won’t they?” couples—the excitement that came every time they hugged after an intense moment, the hope we felt every time they smiled at each other, and the sense of certainty that each finale would be the finale when the finally got together (only to have that certainty be dashed time and again, until one finale suddenly became the finale).

The first fictional relationship that taught me the value of patience was Ron and Hermione in the Harry Potter series. I came into that fandom as a 13-year-old who had the first four books at her disposal. By the end of the second book, I knew Ron and Hermione were going to end up together. (I mean, come on; they were the Han and Leia of children’s literature.) But the wait for them to get there was torture. I started the series in eighth grade; I finished it the summer before my sophomore year in college. During that time, I had to suffer through books where they spent half the time not talking, different significant others for each of them, and the constant fear that one of them (Ron) was going to die before they got together. But also during that time, I also got to experience the little details that make those fictional relationships—the ones where we feed on every little interaction—so special: fights during the Yule Ball, names called while drifting in and out of consciousness, comforting hugs, and kisses on cheeks.

It’s those little moments that we often have the fondest memories of when we think back on a given “ship.” Because those were the moments that we analyzed for hours and hours with our friends both online and in person, building our case for how we knew they had to end up together. It’s that way with all slow-burn fictional couples. The waiting teaches us to appreciate the value of one line, one touch, and one look. Sometimes that’s enough to sustain us through even the darkest “shipper” seasons.

When it comes to television, as I said before, I’m pretty spoiled. However, I paid my dues with Castle. I spent four full seasons watching Castle and Beckett’s relationship develop from tension to respect to a love they were both finally willing to admit and accept. I knew from the end of the pilot that I was hooked; I was going to “ship” those two characters until the end. And while there was never really any doubt that Castle and Beckett were going to end up together eventually, it still wasn’t always an easy ride.

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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?

Grading the Season Finales 2015: Castle

As this season of Castle draws to a close, I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you for coming here to talk about the show with us each week, and also to thank Heather for her wonderful posts about the show when I wasn’t able to write about it. It’s always a pleasure to get to talk about a show I love so much with others who love it like I do.

Source: ABC/Richard Cartwright

Source: ABC/Richard Cartwright

Title Hollander’s Woods (7.23)

Written By Andrew Marlowe and Terri Miller

Two-Sentence Summary When a murder victim is found with crosses carved into her face, Castle is reminded of the grim discovery he found in the woods as a boy, which led to his fascination with the stories behind murders. As Castle faces his past demons, Beckett is given a potential new path to follow in the future when it’s suggested she run for New York State Senate.

Game-Changing Moment Changes in Beckett’s career have been centerpieces in more than one Castle finale: Her resignation played a big role in the conclusion of Season Four’s finale, and her job offer from Washington was a focal point in the finale of Season Five. And now in Season Seven, we were given Kate Beckett at a career crossroads that has huge implications for the character and Castle as a show no matter which option she chooses. On one hand, she was offered a chance to run for New York State Senate. On the other hand, she was told she could be captain of her own precinct within a year. Both paths would lead to big things for a character who certainly deserves them, but both paths also would most likely take her away from the 12th precinct. Since this episode was written as a potential series finale (as both main actors’ contracts were still being negotiated at the time it was written), those two job offers made sense as new paths for Beckett to take in a future we wouldn’t be watching play out every week. However, it’s going to be interesting to see what the writers do now that both actors are back and the show has been renewed for another season, with the promise of many more coming from executives at ABC. Will Beckett choose one of these paths but still stay involved at the 12th precinct somehow? Will she forgo running for State Senate in order to focus on becoming a captain within the year (thus staying at the precinct and giving the show another season to figure things out)? Whatever she chooses, it has the potential to be a serious game-changer for a show that has such a strong focus on the family that’s been built within the precinct and the relationship between Castle and Beckett as partners in both life and work.

Finale M.V.P. “Hollander’s Woods” was a great showcase for the talents of both Stana Katic and Nathan Fillion. However, the real stars of this finale were another successful partnership: writers Andrew Marlowe and Terri Miller. As creators, producers, and writers, this dynamic duo has been the heart and soul of Castle from its earliest days. And with both them exiting the show after this season, this finale was their swan song. And what a lovely song it was.

Castle is a show about a writer. Therefore, it’s a show about words. And in Marlowe and Miller’s hands, the words in this finale simply felt right. The plot moved along well and revealed some fascinating stuff about Castle’s character, but the actual lines spoken by Castle and Beckett were the most memorable thing about this excellent finale. Beckett’s speech about taking pride in her work and her marriage could only have been written by a woman who loves this character the way Miller does. The scene in which Castle gave Alexis advice about finding her passion was written with a wonderful understanding of both characters and their relationship. Castle’s acceptance speech made me cry because of the simple beauty of the words he was saying. And every scene between Castle and Beckett was written with real care for capturing the essence of the partnership Marlowe and Miller have been devoted to since Day One. “Hollander’s Woods” was like returning home to Castle at its best after a year that’s had its ups and downs in terms of the show’s writing. It reminded me of the power of the right words spoken by the right characters. And it made me feel very grateful for everything Marlowe and Miller have given to me as a fan over the years. It’s sad to see them leave, but I’m so happy they left with such a graceful and beautiful farewell.

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TV Time: Castle 7.22

I’d like to say a quick thank-you to the lovely and talented Heather for covering this week’s Castle post for me once again!

Source: abc.com

Source: abc.com

Title Dead From New York

Two Sentence Summary When the creator of a show very similar to Saturday Night Live is murdered, Castle and Beckett wind up on set and inadvertently upstage a parody of their partnership. Meanwhile, Martha worries about her new show debuting in a technological world that was very different than the one she last performed in.

Favorite Line “What have you always told me? No one will give you anything in this life. You must earn it. And look at you: almost 20 years later, and you’re back on Broadway. You have earned this.” (Castle)

My Thoughts “Dead From New York” felt like a midseason episode to me. That’s not to say it was a bad episode; it made me laugh at more than one point in time, and everything related to Martha was fantastic. But it didn’t feel like an episode that should be leading into a season finale. I often complain about penultimate episodes largely being used by shows as piece-moving episodes that only seem to exist to set things up for a season finale. Castle bucked that trend last year with the incredible “Veritas.” This episode, however, didn’t move any pieces around for the finale, nor did it have the emotional weight and sense of closure offered by last year’s penultimate episode.

I recognize that with Bracken and 3XK in jail and the mystery of Castle’s disappearance solved, there simply aren’t a lot of pieces to move into place for next week’s finale. The writers on this show had the unenviable task of writing a finale when the next season is not guaranteed and, at the time of writing, contracts had yet to be re-signed. They needed to craft something that could provide a serialized element for next season but could also function on its own if necessary. Because of that, maybe it’s best that they opted for a stand-alone episode leading into the finale, and it’s just my worries that always pop up during cancellation season that are getting to me. I think I just wanted more of an indication of what the finale and the show’s future might hold, but that’s about my personal preferences, not necessarily what works best for the show.

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TV Time: Castle 7.21

Heather is back to share her thoughts with us on the latest episode of Castle!

Title In Plane Sight

Two-Sentence Summary When an air marshal goes missing and is later found dead on a flight, Castle is called to solve the case with the help of Beckett on the ground. With the help of Alexis, Castle pieces together the story and brings the killer to justice before they land in London.

Favorite Line “Air, by nature, should not be bumpy.” (Castle)

My Thoughts Now that the mystery of Castle’s disappearance is seemingly resolved, this week’s episode tried something new and gave us an investigation that took place almost entirely at 39,000 feet. This allowed Castle to play lead investigator with Alexis and the flight attendants assisting in the air, as Beckett and her team helped from New York. It allowed the show to play with a new dynamic and allowed Nathan Fillion proved he was up to the challenge of leading a case-driven episode.

We’ve seen more of Fillion’s range as an actor this season than we have in past seasons. The mystery of Castle’s disappearance and the return of 3XK gave him a chance to show his skills as a dramatic actor, while this week gave us a glimpse of what this show could be with Castle alone as its central focus. It was an interesting switch to see Castle fully in control of the case. Even when he was a P.I., we saw the case through Beckett’s (and the NYPD’s) perspective, with Castle providing some needed insights. Here, he was in control of developing the theories, finding evidence to be processed, and taking on his first solo interrogation. While I’m not sure about his authority to question suspects, I thought Castle was absolutely in his element.

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