TV Time: The Americans 6.08

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Source: indiewire.com

Title: The Summit

This Week’s Discussion Topic: The Heartbreaking, Heroic Humanity of Elizabeth Jennings
“You don’t think I’m a human being?”

That question looms over every moment of “The Summit,” and by the end of the episode, no one who’s been paying attention could accuse Elizabeth Jennings of being devoid of humanity. This was an episode devoted to putting the show’s truest believer through the emotional wringer until every speck of soul she tried to burn away with ideological zeal and every bit of conscience she tried to bury under her devotion to her cause were finally laid bare. And from that vulnerable place emerged a woman who’s more dangerous and in more danger than ever before—because humanity can be a strength, but in the world these characters inhabit, it can also get you killed.

Elizabeth’s awakening sense of agency didn’t come out of nowhere. It was the culmination of small moments of humanity throughout the show’s run, including the powerful moment in last week’s “Harvest” when she let herself finally accept the magnitude of Philip’s love for her and the lengths her will go to for her. The opening of “The Summit” was fueled by that revelation, with Elizabeth entering their living room in a much less guarded and more sincere emotional state than we’ve seen her in previously this season. The softness on her face when she told Philip she knows he cares about what happened in Chicago and that he worries about her was a shocking contrast from how she’s looked at her husband for much of this season. Elizabeth’s walls were down with her husband in that moment, and that made everything that came after even more painful because Keri Russell let us see exactly why Elizabeth puts those walls up in the first place—because anyone she lets behind those walls has the power to destroy her.

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Thanks for the Magic

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“And you may think this is just a story, but that’s the thing about stories—they’re more than just words. They live inside us. They make us who we are. And as long as someone believes that, there will always be magic.” (Henry Mills) 

I’ve always loved stories. I’ve always believed in the power of stories—the stories we’re told, the stories we tell, the stories that reflect who we are, and the stories that show us who we can become. When I look at my life, I can see that I’m the sum of a million different stories that all showed up to shape me exactly when I needed them.

One of those stories ended last night, and I can’t let it go without a proper sendoff.

Once Upon a Time is a show about many things—crazy timelines, strong women, second chances, and hope. But it’s also a show about stories. One of the most prominent themes throughout the show’s seven seasons has been that you have the power to control your life’s narrative; you can write your own happy ending. You can choose whether people see you as a villain or a hero. You are the author of your story. And that’s where hope comes from—knowing that it’s never too late to change your story, to find your happily ever after.

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TV Time: The Americans 6.07

After a little hiatus, I’m back and ready (but also completely NOT READY) to discuss this final run of episodes with all of you! And because I feel these last episodes of such a deep and complex show deserve a little more attention, the format for these posts will be changing slightly to accommodate even more analysis. I’ll be taking one major theme/discussion point each week and developing it into an essay, but please feel free to bring up other discussion points, too. I hope you all find the change to be a welcome one, and I also hope to see your thoughts, hopes, fears, and favorite moments in the comments section!

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Source: spoilertv.com

Title: Harvest

This Week’s Discussion Topic: Epiphanies, Emotional Connections, and the Truths We Try to Bury
“Harvest” was an episode that lived up to its name. So many moments in the episode harkened back to similar moments in the pilot, and it was both thrilling and gut-wrenching to watch those seeds planted so many years ago—in both the show’s timeline and our own—begin to finally sprout into something fruitful for the plot. But where this episode truly excelled was in using the time that’s passed and the emotional connections that have developed between these characters to turn those parallels to the pilot into explorations of how far these characters have come and how much higher the stakes are because of those emotional connections.

This episode was anchored by three key epiphanies for its three major players—Stan, Elizabeth, and Philip. But, in typical The Americans fashion, these moments didn’t lead to huge shifts in plot momentum or dramatic “Aha!” scenes. Instead, they were quiet moments of shifting understanding, handled with no dialogue or in the spaces between words where so much of the emotional weight of this show has always existed. These moments were less about propelling the plot forward into the final stretch of episodes than they were about reminding us what this show has always been and will always be about: the connections between people. While this episode certainly moved the characters closer to the endgame, it did so in a way that prioritized the interpersonal consequences of those moves and, in doing so, ensured that absolutely no one (including those of us watching) will be able to escape the coming carnage unscathed.

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Holding on to Humanity: My Journey with The Americans (So Far)

Today’s The Americans analysis is going to be structured differently than what you’re used to around these parts, but hopefully my rationale makes sense when all is said and done. There are only so many weeks in a row that I can talk about how well Keri Russell is playing Elizabeth’s downward spiral, and there are much more important things I want to get around to now that we’re a few episodes into this final season.

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Source: spoilertv.com

As many of you know, I don’t watch a lot of “prestige dramas.” I never warmed up to Breaking Bad, Mad Men didn’t interest me at all, and The Sopranos was before my time and never beckoned me to discover what all the fuss was about years later. All those male-driven antihero dramas just seemed too depressing to keep watching every week for years on end. Life can be hard enough; I didn’t want the media I consumed to be another source of doom and gloom.

And then I discovered The Americans.

What made that show different? Why did I fall so deeply in love with what many people have called one of the bleakest shows on television when I couldn’t stomach other similarly dark dramas? Obviously the fact that its main antihero was a woman made it immediately more compelling to me. Elizabeth Jennings drew me into her messed-up mind in a way that Don Draper, Walter White, and all the men who came before them never could. But it was so much more than that.

It was the fact that, from the pilot, this has been a show about two broken people learning how to love each other. It has always been a show about a marriage. But even beyond that, it has always been a show about humanity. It’s a show about the things that makes us human—our need to connect with each other, our need to find some level of truth and honesty with another person, our desire for intimacy. From the moment Philip chose killing Elizabeth’s rapist over turning him in and Elizabeth then chose telling Philip the truth about herself over following their orders to never mention their pasts, The Americans has always been a show about choosing people—flesh and blood and warmth—over hard and cold ideals.

That focus on the connections between people has kept The Americans from being too dark. Even at its lowest points—the death of Nina, the sad story of Martha—there was always an underlying sense of humanity amid tragedy. Nina was killed in a brutal way, but she died because she chose friendship over following orders and betraying a good man. And Martha’s life was shockingly spared in no small way because Philip had come to care for her. Also, she may have ended up in Russia, but she didn’t end up alone. Her dream of being a mother was realized in the form of an orphaned Russian girl the KGB arranged for her to adopt.

It all comes back to people. On a show about warring ideological forces, the human beings on both sides are shown to be exactly that—human beings. And human beings have a desire to connect with each other, to build relationships and develop intimacy and form families.

That’s what made The Americans different for me. It was a show that ventured into very dark territory, but it balanced that darkness with humanity. Even when the show seemed bleak, it never became completely nihilistic. It never preached the idea that nothing matters because everything and everyone is terrible (which would have been an easy thing to preach given the subject matter). In fact, it seemed to be preaching the opposite: There is meaning to be found in even the saddest lives and most tragic stories. But that meaning isn’t found in something intangible like patriotism or even idealism; it’s found in the relationships we form with each other.

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Suddenly the World Seems Such a Perfect Place (or Help, We’re All Obsessed with Two Canadian Ice Dancers!)

Once upon a time…

A nine-year-old boy and a seven-year-old girl became ice dance partners, and in the boy’s own words, “Something really changed in my life when I started to hold onto the hand of a beautiful little girl.” The boy gave up his early dream of being a professional hockey player, and the girl gave up a spot in a prestigious ballet program—all because even as children, they were committed to each other. The girl was the boy’s first kiss; the boy became the girl’s best friend.

As the years went on, they faced highs and lows. She endured painful surgeries to keep skating with him, and while she recovered, he trained with sandbags because he didn’t want another partner. They won Olympic gold in their home country, becoming Canada’s sweethearts in the process, but four years later, they came home with a silver medal instead of the repeat gold they were chasing.

They took a couple of years away from the sport, but they couldn’t stay away from the ice—or from each other—for long. As the boy said, being close to the girl was “the whole reason [he] wanted to come back to skating.” They decided to return to the sport they loved with a new mindset and a new focus on telling their own story, on making it “personal” this time around. They fought to choose their own music—music that reminded the boy of the girl whose hand he first held 20 years before. And they fought to become the best once again—to bring home the gold medal that eluded them in 2014.

They faced tough competition, and despite winning a gold medal with their teammates, they needed to have the skates of their lives to win individual gold. They began with a world record, but their fiercest rivals set the bar high with one of their own. Stepping onto the ice as Olympic competitors for the last time, they knew they had to do something magical in order to win. But instead of waiting for a fairy godmother, they created their own magic—the boy singing their song to the girl as they danced across the ice, capturing the hearts of everyone in the crowd, captivating the world, and catapulting themselves to the top of the standings and the medal podium.

And they lived happily ever after…

Or so we all hope, right?

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NGN’s Best of 2017: Reasons to Hope

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Source: avclub.com

One woman, standing in the middle of no man’s land with only a shield and an unshakeable sense of purpose, drawing all the fire to protect those who cannot fight for themselves.

One woman, staring down certain death with steel in her eyes, deciding to sacrifice herself to save the people and the cause she believes in with everything she has.

Two sisters, coming together despite their differences, finally executing the man who caused them, their family, and their home so much loss.

A mother and daughter, training together in a garage, learning what it means to never feel like a victim again.

A team, finding their strengths in the wrestling ring, using their bodies for themselves and not for anyone else.

A group of mothers, putting aside the things they believed divided them, acting as a force of nature to make sure an abuser never lays a hand on his victims again.

When I looked back on my favorite media moments of the year, one theme emerged loud and clear: This was a year that so many pieces of media—from prestige TV dramas to big-budget blockbusters—let women be their own heroes. This was the year that women teamed up, fought back, and found strength in themselves and in their relationships with one another.

This was the year female characters said “No more.” No more pushing us to the background. No more telling us people don’t care about our stories because of our gender, our race, our sexuality, or our age. No more trying to divide us or painting us as each other’s enemies. No more abuse. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this was also the year more women than ever before started to say “No more” in real life, too.

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Hope and Heroism in The Last Jedi

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Source: StarWars.com

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! PROCEED WITH CAUTION! 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is many things. It’s surprising. It’s emotional. It’s visually stunning. It’s challenging. And at its heart, it’s deeply, profoundly, and unashamedly hopeful.

Star Wars has always been a story about hope—who embodies it, how it spreads, and what happens to those who lose it. In this way, it’s perhaps our most cherished piece of uniquely American mythology. For generations now, people have seen reflections of our collective national fears and aspirations in this saga, and they’ve found hope in this story that has now been passed on for more than 40 years. And that’s what myths are. They’re the stories we tell ourselves to get through the darkest nights, to inspire us to keep going, and to help us believe that heroes exist and maybe even exist inside of us.

In the eyes of some people, The Last Jedi takes that mythology and smashes it—making heroes fall and hope shrink. However, those eyes are trained on the past, and The Last Jedi is a story about the past giving way to the future and old heroes passing the torch to new ones. It doesn’t destroy the Star Wars mythology that’s been passed down since 1977; it expands it. And in doing so, it provides us with a new message of hope that is deeply important for the world we’re living in:

You don’t have to look like a traditional hero to be a hero. You don’t have to be born into greatness to do great things. Your worth isn’t determined by other people’s expectations; every person has value, and everyone’s journey can be a hero’s journey.

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How Long Forever Was: Remembering Carrie Fisher

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Rest easy, General.

“It was raining in L.A. and I was Princess Leia. I had never been Princess Leia before and now I would be her forever. I would never not be Princess Leia. I had no idea how profoundly true that was and how long forever was.” — The Princess Diarist

What is a legacy? Hamilton taught me “It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” But I believe some people—if they leave the right kind of mark—live to see at least a small portion of that garden. And I think Carrie Fisher was one of those people.

She got to see the little girls dressed up as Princess Leia. She got to hear stories of women who were inspired by the character she brought to life. And she’d be the first one to tell you that she also got to hear stories of men who were inspired in their own way by the character, too.

Princess Leia is a huge part of Fisher’s legacy. She will live on forever in that character—forever our Princess, our General, our trailblazing badass.

I’ve written so much already about what Princess Leia has meant to me (and I’m planning to write much more in the future), so I’ll just say this about Fisher’s most famous role: I have no idea who I would have become if I never saw Leia shooting her blaster, kissing her pirate, and commanding her troops as a kid, but I do know that woman would have been a lot less confident, independent, outspoken, and happy.

I was introduced to Princess Leia at the ripe old age of five, so it took a while before I understood that she wasn’t real and that a woman named Carrie Fisher played her in the movies. But once I could grasp that concept and I learned about Fisher’s life, I became incredibly intrigued by her writing career. Even as a kid, I knew I loved to write, and upon learning that Fisher became a writer after her time in that galaxy far, far away, it occurred to me that maybe if I couldn’t really be a Princess/Rebel, being a writer might be the next best career path.

Princess Leia is my hero, but so is the woman who played her. And as I’ve gotten older, my admiration for Carrie Fisher beyond her job of bringing Leia to life has only grown. Her ability to be unapologetically, unashamedly, unrelentingly herself in a world that constantly tried to make her feel bad about that is something we all should strive to channel in our own lives. And her emotional honesty and openness—especially in her writing—represents the kind of bravery I can only hope to achieve.

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Fangirl Thursday: Look for the Hope

It’s been an emotionally draining, depressing, and frustrating few weeks in various fandoms. It seems TV show after TV show has been doubling down on the idea that shocking deaths make for good television, without thinking about what certain deaths might mean for large groups of their fans. And even if characters aren’t dying on your favorite show, chances are it’s still gone into darker territory this season. It seems almost every show I watch has dealt with heavier material this year. Even the usually light Brooklyn Nine-Nine ended with an atypical life-threatening cliffhanger this week. (Even though I think we’re all 99.9% sure Holt’s going to be fine.) And the offerings at movie theaters aren’t much better lately, with superheroes fighting each other all over the place.

In short, if you feel a little beaten down by the media you’re consuming lately, you’re not alone.

There’s a tendency to judge the quality of a piece of media by how serious it is. Most of the “prestige dramas” we hear so much about are incredibly heavy and often bleak. So people often stick with television shows that make them feel hopeless and upset more often than not because they think that’s what “good” television is supposed to do. They think that walking away from a TV show when it starts to feel oppressively negative says bad things about them as a viewer instead of bad things about the show that made them walk away. Because a good drama can never be “too dark,” right?

WRONG.

It’s not just okay to walk away from a TV show when it starts negatively affecting your emotions on a consistent basis; it’s smart. There’s nothing wrong with putting your mental and emotional health above a television show’s ratings or your reputation as a fangirl or fanboy. Even if you loved a show for years, if it’s making you feel miserable or triggering you in some way, you’re not less of a fan if you stop watching something that’s not good or healthy for you anymore.

This trend of prioritizing shock value above quality character development needs to stop. This is especially true when the shock value comes from killing or traumatizing characters simply to show that no character is safe and that the world they inhabit is awful. If a character dies, that death should mean something—and not just that anyone can die. And if a character is put through a traumatic situation, it should be treated with care not just in that moment, but in all the moments that follow it. Death, beatings, torture, and rape shouldn’t be added to stories only to get people talking or to show how horrible a person or a society is. They should resonate thematically; they should carry weight not just in one episode, but throughout the rest of the series. They should matter.

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Fangirl Thursday: Coming Home

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When a television show you love ends, it can feel like leaving home. But when a television show ends years after you stopped really loving it, it can feel like hearing that the house you grew up in—but have since moved far away from—is going to be torn down. You might not have the same connection to that place anymore, but you still feel that loss, and that loss makes you think about who you were when you lived there and how much has changed since then.

I haven’t watched American Idol in years, but for a brief time, that show and its fandom were my home. So before it ends tonight, I wanted to look back—not so much at the show itself (because people far more talented than I am have done that already) but at its impact on my own life as a fangirl.

I was an Idol devotee for its first two seasons. I had a picture of Justin Guarini in my high school locker and worshipped Kelly Clarkson. (Let’s be honest: I still worship Kelly Clarkson.) I saw the Season Two contestants on tour, and, yes, I will admit to casting more than one vote for Clay Aiken. That show was something my family—even my extended family—wanted to watch and talk about together, which was rare at the time.

But as time passed, I drifted away from Idol, only returning for occasional episodes and each season’s finale. In fact, it was during the Season Eight finale that I saw Kris Allen and Adam Lambert perform “We Are the Champions,” and I knew right away that I was in trouble. Allen had the cute, singer-songwriter vibe I always adore, and you had to be crazy not to be drawn to Lambert’s incredible voice and magnetic stage presence. When coupled with the genuine friendship I saw on display when Kris was named the winner, I knew it was only a matter of time before I fell down an Internet rabbit hole, trying to catch up on everything I missed during the season.

During my trip down that rabbit hole early in the summer of 2009, I encountered a LiveJournal community about American Idol, and it felt like finding a home. The people there were smart, funny, and just as obsessed with the show and its contestants as I was. It was the same magical feeling I got when I discovered my first Star Wars fan site and visited MuggleNet for the first time. I didn’t feel alone anymore. But I didn’t have much experience with actual fandom participation. Sure, I’d posted on message boards about So You Think You Can Dance and even had my own blog about my hometown hockey team, but this was bigger and crazier than a message board and much wider in scope than the Buffalo Sabres fandom. I was scared to make that jump from lurker to participant in the discussions.

But then it hit me: I wanted to be a part of this. I didn’t want to watch everyone else having fun and making friends like I did in the Alias fandom back when I was in high school. I wanted to have fun and make friends myself. So the night of the first stop on the Season Eight tour, I stopped lurking and started commenting, and I never looked back.

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