“If there were an answer I could give you to how the universe works, it wouldn’t be special. It would just be machinery fulfilling its cosmic design. It would just be a big, dumb food processor. But since nothing seems to make sense, when you find something or someone that does, it’s euphoria.”
When I think back on 2019, I’ll think of this quote from The Good Place. At many points this year, things—personally, professionally, and in even in my fangirl life—didn’t seem to make sense. This was a challenging year on a lot of levels for me and for a lot of people I know—and even a lot of people I know only through this wonderful world of fandom. But through it all, one of the best and most beautiful things about it were those brief moments when something clicked—when something finally made sense and the pieces fell into place and for just one moment it was euphoria.
Looking at my favorite pieces of media this year, they’re all connected by that thread—moments of euphoria amidst the pandemonium. As I searched for meaning in the chaos of my own life, I found comfort, catharsis, and so much joy in watching fictional characters do the same.
It began with The Good Place—the show that gave us those beautiful words about our search for meaning and where we find it. There’s no more perfect show for this current moment in our world because it never tells us that life is supposed to be painless or that being a good person is easy. It acknowledges that life can be hard and hope can feel a million miles away and happiness can be fleeting. But it also reminds us that the important thing is to never stop trying to make things a little better for your fellow human beings. That’s how we find euphoria—in connecting with others, for a moment or for eternity. And maybe—just maybe—those connections—that love—can be the thing that saves us all.
There’s no message more brazenly, bravely, beautifully hopeful than that.
And almost every other piece of media I loved this year followed in those footsteps—reminding me that there’s hope to be found in moments when we feel truly understood and accepted—by others or even by ourselves.
Worth a Second Look: The Use of the Rehearsal Studio
This episode used the rehearsal studio to show the way intimate spaces—and intimacy, by extension—can be alternately exciting and stifling. When you’re first falling in love with someone, the idea of being alone in a room with them is thrilling, but when things are going poorly, those same spaces that once sheltered a growing attraction can make you feel trapped with no way out.
Bob and Gwen met in a rehearsal studio, and that first meeting changed their lives—and the course of musical theater history. It was a meeting between two soul mates who didn’t take long to figure out that’s what they were; you could see it developing as soon as Gwen realized Bob was choreographing a striptease and as soon as Bob saw Gwen hit that burlesque pose. What started as two people trying to get the upper hand quickly morphed into a dynamic partnership all in the course of a few counts of 8. Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams brilliantly conveyed the initial tension dissolving as they discovered their shared experiences using the language they knew best: dance. With just one pose, Gwen opened the door to her burlesque past, and with one shake of his shoulders, Bob did the same. Alone in an isolated space, they couldn’t hide, but instead of being afraid of the vulnerability that comes with intimacy, they embraced it. They grew more comfortable—with Gwen adding bits of herself to the choreography—creating something together as partners minutes into their first meeting. And the way Rockwell and Williams played the excitement of two people finding a kindred spirit was electric. The moment after she finished the choreography and sprang up in front of him, breathless with exertion and joy, was magical. It was the most fun kind of foreplay—a perfectly matched pair riding the high of love at first dance.
The highs of that scene, though, were matched in brilliant execution by the lows of the moment Bob cornered Gwen in the small room off the main rehearsal studio after she discovered his wife was dying. The heat and playful passion of that first time alone together had faded to the point where Gwen seemed almost like a wounded animal in a cage with a predator. Just like before, they couldn’t hide from each other, but that wasn’t exciting anymore. The shift in tone was breathtaking and brilliant—with even the camera closing in tighter to emphasize the way intimacy can be claustrophobic at times.
The final scene with Bob and Gwen (essentially) alone in a rehearsal studio felt like a mixture of the previous two scenes. It lacked the overt sexual tension and playful energy of their first meeting but it also felt less stifling than Bob’s cornering of Gwen as she got ready to rehearse. Instead, it spoke to the lived-in intimacy of two people who are most at home with each other. As Bob spoke about art being about pain, the close-up on Gwen’s face said it all: She’d made her choice. Alone with Bob—away from everything and everyone else—it was impossible to ignore the singular understanding they had between them and the rarity of their partnership. And no matter how bad it got between them, things would continue to make sense when it was just them in a rehearsal space, away from the other influences and other women and focused on the magic that happened when they were left alone to dance.