The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (12/6 – 12/13)

Sorry for the slight delay, dear readers! This one took longer to write than I’d anticipated. 

Winter finale season is upon us! On Sunday, Once Upon a Time broke all our hearts with a stunning and surprising winter finale, but, thankfully, Brooklyn Nine-Nine spread lots of happiness with an episode focused on Jake and Rosa’s friendship. On Tuesday, the winter finale of The Muppets brought Mindy Kaling to the show to play (and sing!), and The Flash took us into the hiatus with the introduction of Wally West and about a million more reasons to care about Patty Spivot. Also on Tuesday, The Mindy Project gave us a look into the past to send a surprising sign about Mindy and Danny’s future. Wednesday’s Nashville ended this half-season with a proposal, a rare moment of joy amid a depressing start to the season. Finally, my Buffalo pride came out in full force during ESPN’s excellent 30 for 30 special “The Four Falls of Buffalo,” and Saturday Night Live gave us another thoroughly entertaining episode—this one featuring the return of Will Ferrell as George W. Bush and Chris Hemsworth as its charming host.

A lot of big things happened on television this week: Mindy took her apartment off the market, Joe West met his son, and Deacon and Rayna got engaged—just to name a few. But nothing has stayed with me like the events of Once Upon a Time‘s midseason finale, namely, the death of Killian Jones. It wasn’t just the most moving moment I saw on television this week; it was the most moving moment I’ve seen on television all season so far. And that was all because of the complete vulnerability displayed by Colin O’Donoghue and Jennifer Morrison in that moment.

Once Upon a Time is a fairytale, and almost all fairytales have a moment like this one—the moment when the hero believes their love is lost to them forever. But the thing that’s always set Once Upon a Time apart is the fact that it’s a fairytale about a woman who didn’t grow up in a fairytale world. Emma Swan has always been and will always be the character who grounds this show in reality, and Morrison grounded this scene in the painful reality of grief. She held nothing back in her performance, and her fearlessness created a moment of raw emotion unlike anything we’ve ever seen on this show.

Killian’s death was a devastating moment of loss, but it was also a triumphant moment of love. It was this arc’s climactic reminder that love is stronger than darkness, that love can make us brave, and that love can bring out the best version of who we are. Knowing what this show was all about, it was easy to guess that Killian would ultimately find his way out of the darkness, but watching him break free of its hold on him was more powerful than I ever could have imagined. The way O’Donoghue showed—in just the smallest change in his facial expression—that Killian’s love for Emma once again lit a spark in the darkest corners of his heart was masterful.

I could write a million words about why Killian telling the darkness “That’s enough!” meant so much to me (and hopefully I will write all those words someday), but for now I’ll just say that moment was such a strong reminder that we all have the ability to choose how we’re defined. Even when we feel defined by our darkness, we can fight back. We can choose to be the kind of person we never felt brave enough to believe we could be. There’s still hope for us, even when the darkness in our own mind and heart feels overwhelming; we’re not a lost cause just because we feel like one. In that moment, Killian finally stopped letting his past define and control him, and that said so much about the ability we all have to acknowledge who we were but to choose to become who we want to be.

Killian Jones wanted to be a hero—the kind of man who is driven by love instead of hate, the kind of man who saves instead of destroys. And even though he didn’t save his own life, he saved his heart and the heart of the woman he loves from the grip of the darkness. The light of their love proved strong enough to destroy the darkness once again, as they changed from Dark Hook and Dark Swan to Killian and Emma before he died in her arms. That shot—with their foreheads touching like they have after so many intimate moments dating back to their first kiss—was such a powerful image: Killian and Emma taking one last moment to savor the love that helped them grow into the best versions of themselves. It was gut-wrenching to watch Emma lose him again, but this is how he wanted to die: in the arms of the woman he loves after knowing she was free of the darkness, looking one last time on the face of his Swan—not the Dark Swan.

While Killian’s death was brutal to watch, it was also beautiful (in no small way because we all know that Emma is going to march into the Underworld and get him back—that’s what this show is all about). It was a reminder of the strength we all have inside us, and it was a testament to the transformative power of love. It was a moment straight out of an epic fairytale, balanced with complex and realistic emotions—and I can think of no higher compliment to give a scene on Once Upon a Time.

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

TV Time: Once Upon a Time 5.11

 

Title Swan Song

Two-Sentence Summary When the arrival of all the past Dark Ones in Storybrooke threatens to send our heroes to the Underworld, Emma believes the only way to save her family is to sacrifice herself. However, as we learn through flashbacks about the impact Killian’s father had on the man he became, we learn in the present that the man Killian wants to be might be different from who the Dark Ones thought they were dealing with.

Favorite Lines
Killian: That’s enough!
Nimue: What do you think you’re doing?
Killian: Being the man I want to be.

My Thoughts

People are going to tell you who you are your whole life. You just gotta punch back and say, ‘No, this is who I am.’

Once Upon a Time is a show about many things. It’s a show about hope. It’s a show about love. It’s a show about family. And it’s also a show about self-definition. From the moment Emma Swan uttered that line about saying “No, this is who I am,” back in the early days of Season One, this became a show about so much more than just believing in fairytales. It became a show about believing in your ability to define yourself on your own terms.

We’ve seen it over and over again: A crucial theme on Once Upon a Time is that our choices determine who we are. Labels of “villains” and “heroes” mean nothing without actions to back them up. And it’s never too late to change how others see us—and, more importantly, how we see ourselves. What it comes down to is recognizing when you have a choice to—as Emma said—punch back, and being brave and strong enough to make that choice. To believe you can be more than your weaknesses, your darkness, and your demons. To believe you can be your best self.

“Swan Song” distilled that theme of choosing how you want the world to see you into a series of incredibly powerful, moving moments for many characters. Some were tragic, some were shocking, and some were more hopeful than even I expected—and I’m the queen of reminding people that Once Upon a Time is a show with hope in its DNA.

Was it a perfect hour of television? Of course not. This show is always going to have some plot holes and loose ends that don’t get tied up. Yes, I’m still confused about why Merlin had a Dark Curse ready to go in Camelot. Yes, it felt weird to have no closure with the Camelot characters or Merida. (Maybe we’ll still be seeing them in 5B. Even if we don’t, I was happy we focused more on the regular cast for this hour. You can only do so much with 45-ish minutes of storytelling time.) And yes, sometimes the magical deus ex machina stuff gets a little old. (“I had some magic nearby…” Of course you did, Rumplestiltskin.) But, ultimately, I don’t watch this show for perfectly tight plotting. I don’t watch it for the guest characters, either—no matter how fun they might be. I don’t watch it with the idea that everything has to make perfect sense. I watch it because it makes me feel more deeply than any other television show I’ve ever seen. I watch it because I care about the core characters with an intensity that led me to start a website where I could write as much as I wanted to about them. And I watch it because its themes speak to my heart and soul in a way that matters so much more than any piece of plotting ever could. And the theme that has always spoken to me the most is that of choosing who you want to be, so you can imagine how much “Swan Song” resonated with me—since the most important line was “What kind of man are you going to be?”

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (12/14 – 12/21)

This was a relatively slow week in the world of television, as most shows have already started their winter hiatuses. However, Sunday night was still a great night of television, featuring a jam-packed midseason finale of Once Upon a Time and the ultimate test of Jake and Boyle’s friendship on Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

As far as emotionally powerful moments go, Once Upon a Time‘s midseason finale had not just the best of the week but perhaps the best of the whole television season so far, as Belle found her voice and her strength, ordering Rumplestiltskin to leave Storybrooke. Both Emilie de Ravin and Robert Carlyle were at their absolute best in this scene, breaking my heart even as I cheered for Belle finding the courage to walk away from a man who was never going to make her his first choice, who was never going to love her the way she deserved to be loved. There was such righteous anger in de Ravin’s performance, but there was also such palpable disappointment—in both Rumplestiltskin and in herself.

The moment when Belle told Rumplestiltskin that she lost herself trying to help him stay on the right path was so powerful because it felt so real; it was such an honest look at the reality of unhealthy relationships. And that’s when Once Upon a Time is at its best—when it uses these fairytale characters and magical situations to show us real truths about life and love.

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

TV Time: Once Upon a Time 4.11

Title Heroes and Villains

Two-Sentence Summary As Anna, Elsa, and Kristoff prepare to go back to Arendelle, Regina also has to say goodbye to Robin, as he crosses the town line with Marian, who is still affected by remnants of Ingrid’s curse. Rumplestiltskin has his own goodbye to Storybrooke (and Hook) planned, but his plot is foiled by Belle, who forces him over the town line and into an alliance with Ursula, Cruella de Vil, and Maleficent.

Favorite Line “Cruella! I thought I caught a whiff of desperation and gin.” (Rumplestiltskin)

My Thoughts “Heroes and Villains” was a jam-packed midseason finale with a lot to process—so much so that it took me a few hours and a lot of thinking to figure out what I truly felt about this episode. My immediate reaction was to say that I was pleased overall with the way the important plot points in this episode were resolved, but I was left somewhat emotionally unsatisfied. After a long time mulling the episode’s events over in my head, I’ve come to the conclusion that my immediate reaction was a result of setting expectations a little too high. Not every midseason finale can be “Going Home” in terms of its ability to tug at my heartstrings. Ultimately, “Heroes and Villains” did an admirable job weaving a cohesive story of what makes a person a hero—selflessness, courage, and fighting your darker impulses to choose to do the right thing, especially when it’s not easy. And, in the process, it gave me so many moments I’d been hoping for and character interactions I’d been waiting to see.

If I had any major complaints with this episode it was that I wished it could have been two hours instead of one. There was just so much going on that sometimes it felt like emotional beats got lost in the shuffle, and certain moments of plot explanation got lost, too. That’s just me being greedy, though, because what we got for characters like Rumplestiltskin, Belle, and Regina was so good that I wanted everyone to have those kinds of moments in this episode. As a big Charming Family fangirl, I would have liked to see Snow and Charming have a little more to do, but with a big cast, it’s hard to have episodes where every character gets their time in the spotlight. (And last week had so much good Snow/Charming stuff that I really shouldn’t complain.)

Part of me also wished for a little bit more time spent on Emma’s reactions to things after a half-season so firmly devoted to showing her growth. But there was so much good, important stuff that needed to be dealt with for other characters that I could understand why the focus of the episode couldn’t be on Emma. Besides, Season 4A was beyond good to me as an Emma Swan fan. I got more development than I could have ever hoped for, and the beauty of Emma’s story is that this episode ended with hope and happiness for her. So I know that means there’s plenty of development to come in 4B with her continuing to be in a place where she feels safe and hopeful to explore her own growth, emotions, and relationships.

Emma was one of the only people (along with her immediate family, Hook, and the Frozen gang) to end this episode in a good place emotionally. And, just like in “Breaking Glass,” I think Emma’s sense of hope and happiness that was reaffirmed at the end of this episode allowed her to be a good friend to Regina when Regina needed it the most. But unlike in “Breaking Glass,” Regina allowed herself to accept that offer of friendship this time.

I think we could all use a friend like Emma Swan, who knows that there’s a time for hope speeches but there’s also a time for shots. Both Regina and Emma had been through a lot in this episode. (I firmly believe Emma wasn’t just drinking with Regina for the latter’s sake—having to put your boyfriend’s heart back in his chest is definitely something that would warrant copious amounts of alcohol being consumed.) It was nice to see both of these women allowing themselves a moment of slowly developing friendship after a long, chaotic day.

“Heroes and Villains” was another episode that showed us how far Regina has come from who she was. Even something as small as accepting Emma’s gesture of friendship went a long way towards showing her trying to become a better person. But the process of becoming a better person isn’t easy, and Regina has learned that over and over again. In this episode alone, she went on a crazy rollercoaster of emotions, but the important thing was that—through all of those twists and turns—Regina kept actively choosing to do the right thing. She put Marian’s heart back in her chest, which was a pretty symbolic moment of heroism and goodness in an episode that also featured Rumplestiltskin getting ready to crush Hook’s heart to get his happy ending.

That selfless act of saving Marian led to one of the episode’s most beautiful scenes, where Marian sought Regina out to thank her and to say that she’s coming to terms with the possibility of Robin choosing Regina. In that moment, I felt overwhelmed with love for one of my favorite female characters since childhood (a recurring theme in this episode for me). This was the brave, strong, selfless Maid Marian I grew up adoring. She’s a woman who doesn’t want to be just the honorable choice; she doesn’t want to be chosen out of a misguided sense of duty. She wants to be loved. And she deserves to be loved. In an episode that focused on heroism as doing something selfless and believing in your own inner strength to do the right thing, Marian’s conversation with Regina was shown to be nothing less than heroic.

While it was beautiful to see Marian essentially give Robin and Regina their happiness, it seemed my instinct to always wait for the other shoe to drop with Regina’s happiness was sadly right once again. I found it a little too convenient that the moment Robin said he’d chosen Regina, Ingrid’s magic kicked back in with Marian. It felt forced just to give Regina a moment of hope before ripping it away again. However, it led to some of the most stunning moments of development for Regina so far this season. I can forgive a blatant plot device when it gives us something as good as Lana Parrilla’s acting in the town line scene.

The scene between Regina and Rumplestiltskin in the car at the town line was my favorite in the entire episode because it said so much about these two fascinating characters and their relationship. What this season has showed us is that Rumplestiltskin really delights in being the devil on someone’s shoulder, tempting them to give in to their darker impulses (which is a brilliant bit of psychology at play, since it’s clearly because he doesn’t want to be alone in being unable to overcome his own darkness). And that’s always been his role with Regina—from the time he manipulated her into crushing her first heart.

But this Regina isn’t the same woman. Just as Rumplestiltskin and Hook’s scenes have highlighted how much Hook has grown and changed for the better while Rumplestiltskin has stayed on his dark path, this scene contrasted Regina’s growing sense of heroism with Rumplestiltskin’s continued darkness. It was so easy for him to suggest to Regina that she kill Marian and claim her happy ending, but Regina said it best—that’s not who she is anymore. Parrilla did such a great job of showing that for one moment Regina thought about giving in to the temptation to just take her happy ending by killing Marian like he was telling her to do. But ultimately she knew that was wrong, and that’s what is helping her become a hero—that ability to look at her own darkness and turn away from it, that ability to see the easy way out and choose to do the hard thing instead because it’s the right thing to do. That takes courage, and that’s what makes her different from the man who was telling her to kill Marian.

I also thought it was perfect that, just like Hook, Regina could tell as soon as she was alone with Rumplestiltskin that he wasn’t the changed man everyone else thought he was. That’s why I’d been waiting with bated breath for a scene between these two characters—she can read him so well, and I knew she’d be onto him right away because of all the history between them. That sense of history and unique intimacy between them allowed Rumplestiltskin to open up to her about why he’s still on the path he’s on, and I have to say I was really proud of some of you NGN readers for calling it from the start: It all comes back to his resurrection. He died a hero’s death, but he came back as the Dark One once again—and he came back under the control of Zelena. It makes sense to think of that as the reason why he’s obsessing over power and wanting to be free of the dagger, even if it doesn’t excuse what he’s done towards that end, which he sees as his happy ending.

Regina wants love. Rumplestiltskin wants power. And wanting such different things has completely affected how they view happy endings. For Regina, it’s something given to you. For Rumplestiltskin, it’s something you take. I loved Rumplestiltskin’s lines about no one controlling his fate because they were so complex. On one hand, I believe that with my whole heart—we control our destiny; we have the power to change our stories. But on the other hand, I couldn’t believe I was agreeing with the Dark One. Neither Regina nor Rumplestiltskin seem to understand, though, that everyone can get a happy ending—but not by doing whatever it takes to get one. They have to be earned by the choices you make and the life you lead. And they’re not easy to find and hold onto; they can’t be achieved by taking the easy way out. In the end, Rumplestiltskin might truly want Regina to have happiness, but I think he can’t even comprehend her idea of happiness at this point because it’s not power; it’s love.

While Rumplestiltskin planned to get his happy ending through murder and manipulation, Regina essentially gave hers up because she refused to be that person anymore; she knew that would never be a true happy ending because she couldn’t live with herself if she killed Marian. That’s what made her goodbye to Robin at the town line so painful. She knew what she was saying goodbye to, but she also knew what had to be done. She couldn’t let him say he loved her because it would make it too hard, and the struggle to keep from giving in to her love for him was written all over Parrilla’s body language in such a moving way. Seeing Regina doing the right thing—the selfless thing—at the town line at the expense of her own happiness reminded me in a really lovely way of “Going Home.” Regina has been choosing to walk a hero’s path for a long time now, and it hasn’t always been easy. Watching her rip of the pages of the book—effectively ripping up her hopes for happiness—broke my heart. Who would have thought all the way back in Season One that I would be rooting so hard for the Evil Queen to get her happy ending?

The ending of the episode gave us a little glimpse into Regina’s storyline for next season, and it’s one I’m still torn about. I like the idea of the sorcerer and the author being one and the same (or at least connected somehow), but I’m still not sold on Operation Mongoose. I’m still hopeful that this storyline will end with Regina getting her happy ending because of the choices she’s made to be a better person—not because she begged the all-powerful author to change her story. And I’m hoping that having Emma join the team means that she’ll help Regina get her happy ending by helping her be her best self, not helping her force the author to change her story. It seemed like a very sudden bit of agreement from Emma, but it’s what needed to be done to move the plot for next season forward in a short amount of time. I’m sure I’ll warm up to Operation Mongoose eventually. If nothing else, it will help develop all the relationships in the Emma/Henry/Regina dynamic, which I am always up for seeing more often.

I’m hopeful that this Operation Mongoose storyline will lead to the development of a healthy, mutually supportive friendship for both Emma and Regina because I’m more than a little sad that we had to say goodbye to Emma’s only real (non-family, non-boyfriend) friend in this episode. I know that most of the Frozen story wrapped up beautifully last week, but I do have to admit that this was one of the parts of “Heroes and Villains” I thought felt the most rushed. Maybe it’s because I found the beginning a little jarring with the way it jumped right into the whole group dealing with the ice wall in about two seconds. I didn’t need to see Anna/Kristoff and Emma/Hook’s reunions after the Spell of Shattered Sight, but it did feel like this episode picked up in the middle of the action instead of having a real beginning. But maybe I’m the only one who found the pacing a bit off.

I did like the fact that Rumplestiltskin saw Anna as a threat, and I loved that he was right to fear her in the end. I’m going to miss a lot of things about the Frozen crew, but the thing I will miss the most is Elizabeth Lail’s Anna. From her saying that Mr. Gold sounded “super helpful” to her getting to help save the day by revealing him to be the liar he truly is, this episode was a nice reminder of how much I’ve come to love what this actress and this show did for one of my new favorite Disney princesses.

I also liked the way Hook could pick up on Rumplestiltskin’s fear of Anna immediately because—like Regina—he knows Rumplestiltskin’s tells. Their confrontation in the shop brought out the best in both Colin O’Donoghue and Robert Carlyle once again. For as happy as I am to have the angst of this storyline over, I’ll miss this dynamic more than words can say.

“Heroes and Villains” reminded us of a lot of things about Rumplestiltskin, but one of the first things it stated in the flashbacks is that he’s a man who deals in manipulation. It’s not just about power for him; it’s about psychologically destroying people along the way. And that came back in the present-day storyline with his subtle but very apparent enjoyment of using Hook’s heart to manipulate his interactions with Emma. Carlyle perfectly showed Rumplestiltskin’s comfort and ease with using someone to get what he wants (in this case, using Hook’s heart to get Anna out of Storybrooke). It was chilling, especially the moment when he had Hook call Emma “love.”

But for as good as Carlyle was in that moment, even he couldn’t top O’Donoghue’s performance. Watching Hook say Rumplestiltskin’s words was so painful because O’Donoghue showed using just his eyes how much he wanted to break free from this control and tell Emma the truth. And then when Emma realized something was wrong, you could see his eyes soften at the idea that she cared enough to notice. Jennifer Morrison also played that interaction perfectly. I loved the soft intimacy of her touching his face, trying to soothe him despite not knowing what was really going on. Emma doesn’t often get to be anyone’s source of comfort, and I loved that you could see on Hook’s face how much it meant to him to have her reach out to him like that.

It was that brief moment—that moment of Emma showing him she cared enough to know something was wrong and that she wanted to make it better—that allowed Hook to find the strength to break through Rumplestiltskin’s control and show Emma through his shaking hand on her arm that he was lying about being fine, despite not being able to say otherwise. In an episode filled with heroic acts, this was another one—a man fighting the darkness literally holding his heart to reach out the woman he loves. Love is strength, and the love slowly growing between Hook and Emma has grown strong enough to fight darkness in its own, quiet way.

I loved that brief moment of strength for Hook and realization for Emma, so I was disappointed that it led basically nowhere, both emotionally and on a plot level. I would have at least liked to see Emma be somewhat skeptical of the portal since she knew Hook was saying things under duress. But things had to keep moving at this point in the episode, and there were characters to bid farewell to, leaving no time for Emma to worry about Hook.

The most important goodbye, of course, was Elsa saying goodbye to Emma. Their hug was lovely, and I was so happy to see this friendship end on such a warm note. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel a little lacking. (Maybe I shouldn’t have watched Parks and Rec’s “Ann and Chris”—the pinnacle of friendship goodbye episodes—this weekend.) For as much as I loved Morrison’s teary, huge smile, I wanted to hear Emma say something about their friendship before Elsa left. I know Emma’s not good with words, but this friendship was so essential to her growth as a person that it seemed strange to have Elsa say all of the emotional stuff. In the end, though, I was happy with the conclusion to the wonderful Frozen arc. Anna and Kristoff are getting married, Anna punched Hans again, and the two sisters are back where they belong: home, hand-in-hand, and with lots of chocolate waiting for them to eat (one last perfect movie reference).

I thought that Anna’s words about Rumplestiltskin were going to lead to a big confrontation with him and Emma. And while I’m thrilled with who ultimately got to be the hero in the end, I did think that the resolution to what had become a pretty big storyline this season was a bit anticlimactic. The blocking for the scene was strange because Emma never once tried to run up the stairs (despite being able to), which seemed to take away a sense of urgency from the moment. I know that the whole purpose of this scene was Belle and Rumplestiltskin and not Emma and Hook, but it felt like there should have been a little more drama and emotion (even in the background) at the climax of such an important piece of the show over these last few weeks (Hook missing his heart). It all wrapped up very quickly—maybe a little too quickly for my liking.

However, everything with Hook’s heart turned out to be more about Rumplestiltskin than it was about Hook—it was about who’s changed and who hasn’t, who’s the man trying to be a hero and who’s the man who never tries to be more than a villain. Hook was the hero preyed on by the villain, the pirate saved by the princess. But it was an unexpected princess who saved him, and that made it even better. I cheered when Belle turned out to be his savior because of the strength and selflessness it took for her to save the man who once shot her and made her lose her memories. It was the first of many heroic acts she would commit in a very short time in this episode. The anger Emilie de Ravin brought out of this character was brilliant, and it all started with her controlled orders in that clock tower scene, leading to my favorite line delivery of hers in the episode: the empty way she said “We need to be alone for what comes next.”

I’m trying to find the words to describe how proud of Belle I was as she finally confronted her husband. This—Belle finding out the truth and standing up for herself—was all I really wanted from this episode, and it delivered. This Belle is the Belle I’ve loved since I was a little girl: brave and strong and self-aware. As much as it killed me to watch de Ravin deliver all of those lines with such anguish, it was beautiful. Belle’s speech was literally like going through a checklist of everything I needed her to say to him: that he will always choose power, that he never changed, and that she’s done devoting her life to someone who will never make her his first choice.

Despite this scene being about daggers and magical powers, it felt achingly real. It felt like a woman in a terrible marriage finally finding the courage to walk away. When she told him all she wanted was him but she knows now he’ll never choose her, my heart broke. But I was so proud of her for doing what needed to be done, not just for the greater good but for her own good. One of my favorite lines in the episode was, “I lost my way trying to help you find yourself.” It was such an honest statement and such a powerful one. No one should feel like they have to give up their sense of self to be in a relationship. No one should feel personally responsible for a loved one getting over their addictions (which is what Rumplestiltskin’s love for power is). When you end up in a marriage where you feel like you only know who you are in relation to what you do for your significant other, you need to walk away because that’s not healthy. The best relationships are ones that allow both parties to become their best selves, not ones where one party loses their sense of self to build the other up.

Watching Rumplestiltskin try to reason with Belle was so painful. Even with the possibility of losing her staring him in the face, he still wants his power more than anything. And when she commanded him to go over the town line, I felt every bit of his fear thanks to the power of Carlyle’s acting. No matter how much I hate what this character has done, I can never stop wanting him to stop being afraid and start trying to be a better person, even when I know it’s useless to want that. Carlyle gives him such humanity even in his lowest moments, and I couldn’t help it; I felt for him when his legs collapsed under him, returning him to the cowardly, lonely man with the limp he once was. That ability to make me feel for a character even as I longed for his comeuppance is the sign of a great actor.

I felt a complicated mixture of emotions as I dealt with my pride for Belle finding her voice (How perfect was it when she basically told him to shut up, by the way?) and my sadness over Rumplestiltskin being unable to choose her first even now. The resolution to that storyline was so heavy that part of me is glad we were spared any intense emotional fallout from Hook’s heart in the scene where Emma put it back. As I watched, I thought the moment was too brief, but then I realized that—unlike Rumplestiltskin and Belle and Regina and Robin—these two characters have the luxury of time, and they know it and are enjoying it.

I thought Emma shoving Hook’s heart back in his chest was perfect for her character. She’s definitely a “rip the Band-Aid off” kind of woman. But what was even more in-character was Hook’s reaction to getting his heart back. I loved that the first thing he did was kiss her with what I can only describe as his whole heart. O’Donoghue used that kiss to really show the difference now that Hook is able to love Emma once again without fear of leaving her and with his heart free to do as it chooses again. And Morrison played Emma’s reaction to that intense kiss so well—you could almost see her saying Now that’s more like it.

The second thing Hook did with his heart back in his chest was reassure Emma, to remind her (and himself) that he’s a survivor. The bright, hopeful looks on their faces showed that this was the perfect note to end their half-season arc on. It started with Emma running away from quiet moments, but it ended with them taking a quiet moment to themselves and basking in the joy of it. This wasn’t a moment for intense, dramatic emotions; they have plenty of time for those. Instead, this was a moment to celebrate the fact that they’re okay. After everything, he’s alive and she’s in his arms again, and that’s all they needed to focus on at that moment. That’s also why I am happy Emma didn’t confess her love for him and we didn’t see them taking their relationship to the next level physically. When those things happen, I want them to be moments they choose because they want to do them, not because they feel overwhelmed by near-death experiences. Emma has always moved forward emotionally in moments of distress, and I like that it seems to be different with Hook. She feels secure enough with him to believe she can take her time; they can take their time. They both have a renewed sense of hope that this will be a relationship that doesn’t end in loss; he’s still her survivor, after all. And that sense of hope was written all over both of their faces after that kiss.

While Emma and Hook’s slow-burn courtship is teaching many of us patience, I was so happy that this season we don’t have to be patient waiting for the new villains to be introduced in the 4B premiere. Meeting Cruella and Ursula and seeing Maleficent again was wonderful. They were so much fun in the flashbacks, with Victoria Smurfit standing out already as Cruella. She may smell like desperation and gin, but that seems like a winning combination to me in terms of entertainment potential. Watching her and the Dark One sass one another has me eager to see so much more of her in the next half-season.

And of course I’m excited for Merrin Dungey’s turn as Ursula. It’s about time she was back on my television in a villainous role. (I wonder if Ursula likes coffee ice cream?) Her final scene with Rumplestiltskin in the New York City aquarium hinted at quite the complicated, layered dynamic between these women and the Dark One. As sad as I still am to leave Elizabeth Mitchell’s Ingrid behind, these three Queen of Darkness have the potential to bring such a great energy to the show. If nothing else, it will add even more strong, complex female characters to a show already teeming with them, and that’s a reason to celebrate—even if we have to wait until March to see how it all unfolds.

The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (12/7 – 12/14)

This was a very strong week of television, with plenty of midseason finales and penultimate episodes to keep us talking all week. On Sunday, Ingrid’s storyline concluded in a truly beautiful and emotional way on Once Upon a Time, and the holidays were in full swing on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Monday’s Castle winter finale ended on one heck of a cliffhanger, and Tuesday’s Christmas episodes of New Girl and The Mindy Project both made me happy cry. Wednesday’s Nashville was jam-packed with emotional moments—with one bright spot amid a whole lot of darkness. And Saturday Night Live had perhaps its strongest episode of the season in Martin Freeman’s capable hands.

It was incredibly tough to choose just one moment as the best of the week. Both Ingrid’s final scene on Once Upon a Time and Danny’s Christmas gift to Mindy on The Mindy Project were absolutely perfect. However, this week, I chose a moment that stood out for being a reason to smile during an hour of television filled with so much sadness.

The midseason finale of Nashville featured paternity problems, a possible cancer diagnosis, a potential death by overdose, and a canceled wedding. But in the middle of all of those things, my favorite couple on the show—Juliette and Avery—got back together, engaged, and married all within the course of a few minutes of screen time. Both of these characters have grown so much together and apart, and I loved that this was a moment of them choosing not to be without each other anymore, because they’re good together; they help each other be their best selves. Their love story grew to become one of my favorite things about this melodramatic primetime soap opera, and there’s nothing like watching a TV couple you’ve rooted for finally get married. And as someone who loved Juliette Barnes like I love only a handful of other ladies on television, it filled my heart with joy to see her get this moment of pure happiness, starting a beautiful family with the man she loves.

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

TV Time: Castle 7.10

STANA KATIC, JON HUERTAS, NATHAN FILLION

Title Bad Santa

Two-Sentence Summary When Castle and Beckett investigate the murder of a mob doctor, things get dangerous as Castle makes a deal with the devil to find out the truth. Meanwhile, Christmas is in full swing around the 12th precinct, and a meeting with Lanie’s parents causes Esposito and her to rethink their relationship.

Favorite Line
“This has been an epic year.
Life’s been full of joy and tears.
Solving crimes and catching killers,
Just like Castle’s famous thrillers.
We share a passion every day.
As partners go, we’re here to stay.” (Kate Beckett’s Christmas poem)

My Thoughts I’m struggling to write about how this episode made me feel, if I’m being completely honest. I understand the logic behind the big twist at the end, as well as the logic behind the big breakup we saw in “Bad Santa.” But I can’t help feeling both of those big moments were rushed, dropped like bombs on the audience out of nowhere. I know, I know—that’s the whole nature of a cliffhanger ending. And good cliffhangers keep us talking, guessing, and speculating until the hiatus is over. I’m sure this one will do just that (though thanks to the promo we saw at the end of the episode we know this will all be played for laughs), but that doesn’t take away the feeling of being emotionally sucker punched that I’m still dealing with today.

Ultimately, this episode ended with a great twist. It blindsided me, but it arose organically from the situation. Castle did something wrong, and he has to deal with the consequences. It just seemed crazy that out of all the times Castle did things far from by the book, this one—on the heels of a pretty forgettable case—was the one that led to him being kicked out of the precinct. But that’s where the unexpected nature of the cliffhanger came from, and I have to give it to the writers, when they go for a cliffhanger on this show, they don’t do it halfway. For better or worse, we think about them until the show comes back (and long after even that).

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (8/17 – 8/24)

I apologize for not having one of these posts last week. Traveling kept me from watching most of last week’s episodes until early this week. But if you have a pick for best thing you saw in the last two weeks, feel free to share it! 

This was a fairly average summer television week, except for one outstanding night in the middle of all the ordinary, and that was Wednesday’s emotional roller coaster, featuring the highs of a strong set of performances on So You Think You Can Dance and the twists and turns of an exceptional Suits summer finale.

While there was plenty to love on SYTYCD this week, nothing could even come close to the brilliance that happened on Suits this week. The intensity of this summer finale left me breathless by the end of it, hands shaking from the overwhelming emotional power of the episode’s final scenes. The way Louis found out about Mike was handled so well, especially after the anticlimactic cliffhanger of the last Suits summer finale. I was absolutely blindsided by the reveal of the key’s importance, and I love when I find myself surprised by a show I’m watching. What I loved most, though, was that this discovery of Mike’s secret had real implications—both in terms of the show’s future and the emotional arcs of the characters.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (1/19 – 1/26)

This was a thoroughly entertaining week in the world of television. Sunday started the week off on the right foot with two great NFL playoff games. Monday’s Castle finally gave us the end of Alexis’s relationship with Pi as well as a very public engagement confirmation from the very private Beckett. Tuesday’s FOX comedies had an excellent week: Brooklyn Nine-Nine introduced us to the term “gymfiltration,” New Girl reminded us all why Nick Miller is the best boyfriend ever, and The Mindy Project‘s midseason finale was sealed with a kiss. Wednesday’s Nashville showcased the great chemistry between both Rayna and Deacon and Juliette and Avery. On Thursday, Parks and Recreation introduced us to Johnny Karate and introduced Ron to the iPod. And Saturday Night Live used Jonah Hill and Leonardo DiCaprio to reenact Titanic‘s most memorable scene.

When all is said and done, though, there’s only one moment this week that I’ve watched and re-watched an embarrassing number of times—only one moment that changed the entire direction of a show and had me screaming at my TV, “WE HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL APRIL AFTER THAT?!” And that was Danny and Mindy’s first kiss on The Mindy Project.

I’ve been hoping for Mindy and Danny to get together ever since he showed up to her Christmas party last season with a gingerbread house and helped her through her cheating boyfriend crisis. They have the kind of relationship all the best romantic comedies are made of: the bantering, the bickering, the challenging, and, ultimately, the influencing each other to be their best selves. As Danny told Mindy so beautifully, that’s how you know someone is right for you—they force you to be your best self. The beauty of Mindy and Danny’s relationship is that neither is actively trying to change the other, but they still push the other to be their best. Danny grounds Mindy, and Mindy brings life and passion into Danny’s world. Danny makes Mindy more of a realist, and Mindy makes Danny more of a romantic.

Mindy wants to live in a romantic comedy, and Danny gave her the ultimate romantic gesture when he found her in the back of the plane and kissed her like I’m sure many of us watching have always wanted to be kissed. There were so many things to love about that kiss: the way Danny’s thumbs grazed Mindy’s cheekbones when he pulled away, the way Mindy shyly nodded to give him permission before he kissed her again, Danny’s hands as the kiss went on (thank goodness for full-body shots!), and the fact that these two passionate people kissed each other for the first time with such surprising tenderness.

If you ever want to remember that Danny Castellano is hotter than we ever imagined he could be, watch this again and again.

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

 

The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (12/15 – 12/22)

I apologize for the slight delay in getting this post finished. I hope all of you had a happy weekend of pre-Christmas festivities! 

With Christmas fast approaching and many shows on short or painfully long hiatuses already, this was a relatively uneventful week in the world of television—with a few major exceptions, of course. Sunday’s midseason finale of Once Upon a Time was every bit as compelling and emotional as a series finale, with only its final moments serving as a reminder that there’s plenty of fun in store for us once March 9 rolls around. The rest of the week was filled with Christmas specials and classic films (from It’s a Wonderful Life to The Sound of Music), and it concluded with the hilarious hosting performance Jimmy Fallon provided on Saturday Night Live, proving that his beautiful bromance with Justin Timberlake is creative comedy gold.

I don’t think it should come as a surprise that my favorite television moment of the week came from Once Upon a Time. “Going Home” was one of the show’s most powerful hours to date—from Rumplestiltskin’s climactic showdown with Pan to Regina’s gorgeous character growth; from the Charming Family’s final hug to Hook’s last promise to Emma. But in an hour of incredible emotional highs and lows, nothing was better than the sequence of Emma and Henry driving away from Storybrooke as the town disappeared under the purple cloud of Regina’s magic. Everything about this scene was perfect—the music, the lighting, the editing, and the subtle but effective acting by Jennifer Morrison with just her eyes in the rearview mirror.

I got choked up when the new curse engulfed Henry’s storybook—that symbol of hope and connection between mother, son, and the world of fairytales they were leaving behind. But I completely lost it when Emma chose to hold baby Henry in her new memories. Although it’s not real, whenever Emma gets her old memories back, she will still have the belief that this new memory represents—the belief in the possibility of her having a happy ending as a mother. To see Emma’s entire character arc reflected in this change from the inability to believe in her role as a mother to her acceptance of this role was truly touching. And the way Morrison showed—just in the slight crinkle around her eyes—Emma’s new sense of peace and happiness as the new memories took hold was wonderful.

The final scene of the episode was worth all of the emotional exhaustion that came before it. Hook’s arrival in Emma and Henry’s world was a most welcome surprise for me as a viewer, and it gave me such hope for the second half of this season. I’m hopeful that Emma will get back her old memories while still getting to keep the ones of her happy life with her son. I’m hopeful that she’ll have someone by her side who crossed realms to find her after she was supposed to be gone forever. And I’m hopeful that Emma will be able to accept and be with people who accept all that she is—the savior, the mother, the princess, the lost girl, and all of the other facets that make her the kind of character such great episodes are based around.

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

TV Time: Once Upon a Time 3.11

Once-3-11

Title Going Home

Two-Sentence Summary Pan’s plan to once again cast the Dark Curse (this time with fatal consequences) on the residents of Storybrooke has powerful ramifications for every character, especially Rumplestiltskin, who must finally decide if the price of destroying his father is one he is willing to pay. Regina finds a way to destroy the curse, but it comes with its own price: The inhabitants of Storybrooke will all go back to the land they came from, except for Emma, who is allowed to stay with Henry, but both are left without any memories of their time in Storybrooke—a fate Hook plans to change upon arriving at Emma’s New York City apartment one year later.

Favorite Line “You’re not a villain; you’re my mom.” (Henry, to Regina)

My Thoughts Well I certainly didn’t see that coming. Rumplestiltskin dying (or “dying”—we can only hope), Emma and Henry losing their memories of Storybrooke, fake memories of a world where Emma never gave Henry up, Hook crossing realms to help Emma remember who she really is, the intensity of the emotional trauma I felt while watching— I didn’t see any of it coming. And I loved it.

Yes, the plot surprised me, but what really shocked me was just how visceral my emotional reaction was to what was happening onscreen. This episode had the feeling of a series finale, and that was for a reason. “Going Home” changed the game, and it did so in a brutally emotional fashion. When I say it reminded me at times of “Through the Looking Glass”—the finale of LOST’s third season—I mean that with the highest respect. It appears that Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis learned a lot from their time as LOST writers, not the least of which being how to craft a finale (even just a midseason one).

Perhaps the biggest thing I learned from LOST (and Alias before it) was that I’m not a person who needs all the answers when it comes to the TV shows I watch. I can deal with unanswered questions, confusing plot threads, and even the occasional inconsistency or plot hole if I’m emotionally engaged in an episode. I don’t need to feel 100% intellectually satisfied by an episode, but I do need to feel 100% emotionally invested. I care about a show’s characters infinitely more than any plot twists or big mysteries it can throw at me. That’s why I watch Once Upon a Time. I don’t care all that much about the rules of magic or the finer points of curses. I care about Emma, Henry, Snow, Charming, Regina, Rumplestiltskin, Neal, Hook, Belle, Tinker Bell, and all of the other characters I’ve come to love over the last two and a half seasons. I care about the people far more than the intricacies of the plot.

For as much as this episode will be defined by the emotions it evoked, there was a lot of plot packed in there, too—probably more than there needed to be. The flashbacks especially felt unnecessary for the most part: Charming and Snow’s was only really useful in dropping a hint that the Blue Fairy was somehow behind Henry’s storybook; Hook and Tink’s reinforced the idea that he’s become a changed man through loving Emma (and once again proved that Colin O’Donoghue is a walking chemistry experiment with every actor he shares a scene with); Henry and Mary Margaret’s brought the attention back to the storybook; Belle and Rumplestitlskin’s just made me sad in hindsight (and felt odd because it seemed to contradict “Skin Deep” in terms of Belle’s knowledge of Bae); and Emma’s was just a way to draw a parallel to the episode’s conclusion. They worked on an emotional level throughout, but I feel like one or more of them could have been cut to make things like the Charming Family farewell or Blue’s resurrection a little longer.

However, the multiple flashbacks led me to believe that this could have been the show’s way of saying goodbye to this method of storytelling. I think we’re going to get flashbacks to fill in the time jump, but I’m not sure we’re going to go back to pre-cursed times again.

The beginning of this episode felt a little bit like a checklist: Reveal the thing Pan loves most? Check. Explain how to stop the curse? Check. Destroy Pan’s shadow? Check. Find out what happened to Blue? Check. Get Tink her wings back? Check. Switch Henry and Pan back into their own bodies? Check and check.

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