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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Six Years and Counting: Let’s Share Some Love!

Today, NGN turns six years old, and I’m struck by how much things can change in six years—but also by how the really important stuff stays the same.

Six years ago, when I sat down to write my first post, I had no idea what was in store for this little hot pink blog. All I knew was that I had things I wanted to say; I had a part of myself—a nerdy, passionate, emotional, enthusiastic part of myself—that I needed to share with the world after hiding her away for a long time.

There are a lot of things I never could have imagined about the highs and lows of the last six years—the friends I’d meet, the shows and movies I’d write about, the sleepless nights spent trying to plan the perfect post, the conventions I’d go to, the tears I’d shed when the words wouldn’t come, the actors and creators I’d be so blessed to interact with, the things I’d share about myself—but the most surprising thing of all is that people actually wanted to read what that nerdy, passionate, emotional, enthusiastic person had to say. And people still want to after six years. There is nothing more humbling to me than that.

This has been a year of balancing in my life. It’s been a year of trying to find a happy medium between my developing professional life, my own personal wants and needs, and my passion for running this website. And sometimes, that’s meant setting NGN aside and focusing on things like staying on schedule at work and getting a healthy amount of sleep. It’s meant fewer posts, but I truly believe the posts I’ve written this year have gotten back to the true reason I started this website. I wrote them not out of a sense of obligation, fear of letting people down, or desire to please others (all of which naturally happen sometimes in the course of six years as a writer). Instead, I wrote them because I had things I wanted to say, and I wanted to share those things with my fangirl family.

I still find myself in awe of the family I’ve created here, and I am so thankful to all of you who have visited NGN during the last six years—from the ones who just stopped by to read one post to the ones who form the backbone of my support system and have been there for me through it all. So many things can change in six years, and so many things have both with NGN and with my life in general. But one thing that has stayed the same is the overwhelming gratitude I feel that so many incredible people have taken the time to read the ramblings of a nerdy girl and have reached out to let that nerdy girl know she’s not alone. I’m grateful for every comment, tweet, Tumblr reblog, and like, and I’m honored to have so many brilliant, funny, and kind people as part of the NGN Family. I don’t know what I did to deserve not only your readership for the past six years, but also your support and friendship, but I hope all of you know that this thing couldn’t work at all—and certainly couldn’t keep working for six years and counting—without you.

With all that being said, I want to bring back a little something that we used to do around Christmas here at NGN. That’s right—it’s time for a LOVE POST!

Here are the basic instructions as I remember them from my old LiveJournal days: Make a comment on this post with your username (and things like your Twitter or your Tumblr URL if you feel like people might know you better by those identifiers). Then, sit back and let others reply, telling you how much and why they love you. Finally, share the love! Reply to your friends’ comments on this post and tell them how awesome you think they are, or finally tell that one commenter you really respect how insightful you think their thoughts are.

The greatest thing about NGN’s development over the last six years has been seeing all the friendships that have formed among all you who’ve stuck around, and I thought there was no better way to honor that and to thank all of you than a post meant to shower you all with love and to encourage you to do that for each other.

I’ll kick off the comments to show you how to get things started, and I hope all of you join in so I can personally thank you for being such bright lights in my life. Let’s put some more love into the world today; I can’t think of a better way to celebrate!

I love you Winston

Fangirl Thursday: Olympic Withdrawal Edition

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Source: The Denver Post

The 2018 Winter Olympics, are officially over, and I have no idea what to do with myself.

I make no secret of the fact that I am an Olympics junkie. I’ve been watching both the Winter and Summer Games religiously since Atlanta in 1996 (Magnificent Seven 4Ever!), but my full-blown obsession began in 2002. That year, thanks to a little Canadian pairs skating magic to the score of a little movie called Love Story, 13-year-old Katie fell into the kind of love that lasts well beyond two weeks and even well beyond four years. Sixteen years later, I’m still staying up way past my bedtime to watch Canadians tell love stories on the ice and win gold medals in the process.

There have been plenty of memorable Winter Olympics moments since those Games 16 years ago, but none completely captivated me the way the moments of these Games did. It seemed that every night, something happened that made me cry on my couch from the pure joy of watching someone achieve a dream, make an incredible comeback, or live out what felt like a chapter of a fairytale.

If these Olympics felt special to me, maybe it was because of that fairytale element—and maybe it was because we all could really use some fairytales right now. There were so many moments during these Games where it felt like even Disney couldn’t make up a story more inspiring or compelling than the one playing out in real time right in front of us. Night after night, we were treated to scenes that made us believe—even just for a moment—that good things can still happen amid all the bad things we’ve grown accustomed to seeing all around us. For two weeks, the athletes at these Olympics gave us something fun to talk about and to tweet about; it was such a welcome change of pace to scroll through Twitter and see excitement, joy, and hope instead of the usual dread, anger, and pessimism that the world we’re living in seems to generate in overwhelming quantities.

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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

the good place

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

last jedi poster

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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A Happy Beginning: A (New) Letter to Emma Swan

I know I’ve already written one of these, but so much has happened in both Emma’s journey and mine since I wrote my first letter to her that I needed to write something new. This is also felt like the right way to say goodbye to a character who has meant so much to me. If you’re interested in writing a letter like this one to a female character who’s inspired you, this post has all the details about The Fan Mail Project! And if you’ve already written a letter to Emma (or any other character) but want to change any part of it, you can always send me an edited version at nerdygirlnotes@gmail.com!

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Source: ibtimes.com

Dear Emma,

As I watched you and your husband step toward a portal to return home to live a happy life with your growing family, it hit me…

This might be the last thing I ever write about you.

I’ve written thousands of words about you over some of the most tumultuous years of my 20s, and as I approach this last post, I keep thinking about what could possibly sum up the journey we’ve been on together for more than half a decade.

When I started writing about your story, my entire life changed. I wrote things that reflected parts of myself I never imagined showing to the world. As I wrote about your discovery that there is bravery in vulnerability, I became a more vulnerable writer because I wanted to be brave like you. As I wrote about your story, I began to write my own story.

I found myself as I wrote about you finding yourself.

Needless to say, it’s a little intimidating to think of how I can put all that into a proper tribute. But because you taught me that opening your heart is the most heroic thing you can do, I’m going to try.

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It’s About What You Believe: A Letter to Diana of Themyscira (aka Wonder Woman)

This is the latest in my series of letters to inspirational female characters that will be compiled in a book alongside letters from my fellow fangirls and fanboys. If you are interested in being part of The Fan Mail Project, I’m still taking submissions on a case-by-case basis, and you can check out all the information here

WW poster

Source: rogerebert.com

Dear Diana,

I never thought I’d write a letter to you. Growing up, I didn’t read many comic books, so when I was getting ready to see Wonder Woman, I had only the slightest idea of what to expect. I thought you would kick ass and that your story would be empowering—not just for me, but for so many young girls who get to grow up now with your story as a part of their superhero movie pantheon—but I didn’t expect to see much of a reflection of myself in you.

You see, I’m not exactly built in the typical “strong female character” way. But then I discovered something amazing during my first viewing of Wonder Woman: neither are you. I sat down in that darkened movie theater and expected to see a woman whose strength would inspire me to want to be more like her, but what I ended up seeing was a woman whose strength has inspired me to want to be more fully myself.

“Strong” and “tough” are often synonyms, and, for most of my life, it’s been hard for me to see myself as strong because I’m about as far from tough as it gets. When it comes to how women are perceived—both in life and in the media—it’s typically the tough ones who become leaders, who earn people’s respect, and who get things done. No matter how often we tell women that vulnerability and openness can be a strength and not a weakness, it’s hard to believe when most female heroes in the media only smile when it’s a huge moment of character development and when most people in life are told more than once to “toughen up and stop being such a girl” when they openly display emotion.

For years now, one of the first phrases that comes to my mind when I’m asked to describe myself is “painfully sincere.” I think I was born without the ability to mask my true feelings about anything, and for decades, I’ve seen that as one of my greatest weaknesses. People have preyed on that part of me since I was a kid.

“They’re just saying that because they can tell they’re getting to you.”

“You’re an easy target. It’s fun to get you riled up.”

“Don’t let them know it bothers you, and they’ll stop.”

“You can’t hide that you’re mad at me. I can see it all over your face.”

“Katherine, your brow is furrowed. You must be confused by the assignment.”

“Calm down!”

“Why do you care so much?”

I spent so long hating that part of me—my emotional transparency, my painful (in more ways than one) sincerity. And then I saw you, and I saw how we were allowed to truly see you. I saw your indignation, your sadness, your childlike sense of wonder, your hope, your frustration, your joy, your desire, your confusion, and your conviction. You felt no shame in your emotions—whatever they were. You showed what you were feeling as you felt it, without ever feeling a need to hide your emotions or push them down to appear stronger or more in control.

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Fangirl Thursday: The End of an Era

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“Now we get to do what’s next…”

After this season’s finale of Once Upon a Time, I had to ask myself, what’s next? The show isn’t ending (Although it is moving to a new night—Fridays.), and the glimpse we were given into what the next season might look like—featuring an adult, unbelieving Henry and his young daughter—was promising. However, the version of the show that drew me to my TV every Sunday and drew me to my computer every Monday to write about it for years—Emma Swan’s story—has ended. It’s the end of an era for “Oncers,” and it’s caused many of us—especially those of us who have been inspired to write, draw, create videos, or participate in fandom at any level—to evaluate our relationship with the show now and going forward.

I’m still planning on watching Once Upon a Time (as long as its message of hope and optimism is still present). And maybe the next season will still inspire me to write about it from time to time. But as far as weekly posts are concerned, I think it’s time for me to do what’s next.

This season’s finale post will be my last Once Upon a Time episode analysis for the foreseeable future. I’m hoping to fill that gap in my posting schedule with analysis of another television show (the identity of which has yet to be determined), and if you find yourself missing NGN television discussions, you can always catch up on The Americans and visit our discussions of its episodes until the show airs its final season next year. There will always be plenty of nerdy fun to be had here at NGN, and I hope those of you who first came here because of my Once Upon a Time posts stick around to see what comes next.

Once Upon a Time will always hold a special place in my heart. It was one of the building blocks of NGN in this website’s earliest days. It’s the show I’ve written about the most in terms of years and word counts, and it was the show I watched for the first time the day I decided to start this site. There would be no NGN—at least not as we know it today—without Once Upon a Time. And that’s why I can’t walk away from my weekly posts about it without saying thank you.

Thank you, Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis, for creating a show that spoke to a lost girl in her 20s who was looking for something positive to believe in. Thank you for never losing sight of your vision and for never letting go of your belief that hopeful media still matters. Thank you for creating a story about complex, flawed, relatable women who find strength through many different kinds of love—a new set of fairytales women in today’s world can be inspired and empowered by.

Thank you to all the writers who took their vision and made it your own, and thank you to the most underrated cast on television for bringing these fairytales to life with depth, charm, and sincerity; this show could never have worked without the right cast. But even more than bringing these stories to life, thank you for caring so deeply about those who care so deeply about the show. The kindness and enthusiasm this entire cast has shown toward their fans is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in all my years in various fandoms. We have been truly lucky to have our favorite characters be played not only by talented actors but also by genuinely good people who truly believed in what they were doing. That makes all the difference in the world.

This show has changed my life. It was the reason I attended my first major fan convention. It was the inspiration behind some of my best and bravest writing. It introduced me to people I would never have known without it who have now become close friends of mine, and it helped strengthen my relationships with friends and family members by watching and talking about this special show together. And thanks to the incredibly encouraging corner of the fandom that I was a part of as well as the support and kindness I was shown by the incomparably thoughtful Jennifer Morrison, it gave me the confidence that I needed not just to make NGN the best it can be but also to push myself forward in my career as a writer and editor.

Once Upon a Time is a true light in the darkness. It has reminded me to never give up hope, that it’s never too late to be the best version of yourself, and that there is no darkness so powerful that it can’t be overcome by belief in yourself and the love of those around you. It has helped me learn to define myself on my own terms—to punch back and say “No, this is who I am.” And it has given me the courage to believe and to keep believing at a time in my life when it is all too easy to become cynical and apathetic.

More than anything, though, the most precious thing Once Upon a Time has given me is a place to belong. I’ve had different fandom “homes” before, but I’ve never stayed in one this long. And along the way, I have met so many incredible people—all because this show about fairytales brought us together. I feel honored to be a part of a close-knit community of fan writers who have written about every episode of this show for years and have formed our own support group to offer encouragement to each other in hard times and to celebrate with each other when things are good. To be surrounded by such positive, enthusiastic women and to be part of a group of ladies supporting ladies the way we have for as long as we have is a true joy and a gift that I don’t take for granted. I can’t wait to see what all of them do next.

Finally, when I look back on the years I spent writing about Once Upon a Time, I will think about the growth of the NGN Family during this time. I will think about the incredible discussions we had in the comments, the words of support I cherish to this day, the friendships I watched form with smiles on my face and tears in my eyes, and the reminders in a million tiny ways that I have the most beautiful chosen family on the Internet—a group of people who always has my back, who makes me want to be a better writer and a better woman because they deserve the very best of me, and who has shown me the true meaning of love being strength. It’s been an honor talking about this show and the journeys of these incredible characters with all of you, and I hope you know how much I value your readership and, more importantly, your friendship.

So let’s raise our Doctoberfest mugs to the show that brought us together. Cheers, Oncers!

ouat cheers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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