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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TV Time: The Americans 6.04

After a brief departure from the normal format of these posts (You can check out last week’s deep dive into my thoughts on humanity and nihilism on The Americans if you’re looking for some light reading.), we’re back with our typical post-episode rundown this week! However, for the next two weeks, NGN will be on hiatus as I take the vacation the Jennings family never took to EPCOT. Posts around here should be back up and running following the May 8th episode and will continue for the remainder of the season—hopefully with a few fun wrap-up posts celebrating the show as a whole before it’s all done!

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Source: spoilertv.com

Title: Mr. and Mrs. Teacup

Episode M.V.P.: Matthew Rhys
No one plays conflicted and downtrodden like Matthew Rhys. At the very beginning of the season, it was nice to see him looking lighter and more confident than perhaps we’ve ever seen him, and even as it became clear that he was dealing with plenty of problems of his own, his inner struggles seemed to pale in comparison to what Elizabeth has been going through. However, in “Mr. and Mrs. Teacup,” Rhys brought such nuance and depth to Philip’s scenes that I found myself feeling more drawn into his story than I have been so far this season.

Rhys played what felt like 100 different variations on the theme of disappointment in this episode, and each one managed to break my heart more than the one before it. There was his disappointment with Elizabeth over how she’s handled the fallout of Paige seeing Rennhull’s death, which came out in a burst of angry skepticism that was clearly influenced by all Oleg has told him about what Elizabeth might be up to. There was his disappointment with the young woman Paige is becoming, which came out in frustration over her acting as if she knew more about the world of spying than he does (another great use of a universal experience—a child trying to act as if they know more than a parent—made incredibly specific to this universe). There was his disappointment with the “American Dream,” which was laid out so well in that scene with Stan at the bar, with Philip’s communist background coming through in a subtle but very pointed way. There was his disappointment with Elizabeth’s lack of openness, which was played on two levels: disappointment as a husband that his wife doesn’t desire the same level of intimacy they once had and disappointment as a spy that he couldn’t get more information out of her.

And then there was the saddest scene in the episode, in which a father and a son both faced the disappointment of not being able to afford his boarding school education anymore. Watching Philip try to break the news to Henry as gently as possible broke my heart because Rhys is so good at being so achingly sincere. It felt so grounded in reality—a conversation I’m sure many parents have had and will continue to have—that it made me uncomfortable to watch it unfold. This was a kind of vulnerability and disappointment that many people can relate to, and Rhys brings such a human touch to everything he does that he made what could have felt like a mundane plot point resonate with genuine sadness. Watching Elizabeth deal with the strain of high body counts, high-stress missions, and the constant presence of a suicide pill around her neck is upsetting but it’s not something that’s easy to empathize with. However, watching Philip deal with financial problems and a family that’s falling apart is painfully relatable. And Rhys gives his scenes enough weight that what could have been boring deviations from Elizabeth’s missions have begun to resonate in powerful ways.

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TV Time: The Americans 6.02

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Source: tvline.com

Title: Tchaikovsky

Episode M.V.P.: Keri Russell
I’m sure there will come a day when I choose someone else as the M.V.P., but I honestly can’t imagine it right now. To turn in a career performance every episode for six years is something special, and to elevate that work to even higher heights of brilliance (by taking her character to even lower depths of pain and desperation) in its final season is even more astounding. There’s nothing phoned-in about Russell’s work, and it’s amazing to see how many variations on “exhausted” can be played by one person. What could be one-dimensional has instead become a performance not unlike the paintings Elizabeth is surrounded by—haunting and heartbreaking, showing new layers each time you look at it.

This episode was once again intensely focused on Elizabeth’s isolation. She’s not telling the whole truth to anyone, and that weighs on a person in a million little ways. I went into great detail last week about the physical manifestation of Elizabeth’s loneliness and exhaustion, so I’ll save you the same spiel this week, but you could apply every word I wrote to her work again. I continue to marvel at how small she’s made Elizabeth feel—how fragile she seems in those big sweaters with her arms crossed over her chest and her shoulders hunched over like she’s literally being compressed by the weight of all she has to carry on her own. But then when she’s on her missions, that ramrod straight posture and confident walk return, and that only makes me marvel more at Russell’s criminally underrated ability to devote every inch of her body to the story she’s telling.

Russell’s knack for bringing complexity and nuance to every moment she’s onscreen was used perfectly in the episode’s closing moments. The fact that her confession of having two children was both a moment of truth and a blatant attempt at manipulating a deadly situation played to Russell’s strengths. Elizabeth was both completely vulnerable and searching for a way to regain power, and Russell sold Elizabeth’s desperation in a way that made me genuinely afraid for her and also genuinely impressed with her ability to get out of that situation alive.

I know this won’t be the last time this season that I worry about Elizabeth’s fate, and so much of that sheer terror I feel when I think about it comes from the way Russell plays the sense that even Elizabeth thinks she’s not going to survive much longer. It adds not only an intensity to heightened moments like this episode’s conclusion, but also a lingering sense of impending doom in nearly every scene that has made this final season feel even more like a tragedy waiting to happen than I expected going into it.

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TV Time: The Americans 6.01

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Source: ign.com

Greetings, Comrades! Welcome to the final season of The Americans posts here at NGN! I’m so excited to analyze every last detail of this last season with all of you, and if this episode was any indication, we’ll have much to discuss! So please share your thoughts in the comments because if any show begs for deep conversations, it’s this one, and I need some people to talk to if I’m going to get through this season without having a complete mental and emotional breakdown.

Title: Dead Hand

Episode M.V.P.: Keri Russell
I’m going to write this into being: This will be the year Keri Russell wins her long-overdue Emmy for playing Elizabeth Jennings. I’ve been beating that drum for years now, but if this episode is any indication of the work she’s going to be doing this season, I can’t imagine a world where she doesn’t win.

The thing that has always made Russell’s acting in this role so compelling is also the thing that I think makes it so underrated: It’s all about her body language. Of course she delivers her lines with a sharpness that makes them feel even more deadly than that knife to the security guard’s neck. (Her “I know you love to talk” to Philip was one of those moments that literally knocked the wind out me with how biting it was. It was reminiscent of her legendary work in Season Four’s “The Magic of David Copperfield V.”) But she also brings a uniquely purposeful physicality to the role that lives in the silences that make this show so special. I’ve always believed there is a connection between Russell’s history as a dancer and her ability to use her body as one of the strongest tools in her acting arsenal, and this episode may have featured the best use of those tools yet. So much of what’s going on with Elizabeth is happening under the surface—even more than it usually is because she can’t even let her guard down completely with Philip anymore—so Russell has to use her posture and her movements to let us see inside this character.

And what’s happening inside Elizabeth Jennings is like a car accident—you can’t look away, even though you know you’re staring at utter destruction. Elizabeth is broken, perhaps even more than Philip was at his lowest point. But Russell lets us see the effort she uses to try to hide that from everyone except her husband at the very end—when she’s too tired to be anything but herself. Exhaustion is a hard thing to play convincingly, but Russell makes Elizabeth’s burnout feel painfully tangible because it’s in every physical detail of her performance. It’s in the slump of her usually straight shoulders when she’s alone, it’s in the slower steps she takes, and it’s in the unfocused look in her eyes at times.

Elizabeth isn’t just tired, she’s crumbling from the inside out, and she has no one to lean on. Her isolation is a major visual motif in this episode—she’s by herself a lot. And when she’s alone, she’s often physically curled in on herself, hunched over and looking much smaller than she usually does. It’s been days, and I’m still haunted by one shot in particular: Elizabeth, having just murdered someone to protect Paige’s identity, standing in the rain and smoking a cigarette, shivering with her arms crossed over her body and staring out into the night. This is Elizabeth at the end of her rope, somehow both completely drained and a live wire at the same time. It’s the personification of an exposed nerve—completely frayed by her circumstances. And in that moment, I was both moved by Russell’s performance and terrified by it. Elizabeth at wit’s end could do anything, which was also reflected in that final shot of her with the cyanide necklace. The complete emptiness in her expression and the way Russell let us feel the weight of that necklace like it was a thousand pounds made my whole body tense up as I wondered just how much more she could take of the demands of this lonely life.

The Americans has always excelled at following the “Show, don’t tell,” maxim, and it’s because it has a cast that can tell entire stories without dialogue. This season, I can already see that the story Russell is telling us about Elizabeth—her isolation, her exhaustion, and her desperation—is going to destroy me.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: A Romantic Reunion

My love for a good love story is well documented around these parts. And there is no more sweeping love story on television than Jamie and Claire’s epic Outlander romance. Every chapter in their story feels cinematic, so I was thrilled when it was announced that their long-awaited reunion episode, “A. Malcolm,” would be almost feature-length (74 minutes, and I could have watched another 74). Their farewell in last season’s finale was one of my favorite TV moments of 2016, so it was safe to say my expectations for their return to one another were high. But even the (probably too many) hours I spent imagining how the show would depict their famous “print shop” reunion could never have prepared me for how wonderful it would be to see Jamie and Claire—and Sam Hueghan and Caitriona Balfe—together again.

The chemistry between Hueghan and Balfe is something special, and sometimes you have to go without it for a while in order to fully appreciate how much it elevates the already beautiful story they’re telling. “A. Malcolm” asked them to do a lot of heavy lifting—imagine how cheesy some of those lines could have sounded coming from anyone other than Hueghan or how long some of those silent beats could have felt without all the emotions we see so clearly in Balfe’s eyes. And one of the hardest things they had to do in this episode was play this reunion as realistic rather than pure wish-fulfillment. Obviously, both the audience and the characters end up quite satisfied with their return to one another, but it’s not all smooth sailing. There were awkward moments, shy glances, secrets told and some still kept, doubts, anxieties, insecurities, bumped heads, and many other complications that needed to be shown beyond pure relief, joy, and passion, and Balfe and Hueghan gave us a true sense of the roller coaster of emotions these characters were on. It would have been easy to play this reunion as a one-note explosion of passion and longing, but that wouldn’t have felt real. Instead, by infusing this reunion with an honest sense of hesitation, they made it even more beautiful because it was believable.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: A Perfect Proposal

It’s finally back! I apologize for the delay, friends, but everyone’s favorite celebration of the best of the week in television has returned here at NGN—and with a slightly new look. Instead of titling it with the days the post will be covering, I’m now leading with a hint at what the choice will be. And as you’ll see as you keep reading, I decided the scrap the little weekly rundown of TV shows to just get to the best of the best. I hope you enjoy—and that you share your favorite moments with us each week in the comments! This has always been one of my favorite features to write and read your responses to here at NGN, so no matter how busy the rest of my life gets, I’m excited to get back to sharing this special part of my Sundays with all of you! 

There’s nothing like a great television proposal.

From Ben and Leslie to Emma and Killian, I’ve written about some beautiful proposals over the years here at NGN, so when another one happened this week on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, there was no way I could keep myself from writing about it.

There was so much to love about “HalloVeen” even before its genuinely surprising ending (everyone joking about Jake in prison, the Tramps, Andre Braugher’s perfect delivery of “This bitch?!,” Jake getting a lot of enjoyment out of Amy being mean to him, Terry eating all those GPS trackers, etc.), but let’s cut to the chase: Jake and Amy got engaged, and it was perfect.

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Game of Thrones Season Finale Roundtable: Part 4

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Source: time.com

After a week of fun discussion, it’s time for the conclusion of our Game of Thrones roundtable! For those who need a quick recap, this exciting exercise has featured a collection of supercool fangirls sharing their thoughts on “The Dragon and the Wolf,” with segments dedicated to the Dragon Pit summit, the show’s various relationships, and the best moments and performances.

Now, let’s wrap this thing up and start looking toward the coming winter!

Before we go our separate ways, “The Dragon and the Wolf” ended a season that had everyone talking—even more than usual. What were your feelings on this season and on the way this episode closed it?
Katie: This was the first season of Game of Thrones I’ve watched live from premiere to finale since Season 4, and I was honestly happy that I came back after how this season ended. It had its fair share of bothersome moments (the Arya/Sansa tension, Cersei’s pregnancy, the plot holes and logical flaws in the timeline, the general lack of Brienne), but it also had some incredible moments that will rank among my favorites when the whole show is done (Arya/Brienne sparring, Jon and Daenerys holding hands on the ship, Tyrion and Varys talking about the leaders they’ve served, the first dragon attack on the Lannister forces, etc.). After a lot of thought, I’ve come to appreciate this season as a place-setting season. It got the characters where they needed to be physically and emotionally for the final battles to come, but it didn’t always do so in the most graceful way. However, I do like where most of the characters found themselves at the end of this season in terms of the stories set up for the final six episodes, so as a penultimate season, I think it did its main job—preparing us for the end—really well.

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Game of Thrones Season 7 Finale Roundtable: Part 3

Who’s ready for the next installment of NGN’s Game of Thrones finale roundtable? To recap, I gathered some fellow writers and beloved members of the NGN Family to join me in sharing our feelings on “The Dragon and the Wolf.” In Part 1, we gave our general thoughts on the finale, and in Part 2, we broke down some of the show’s most important dynamics.

Today, it’s time to start playing favorites!

Littlefinger’s death was a huge “OMG!” moment, and this finale was filled with others, too. What moment produced the biggest reaction from you?
Katie: I was spoiled for quite a few of the episode’s biggest moments (because I have no willpower), but I think the part that still managed to genuinely shock me was Bran finally putting his powers to good use and proving that what Sansa said about Littlefinger was true. And even though I knew the Wall was going to come down, actually seeing it happen still made me freak out. There are no spoilers you can read that will accurately prepare you for the visual of the Night King riding an ice dragon and using its flames to bring down something that has been a constant in this universe from the very beginning.

Shauna: Again, I cheated and read spoilers, so nothing here was too much of a shock for me. There were a few little moments that still got to me though—Jaime challenging Cersei to kill him, the undead army emerging from the haunted forest, that first shot of the Night King on the back of the undead dragon, Tormund in danger—I was definitely holding my breath during those scenes.

Maii: For me, it was Littlefinger’s death. I knew it was probably coming, but it still got me so hyped. Just know it’s the scene I’ve rewatched the most from the finale, other than the final Stark Sisters scene, of course.

Runner Up: Theon coming into his own and achieving the point of half Stark/half Greyjoy. It was fantastic and everything that was needed. The way he kept getting up and used what they saw as a weakness to his advantage, culminating in his rebirth in the Greyjoy fashion (baptising himself). Theon was one of the few that had a clear arc in this season and Alfie Allen was just so good. This is the rebirth of Theon Greyjoy (Stark), and I can’t wait to see what Allen has in store for us in the last season.

Heather: Since I was spoiled, nothing really shocked me, but lots of things made me strongly react. The biggest was Sansa and Arya taking down Littlefinger. Not even his death necessarily, but the moments leading up to it with Sansa verbally taking him down with Arya smirking at him. I was so proud of these girls and happy that they would finally be free of the toxic presence Littlefinger had been in their lives for so long. It was taking all of my willpower not to scream at my computer screen (and I didn’t want to miss things), but I did nearly leap of my bed.

Lizzie: I wasn’t spoiled, so yay me! My biggest reaction came at the Jaime/Brienne conversation and also at Jon being so stupidly noble and good, which both made me want to strangle him and hug him. I imagine that’s a good thing, that something so predictable—Jon being honorable—can still get me riled up. Also, the Theon/Jon scene gave me unexpected feels, which I think speaks more to the acting than anything.

Gissane: Yeah, I wasn’t spoiled either, so essentially, a lot surprised me, but other than the scene with Littlefinger, it was definitely the ending. I feel like I had been holding my breath for a solid 10 minutes (seemingly forever) at that point where the dragon brought the Wall down. That was it. It’s the finale that showcases the fact that everything we’ve ever known about Game of Thrones is changing and the end is near.

Dalissa: I didn’t see Littlefinger’s comeuppance coming in the moment it did, especially his death. So it was a definite OMG moment. But the moment that made me hold my breath was when Tyrion calls Cersei’s bluff to have him killed and she doesn’t do it. Peter Dinklage had me convinced he wasn’t getting out of that room alive—Cersei killing off her last Achilles heel. The ending, while spectacular, was anticlimactic for me because frankly, I still wasn’t over pulling the dragon from the water and resurrecting it for the army of the dead. Of all the things for this show, that was one I never saw coming.

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