TV Time: The Americans 6.10

americansfinale

Source: vox.com

Title: START

This Week’s Discussion Topic: The Value of Staying True to Yourself
“I just want you to be yourself, okay? Because you’re great.”

Beyond being one of the most heartbreaking lines of the entire series, this final piece of advice from Philip Jennings to his son Henry was also one of the most meaningful on a meta level. So many shows live by the “Go big or go home” motto in their series finales, and I’ll admit that all of my predictions for The Americans were in that same vein: melodramatic moments, big twists, major character deaths, shootouts, car chases, etc. But I should have known that this show would continue to whisper where other shows would scream (in a very literal way in some of the finale’s most important scenes). It’s always had its own voice, and it stayed true to that voice when it would have been easy to try to be a different show in such a big moment. The writers, actors, director, and everyone else involved seemed to take Philip’s words to Henry to heart—the show stayed true to itself until the final credits rolled, and in doing so, proved how great it really is.

The temptation seemed strong for the show to lean into its espionage elements in its final 90 minutes. Philip and Elizabeth were on the run, Stan was putting the pieces together, the FBI was interrogating suspects who knew too much, and the fate of Russia (and, in many ways, the rest of the world) rested on a message Oleg was trying to get back home. However, The Americans was never a spy show at its heart; it was a story about marriage and other interpersonal relationships. And in the end, it was that identity that mattered most. When the stakes were at their highest, the show seemed to walk itself back from the brink of becoming a different drama altogether—ending not with bloodshed and body counts but with broken relationships, and proving that the latter might be even more devastating than the former. After all, there are some fates worse than death.

On The Americans, the most heartbreaking sound isn’t a gunshot or a dying breath; it’s the strangled, pained gasp of a mother who knows she has to leave her son behind not because she doesn’t care about him—but because she cares about him more than she cares about herself. (Keri Russell could just submit that gasp, and it should be enough for her to win the Emmy.)

On The Americans, the most romantic gesture isn’t sacrificing your life for someone else and dying in their arms; it’s sitting next to a person when you know they need you—even if you can’t touch them or even look at them.

And on The Americans, the most shocking sight isn’t a dead body, a spy revealing their identity, or a person being put in handcuffs; it’s a young woman, standing alone on a train platform.

The Americans never lost sight of what made it special. In the end, it trusted its actors and it trusted its audience; it put its faith in people. And as this finale showed, that’s all that really matters when all is said and done.

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“I Want It to Be Real”: The Best of Philip and Elizabeth Jennings

The Americans 3.10

Source: spoilertv.com

The Americans is a show about a lot of things: Cold War politics, international espionage, bureaucracy, ideological conflicts, and, of course, WIGS. But at its heart, it’s a show about marriage. It’s a show about trust, intimacy, honesty, and what it means to be truly seen in a world where we all are wearing some form of disguise more often than not. And that’s what’s made it stand out in both the sea of spy shows that have developed into their own genre over the years as well as the sea of antihero-driven dramas that have emerged in this Golden Age of Television. Instead of being focused on missions of the week or the internal struggles and dark deeds of one (usually male) character, the show has always been a kind of love story—a story that first and foremost cares about a husband and wife and how the world around them affects their union, and vice versa. From the pilot onward, the relationship between Philip and Elizabeth Jennings has always been the show’s driving force and its emotional core, and it seems that after a season of separation and tension, that relationship is poised to be at the center of what’s sure to be an emotional series finale.

My love for Philip and Elizabeth’s marriage is well-documented around these parts. It’s what initially drew me to the show, and it’s what’s kept my viewing experience from ever becoming too bleak. Even when bodies were being shoved in suitcases and throats were being slashed, one look from husband to wife had the ability to fill my heart with hope that even in the worst circumstances, something beautiful can be built. Even in a world of lies, something honest can exist between two people.

That’s why—despite the murder and the blackmail and the sex with other people—The Americans is the piece of fiction that I think best explains why people get married, why someone would choose to commit to another person for their rest of their life. And it’s because being married means having a partner. Even if your life doesn’t involve chopping up bodies in parking garages, it probably will involve raising kids and balancing careers and making big decisions in the same way Philip and Elizabeth have learned to do, and it’s nice to know you don’t have to do those things alone. And even if you don’t have to lie for a living, we all hide parts of ourselves from the world—but as Philip and Elizabeth have shown us, being married means finding the one person you can be your true self with. It means finding the one person who understands you better than anyone else, the one person you can be honest with, and the one person you know has your back when it feels like the world is against you. Even though there have been times when Philip and Elizabeth have struggled to be those things for each other, they always come home in the end. And that’s what marriage is more than anything else—it’s home. It’s the person who you stand beside when the rest of the world is falling apart around you, and that’s who Philip and Elizabeth have become for each other.

The journey Philip and Elizabeth have gone on—from strangers to fake married coworkers to co-parents to falling in love to getting married for real and all the stops, starts, and separations in between—has made for one of the most compelling relationship explorations I’ve ever seen in a piece of fiction. Brought to life through the incredible talents and heart-stopping chemistry of Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell (whose own working relationship turned into a real-life romantic partnership thanks to this show), Philip and Elizabeth Jennings are something special. As such, I wanted to celebrate the end of their journey (in whatever way it may end tomorrow) with a look back at their best moments.

These are the scenes, lines, and looks that I always come back to when I think of why The Americans told one of the most subtly affecting love stories of this Peak TV period. There were so many great moments between them that it felt nearly impossible to cut it to just 10. I hope you share your own favorites in the comments so we can keep the discussion going!

1. Elizabeth lets Philip in (1.01: Pilot) 
I can trace my love for The Americans back to one specific moment from the show’s pilot: Philip’s voice cracking when asking Elizabeth how Timoshev hurt her and then him killing her rapist with his bare hands as she watched, completely transfixed. In that moment, both the audience and Elizabeth had to confront an essential truth of Philip’s character: Elizabeth always comes first. He will give up everything for her, and he will choose her and her needs over himself and his needs every time. And once Elizabeth finally let herself believe that someone had her back and truly cared about her, everything changed. It led to the perfect “In the Air Tonight” love scene, but even more importantly, it led to Elizabeth breaking the rules by telling Philip about her past and revealing her real name. That simple act of emotional intimacy, punctuated by the most adoring look I’ve ever seen in Philip’s eyes as she intertwined their fingers, showed that Elizabeth had found something more important than her orders to keep her true self hidden; she’d found someone who would love that true self.

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Thanks for the Magic

leaving storybrooke

“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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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (2/22 – 3/1)

This was one of the hardest “Best Thing on TV This Week” posts I’ve done in a long time. Sunday’s Oscar telecast was filled with inspiring speeches and two great musical numbers: Neil Patrick Harris’s opening and Lady Gaga’s powerhouse Sound of Music medley. Monday’s Castle took us on a trip to “Mars,” and it also featured a beautiful moment from Martha that allowed us to reflect on how much that character has grown since the show’s early days.

Tuesday’s episode of The Mindy Project tackled the morning sickness sitcom cliche, but the night was really about two big finales. On Agent Carter, Peggy said one last farewell to the love of her life and reminded us that we need to know our own value rather than relying on others for validation. And on Parks and Recreation, we took one last ride into the future with these characters in a series finale that reflected everything that was good and special about the show as a whole.

Wednesday night featured a trifecta of 10 p.m. dramas that brought their A-games this week. On Nashville, Rayna proved why she should ultimately be remembered for the way she defends and protects the other women around her. On The Americans, Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell broke my heart once again with their vulnerability and honesty in the final scene of a very painful hour. And on Suits, the possibility of Donna going to prison forced Harvey to confront how much she means to him, leading to a moment I doubted we’d ever see: Harvey admitting to Donna that he loves her.

Deciding between the endings of The Americans, Suits, and Parks and Rec was one of the toughest choices I’ve had to make for one of these posts. In the end, though, this is my last chance to choose a Parks and Rec moment, so I had to follow my heart.

The entirety of “One Last Ride” was beautiful, but if I had to single out my favorite moment, it had to be Ben telling the whole gang that Leslie was running for governor. In that moment, I was given one last chance to fall in love with Ben Wyatt all over again. I’ve found so much hope in the way this character was written, and it was wonderful to see his story end with one final moment of support for his wife and her dreams. From that scene on, I couldn’t have stopped crying if I wanted to. It’s a rare thing for a series finale to leave a diehard fan completely satisfied, but I can honestly say Parks and Rec ended perfectly. I’m still so sad it’s over, but I’m also still so happy it went out on such a high note.

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

Miss You in the Saddest Fashion: Farewell, Pawnee

Parks and Recreation - Season 7

“What makes work worth doing is getting to do it with people you love.” – Leslie Knope

In the past, when I’ve written about series finales, I’ve used a format very close to the one I use to grade season finales. But as Leslie hugged Ann during Tuesday’s Parks and Recreation series finale, it hit me: That format wasn’t going to cut it this time. “One Last Ride” wasn’t just the first series finale of I show I actually wrote about weekly; it was the series finale of what I will now say is my favorite TV show of all time. (Sorry, Alias.) How could I fit something so huge into such narrow categories? How could I even try to slap a grade on something that was more of a life moment than a TV episode? (For the record, though, that grade would have been an A+.) How could any of us who’ve been so personally inspired by this beautiful show find a way to coherently talk about its finale?

Parks and Rec has always been more than a TV show to those of us who love it. It’s a way of life and a way of looking at the world with hope, positivity, and a desire to make a difference. In a television landscape that’s becoming increasingly dark and nihilistic, Parks and Rec was a bright light—a show that was unafraid to wear its heart on its sleeve in the form of likeable characters who genuinely cared for one another. And to the very end, Parks and Rec was true to itself. “One Last Ride” will be remembered as a series finale that was unashamedly hopeful, genuinely emotional, and—above all else—a joyful celebration of the love we feel for the people, places, and work that matter to us. As such, it was the perfect reflection of the series as a whole. The most you can ask for as a fan of any TV show is for a series finale that honors the soul of the show you love so much. Parks and Rec gave its fans exactly that, and I’ve never felt prouder to be a fan of a specific TV show than I am to be a Parks and Rec fan today.

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You Have All the Strengths: A Letter to Leslie Knope

Source: glamour.com

Source: glamour.com

Dear Leslie,

I’m not ready to say goodbye. I know all good things must come to an end, but that doesn’t make it easier to think about tomorrow’s series finale of Parks and Recreation. I’ve spent a long time thinking of the right way to bid farewell to a show that’s meant so much to me, and I decided to approach it (like I approach most things in life) the way you would: with positivity, with optimism, and with appreciation for the power one woman—if she’s the right woman—has to inspire those around her to be their best selves. You might not be real, but the impact you had on me is as real as it gets. So before I say goodbye, I wanted to say thank you.

Thank you, Leslie, for your passion. As we grow, we’re often led to believe that it’s cool to be apathetic; it’s cool not to care, or at least not to show you care. Because openly caring about things asks for a kind of vulnerability and honesty that scares people. So thank you for being brave enough to let the world see how much you care. Thank you for reminding me that a life well-lived is a life lived with passion and intensity. And thank you for never apologizing for feeling as strongly as you felt about the things that mattered to you. Women often feel a need to apologize for their feelings, especially if they’re strong, but you were allowed to own your passion unapologetically. And you were surrounded by characters who supported that passion and were inspired by your ability to care. The depth with which you cared about things was never mocked; it was celebrated, and it made me feel proud to be someone who only knows how to feel things strongly.

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Grading the Series Finales: Once Upon a Time in Wonderland

ouatiw finale

Today, Leah is back to share her thoughts on the finale of Once Upon a Time in Wonderland and the series as whole.

Title And They Lived… (1.13)

Written By Edward Kitsis, Adam Horowitz, and Zack Estrin

What Happened? Jafar and Amara finish casting the spell that breaks the laws of magic, which they then both use for various means. Cyrus and Amara head to the Well of Wonders to return the water, while Alice heads off with an army towards Jafar’s castle, prepared to strike. However, their plans are interrupted when Jafar’s new army captures Alice. Jafar threatens to use his magic to change Alice’s past in an attempt to get Alice to reveal Amara’s location, but before he has to use that plan, members of his army arrive with reports of seeing Amara and Cyrus by two red doors, which the love-curse-stricken Anastasia tells Jafar is the Well of Wonders.

While Jafar chases Amara, Will talks to Anastasia and makes her doubt the validity of her love for Jafar enough to get her close enough for him to reach out and kiss her. The kiss is true love’s kiss and thus breaks the spell Anastasia is under. Upon coming back to herself, she immediately helps Will and Alice out of their various confinements.

Jafar interrupts Cyrus and Amara’s attempt to give the water back to the Well of Wonders and kills Amara, which turns her back into the water that gave her life so many years ago. Alice appears—disrupting Jafar for a moment—but he freezes her with his magic before she can really do anything. As Cyrus attempts to put the water back into the well, Jafar takes it for himself, gaining the wrath of the well’s guardian, Nyx, and bringing about his own punishment as a genie. This undoes all of what Jafar’s magic had recently done, and it stopped the effects of Cyrus stealing the water so many years earlier, freeing Cyrus’s brothers and Will from being genies and undoing Jafar’s revival of Anastasia.

Alice and Cyrus arrive with water from Nyx to bring Anastasia back because it was not her time to die. Back in England, the Rabbit marries Alice and Cyrus ,with Alice’s family, Will, and Anastasia all present to witness their happy day. The last scene of the series shows us Alice telling her daughter the stories of Wonderland, while Cyrus brings them more treats for their teatime setup as the Rabbit looks on from afar.

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Daily Dose of Feelings #17

It’s already been established here that series finales make me an emotional wreck. There’s something about that beautiful blurring of the line between characters and actors that heightens every moment in a series finale and makes every important beat resonate on a level that feels deeply personal.

Saying goodbye to a television series is like saying goodbye to a part of ourselves, like leaving home. That feeling is perfectly encapsulated in the Gilmore Girls series finale. When Rory talks about leaving Stars Hollow and leaving her mother, she speaks for us as an audience. We knew the day was coming when we’d have to say goodbye to Taylor and Luke and Miss Patty and Lorelai—but that didn’t mean we’d be able to do it without a few tears.

What makes this scene so moving is the way it gives us moments to reflect on so many of the characters we came to love over the course of the series. It begins with such a beautiful moment between Lorelai and her father, a moment that we spent so many years hoping to see. It’s not overly sentimental, but it’s incredibly heartfelt—and it was an emotional moment that felt earned rather than exploitive.

Everything about this scene feels genuine. Rory’s speech was a perfect way to give us one last look at the people and the place that made Gilmore Girls so special. I lose it every time when I look at Luke and think of how much he did for Rory—not just in this episode but throughout the series. He was more of a father to her than Christopher ever was. Luke is the kind of man who would throw together a graduation party in the middle of the night for a young woman who isn’t even his daughter. He’s the kind of man who makes a tent himself because it’s going to rain and he still wants people to be able to celebrate this young woman—and the mother who raised her.

The best thing about Rory’s speech is that it feels real. It’s not long or impossibly eloquent, but it’s filled with so much love for Stars Hollow—the kind of love a person can only have for their hometown. It’s also filled with so much love for her mother, a love so deep that even a Yale graduate can’t articulate it. When Alexis Beldel and Lauren Graham lock eyes at the end of this scene, it’s impossible to remain dry-eyed. You know those tears are real; you know you’re watching these two women say goodbye to each other as much as you’re watching Rory begin the process of saying goodbye to her mom. The love in this scene is so genuine, and that’s what makes it such a special moment.

Daily Dose of Feelings #7

This one is pretty self-explanatory.

For my generation, there’s no moment in television that gets our collective tear ducts going like the final scene of Boy Meets World. It’s the perfect storm of great writing, incredibly strong (and realistic) acting, and the heightened emotional power that comes with a series finale. This scene gave us a chance to say goodbye to a group of characters that we literally grew up with, to watch their stories come full circle to the classroom where it all began.

Everyone has their moment in this scene that makes them cry the most, but mine will always be Shawn’s goodbye. And if you don’t openly weep when Mr. Feeny turns to the empty classroom and says, “I love you all. Class dismissed,” then I think you need to make sure your heart isn’t actually made of stone.

 

Daily Dose of Feelings #1

The idea for this feature (and the idea for yesterday’s discussion of the emotional power of television) came from a recent YouTube excursion to rewatch some scenes from the series finale of Lost. One thing led to another, and I ended up sitting on my couch, crying my eyes out over one scene in particular—a scene that I’ve continued to watch for the last two weeks on a near-constant repetitious loop.

Fifty (or more) viewings later over the course of three years, the reunion between Sawyer and Juliet at the hospital vending machine still hits me the same way it did that May night when I saw it for the first time.

Even if you’ve never watched Lost, even if you have no idea who these characters are or what they mean to each other, I dare you to watch this video and remain unmoved. I’ve watched a lot of television in my almost-25 years on this Earth, and this is by far the most beautiful scene I’ve ever watched.

The background is relatively simple (for Lost at least): Sawyer and Juliet were happy and in love, and he was ready to propose before she was violently torn from his grasp by electromagnetic forces on the island, eventually dying in his arms. In this scene, both of them are wandering around a kind of “spiritual waiting room” in which they have no memory of their past life until they meet their “constant,” the person who wakes them up to the reality of their lives (and deaths). In this case, Sawyer and Juliet are each other’s constant—each other’s soulmate.

There are no words for how much this scene still fills me with a sense of pure relief and happiness. It truly feels like you’re watching two people with so much history of joy and pain finding each other after a lifetime apart. The chemistry between Josh Holloway and Elizabeth Mitchell in this scene is the standard by which I judge all other actors’ chemistry because they make me feel every intense emotion as it sweeps through them—from initial attraction to the pain of horrific memories to the speechless joy of holding one another again.

Holloway and Mitchell were truly breathtaking in this moment. I love how she falters a little when she remembers falling to her death, but what I love most is that this time he’s there to keep her from falling—and he’s not letting the chance to hold her slip through his fingers ever again. When he says “I got you, baby,” as his voice cracks, I feel like someone is stepping on my chest while simultaneously making my heart grow 15 sizes. There’s something so gorgeously intimate about it, so real. And when Juliet cries and laughs at the same time you can feel her relief like it’s your own—a relief mirrored in Sawyer’s smile, a smile so bright and so hopeful it’s like nothing we’ve seen him express before.

And don’t even get me started on the kiss. Her giddy anticipation. His passionate intensity. The most mature, honest, and beautiful love story on Lost got its happy ending—all to the sounds of Michael Giacchino’s perfect score.

In the immortal words of Juliet, “It worked.” The goal of this reunion was to remind us just how epic this love story had become and just how good these two actors were together—while making us cry buckets of tears. I’d say it worked perfectly.