The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: Acceptance, Truth, and the Dream of Being Seen on WandaVision

dea13d5a54641fb235be39963823547ff3-wandavision-recaps-09

Source: Vulture

“I just wanted to see you clearly.”

That’s all most of us want, isn’t it? To be seen clearly. To have someone turn a light on when we want to hide our pain in the dark and make us feel like it’s okay for us to exist in that moment exactly as we are.

To have someone see us—really see us—and choose to keep looking until death do us part.

That’s what Vision gives Wanda at the end of “The Series Finale” of WandaVision. And that’s what Vision always gave her—someone who saw her for exactly who she was. Not a hero, not a villain.

Just Wanda.

And that was enough.

Losing that—the one person who accepted her for everything she was—turned Wanda into the worst version of herself. In her inability to sit with her grief and make peace with it, she lashed out and let her emotions control her. She hurt people—without meaning to initially, but that doesn’t make the pain she caused any less damaging. And in “The Series Finale,” Wanda had to face that truth and choose what to do with it.

In the end, she chooses acceptance.

WandaVision is a journey through the stages of grief, so it makes sense that it ends with acceptance—of Vision’s death, of what he’d meant to Wanda, and of what losing him had done to her. But the end of this part of Wanda’s journey wasn’t just about accepting that the Vision she’d loved was never coming back.

It was also about accepting that part of herself was never coming back either.

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Right in the Feels: The Derry Girls Dance

Welcome to the first of what I hope will be many Right in the Feels posts here at NGN! This feature will break down some of my favorite emotional moments from TV shows, movies, books, etc., so feel free to share some moments you’d like to see me cover in the comments or on Twitter!

Oh, my life is changing every day
In every possible way
And oh, my dreams
It’s never quite as it seems
(Never quite as it seems)

There’s no better song to capture the spirit of Derry Girls—a show about teenagers growing up in Northern Ireland in the 1990s as the Troubles surround them with sectarian violence—than “Dreams” by The Cranberries.

This is a show about the universal life changes all teenagers deal with, but like the song says, it’s never quite as it seems.

Growing up in the middle of a traumatic historical event changes things.

And never was that dichotomy between ordinary teenage life and extraordinarily violent times made more explicit—or more moving—than at the end of the show’s Season One finale.

As Orla performs her step aerobics routine at the school talent show, she becomes the target of snickering and jeering before her cousin Erin and the rest of her friends (Michelle, Clare, and James) stand up for her and join her onstage. It’s a pitch-perfect moment of friendship that would have been enough on its own to end the season on a moving note, but it’s what comes after that takes this scene from an uplifting celebration to something far more bittersweet—and more beautiful.

As the teens dance, Erin’s family is shown watching a news report of a bombing that left at least 12 people dead. As the adults take in this traumatic event, the background music from Orla’s routine cuts out, allowing the tension to make its presence felt in a visceral way.

But then, the music starts again, and this time, it’s The Cranberries singing about life changing every day.

The episode ends with intercut moments of triumph and tragedy—life and loss. The teens continue to dance and laugh, blissfully unaware of what’s happening, while the adults stare right at the carnage on their TV screen. It’s a perfect visual representation of innocence in a world that is anything but innocent. They’re not dancing while the world around them burns because they don’t care; they’re doing it because they don’t know. Because they’re kids. And kids shouldn’t have to know.

But in the same breath, they’re not really kids anymore, either. Teenagers occupy a strange space between being too young to ignore the horrible parts of life and being too old to fully understand and accept them. So we know that once they get off the stage and get home, their worlds will get a little scarier; they’ll grow up a little bit more. Some part of the carefree light that surrounded them on that stage is going to dim.

But we also know it’s not going to go out completely.

Because they have each other.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: The Power of Love Persevering on WandaVision

“I’m sorry … I’m just so tired … It’s just like this wave washing over me again and again. It knocks me down, and when I try to stand up, it just comes for me again … It’s just gonna drown me.”

WandaVision is a show about grief. It’s never pretended to be about anything else, and “Previously On” made it clear that even now—with only one episode left before the end of this story—it’s going to bravely and boldly stay true to what it is: a story of a woman’s journey through depression, trauma, and grief that’s so strong her body literally cannot contain it.

As such, the most important moment in this episode wasn’t the mid-credits teaser or Agatha’s long-awaited delivery of Wanda’s superhero name or even the moment Wanda created Vision and the entire new reality that took over the town of Westview.

All of those moments mattered—because every moment of Wanda’s journey has mattered. However, the moment that encapsulated the whole series in all its character-centric, emotionally-driven glory came when Wanda revisits a quiet moment between her and Vision in the Avengers compound soon after she came to America following the death of her brother.

In this moment, Wanda looks small and lonely and achingly human—sitting cross-legged on her bed, watching Malcolm in the Middle because sitcoms have given her comfort in some of her life’s worst moments. She’s not a superhero here. And she’s not a villain either. She’s a woman.

And she’s exhausted.

Grief is exhausting. And the way Elizabeth Olsen plays that bone-deep exhaustion as she explains to Vision what it feels like to live a life defined by loss—a life where you constantly fear the next wave that you know is coming—is so uncomfortably real that it feels difficult to watch because not a single adult alive hasn’t felt that at some point. To be human is to know loss. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, the loss of a place that mattered to us, the loss of a relationship, or the loss of a version of ourselves we’d finally learned to love—we’ve all known grief in some form.

Because we’ve all known love in some form.

And as Vision says, “But what is grief, if not love persevering?”

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TV Time: The Rookie 3.06

Welcome to the first of what I hope will be weekly episode discussion posts about The Rookie here at Nerdy Girl Notes! I’ve wanted to write about this show in this way for a long time, and this week’s episode convinced me that it was finally time for me to fully dive into the fabulous things the writers, actors, and all involved are doing this season. If you’re new to NGN, we love starting fun conversations about our favorite characters, moments, ships, theories, and more in the comments (as long as it’s done in a respectful way, of course!), so please don’t hesitate to join in!

harper 3.06

Source: TV Line

Title: Revelations

Episode M.V.P.: Eric Winter
This episode put Tim Bradford through the emotional wringer. He had to relive the most traumatic parts of his marriage, make impossible ethical choices that will only add to the mountain of guilt he already carries on his shoulders, and watch the only rookie he’s ever come to care for—a woman he sees as honest, optimistic, and genuinely good—be drawn to a life that he associates with lies, addiction, and pain. His eyes were the ones that showed us the other side of undercover work—not the adrenaline, success, and camaraderie found in Lucy’s storyline, but the lost souls and broken families that seem to be just as much a part of the job as big arrests and interesting aliases. And those eyes told one hell of a heartbreaking story.

It’s all because the man playing him has one of the best pairs of eyes in the business. And I don’t mean because they’re dreamy (I mean—they are, but that’s beside the point). It’s because Eric Winter knows exactly how to show just enough truth—just enough pain and guilt and love—in those eyes to let the audience in without letting go of the fact that Tim guards his emotions carefully; he controls his feelings with the same iron fist he once used to control all his rookies (before Lucy, of course).

Winter’s performance in this episode was a masterclass of nuanced character building. Every facet of who Tim is was brought to light with the same level of attention and care, and what impressed me the most was the way Winter was able to believably convey the storm of emotions in this character with the most subtle shifts in his expressions and tone of voice. Those subtle shifts were evidenced right away—as he transitioned from the easy confidence that seemed to radiate from his pores when Mack first jumped out of the car to the tension that settled over his entire body when he confronted Mack moments later about him being high. They continued when he softened immediately after Mack came to following his overdose—the gentle, protective side of Tim Bradford rising to the surface in the tone of voice he used when assuring Mack that he and Beth were there. In that moment, you could see the ghosts of Isabel in every word he spoke and move he made—so much so that when he locked eyes with Lucy, nothing needed to be said to show that she got it too. And those subtle shifts in emotion allowed us to ride the tidal wave of repressed trauma along with him as he forced Mack to think about what he was doing to his family. Watching his eyes fill with tears as he almost certainly replayed a conversation he knew by heart like a bad sitcom rerun crushed me in a way that only a great actor—one who really understands the character he’s playing—can do.

This was an episode that could have seen Tim put his walls back up and shut down into a defensive posture—and in some ways, it did give us that. Winter’s entire body language after Tim learned Lucy was going undercover was closed off, rigid, and angry. But right under the surface was that humanity—that deep and frustrating ability to care—that he can’t shut down entirely. So when Nolan calls him out for being worried about Lucy, there’s the familiar bark, but it’s accompanied by a concerned expression that gives the game away. And when he “arrests” Lucy, there’s none of the frustration that marked their earlier scene in the briefing room when he told her she was being used. Instead, everything about him softens just a fraction—noticeable to the audience but believably subtle enough to not be noticed by the criminals. The way he leans in closer to gently ask if she’s ok, the way his hand never leaves her shoulder, the fact that this typically tough cop doesn’t drag Lucy to the car like Nolan with Harper—each physical action speaks to the way he can’t turn off caring about Lucy and wanting to keep her safe, which is going to be a big problem (in the best way for us as audience members) if this episode is setting up a future undercover career for her.

And then there’s the moment the dam finally breaks in the restrained but meaningful way Winter does best. When Tim looks back at Lucy and tells her, “You did good,” that same transition from hard to soft—fleeting but all the more impactful for its brevity—tells us all we need to know about the man Tim Bradford is. He knows Lucy needs to hear that from him. He knows that she values his opinion; she told him so herself. And he knows that she deserves his support and not to be the recipient of all his anger about undercover work. It’s not easy, and Winter lets us see that struggle. But he fights through his own pain to be there for Lucy because that’s what he does—that’s who he is.

Tim Bradford is a man who doesn’t want to care but cares deeply (as is shown even more painfully in that final scene with Beth), and it takes a strong actor who’s great at subtlety to make that kind of character work. Luckily, Winter is exactly that kind of actor. What he’s done with this character through 3 seasons has been nothing short of captivating, and I hope the drama and soul-searching set up in this episode continue, because I can’t wait to see more.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: The Bravery of Jackson West on The Rookie

“The honor and bravery you’ve shown is an example to all of us … I’m so damn proud of you.”

Praise is hard to come by in the world of The Rookie, so when it happens, it matters.

And it’s never mattered more than those words from Sergeant Wade Grey to Officer Jackson West at the end of last Sunday’ episode, “Lockdown.”

Jackson’s storyline throughout this third season has been nothing short of revelatory—for both the character and the actor playing him (Titus Makin Jr.). He’s the eyes through which The Rookie has taken its most direct look at police violence and systemic racism in policing, and it all led up to the moment in this episode when, after confronting his racist training officer, Doug Stanton, about his behavior, Doug leaves him at the mercy of a group of criminals.

Watching Jackson get viciously attacked while Doug hid on the sidelines was brutal to watch, but it wasn’t all for nothing—Jackson knew his training officer fed him to the wolves, and by exposing that on Doug’s body cam, he got a bad cop off the streets. (Although it’s almost certainly not forever.)

Jackson knew he was risking his career and even his life by working to call attention to the truth of who Doug was and the racism fueling his actions. But he also believed it was worth the risk. Even laying in his hospital bed—with broken ribs, loose teeth, eyes swollen shut, and a painful hoarseness in his voice (kudos to both the makeup department and Makin for painting an uncomfortably believable picture of a man in incredible pain)—he told Sergeant Grey as much.

And Grey’s response was one every decent human being watching most likely had:

“You shouldn’t have to risk your life to get a bad cop fired.”

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: Randall Reaches Out on This Is Us

This has been a lonely year. For so many of us, the human experience of 2020 and now 2021 has been defined by isolation—even when we know people care and love us and want to be with us, we often still can’t help but feel alone.

And because This Is Us is a show that works hard to reflect the human experience back to us through the lens of the Pearson Family, it showed us the physical manifestation of that isolation in this week’s episode, “There.”

It was Madison, laying in her hospital bed, ready to deliver her babies alone. She knows Kevin wants to be there; she knows she’s loved and supported and cared for. But in that moment, her reality is one of loneliness—of isolation.

However, all it took was one phone call to change that.

And it wasn’t Kevin on the other line.

It wasn’t even Kate.

It was Randall (and Beth!) reaching out to Madison after Kevin told them she was in labor. It was Randall (and Beth!) checking in and volunteering to send her food and anything else she might need.

And it was Randall (and Beth!) who realized in the smallest pause that what Madison really needed was to feel like someone was there.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: The Power of Grief, Anger, and Empathy on WandaVision

WandaVision is a marvel (pun obviously intended). It’s a thrill-a-minute mystery, a possible (probable?) key to opening the Marvel Multiverse, an homage to classic sitcoms, and the wildest and weirdest ride on television right now.

But it’s also a story about grief.

It’s a story about the way we try to escape grief in other realities (especially happy, televised ones). It’s a story about control and the desperate ways we try to reclaim control by holding on to things long past when we should let them go. It’s a story about the anger that naturally comes along with the grieving process and what carrying that anger around does to us and those around us.

And even more specifically, it’s about how all of those things are seen through a different lens when it’s a woman experiencing them.

Female grief. Female rage.

That’s what Wanda represents. She’s the embodiment of the rage that burns inside women who’ve lived through trauma and loss. And she’s the embodiment of the way the world doesn’t know what to do with the women who wear their rage on their sleeve—who grieve in a way that’s not pretty or soft or quiet.

Wanda is an angry woman—and when you look at her life, you see that she has every reason to be. Even if she’s handling it poorly, even if she’s doing the wrong things—the motivation behind them is clear, understandable, and relatable.

She’s not a hero. But she’s not a villain, either.

She’s a woman in pain.

And the only other character who’s able to see that is another woman who’s in pain.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: Listening and Learning on The Rookie

“I’m proud of you.”

When Lucy Chen said those four little words to her Training Officer, Tim Bradford, on the latest episode of The Rookie, it felt like something big—for these characters, for their relationship, and for this show as a whole. And it’s not just because Tim Bradford seems like the kind of guy who is more familiar with a dad who would “tune him up on the regular” than someone telling him they’re proud of him.

Big things are happening on The Rookie this season, and it’s time we talked about them.

The Rookie is a police procedural, and it’s a police procedural filmed with a lot of help from the LAPD. It’s often claimed that it’s different from other police procedurals because it’s committed to accurately and honestly depicting what life is really like for patrol officers. But for its first two seasons, those claims of accuracy and honesty never felt fully realized because the show never dared to take a long, hard look at police brutality and violence, racial profiling, abuses of power, the ways police departments close ranks, and the other ugly truths about the relationships between law enforcement and communities of color, especially Black communities.

This summer, though, it became clear that things needed to change. Between social media and traditional media outlets putting the focus on the problems inherent in “copaganda” movies and TV shows and reservations brought to the creator by at least one of its stars (Titus Makin Jr., who plays rookie officer Jackson West), The Rookie was at a crossroads: It could continue to press on as it had been—ignoring the harsh realities in favor of entertainment—or it could try to be more, to be better.

The powers that be chose the latter, and the show is much better for it.

With a partnership with advocacy group Color of Change and a writers room featuring more diverse voices (in addition to a cast that features all but two main characters played by people of color), The Rookie approached its third season with a clear focus and a new mission: to reflect real systemic problems and to show them in detail rather than in one “special episode.”

Most of the attention surrounding that focus and mission has been given to a storyline involving Makin’s Officer West and his new Training Officer, Doug Stanton. Stanton, with his racial profiling, excessive use of force, threats, and racist beliefs and actions, is an example of the kinds of police officers responsible for the deaths of George Floyd and so many others, as well as the over-policing of Black communities and other systemic issues in the criminal justice system.

But it would be easy to just write this new character off as a “bad guy” who gets taken down by all of our favorite police officers, the ones who’ve always been guided by strong moral compasses.

And taking the easy way out is not the m.o. for this show this season. Instead, it’s committed to showing how men like Doug Stanton can get into positions of power and stay there, even when so many people around them know exactly who they are—and how dangerous that can be.

Enter Tim Bradford.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: “The Hill We Climb”

“For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” — “The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman, National Youth Poet Laureate

Words matter.

Words have the power to incite the worst of us. We saw that on January 6. We saw that for the last four years. We saw that throughout our history as Americans and will still sadly see that far into our future.

However, words also have the power to inspire the best in us. We saw that on Wednesday, as President Joe Biden’s Inauguration Day celebrations ushered in a new era for Americans—an era of words that aren’t dripping with vitriol, devoid of empathy, and divorced from the truth. Wednesday was a day filled with words that acknowledged the harsh facts of our current reality, offered healing to those who are hurting, and offered hope for the future.

And those words mattered.

When Lady Gaga sang about the flag still being there only two weeks after Capitol was besieged by insurrectionists, it mattered. When Jennifer Lopez recited part of the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish, it mattered. When President Biden told us, “Don’t tell me things can’t change,” it mattered. When Kamala Harris—the first female, Black, and Asian American Vice President of the United States—took her oath of office with conviction in her voice and a smile on her face, it mattered.

And when Amanda Gorman took the podium to recite “The Hill We Climb”—her poetic testament to “a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished”—it mattered.

Many words will be remembered from that cold January day in Washington, D.C., but none will be remembered more than the words of a 22-year-old young woman who asked us, “Where can we find light in this never-ending shade?” and answered with the powerful reminder that the light we seek is all around us—and inside of us.

“If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: Randall Pearson and the Power of Story

“Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.”The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

Our lives are shaped by stories—the stories that inspired us, the stories that changed us.

The stories that made us.

Stories are how we make meaning out of our existence. Our whole lives are a process of creating and understanding our story—the narrative of who we are, where we come from, and what our lives mean.

Some people grow up knowing all the details of how their story began—they know what the day of their birth was like, they know how their parents met and fell in love, they even know the stories of their grandparents and maybe even ancestors who reach deep into the past. They know where they fit in a larger story, but even more importantly, they are often taught that this larger story is a love story—of parents who love them and children borne of love and love that’s been passed on through generations.

But not everyone is that lucky.

Not everyone knows how their story began.

And Randall Pearson was one of those people.

Randall’s journey on This Is Us began with a quest for the truth—for a deeper understanding of his story. By not knowing the truth about his parents, his story felt incomplete. Something was missing—the key to finally feeling like he fully belonged instead of the nagging sense of being an outsider that he felt as a Black young man in a white family. It was hard for him to join the past to the future the way Tim O’Brien said so beautifully without full knowledge of how it all began.

How he began.

As This Is Us has gone on, we’ve watched all the Pearson siblings deal with the most difficult chapters of their stories and move closer to a place of understanding how those chapters influenced all the chapters that have come after. But for Randall, there was still one chapter that was missing.

The story of his mother.

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