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Medusa Serves Up Sanvers and Lena Luthor

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Supergirl Season 2 Reviews: Episode 8, “Medusa”

Finally. It’s here. “Medusa”, the Thanksgiving episode of Danvers’ family awkwardness in all its glory. Gretchen and Elizabeth have been waiting for this episode ever since clips of dinner came up, and we weren’t disappointed. James attempts to play on Kara’s kindness regarding keeping The Guardian secret, Mon El awkwardly tries to win over Eliza and hit on Kara, and Alex tipsily interrupts them all to come out but is interrupted. Poor Winn, he’s a champ for going not once, but twice. Will he have the courage to come back next year to the annual Danvers Family Thanksgiving Disaster Dinner? We can only hope.

And if that weren’t enough, the universe decided to send all wlw and Supergirl fans a neatly wrapped package of delightfulness, kick ass storytelling, and lady loving. With The Guardian subplot neatly shelved, we got more time to focus on J’onn’s illness, Kara’s continuing struggle with her parents’ mixed legacy, Sanvers, and Lena Luthor being awesome. What more could we ask for?

Quick Recap

Mon El brought literal stuffing to Thanksgiving. What a dork.

Mon El brought literal stuffing to Thanksgiving. What a dork.

Thanksgiving begins with Kara zapping the turkey while Winn and James argue about who ought to tell Kara about The Guardian. Alex warns them off, planning on coming out instead of them stealing the moment (she’s kind of tipsy at this point); Kara misinterprets Mon El’s intent to charm her mom with him hitting on Eliza (ewwwww). Kara’s not going for this “Mon El likes her” thing. The ‘thankfulness portion’ is as awkward as we could hope for but is interrupted by a rip in the space time continuum.

Kara plans to ‘sneakily’ interview Lena about Cadmus and Lillian. Lena opens up about how she is Asami Sato always falls short of her mother’s expectations. Mon El runs into Cyborg Superman at the bar as he is planting a bomb with an aerosolized virus to kill the aliens. Alex urges them to bring in Eliza to help determine how Cadmus was able to target only alien physiology. Lena proves she’s not working with her mother by asking her what she’s up to and threatening warning her about Kara sniffing around. Kara asks Mon El if he is interested in her (love the awkward, just not the ship), but he collapses due to the virus before they can finish the conversation. Eliza explains the virus is from Krypton, and Kara realizes they hacked into the Fortress of Solitude. At the Fortress Kara learns that her father created the virus to protect Krypton from potential invaders. Meanwhile, Eliza is super supportive of Alex being gay (excuse us while we go ugly cry in the corner for a while).

We're so glad he's okay. Now let's have a heart to heart with M'gann.

We’re so glad he’s okay. Now give him a heart to heart with M’gann.

Kara talks with J’onn about her struggles with her parents legacy and he exposes that M’gann’s blood has poisoned him. She then heads over to L-Corp to prevent Cadmus from getting their hands on an isotope that would make the virus capable of wiping out every alien in National City, only to meet Cyborg Superman. Kara saves Lena from Cyborg Superman, but Maggie is wounded in his escape. Kara agrees to ask Lena for help as Supergirl. Lena flinches at the accusation that her mother is behind Cadmus and sends Kara away.

Alex sews up Maggie; they have a heart to heart. Mon El kisses Kara, and she looks… confused? Back at L-Corp, Lena gives her mother isotope 454. Kara and J’onn confront the Luthors as Lena sets off the canon to prove she’s ‘really a Luthor’. Kara chases down the rocket as J’onn morphs into a White Martian to fight Cyborg Superman. The rocket explodes raining Medusa down on National City. Psych! Lena switched out the isotopes and Medusa was inert (THAT’S OUR GIRL). Eliza synthesizes a cure as well as healing J’onn. Mon El doesn’t remember kissing Kara so she pretends it never happened. Maggie brings over pizza to Alex, confesses she likes her, and they make out (*hearteyes*). Barry and Cisco pop into Kara’s apartment to ask for her help.

Best Quote: “Keeping a secret doesn’t agree with you sweetie…Does it have anything to do with Maggie? You mention her a lot. Oh my beautiful Alexandra, why is it so hard for you to tell me?…Why would your being gay ever let me down?…Alex, look at the life our family has led. Look at me, look at your sister. I don’t think you believe I ever expected you to have a regular life. You were always going to be different Alex, because you were always exceptional, and I love you however you are.”—Eliza Danvers

Thoughts & Feelings

So that was a goddamn gift. We could start anywhere, but we’ll start with Alex coming out to Eliza, as we’ve been eagerly awaiting this conversation for weeks.

Thank god it happened in private, when Alex didn’t have to cope with everyone staring at her drunk alongside the obvious anxiety she has about disappointing Eliza. Instead, we get the intimacy of Alex’s raw honesty about her fear of letting Eliza down. Just about every wlw has this fear at some point, that their love for women will disappoint their parents. That they won’t have a ‘normal life’ like their loved one’s wanted, and have to live knowing they’ve disappointed them. Eliza’s responded perfectly. She supported Alex as a person and acknowledged her fears without making the discussion about herself. We’ve seen shows turn moments like these around into the family member’s hurt that the queer person didn’t trust them, so we appreciate that Eliza stayed focused on validating Alex’s personhood and her love for her.

Eliza’s full, enthusiastic support for Alex functions as a foil to Lillian Luthor’s broken relationship with Lena, much like it did for Cat and Katherine Grant last season. Where Eliza supports Alex no matter what, Lillian bluntly tells Lena she liked her less than Lex, then turns around and tells her to get over it because no parent loves their children equally. Um, excuse you Lillian, have you met Eliza Danvers and J’onn J’onzz? Apparently not (pun intended).

The show continues to draw parallels between Lena and Kara, with Lena’s feelings about her mother mirroring Kara’s about her own parents. As Kara herself points out, she knows what it feels like to cope with parents who let you down. Kara also has experience with a villainous family member attempting to force her into joining their ideological campaign (Astra), so she can relate on multiple levels. Someone get these two girls a coffee date so they can have a thorough heart to heart.

Lena's ice cold take down of her own mother to help Team Supergirl? That's soulmate material.

Lena’s ice cold take down of her own mother to help Team Supergirl? That’s soulmate material.

On a related note, Kara learning that her father created a weaponized virus brought us back to last season when Kara struggled with realizing her mom was more than just a hero. She’s struggling with legacy and learning that parent’s aren’t always the black/white beings we believe them to be. It’s a poignant moment because Kara hasn’t thought as much about her father’s role as a scientist on Krypton, and we get the impression that Kara was much closer to her mother and aunt than she was to her father. Facing that his legacy is as mixed as her mother’s brings out just how complicated her heritage is.

At the same time, the scene elucidates Kara’s growth as a character since last season. Rather than rage and scream, she took time to think and integrate it into her self-perception. She’s clearly distraught, but she’s better equipped to cope with the revelation after having dealt with her mother and Astra last season. And she chose to talk with J’onn instead of let it build up inside, which is another really effective coping skill. We want to hug her because of the pain, but we’re so proud of her character growth. They followed up on that with Kara having the most gut wrenching moment of fear when the rocket exploded. That split second she thought all the aliens, including Space Dad J’onn, were going to die, broke us in pieces.

But then Lena happened. God. Damn. Lena Luthor is a fucking badass. Lets sit down and talk about how perfectly Lena Luthor saved the world. First off, they doubled (tripled?) down on the Asami Sato parallels with Lena Luthor. We’d gotten that vibe before, but the initial confirmation that Lena was not currently working with her mother in her sketchy Cadmus dealings and was actively suspicious brought the point home further. The visible antagonism set us up perfectly to believe Lena would never work with her mother. They followed up with Kara being the one person to stand up for Lena in the DEO. When her perceptions are seemingly undermined the very next scene with Lena and Lillian our souls hurt.

We were all set to bitch about lack of motivation to lead her this soon down the villain path and inconsistent characterization when she agreed to help her mother. After she turned the key, we were all set with pitchforks. Then. THEN. It was an elaborate ruse to save the city. Boom. We can overstate the importance of this moment.

Aside from the brilliant narrative set up this season, it encapsulates what we’d wanted for Lena since the premiere: Lena steps up as a hero for National City. Supergirl once again revisits the theme that one’s choices determine their hero/villain status, not their family (see Winn and Kara). More than that, Supergirl successfully aided a Luthor—the one everyone else believed was doomed to be a villain like her brother and mother—in choosing the light and becoming her own hero. The younger sister of one of the most notorious DC villains chose her better angels. Epic. Beautiful. Shipping and queer representation aside for the moment, this is the kind of storytelling we live for.

And now for what you’ve been waiting for: so much for slow burn Sanvers. We were 100% invested in slow burn Sanvers. We were so ready. And you know why? We wanted Alex’s coming out to be about her. We didn’t want to rush the ship because we wanted Alex to come out for her own sake, not for Maggie. The great thing is that the acceleration didn’t shortcut any of that.

“When you first suggested that I was gay, I denied it. Then I thought that it was just about you; I mean, how would I not like you? But you know, deep down, I think I wasn’t comfortable that that was my new normal. But it is my new normal, and I’m happy that it is. Because I, I don’t know, finally I get me. And now I realize that it wasn’t about you, but it’s about me living my life. So, thank you.”—Alex Danvers

Alex labeled herself gay. She accepted herself and being gay as her “new normal” (her phrasing, not ours). She’s happy about it. We’ll say that again: she’s accepted that she’s gay and is happy. Is it quicker than we expected? Yes. But we’re not complaining because Alex got her time, and she is certainly old enough to know the rest of herself well enough to adjust to her New Normal quickly. She got to come out to Kara and Eliza and be supported. She got to voice her frustration to Maggie and express her disappointment. And, she got her time to realize that coming out was more than Maggie. As with Maggie supporting Alex as a friend, Alex got to care for Maggie with no strings attached. She wasn’t expecting Maggie to change her mind or express her interest. She thanked Maggie just for being there to support her with no pressure for Maggie to change her mind.

Thankfully for us, Maggie did.

Our hearts exploded. Tumblr blew up. There was a massive disturbance in the wlw force, and we loved every second of it. Can we mention Alex stitching Maggie up? And how supportive and happy Maggie looks as Alex is talking? And then Maggie having the courage to go talk to Alex on her own? Seriously. Maggie has a pair on her. Alex basically gave her the equivalent of the “I’m trying to get over you” speech and she responds by bringing over pizza, complementing Alex on her ‘cute’ pj’s (we’re dying), and then telling her she likes her. If they’re going to torpedo the slow burn, this is the best way to do it.

“Life is too short, and we should be who we are. And kiss the girls we want to kiss.”—Maggie Sawyer

The torpedoing of the slow burn might be a disappointment to some who enjoy that trope, but we propose that Supergirl’s completed arc for Alex actually is the better direction to go in, especially considering the media landscape of the last year. There was something very heavily meta about Maggie taking a shot to the shoulder and realizing there’s no real compelling reason for her and Alex to delay a relationship if they both like each other. While the arc is short in a literal sense, that it occurred across a mere 4 episodes, it was complete, which is infinitely more important than the arc being long.

We know that the slow burn is probably the biggest trope of the femslash world, but its existence is deeply rooted in diminished or non-existent payoff. This was the core of Elizabeth’s jaded ambivalence to the Sanvers ship early on, despite always being on board with the idea of it being canon. Femslash ships often don’t sail out of the harbor as a complete package, but rather one plank at a time that the fandom has to assemble into a boat themselves somewhere else down river in the Kingdom of Fanfiction. When you say slow-burn, season(s) long queer coding with ambiguous payoff come to mind. What people often call a slow burn is often just a really thin breadcrumb trail, and the starving wlw fandom will absolutely eat up even the thinnest of offerings. We are so used to making due with the crumbs, we are often baffled when a television show offers us the actual cake instead.

What Supergirl has brought to the table is not so much a giant, polished, fancypants bakery cake with fondant icing and spun sugar accents, but a small and delicious homemade cake made with love from scratch. There is something uniquely organic about the way this ship was scripted, and the writers made choices with it that are clearly informed by real-life wlw experiences. The entirety of the final scene between Alex and Maggie, from the little “probably” to Alex point blank asking Maggie to confirm that she likes her, is something too specific and too pitch perfect to have been guessed at by an outsider. Like Cat Grant’s drunken anecdoting in Season 1’s “Red Faced”, Supergirl has a particular talent for weaving in female stories far too perfectly nuanced and accurate to have been pulled out of the ether of an outsider’s imagination. The show likes to demonstrate that it not only listens to the audience it actively courts, but it is specifically aiming to impress that audience and reflect the image of that audience.

Perhaps the most uplifting aftereffect of the night was the number of women on Tumblr saying, “This is what it feels like to have our stories told.” It is certainly a new and foreign feeling, but it is also finally starting to feel like a good one. And unlike pleasant wlw surprises San Junipero and Wynonna Earp, this season of Supergirl was not written and filmed prior to the brunt of the Spring Slaughter got underway; in some ways, it almost feels written in *response* to it. It’s sort of difficult to ignore, really: Maggie is wearing quite a visually obvious and hefty bullet proof vest, and explicitly survives a survivable gunshot wound. It is pleasant to have a gunshot launch a ship instead of sink it, for once. Maggie’s words to Alex were very difficult to view in any other lens than being direct meta commentary on life being too short to waste on slow burns and queer coding, just freaking kiss the girl.

The show made the decision to have Maggie and Alex’s conversation be the emotional finale to the episode, framing it is one of the most important plots to address and resolve prior to the mid season hiatus. Supergirl sees your mid season finale cliffhanger deaths, and tells them to get fucked take their business elsewhere.

In a television landscape of slow burns or thin storytelling, Supergirl actually breaks the mold by allowing the ship to move forward at a faster pace. In Elizabeth’s veteran wlw opinion, this pacing and arc is far more true to real life wlw relationships than the six season slow burn. There is a certain unspoken urgency to queer relationships of any nature, because the unfortunate reality is that the world stacks the deck against us. Because this struggle is the most outwardly demonstrative and easiest for The Straights to visualize, it is usually the viewpoint that gets expressed, often with a lack of understanding as to *why* queer relationships move so quickly. Even in the safest of havens in the most progressive of american Pacific Northwest cities, hate crimes can and do happen. We as queer individuals don’t tend to screw around with relationships, especially as we get older, because no matter how safe we feel, we are always acutely aware of how illusionary that safety can be.

While Supergirl has made the *very* deliberate decision to not make this the crux of its queer narrative (thank Rao), keeping that quick pacing makes the relationship really strike home without being a painful reminder of the reality we live in. Supergirl is the purest kind of escapist fiction; the kind that women rarely get to experience, let alone queer women. Like San Junipero, it stands alone not because it features a wlw romance: it stands alone because it is a piece of genre fiction that just so happens to feature a wlw romance. And also like San Junipero, Supergirl proves that you can include a coming out story without making the romance *about* coming out.

It’s well crafted, kind hearted, pure intentioned, and subversive in its realness. If you are part of the wlw community and have not jumped on board the good ship SS Sanvers, treat yo’self. It will warm your heart and put a smile on your face, we promise.

As much as we loved just about everything about this episode, we do have some nitpicks questions. First, the virus. If it is supposed to kill all non-Kryptonians, why doesn’t it kill humans? From a Kryptonian perspective, humans are alien invaders (or potential invaders), so it ought to have killed all the humans in the bar as well. We understand from a storytelling perspective this isn’t possible, as Cadmus needs a way to kill aliens but not humans. A dialogue tag explaining it had been altered to not harm humans would have gone a long way to making this work better.

Second, Cadmus itself. Lillian better be thankful that there is no UN equivalent setup to deal with anti-alien attacks. The kind of genocidal attack Lillian attempted to enact is an act of war. We know that the president is an alien, so Cadmus’ attack is at the very least an act of terrorism and treason against the US. They’re no longer thugs robbing banks; they’re a threat to national as well as global security. We wish Cat were here to ask the hard question of why the US is not cracking down on or disavowing this kind of terrorism to avoid retaliation from alien species’ who would not take kindly to casual genocide. Perhaps James needs to walk his handsome butt back into his office and get working on that, since he is the head of Catco now. He seems to have forgotten completely that he has a day job.

Finally, we must briefly address the awkward elephant in the room: the kiss between Kara and Mon El, and how hilariously perplexed Kara seemed by it. Her expression fell somewhere between politely disinterested and flat-out confusion; it is really hard to understate how utterly awkward this scene was. That was the most excruciatingly long, boring kiss we’ve seen this year. Though only a few seconds long, it felt like years. It was a feeling quite akin to the one you get when someone sits much too close to you on the bus and you have to stare out the window intensely like an awkward teen in an indie film. It was the perfect time to check our emails.

At the end of the episode, Kara makes an effort to talk to him about the kiss (which, sidenote: we love that Kara has learned to be emotionally assertive!) and he claims to not remember it. Kara looks… we want to say distraught, but it was still definitely in the ballpark of confused. We were a bit surprised at her choice to pretend it never happened, given her instant, but still polite, shut down of Winn in S1. While the writers could be trying to keep hope alive, it’s just as likely to us that Kara is trying to protect her friendship. Or maybe she’s asexual and having an epiphany of her own? One can dare to dream. This ship has all of the flair, flavor, and spice of Wonder Bread.

Random Thoughts

  • Alex came real close to saying ‘bullshit’ instead of ‘hijinks’
  • The response to Kara claiming she could be sneaky was perfection >>
  • We have always hated the “a mother always knows” line as a way to force a woman to acknowledge feelings for a man who she professes no interest in. If she says “there’s nothing there” why not just let it lie until she figures it out herself?
  • So much Supercorp feels. It’s got OTP soulmate material written all over it.
  • We are here for all the Kara/J’onn scenes. He’s such a good Space Dad.
  • We’re intrigued by the lady Darth Vaders looking for Mon El.
  • They confirmed English is Mon El’s second language, but we still don’t know when/how he learned it.
  • Space Dad kept trying to die and that upset us. Thankfully he’s all better now.
  • We really hope the show addresses Alex’s issues with alcohol. We get needing a drink for courage, but she was pretty drunk at dinner (a beer, a fifth of whiskey in the freezer, and a glass of wine?), and she’s had a couple of scenes drinking in the Maggie aftermath the past few weeks.
  • Three cheers for seeing Eliza Danvers in her scientific element!

In Conclusion

We had a lot to say. #sorrynotsorry. Granted, there was a lot to process in this episode. Like so many this season, it deserves a rewatch to even more fully appreciate the gift we were just handed. (We’d probably have even more to say.)

The characters continue to impress us with their depth and nuance, and it’s safe to say that not having The Guardian plot line gave more space for the other subplots to breathe. As much as we hate to say “we told you so” to the writers, we will. We were huge James fans in S1 and both of us were Karaolsen shippers, so our frustration with James comes from a place of love. The Guardian just isn’t working for us, and this episode proved that it’s not a necessary subplot this season. If ever there was a time when National City needed a strong, investigative mind asking the hard questions about Cadmus and their threat to the city, and the world, it’s now. Go do your job, James.

Cadmus’ “Earth is for the humans” is an on point villain stance given our current political climate. It’s a timely theme to be exploring as our society struggles with the increased visibility of hate and bigotry. We need Kara and team Supergirl to show us how to overcome hate with hope and xenophobia with love. We’re hoping that the rest of the season continues to ramp up the human/alien tension with Kara caught in the middle of the ideological war. What Cadmus did tonight could not be construed as anything other than an act of war and since we know the president is an alien, we expect a response from the US government at the very least. Perhaps Cat can come back to help James with messaging? (Though he actually deserves to be fired.) That would be nice.

We can’t end this review without mentioning Maggie being shot one more time. Not only did she survive without major injury, the scene led not to a death, to a romantic moment culminating in Alex getting the girl. Screenwriters take note, this is how you do midseason finale drama. No need to kill us queer ladies for Drama™ or for Shock™ or whatever. Kara’s moment of taking care of Maggie warmed our hearts too, because even if Maggie hurt Alex previously, whoever is important to Alex is important to Kara. Anyway, this officially means that both canonical queer ladies have been shot wearing bulletproof vests. If that’s not an enormous ‘fuck you’ to the BYG trope and the Spring Slaughter, we don’t know what is. Thank you Supergirl. Just thank you. For everything.

Next up, the crossover! Looking forward to what our other site authors have to say about The Flash, Arrow, and Legend of Tomorrow!


Images courtesy of CW

Bi, she/her. Gretchen is a Managing Editor for the Fandomentals. An unabashed nerdy fangirl and aspiring sci/fi and fantasy author, she has opinions about things like media, representation, and ethics in storytelling.

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Television

Fall 2017’s TV Successes and Disappointments

Shahar

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November is a fun time in television. While shows are winding down for their winter hiatuses and networks are picking up scripts or pilots for next year’s shows, they’re also ordering “back 9s” for new shows premiering each fall. That is, the 9 episodes to bring a 13 episode series order to a full season. (Though the first full season of a show can run as short as 16 episodes these days.) Getting a back 9 generally indicates high renewal chances if the ratings stay good enough for the network. Renewals and new show pickups are announced in May during Upfronts.

Upfronts this year was a weird time. The major broadcast networks picked up the least number of new shows in five years. 19 of the shows cancelled were one season and done. Though we’re only three months into the 2017-2018 TV year, I have a feeling next May will have similar results.

After all, of 19 new shows, only 8 received back 9s/full season orders. Only two of those have received second season pick ups thus far.

Successes

ABC’s The Good Doctor received a full season (18 eps) pick up after only two episodes. Its success is unsurprising because last year’s hit was a family feel-good (though very dramatic) show. I can’t speak to the actual content but it’s clear that somewhere, a lot of Nielsen families are loving it; its yet to move below a 1.8 in the 18-49 demo, which is the most important piece of measuring a show’s success.

There’s only been one other success not related to an already existing franchise, and that’s Fox’ The Orville which received a second season renewal halfway through its first season. CBS’ Young Sheldon, a prequel to BBT received a full season pickup after one special premiere airing, and NBC’Will and Grace revival received a renewal before even airing its first new episode.

Disappointments

Everything else. No, really.

ABC

ABC had two “limited season” shows that if successful would have likely seen a second year. Unfortunately, the network pulled Ten Days in the Valley from the schedule, and will air its remaining episodes in December. The much maligned Inhumans just finished its season but with terrible ratings, barely making a 0.5, and on ABC nonetheless.

The network did give a few more episodes to Kevin (Probably) and The Mayor. This likely only indicates the need to fill airtime. Kevin‘s additional episodes give it a full season (16 eps) but The Mayor is finished.

CBS

Me Myself and I holds the honor of first cancellation this year, and 9JKL received three more episodes. That really only means the network doesn’t want to open the timeslot up yet. Consider it done, too.

Among the three dramas, two are very slight renewals. Both Seal Team (22 eps) and S.W.A.T (20 eps) received back 9s, but neither have ratings to call home about. CBS expects a 0.9 demo later in a show’s life, but not within six and three episodes respectively.

Wisdom of the Crowd’s ratings were subpar and with the allegations against lead Jeremy Piven, there’s no way the show was going to get a back 9. It didn’t even garner a mention in the first press article from CBS.

The CW

Sigh. Valor, one of four military/special ops themed shows premiered to a 0.3 (!) rating. Dynasty (also 0.3) on the other hand did receive a back 9, but the show is part of a deal with Netflix. Its renewal chances are dependent on the rest of the shows.

Fox

Ghosted and The Gifted were this network’s only other fall premieres. Though their ratings aren’t as exciting as other shows, both are firmly in the middle of currently airing Fox shows, and The Gifted will finish airing its 13 episode first season in January. Fox has yet to make an announcement on Ghosted so anything could happen. (Likely it’s done.)

NBC

Law and Order: True Crime, the lowest rated of NBC’s new shows, and The Brave just above it failed to receive back 9s. The former is a limited season show so a final decision won’t be public until May. A press release for NBC’s mid-season premieres states the same for the latter. However, Brave was always meant to be a back 9 contender.

Looking Forward

With only 1 show per Big 4 “winning” the fall, and only 8 receiving back 9s, the network’s mid-season shows must succeed. NBC’s Rise, a mix between Glee and Friday Night Lights, should be an easy ratings win for the network especially airing after This is Us finishes its season. From one feel good story to the next. The CW has Black Lightning starting in January, which should also do well considering the amazing cast and The Flash lead in.

Otherwise we’re still waiting for announcements on the rest of the new shows’ premieres.

It’s also clear that the networks’ attempt at reaching certain audiences via its military/special ops shows fell short. ValorThe BraveSeal Team, and S.W.A.T. all failed to bring in high ratings. No surprise if only one of the latter two receives a renewal, similar to when last year’s time travel shows all died except a last minute un-cancellation for Timeless.

Of course any one of the shows I marked as done could still conceivably receive a second season. That’s in the case of an across the board failure for spring premieres/shows past their first season. It’s clear live TV watching (what advertisers care about and thus what I care about) has decreased every year since Nielsen has calculated ratings. The 13% overall decrease in the 18-49 demo this year, however, is slightly more than the usual 5-10% decrease per year. So either shows need to be more interesting, Nielsen needs to expand its ratings measurement, or both.

Either way, mid-season shows must succeed or networks will be operating at major losses financially. Without inventive and entertaining pilots, 2018-2019 is just as likely to fail.


Image Courtesy of ABC, CBS, The CW, FOX, and NBC

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The Flash Shows How The Thinker Came To Be

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After last week’s horribly boring episode, “Therefore I Am” comes to formally introduces everyone to the mystery that The Thinker is. We learn much more about the villain and his helpful partner, the Mechanic, but we don’t figure out his main goal. Still, a better The Flash episode as the show closes in on its fall finale.

Recap

This flashback ridden episode starts with a less than inspired Professor Clifford DeVoe, barely catching anyone’s attention during class. He is joined for lunch by his wife, Marlise, and Clifford whips out a design: a cap that could enhance his own intellect given Mrs. DeVoe can manufacture the device. In the present, we pick up from last week, with Barry and Joe interviewing the DeVoes.

Their first meeting seems to go well, as in nothing quite looked off from the DeVoes, but Barry is suspicious. Iris assigns all of Team Flash their own missions to dig deeper into Clifford just to be thorough. A new peek at four years previously shows Mrs. DeVoe had built Clifford’s thinking cap, but they would need a huge energy source for it. Thankfully — or should I say thinkfully —Harrison Wells/Eobard Thawne is right on the verge of launching the particle accelerator.

Barry decides to pay DeVoe’s class a visit to ask him a few other questions and seize the opportunity to grab his mug for a DNA’s test. However, the test comes up empty as his genetic material doesn’t fit what one would expect from meta-DNA.

A new flashback goes straight to a scene from the pilot: the press conference Wells held before the launch. After Barry ran off to retrieve Iris’s bag, Mrs. DeVoe asked Wells questions as she is concerned about the safety of the accelerator. This scene is particularly interesting because Wells’s attitude is a nice throwback to him being a villain from the future. His compliments for DeVoe’s work come across far more as “big fan of yours, hope you wreck the shit out of Barry” than anything else. Nonetheless, despite Marlise’s warning that there will be an explosion, Clifford decides to proceed as planned with the charging of the cap.

As the accelerator goes off, the thinking cap definitely does things to Clifford, but he also happens to be struck by lightning. Marlise arrives and resuscitates him just in time to witness Clifford feeling “enlightened.”

The cringy part of the episode starts as the DeVoes go to Captain Singh to report Barry’s inadequacies as harassment. As this particular form of lowkey gaslighting usually goes, the people around Barry don’t believe his instincts and ask him to stop looking into DeVoe which, spoiler alert, we also know he won’t and it will backfire eventually. Very cringey, very cliché, and not particularly well scripted drama.

So, after Clifford got hit by lightning, he becomes a really fucking smart person. To prove that, the writers ask him to reveal who Jack The Ripper is — call me foolish, but I would have rather they tried to explain who the Zodiac Killer is to see if it is more believable than American Horror Story: Cult’s ill attempt at doing so. Nonetheless, he starts having a seizure on the spot.

At STAR Labs, Barry hears a buzzing from the Samuroid head and finds a camera inside. He goes to perform some late night stalking at the DeVoes and find Marlise leaving the house, which is super convenient. However, she returns literally 45 seconds after with a full load of groceries so Barry has to quit his sleuthing. Flashbacking again, a doctor gives Clifford a grim prognosis, as his mind is feeding off his body.

After Barry reveals he broke into their house, Team Flash fully flips on Barry’s idea that Clifford DeVoe is the actual bad DeVoe. To make matters worse for my enjoyment of television, the part where Barry gets scolded a second time by the police happens as Marlise brings pictures from the invasion to the Captain. Barry gets suspended for two weeks — and somehow is 100% surprised by the Captain’s decision to suspend him after he broke into someone’s house… — and also a restraining order.

Back at it, it’s time for another cliché: Clifford goes all infomercial as he falls from his wheelchair trying to grab a book from the fireplace. Mad at the world, he begs to die, but Marlise won’t let him. In fact, she even developed the machine that DeVoe currently to help him with his fatal disease.

Even with a restraining order, Barry goes to Clifford at his lecture hall and finally something interesting happens: cards on the table, the professor acknowledges everything. He knows Barry is the Flash. He exposes his backstory, how he became a metahuman, and how superior he is in terms of intellect in comparison to Team Flash. In fact, he is only telling him who he is because “he has nothing to fear.”

Now, maybe this is just me, but I feel like this would be the time for Barry to engage and tell DeVoe that he lowkey already knows how to defeat him? I mean, Savitar did tell him the name of the device. But he doesn’t. He mostly brags about defeating speedsters, which are nothing compared to DeVoe’s powers.

Back at STAR Labs, Barry tells everyone that Clifford confessed and NOW everyone believes him even without any additional evidence — silver linings? At least they believe him now. This ‘No One Believes Barry’ nonsense could have carried on for more episodes. Cisco comes up with the Thinker name as Wally arrives to help out with supervillain but, if we’re being honest, he probably won’t because Kid Flash has been utterly useless. I blame it on the writers.

Finally, the DeVoes go back to their secret base and Marlise has her villain attire (slicked back hair and a lab coat instead of natural waves and sundresses) back on. It sort of makes you wonder about the practicality of having a whole villainous wardrobe just for the thrill of it.

As Clifford starts shaking again, it is time for him to return to the device we’ve seen him in before. The coolest part is that I was right about his hair: the Mechanic has to literally rip his scalp off in order to connect him with a machine that feels too tight on his head. As the romantic he is, Clifford is even “allowing” West-Allen to get married because “what is knowledge without love?”.

Not a lot went down again, but better than last week’s by a mile. So now we gotta get ready for the wedding crossover next week and hopefully an interesting fall finale!


Images Courtesy of The CW

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The Heart is a Lonely Manhunter (Rewatching Hannibal Season 1)

Angela D. Mitchell

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Spoiler Warning for Hannibal, Season 1

“At night I leave the lights on in my little house and walk across the flat fields. When I look back, from a distance, the house is like a boat on the sea. It’s really the only time I feel safe.”
—Will Graham, Hannibal 1×04

Confession: I am one of those people who watches a show and can’t quite accept that it’s gone. The show instead lives on for me internally. So, basically, do not tell me The Wire is gone. Nope. Nor Deadwood, The Sopranos, Parks and Rec, Justified, Veronica Mars, and a handful of others, just… for me, they’re not gone. The show’s still out there. Immortal. Ever-present. So, for me, yes, somewhere Tony still watches the exits. Somewhere, Raylan works out his inner demons. Somewhere, Leslie Knope is President. Somewhere, Dan and Casey are still wittily tossing out sports metaphors under Dana’s eagle eye. Somewhere, Veronica’s fighting for justice next to her Dad. And somewhere, Hannibal and Will are still embattled. Or engrossed. But they’re out there, somewhere, somehow. Living on, in a smarter universe.

Fellow fans of Hannibal will no doubt especially feel my pain on this. And as someone still deeply mourning the end of the show all these years later, I thought the best consolation might be to go back and watch the show from the beginning, and it’s been a joy, offering new nuances and moments galore. It’s been especially fascinating to be able to go back to the beginning, and most especially to see how far back Bryan Fuller and his talented team set up the relationships, conflicts, and inspirations on the show, which are present even in the pilot episode.

The Table is Set

The blood splashes in the credits, Brian Reitzell’s superb score surges ominously, and Hannibal begins. Boom. Grossness. Ooky murder victim close-ups. Dating taboos. Ships, ships, and more ships sail into the distant horizon (how were we ever possibly this young?).

Welcome to the world of Hannibal. So let’s drive right in, to episode one, for instance, and that beautiful first meeting of Will (a wonderfully twitchy Hugh Dancy) and Hannibal (a chilly, graceful Mads Mikkelsen). Where, if you watch closely, you’ll find extra enjoyment in all the little subtleties to Mads’s and Hugh’s performances—because they’re setting the foundation for every single moment to follow.

It’s all right there, the entire show. Hannibal’s focus and detachment, mixed with that strange fleeting tenderness. Will’s disgust, empathy, and fear that also mask his inevitable fascination and self-loathing. Cue the mental metronome as it sweeps ominously across the frame in red. We begin, and even within 40 short minutes in episode one, as Garret Jacob Hobbs dies, whispering, “See?” to a horrified Will, the table is set.

The finishing touch on this scene (that will echo back so tragically at the end of the season) is the fact that Hannibal, watching Will, seems to decide to save Abigail because it is something that Will wants. So he gives it to him, the gift of Abigail’s life, placing his hands gently on Abigail’s throat in order to save her. He further does this, I think, because for Hannibal everything comes down to power, because he can, and because it will tie both of those people to him in ways he wants to watch play out further.

But perhaps the nastiest trick he plays on Will here is his facade at the episode’s end, as Will enters Abigail’s hospital room to find Hannibal already there, holding Abigail’s hand as if he is not the monster her father was, but as if he is, in fact, the caring savior he pretended to be. Everything that occurs between the two men from here on out, occurs because Will mistakenly uses this image of Hannibal as a baseline. It’s diabolical and tragic.

Just because Hannibal tortures Will, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t love him. For Hannibal, feeding someone an ear is practically like sending flowers and a box of chocolates…

Cat and Mouse

I think my favorite aspect of the rewatch is that I have changed my opinion slightly when it comes to Hannibal’s reactions and motivations. Upon a second viewing, most of the time, I now do think that Hannibal seems to play out his scenes with others as honestly as he can, at least, to a point.

I remember that I thought Hannibal was smirkier the first time I watched it; I felt like he was playing them. But now I actually think he’s weirdly transparent. I do think he likes and respects the team and genuinely (and quite quickly) grows to care for Jack and Will. It doesn’t mean he won’t torture them, mind you—Hannibal’s so warped that I truly believe he has no concept of how normal, non-psychotic people feel or demonstrate tenderness.

Shoot, for all we know Hannibal considers everything he does to poor Will in Season 1 to be nothing but simple foreplay. (“What are you complaining about?” I can imagine him saying to Will. “I fed you an ear!”)

Speaking of love, however, I most definitely missed how closely Beverly (played with subtle wit and tenderness by Hetienne Park) is involved with Will in many scenes the first time I watched the show. Her shooting range scene with Will in Episode 2 is terrific. Sparky and fun, on rewatch, it’s evident to me that Beverly likes Will. I mean, I think she like likes him. Which just adds to the tragedy of her entire arc.

Every bit as much as Jack and Alana, Beverly seeks Will out, to goad him, to study him, to offer support. She visits him several times (including in “Ceuf”) just to talk to him, for instance. And in the Angel episode (“Coquilles”), Beverly approaches Will again, offering help and asking him to confide in her; they interact closely once more in episode 6 (“Entree”). I’d really missed how close these two are in my first viewing of the show, and this makes Beverly’s devastation at Will’s arrest that much more heartbreaking to witness as season 1 moves toward its close.

The Wolf Visits the Sheep

In Episode 4 (“Oeuf”), in one of the best scenes across the entire show, Hannibal explores Will’s house. And I think upon rewatch this is just an incredibly rich and fascinating scene. Hannibal enters as a guest (and we later learn that Will asked him to feed the dogs for him while he was gone), and absently feeds Will’s beloved dogs, who adore Hannibal instantly. Hannibal, of course, feeds them what we assume is yikeshannibalsoylentsausage. Of course, he then simply wanders through Will’s home, and it is just sort of mind-bogglingly, quietly amazing to watch him do so. I think it’s easily one of the most naked moments for Hannibal in the course of the story. We get this rare opportunity to simply watch him study and react without the need to play the role of the guy in the human-suit that Bedelia calls him out on being.

As he enters Will’s home, Hannibal pats and feeds the dogs, then (in a poignant note for me as a classical musician) notes that Will owns a piano but that it is out of tune.

I found this moment lovely and subversively interesting for what it says about both men. Hannibal is a person who writes and plays music at a superb and virtuosic level, and who listens in the same way. Now he enters Will’s home and sees, unexpectedly, another fraction of his heart. Another realization, piercingly, that Will is like him. He is not alone. So yes, my favorite part of this scene is how Hannibal sees the piano and his glance lingers on it.

And right there, to me, I think is when Hannibal becomes a love story.

The Search for Connection

It’s not really about romance, to me, however, but about something more subtle and fragile—about recognition. Kinship. Fellowship. The pleasant, guilty surprise of bondage. Forget romantic love. Love’s less complex in this universe, and I’m not even sure it’s given anywhere equal weight. What the show is seeking and exploring, ultimately, is a dozen times more complex: the connection of equals, a speaking of souls. The mitigation of loneliness.

Hannibal as a character or person may not believe in love, but I’m certain that he (and the show) believes in soulmates. More casual viewers, I think, may miss that about this show. Hey, ship anything you want, any character combo that floats your boat. Seriously, I get you. I ship Hannibal and Will, at varying moments, with pretty much every adult who shares a scene, not least because Mikkelsen and Dancy both have chemistry with everyone around them.

But what Hannibal is ultimately about, to me, what sets it apart and makes it real genius… is loneliness. And connection. Hannibal seeks it, and is surprised and charmed to find it in Will, even in his home. We already know how much Will desires and fears the same thing.

And everyone else we glimpse, don’t they want that same sense that someone knows and understands them? Jack? Alana? Beverly? Every single cop, medical examiner, or killer we meet?

Of course. Cue drama.

For Will, every social encounter seems agonizing, so it’s ironic how palpable his loneliness is: “When I look back from a distance, the house is like a boat on the sea. It’s really the only time I feel safe.”

Make Yourself at Home

So back to my point. I mean, Hannibal’s visit to Will’s home is fantastic. And pivotal. To me, it’s the core moment in their evolution as compatriots and friends and, perhaps, lovers. It’s so intimate.

Moving on. In his home visit for Will, Hannibal also notices a full outboard motor evidently in repair in Will’s living room (tellingly, later, in the “therapy” session with Hannibal, Will talks about his father’s work in boatyards from Biloxi to Erie).

Hannibal then checks out Will’s bureau and oh, Lord, gloriously, yes, there are the white tee shirts and socks, neatly stored, although I imagine the filmmakers simply cut out Hannibal’s full-body recoil at the sight. Hannibal then goes over to Will’s desk, looks through the magnifying glass there (nice subtext) then plays with one of Will’s fishing lures, carefully adding one of the feathers from the tray on the desk, before deliberately cutting himself with the hook he has just perfected. Then he licks the wound. And, yeah, it’s weirdly erotic.

This is also the episode when Will confesses to Hannibal, in one of the show’s most beautiful moments, that he only feels safe from a distance: “At night I leave the lights on in my little house and walk across the flat fields,” he says quietly. “When I look back from a distance, the house is like a boat on the sea. It’s really the only time I feel safe.” It’s yet another in a long line of beautiful boat references that help us to get to know Will that will also come back into play in later seasons.

Hannibal, potential anchor that he is, merely gives the tiniest hint of a smile. Because he is in control. He doesn’t need an anchor… or does he?

Fiendish Friendships

But although it’s fun to watch Hannibal become fascinated with Will, I forgot that Hannibal initially befriends Jack much faster than Will. Jack joins him for many more dinners at this point, actually. Jack and Hannibal become good friends, and Hannibal’s friendship visibly means something to both men.

Meanwhile, complicating those waters, is Will, of course. I mean, “Coquilles” is also the episode where Hannibal sniffs Will! And Will notices! It’s weirdly awesome. (Will: “Did you just… smell me?” Hannibal: “Difficult to avoid. I really must introduce you to a finer aftershave. That smells like something with a ship on the bottle.”)

I also love Will’s conversation with Jack here:

Will: This is bad for me.

Jack: I’m not your father, Will. I’m not going to tell you what you ought to do.

Will: Seems like that’s exactly what you’re gonna do.

Jack: You go back to your classroom, when there’s killing going on that you could have prevented, it will sour your classroom forever.

Will: Maybe. And then maybe I’ll find a job as a diesel mechanic in a boatyard.

Jack: You wanna quit? Quit.

Interesting that Jack smiles to himself as he says that. He knows Will can’t quit. When it comes to duplicity and hidden meanings, Jack is every bit as subtle as Hannibal himself. And he’s willing to do it because he’s willing to risk Will’s sanity in order to save lives—and because he’s also confident enough that he can see Will through it without harm.

“At a time when other men fear their isolation, yours has become understandable to you,” Hannibal tells Will. “You are alone because you are unique.” No surprise that he is actually describing himself.

Getting Help

Onward to therapy!

Episode 7 (“Sorbet”) is pure genius with its series of therapy sessions—Hannibal with Franklyn, Bedelia with Hannibal, Hannibal with Will. In each session there’s this tangible subtext of yearning and loneliness yet again: of Franklyn trying to impress Hannibal, of Hannibal trying to impress Bedelia, and then having a glass of wine with Will. There is something sort of poignant and lonely about Hannibal saying, “I have friends.” And we know who they are and how much he hides from them. (Note: I also think that it’s telling and important that Jack dreams of a mutilated Will in this same episode, as well.)

Episode 8, meanwhile, features one of my favorite exchanges between Hannibal and Will when Will says, “I feel like I dragged you into my world.” And Hannibal quite truthfully replies, “No. I got here on my own. But I appreciate the company.”

Cue Loneliness

What’s interesting as I rounded out Season 1 here is the way Hannibal interweaves that loneliness I mentioned earlier as an almost palpable, touchable aspect of the show’s fabric. I was constantly struck by how solitary everyone seems to be in Hannibal’s world, how disconnected—a fact emphasized in many scenes by the show’s lighting, which is moody and dark, with characters illuminated in stark relief as if trapped onstage. Every major character also seems caught in a dreamworld now and then, as if mute on the most important level—speechless about the things they truly want—yet all are yearning, and all are quietly starved for connection.

Not just Will, but Hannibal himself, and even Jack, Bedelia, Bella, and Beverly. They all seem like characters seeking connection and safety. Alana is the only one who, to me, implies a rich external life elsewhere, and it’s interesting to watch her move in and out of all these other lives with so much ease, especially knowing what lies before her in later seasons.

Final Revelations

One thing that really struck me upon my Season 1 rewatch was just how fantastic the actors are. I’ve talked about Will and Hannibal, but let’s just call out Caroline Dhavernas as Alana, for instance. She in particular is just wonderful, much stronger than I remember her being (and it really sucker-punched me when she goes to the car to scream and cry; at that point I realized then how much she did truly love Will). I also loved the chilly, gorgeous Gillian Anderson as Bedelia, and thought Kacey Rohl was amazing as Abigail Hobbs. It’s a performance where she has to walk so many lines in so many conversations, and Rohl was able to do that with a lot of delicacy and hidden nuance.

And then of course there’s Fishburne’s presence and gravitas, Dancy’s vulnerability and anguish, and wonderful Mads and just how much he’s able to communicate in every single graceful movement and microexpression.

While it’s hard to watch Will spiral downward in the final episodes of season 1, I do love the conversation in “Buffet Froid” (1×10) when Will is ill and floundering, and Jack is surprisingly warm and supportive:

Jack: Let me tell you what I think. I think that the work you do here has created a sense of stability for you. Stability is good for you, Will.

Will: Stability requires strong foundations, Jack. My moorings are built on sand.

Jack: I’m not sand. I am bedrock. When you doubt yourself, you don’t have to doubt me too.

Near the end, when Hannibal brings Bedelia the veal, what’s fascinating is that, in an entirely different awareness of context, I’d argue that she is absolutely aware of exactly who Hannibal is and of what (or who) they may actually be consuming. And before she does so, she unexpectedly and blatantly warns Hannibal:

Bedelia: You have to be careful, Hannibal. They’re starting to see your pattern.

Hannibal: What pattern would that be?

Bedelia: You develop relationships with patients who are prone to violence. That pattern. Under scrutiny, Jack Crawford’s beliefs about you might start to unravel.

Hannibal: Tell me, Dr. Du Maurier, have your beliefs about me begun to unravel?

The way she takes the bite, with her eyes on Hannibal, very slowly, implies to me that she is doing this deliberately, perhaps almost as an odd form of answer. Foreplay? Or communion?

Perhaps no show ever quite captured the spirit of loneliness as Bryan Fuller’s superb, late, and still lamented Hannibal.

The Last Bite

Every meal has a finish. And so we come to Will’s horrified, beautifully gradual realization of Hannibal as the real killer throughout episode 13 (“Savoureaux”), leading to the confrontation in Hobbs’s kitchen, the site of their first connection and mutual recognition:

Hannibal: At a time when other men fear their isolation, yours has become understandable to you. You are alone because you are unique.

Will: I’m as alone as you are.

Hannibal: If you followed the urges you kept down for so long, cultivated them as the inspirations they are, you would have become someone other than yourself.

Will: I know who I am. I’m not so sure I know who you are anymore.

There’s such symmetry in that final, raw and terrifying confrontation in Hobbs’s kitchen between Will, Hannibal, and Jack. And it’s awful to watch, to see Jack as adversary, to see Will led off as a criminal, to see him processed by the team (and to see their personal, anguished and angry reactions), and to then see Will locked up and facing Hannibal, who is of course still free and confident and smiling. And still there! Just on some level, you know, he’s still so creepily happy to see Will. To be a part of his life and world.

A caged Will is just more accessible, after all… more fun for Hannibal to play with.

Anyway, wow. I really loved taking another look at this first season of Hannibal, and what’s interesting is it’s my least favorite of the three, so I’m looking forward to the chance to rewatch the next two even more. Most of all, I’m so pleased to have found the show even more rewarding upon rewatch, not less. There’s so much detail to Hannibal‘s world that there’s always some new little treasure to notice.

What did you think? And what did I miss? And what do you think Will really smells like? I’m guessing Old Spice, sea salt, engine grease, and warm dog. Want to live on the edge? What does Hannibal smell like? My own guess on this is that he smells absolutely fantastic, like Italian cologne, fresh sage, and the faintest breath of electric wickedness…


Images courtesy of NBC

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