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We Can Be Heroes, Er Superheroes?

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Supergirl Season 2 Reviews: Episode 10, “We Can Be Heroes”

She’s baaaack! That’s right, Livewire has returned to Supergirl and we couldn’t be more thrilled to see her. We (Gretchen and Elizabeth) think that Livewire is an excellent nemesis for our girl in blue, even if it makes us miss Cat Grant more (*sniff*). Plus we get all the space family feels. And M’gann. Our precious M’gann. And Sanvers fluff.

Awwww

Quick Recap

Training montage with Kara and Mon El (the new DEO has some sweet training facilities); yay Kara getting to be a superhero mentor! Maggie and some fellow officers find some baddies Guardian left in a trash pile, but James got shot taking them down, so Winn tells him it’s time to tell Kara. M’gann has a seizure in her cell, but when J’onn goes to check on her, she screams until the glass shatters and faints. Alex agrees to run tests and J’onn is totes not worried about her okay? Livewire is in therapy—it’s not helping. A guard frees an inmate and they both attack the therapist to get to Livewire. Alex tells J’onn that M’gann is dying psychologically and asks him to do the mind meld to save her, but he refuses. Kara complains about Livewire to James, who advises Kara against letting Mon El help her. They see Livewire attack the NCPD on one of his monitors in his office, only when Kara and Mon El arrive it turns out not to be her after all. It’s the guard and inmate. Kara tells Mon El to protect the cops, but he chooses to help her instead. Thankfully, the Guardian shows up to protect the cops. When he’s knocked out, Kara takes off his helmet to discover James underneath. Cue the awkward confessions. James explains that he was never meant to live in Superman’s shadow, but Kara wants to protect him because he’s human. James points out that Mon El put people in danger and that Kara should not get to decide who gets to be a hero. Kara says she’s going to stop him.

You’re right, Livewire. Mon El’s ‘supersuit’ was rather blah. Why did he have orange tinted glasses?

Back at the DEO, Alex reminds J’onn that M’gann helped him, but he doesn’t want to help her because he might end up forgiving her. Kara confronts Mon El about his recklessness and asks him point blank if he’s doing it because he likes her. He denies it. She goes to find Livewire, who we see in the next shot is strapped down in a chair in some basement with Lab Man. At the DEO, security footage tells them Livewire was captured, not freed, and Winn lies about knowing where she is so he and James can track her down themselves, only Mon El overhears.

J’onn attempts the mind meld with M’gann with Kara and Alex to support him. M’gann is trapped in her memory of the day she broke ranks. J’onn processes her experiences with her, forgives her, and brings her back (cue ugly sobbing). Livewire learns that Lab Man is making copies of her to turn into super soldiers. Guardian shows up to rescue her? Capture her? Mon El joins the fray. Winn calls Kara to rescue the boys, whom Lab Man had taken captive. She rescues the boys and frees Livewire. Livewire and Kara team up (!!) to take down Lab Man and Kara lets Livewire go to spare his life. J’onn threatens to fire Winn if he ever lies again, but not before complimenting him and Guardian. Kara decides she can’t support James and Winn putting themselves in danger, but she won’t stop them. M’gann tells J’onn that White Martians are coming to get her. Mon El confesses his feelings for Kara but understands she doesn’t feel the same way and wants to move on.

Best Quote: “Forgiveness isn’t something you give to somebody who’s hurt you, forgiveness is something that you give to yourself.”—Alex Danvers

Thoughts & Feelings

We’re going to start with our fave Kryptonian puppy. Tonight felt…off. Gretchen’s initial reaction was ‘out of character’. Since when does Kara tell human beings they can’t be heroes? After talking about it, it felt more clear to both of us that what she actually means is that humans can’t be superheroes, as in they are soft, squishy, and mortal. Kara’s dialogue seems to support this theory, but it is just that; we are not in the writers heads, unfortunately. But she did have an “I’m a hero, powers or no” scene last episode, for heaven’s sake. Turning right around to tell James he can’t be a hero because he’s a human didn’t make sense, especially when viewed in the context of the rest of the season.

By the end of the episode she sounds more like what we’d expect. She doesn’t see the need for James and Winn to put themselves in danger when she already saw them as heroes doing what they were doing before. Which is precisely what we’ve been saying this whole time. James’ and Winn’s decision to be superheroes flies in the face of the show’s message that “we can be heroes” without needing to be superheroes. And if James doesn’t want to be the guy behind the desk maybe he should quit Catco so someone else can give it the attention it needs.

At the same time, Kara literally just found out that her two best friends were lying to her for months. She knows what aliens and bad guys they faced. She knows they could have been hurt or killed. Of course she’s going to overreact a little and feel protective. Not to mention that she almost lost J’onn, M’gann, Mon El, and the entire alien population of National City in “Medusa”. And, you know, she lost her planet. Losing people is a sore spot for her, as is people lying to her. Remember dealing with that all of S1? Alex, her mother, J’onn, her father—none of that has gone away. Alex did try to warn James about Kara not taking lying lightly, yet he chose to keep lying anyway. But really, James shouldn’t need to be warned; it’s not like he wasn’t there when all of this was going on in season one. He remembers how Kara reacted. He shouldn’t need Alex to spell it out for him.

As if that weren’t enough emotional struggle for Kara in one day, she gets Mon El confessing his feelings for her. She’s been here before. That pained look on her face (which Elizabeth felt deep in her soul… Like same girl. Same.) was most likely her reliving what happened with Winn in S1 when he said he had feelings for her and she didn’t reciprocate. Girl can’t catch a break. Every single male her age on the show has been a romantic interest. This isn’t entirely surprising, as Kara is a warm, happy, intelligent, beautiful woman who lights up the world like sunlight. But as far as tropes go, this is yet another one that desperately needs to get its sticky fingers off our favorite show. Can we just cool it for a while with the gentlemen suitors? Please. Kara doesn’t need a romantic interest right now. Give her a break from men throwing themselves at her please. And then maybe make Supercorp happen. Or Superwire. Or Superlane. Obviously we have a slight bias here, but we mean this genuinely: we don’t care if the wlw ships never sail, we are just 200% over Kara having to beat off romantic suitors with a stick. Let her live.

Speaking of Mon El, lordy where to even start tonight. He continues to not listen to Kara like a petulant child, even after she tells him multiples times to protect the cops and leave her be. Were this a one time deal, we might be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and say he’s ‘overcome’ with feelings. But this is a pattern with Mon El. No matter how frequently he professes to care about and for Kara, he refuses to respect her. Because part of respecting her is learning to let her ‘no’ be ‘no’ and her ‘go away’ be ‘go away. He’s not being romantic, he’s being a paternalistic asshole. Then he tries to convince her that him kissing her is all in her head. Yay gaslighting. So loving.

We were hopeful that the final scene would be him coming over to apologize and admit he wasn’t ready. But no, we get yet another scene of a young man word vomiting his feelings onto a clearly uncomfortable Kara. Hats off to Melissa Benoist for nailing that deeply uncomfortable body language; she looks ready to crawl out of her own skin just to get out of the conversation. We struggled to get through this scene the first time through because we were deeply worried it was going to end with a kiss; it was genuinely distressing to watch.

The conversation also entirely misses the point. The issue was never that he lied about kissing her (or lied about remembering, though these are both their own separate issues. Don’t think for a second we are cool with either of these things). It was his lack of respect, his failure to listen to her, his apologies and promises to do better that never amounted to any visible change in his behavior toward her. Those are the things Mon El ought to be apologizing for, in addition to lying. His monologue amounted to “sorry I lied about kissing you and didn’t listen to you, but I like you, so it’s fine. And hey, I know you don’t like me so let’s just move on. Teamwork!” At least we got an awkward high-five out of it.

More awkward that the fist bump last week.

This ‘lol he’s so awkward’ persona and goofy culture clash antics don’t make up for his selfishness, and quite frankly they are getting more grating and unbelievable by the minute. We are both 200% done with this plot that wore out its welcome six episodes ago. We desperately hope this episode is the end of it. Yet again, we dare to dream.

On to the good end of the feels spectrum: J’onn and M’gann. Gretchen has been desperate for this interaction for weeks, and it lived up to all of her expectations. There is so much potential for impact in the story of forgiving someone partly responsible for the death of your race and culture. Our only frustration is that it didn’t get more screentime over the season. Supergirl is about forgiveness and second chances.

Tonight, J’onn faced his anger and hate and it felt honest and true-to-life. His initial resistance to helping her because she’s a war criminal evolves into his reluctant admission that he doesn’t want to share his good memories with her. The mindmeld is an incredibly intimate and vulnerable act. J’onn does not want to open himself up that much with his enemy. But it’s more even than that. The vulnerability goes both ways. She would see him, but he would also see her. And he doesn’t want to see her as a person, someone with the potential for both good and evil.

“I don’t want to forgive her…hate becomes your reason for living when you’ve lost everything that you love. If I find that there was some good in their kind. If I don’t hate her…”

…Then what does he have left? That’s the unfinished sentence. He doesn’t want, or even know how, to give his hate up without losing a piece of himself.

Yet deep down, he already knows that she is not who she thinks she is. He knows that she risked uncovering her own identity to save his life. When prompted by Alex, he begrudgingly admits that he ‘suspects’ the truth of her helping his people on Mars. You’re not fooling us, space dad, you know. Which is what makes this arc so compelling; J’onn is fighting himself, his instincts, his fear, and his very reasonable hatred of the race that committed a genocide of which he is the sole survivor. His resistance is compellingly raw and very real. We’ve both felt this way at some point about people who have hurt us.

It makes his choice to help M’gann that much more moving. His tenderness in reaching out to her while she was reliving the day she broke ranks broke us. He let her be honest, be in pain, be vulnerable with him. She confessed both her greatest act of compassion—saving a Green Martian child—and another that probably causes her great inner turmoil—killing her own people. She’s baring her soul to him, and in that moment, he reaches out to her to bring her back. He could crush her, but he chooses compassion instead. Rather than let the pain and trauma win, he chooses empathy. It’s one of our favorite stories to see told, so excuse us while we go ugly sob in the corner for a while.

Can we also say how triggering it must have been for him to be there? This is literally his worst nightmare. Yet, he willingly stays in a memory that causes himself great pain to help bring her home. J’onn uses pretty classic therapy skills with her, too. He reminds her that this is a memory and they’re safe. He asks her questions and reminds her what is true. Both Sharon Leal and David Harewood act the shit out of their scenes this episode, too. M’gann has so much internalized guilt (ugggh, kill us). Protect M’gann M’orzz and give her happiness 2k17.

That brings us to the Guardian. And hoo boy do we have a lot to say. First off, James has a point about Mon El. Everything he says about Mon El not being heroic, about him being selfish and reckless is absolutely true. And we do feel bad for him that Kara overlooks the Guardian, who could actually be a good team-member for her, in favor of Mon El. Who isn’t. We don’t disagree often on Supergirl, but we do have enough of a difference of opinion on James’ arc to warrant us briefly unfusing to talk about it individually.

***

Gretchen: I’m less vociferous in my dislike of the character. I see it as wasted potential and a glaring example of remarkably poor attention to detail in the writing. There seem to be multiple aims with this arc: 1) give James a superhero journey, and 2) give him an arc that brings him into more contact with the DEO since Catco is being de-emphasized. While I am ambivalent about the first, it could have worked in theory. Maybe. I still can’t decide. There’s too much toxic masculinity wrapped up in it’s execution that I can’t distinguish that from how it could have been done otherwise. The second is a reasonable aim and one that I laud. They’re trying to keep James from being sidelined, though I could think of better ways to have done it.

However, the choice to drag out the Guardian arc to 10 episodes was poor. It dragged the season down and stole valuable time from other important arcs. If they had given us this conversation between Kara and James in episode 4, I would have been much less salty about how this played out. The other poor writing choice was to script James in such a way that he came across as vain, self-aggrandizing, and arrogant. His confession that he did this to help people rings hollow when he’s pitching articles about himself to Snapper. It was entirely in line with the James of S1, but not with his scripting this season.

And that’s why, to me, this is less about hating the character and more about being frustrated with the poor writing choices that led to the character assassination of a character I was emotionally invested in up until I saw where this arc was going. I’m disappointed and frustrated with the writers, not the character. And I do kind of see what they were going for, especially after tonight. That doesn’t make it’s execution not complete shit, though. Because it was. I see what they intended, and they utterly failed to bring it to life for me. I’m not entirely done with him though. There is window of opportunity left for me to salvage his character from it’s assassination, but it’s rapidly closing. Come on writers, do better.

***

Elizabeth: At this point I can’t stand James and I’m counting down the seconds when he’s on my screen. While everything that he says about Mon El is objectively true, the fact that it’s coming from his mouth really kneecaps the impact. Almost everything he says to Kara in this episode is blatantly, ridiculously hypocritical when viewed in the context of his actions this season. Who he is now is completely divergent from who he was last season, and that is nobody’s fault but the writers. They took the character in this direction, and I’m sorry but I have to judge his merits based upon what he does on screen, not the idealistic version of him that can be constructed from his previous season’s characterization.

Even if I give him the benefit of the doubt and go along with the idea that this is how he feels like he can best be a ‘hero’ (and this is canon, guys, he says it outright), it doesn’t change the fact that he lied to Kara every step of the way despite there being no real compelling reason for him to do so. James pushes to have his own stories run by Catco, he bullies Winn and manipulates him into helping him, and he delays telling Kara the truth for episode after episode, even after promising both Alex and Winn he would come clean. He never does come clean. He gets caught, and then still has the audacity to act like he has a leg to stand on.

I know that we don’t want to lose James for a multitude of reasons that we’ve discussed before: MOC protagonist, his season one persona was amazing, his relationship with Kara is interracial, etc. But that James is gone, guys. This James is not a good character. I am furious that they destroyed his character, but that’s what happened, and I don’t know if this can be course corrected. I am feeling that cold rage in Kara’s eyes when her and James had it out in this episode.

Even on a second viewing, I feel the same way: I could not possibly be further away from James’ side of things, and if this is the path he wants to take then I’m not on board. You want to be a hero, James? Then find a venue that doesn’t already have a literal God protecting it along with a perfectly competent police department. Go run with Sara Lance for a while or pack your bags for Gotham, because National City does not need vigilantes.

***

We’re back. Ultimately, the problem isn’t that Kara ‘gets to decide who gets to be a hero.’ Really, the problem is that both characters are using the word ‘hero’ when they actually mean ‘superhero.’ This show used to be very good about making this distinction, but it completely dropped that with this episode and with most of Guardian’s arc. Did we not spend the entire first season and a big part of this one reinforcing over and over again the idea that being a hero has nothing to do with vigilantism and superhuman feats? So why are they conflating this language now? It undermines so much of what this show has stood for for two and a half seasons, and we’d like that to end.

Winn has been a bit of a yoyo personality the last few weeks. He called out James then turned around and teamed back up with him last week. His decision to (once again) lie to Kara so that he and Guardian could take out Livewire came way out of left field, too. We found it profoundly out of character the first time through, to the point that we was wondering if we had accidentally dozed off for a few minutes and missed a major plot beat. Upon second viewing, Winn’s motivation doesn’t seem any clearer. Is there a scene missing here where Winn explains himself? Because as it stands, it makes it seem like he’s mad at Kara and is doing this out of pettiness. Not that he’s necessarily above that, but it seems… unearned and unseeded. Your mileage may vary, but we were left feeling icy cold about this turn of events.

Livewire was pretty awesome, though. Kori may have made Gretchen into a Supergirl/Livewire (Superwire) shipper over the past week (it didn’t take much tbh, the joys of being a multishipper). This episode didn’t help with that at all. We can see them seeding a potential frenemy team up where Livewire helps Kara take down a bigger baddie. Come on, Livewire already has nicknames for Kara. That’s ‘names’ plural. And did you catch Winn’s “maybe she’ll turn all her girlfriends evil again”? We’re taking that as Livewire confirmed sapphic/wlw.

We really appreciate Kara calling her Livewire instead of Leslie, in the end, too. She might not think of Livewire as she perceives herself (as a ‘god’) but she’s willing to meet her partway there and respect her desired nomenclature. She respects Livewire’s new reality, a neat little queer coded interaction that’s even more meaningful in light of Alex’s recent arc. And at least Livewire listened to Kara. Sheesh. She could teach Mon El and Guardian a thing or two about how to communicate.

We got less Sanvers tonight and guess what? That’s just fine. They’re being cute and betting on Kara’s superhero antics. They banter. They got vegan ice cream. Not every episode is going to be focused on them, because there are other characters. Would we rather have Alex’s grossed out vegan ice cream face than see Mon El be a dillweed? 1000%. Maybe next time.

Randomness

  • “Behold ye mighty and despair”, nice Ozymandias quote Winn
  • Maggie and Alex placing bets on Kara’s superheroing is everything
  • The Sanvers lean is so cute.
  • We’re not sure if Kara knows that Maggie knows her secret identity, but we dig the awkward. Please give us Kara going out of her way to keep it secret while Maggie just snerks, and Alex feels bad, but also finds it funny.
  • Is Maggie vegan?
  • Ep 10 of S1 was the episode where Winn confessed his feelings to Kara and she turned him down. Is this an intentional parallel?
  • The “nasty woman” joke made us giggle
  • We wished they had mentioned Cat, just once would have been enough.
  • Curious that Mon El didn’t have an allergic reaction to being that near Guardian’s entirely-made-of-lead suit. Perhaps it has to be in his body?
  • It was really satisfying to see Mon El and The Guardian captured. Really satisfying.
  • We love Livewire’s sass; she has some great one-liners. Chief of which: “Y’know what I love? Little boys who think they can do a better job than the woman who’s an actual superhero.” Preach it.
  • No, Mon El, you are not the other superman.

In Conclusion

Overall, the episode was fine. It had a pretty equal mix of excellent, mediocre, and frustrating things. It’s mostly a filler/set-up episode for next week’s Martian invasion anyway, so we’re not that fussed. Every show has it’s ‘fine’, even a show that’s as overall excellent as Supergirl. The reliable excellence does mean episodes like this stand out a bit more, though. And it wasn’t horrible by any means. Space family is everything. Literally, everything. We’re hoping M’gann is fully team Super now, same with Maggie, who was hanging around the DEO like she belonged there. Cute, domestic Sanvers fluff is such a breath of fresh air when we’re frustrated with the menz on the show. Give us more of Alex and Maggie placing bets on Supergirl and talking about going over to each other’s places.

But the brilliance in the space family parts, and even the little bit of Sanvers cuteness, really shines an exposing spotlight on the rougher parts of the writing. Supergirl has never been a stranger to uneven writing issues, but this episode is probably the strongest example of this dissonance. It’s not bad, but it’s not anywhere close to what the show is capable of. We expect better.

One of the main problems with the writing inconsistency sits with how much Mon El’s storyline clashes with the otherwise subversive and fresh content the rest of the show presents. It feels so odd to have this bland, boring, obnoxious white guy and his trope-filled plot standing next to the Sanvers romance, Lena Luthor’s quest to do good, the space family dynamics, and the complex drama of James’ Guardian plotline. We keep asking ourselves: What is Mon El doing here? What meaningful content does he contribute to the plot and/or the characters that could not be done with another character, and done better?

We said last week that he is dead weight hanging off the plot’s neck, and this week is just more of the same. That ending scene in Kara’s apartment was excruciatingly long and just plain uncomfortable to watch. How many other things would we have loved to have instead of this albatross of a tropey, boring romance? Yes, Kara rejected him, but that may not stick. By God we hope it does, but we have no way of knowing; it could still develop into a real romance. And if it does, the Supergirl team is going to get some angry letters from us.

This is nothing against the actor. He plays the role well, at least. It’s more that the character is tired and bland, not that the actor is bad at playing him. We’ve given Mon El a lot of slack this season, but we are on the bleeding edge of our patience. We nearly had a heart attack when Kara lurched forward a little bit at the end of their conversation as if she might go in for a kiss. While it’s funny to see a ‘Straight Bait’ in the wild, we want it off our favorite show. We feel about as awkward around “Where’s My Hug” Mon El as Kara does. We’re halfway through the season, guys. He had his chance. We’re just over it. We’re so done. Please please please get him off our screens for a while and show us more of the characters we actually like.

Still no mention of Cadmus or the Luthors after “Medusa”. This isn’t the first time Supergirl has dropped a villain thread for a couple episodes to be taken up later (just look at Astra and Non in S1). But it would be nice to know how the Luthor ladies are doing right about now. Sneak previews tell us that the Luthors will be back with a vengeance in a couple of episodes, but of course we want it right now. Like right now. Can we have it beamed directly into our brains? We’d totally sign up for that.

Also, everyone really needs to stop having superhero conversations in public. We’re pretty sure everyone in National City knows who both The Guardian and Supergirl really are but they all pretend they don’t.


Images Courtesy of The CW

When not working on her degree or at her actual job, Elizabeth pursues her true passion of complaining at great length about pop culture on the internet. She serves as a Managing Editor for The Fandomentals. You can find her on Tumblr, Twitter and Steam @ohemgeelizabeth

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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

Matthew

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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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