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The Fandomentals’ Top Shows of 2016

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2016 is almost over, (good riddance) and the team here at The Fandomentals have been asking ourselves “what good things happened?”

Well, we think quite a few good thinks happened. In fact, television is full of well-written thoughtful shows– that no one watches. As such, our list won’t look much like some others you may seem floating around the internet. But we like ours better.
The Fandomentals Presents, as chosen by our contributors, Our Top Shows of 2016.

 

Supergirl

Gretchen: It should surprise no one that Supergirl won our contributor poll for best of 2016 by a landslide. No show in recent memory has taken such care to depict the journey of a late 20s/early 30s woman coming to understand herself as a wlw. There’s a reason why “this is me” and “I feel so represented” were trending so much in the Supergirl fandom this season. 2016 was a bad year for sapphic women in television, so being handed Alex Danvers’ and Maggie Sawyer’s story this season was simultaneously a huge gift and the biggest fuck you to the Spring Slaughter. If for no other reason, through #Sanvers Supergirl deserves recognition for giving hope, light, and joy to so many LGBT+ persons around the world.

But that isn’t the only reason. Not by a long shot. Despite my distaste for James Olsen’s Guardian subplot this season, I applaud the writers’ effort to give a man of color a continued prominent role on the show despite no longer being the protagonist’s love interest. They could just as easily have sidelined him completely, and I’m thankful they chose to keep him central even if I disagree with the character arc. Now if they could just find a way likewise to deal with Mon-El in a non-douchy, non-love interest-y way, I’ll be even happier.

As with season one, the characters take center stage in making this show successful. Kara showcases growth and maturity in how she copes with her cousin, her job, her parents’ legacy, alien amnesty, and being confronted with her own prejudice. Her continued commitment to compassion and hope given the breadth of her loss and trauma brings me to tears. I would die for her. Space Dad J’onn’s inner turmoil over reconciling his hatred of the White Martians for the death of his family with forgiving M’gann has been the under-appreciated subplot of the season. It’s so compelling and deserves way more screen time than it gets. Lena and M’gann win for best new characters this season; they may have come later to the family, but they’re still my children, and I love them all.

Basically, Supergirl has everything: well-rounded characters that include many women and people of color, compelling themes, a sensitively written wlw coming out arc that can only come from an inside perspective, and a message of hope and compassion that shine in the GrimDarknes like a floodlight. I can’t imagine 2016 without it, and can’t wait to see what it will bring to 2017.

 

BoJack Horseman

Nick: BoJack Horseman is a really weird show. A washed out anthropomorphic TV show star horse with depression, existential issues, and a whole lot of moral baggage. The series revels in its weirdness, its absurdity so much it isn’t odd anymore.

BoJack as a character has a lot of issues, yet he’s far from the only with them. Diane, Todd, Mr. Peanutbutter, Princess Carolyn, and several other side character are given dramatic weight and showcase the moral issues of the Hollywood lifestyle.  It further takes the limits of dark comedy and clever yet heart stabbing writing.

Adult animation is something that’s starting to take hold in the States. And BoJack is unquestionably part of this trend. This show is really walking the depiction versus endorsement line; the series depicts things such alcoholism, aging, death, and existential crisis. Yet despite all of the crap these characters go through, there is a weird sense of hope throughout all of it.

I hope I do not sound too highbrow, but this series deserves this verbiage. It revels in it moral ambiguity, its characters, and yet still, somehow, edges away from the world of GrimDark. I’m excited to see where the series goes.

 

Stranger Things

Szofi: One of the defining moments of television in 2016 was when Netflix dropped the first season of Stranger Things in July. This creation of the Duffer Brothers became an instant hit and remained a much talked about show for the rest of the year. With a confirmed Season Two coming, we’ll likely be talking about Stranger Things more in the future.

The show centres around the disappearance of a local kid in Hawkins and how his family and friends are trying to find him. You have mystery, horror, drama, even a little bit of romance and comedy. In just eight episodes Stranger Things builds a complete world, or rather two, that completely captured the audience. A huge part of its appeal is the nostalgia of the 80′s, as the entire season is set during the November of 1983. It’s done so exceptionally that even I was feeling nostalgic towards the eighties, even though my parents were the same age as the main cast in 1983. But the nostalgia and the countless nods to classics are just parts of the overall Stranger Things appeal.

Personally, I think that the greatest strength of the series is that it knows how plot and characters are equally important. You have a truly intriguing, terrifying mystery that doesn’t let you not binge the whole season, but becomes even more exciting because you care deeply about the main characters by the second episode and are scared for them. Apart from a couple of side characters who were made to be disliked, everyone is likable but flawed. The connection between characters, how they relate to each other also makes the viewing experience more enjoyable as the audience follows decaying and developing relationships amid the terrors of the unknown threat. Everyone will surely have their favourites, but personally, I found myself caring about all the major characters.

The first season raises more questions than it can answer, but thanks to the pacing the audience is left excited for more by the end, not frustrated. Combine all this with a truly breathtaking cinematography, an excellent cast that includes famous and rising stars (absolutely brilliant child actors), a fitting score and a plot that somehow seems to cater to everyone’s needs, and you have Stranger Things. No wonder people couldn’t stop talking about it for months and Season Two was announced not long after the premiere.

 

Steven Universe

Bo: It’s no secret just how much we love Steven Universe here at The Fandomentals. It’s exactly the kind of happy, relatable, socially responsible, well-written show we gravitate towards. However, not all of us have followed the funky flow yet, and there are plenty more out there who’ve resisted the call as well. Too bad, because 2016 was a really great (and jam-packed) year for this fantastic show. After all, it started the year in season 2 and ended the year beginning season 4, with all of season 3 delivered over about three months.

Expectedly, a lot happened within all of those episodes. Two new members joined the Crystal Gems. An old member returned. A new villain was introduced and another taken out. Decades-long tensions were hashed out. New fusions literally exploded onto the screen. The idolization of an important character got ripped to shreds. New revelations shocked us. Mystery girls led to episodes we still struggle to believe actually happened.

In short, the great Rebecca Sugar and her amazing Crewniverse took everything we love about Steven Universe and dialed it up to 11.

Even something so simple as picking highlights proves difficult. Peridot’s arc, for sure. “Mr. Greg” belongs simply for the amazing songs, let alone the dynamic between Greg and Pearl. “Mindful Education” and “Gem Drill” gave fascinating looks into mental health. The duel “Crack the Whip”/”Steven vs. Amethyst” story gave our Martell lovers everything that breaks their hearts. “Monster Reunion” brought back a fan-favorite in a great way. “Bismuth” surpassed expectations as the show’s first half-hour special.

Of course, some people will look at “Last One out of Beach City” as the highlight of the year for giving us an entire episode about Pearl trying to mack on a Rose-lookalike. And they’re not wrong. It all comes down to what you like about Steven Universe. Whatever it was, odds are you got it this year. 2016 was an amazing year for an amazing show. In a TV world fully grasped by the claws of GrimDark, Steven Universe is a breath of fresh air. It surprises without cheap shock. It develops characters without unnecessary trauma. The humor is strong. The tone is optimistic. Steven Universe and its creators believe in the good of people.

This year we needed that optimism more than ever. Thank you, Rebecca Sugar, and thank you to everyone who works on this amazing show. It was definitely among the best of 2016.

 

Elementary

Kori: Elementary is the little show that could. Not in the sense that it was an underdog, but in the sense that in the years the show has been on, it’s produced some of the most thoughtful, diverse episodes of television on its network. While some criticized the show as a blatant Sherlock ripoff at its conception, Elementary has achieved something truly remarkable: A modern day Sherlock Holmes, who is possibly the most faithful spiritual adaptation of his book counterpart. With the master stroke of casting the inimitable Lucy Liu as his partner, Joan Watson, Elementary sailed out of the launch station and never looked back.

Throw in that Elementary regularly deals with heavier topics like addiction, mental illness, redemption, and the recurring questioning of “just what is ‘normal’ anymore,” and we have a show has become, at least in our eyes, a joy to watch. It’s the comfort blanket you reach for after a long week because you can trust it to always be there for you, and explore the world one procedural episode at a time. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that their New York City actually looks like New York City, and isn’t a sea of white. Just saying.

 

Luke Cage

CJ: Luke Cage‘s premiere was a treat amongst the collective shit show that was 2016.

The crafting of Luke Cage is one big blast from the past for comic readers and television viewers alike, which makes it something of a (really) mature family show.  It’s a mixture of old school R&B, modern rap, and the issues of today in both its musical selections and its execution. Harlem is the most fitting backdrop for Mike Colter, who plays Cage. Colter brings an authenticity to the once cheesy character that allows him to pull off the superhero’s classic phrase “Sweet Christmas”…repeatedly. Quite a few viewers also got to see a fictional, yet realistic side of Harlem that wouldn’t be found on the surface.

Through Cage, we are pulled deeper into the underground of Marvel’s universe, with the blockbuster characters mentioned yet again, but never shown. Some wonderful (and zealous) villains emerge from the woodwork, beginning with Mahershala Ali and his brilliant laugh. A battle for Harlem’s soul ensues, and have I mentioned how good the music is along the way? Because it is.

Cage was easily one of the most talked about shows since its release and months beforehand. Not only were we receiving a character that was already featured in the fantastic Jessica Jones, but we get to see him in his territory after the destruction of his bar. We got to see Cage in an environment that was Afro-centered from start to finish, a perspective that hasn’t been very present since the 90s.

Does it have its plot holes and inconsistencies? Can it indeed be corny? Are our leads not only great actors but all very attractive?

Yep, but I still loved it.

In short, Luke Cage was a blockbuster that gave us Marvel realness from start to finish. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

 

The Good Place

Katie: My two favorite shows this year were a dark, difficult cartoon about depression and warm, bright live-action show about heaven. The two shouldn’t have reminded me of each other so much. But both Bojack Horseman and The Good Place approach similar questions from opposite angles: what it means to be a good person, and what we owe to the people that surround us.

Created by Michael Schur – previous creator of Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine – The Good Place explores a single neighborhood in “the good place,” a heaven-by-any-other-name where the best of the best go when they die. It’s filled with human rights activists, pediatric surgeons, philanthropists, and anyone brimming with selflessness and kindness. It’s also the new home of Eleanor (Kristen Bell), a… not great individual who has somehow wound up in The Good Place by mistake. With the help of her earnest philosophy-professor roommate Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Eleanor starts to explore what it means to be a “good person” while becoming increasingly aware that her presence in The Good Place is causing some serious problems.

It would have been easy for The Good Place to immediately become either treacly or cynical. When I began to watch, I feared that the neighborhood residents would be revealed to be secretly petty and vindictive, or absurdly out of touch. Instead, even if the characters aren’t perfect, they are genuinely kind, good-hearted people and it’s wonderful to see that celebrated on television. There’s also plenty of ground to explore going forward. The show has already shown interest in questions like how goodness is measured, whether contrition counts towards “recovering” goodness and tricky moral quandaries like the justification of doing something cruel for a kind reason. The show is a weekly burst of philosophical musings, kind people trying their best, and bright, happy colors. Boasting all of this plus a wonderful cast that includes Ted Danson and Adam Scott, The Good Place is off to a great start and promises even more to come.

 

How to Get Away with Murder

Claire: HTGAWM’s third season started airing this air and immediately delivered what can only be called a shocking turn: Annalise’s house burnt down, killing one person inside it. While the main plotline, as usually, focuses on the events that lead to the house fire as well as the personal lives of the characters, the flash forwards then rule out one character per episode before revealing who died.

The latter is another shocking turn, but this time with all the negative connotations that the term implies around these waters. The body found in the burning remains of Annalise’s house is that of Wes who had seemingly been revealed as being alive and fine three episodes prior. HTGAWM tricked it’s viewers by implying that a scene showing Wes getting blanket immunity in exchange for testifying against Annalise was taking place simultaneously to the fire when said scene had actually taken place multiple hours earlier.

While the reveal undoubtedly packed an emotional punch, some fans did not take kindly to the decision to kill him off, and understandably so: Not only did many viewers feel betrayed, Wes story was far from done. He had just gotten into a relationship with Laurel, who was also revealed to be pregnant, he was also struggling to emancipate himself from Annalise and deal with the trauma and consequences of his actions. Taking into account that men of color and especially black men are still more likely to die on our screens than many other demographics (except maybe women loving women of all races), killing off Wes is a decision that can best be described as problematic.

Nevertheless, HTGAWM also gave us lots of good stuff in this third season, including the emotional turmoil of Frank’s and Annalise’s relationship, Annalise trying to get sober and her bonding with the black female university president over their shared alcoholism. The Keating Five all got to lead in court and lay into Annalise after starting to defend three children accused of poisoning their mother. Connor and Oliver’s relationship fell apart which gave room to Oliver exploring dating as an HIV-positive Asian American man. And the show gave us some much needed back story on both Michaela and Laurel and their relationships with their parents.

That’s why HTGAWM is one of my favorite shows of 2016 despite my deep unhappiness with Wes’ death: the third season centered characters who we rarely get to see in such central roles and gave all of them interesting storylines that added to their characters. Add some morally gray trials and the tension of a “who’s dead, ” and you get some pretty good TV.”

 

Outlander

Meg: I’ve already written several hundred words about why Outlander is the best show you aren’t watching, but let me pull out my soapbox again and remind you. Because it’s important.

Outlander isn’t always an easy show to watch: it can be violent and heartbreaking. There’s more sexual violence than I would like. Seasons 1 & 2’s villain, Jack Randall, is as nasty as it gets. But sometimes what makes it hard is also what makes it so damn good. You can’t help but love Jamie and Claire, and Jamie and Claire together. You cheer for them and cry with them and want, more than anything, for them to succeed—even when you know, they won’t, or can’t.

The season 2 finale gave us some of the show’s best work: Jamie and Claire’s heartbreaking goodbye, 1960s Claire revisiting Scotland, Jamie and Claire’s daughter finding out the truth about her father. Outlander invests in its characters because it knows that’s why we’re there. Sure, the scenery is pretty, and the costumes are amazing, and the big battles are neat, but at the end of the day, if you don’t love the people, what’s the point?

I don’t understand why more people don’t watch Outlander. More than that, I don’t understand why it can’t get the awards recognition it deserves. Caitriona Balfe (Claire) is nominated for a Golden Globe, but the show itself isn’t, and neither is anyone else in the cast.

It’s a beautiful show on every level, a show that takes a fantastic premise and grounds it in humanity. Our heroine is resourceful, smart, and feisty, and our hero is suitably dashing and romantic. Together they’re one of the best couples in history, major OTP material in a TV landscape that seems more and more about uneven, problematic relationships, and less about honest, genuine love.

The bottom line is this, and I’ve said it a million times: Watch. Outlander. Do yourself a favor. I promise you won’t regret it.

 

Wynonna Earp

Gretchen: No, it’s not just because of WayHaught or because I got to interview Kat Barrell (who plays Officer Nicole Haught) for ClexaCon. Given my predilection for slightly campy, supernatural/ demon hunting shows like Constantine and Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Wynonna Earp piqued my interest from the get-go. It has its weak episodes (“The Blade”), but they’re aberrations in an overall excellent first season.

Despite being unfamiliar with the comic, the mythology hooked me right away. The premise of a female heir to Wyatt Earp having to put down demons with her was both unique and different from other current television offerings. Back that up with engaging and well-written female characters and a powerful black male detective heading up the governmental task force and I’m sold. True, Dolls’s not-quite-drug-addiction plays into a problematic stereotype of black male characters, but I’m willing to give it benefit of the doubt until we know exactly how his backstory unfolds.

The dynamic between the Earp sisters turned a surface level struggle against demonic forces into a family drama. And we all know how much I love family dramas (hint: a lot). Reconciling with one’s personal and familial past is a relatable struggle for me, especially if it involves complicated sisterly interactions. Doc’s guilt and Wynonna’s psychological burdens were written with nuance. Heck, even Willa’s memory loss and subsequent conflict with her heritage worked reasonably well, and I found Willa to be the least interesting of the characters this season.

Waverly drew me most of all. That Waverly, the smart, underappreciated, homebody who never left town and stayed committed to the family legacy, and who also happens to be the youngest, ended up being bi just…well, let’s just say that’s as close to my story as I’ve ever seen. Add in a compelling wlw ship (WayHaught) as the cherry on this delicious supernatural cake. Officer Haught was the first wlw to survive being shot after the travesty that was the Spring Slaughter, and in such a blatant way that it’s hard to remember it wasn’t meant to be a statement piece. It may have minor flaws, but Wynonna Earp is still in my 2016 top ten.

 

Black Sails

Kylie: Let me tell you a little secret: I didn’t want to like Black Sails. I didn’t want to like anything immediately compared to Game of Thrones, and this was the *only* thing I ever heard said of it.

After watching all three aired seasons this year, I couldn’t believe that was anything ever said about it. True, it was likely marketed to the same audience, and even hit a stumbling block in its first season that featured rape. But there was something about this show from the start that had a sensitivity, and at least an intent to explore heavy issues…to do something with them.

Then it did.

Seasons 2 and 3 of Black Sails can serve more or less as case studies in how to write women, how to write anti-heroes, and how to feature moral ambiguity in a gritty setting that doesn’t get lost to the grimdark. It is actually shocking to think about the show and realize how many characters you care about—and I mean care about—no matter how small their role might seem. It began as a show about a swashbuckling treasure hunt and somehow became a study in people screwed over by the system, with no real place in the world, fighting for their own dignities, each with their own different motivations.

There’s so much that’s remarkable about Black Sails, including its almost effortless LGBT representation and diverse cast, though it’s the strength of its characters that serves as the shining star. You can always see where someone is coming from, and it’s very difficult not to at least empathize on some level with the (rather sprawling) main cast.

Or in the case of Anne Bonny for me, empathize a bit too much.

My angry smol (◕ω◕✿)

I can’t tell if it’s because it’s on Starz, but Black Sails feels like one of the most criminally under-watched show. It’s bisexual pirates, people! Season 4 is going to be its last, and it’s right around the corner. Let’s all strive to fix this immediately.


Happy New Year from our whole Fandomentals Family.

May 2017 fill your heart with squee and give you all the representation.

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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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