The Great Relief of The Good Place

Like Eleanor Shellstrop on The Good Place, I am a medium person. I’ve made someone dinner, but I’ve also eaten the last piece of cake without asking if anyone wanted more. I volunteered at an animal shelter, but I’ve also pretended not to see the cat vomit on the floor so I don’t have to clean it up. Eleanor, played equally caustic and sweet by Kristen Bell, continued to buy coffee from a shop whose manager is a sexual harasser. Her job was selling fake vitamins to the elderly as part of a scam. She was selfish, she lied, and she refused to be the designated driver for her office happy hours. She is also someone who has gotten complacent and taken advantage of her privilege without considering she has it. I’ve done this, too. (2017 reminded me every day I have done that.)

Before 2017, to me, a financially stable thin straight white woman, the world felt like it was on the up and up. It was believable to me that the U.S. was heading toward not quite paradise, but some place better than where it was before. My president was black, my nominee female. I believed the lies around me telling me the world was good.

But if I was honest with myself and if I paid attention to the small things that weren’t quite right, I would have realized that perfect world was false. Like Eleanor, I should have realized it sooner, and it was so obvious once I saw it, I could never go back. In this way, The Good Place became the perfect mirror of 2017 while providing the perfect relief from it.

The gist of The Good Place is this: Eleanor Shellstrop dies and meets a person in charge of the afterlife who tells her there is a Good Place and a Bad Place, and she has made it to the Good. But as Eleanor goes about her welcome tour, she realizes she’s been mixed up with another, better Eleanor Shellstrop. They have the same name but different lives. Good Eleanor was good, and this Eleanor was medium at best. In the Good Place, everyone is paired with a soul mate, and Eleanor is matched with the anxious but ethical Chidi (William Jackson Harper). She’s neighbors with the beautiful Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and her soul mate, a monk named Jianyu (Manny Jacinto). (Jianyu is actually another mix-up. His real name is Jason, and he’s from Florida, which is an automatic disqualification from the Good Place.) As Eleanor deals with increasingly complicated and disastrous situations to keep her (and Jason’s) secret from being discovered, she realizes that a place where you lie, cheat, and hurt people is hardly a good place at all: It’s actually hell. Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason are all in the Bad Place. Their tortured interactions with each other were actual torture. When she figures this out, Michael (Ted Danson), the demon architect of this afterlife experiment, erases their memory and sets up the fake Good Place to try to torture them again.

It’s a perfect twist. Once Eleanor discovers the truth, it feels so obvious. In the very first episode, Eleanor makes an offhand comment that bringing terrible people together would be torture. She was talking about her family, but the idea that people can torture each other is laid out in the pilot. There are other clues they are in the Bad Place—the abundance of frozen yogurt instead of ice cream, the pictures of clowns in Eleanor’s house, and the fact that no TVs get NFL RedZone. The truth was there the whole time, just like every horrible thing 2017 has brought into the mainstream. Eleanor’s discovery mirrors my own. Ignoring those seemingly small wrongs was to ignore what the world actually was, like a too-tight new shoe you tell yourself isn’t a big deal. Ten miles later, it hurts like hell. 2017 is that gaping, open blister.

This year watching and reading anything became difficult for me. I was diagnosed with anxiety for the first time, though I’ve experienced those symptoms before without knowing what they were. (2017 was a year of digging up unpleasant truths that have always been there and naming them. My president is a sexual predator, my government corrupt.) I stopped reading books I loved because even loving them felt like it took too much emotional energy. I wanted something easier, something less emotionally taxing. The Good Place filled that gap. It’s funny. It’s so forking funny I could shirt myself. Every week I looked forward to a new episode, and as soon as it was over I mourned for the week ahead without one. It was a gentle respite from the actual hell that was playing out on the news.

You can’t swear in the Good Place, not even the fake Good Place where Eleanor lives. Bell’s line reading of “Holy motherforking shirtballs” when she figures out the truth is something that would play over and over again in my actual Good Place. The way these nonsense words roll off her tongue make it seem believable that she’s actually swearing. Michael’s evil giggle when Eleanor figures out his trick should be exhibit No. 1 in the evil villain’s handbook. The cheerful yet deadpan Janet (D’Arcy Carden)—a kind of digital assistant, a physical form of Amazon’s Alexa—pairs good humor with sharp truth telling as she states the obvious to those who ask her for help. In one scene, Eleanor claims she’s not that selfish of a person as Janet smiles and delivers the cocaine and getaway train Eleanor asked for. The Good Place tells the truth while laughing at it, which is generally the easiest way to get people to listen.

The Good Place’s throwaway lines are funnier than most of what’s on TV because they bring to light small, ridiculous injustices of a privileged life. When Michael is redesigning the experiment to try to torture his subjects yet again, he makes all the coffee from “those little pods.” In one version of his Good Place, there are fountains of clam chowder. In another, the unlimited pizza available to its residents is Hawaiian. His carefully crafted torture machine is death by a thousand tickles.

The great gift of The Good Place isn’t just the jokes or the relief from seeing someone else realize their world is also permanently forked. It’s also excellent, surprising storytelling. The end of Season One provided the best twist of the year. And then Season Two took that twist and made it into a delicious treat—a cinnamon sugar pretzel of TV plots. When Season Two started, I had prepared myself for an entire season of the show repeating some of the tricks of Season One, a slow burn where Eleanor once again got to know her fellow tortured humans and realized they were in hell. Instead, the show had her find Chidi in the first episode of the season. By the end of that episode, she figured out the truth once more. Instead of building to a season finale where Michael realized they knew the truth and erased their memories again, he reset their memories over and over immediately. In a terrific montage full of clever jokes and puns that rewards the viewer the more times they watch it, Michael resets his version of the Good Place over 800 times in just the second episode of the season. Instead of taking an entire season for round two, it takes part of one episode to get to round 802.  (That montage feels like watching one day of news in 2017 unfold in real time.)

By the end of episode two, one of Michael’s henchmen tries to blackmail him, saying she’ll tell Michael’s boss, who thinks he’s still on try no. 2, that he’s actually failed hundreds of times. To keep him from being forced into retirement (where the atoms that make up his being would be divided and then placed on separate suns), Michael offers to team up with Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason. He promises he won’t erase their memory anymore if they help him pretend this last effort of torture is working. In return, he will try to help them all get into the real Good Place. The humans accept his offer—what else can they do—but on one condition: Michael takes the same ethics classes they have all been taking with Chidi, who was an ethics professor when he was alive.

With this deft slight of hand, The Good Place morphed from a show about tricking people in increasingly clever ways into a show about what it means to be good. (I hope America will follow that same pattern.) Eleanor and the others hope that learning to be good will help them get into the real Good Place. Under Chidi’s guidance, they study different philosophers and hypothetical ethics problems to try to make themselves into people who actually deserve to go to heaven.

This belief that I can make myself into a good person gave me hope in the hellscape of 2017. Eleanor and I share the same story of another silly girl too self-involved to be an active citizen. Like Eleanor, I could use a roadmap to find my way out of selfish complacency. I could use the belief that I can get better, and that by doing so I can make the world better. On The Good Place, people found hope literally in hell. And I’m forking grateful they showed me how.

Twin Peaks pilot sets the tone (Twin Peaks review, s01e01)

twin peaks opening scene

Take a deep breath and think of a nice calm river in the mountains, of machines softly whirring as they do their job exactly as they should, and of evergreen trees so big and full it looks like Christmas. Welcome to Twin Peaks, manufacturer of American dreams.

These images are the soothing pictures that open the show, only they don’t stay peaceful for long. Twin Peaks immediately introduces conflict before a scene even starts by the colors it uses in its opening credits. The words that flash across the screen, interrupting your view of a mountain range and river, are outlined in a neon green that clashes with the leafy forest greens. These outlined letters may as well be a flashing neon sign that says “turn back now.”

When the first scene begins, a beautiful woman in red lips looks at herself in the mirror as she gets ready in the morning. A white-haired man in red plaid gets ready to go fishing and touches his wife’s cheek before he leaves the house. On the edge of the picturesque setting where he sets off with his fishing pole is a bundle of white plastic. That pile of trash sticks out as much to this man as the neon green words in the title cards do to the viewer.

These visual cues add tension to Twin Peaks before any plot twist could. It’s signals like these that make it clear this isn’t going to be a carefree comedy, it’s going to be tense, weird, and full of contradictions.

After this man in the red coat sees that strange object on the shoreline, he drops his fishing gear and carefully walks toward it. The camera view shifts to his point of view as he rounds the corner and sees that the bundle of plastic is actually covering a dead body. This camera angle is markedly different from what has come before and makes it so the viewer isn’t just watching a character find a body, the viewer is actually the one who sees it first. Not only that, it zooms in—as if you lean in for a closer look.

By shifting to this point of view, Twin Peaks makes you feel like you are a part of this town and a part of this mystery. After all, you couldn’t walk away from finding a dead body, could you?

The camera only employs this point of view shot when it has to do with Laura Palmer, the murdered teenager who fuels the plot of the entire show. It makes her the center of your screen and the center of your mind.

When the sheriff comes to find the body he takes a long look—and the camera again shifts to a first person point of view. Everyone’s coats are buttoned up to their necks, including the two glamorous women looking on at the scene in oversized wool and fur coats. Everyone’s jackets are buttoned up because it’s cold, sure, but also because they are covering up things they hope stay hidden.

After Sheriff Harry S. Truman and Pete discover that the body is Laura Palmer, the show cuts to a woman calling for Laura. You already know that she won’t find her, so watching this woman walk through an empty house is painful and desperate. The camera shoots her from below as she runs up the stairs and across an empty floor, playing upon the horror of knowing what’s going to happen and not being able to look away. The angles formed by the staircase and banisters are crossing dynamically, creating more tension in the screen. For a moment, Laura’s mother walks off the screen entirely and the camera stays still on the empty house, echoing the silence she’s hearing in response to calling Laura’s name. As her mother enters Laura’s room, the camera again shifts to her point of view—because she’s looking for Laura—and pauses on an empty bed. Laura’s bed hasn’t been made—it’s as if she just got out of it. The bedspread has soft pink flowers that seem feminine and innocent. The romantic bedspread doesn’t match up with the image of a murdered girl wrapped up in hard, shiny plastic instead of soft cotton sheets.

Twin Peaks uses visual cues and contrasts like this throughout its run, and it’s what makes the show so rich and full of depth. Camera angles alone can elevate a scene so that the horror becomes almost unbearable to watch. When Laura’s mother, Sarah, can’t find Laura at home, she calls everyone she can think of to try to find where she is. She’s on the phone with her husband, Leland, when the sheriff comes to his work to tell him what happened to his daughter. A close up on Leland makes the pain in his face loom large. The camera zooms in on tragedy and isn’t afraid to look away. It filled the frame when Laura is found dead on the shore, when Leland finds out his daughter is dead, and again now when Laura’s mother starts screaming in pain as she overhears the news on the phone. A slow pan down the telephone cord that Leland drops reveals a hanging phone and Laura’s mother’s screams coming through the receiver loud and clear after Leland has walked away and there is no one on the other end to hear her.

It’s not just horror the show pulls off so well. One of my favorite jokes in the premier is when Audrey is introduced. The soundtrack plays a jaunty tune, and the camera pans down on a young girl in a soft pink sweater, plaid skirt, and saddle shoes walking to a chauffeured car. The camera takes a long pause on her shoes—which Audrey immediately changes when she gets to school. She throws those saddlebacks into her locker and replaces them with red pumps. Red heels belong to a troublemaking woman, not a teenage schoolgirl. Behind her locker, Laura’s best friends James and Donna talk about their day. Behind them, another student literally dances away from his locker, and behind him, a few cops walk into the school to investigate Laura’s death. Playfulness on Twin Peaks can only be paired with tragedy.

In another scene, Agent Dale Cooper and Sheriff Truman are in the morgue. They are in a windowless room standing over Laura’s body. The lights are flickering, as they so often do to set the tone in horror movies. “I have to apologize again for the fluorescent lights,” the medical examiner says. “I think it’s a bad transformer.”

Forget dreams, Twin Peaks is selling jokes mixed with waking nightmares.

Plot and characters can’t tell stories as rich as this on their own. In Twin Peaks, the set, camera, costumes, and editing all contribute to make a story that changed the way TV felt and looked, and the pilot managed to set the tone and build a world right away, with just a few key images.

To Do Lists of the Semi-Adult podcast: Episode 18

to do lists of the semi-adult

After some bananas technical difficulties I am finally able to post our newest podcast, even though it’s been out on iTunes, the podcast feed, etc., since last week, so you may have already seen it there.

Jewels and I love TV. Watching it, of course, but also talking about it, which is what this episode of the To Do Lists of the Semi-Adult is all about.

One of our favorite shows is Breaking Bad, even though it got so literally dark it became hard to see sometimes. We tried watching The Wire together in college and had to rewatch the first five episodes 100 times because we couldn’t tell what was going on. Years later I finished the series and liked it a lot, but man was it hard for me to get into.

A show I love is The Good Wife, mostly because I ship literally everyone on it with Alicia. (You can see more of why my fave new sport is shipping, here.) We both have watched and loved Grey’s Anatomy, and one of Jewel’s favorites shows is West Wing.

We grew up on Friends, and to me it is like comfort food–it’s so easy to jump back into when you need a fix. Though recently I saw a rerun of when Monica was with Richard, and I’m feeling like maybe she should have ended up with him instead of Chandler. Another comedy we both love is The Office, of course.

Twin Peaks is another favorite of mine (and it’s coming back to TV on Showtime!), and one of the reasons I love it so much is because it’s so artistic and visually different from anything else out there. That’s another reason I love Hannibal, which I’m reviewing this season for Just About Write, where I also talked about the gorgeous sets. I’m also reviewing Orange is the New Black, which we didn’t talk about, but it’s still really great!

In the lightning round, Jewels recently made this one-pot pasta dish, and I talk about the herbs we are growing in our apartment. If you have any herb-growing tips, let me know! Have a listen and let us know what your favorite shows are!

You can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Stitcher or by using our feed link. You can also always find them on my Podcast page. You can find me right here at Rae’s Days, on Instagram, and on Twitter. Jewels is at Oven Lovin, on Instagram, and on Twitter.

To get more thoughts on things I’m reading/watching/loving, subscribe below to my newsletter, which will go out later today.

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reality mondays

I have been getting VERY into the Bachelor/Bachelorette, and I’m afraid there’s no turning back. I am so interested in what the show says about romance and gender roles, and I really feel for the people on the show–most of them, anyway. So when I saw a commercial for LIfetime’s new drama UnReal, a scripted show about the making of a reality dating show based on the Bachelor, I was hooked before the preview even finished. Lucky for me and you and everyone, UnReal airs right after the Bachelorette on Monday nights. So for three hours on Monday, I am in dramatic reality/really dramatic TV heaven.

Not only is it entertaining, it’s educational! Between the two shows I can finally piece together how real reality shows get made. Maybe. Probably.

So here’s what I learned this week:

the producers are right behind you
Both the Bachelorette and UnReal started with a breakdown. The Bachelorette picks up where it left off last week, with Kupah ranting and raving about how he doesn’t really even care about Kaitlyn but he doesn’t want to go home because they both like movie quotes??? He literally says there’s no connection between them and then gets mad that he can’t stay to continue to date her. (And this is a man on his best behavior, around people he just met and is trying to impress!)

During an interview on camera, Kaitlyn hears Kupah yelling and waving his arms around in a way I assume he thinks makes him look more manly (he is wrong). Kaitlyn, badass that she is, marches out to handle the situation. The camera follows her down the path and then comes across our loud, aggravated suitor–and a mysterious man in a purple blazer who jumps quickly out of the camera’s view.

bachelorette

I see you, producer.

I see you, and I see your work. Who knows what they said to Kupah to get him even more riled up and rant-y, but it worked. And did Kaitlyn go out there because of a little prodding, or because it was highly suggested to her?

UnReal suggests the latter. When producer Rachel comes back to work on a Bachelor-based reality show after having a breakdown on the finale of the last season, she jumps right back into the messy work of drumming up drama for TV. UnReal suggests that the cocktail meet and greets are a lot less fun than they end up looking. Most contestants stand around trying to talk to each other while waiting to get a few moments alone, but actually in front of a bunch of cameras, with the person they are all supposed to be dating. Plus, the producers are crawling around egging people on and manipulating every situation they can so that they can get the soundbites they need.

UnReal is a pretty dark look at what it takes to push people to breaking points for entertainment value. (And except for a tiny thing I have called compassion, I hate to say I think I’d be really good at this job.) The producers are watching and listening to everything, and they know what buttons to push to get the results they need. And they are probably standing just out of sight of every shot.

“It is not my fault that America is racist”
The Bachelor franchise is not exactly known for its diversity, and part of what set Kupah off was his supposed fear of being a token black person they keep around for a certain number of episodes. While it certainly looks like Kupah was sent home entirely for being an entitled jerk, UnReal makes it pretty clear that they don’t expect a person of color to make it to the final rose bracelet ceremony. A producer on UnReal blames this on America not wanting to watch it, but tell that to Empire’s audience, or Black-ish, or How to Get Away with Murder, or Scandal or…. The contestants are entirely chosen by the producers, and UnReal makes it look like they have a large part in steering at least the first few rounds of who stays and who goes. So if anyone wants to look at the real cause of its lack of diversity, they should start with the people putting on the show.

I’m already learning a lot about a (mostly not true) reality show by watching a (definitely nonfiction) behind-the-scenes drama and I can’t wait to learn more (possibly real) facts next week.

There will be a newsletter going out later today on other things I’m watching/reading/loving, so if you haven’t signed up yet, give it a shot by signing up below!

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fashion illustration of claire on outlander

claire from outlander illustration

Much of Outlander’s attention right now is because of its super hot sex scenes with the main couple, Claire and Jamie. But there is just as much to talk about when the characters have their clothes on.

Terry Dresbach, the shows costume designer, talks here about eight of her favorite looks on the show. Not surprisingly, Claire is on that list four times. I drew her in one of my favorite looks of hers, a gorgeous deep teal bodice and plaid skirt.

Claire has so many different looks on the show, but they are only made up of a few different items mixed and matched. The idea is that Claire has limited clothing given to her, and she wears those items over and over in different combinations.

I could learn a lesson or two from Claire on how to mix it up with a smaller wardrobe, and on how to wear a bodice like a boss.

Here’s a video on some of my coloring process.

outlander s1e14: the search

Claire

Jamie is missing. For a girl who turns in mostly to see Claire and Jamie be in love, I wouldn’t have bet an episode with only one half of this couple would be this entertaining. But on her search for her husband, Claire tries on many different identities, and the show flirts with many different genres, to do whatever it takes to get what she needs.

With Jamie missing, and Ian missing his leg, Claire and Jenny are the only two who can feasibly go look for their missing laird. So the pair sets off on horseback, Jenny with a pistol on her back.

Just as I was wondering what women back then did when they were lactating, and just as I was about to roll my eyes at a new mother going on a trip (on horseback!) without any discomfort with her body, Jenny addressed the issue in the most straightforward way possible.

In an 18th century version of pumping, Jenny squeezed her breastmilk into a cup to relieve herself. And just like that, a normal occurrence for so many women was portrayed matter of factly on TV. Huzzah!

I would SO WATCH a show of just Claire and Jenny being outlaws. (Or maybe a reality show, Survivor: The Scottish Highlands–they aren’t here to make friends.) They are both headstrong and fiery, and they both have deep hearts and survivalist instincts. They push each other, and their skills and personalities complement each other so well that it’s a blast to watch. I pity the person who gets in their way–they both made it very clear they would do whatever it takes to get Jamie home.

After they take a courier at gunpoint and torture him for information, Claire first decides to bandage him up when they are done with him. But Jenny knows that if the soldier returns to his men, he will tell them about Jamie, putting them all at risk. As Claire struggles with the idea of killing this man, Murtagh, sent by Ian, arrives and does the deed for them, before calmly walking off to find them something to cook for dinner. Problem solved, I guess?

One of the standout moments on this episode full of so many is when Murtagh returns to Claire and Jenny after hunting for dinner. Murtagh offers the animal to each of them to prepare it to cook, but he should have known Claire and Jenny cook no man’s dinner they don’t want to. The side eye they give him is UNREAL.

Murtagh is such a delight, which was a lovely surprise since I couldn’t remember his name until this very episode. When Jenny heads back to Lallybroch to care for her newborn daughter, Murtagh comes up with a plan for he and Claire to lure Jamie out of hiding in the countryside.

Which is when we get to the Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman portion of the show. Murtagh and Claire travel from town to town calling as much attention to themselves as possible so word of mouth will spread that an English healer and a Fraser clansman dancer (just go with it) are in the area. When Jamie hears of the beautiful English healer, he will know it’s Claire and he will come to them.

Claire is no stranger to trying on different identities to make herself useful and to keep herself alive. Becoming a healer is what saved her when she first went back in time, and she returns to this tactic now, searching for Jamie.

But they abandon the healing part of the plan pretty quickly when Claire comes up with a catchy song for Murtagh to use in his dancing act. Only Murtagh wants Claire to sing it instead. And they have to change the words, he says, because what Scot in the 1700s would know what a Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy is, anyway.

So Claire changes her identity again and dons a sort of gypsy pantsuit (they’ll get more attention if a lass dresses up like a lad, according to Murtagh), and she sings on every stage she can. The song become so popular, in fact, that a group of gypsies steal the act for themselves. (And here we are all of a sudden in a show about a broadway musical with rival singers trying to upstage each other.)

This reminds me of how my friends and I have often talked about how we would know if someone polyjuice potions us–what’s the one fact that only you and your friend could know?–but now I’m thinking we also need a plan for how to covertly get each other’s attention if we were on enemy grounds. Murtagh uses the lyrics of a song that he knows Jamie will recognize. I can’t think of any situation where I would know my loved ones were calling out to me in code.

But this song works so well that not only Jamie knows it’s a signal, so does Dougal MacKenzie. (I mean really, did the MacKenzies decide on this song being a code in a clan meeting?)

When Claire gets a message to meet at Glenrowan Cross, she rushes off hoping to find Jamie. Imagine her disappointment when she sees it’s Dougal instead.

Dougal is a worm, but his scene with Claire is wonderful because she drops (almost) all her acts in her last-ditch desperate plan to get Jamie back. Dougal tells Claire that Jamie has been captured, and he’s due for hanging any day now. In a super sleazeball move, Dougal then proposes to Claire under the pretense of keeping her safe after Jamie is gone. Claire sees his marriage proposal for what it is, a play to get the Fraser’s land. Her sharp wit and disgust at Dougal’s tactics come through loud and clear, as does her love for Jamie. This is Claire’s true heart. She is not only a healer or a wanderer, she is a tough, smart woman who does what she needs to survive and help those she loves. Claire is not acting or pretending with Dougal; she is her fiercest self.

After she comes up with a plan to help Jamie, Claire plays one more role as the Laird’s Lady begging for the MacKenzies to help her break Jamie out of prison. They agree, and set off, outlaws once more.

outlander s1e13: the watch

jamie from outlander the watch

Jamie, Claire, and their in-laws face one near miss after another in this episode, spinning their wheels and ending up almost exactly where they started–plus or minus one baby.

Jamie is introduced to the Watch–a Scottish highlands version of the mob–in the most Jamie way possible: being held at gunpoint. He escapes death after some quick thinking from Jenny, when she lies and says he is her cousin who dropped in for an unannounced visit.

When Jamie’s not facing the barrel of a gun in this episode, he and his family are narrowly escaping death, imprisonment, and blowing Jamie’s cover. (Which should be a lot more exciting than it was.)

Jenny and Jamie almost get away with their lie, but the leader of the Watch Taran MacQuarrie knows their story doesn’t add up, and his suspicions are confirmed when Horrocks arrives and recognizes Jamie.

Horrocks demands a bribe to keep Jamie’s identity a secret and not turn him over to the Redcoats, and he alllllmost gets his money, until Ian stabs his sword straight through him.

Ian and Jamie almost get away with killing Horrocks, until the Watch notices he’s missing, but his horse isn’t. As Ian is just about to confess, Jamie jumps in to take the blame himself, gambling by telling the almost truth to Taran, who ends up impressed with his killer instinct.

While the men are figuring out who killed who and how to go on a raid, Jenny and Claire are also dealing with life-and-death matters as Jenny goes into labor.

Claire tells Jenny the baby is breech, and they almost get help–until they find out the midwife has been called away to tend to a sick family member.

Jenny is in labor for hours and is worried she will die in childbirth. Claire almost tells Jamie and Ian that Jenny is in trouble against Jenny’s wishes, but she doesn’t. She does, however, tell Jamie that she thinks she is infertile and may not be able to give him the son or daughter he is planning on.

Jamie reacts shockingly well to this news, assuring her that maybe it’s for the best and he couldn’t bear to see her during the pain of pregnancy and childbirth. (But the emotional pain of not being able to have kids if you want them is ok or something? On that note, does Claire even want kids? About two episodes ago she was ready to go back to the 1940s.)

Jamie and Ian are invited (well, forced mostly) to go on a raid with the Watch while Jenny is still in labor. Ian almost stays with Jenny–but then he doesn’t. And because men have nothing to do whatsoever with getting pregnant or giving birth or raising kids, Jenny tells the men to leave them alone to deal with this nasty business of bringing new life into the world, but to come back safe.

Which they almost do. Jamie realizes the raid is a trap a little too late, and only Ian makes it home to the women. In some of the only action that sticks this week, Jamie has been captured by the British, yet again.

I’m pumped for next week, when it looks like Claire and Jenny turn into a crime fighting outlaw duo. Hopefully that will have more action and more fun.

vanessa on daredevil

vanessa from daredevil

Vanessa on Daredevil went on a date with the devil himself. When Wilson Fisk, the evil mastermind rebuilding Hell’s Kitchen in his vision, takes her to a dinner that gets interrupted by a haggard-looking criminal yelling at Fisk, Vanessa realizes this might not be your average businessman. So on their next date, Vanessa brings a gun. Later that night, they watch the city burn, together.

Vanessa on Daredevil is the baddest B on TV right now.

Vanessa is choosing to get into bed with evil–she doesn’t have to be tricked into it or lied to about it or caught by a trap. She really sees Fisk, and she can tell he isn’t on the level. She chooses to be with him not in spite of this, but because of it. This is a huge contrast with other superhero shows where men hide their misdeeds with tiny bandanas over their eyes, or where everyone is making decisions on women’s behalf while they have no say in the matter.

Another superhero show, Arrow, spent a verrrrrry long time with whip smart Thea not realizing her brother was missing all the same nights the Arrow was crime fighting. And that they kind of looked alike under that hood. And that a vigilante’s team was operating *in the basement of a business she owned*.

Oliver claimed he was hiding his identity as the Arrow to protect Thea, but Thea has faced plenty of tragedy and has fought back, learning how to fight and be a warrior herself. She is self-sufficient, and she runs her own business and she’s good at it. She is the opposite of an incapable person who can’t be in charge of her own life.

What Oliver is really protecting is himself, so he won’t have to have an awkward conversation where he shows his real self to someone he loves. It’s true that it’s hard to be vulnerable, but it’s also true that watching a man lie to a woman so he can stay comfortable doing whatever he wants is a snooze and a half.

The Flash is another show that has been tons of fun, except when a certain woman is involved. It seems like everyone in Central City–and Starling City!–knows that Barry Allen is the Flash, but Iris, who has grown up with Barry and is a professional reporter covering the Flash, can’t figure it out? I mean, the Flash is the exact size and shape of the guy you are secretly in love with and you never once daydreamed that ~maybe~ they were the same person?

It doesn’t make sense! And worse than that, every man in Iris’ life has an opinion on what Iris should know and when, and none of them have included Iris in the conversation. Keeping women out of the loop comes from a misguided, sexist sense of protection (from what, exactly?), but all it does is keep women on the fringe of the story, outside and powerless. And on the Flash, it’s keeping Iris stuck in one place while everyone else speeds ahead and leaves her behind.

But Iris won’t be in the dark forever, just like Oliver couldn’t keep lying to Thea. And hopefully these weak plots to maintain the status quo and hold off the inevitable will give way to richer stories for all of the characters.

Vanessa is exciting because she makes her own choices, and she creates her own power. Sure, Fisk runs Hell’s Kitchen, but Vanessa runs Fisk. When Fisk wants to protect Vanessa and send her out of the country, she says no thank you. She has power and agency in their relationship, and it comes from being on the inside, seeing Fisk when he’s vulnerable, and then using that information to make her own decisions.

vanessa and fisk

It’s so much more interesting to watch a woman choose to stay when things get hard, and know she’s getting involved with a man who does bad things, rather than yet again see a woman who happens to fall into a situation based on everyone else’s choices but her own.

And if it’s all the good guys who are lying? I’d rather be a bad bitch, too.

outlander s1e12: lallybroch

outlander lallybroch

Jamie, Jamie, Jamie. You’d think you had learned something after being married to Claire. Like not to assume you know what’s going on with the woman of the house. Or to, I don’t know, listen to her about the state of the estate she’s run for the past four years.

But no! Supposedly diplomatic Jamie turns into a dumb, egotistical boy the second he gets home to Lallybroch–just like how I revert back to being my 12-year-old self as soon as I walk through the doors of the house I grew up in.

But now Jamie is an adult, and he is the laird (which he keeps reminding everyone), and the stakes are much higher than they were when he snuck into his father’s room to play with swords.

Claire, Claire, Claire. You’d think you’d have learned something after choosing to stay in the 1700s. Like that even if you don’t agree with certain social rules, that doesn’t make them go away. And that maybe you don’t understand the entirety of the situation based on 30 seconds of your own observation in a place and time completely new to you.

But, no. Claire still assumes she knows best and speaks without thinking of the consequences, telling both Jamie and his sister Jenny how they should operate.

But both Claire and Jamie grow a little in their time at Lallybroch–thank goodness. When Jamie asked Claire to listen and to trust him on how to talk to his family, Claire finally begins to realize that she might be able to get more of what she wants if she knows the rules of the game–and knows when it’s best to break them.

Jenny’s husband Ian also helps Claire see this, as they bond over loving the hard-headed Frasers. Their conversation rang so true to in-laws discussing the family they love, but are outsiders to. Ian seems to really love Jenny. He lets her be herself, and when Jamie came back and effectively kicks Ian out of his position of power, not to mention his own bedroom, he doesn’t argue or fight. He respects Jenny’s family and the way they choose to do things, and he does his best to support the Frasers–not just Jenny, but Jamie and Claire, too. When Claire sharply asks why Ian married Jenny, he sweetly speaks of when they met, and how she made him whole. This does not sound like a man who married for opportunity or power once Jamie was out of the picture, it sounds like a man in love.

In fact both Ian and Jenny don’t seem to hold on to resentment toward Jamie for coming home and assuming role as laird–their (legit) resentment instead is for his boorish behavior while doing it.

But Jamie, like Claire, starts to listen in this episode, and after a harsh talk from his wife, Jamie gets it together. He apologizes to Jenny, and the two reconnect and discuss their roles in their father’s death and the guilt they’ve held onto for so many years.

Laura Donnelly as Jenny is fantastic in this episode, displaying a complex character juggling family issues, trauma, and essentially running a business. When Jamie first sees his sister after four years of being assumed dead and accuses her of having two bastard children and punishing him by naming one Jamie (uhhhh Jamie, bro, this isn’t actually all about you), she fights back and stands up for herself and her family.

In a powerful scene, Jenny tells what really did happen with Captain Randall. After Jamie is knocked unconscious, Randall took Jenny upstairs to assault her. As he attempted to rape her, Jenny laughed at him. Rape scenes on TV have become a cliched shorthand to show women’s trauma, but this scene is like nothing I’ve seen before on television.

This story, like so much of what happens at Lallybroch, shows Claire and Jamie that things aren’t always what they look like at first glance, and that the both of them should stop to think and listen before they do things they can’t take back. (Though I’m going to go on record and say that even if Jenny was raped and did have two bastard children, Jamie still owed her an apology and shouldn’t have acted that way.)

Hopefully Jamie and Claire remember the lessons they learned this week because next week it looks like they will be back to fighting for their lives, and the consequences will be much higher than a familial spat.

outlander s1e11: the devil’s mark

claire and geillis from outlander

To be a woman in 2015 culture is to speak the truth in a crowd and have no one believe you. It is to never be able to find the right balance of what that crowd thinks women should be. It doesn’t matter if you do everything to fit their expectations or if you are fiercely yourself–either way you’ll get burned.

Geillis is great because she knew how to live with the trap of being a woman in her time period to get what she wanted. She married an old, wealthy man who she didn’t have to have sex with and who she could steal money from. She knew how to keep him invalid so she could do the things she wanted. She knew how to kill him, so she could marry the man she loved. Don’t like her methods? She didn’t let that stop her.

Geillis worked within her system, but that system still trapped her in the end.

Claire and Geillis’ witchcraft trial was doomed from the start, but at several points I still hoped maybe they could logic their way out of trouble. (Silly me, I know logic doesn’t work.) Witness after witness builds a case against them, using evidence generally based in truth, but framed so that witchcraft looks likely. (Because women couldn’t diverge from expectations all on their own.) Their lawyer, Ned, works the case by systematically discrediting each woman witness. He first frames a young woman maid as an unhappy, whining woman who is going after her employer. He then gaslights a grieving mother by telling her that because she didn’t step in when she saw Claire holding a child, that it was the mother’s fault the faeries didn’t come for her son. And when Laoghaire says Claire used potions to steal Jamie’s heart, Ned paints her as a jealous, scorned harpy (ok, that one is unfortunately true).

Ned doesn’t discredit the male witnesses–the crowd jumps in to condemn Claire and Geillis each time a male witness speaks. As each witness makes their case, Claire tries to tell the crowd what really happened. So many times being a woman can mean screaming over and over what you know to be true while others ignore you and drown out your voice. Claire’s arguments often make the trial worse–but how could it be worse, really, and how could she stay silent.

As the trial goes downhill, Ned says that their only option may be to save one woman instead of both of them. To do that, he suggests Claire say that Geillis is the witch and that Claire was under her spell. (Of course one woman must turn against another to save herself, for there is a limited allotment of space and resources for women to live on.)

Claire refuses to disown her friend, and she stands with Geillis to face their fate together. In that moment of friendship, Geillis shares her biggest secret yet. That she is from 1968. Of course she is! She’s such a ’60s babe. I dont know where Geillis is from originally, but no matter where it was, I am sure she was a hippie.

When Jamie bounds in brandishing his sword to save Claire, it is a relief. (She needs her husband to save her, and even then it might not be enough.) As Geillis looks on, she decides to do what she can to save her friend. So she gives the crowd what it wants and confesses to being a witch who tricked Claire.

Claire and Geillis reconnect in this episode, unfortunately under terrible circumstances. Their late night talks and shared looks on the stand were great to watch, and I’ll miss them if they are gone for good. Since we didn’t see her die, I have hope that Geillis is still somehow alive because I’d hate to lose her wit and for Claire to lose her friend. Especially when that friend also has time-traveling experience.

After watching Geillis get taken away to burn at the stake, Claire and Jamie steal away to safety. As Jamie tends to Claire wounds, he asks her for the truth.

And she tells him.

Jamie has risked his life to help Claire on numerous occasions, but the most heroic thing he has ever done is simply to believe her. In a world (past and present) where women often have to defend every assertion and prove every experience, to be heard and believed is a rare gift. Jamie doesn’t have to understand Claire or what happened to her, he just has to listen. And in doing so, he gives her the greatest support.

Jamie also listens to Claire’s choices, even when he doesn’t like them. So he hears her when she says she wants to go home, and he takes her to Craigh na Dun.

But Claire chooses to stay with Jamie. (And, girl, I get why.) Jamie and Claire’s relationship is rare in any century, and I can’t wait to see where they go with their new shared knowledge.