The Best Performances of 2016

Posted by Kim and Sage

We’ve discussed the best TV moments of 2016 (you can find those here and here), so now we turn to the individual performances that brought us the most joy this year. These are the performances that inspired us, that stayed with us, and drove us into many a social media fight defending their worthiness. (Note of warning: if you come at Ryan Gosling, we WILL fight you.) I love everything we do for this website, but I have to admit that our annual “Best Performances” holds a special place in my heart, especially when I go back and re-read them when they pop up in our Timehop. These posts are like little time capsules of OUR year in entertainment; they reflect our crushes of the moment, our long-standing love affairs with performers that can do no wrong (Hey Eddie Redmayne), and a scrapbook of all the TV and Movies that we saw throughout the year. Some of these are the performances EVERYONE is talking about, whilst others are the ones that we think you all should be paying attention to. (ARE YOU ALL WATCHING SPEECHLESS BECAUSE YOU SHOULD BE.) Thus we present to you our 18 Best Performances of the year plus four Honorable Mentions. Because it’s our blog and we can’t be limited to our normal 20 shout outs. We hope you love them as much as we do.  — Kim

1) Millie Bobby Brown – Stranger Things

I obviously follow many celebrities on Instagram who are on the convention circuit. And I’ve noticed a pattern over the last few rounds of cons. All of these icons who themselves draw fans by the droves to their photo ops were all geeking out over one of their own. I can’t tell you how many backstage selfies I’ve liked of some famous fan cheesing like mad with Millie Bobby Brown.

And why shouldn’t they be starstruck over her? Millie burst onto the pop culture scene in the role of Eleven on Stranger Things in a striking performance reminiscent of Drew Barrymore in Firestarter. Eleven is a scientific marvel and a weapon, but she’s also a child – a child who was stolen from her family and exploited by the only “Papa” she’d ever known. Millie can do a thousand-yard stare like nobody else, but my favorite moments in the series are the ones where Eleven grasps for a sense of normalcy and belonging with the boys who find her. (“Still pretty?”) This young actor’s work warrants those deep reads of Stranger Things as an allegory about puberty, child abuse, or just being a kid in this big, bad world. 2016 will always be her breakthrough year, and we can’t wait to see how Millie’s career unfolds. –Sage

2) Kylie Bunbury and Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Pitch

The success or failure of Pitch as a show depends entirely on the woman playing Ginny Baker. If the audiences don’t connect with Ginny and her journey as the first woman to play professional baseball, the show never gets out of the dugout. (BASEBALL METAPHORS.) Lucky for the creators of Pitch and the television audience at large, we’ve got Kylie Bunbury carrying the entire show on her (very toned) shoulders. And the thing is, Kylie makes it look easy. Ginny Baker is an incredibly complex character and Kylie is tasked with a LOT. She’s got a spine of steel yet she remains incredibly vulnerable. (If you weren’t moved by her breakdown in the bathtub during her Almost Famous-esque “fuck everything” night, you may want to make an appointment with a cardiologist.) She’s been hurt and taken advantage of by so many people, yet she constantly puts herself on the line in the name of pursuing her dream. She fights to be treated as an equal in her workplace. (The episode where she blatantly refuses to back down from the “Beanball” war because she is a woman is SO IMPORTANT.) Kylie makes Ginny wonderfully human; she is flawed and complicated and she struggles being considered a role model when all she really wants to do is just play baseball. She’s the most important female character on TV right now, for so many women, and I PRAY that Fox does the right thing and picks up the show for season two.

gifs vis ginnyspitch.tumblr.com

And in the other corner, we have Mark-Paul Gosselaar as the aging All Star catcher Mike Lawson. Listen, it’s not like this is an out of nowhere comeback for the erstwhile Zack Morris. Mark-Paul has worked steadily since his Saved By The Bell days, but something feels DIFFERENT in this performance. He brings a “seen it all” attitude to Mike. He has a weariness that could easily be seen as a disillusionment towards the game when really it’s a career ballplayer being painfully aware that he’s coming to the end of his time in the sun. It took me about 75% of the pilot episode before I realized that I was watching Mark-Paul Gosselaar on my TV screen and it’s NOT just because of his GLORIOUS mountain man beard. Mark-Paul completely disappears into the character and brings a very Coach Taylor-esque quality to the Padres captain. It’s the speeches and the eye crinkles and the bone deep love of the game. Come on, you KNOW Mike Lawson would bust out with “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”

So what happens when you put these two incredibly dynamic performers opposite each other? Fireworks, naturally. Kylie and Mark-Paul’s chemistry is SO PALPABLE and has so many levels. For Mike, Ginny serves as an inspiration and a reminder of why he loves baseball in the first place. In Mike, Ginny finds a true teammate who will stand up for her and not treat her with kid gloves. There’s a definite mentor relationship between them but there is also an undeniable sexual chemistry. Bawson is the slowest of slowburns, with their attraction building through lingering looks and late night phone calls. It’s the most DELICIOUS kind of tension and it’s one they are both incredibly aware of. Mike and Ginny are like magnets, pushing against each other, challenging each other, and eventually, falling into each other. To quote my boo Kate Moseley, “all they needed was a little flip.” — Kim

3) Joshua Sasse – No Tomorrow

As the meteor he believes is hurtling towards Earth inspires Xavier Holiday to live his life to the fullest, so does the uncertain future of the CW’s apocalyptic romantic comedy No Tomorrow inspire us to recognize it while we can.

Bearded, beanied, and tattooed Xavier is played by HOT AUSSIE Joshua Sasse, fresh off the unfairly canceled musical romp Galavant. (YEP, he sings too.) He makes an amazing case for not writing off the sexy guy who’s into you juuuuust because he believes the rapture is on its way. He breaks the Dealbreaker Scale, basically.

I’d like to keep on objectifying Xavier and Joshua (as the show clearly does – he’s 1/2 or more naked in most episodes), but I’ll get serious. It’s a challenging part, because Xavier has to believe completely in his end-of-the-world theory but not come off as dangerous or deranged. And as charming as he is to Evie and the audience (and OH, HE IS), Xavier is also kind of an arrogant jerk, accustomed to putting himself first. It’s a credit to Joshua’s embodiment of the character that Xavier is still our hero – a flawed person who heard terrible news and decided to use it to turn his life around. You see his petulance when Evie challenges him, but you also see the way he lights up when someone around him takes control of however many days they have left. And the man knows how to sell a love scene, just saying.

He’s so convincing that I wonder sometimes if Xavier is actually right about our impending doom. And if No Tomorrow gets the pick-up it should, I hope it ends with a completely fulfilled Apocalyst and a vindicated male lead. –Sage

4) Sterling K. Brown – This Is Us

2016 was a garbage year but it’s ALSO the year that gave us Sterling K. Brown’s major career breakthrough, so I am ALMOST willing to call it even. I foolishly missed out on The People Vs. OJ Simpson (and am counting down the days until it gets added to Netflix), so my first exposure to Sterling’s acting came when I saw the pilot episode of This Is Us. Sage said it perfectly when she wrote about Sterling for our Handsome Young Man post: just when we think Sterling has hit his peak as Randall Pearson, he just gets BETTER. Randall is easily the most compelling character on This Is Us, and sometimes I can’t decide if it’s because he has the best story or because Sterling is just THAT GOOD in a cast filled with stellar actors. I actually think it’s a combination of both; Randall DOES have the meatiest stories, but Sterling also elevates every single scene that he’s in. In my humble opinion, he is giving THE male television performance of the year.

It’s clear that Sterling understands Randall on a fundamental level. The performance is never one-note and Randall can switch from achingly vulnerable to slyly sarcastic in the blink of an eye. (His comic timing is MASTERFUL.) If I had to think of one word to describe Sterling’s performance it would be DEFT. You never see him working, you never see him changing gears, and you NEVER see Sterling. You only see Randall Pearson, king of bad Dad jokes and devoted son, brother, and husband. It’s such a fully formed and nuanced performance. But the most important thing about Randall is how wonderfully human he is. It would be quite easy, after all the truth about William and Rebecca and his adoption came out, for Randall to be played as bitter and jaded. But he’s never been that, even in his initial meeting with William in the pilot episode. Randall Pearson has the biggest HEART and his capacity for love and forgiveness is truly inspiring. Sterling imbues him with such grace and warmth that you can’t help but fall in love with him immediately. It’s the perfect combination of actor and the character he was meant to play and we’re so blessed to watch him work week after week. — Kim

5) Aya Cash – You’re the Worst

The first time I saw Aya Cash perform was in 2008 when she played a disillusioned teen in the off-Broadway comedy From Up Here. She was memorable in a way that surpassed quirkiness, and I’m so thrilled to see her thriving in a role like Gretchen Cutler.

I binged the first two seasons of You’re the Worst in time for the season 3 premiere and responded instantly to the show’s filthiness and honesty. As it progresses, the show digs deeper and deeper into what familial and chemical circumstances make Gretchen and Jimmy, in fact, the worst. And what Aya has done with already keen and incisive material is to give an alarmingly accurate crash course on clinical depression. Jimmy can talk himself out of feeling most things, so it’s scary for him and for us when the normally verbose Gretchen goes nearly comatose. She wants nothing, asks for nothing, finds comfort in nothing. For the novelist, cause and effect are always talking to each other. Aya shows Gretchen paralyzed by the fear of telling Jimmy that there’s not switch to flick when it comes to her illness. She worries that he loves her because she’s irreverent and fun, but she can only be those things when she’s capable of feeling anything. In a brave and desperate moment of confession, she finally tells him: “So the only thing I need from you is to not make a big deal of it and be OK with how I am and the fact that you can’t fix me.”

This is You’re the Worst, and it’s not the kind of show that will present a newly determined Gretchen facing her illness with gumption and putting one foot in front of the other until she’s better. Mental illness and its treatment are not linear. In season 3, she backslides and claws and insults her therapist for wearing the same pair of jeans every day. But that’s Gretch and that’s depression. Even badass bitches can have it. –Sage

6) Minnie Driver – Speechless

Speechless is my favorite new comedy of the season and that’s largely in part to Minnie Driver’s FIERCE performance as ultimate tiger mama Maya DiMeo. The overbearing mom is a sitcom trope that could easily go the clichéd route but Minnie plays Maya like she’s in on the joke. She KNOWS she’s ridiculous but she also makes no apologies for it. (Also, she’s advocating for her disabled kid, so how ridiculous is she, REALLY?) It’s such a WRY performance, especially in the way Minnie delivers so many of her lines completely deadpan, her posh British accent just ACCENTUATING the dry delivery. While I never watched About a Boy, I heard nothing but good things about Minnie’s performance on it, so I am so happy to see that she’s found herself another television vehicle to showcase how talented she is. (Look, I can make a very strong case for the fact that she should have won the Oscar for Good Will Hunting. Ask me about it over cocktails.)

So often on television, unabashedly alpha females are portrayed as ball busters or stone cold bitches. Speechless takes a different approach. Maya IS a ball buster and she is often a bitch but it’s clear that those closest to her adore and cherish that part of her personality. Her husband Jimmy (a DELIGHTFUL John Ross Bowie) is more than happy to let Maya wear the pants in the marriage, but not from a slacker “oh look at the old ball and chain” point of view. It’s clear that Jimmy loves and respects his wife immensely and takes pleasure in watching her run the show. (And he’s always there to pick up the pieces when she comes in like a wrecking ball, shrugging his shoulders in a “Yeah, isn’t she great?” kind of way.) While her kids often roll their eyes at Maya, it’s obvious that there is no one they would rather have in their corner than their mother. Same. TV needs more characters like Maya DiMeo and it needs more actresses like Minnie Driver to bring them to life in an honest and relatable way.  — Kim

7) Kate McKinnon – Ghostbusters

Dudes, I love you. But it is IMPOSSIBLE to explain to you how much Ghostbusters means to us. When you tell me it’s “OKAY” or “good but not great,” you’re just proving how little you understand our intense craving for movies like these. We were DEHYDRATED over here, okay? But we didn’t know how thirsty we truly were until we saw Kate McKinnon as Jillian Holtzmann.

We got Holtzmanned, baby. And we loved it. Forever an SNL MVP, Kate imbued the gadget-loving scientist with a resplendent weirdness that made the whole movie sing. She instantly became an icon for girls who geek and – explicit though it wasn’t allowed to be – girls who would absolutely hit on Kristen Wiig if she ever wandered into their basement lab. The women in this movie were never sexualized, yet somehow, everyone I know walked out of that theater with a massive crush on Jillian and her collection of safety goggles. I’m so distracted by the gif below, it’s taken me 40 minutes to write this paragraph.

Which brings me back to why this is so important. Not since Ellen Ripley can I remember a female character kicking paranormal ass like Kate does in that sublime slow motion fight scene without being stuffed into cut-offs or a catsuit. Holtzmann is not a token hero, like so many in the “There’s One Girl!” teams that have been shoved down our throats. She’s a brilliant, bizarre, queer, ghostbusting scientist who’s biggest takeaway from this whole world-saving thing is that she’s finally found her tribe.

There should be a sequel. Kate McKinnon should be a movie star. Safety lights are for dudes who say this movie could have been better. –Sage

8) The Women of Penny Dreadful

RIP Penny Dreadful and some of the best female characters to grace our television screens in years. I’ll never understand why awards didn’t rain down upon Eva Green, Billie Piper, and Patti LuPone (whose role is the definition of a Guest Acting Emmy). But WE know the truth and we will never stop preaching the gospel of Vanessa Ives. Years from now, television historians will look back on Eva Green in Penny Dreadful and laud her bravery and her boldness. Her performance exhausts me, honestly. I don’t know how she did it. It was completely free of vanity. She wouldn’t just go to the ugly places, she would marinate in them and let them soak into her soul. Watching her every week was a masterclass in character development and determination and any episode that was Vanessa-less was weaker for it.

It was such a brilliant move to bring back Patti LuPone back for season three as Vanessa’s shrink, Dr. Seward. She had an incredibly memorable role in Season 2 as Joan Clayton, a witch who helped shape Vanessa’s life and cemented her identity as the Scorpion. I love how the two roles were completely different but yet the underlying thread of overwhelming compassion for Vanessa Ives tied the characters together. Patti brings SUCH gravity to all of her roles and really she’s the only woman who could go toe to toe with Eva Green and WIN. My biggest regret about the fact that we won’t be getting a season 4 is that we won’t get more of Seward the Vampire Slayer. NEVER FORGET how Seward casually admitted that she killed her abusive husband with a meat cleaver. Where’s my spinoff John Logan?

And then there’s Billie Piper, Queen of Our Hearts and the 2016 Feelie Winner for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama. There’s not much to say about Billie’s furious portrayal of Lily Frankenstein that we haven’t said before, so I’m just going to quote creator John Logan here. “It’s a very feminist show, and the idea that the audience gets to see, in our three years, Lily as a degraded figure who’s abused by men, as Brona, literally being reborn into a blank slate and then achieving incredible power but always having a great human connection. That was a case where I was also inspired by the actor, because Billie Piper so delights me, and I found that in the second season I was able to write her an eight-minute monologue that she absolutely delivered, completely, in a way that I found thrilling. I just wanted to do it again, because she’s an actor who understands theatricality and understands larger than life language in a very unique way, and that’s part of what this show is about.”

Quite right too.  — Kim

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The Top 20 Television Moments of 2016 – Part One

Posted by Kim and Sage

WE DID IT YOU GUYS. The end of 2016 is nigh. Everyone take a deep sigh of relief.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that 2016 was a dumpster fire of a year. It was brutal with the celebrity deaths and it felt like the world was on the verge of imploding every time you turned on the news. I can’t help but think of Samwise Gamgee at the end of The Two Towers when I think of 2016. “How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you.” These end of year posts are the stories that have stayed with us. We hope you enjoy the memories as much as we do. –Kim

1) Michael Phelps swims the 200 Butterfly – The Rio Olympics

Michael Phelps did not come to the Rio Olympics to play. After being disappointed with his performance in the London Olympics (you know, a measly six medals, four of them gold), Michael returned to the pool as a man on a mission. The most important part of that mission? Getting back the gold medal in the 200 meter butterfly that South Africa’s Chad le Clos had taken from him. As fate would have it, Phelps and le Clos were in the same semifinal, swimming right next to each other. It’s the perfect sports story, really. The undisputed King of the Pool and the younger and cockier rival who had lorded his victory over Phelps for four years. Who would triumph? Here’s why I love the Olympics so fucking much: the completely pure and unstaged moments of human emotion. As cameramen in the holding room focused on the two rivals they caught le Clos showboating and shadowboxing in front of Phelps. And there sat Michael, his hood up over his head and his trademark headphones on making a FACE OF DEATH. Seriously…laser beams were about to shoot out of his eyes. Thus, the greatest meme of 2016, #PhelpsFace, was born. (It’s also the default facial expression to describe the year.)

Was le Clos trying to psych Phelps out? Was Michael truly just in the zone, as he later claimed, or was he making the face at the obvious showboating? We’ll never know, really. What we DO know are the results in the pool. Phelps and le Clos qualified 2nd and 3rd in that semi, which set up an exciting final that was packed with contenders for the Gold. There was something about Michael’s swimming and attitude in Rio though. While he never looked MISERABLE in previous Olympics, it was clear that Michael had always been focused on winning and shattering records alone. In Rio, he seemed to have rediscovered the JOY of swimming and it showed in his interviews and his emotions on the podium. Michael shaved off nearly 8/10ths of a second off his semifinal time to take back his precious Gold Medal and his jubilation was reminiscent of a certain end zone dance by Rod Tidwell. One might say that Michael Phelps found the Kwan in Rio and we all got to see it. — Kim

2) The #HamilTonys

Look, Hamilton was going to come into the Tonys like a wrecking ball. Everyone knew it. Hence the joke in the opening (Hamilton-themed) number: Leslie Odom Jr., Daveed Diggs, Anthony Ramos, and Okieriete Onaodowan advancing on a Tony-toting James Corden, who stops them by singing, “Just you wait, just you wait…”

The Best Musical award was a foregone conclusion. (In any other year, Waitress. Any other year.) Score and Book were too. The tightest races in a couple of the acting categories were actually BETWEEN Hamilton castmates. And though no choice would have been the wrong one, the Tonys – in our opinion – played it just right. For once, Alexander Hamilton didn’t spoil an Aaron Burr victory; Leslie accepted the Leading Actor Tony he deserved. There was no controversy, since Lin went home with a wheelbarrow of other awards. Broadway veterans Christopher Jackson and Jonathan Groff looked on proudly as newcomer Daveed Diggs was handed the Featured Actor Tony. It’s safe to say that being in Hamilton would change anyone’s life, but of those three, it changed Daveed the most. And come on, the guy plays one character per act, spits RECORD-BREAKING fire, and delivers the best asides in the show. (Whaaaaaaat?) Renee Elise Goldsberry cried as she gave her Featured Actress acceptance speech. And if it hadn’t been for the unstoppable Cynthia Erivo, Phillipa Soo would have been on that stage too.

All told, Hamilton took home 11 Tonys, falling just short of the The Producers‘ record. But that wasn’t the whole story. Hamilton in its very existence is a statement. In the same awards cycle when #OscarsSoWhite trended worldwide, Hamilton contributed to the Tonys’ incredible diversity achievement of all four musical acting awards going to non-white performers. The show made this the hippest Tonys (is that a thing??) in recent memory. The 2016 telecast was the highest rated in the last 15 years. And those new viewers were tuning in SPECIFICALLY to see Hamilton – a piece of art that’s reinvigorated and redrawn the medium by prioritizing inclusion, truth, and a ridiculous amount of work.

A dark shadow was cast on the Tonys. Early that same morning, the Pulse massacre occurred in Florida. The telecast was dedicated to the victims and their families. One of Lin’s speeches was a quickly composed sonnet honoring them too. And Hamilton‘s producers made a decision to alter their performance. There were no muskets in “Yorktown.” The actors and the ensemble mimed their presence. And that image – two dozen people in Colonial garb pointing invisible guns into the audience – will stay with me for a long time.  –Sage

3) The Origin of The Big Three – This Is Us



source: thisisusedits.tumblr.com
I was fully on board with This Is Us from that first trailer that featured guaranteed tearjerker “I Won’t Give Up” as the soundtrack (and because it had Mandy Moore). But I was also completely aware that a great trailer by no means makes a great show and that This Is Us could easily be saccharine overdose. I was lucky to get to see an early screening of the This Is Us at the Paley Center a couple of weeks before it premiered. I was immediately taken in by the sharp and funny dialogue and the tightly drawn characters. (Sterling K. Brown gets Randall from the GET GO, guys.) I was so drawn in by the four principle stories of the pilot that I forgot to look for the twist of how they were all tied together (SILLY ME). I ignored niggling questions like why in the hell with triplets did Mandy Moore’s Rebecca NOT have a c-section scheduled? I missed the hints of Randall saying that he was abandoned at a fire station and adopted by a wonderful couple. I COMPLETELY missed it…and so did most of the people in the Paley screening room.

A collective GASP swept through the room when Milo Ventimiglia’s Jack, mourning the loss of one of his triplets, stood at the nursery window smiling at his two babies and started talking to the fireman standing next to him, who pointed out the baby who had been abandoned at his fire station. “OH MY GOD,” I quietly (or not so quietly) exclaimed, as the camera panned back to reveal people in period clothing wandering the halls of the hospital. “THEY ARE A FAMILY.” It was in that moment that we KNEW that This Is Us was going to be a special kind of show: unabashedly sentimental, expertly acted, and one that would take us along on the journey.  — Kim

4) The Blood Threesome – Penny Dreadful

Rest in peace, Penny Dreadful. You crazy bitch.

Showtime’s literary horror masterpiece pulled out all the stops for what we didn’t know would be its final season. We didn’t get this gory orgy not in the finale, oh no. This was episode THREE.

I have some issues with the way it was resolved. But overall, I am all about Penny Dreadful turning the horror of being a woman of no consequence in Victorian London around on the godless men who exploit them. It facilitated some jaw-dropping Billie Piper monologues, that’s for sure. It also facilitated this consummation: Lily, her benefactor Dorian, and their bloodthirsty protege Justine celebrate Justine’s first kill by indulging in the most indulgent act possible. Lily and Justine are celebrating being masters of their own bodies for once. And Dorian? Well, Dorian’s just a hedonist.

The camerawork, the candles, the score: it’s all so over-the-top and UBER-DRAMATIC and not really that necessary for the plot. I love TV that will throw over subtlety when necessary, and go to these places just because it’s FUN. –Sage

5) Murtagh gets his vengeance – Outlander

When I look back at Season Two of Outlander, I can sum it up with a singular text I got from Sage whilst she watched episode 11, “Vengeance is Mine”: “THIS SHOW IS SAVAGE.” Season Two was a LOT, from all the shenanigans in Paris to the emotional wallop that was the entire episode of “Faith” to Jamie stabbing BlackJack Randall IN THE DICK to a pregnant Claire being sent back through the stones. The entire season was a masterclass in pacing and storytelling because we KNEW the ending in the opening moments of the season premiere, yet the show managed to keep us on our toes and have us HOPING that said ending would not come to pass. But sadly, I can’t single out the entire season for this post. Thus I settled on the moment that prompted Sage’s text message: Murtagh’s savage beheading of the Duke of Sandringham. Because as a book virgin, I did NOT see that one coming.

Let’s face it: Murtagh is the unsung hero of the series. He faithfully stands by Jamie and Claire’s side in France, even though every expression on his face says “I MISS SCOTLAND”. His only reaction when Jamie FINALLY told him the truth about Claire was to punch him in the face for not trusting him with this information sooner. He pulled a “I’m with you till the end of the line” with Jamie at The Battle of Culloden when Jamie tried to send him away. (SIDE NOTE: MURTAGH BETTER BE ALIVE IN SEASON THREE BITCHES.) Murtagh is good people. So it was devastated to see him wracked by guilt over not being able to protect Claire and Mary when they were attacked (and Mary was brutally raped) on the streets of Paris. HE WAS UNCONSCIOUS WHAT COULD HE HAVE DONE? Nevertheless, his promise to avenge Claire and Mary was one he took to heart. The last minutes of “Vengeance is Mine” were absolutely thrilling, from Red Jamie storming in ready to kick some ass to Mary grabbing the knife and stabbing her attacker once Sandringham’s complicit involvement in the attack came to light. But it was all capped off by Murtagh grabbing a fucking AXE and taking a swing at the Duke. Off came his head and he grabbed it and placed it at Claire and Mary’s feet as they looked on in shock. “I lay my vengeance at your feet,” he said, kneeling before them. That’s Murtagh for you. Taking things literally. — Kim

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The Winners of the Third Annual Feelies!

Posted by Kim and Sage

After a week-long battle in the Feelie Fandom Arena, these ten have emerged victorious. Some races were runaway victories, some were nail-biters that came down to the final day of voting. What they all have in common is that they were chosen by you, with minimal shilling from us. (Hey, it’s our site and we’re allowed to have faves!) My favorite thing about the Feelies is that it’s almost like taking the pulse of the readership of this website. What are you guys passionate about? What shows give you the feels on a regular basis and how can we cover them? (Good news, I think we’ve FINALLY cracked how we want to do Jane the Virgin recaps, thanks to a brilliant idea from Maggie.) These are YOUR winners and we are so proud of all of them. Feeling Awards all around! –Kim

Best Comedy: Jane the Virgin

Nominees: Broad City, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Veep

For the second year in the row, you guys have voted The CW staple your favorite TV comedy!

And that’s how it’s classified for awards consideration, but Jane The Virgin makes us misty as often as it makes us laugh. And it can serve both purposes equally, because JTV never forgets where it keeps its heart.

Season two ran on the nimble ensemble and creative storytelling that defined this show in the first place, but doubled-down on the intricate machinations of its airtight plotting. The year began with the resolution of Sin Rostro’s abduction of newborn Mateo and ended with an ill-fated wedding (complete with musical number!); dozens of reveals and reversals happened in between. The whole production rallied around the show’s experiments with pastiche, and everyone from the actors to the directors to the writers to the graphics people deserve credit for using homage to everything from silent movies and Shondaland to actually drive story forward, not just to wink at the audience.

It’s a rare series that can balance character and plot so well, especially when the audience is expecting an average of 2.5 gasps per episode. The personalities who occupy Jane’s world are too strong to be swallowed by their own drama, and that makes for one satisfying viewing experience. Also, any show that casts Britney Spears in such a positive light has my loyalty forever. –Sage

Best Actress in a Comedy: Gina Rodriguez, Jane the Virgin

Nominees: Rachel Bloom as Rebecca Bunch, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend; Ilana Glazer as Ilana Wexler, Broad City; Abbi Jacobson as Abbi Abrams, Broad City; Ellie Kemper as Kimmy Schmidt, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer, Veep

Just like her show, IRL angel Gina Rodriguez is also a two-peat Feelies winner!

Happy tears, we hope!

I touched above on how Jane the Virgin‘s twisty telenovela plot stays grounded in character, and the show’s leading lady is truly its center. It’s easy to forget what a relative newcomer Gina was when she got the part. An actor who doesn’t have her natural confidence (in herself and in the show) would never be able to anchor this series. Think about it: While Rogelio deals with his career nemesis making moves on his ex; Michael chases down a murderous drug dealer who’s also a master of disguise; and Petra has her identity stolen by her long-lost evil twin; Jane struggles with finding an adviser, carving out a childcare schedule with Rafael, and hovering at the perfect level of drunkenness at her bachelorette party. Jane should exist on a different plane than the shenanigans that surround her, but Gina plays her so genuinely and with such warmth that her even her adviser struggle carries the same weight as the Sin Rostro mystery. We care about Jane because Gina does. Now PLEASE, can she finally get some? –Sage

Best Actor in a Comedy: Santino Fontana, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Nominees: Tituss Burgess as Titus Andromedon, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; Billy Eichner as Billy Epstein, Difficult People; Vincent Rodriguez III as Josh Chan, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend; Andy Samberg as Jake Peralta, Brooklyn 99. 

For most of the week, Best Actor in a Comedy was a horse race between Tituss Burgess and Andy Samberg. But in the last 36 hours of voting, it was like Santino Fontana decided he could win a Feelie if he wanted to. Thus, in the most Greg Serrano way possible, Santino Fontana is your Best Actor in a Comedy. AND WE’RE NOT EVEN SETTLING FOR HIM.

Listen, Greg Serrano won my heart from the moment he said that Rebecca was his type because she was ignoring him. Emotionally constipated guys may be horrible IRL but MAN do I love them on television. Like Pacey Witter, Chandler Bing, and Jeff Winger before him, Greg wears his sarcasm and his humor like a suit of armor protecting a deep insecurity that he’s never gonna be good enough for himself or for anyone else. (I KNOW I am going to get shit for comparing Greg to Pacey and Chandler, but Rachel Bloom HERSELF compared Greg to Fitzwilliam Darcy, who is the grandfather of ALL of those characters, okay? Deal with it. #TeamGreg) Greg’s default mode is to lash out with a scathing comment aiming to hurt before someone else can hurt him. He calls people out on their shit but shuts down when it’s turned back on him because no one is telling him something he doesn’t know already. He hates his life but has no idea how to get out of it because he has obligations. He self-sabotages because he expects things to end ANYWAY. But he’s also the guy who will show up with a bottle of whiskey on Thanksgiving, a guy who will take care of his ailing father, and a guy who will show up when you’re in the hospital. Under all that sarcasm and self-loathing, he’s a big old softie. I feel Greg on a fundamental level, you guys.

The thing is a character like Greg would absolutely not work without the delightfully wry performance that Santino gives. He delivers all of those one-liners with a twinkle in his eye and that smirk and you’re just like…YES. Of COURSE you are this guy. (Don’t even get me started on the glass-shattering moment that I had when I realized his delivery is VERY Joel McHale-esque because I can’t unhear it and I just wanted to pass that along to all of you people.) And then there’s that singing voice. I bless the casting team of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend for filling their ensemble with musical theatre actors because Santino just knows hows to emote through song. If I wasn’t already thoroughly in Santino’s corner, I definitely was after his Billy Joel inspired number “What’ll It Be.” Damn, son.

I would be remiss if I left out the “Three days of you and me ruining each other” moment because both Sage and I literally screamed at that. He has the ability to go from sarcastic goofball to throw me up against the wall and have your way with me and THAT, my friends, is a gift. Someone’s got a nomination for Most Handsome Young Man coming his way to go with his shiny new Feelie is all I’m saying. –Kim

LOOK AT HIM CHECKING HER OUT END ME.

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Vote for the Third Annual Feelies!

Posted by Kim and Sage

The great Ron Swanson said that awards are stupid, but they are less stupid when they go to the right people. No disrespect yet ALL the disrespect to the Emmys, but when it comes to television there are WAY shows more shows and performances than the principle awards bodies can possibly recognize. (Plus the Emmys are fucking lazy and repeatedly nominate the same people based on history and celebrity, whatever it’s fine.) The thing we love about the Feelies is that they are completely determined by YOU. We may choose the nominees but the outcome is in the hands of whatever fandom chooses to mobillize. Any of these nominees would be worthy winners. We wouldn’t pick them if we didn’t think so? So who deserves to be the Feelie champions for 2016? Read on to see who we think deserves a shot at the mantle.The rest is up to you. –Kim

Best Comedy

Broad City
Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Jane the Virgin
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Veep

Sage: The urban adventures of Abbi  and Ilana raged on in the third uproarious season of Broad City. The girls grappled with period emergencies, apartment shares websites, snooty co-ops, and clever cameos by Vanessa Williams and Tony Danza. But as ever, the best lady friendship on TV was at the heart of it all. Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s skilled and diverse (YAY) ensemble has relaxed into each other, and the continued viability of the Jake and Amy relationship proved that Mike Schur still knows how to make a ship canon without killing our buzz. The cop comedy keeps on quietly slaying with sharp, character-based humor and unexpectedly poignant moments. Veep went into this year with a new showrunner, but the best (and at this point, most true) political comedy on TV didn’t lose its momentum or its foul-mouthed edge. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is still beyond-excellent; the scripts are still sharp enough to draw blood; and the season ended with a stroke of genius game-changer.

Kim: Last year’s champ Jane the Virgin delivered another stellar season filled with heart, ridiculous melodrama, meta commentary, and telenovela antics as Jane and Petra tackled the challenges of learning to be a new mom without completely losing their sense of self. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt took its quirky humor to new heights as Kimmy continued to take ownership over her new life while coming to terms with her traumatic past. And lastly, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend took all the things we love in life (musical numbers, searing feminist commentary, cute boys, body positivity) and blended them into one delicious confection of a television show that EVERYONE needs to be watching.

Best Drama

Doctor Who
Jessica Jones
Outlander
Penny Dreadful
Scandal
UnReal

Kim: Never one to rest on its laurels, series nine of Doctor Who took all sorts of creative risks, from structuring the entire series into two-parters to having one episode be a 45 minute soliloquy for Peter Capaldi to having an entire episode constructed out of “found” footage. (Well, like all risks in life, you can’t win them all.) It also punched us right in the feels as we bid a devastating goodbye (or is it a see you soon?) to Clara Oswald. After a lackluster fourth season, Scandal was revitalized by both Olivia kicking Fitz to the curb and the political intrigue of the Presidential Campaign. (Grant/Ballard 2016, y’all!) In what turned out to be its swan song, Penny Dreadful deftly balanced the terror of the supernatural (DRACULA) with the terror of a more human nature (misogyny, daddy issues) all while Eva Green stood in the center of the storm, giving the bravest performance on television.

Sage: A superhero show that tackles rape culture, toxic masculinity, and survivor recovery? I devoured Jessica Jones in a two-day binge, dazzled by its bravery and neo-noir style. Anyone who tells you that Outlander is a mere bodice ripper has been misinformed. Bodices were ripped in Season 2, thank god, but the superbly-acted genre-defying series also moved effortlessly from the salons of Paris to the battlefields of Scotland to the 1960s and took its characters to the brink yet again. UnREAL had a bit of a stumble in its sophomore outing but technically the Feelies season falls such that Season 1 can also be considered. And Season 1 of UnREAL was a doozy. Anchored by two female anti-heroes (TWO. In one show. And they’re FRIENDS.), the Lifetime drama exposed the seedy underbelly of reality TV and thus, became just as addictive.

Best Actress in a Comedy

Rachel Bloom as Rebecca Bunch, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Ilana Glazer as Ilana Wexler, Broad City
Abbi Jacobson as Abbi Abrams, Broad City
Ellie Kemper as Kimmy Schmidt, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer, Veep
Gina Rodriguez as Jane Villanueva, Jane the Virgin

Sage: I know. It feels impossible to separate the performances of our Broad City leading ladies, so much do they rely on and compliment each other. There’s trust and fun emanating from every scene, which is probably why they can collectively take it so far. But both women deserve a personal shout-out. As the more grounded of the two, no one does crushing embarrassment and millennial self-questioning like Abbi Jacobsen. And her Ilana impression in the co-op episode was a true thing of beauty. Kooky Ilana Glazer shined in a different way this season when faced for the first time with her very best kween keeping a secret from her. It was effectively disconcerting to see the worst employee Deals! Deals! Deals! ever had to take something seriously for once. And really, what is there even left to talk about when it comes to Julia Louis-Dreyfus‘s performance on Veep? She can kill a scene with a single reaction and yet she’s the ultimate team player in a devastatingly funny ensemble. JLD may have another iconic character in her past, but petty, under-qualified Selina Meyer is the role she was born to play.
Kim: Look, I know we give the Golden Globes a lot of shit when it comes to their celebrity thirst, but they know where it’s AT when it comes to recognizing new talent in television. Last year, the award went to Gina Rodriguez (who was the Feelie winner as well), who continues to deliver a LUMINOUS performance on Jane the Virgin. There’s no other word to describe Gina’s work, really. She glows and emanates pure warmth on screen and she can flip between comedy and drama in the blink of an eye. This year the Golden Globe went to Rachel Bloom, whose work on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a masterclass in comedic shamelessness. There is no length Rachel won’t go to in order to land a gag, from throwing her heavy (and glorious) boobs into a musical number to fearlessly showing the ugly sides of Rebecca’s personality. She is a GIFT and we should all treasure her. Finally, in a lesser actress’ hands, Kimmy Schmidt would be grating and overly saccharine but Ellie Kemper brings the perfect amount of salt to the role. She may be sweet and sunny but she’s also tough as nails when it comes to getting what she wants. Females are strong as hell, y’all.

Best Actress in a Drama

Caitriona Balfe as Claire Fraser, Outlander
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald, Doctor Who
Eva Green as Vanessa Ives, Penny Dreadful
Tatiana Maslany as the Leda Clones, Orphan Black
Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark, The People vs. OJ Simpson
Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones, Jessica Jones
Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope, Scandal

Kim: I’ve said it once in this post already but Eva Green‘s Vanessa Ives is one of the bravest and boldest performances I’ve EVER seen on television, this year or any other year. Vanessa is broken and beaten down by the world around her, yet she stands tall in her strength and defiance and HOPE. Eva brings a raw, almost feral quality to Vanessa, with her scratchy smoker’s rasp and her giant alien eyes that have seen horrors we can’t even imagine. I don’t understand why she hasn’t been showered with awards for the past three years, it’s a travesty. There not much that can be said about Tatiana Maslany that hasn’t been said before. She infuses each of the Leda Clones with such a distinct personality, posture, and voice that you forget that it’s ONE actress. She makes it look easy, y’all, and I would hate her if I didn’t respect her so goddamn much. After several seasons of being rendered spineless by her father and Fitzgerald Grant, Olivia Pope found her backbone again, doing what she does best (being a Political Bad Ass) and Kerry Washington flourished. Anyone who was surprised by Olivia FINALLY snapping was watching the show wrong, even if the way she snapped was shocking.

Sage: Look, I don’t understand how the Emmys can sleep at night knowing that Caitrona Balfe‘s work on Outlander is going unrecognized. I won’t say she worked the hardest of any actress this year, because this list is so stacked with BEASTS. But the show asks so much of the woman playing Claire Fraser, especially this season. We saw Jamie’s bride scheme and connive among the elite in Paris; get some practice-mothering in by nurturing Mary Hawkins and Gavroche 2 (I know that’s not his name); and say goodbye to the one, true love of her life. Once to his face and once at his grave. (Or IS it?) But Cait’s shining moment came when tragedy befell the growing Fraser family. Her baby stillborn, Claire loses herself completely in grief and shock. It was primal, her clinging to the body of her child, eyes unfocused and posture tense. These aren’t just pretty faces, you guys. Life is change and change is Doctor Who. Still, it wasn’t easy to say goodbye to Jenna Coleman, who so consistently BROUGHT it as the most polarizing, headstrong, MAGNIFICENTLY messy companion the show has ever seen. I’ve said it before, and absolutely no disrespect to Matt Smith, but Peter and Jenna are magic together. Twelve and Clara’s tragic co-dependency defined this series and the petite, wide-eyed companion got to be the strong one. If any companion deserved and needed that ending, it was Clara Oswald. Sarah effing PAULSON. I wish she wasn’t shackled to American Horror Story because she’s one of our most interesting actresses. Against all odds, the OJ show worked and Sarah turned in a desperately human performance as bullied DA Marcia Clark. I’ll never be over how she played Clark’s bafflement at the relevancy of her haircut to a double murder case or her sweet and sexy chemistry with Chris Darden. (What HAPPENED there, you guys? I need to know.) And Jessica Jones succeeded on the back of the flawless casting and compelling performance of Krysten Ritter. Who else would you get to play a whiskey-swilling, leather-jacket-wearing defender of women? Jessica may wear her damage on her sleeve, but she also allows it to motivate her. Krysten nailed the show’s moments of dark comedy (“I can’t get her to wear a dress for the life of me.” “I’ll wear one to your funeral.”), but also beautifully expressed Jessica’s sarcastic and tender friendship with Trish and her determination to move through her fear to bring Kilgrave down. And if we had some kind of stunt Feelie, rest assured she’d get it for those headboard-breaking sex scenes with Mike Colter’s Luke Cage.

Best Actor in a Comedy


Tituss Burgess as Titus Andromedon, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Billy Eichner as Billy Epstein, Difficult People
Santino Fontana as Greg Serrano, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Vincent Rodriguez III as Josh Chan, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Andy Samberg as Jake Peralta, Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Sage: I feel a kinship with actors who’ve made their name in part by being LOUD, and that thought includes the delightfully shrill Billy Eichner. The comedian finally gets to scale it back and be a true lead in Hulu’s Difficult People aka the life of every struggling, cynical New York artist that I know. We’re coming out hard as Team Greg on Head Over Feels, because we do love an emotionally constipated boy with a nice singing voice. But really, actual Disney prince Santino Fontana deserves the credit for selling Greg’s crippling fear of inadequacy and his good, good heart. The dude is a mess, but name me one other guy who could sweep you off your feet while bragging (in song) about giving you a UTI? Andy Samberg‘s Jake Peralta is still THE unproblematic fave. Professionally, Jake is actually one of Brooklyn’s finest, but Andy makes sure the audience knows that deep down, Jake is playing one career-long game of Cops and Robbers.

Kim: While Tituss Burgess is Emmy nominated as a Supporting Actor for his work in Kimmy Schmidt, we at Head Over Feels feel that he merits a leading actor nomination. Titus Andromedon remained a hurricane of ego and melodrama in season two but he ALSO fell in love in the sweetest and most unexpected way and it was delightful to see how it threw him for a loop. It’s no easy task to play the dream guy that the heroine is willing to overhaul her life for (just ask Felicity‘s Scott Speedman) but Vincent Rodriguez III brings such a sweetness to Josh Chan that you completely buy Rebecca being the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend who gave everything up for him. I may hold my own shipping beliefs but you can’t deny Josh’s simple goodness (and cluelessness) as he fights the undeniable pull he has towards Rebecca. The fact that Vincent looks like the lost member of the Backstreet Boys is just a bonus.

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“Dear Miss Ives.” – Penny Dreadful Recap – Perpetual Night & The Blessed Dark

ethanessa

Penny Dreadful Season 3, Episodes 8 & 9
“Perpetual Night” & “The Blessed Dark”
Posted by Sage

I would like to go on record here today as being very anti the sneak attack series finale. I can see how it’s tempting to avoid the fan expectations a finale usually dredges up and to preserve the emotional wallop of a decisive final note. But last Sunday evening, the confusion and frustration of the Dreadfuls on my timeline blended together to form one giant question mark. The next day, Showtime and series creator John Logan confirmed that – like Vanessa Ives – Penny Dreadful was no more. So here’s the series finale recap that I never expected to be writing so soon.

We learn several minutes into the episode that weeks have gone by since Vanessa yielded herself to Dracula. Ethan, Malcolm, and Kaetenay dock in a London that’s blanketed in a grim fog, hilariously indistinguishable to Ethan as anything different from Britain’s usual gloom and doom. But there are other details that support Kaetenay’s vision of Vanessa and humanity’s fall, like the increased population of “night creatures” (toads, rats, and bats, oh my!), who seem to have full run of the city. The streets are basically empty of humans. The crush of life that disturbed Vanessa in the premiere is gone – some asphyxiated by the fog; some hanging in Dracula’s people-meat locker; and some hiding away in their homes, praying for the “perpetual night” of the title to pass. Vanessa’s friends, new and old, are the only non-vampires who know that she is the key to all of this. And they’re all finally together in one room. Put on something black and sexy, and let’s go save the world.

penny dreadful

I’m going to back up for a minute. Because in order for the team to be fully staffed, one of its members first has to pull his head out of his ass. I don’t know if Victor deserves the redemption this finale affords him (actually I do know, and he definitely doesn’t) and he isn’t even all that apologetic about abducting his “love” Lily and chaining her like an animal. I’m also calling foul on the show’s timeline here. According to Cat, it’s been weeks since the end of days process began, but over at Bedlam it seems like no time has gone by at all since Lily’s abduction. Though I suppose the captivity felt like forever to her. As Dorian says to Justine, these women are lucky to have even tasted freedom. This world isn’t a welcoming place for girls who refuse to submit. (“In my time, I have seen a thousand Lilys. Beating their breasts and burning too bright and too wild.”)

I suppose that’s one of my problems with this finale. Lily’s freedom hinges not on Victor coming to respect her agency, but on HER making HIM feel things. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a hell of a scene. Henry, who has become a progressively bigger, limper dick throughout this season, prompts Victor to just stick a syringe in Lily and get it over with. Lily, who knows precisely how to cut down every man she meets, congratulates Victor on finding himself such a skilled “assistant.” Aware that Henry is only going to be a hindrance, Lily banishes him from the room. (Lily: “Then may I have a moment alone with my doctor?” Me: Oh god, someone write the AU.)  And then Billie Piper, ex-teen pop star, acts her ASS off for about five straight minutes:

You don’t know. You don’t know. There are some wounds that can never heal. There are scars that make us who we are. But without them, we don’t exist. I had…you see, a daughter. Love is too small a word for what I felt for my little girl. All words fail. Holding her was like…feeling the sun from both sides. We lived in this room, in Spitalfields. A hovel. I still had to whore or there’d be no food. I’d lay her by the fire, pile the coal up high. It broke my heart to go. One night it was so cold…even the whores weren’t out. Can you imagine? She was crying when I left. They weren’t cries of teething. They were cries of loneliness. I cannot forget them. I found a john. This rough bastard, just…crushing me against the bricks. But I didn’t care. I wanted it over. When he was done, he didn’t want to pay. He struck me. And I’d been hit before. But him, he knew how to aim.  I felt this sting across my temple. I saw the world fall on its side. I can see myself lying there in the street.  Too weak to get up, not weak enough to die. Why didn’t I just get up? That was all I had to do. Just get up! Get fucking up! It was light when I woke. It had snowed. The whole world was white. I ran home. The fire was…the coal was dust. She was cold when I lifted her. Cold as ice.

"She died alone...her name was Sarah."

“She died alone…her name was Sarah.”

It was clear throughout the season that Lily held out some faith in Victor, despite what he wanted to do to her. He was not an intentionally cruel person; his brutality came from ignorance. That faith was not misplaced, but it did require Victor to see Lily as a mother, not just a human being. Which, ugh. “It is too easy being monsters,” Victor says before he unlocks her shackles. “Let us try to be human.” What the fuck ever, dude. Speak for yourself. I did particularly appreciate one of Harry Treadaway’s acting choices in this scene, though. Once Lily is free, she leans over and grasps his neck but then softens and kisses Victor on the cheek. Victor’s left hand stutters up, as if he wants to touch her but has thought better of it. She is not his, even if he wishes it. Maybe he HAS learned something, after all.

dorian lilydorian lily 2
Lily hightails it out of there. Before her story comes to an open-ended conclusion, she proves just how human she is. She arrives back at Dorian’s house to find that he’s banished “her” women and killed Justine at her own request. (“I would rather die here on my feet than live a lifetime on my knees.”) He tries to impart his cynical wisdom to Lily, and it’s intended as a kindness. “Passion will undo the best of us and lead only to tragedy,” Dorian says, somehow forgetting that it was him who brought Lily’s empire crashing down, not time. “It’s ever thus for those who care so deeply.” Lily isn’t so convinced: “Better not to care at all, Dorian?” She’s still in her first lifetime, essentially. One of those idealistic immortals, who hasn’t given up completely on humans yet. Dorian probably recognizes some young version of himself. He talks of Lily watching everyone she knows age and die, and it’s all very “curse of the Time Lords.” But Dorian doesn’t account for their differences, or for choice. Lily CHOOSES to have her heart broken, again and again if necessary, if that means that she can be whole. (“Why no emotions?” “Because it hurts.”) Lily walks out on Dorian to begin a new life, who knows where. There should be a million more stories about her.

sir malcolm sir malcolm 2
What a lost opportunity, that Lily and Vanessa never met. And another still that Ethan never knew what became of Brona. That’s why this finale felt so disjointed to me. The two main storylines of the season were kept so separate, even until the bitter end. And VICTOR, the least worthy of them all, got to fight for humanity and mourn Vanessa while Lily disappeared from view. At least some sort of Victorian Scooby gang formed quickly at Sir Malcolm’s home. Introductions to Cat are made after she saves Ethan and Malcolm from the vampires who’d taken up residence there. (Confirmed: Perdita Weeks has chemistry with EVERYONE, and Catriona Hardegan needs her own Buffy-esque series.) And Dr. Seward, now a firm believer short one secretary, shows up soon after. (“You must be Sir Malcolm Murray. You…I don’t know.” PATTI.) Ethan disregards Cat’s warning about the fog and heads out to retrieve Victor. IDK why. He’s better with the dead than he is the living. But I suppose it’s all hands on deck.

Of course, Victor isn’t at his own lab. But the Boy Familiar is waiting in the shadows to take Ethan to him. The vampire walks the Wolf Of God through Chinatown. Bodies are strewn everywhere, and the night creatures have taken hold. Dracula appears to give Ethan the new boyfriend speech: “She is happy. If you truly love her, that ought to be enough for you.” It’s not. “I understand very little of the forces of my life,” Ethan replies. “Those things that have shaped me, and cursed me. But I know that my destiny is joined with hers. I will not stop.” Knowing Vanessa’s power and importance, Dracula doesn’t hold Ethan’s persistence against him: “I would feel the same. After all, without her, what do we have left, Ethan?”

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“So it’s a love story, is it?” – Penny Dreadful Recap – Ebb Tide

too late

Penny Dreadful Season 3, Episode 7
“Ebb Tide”
Posted by Sage

We’re at a critical juncture here, people. Penny Dreadful ends its season (ALREADY? I know, y’all.) on Sunday with extra-long finale. And I’m a little stuck here in this penultimate episode, which lays out threads that could either be tied up satisfactorily or be botched so completely that it makes me rethink my whole relationship with this show. I have faith in PD the way Catriona has faith in Vanessa; I don’t think it’ll let me down now.

Let’s start with our fathomless leading lady. Vanessa gives herself to Dracula at the conclusion of this episode, this time with conscious awareness of who he really is. Meanwhile, Ethan, Kaetenay, and Sir Malcolm are speeding to her side as fast as their ship can carry them. Now, so far, Penny Dreadful has done a terrific job of subverting the traditional woman-in-peril storyline, and I hope that the finale is going to turn the concept of damsel-ing on its head yet again. But there’s no question that Vanessa’s soul is in danger at least, and that the only people who know her better than her dark prince are either dead or in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

doomed doomed 2
If Ethan had said yes to Vanessa last season, would all that darkness really be gone? Would Dracula have given up on her? Would she never have been tempted by something that’s clearly inside her? Is she really that changeable? Does this all come down to Good Boyfriend/Bad Boyfriend? I can’t imagine that the character of Vanessa Ives could be so dependent on her choice of mate. (“You are the woman of all our dreams and all our night terrors.”) But Ethan seems to think so. And while I appreciate that he’s finally come around on that dumbass decision to leave her behind (“A woman offered me her heart. A woman I loved. And I walked away.”), I’m with Kaetenay here. Ethan has no idea what he’s about to come home to.

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At least his heart is back in the right place. Ethan’s hatred of his father occupied so much of it once that it kept him from fully living his life. Sir Malcolm’s strategic kill did the trick in that regard, like Ethan was trapped under some kind of enchantment before it was broken for him. Ethan understands the regard and the fatherly love that motivated that gesture, bless his early ’00s Josh Hartnett haircut. He calls it an “act of mercy.” All those other debts of his are left on the continent and in the past. “My people are in London now,” he tells Kaetenay. But is someone who literally just turned down being the devil’s right-hand-man strong enough to go against his brother? I’d say it helps that Ethan is also technically a night creature. And as Vanessa and Dracula’s romance proves, it takes one to know one.

Meanwhile, I’m not that mad at Dracula. As I guessed earlier in the season, the feelings and experiences he shared with Vanessa are real. Or at least he insists that they are. He’s honest-to-god in love with Vanessa, and legitimately fancies himself the savior of all the shunned and broken things. Dracula cherishes his night creatures like Dr. Sweet loves his pets. (Though Renfield might tell you he has a funny way of showing it.) His courting of Vanessa, in that way, was not an act.

There’s a terrific consent metaphor in this episode, and we see one instance of permission being asked and given and one of it being soundly denied. Vanessa comes to the museum to kill Dracula. Catriona (Cat, to her girlfriends) tells Vanessa that the dragon is essentially mortal while he’s in his human form. So she shows up armed. Yet, the second she decides to engage Dracula in conversation about his pursuit of her, I know she’s lost. (If you give the guy who wants to “rain pestilence” down on humanity a chance to explain his side of the story, your objectivity MIGHT be gone.) Dracula plays it so damn cool. He gives her space. He doesn’t try to overpower her. What he does do is play to her ego. And Vanessa may be very kind, but she does enjoy being praised. She betrays Mina again, not a minute after chiding Dracula for sucking the life out of her.

Dracula: How am I cruel? To love you?
Vanessa: You’ve lied to me from the first moment. You tore my heart.
Dracula: Have I lied? You met a man who marvels wide-eyed at the miracles of nature. So I am. You met a man who has known pain and tragedy. And so I am. You met a man who wanted to possess you for his own ends but, instead, he fell in love. That’s the man I am, and the monster.
Vanessa: Even now you twist at me. All the years. All the assaults on myself, on my friends. On my dear Mina, who died with your teeth on her throat! How dare you speak of love?
Dracula: Dare with me.
Vanessa: I will not lower my head and feed with the animals. I will never serve you.
Dracula: No, I don’t want you to serve me, Vanessa, I want to serve you. The Mother of Evil.

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I find it interesting that Dr. Seward diagnoses Vanessa as a split personality. It’s like the secular description of the war being waged over her soul. After two seasons of anguish and loneliness, Vanessa is tired of fighting it. She tells The Creature that they both deserve to be loved, however and wherever they find that acceptance. It stands right in front of Vanessa and prostrates itself; how can she resist? “Do you accept me?” he asks. Maybe it’s a love story for Dracula, but not for Vanessa yet. This is about survival and surrender. “I accept…myself.” No shade on that.

"Find me a bad man."

“Find me a bad man.”

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“I never blink.” – Penny Dreadful Recap – No Beast So Fierce

hunting

Penny Dreadful Season 3, Episode 6
“No Beast So Fierce”
Posted by Sage

Oh thank god, the old West is finally canceled.

Ethan’s long, repetitive, and did I mention long road to either death or redemption ended in “No Beast So Fierce.” Sir Malcolm does what he couldn’t do for his own blood and what he’s not around to do right now for Vanessa. He steps in between Ethan and his point of no return. By taking this kill away from Ethan, Malcolm saves his adoptive son’s soul, at least for the time being.

The stand-off that ended last week’s episode is diffused when Rusk and the Marshall arrive on the property. One of Jared’s men fetches his master from the chapel, hilariously unfazed by the fact that Jared is pointing a gun at Ethan’s face. Rusk announces with great fanfare and invocations of both the queen and president (“That’s that…little guy who spoke to me.”) that Jared and Ethan are under arrest. Jared is like, I hear ya, guy, but these steaks aren’t going to eat themselves. I hope you brought your appetite for awkward; welcome to the tensest dinner ever.

Jared blathers on about his own unfailing sense of hospitality as the lethal group sits down for a meal of meat, corn, and more meat. Of course, he couldn’t care less about the empty bellies of Ethan and his other enemies, but he can’t resist the psychological powder keg nor the irony of them all breaking bread together. Rusk drops un-subtle wolf hints like a sibling trying to get Ethan into trouble. Jared compliments Hecate’s “ravishing” appearance; she makes it quite clear that any man who tries to ravish her against her wishes will be torn to literal shreds. And Malcolm tries to shield Ethan from his father’s judgement by intervening when Jared asks Ethan to say “grace.” When Ethan is gone, Malcolm reasons, then, Jared will be sorry that he was so unforgiving. (“If I could have a meal with him now, learn from my mistakes…” he says about his own departed son.) Jared rails about Ethan’s cowardice and informs Malcolm that Ethan’s crimes are far beyond what he is able to forgive. He prods Ethan to say grace again. Ethan slips further into his goth teen phrase before our eyes and needles his dad with a satanic blessing. “Our father, who art in heaven, cursed be thy name…” Oh, Hot Topic Ethan. Still upset about the My Chemical Romance hiatus, I see. Soon your DeviantArt page will be filmed with wolves and pentagrams.

The Marshall, who has been in over his head since Ethan stepped back onto the continent, decides to speak up. (Hoe don’t do it.) He warns Jared that he will be seeking retribution for the murders of his men on the train. Jared calmly shoots the Marshall in the head. Malcolm jumps. Ethan loudly cuts into his steak. I swear, I’ve seen this scene before.

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It’s the frontier and all these men (and Hecate) have killed, so they go on eating while the Marshall’s mortal wound bleeds onto the table. Rusk prods again at the supernatural identities of Ethan and Hecate, like, do you or do you not remember attacking my convoy with deadly snakes from actual hell? They tire of the subtext and decide a show of their abilities is in order. Hecate transforms instantly. “What are you?” Rusk asks. “We are the death knell,” Hecate answers. “We are the end of days.” Ethan would transform too if he had that control. (So much of his personality is decided by his hopeless lack of control.) Dinner becomes a bloodbath as Jared’s mortal men try and fail to subdue their guests. The closest one gets is having Sir Malcolm in his grasp, but a miraculously healed Kaetenay appears and shoots the man dead. Rusk shoots Hecate, and then is fatally shot himself. “Hell awaits us both,” Hecate forces out as Ethan cradles her. For someone with such a superiority complex, the devil’s bride Hecate sure is felled by an ungraceful weapon wielded by a mere human. Bye bitch, see ya never.

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Jared and his remaining men recede to the chapel. Sir Malcolm, Kaetenay, and Ethan go after him. Ethan gives Malcolm instructions, but lets his Apache father wing it. (“He knows what to do. He’s attacked this chapel before.”) Kaetenay and Malcolm take care of Jared’s bodyguards, and we’re back to where we were at the top of the episode. But this time, circumstances are reversed. Jared is unarmed; Ethan trains his gun on him. Jared encourages him to do it, to prove Jared right about not only his son’s evil but his worthlessness. Ethan drops his weapon and turns to leave. But if Ethan walks away, Jared says, he will hunt his son for the rest of his natural (and unnatural life). He’s in the middle of a sentence when Malcolm steps in and shoots Jared right in the forehead. Ethan is free of his father, but it didn’t cost him his soul. Better yet, he was still able to make the choice. He can’t control Malcolm’s actions; Ethan chose to let his father live. It’s going to be a long, lonely stay in hell for Hecate. Ethan’s fate is far from sealed.

"Write often..."

“Write often…”

Now that that’s done: GET ON A BOAT, BOYS. Ya girl needs you.

Vanessa Ives got the information that she came for when Dr. Seward put her into deep regression hypnosis in the season’s best episode so far. But she doesn’t tell dear Mr. Lyle that Lucifer’s brother is hunting her; the man is on his way to Cairo, a city that is “more accepting” of his “way of life” and she sees no point in worrying him. Instead, she casually asks for a point of contact should any occult shenanigans crop up. As Lyle writes down a name and presumably an address, he muses that “the two of you would make quite a formidable match.” (I KNOW RIGHT, ME TOO.) Vanessa bids her friend farewell, and there is so much love and respect between the two of them. She’s deeply sad to see him go, but promises to get out and live like he wants her to. “I shall have to dance more often.”

Of course, some occult shenanigans are already in motion, so Vanessa proceeds directly to her new resource. The referral turns out to be yet another intimidating but empathetic lady whose behavior disturbs and annoys the men-folk around her. Are we sensing a pattern in Lyle’s choice of friends? I’m going to miss that man.

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“Oh shit, she’s hot.”

Catriona Hardegan, my friends. She studies death. (“Every ritual. Every guise.”) She spars with dudes in her spare time. And the thanatologist is very intrigued by Vanessa, considering this upper-class young woman doesn’t seem the least bit bothered by Catriona’s less than ladylike profession. (“I’m not most people.”) To no one’s surprise, Mr. Lyle was correct; these two could start some trouble together. (PLEASE LET THEM, SHOW.)

Catriona and Vanessa go out for smoking and brandies because they are boss bitches and who the hell drinks tea at a time like this? They’re the only female patrons visible in the frame. I am about to ignite, I ship it so much. Vanessa doesn’t dance around the subject and she’s certain Catriona can take it. She asks if her new friend has come across a man or a being named Dracula in her studies. Catriona has. In the 13th century, he lead a warrior clan called the Dracul and stirred shit up between the Ottomans and the Romans. Why? So the streets would be “wet with blood” and he and his children could feed. “You don’t blink at that,” Catriona wonders. “I never blink,” Vanessa smirks. You guys, they are FLIRTING. Anyway, Dracula’s history is only relevant to Vanessa if it can help her to identify him in the London she lives in. She’s being hunted, she explains to her companion. Catriona is momentarily confused. From what she knows of Dracula, the hunt is undetectable and short. Death comes quick. “He doesn’t want my death,” Vanessa clarifies. “He wants my submission.” I LOVE THEMES, DON’T YOU?

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“I’m done trying to be good.” – Penny Dreadful Recap – The World Is Our Hell

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Penny Dreadful Season 3, Episode 5
“The World Is Our Hell”
Posted by Sage

Ahem. A synopsis of this episode by me, your HOF Penny Dreadful recapper:

Kaetenay, Sir Malcolm, Jared Talbot, Inspector Rusk, all the Marshalls: “Ethan, no.”
Hecate and Ethan: “Ethan, YES.”

I mean, any episode would have paled after last week’s two-handed tour-de-force “A Blade of Grass.” But “The World Is Our Hell” also suffers for being essentially 60 minutes of exposition. It’s taken Penny Dreadful two and a half seasons to get to Ethan’s origin story. And maybe, yeah, he had to get to the Western wilderness that created him to make that happen. But it’s not the show’s finest of storytelling choices. Anyway, I started watching this show because of Billie Piper, monsters, and Victorian England. The desert is boring and I don’t like watching horses suffer. Can we get back to the filthy streets of London, please?

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Hecate and Ethan are a few days away from Ethan’s family ranch when the episode begins. Rusk, the Marshall, and his men are on still on their tail; Kaetenay and Sir Malcolm are bringing up the rear. We can assume that word reached Ethan’s father about the bloodbath at the Cascabel Trading Post, so he must be on the lookout for his son’s arrival. Everyone in this episode either loves Ethan or is afraid of him; in some cases, both. And on the bright side, Josh Harnett gets his first meaty material of the season because of it.

Themes of guilt and punishment hang heavy over this episode. Ethan and Vanessa were well-matched as friends, soldiers, and more because of their shared self-hatred. But Ethan has no one to share his torments with out in the desert, because Hecate isn’t capable of feeling what he feels. “The only decent thing about me is the shame I feel,” he tells her. He holds onto that remorse like a life raft, and we’ll soon see why. Hecate accurately points out that shame is simply a side effect of morality. Ethan has violated god’s law; not the wolf’s and not her master’s. Relieving himself of his sins is as easy as transferring allegiances.

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Hecate’s allegiance was transferred for her. (Everyone else tells their stories in this episode, why not the witch?) Her own mother handed her over to Lucifer when she was only five. She describes the devil’s nails scratching her soft, pre-pubescent stomach. And there’s something interesting about the relationships between children and parents here. Hecate has beauty and power and eternity (“WOULDST THOU LIKE TO LIVE DELICIOUSLY?”); it’s so good that she wants to share it with Ethan. She’s a recruiter. Yet she still hates her mother for abandoning her. “Something, isn’t it?” she says. “To be betrayed the person supposed to protect you?”

I don’t know if you got this yet (SARCASM), but Ethan hates his dad. He really fucking hates him. It’s been 84 years since he first said so, and we finally found out why. I’m wondering why Penny Dreadful didn’t go with a flashback here instead of another campfire tale. Was this episode sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America? Can I get some action over here?

I’m guessing that John Logan and episode writer Andrew Hinderaker worried that a visual of the ambush that Ethan describes would have turned audience opinion too strongly against him. Ethan wasn’t handed over to the devil by his dad, but he considers his old master to be just as evil. He was enlisted in the army against his will. And that army’s war was to drive out the owners of the land they wanted for themselves. Ethan was a pawn in his father’s Old West gentrification project and his target were the few survivors of the Apache tribe still in their area. Under the command of a fellow rich boy, Ethan and his outfit slaughtered a group of Apaches in the early morning light; women and children included. After his leader dumped the mangled body of a boy into the river to poison it, Ethan executed him and rode to the next Apache camp to claim his death. Kaetenay refused, knowing it was more cruel to force Ethan to live with his actions. That’s how long he’s been chasing absolution. Like Victor says to Henry in his Bedlam lab, “After all, it is our memories that make us monsters, is it not?”

Instead, Ethan kept on fighting. This time, as an Apache. Kaetenay was his “Apache father” and he was fully accepted into their ranks. And…this seems like a huge thing to just gloss over? I’ve got issues with this storyline, because it feels both too big for the time allotted and also too simplistic. Kaetenay tells Sir Malcolm that the Apaches were dehumanized as they were killed off; the fraction of the tribe that was left were forced to become the animals the white men always thought they were. There are no innocents. War is hell. A country can be built on genocide and then leave it out of its history books. Shouldn’t the devil be breathing down more necks in this case than just Ethan’s? Is it his duality (Henry, you’d be into this) – man and beast – that puts him on the edge of that cliff?

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Later, Ethan and Hecate seek refuge in a cave covered in Apache markings. He tells her the story of the first Apache (MORE TALKING). He was a boy who undid one of Coyote’s pranks: covering the world with darkness and the creatures of the night. The child vanquished them and “won back the day.” Hecate gets that Ethan always fancied himself the boy in this story. But what if he’s meant to be the other? Maybe he’s the bringer of the darkness. And, well, a guy can only have his ego stroked so much by a hot girl who can speak Parseltongue before he finally starts to believe it. He finishes the story of the incident that drove him out of the country. He brought his Apache comrades to his father’s home to raid it for food, water, and supplies. I doubt he was naive enough to believe, as he says he did, that no gunfire would be exchanged. After all Kaetenay’s people lost at the hands of Talbot’s? Perhaps Ethan needed redemption so much that he believed himself truly accepted. When really, the tribe saw in his presence and opportunity to rain down punishment on their tormentor. Either way, the Apache disregarded their promise as soon as they set foot on the property. “You brought the devil to my door, Sir,” his father says later. “And you gave them the key.” It’s too much. There’s too much to atone for, and you know what? It’s exhausting. “I slaughtered women and children, and murdered my friend, and I will send my father to hell, and laugh while I do it,” he declares. “I’m done trying to be good.” And then Ethan and Hecate bone, because of course they do.

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