The Haunting of Hill House is a Delicate, Intimate Portrait of Trauma

the haunting netflix

(Warning: massive spoilers follow for the entire season of The Haunting of Hill House.)

Episode six of Netflix’s masterpiece The Haunting of Hill House is a triumph of television. The adult Crain siblings and their estranged father have gathered to mourn youngest daughter Nell, who died by apparent suicide. In four takes, the tension builds as the family fights, trying to cast blame and find meaning in their loss. We transition between the present day and 1992, where the family is gathered in the titular house during a storm and frights ensue. There are visual shocks and spooky apparitions, but the most frightening moment is the family’s present day anger, and the tension only breaks when eldest son Steve finally says the words he’s always wanted to say to his father, Hugh. Our building dread is not entirely centered around the supernatural, but rather the words that Steve will never be able to take back.

Trauma and mental health are tricky subjects to portray in film and television. Writers either don’t want to explore the uglier sides of it, or want to drive home some sort of message. An argument could be made that series creator Mike Flanagan does want to drive home a saccharine message with the final episode, “Silence Lay Steadily.” But for me, that ending worked on a profound level, because it gave the catharsis the characters so richly deserved, even if it is something that those of us stuck in the real world will never get.

The Crain family is marked by trauma. The loss of matriarch Olivia in one fateful night at Hill House splits father Hugh from his children; a lack of understanding of what happened to them causes the children to react in different ways. Steve monetizes his pain through writing, Shirley “ices people out” as one character puts it, Theo builds walls around herself. The greatest pain is inflicted on twins Luke and Nell, who saw the evil the house caused first hand. Luke turns to drugs and addiction and Nell is isolated by her own mental health and a terrible tragedy. The kids are not alright.

Flanagan navigates the divide between male and female response to trauma in a beautifully painful way. As the male Crains push their feelings deep inside and push their family away, the women also internalize their pain in a different way. Theo uses her psychic gifts to help children in need. Shirley, a mortician, is motherly to those who come to her “on the worst day of their life.” Nell expresses shock when a sleep technician actually listens to what she’s saying and does not dismiss it.

Nell’s story hit painfully close to home for me. Tragedy has followed Nell since she was six years old. She asks for help, and when she does not get it she lashes out in hopes of getting attention. When no one responds, she goes to Hill House, the site of her trauma. There she is greeted by apparitions of her family, who tell her everything she has longed to hear, and dances with her departed husband, finally loved in the way she deserves to be. It ends in tragedy though, as most things do in Hill House, and her death rings backwards in time to show that her pain has been haunting her younger self all her life.

In the following episode, Nell disappears. The family searches for her futilely, and when she reappears she insists she’s been standing there the whole time, waving her arms and calling out to them. “Why didn’t you see me?” She asks, as the camera cuts to her adult body in her coffin. As someone who has felt at times like my mental illness has caused me to scream and not be heard, her words left me winded.

The Crain family trauma does not always manifest itself nicely. The characters behave badly. They lash out. They say and do things that are unforgivable. But we can empathize with them, if not their behavior, because we are privy to their most desperate moments and their deepest fears. When they do get some catharsis, it is well earned and well deserved, because these characters have been struggling for so long. We want them to find some moment of peace, even if it doesn’t solve all their problems.

The show wisely does not decide to try and answer all the mysteries it presents to the audience. Sometimes there are no easy answers, in life and in television. For Shirley, Theo, and Luke, there will never be answers for all their questions. They are granted a moment to connect with a ghostly Nell, who tells them what they want to hear and absolves them of guilt for her death; for those of us who have lost someone, it’s a wish fulfillment moment, more for the living than the dead.

Hill House in the end becomes a giant monument to the existence of trauma. It “digests” those inside it, tormenting them and, in Olivia’s case, driving them to do terrible things. Olivia is clearly suffering from some undiagnosed illness and the house preys on her fears for her children, making her do something unspeakable. Nell, unable to escape from her pain, returns to the very source to seek absolution. Hugh remains there with his wife and his daughter, but not after passing along their great secret to Steve.

See, Hugh made a deal with the Dudleys, who are the caretakers of the home. After Olivia poisons their daughter Abigail, Abigail returns as a ghost to walk the halls of the house. The Dudleys vow to keep the secret of Olivia’s last horrible act to themselves if Hugh will let the house stand and starve, never allowing another soul to enter. They, much like Hugh, can’t let go of their past. They have just learned to live with it.

Steve becomes the caretaker of the family and their trauma. Through a montage, we see that he reconciles with his wife, that Shirley confesses her sins to her husband, and that Theo finally lets people in. We are treated to a glimpse at their lives two years later; Luke is sober, Steve’s wife is pregnant, and everyone is happy. Across the country, Mr. Dudley brings his dying wife to the house, so her spirit can be reunited with her daughter. Steve’s voiceover mirrors the opening lines of the show as he speaks about love and sanity, and the last shot of house fades to black.

Is it a tidier ending than real life? It is, but that’s fiction for you. Is it unearned? Absolutely not. There’s a hope in the characters receiving the catharsis they need, because even though we see them survive and thrive, we know that their pain will never fully go away. It exists, both in their minds and in the physical form of Hill House. But they have learned to live with it, through their connections to each other.

There will be some who hate the ending for being overly saccharine. However, this is a ghost story, and ghost stories have concrete endings. I admire Flanagan’s decision to end the series on a powerful, hopeful note. It’s too easy to tell tales of trauma where the characters never are able to survive and heal. The decision to let his characters have happiness is powerful, because having characters who live and grow trumps leaving them to a tragic fate.

There will hopefully not be a season two, though Netflix might want that sweet, sweet money. If there is, please leave the Crains out of it. Let them move beyond their trauma instead of revisiting it over and over, because we all crave the ability to move on from our pasts. Give us this, at the very least.

(Image: Netflix)

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Anthony Rapp Discusses the Aftermath of His Allegations Against Kevin Spacey

anthony rapp

It’s been nearly a year since Anthony Rapp came forward with the article “Kevin Spacey Made a Sexual Advance Toward Me When I Was 14,” which made him the first male celebrity to join the #MeToo movement.

Rapp’s story about Spacey opened the floodgates as dozens of men came forward with their own experiences with the actor. The repercussions were swift: Spacey was fired from House of Cards, and last-minute reshoots removed him from the feature film All the Money in the World, replacing him with Christopher Plummer.

A year later, Rapp has talked to Buzzfeed about the aftermath, saying of his initial shock about the reaction, “We all felt like nothing could ever touch these people, nothing could ever impact their behavior, because we were powerless. It really felt that way. You couldn’t even think about any other way. It was not available to us.”

He also touched on the guilt he felt when production on House of Cards was shut down in the wake of the scandal. “When I saw that headline, I was upset and sad,” Rapp said. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is an unintended consequence.’ I felt bad for the hundreds of people who were working on the show.” He also had to contend with internet trolls who were furious about his revelation, although he says that he received far more messages of support.

Rapp remains the first and only openly queer man to come forward about sexual misconduct, although straight actors Terry Crews, Brendan Fraser, and Anthony Edwards have also come out with their own harassment stories. While male victims of sexual misconduct are speaking out, they remain somewhat removed from the female-led #MeToo and Time’s Up movements of Hollywood, with Rapp saying,

“I don’t want to insert myself into that conversation without being asked. So much of that is fueled by the endemic power dynamics that have negatively affected women for so long. I’m not saying there aren’t any power dynamics that negatively affect men as well, but it touches on things that I think would more naturally drive women to come together to try to help shore themselves up against the weight of history.”

When asked if he would ever sit down with Spacey, Rapp replied, “I mean, potentially. I wouldn’t rule that out. I would need him to fully own what he did. Not just to me, but to so many people.”

(via Buzzfeed, image: Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

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Keira Knightley’s Banned Disney Movies Include Cinderella and The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid

Actress Keira Knightley was on The Ellen DeGeneres Show today, talking about her upcoming Disney film The Nutcracker, and she confessed along the way that she’s not a fan of every movie the studio has produced, according to E!Online,”particularly when it involves Disney Princesses who don’t uphold her feminist values.”

Knightley explained that she has forbidden her 3-year-old daughter, Edie Knightley Righton, from watching certain movies including Disney’s Cinderella and The Little Mermaid. These are banned, according to Knightley, “because she waits around for a rich guy to rescue her. Don’t! Rescue yourself. Obviously! And this is the one that I’m quite annoyed about because I really like the film, but Little Mermaid [is banned, too]. I mean, the songs are great, but do not give your voice up for a man. Hello! But the problem with The Little Mermaid is I love The Little Mermaid! That one’s a little tricky—but I’m keeping to it.”

As someone who started feminist discourse through exploring Disney movies, I am used to these back and forths about consent, feminism, race, body diversity, etc. taking place about the Disney movies of the past and the potential movies of the future.

For all the improvements Disney has made in films like Moana, it also has created a lot of new issues for itself in its live actions movies, which, when it comes to adapting the Disney Princess movies, want to be labeled as “feminist” without really addressing the substantial feminist critics of the original film.

Which is honestly worse because, at least for me, while it is fun to engage in feminist discourse about Disney Princess movies, we must begin from the reality that with very few exceptions none of these movies deal with feminist issues.

In what is solely my opinion, if I were going to say any Disney Princess movies were “feminist” those would be Mulan, The Princess & The Frog, Brave, and Moana. Mulan because it addressing gender roles directly, The Princess & The Frog because it deals with race and class issues, Brave because it also deals with gender roles and Moana because it deals with female leadership where the Moana as the future chief is actually expected to help her people and isn’t just a ruler for the sake of gowns (cough Frozen cough).

To a certain degree, I have had to look back at my own childhood to process how I felt about The Little Mermaid and Cinderella as a kid. While I can’t remember that far back, I do remember that I thought Eric was cute and that Ariel had the best hair, but my vision of the princesses was just surface level. No one had to explain to me that it was weird that Ariel “gave up her voice for a dude ” when I was older, I sort of found that weird all on my own because the reality is that young people love to question things on their own in their own time.

The things I internalized from Disney about beauty were more important than the things having to do with relationships, because I learned that I found the princes or generic dudes to be … well boring. There is a reason people love The Beast and not Adam and that the men attached to these women are not in media the same way. What has always most been lacking for Disney Princesses are character journeys.

Most of the time the women are perfect and avatars for the growth of their partners or trying to escape their parents. It wasn’t until Mulan that we got a heroine who was trying to find her place in the world and had a whole story about Mulan’s self-esteem. Tiana is the first princess to have to work for a living, not out of servitude, and have actual goals and aspirations. Brave allows Merida to understand the value of both traditionally masculine and feminine skills when it comes to politics. Moana is perfect and is the first story we have a full blow hero’s journey with no romance or marriage at all for a Disney Princess lead and that is huge.

It is fine to critique the Disney Princess and what they have brought to the table in terms of representation for women, but I feel it’s important to remember that Disney didn’t make these movies with feminism in mind, they did it for wish-fulfillment, and maybe we need to examine why our wish fulfillment is so centered on princesses.

Especially since, most importantly, the most progressive and interesting female characters in this Disney canon are not princesses: Esmeralda, Meg, Alice, Kida, Audrey, Duchess, etc. Why don’t we use our feminist critique to highlight the other heroines of Disney, not just the popular girls in school?

(via E! Online, image: Disney)

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7 Scream Queens Who Were Traumatized by the Directors Who Made Them Famous

the shining movie still

Ever since I watched Heather O’Rourke get sucked into the TV in Poltergeist, I’ve always wondered about child actors in horror movies. As a perpetual scaredy cat growing up, I struggled to see how the hell these kids coped on-set. Did they understand what was really going on around them? Did the grown-ups sugar-coat it to retain their innocence?

As a (sort-of) adult, I now love horror movies, but it took until I was in my 20s, working as an entertainment journalist, to realize that making a horror movie isn’t any easier for adults—particularly if you’re a woman.

Sure, there’s plenty of tales of men in Hollywood who suffered from some sort of mental anguish after filming an intense role, such as Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant, or Christian Bale in The Machinist. Still, there’s a difference between method acting to the extreme and being forced into disturbing situations against your will, something that horror actresses know all too well.

For many actresses who are traumatized on-set, it’s not about the script. In recent years, a new light has been shone on historic tales of actresses abused on-set, from Maria Schneider and the nonconsensual “butter rape scene” in Last Tango in Paris, to Jean-Luc Godard’s abuse of wife Anna Karina in Pierrot Le Fou. (Don’t even get me started on poor Judy Garland.)

And if the #MeToo movement is anything to go by, these tales aren’t just confined to the past. A recent example of this is The Predator. Olivia Munn recently shared how she found herself isolated after successfully requesting a scene be removed from the sci-fi thriller, in which she’d unknowingly starred opposite a registered sex offender. On the press tour for the movie, Munn was vocal regarding the lack of support she received from the rest of the cast and filmmaker Shane Black. (Black says he and the other actors have since reached out to Munn to apologize.)

Sophie is a cute feminist butterfly navigating the world one kitty meme at a time, or at least that’s how her best friend described her when she asked for help writing this bio. She likes cheese and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and she one day hopes to be the proud owner of a corgi. You can find more of her work at Screen RantThe Untitled Magazine, and Bolde.

Of course, this bad behavior isn’t just restricted to horror films—Last Tango is an erotic drama, and Pierrot Le Fou is new wave cinema—but scary movies do seem to bring out the worst in directors (and in some cases, the crew). Here’s a few examples of scream queens who were not traumatized by their movie monster costars, but the human beings behind the camera.

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(image: Hallmark Releasing)

Sandra Peabody, The Last House on the Left

As well as being the part that would launch her career, Sandra Peabody’s role in Wes Craven’s 1972 exploitation flick The Last House on the Left would also be her most traumatising. The 24-year-old actress starred as Mari Collingwood in the rape and revenge thriller, which would go on to cement her status as a true scream queen. Although, her character had a rough time on-screen, the behind scenes torment Peabody suffered at the hands of her co-stars would prove to be the worst part of taking on the role.

On the movie’s home release commentary, actor Marc Sheffler – who played murderous thug Junior – described threatening Peabody in an attempt to improve her acting abilities: “She wasn’t getting the scene, she wasn’t at the anxiety level that she needed to be. So, we’d done it I don’t know how many times… everybody was getting annoyed. So, I said to Wes, ‘Give me a minute with her.’ What I did was—you can’t see it in the shot—but I took her over to the cliff, and I put her over the cliff and just grabbed her and said, ‘If you don’t get this f***ing scene right now, I’m going to drop you… and Wes’ll shoot it, and we’ll get a different scene, but it’ll work because you’ll be f***ing mangled.”

If that wasn’t horrifying enough, David Hess – who starred as fellow gang member Krug Stillo – was also in on it, threatening to assault Peabody to get a reaction from her. However, he got his comeuppance – that chase scene towards the end of the movie involved a real chainsaw and absolutely no on-set safety precautions (it was the 1970s after all).

poltergeist

(image: MGM)

JoBeth Williams, Poltergeist

Practically everyone has heard of the Poltergeist Curse. Stephen Spielberg’s 1982 horror classic has gone down in history not only for its spooky subject matter, but also for the many bizarre occurrences that took place during production. This includes Oliver Robins’ (Robbie Freeling) near-death experience with that clown puppet, as well as rumors of an on-set exorcism and the untimely deaths of stars Heather O’Rourke and Dominique Dunne (Carol Anne and Dana Freeling). Google the so-called curse, and trust me, you’ll fall into a Wikipedia hole that won’t be easy to claw your way out of.

So, it’s not surprising that JoBeth Williams, who played Freeling family matriarch Diane, came away from filming with a few issues. This was mainly because Spielberg insisted on using real human skeletons in the movie, as they were cheaper than the plastic kind (although Williams’ claim has never been confirmed). Meaning yes, the actress was literally dumped in a pool full of corpses. Not cool, Steve.

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(image: Bryanston Distributing Company)

Marilyn Burns, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Director Tobe Hooper has a reputation for being difficult to work with, mainly because he seems to get a kick out of torturing his actors. The man behind the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Hooper refused to let the cast see actor Gunner Hansen, a.k.a. Leatherface, in costume until filming began, with the intention of capturing their real reactions. The late Hansen told Esquire that the famous dinner table scene towards the end of the movie was particularly traumatic for both himself and Final Girl Marilyn Burns.

“The whole dinner scene is burned in my memory, I think just because of the misery of it,” he said. “At that point we were really just on the verge of mental collapse. And Marilyn told me about how awful it was for her, because she was terrified … Just being tied to a chair and then having these men looming over her constantly, she said it was really unnerving.”

It probably didn’t help that the actress was repeatedly hit in the head with a sledgehammer during the scene (it was covered in foam and rubber, but it still can’t have been pleasant), followed by her finger being cut open for real.

Apparently, Burns later told Hansen, “I thought you were really going to hurt me. You couldn’t see through your stupid mask.”

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(image: Universal Pictures)

Tippi Hedron, The Birds

The disturbing way Alfred Hitchcock treated Tippi Hedron is now well-known, with the director not only abusing her during the filming of Marnie and The Birds, but eventually going on to ruin her budding career.

Hedron was an unknown model starring in commercials when Hitchcock plucked her from obscurity, but it wasn’t long before he developed a crazed obsession with the soon-to-be star, making her life a nightmare on- and off-set after she rebuffed his advances. His lengthy harassment ranged from crude sexual comments on-set, to attempting to control her whole life outside of the studio. He had her handwriting analyzed and made sure she was followed, with his stalking eventually culminating in sexual assault.

While filming The Birds, Hitchcock tricked Hedron into a scene with live birds, which left her physically injured and emotionally wrecked. Apparently, Hitchcock had told Hedron she’d be working with mechanical birds, only to inform her on the day that “they were broken.”

In an interview, the actress recalledT “there were boxes of ravens, gulls and pigeons that bird trainers wearing gauntlets up to their shoulders hurled at me, one after the other, for a week.” Left bloodied and exhausted, Hedron eventually collapsed and was taken from the set to a doctor. She still believes the scene was punishment for turning the director down.

Hedron wouldn’t let Hitchcock win, but did eventually leave Hollywood to escape him. “I had to get out of there,” she said. “I was dealing with one of the most powerful men in motion pictures and it was difficult, embarrassing and insulting. He said, ‘If you leave, I’ll ruin your career.’ And he did.”

blair witch project

(image: Artisan Entertainment)

Heather Donahue, The Blair Witch Project

By today’s standards, The Blair Witch Project is rather tame, but when it was released in 1999, the independent film became a massive sleeper hit, mostly due to clever marketing. Credited with popularizing the “found-footage” style, promotional materials listed the stars Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard as either “missing” or “dead,” which had a surprising emotional impact on Donahue.

In an article for The Guardian, she wrote, “My obituary was published when I was 24. It’s a complicated thing to be dead when you’re still very much alive and eager to make a name for yourself.”

During filming, the cast were sent to the woods without really knowing what the filmmakers had in store for them. Once there, they were forced into a state of constant anxiety. To make the actors’ reactions more believable, interaction between the cast and crew was severely limited. Directors would sneak up and shake their tents during the night, as well as keep their food intake to a minimum to make them hangry.

Unsurprisingly, the cast turned on each other, which resulted in one particularly tense scene. In a piece about the making of the film, Leonard said, “At the time, I felt bad about my final attack on Heather – when I turn the camera on her and yell at her about what her motivation is. It was me, expressing frustration as both a character and an actor, but it worked on another level: the idea of us all as performers.”

exorcist movie still

(image: Warner Bros.)

Ellen Burstyn, The Exorcist

Many film fans already know that Linda Blair, the actress who played possessed teen Regan in The Exorcist, suffered with emotional issues for years after the film was released. However, lesser known is that director William Freidkin broke the back of Ellen Burstyn—the actress who played Regan’s mother, Chris McNeil—during filming by ignoring safety procedures, causing her years of chronic pain.

For the scene where demon-child Regan attacks her mother, knocking her to the floor, Burstyn was pulled to the ground by a wire thread through the wall and tied around her waist. After the force of the first take scared her, Burstyn asked Freidkin if the stuntman could not pull the wire so hard, as she was concerned about getting injured. However, Freidkin apparently ignored her request. In the next shot, the stuntman pulled on the wire too hard, pulling Burstyn to the floor so violently that her spine was left permanently damaged.

Burstyn told HuffPost in 2017 that she believes Friedkin didn’t mean to hurt her, but she’s had to work with an injured back ever since. She said, “Billy is one of those directors that is so dedicated to getting the shot right that I think some other considerations sort of fall by the wayside sometimes.”

the shining movie still

(image: Warner Bros.)

Shelley Duvall, The Shining

Perhaps the most famous example of a director tormenting an actress in the name of art, Shelley Duvall’s mental and physical torture behind the scenes of The Shining is well documented. Although it was Stanley Kubrick who insisted on casting Duvall—Jack Nicholson had wanted American Horror Story’s Jessica Lange to play the role—the director put the actress through hell on set for over a year.

Nicholson and Kubrick had somewhat of a bromance, but even the actor said Kubrick was “a different director” with Duvall. As well as cutting many of her lines, he forced her to do the iconic baseball bat scene 127 times—the most takes ever for one scene, according to the Guinness Book of Records. It’s no surprise that the puffy eyes and red nose in the final cut are the result of real tears, and by the time the scene was finished, her hands were shaking and chunks of her hair were falling out from stress.

In the book The Complete Kubrick, Duvall describes the experience as “the most difficult role I’ve ever had to play.” She says, “From May until October I was really in and out of ill health because the stress of the role was so great. Stanley pushed me and prodded me further than I’ve ever been pushed before.”

The behind-the-scenes documentary The Making of the Shining, shot by Kubrick’s then-19-year-old daughter, Vivian, shows just how severe Kubrick’s bullying of Duvall really was. He was highly critical of her acting, constantly telling her that she was “wasting everybody’s time” and that her input was worthless. He also ensured that the actress received no sympathy from anyone on-set, asking crew to ignore her, thus isolating her further.

(featured image: Warner Bros.)

Finally, Kubrick kept Duvall in the dark regarding various traumatic scenes, such as the famous door scene, with her panicked screams supposedly those of true fright. It’s no surprise that Duvall’s time on The Shining allegedly put her off acting altogether, with the actress now living as somewhat of a recluse in a small town in Texas.

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The New Doctor Finally Got Her TARDIS to “Come to Daddy”

Doctor Who season 11 episode 1 review

First off, let’s talk about that theme song! Darker, with more bass, and filled with images of the galaxy, the new opening credits to Doctor Who might be the best yet! And that was just there to set up an incredible journey for the Doctor and her new “best friend” gang in the season’s second episode, “The Ghost Monument.”

The Doctor found her TARDIS, and that’s all that really matters. Finding themselves in a race to help save families, The Doctor, Graham, Ryan, and Yaz are thrust onto a desolate planet (literally known only as “Desolation”) and have to find a way to survive in order to get the Doctor to the TARDIS. The race is the Rally of the Twelve Galaxies, set forth by an alien named Ilin, in which the winner finds glory, while the loser is made to live out the rest of their days on that very planet with no food or water.

Final remaining racers Epzo and Angstrom find the Doctor and her friends lost in space and facing certain doom, rescuing them if only because they thought doing so was part of the race. Basically, it was an episode of the Doctor proving herself to her companions—typical trope the show goes through whenever the new Doctor has finally found who they are themselves—and the Doctor trying to get to her TARDIS.

“Come to daddy. I mean mummy. I mean, I really need you right now,” she says. When the Doctor doesn’t have the TARDIS, something just doesn’t feel right, and this episode was a bit of a return to familiarity. So for Jodie Whittaker’s thirteenth Doctor to finally walk through those front doors? It felt like the Doctor was finally complete.

“My beautiful ghost monument,” she says (thanks to the episode’s plot) and, for the first time this season, we get to hear the whir of the TARDIS as the Doctor finally gets to see her faithful companion.

With a completely redone exterior and interior, this TARDIS is just like this Doctor herself: something we’ve never seen before. She has a new placard on the outside, a wonderful little foyer when you walk into the TARDIS, and most importantly, a little crystal TARDIS in the inside that spins around—oh, and also a biscuit maker.

The dynamic of the new series became a little more concrete this episode by showing how the best friend gang is going to function. Ryan and Graham are still trying to work on their relationship, Yaz is typically at the side of the Doctor and helping her in whatever way she can, and the four of them as a group are just a great example of what makes this show special.

Four unlikely people are traveling throughout time and space together, and we can’t wait to see where their journey takes us next!

(image: BBC)

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Review: The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Is Full of Satanic Fun but Needs a Stronger Arc

Kiernan Shipka in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018)

***Mild spoilers for Chilling Adventures of Sabrina***

Since it was announced, I have been excited about Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. The comic series it is based on is fantastic, and I felt that the horror elements would make it an apt property to adapt, especially since Riverdale love it or not, is such a massive cult hit.

After watching the first eight episodes of this season, I can say that this adaptation of the comic holds back from fully embracing all the dark Satanic vibes, but it sets the foundation for what can be an engaging series. Once it all comes together.

Richard Coyle and Kiernan Shipka in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018)

Richard Coyle and Kiernan Shipka as Father Blackwood and Sabrina Spellman in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018)

Sabrina Spellman is an (almost) sixteen-year-old half-witch who has lived her life in the liminal space between a moral life and a magical one. As her dark baptism comes closer, Sabrina’s soul is in a push and pull between the forces of Satan and the promise of a life where there are choices.

In the comics, Sabrina’s tie to the human world is Harvey (Ross Lynch), but the show expands to give her two awesome friends, Susie (Lachlan Watson), who is non-binary and also played by a non-binary actor, and activist Rosalind (Jaz Sinclair). On Sabrina’s magical side, there are her aunties Zelda and Hilda (Miranda Otto and Lucy Davis) who ooze charisma throughout the season, and cousin Ambrose (Chance Perdomo) who does a lot with a character that doesn’t get much to do.

What is often disappointing is that Sabrina herself tends to seem a bit bland in comparison to her peers. Part of that is Kiernan Shipka, who is suitable in the role but lacks a lot of the fire that you feel Sabrina is supposed to have in scenes. There is a playful mischievousness that Sabrina has that Shipka doesn’t quite nail, and when she’s supposed to be going toe-to-toe with The Weird Sisters it comes across even more so. Where Shipka does excel is in showing Sabrina’s kindness, and she has great chemistry with Harvey. Yet there is just something missing for a character whom everyone is drawn too.

Miranda Otto in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018)

Miranda Otto as Zelda Spellman in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018)

Let’s get to my favorite part of the show, and that is the Satan-worshipping magic. In many ways, Sabrina feels like the continuation of The Witch, answering the question of what happens when you choose to live deliciously.

When Sabrina has doubts about joining the Church of the Night, her aunties (mostly Zelda) bring in Father Blackwood, the high priest of the church, to answer her questions. He frames the Church as about choice, about giving into your own desires and it isn’t about obeying, but respecting the Dark Lord aka Satan.

We quickly realize there is a lot more to that when it comes to the Church of Night, but when you think about the fact that it bestows women power and long lives, but also asks for devotion to a male entity, it’s quickly shown that witchcraft via Satan is a double-edged broomstick.

Witchcraft in this sense is juxtaposed with the group W.I.C.C.A that Sabrina starts with Ros as a feminist group to stand together in the school’s male-dominated leadership. The corrupt leadership of men is something the series jabs at quite a bit, but very rarely puts up any healthy female equivalents either.

Madam Satan/Mary Wardell played to vamp-femme perfection by Michelle Gomez is a double agent; Zelda is a true believer but also a zealot who sometimes seems to put the church over her family. Hilda is delightful, but also tends to step to the side when conflict emerges. While Susie and Ros are Sabrina’s friends, Sabrina also engages in conflict with The Weird Sisters, especially their leader Prudence (Tati Gabrielle), who is so much more interesting than Sabrina I really wish she could have gotten more screentime.

Lucy Davis in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018)

Lucy Davis as Hilda Spellman in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018)

Where it lacks most is that for a series that can be binged, it is very episodic. Personally, I don’t mind episodic shows and Sabrina makes up for it by having some really fun character stories, which provide a lot of acting opportunities for its cast, but until episode eight, it sort of felt like a long walk to nowhere.

Sabrina has a goal in mind, but rarely is she pro-active, and that makes her a weak protagonist. I enjoy where these episodic storylines end up going, but it will really depend on if you find yourself invested in these characters. The plot threads dangle for too long that you sometimes forget about them until they come up again.

One element of the show I found to be a little frustrating was how it addresses homophobia and conservative politics, but also weaponizes it, almost reinforcing the “gay panic.” There is a use of love potion for a queer couple and in my books love potions are rape potions. There is blackmail using same-sex kisses and there is talk about putting a gay man in an institution. The show speaks up against this, but it also feels the need to bring it up a bit too much for a series that doesn’t take the time to have more positive queer stories in it.

Overall, if you are a fan of witches that lean more towards American Horror Story: Coven than Sabrina: The Teenage Witch, then you will enjoy this version of Sabrina’s story. It masters the dark elements well, with some cannibalism, murder, and disemboweling. The show hosts a cast of fun characters, but the mostly episodic format may seem a little meandering for the Netflix binge. There are still two episodes for it to wrap things up, so we shall see.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina debuts October 26 on Netflix.

( image: Netflix)

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DCEU Once More Reportedly Benches Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck, Which Isn’t Really Their Fault

ben affleck batman

Oh, the DCEU. With the highest of highs (Wonder Woman) and some pretty low lows (nearly everything else), the DCEU has been going through some growing pains. Many of these pains are centered around the characters of Batman and Superman, who were the founders of the DCEU; Man of Steel did not receive critical praise, Batman V. Superman also got a critical butt-kicking, and Justice League did not see the box office returns DC hoped. Now, as news about the Flash standalone movie has been released, Variety dropped a small note on the future of Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne, saying:

Following the box office disappointment of Justice League, Warner Bros. has been reevaluating its approach to making movies based on DC Comics characters. The studio is not moving forward with Batman and Superman movies featuring Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill, respectively. It is expected to recast the Dark Knight with a different actor.

Now, barely a month can go by without some reports of the DCEU considering rebooting or recasting or what-have-you. Recently, news broke that the studio and Henry Cavill had parted ways, which was denied by reps for both studio and actor, but now might actually be the case. If you want to go down a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories, any DCEU subreddit is full of “leaks” about how Warner Bros. ruined Zack Snyder’s ultimate vision and how everything is on fire and whatnot. It’s a blast.

The sad truth is is that yes, there’s a not insignificant chance we probably will not see another Cavill or Affleck fronted DC movie, and it has nothing to do with Affleck’s personal life. None of the films they led were well-received, even with the diehard fans they earned. The characterization was messy at times, the plots nonsensical, and it lacked what made the MCU work. Not humor, but a cohesive plan.

The DCEU did not seem to be really building towards any real endgame in the same way that the MCU did. While Iron Man 1 and 2 didn’t have the big connection to the overarching picture outside of a few Easter Eggs, Thor and Captain America introduced villains and plot points that tied together in the first Avengers, which ended with the promise of a larger threat they were building towards. The DCEU tried that with the Knightmare scenario in Batman V. Superman, but that barely registered.

There was a chance in Justice League to establish a Big Endgame when Steppenwolf murmurs “for Darkseid” as he goes about whatever the hell his plan was (seriously, I’ve watched the film three times and I couldn’t tell you what his goals were). But it’s a once off line that I only picked up on on the second viewing. Unlike the Thanos reveal, which sent me screaming to the Internet to understand who he was, I felt no urge to find out what Darkseid was up to.

Based on Infinity War, it is clear Marvel has had a plan for their films and characters since close to day one. The DCEU doesn’t seem to have that. Characterizations clash between films — are we not going to talk about how Diana ends Wonder Woman saying she’s full of love and wants to save the world, but in Batman V. Superman the death of a guy she knew for like a week max made her shut herself off for good? The endgame that the DCEU might be building towards is in constant flux — is it Darkseid, or Batman’s Knightmare?

DC failed these characters by trying to replicate what Marvel did without putting the effort into making it a cohesive narrative in which the character arcs made sense and were building towards a set goal. The worst part is is that they assembled an excellent cast and then completely squandered their talents.

This especially goes for Cavill and Affleck. Cavill, when he was allowed to be Superman in his purest essence, was charming and radiated a goodness necessary for the role. He looked the part too, 100%. Affleck has never been my favorite actor, but there’s a few moments where his best Bruce Wayne shines through, especially in Justice League and in his first scene in Batman V. Superman. Neither of them were particularly miscast, and if they’d had the right script they could have really done something special.

However, they were not given the right material, and it is not fair to blame them for the shortcomings of the DCEU. If Warner Bros. is blaming the actors for the failures of the franchise, or if Cavill and Affleck are disillusioned and want out, that’s a shame. The grand restructuring of the DCEU, however it looks, will automatically generate some negativity if it involves recasting Supes and Batsy. There has to be a better way to fix their problems, but if Cavill and Affleck want out after the umpteenth “Martha” joke, that is 100% their choice.

ben affleck

(via Variety: Image: Warner Bros)

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We’re Getting a Batman Spin-Off About a Young, Hot Alfred For Some Reason

Batman V. Superman featured Jeremy Irons as Alfred

Look, I don’t have anything against the character of Alfred Pennyworth from the Batman comics. He’s swell, a top-notch guy. Michael Gough was great in the Burton and Schumacher Bat-films. Who doesn’t love Michael Caine’s take on the character? Plus, Jeremy Irons was the only thing that kept me from wanting them to throw the whole Bat-family out in Batman V. Superman and Justice League. But for the life of me, I don’t understand why we’re greenlighting a show about a young, sexy Alfred, who was cast today.

The series, titled Pennyworth, will follow Alfred and Batman’s dad Thomas Wayne in 1960’s London, where former SAS agent Alfred forms a security company. More knowledgeable fans than I have said that there’s a basis for Alfred kicking ass and taking names in the comics, which is great! But that still begs the question of why we need this show in the first place? Who asked for Sexy Alfred, who probably has weird sexual chemistry with Sexy Thomas Wayne? Does that mean Batman has two dads now?

I’m sure both Jack Bannon and Ben Aldridge are talented actors, but do we really need another gritty comic book project about brooding white men? I don’t believe there was a loud crowd of people asking for this series, so why is DC pursuing it? There have to be better ways to capitalize on the popularity of Batman that people would be more interested in, especially one that doesn’t just focus on two white guys.

Also, I feel like dark and gritty isn’t exactly what the people are asking for. Justice League didn’t do well at the box office and Batman V. Superman is a meme at this point. Titans also got some blowback for the “fuck Batman” line in the trailer. A grimdark take on Batman’s charming butler/surrogate dad? I feel like DC isn’t reading the room here in the slightest.

Also, the series is coming from the writers of Gotham, who managed to ruin my absolute favorite DC character of all time, Jim Gordon. I do not want them doing another DC series.

If DC wants to dive into more television, there are so many other options to choose from. What about a Nubia TV show to build off the Wonder Woman hype? Or a Green Lantern Corps. TV series, since the movie seems to have stalled? DC has a fairly big canon, there has to be some character they can dive into that wouldn’t just be the most out-of-left-field gritty reboot/prequel they could go with. (Also, as I’ve said many times, Etta Candy and the rest of her team could easily lead a TV show so DC, call me.)

We’ll see how Pennyworth plays out, but it’s hardly topping my list of most anticipated shows. DC, please figure out what you’re doing though. Seriously. This is so confusing.

(via Total Film; Image: Warner Bros)

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Richard Madden Fuels Bond Rumors in the Action-Packed Bodyguard Trailer

The popular BBC One six-part series Bodyguard is headed stateside, starring Richard Madden in the titular role. Madden, who is best known for playing Robb Stark in Game of Thrones, stars as David Budd, a war veteran who works as a specialist protection officer (think the Secret Service) for the Royalty and Specialist Protection Branch of London’s Metropolitan Police Service.

Budd gets assigned to protect powerful conservative Home Secretary Julia Montague (The Missing‘s Keeley Hawes), where he must reconcile his political differences with the Home Secretary in order to protect her and uncover a larger terrorism plot.

The miniseries was a smash hit in England, where the final episode garnered 10.4 million viewers (the largest audience of any broadcast outside the World Cup). The trailer plays like a combination of 24 and Homeland, and a short six-episode run makes it an easily bingeable drama for Netflix (where it premieres on October 24th).

The success of Bodyguard has led to rumors that Madden is next in line to play James Bond. With Daniel Craig retiring after Bond 25, all eyes are on who will take up the 007 mantle. Tom Hardy, Tom Hiddleston and Idris Elba (who the internet seems to have chosen as Bond) have all been mentioned as possible replacements. Even Emily Blunt has been rumored as a possible lady Bond, but those hopes were dashed by Bond producer Barbara Broccoli who said, “Bond is male. He’s a male character. He was written as a male and I think he’ll probably stay as a male.”

Richard Madden is a solid, safe choice for James Bond … which is why it’s difficult to muster up the enthusiasm for him. If he ends up getting cast I’m sure he’ll be fine, but it would have been exciting to see the producers branch out with a Bond of color or another unconventional choice. And if they are going to go with another white British Bond, it would be great to see some diversity behind the camera.

In the meantime, if anyone wants to cast Emily Blunt as a globe-trotting spy who loves fighting crime in glamorous locales, I’m totally into it.

(via Deadline, The Daily Mail, image: screengrab)

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The Ideal Template for a Superhero Love Interest Is Black Lightning’s Lynn Stewart

Black Lightning -- Image BLK_SINGLES_LYNN.jpg -- Pictured: Christine Adams as Lynn -- Photo: Mark Hill/The CW -- © 2018 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved

As someone who has watched a lot of the CW Arrowverse series, one of the biggest problems they have shared is the messy ways they’ve handled female characters. With the exception of Supergirl, for obvious reasons, a lot of the Arrowverse has a lot of problems of how they write female supporting characters.

Laurel and Iris (Arrow and The Flash) are the two most glaring examples, and there could even be a conversation about how Mon-El’s character sidelined Alex and Kara’s relationship on Supergirl, as well as Kara herself during the second season. However, one of the shows that really gets it right is Black Lightning, not only with the female superpowered characters Anissa and Jennifer, but with their non-meta mother, Dr. Lynn Stewart, played by the gorgeous Christine Adams.

When we are introduced to Dr. Lynn Pierce-Stewart, she and our titular hero, Black Lightning/Jefferson Pierce are divorced but very, very, very amicable. We find out that the reason that Lynn and Jefferson got divorced is that Jefferson began to act like an addict when it came to using his powers, along with the amount of physical harm he came up against when going into battle. Flashbacks showed Lynn cleaning up his wounds and his bruised and battered body. Lynn struggled with the reality that one day her husband could be killed, leaving her and his daughters behind.

She told Anissa that initially she was excited because “her man” was a superhero, but that youthful excitement wears away when you aren’t just dating, but married with a family and a responsibility for taking care of other people. What’s really powerful about Lynn’s storyline is how the narrative takes the time to show her perspective. It never makes her seem irrational, nor does it fail to point out that Jefferson’s powers can be harmful to himself. While one can argue that it’s hypocritical, after all they’ve been through, for her to want Jefferson to use his powers to save his daughters, Lynn never forced him to quit being a hero, and when he does decide to take up the role again, she doesn’t push him away.

The most important thing about how Lynn is written is that she’s fully aware of Jefferson’s abilities, and that allows her to be an asset to the storyline. Her medical knowledge ends up playing a big role in the series, concerning Green Light and the effects it has on humans. The fact that so many super shows have these long arcs of “I have to keep this a secret from such and such or else they could be put as risk” is so tired, especially since being AWARE of potential danger is the best way to be prepared against it.

In the opening for this current season, Lynn gets into a whole argument with Jefferson to work in the children in the pods. Jefferson sees it as too dangerous, but Lynn argues that her medical knowledge on Green Light makes her the most qualified to be there—not to mention it’s a way she can help her daughters, especially Jennifer. It was refreshing to not have the story act like Lynn wanting to play a role the best way she could was being “in the way.” That might seem like a small thing, but look at Laurel in season two of  Arrow and tell me that show appreciated Laurel’s perspective when it came to Oliver’s intense secrecy.

While I love both Lynn and Iris for different reasons, what’s so telling about Black Lightning’s writing team is that it’s very aware of the ways black women are written on television. After all, this show was created by a black woman: Mara Brock Akil. Lynn being a doctor isn’t just a cool job to explain how she spends her day; it’s a part of the way she assists the team and the narrative. Iris is a journalist whose skills are hardly ever used in a way that that doesn’t come with the reminder of “Oh yeah, I’m a journalist.”

Jennifer, Anissa, and Lynn are well-written, dynamic characters, and even though Jennifer spends the longest span of time “in the dark” about her powers, the show comes up with … OTHER STORIES FOR HER—not to mention those emotional storylines end up as part of the main story. It can be done.

One of the things that I’m hoping the upcoming Batwoman show will be able to do is avoid all of these pitfalls. As Supergirl has shown us, just having a queer character does not mean that bad romantic storylines can’t happen. I hope that the new series will give a Kate a really strong love interest, but also surround her with other queer, women because we travel in packs and collect each other, so if it’s only Kate and her love interest, I’m calling shenanigans.

Black Lightning has delivered the template for having a great female ensemble in a superhero show and having a love interest who is smart, aware, and capable without superpowers. So, everyone read the memo and make it work.

(image: Mark Hill/The CW)

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