Tag: dramatic shows

Shows

My Reflections On The Tear-Jerking Family Drama This Is Us Before The Series Finale

I am going to talk about a show that I have been watching for quite a while. I watch the show with my mom and my grandma also watches it. If you’re reading this: hi Mom! I’m going to review this show that has been a part of my life for nearly six years.

So what is This is Us about? Well, I wouldn’t say this story has a beginning exactly, but to sum it up would be to sum up the whole of human history, and to ask the meaning of time itself. That sounds like a lot, so I’ll narrow the scope a bit. To sum it up, every episode of This is Us is part of an ongoing story of the Pearson family, and when we think of how we talk about our families and our family stories it is difficult to find a true beginning. I could begin like this: Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) saw Rebecca Malone (Mandy Moore) when she was singing at a local bar and he realized that he had to get to know her. After a while, he asks her out on a date to the amusement park. This all sounds great, but he is also nearly broke and the date goes horribly.

Or it could begin when a young, widowed father leaves his son at the fire station because he doesn’t know what else to do. A white couple, who just lost their newborn son, one of triplets, decide to adopt the boy.

This is Us is a mixture of flashbacks and memories and blasts from the past. Their timeline matches up with real time, starting in 2016, and begins when the Pearson triplets turn thirty. The Pearson family story spans multiple generations from Jack’s childhood to the adulthood of the triplets’ children and–presumably–the death of Rebecca Pearson.

Each episode contains has 1-2 flashbacks and a few storylines that take place in the present. There are a few episodes that focus mostly on the backstory of a certain person connected to the Pearson family. I say connected because spouses, friends, and often strangers get a story of their own. Usually, the strangers’ arcs last an episode, unless they turn out to be connected to someone in the family. For example, we see the man who delivered the triplets several times throughout the series. Life is in interconnected web in this show, and every person’s life is a unique story with happiness and tragedy.

To sum it up, This is Us is a story about multiple generations navigating life. We see them at the grocery store, making dinner, tucking their kids to bed. All the scenes are rather significant moments in the Pearsons’ lives for one reason or another. Both small and big moments are significant and make a difference. Whether or not everyone there remembers the experience, it has shaped them into the person that they are today. Experiences makes up the fabric of the world around them and connect the family together. The family is so close, and often has so many difficulties, because they have been through so much together. We see each of the Pearson triplets navigating adulthood differently. But it isn’t easy for any of them. The family bonds are a huge part of this show. Each relationship is unique and complicated in its own way. We see Jack spending time with Kate as a kid and we learn more about the both of them. Life felt like smooth sailing with them, Kate and Rebecca are another story.

Overall, memory in the show is a good thing, but there is some unreliable narration. Memories are often flawed because of a character’s failure to consider the perspective of another. Failure to communicate or understand another’s perspective is a major source of conflict within the show. Many times, seemingly good intentions rot. Randall is a good example of a man with the best intentions.

Randall Pearson (Sterling K. Brown)

Randall was adopted by Jack and Rebecca Pearson when his biological father left him at the fire station. He never got to know his birth father as a child, so much of his life has been wondering “what if.” Randall also often felt like an outsider as a Black man in a white family and community. The Pearsons were loving parents, but they were obviously flawed. Randall is the golden child, we learn he works as a weather commodities trader, and does well. He is marries Beth and they have wonderful daughters. He is a perfectionist and struggles with anxiety. His anxiety is realistically depicted on the show, and was formed during his childhood. Randall also has a bit of a savior complex. He is a incredibly compassionate and kind person, but the harsh reality of life sometimes doesn’t mesh with his desire to do good.

Kate (Chrissy Metz)

Kate feels like a middle child. She hasn’t succeeded financially like her brothers and she wants to be a singer. She is talented, but she feels like she is in her mother’s shadow. Her father’s death was the hardest on her, and she struggles with body image, eating habits, and self-esteem.

Kevin (Justin Hartley)

Kevin is the popular older brother. He played football in high school, but was unable to continue in college because he sprained his ankle. He married his high school sweetheart, but that didn’t quite work out. He becomes an actor, but life isn’t perfect for him. Kevin also has issues with self-worth, is an alcoholic, and falls into unhealthy cycles.

They all can be selfish, refuse to listen to each other, and just plain annoying sometimes. The triplets are also funny, caring, and love each other deep down. I love how the This is Us writers are not afraid to make their cast flawed. We also learn that everyone acts the way they do based on past experience. For example, since Kevin felt like his parents favored his siblings growing up, so he became an actor to receive validation and praise.

This is Us also shows that family life–even in the closest families–is not perfect. Not even Jack, the triplets’ perfect father, is without flaws. He and Rebecca get into huge fights, but they stick through. No one fights quite the same way either. Each relationship is unique and comes with its own challenges. but we, usually, understand where everyone is coming form. Seeing the family fight with each other can be heartbreaking, but it also feels real. There is enough backstory to explain every hurt, and the plotlines rarely feel contrived.

I’m going to talk here about a few points that stuck out to me that make This Is Us a wonderful story. I have three things I love. Spoilers below!

1. This is Us Rejects self-actualization and the happily ever after

Characters in This Is Us get their dream jobs, marry the love of their lives, and settle down, but they are never 100% happy and life doesn’t stop changing from there. There are times when families fight and forgive each other and reunite. People die, they lie to each other. No one ever becomes amazing at fixing all their deep-seated flaws. Randall still wants to help the man who robbed him, and maintains his idealism. Kate is figuring out her career and finds a job she likes, but her and Toby are struggling to communicate again. Kevin still isn’t sure what he thinks of himself or what he wants in life.

2. Beautiful Cinematography <eets Excellent Storytelling

The cinematography is gorgeous. One of my favorite episodes is about Randall’s birth mother, Laurel. We see Randall in the lake and it just feels refreshing. The stories also connect so well. Sometimes I wonder why they included a random stranger, but they always tie their story back to the major themes of the episode. The episodes also make you feel warm. The writing, dialogue, and pacing just feels right.

3. Honest look at the Experience of Black Americans

This Is Us has an interesting premise. The show hired 3 Black writers and Sterling talks to the creators about how he wants his character to be portrayed. Randall grew up raised by white parents, and his life experience was different than his siblings. The show has 3 Black writers (out of 10) and Sterling K. Brown often consults the writers about his character. The experiences of Randall’s family and his adopted daughter also are a major part of the show.

Reflections

This Is Us is full of great love stories, marriages, and babies. Romance in This is Us is generally really well done. Jack and Rebecca and Randall and Beth are two of my favorite love stories on the show. Relationships, all kinds, are hard. They all enconter different challenges based over the years, and after hurdles are jumped over (for instance, Rebecca’s father doesn’t like Jack) more challenges come. There is no happily ever after, there are good times and bad times. Romantic love is portrayed as a wonderful and beautiful experience. We see the couples at their best, at their worst, and we want them to stay together because of all they’ve conquered together.

Randall and Beth are my favorite couple on the show. Both are ambitious and intelligent, and they balance each other out. Beth is calm while Randall deals with anxiety. Beth can be too strict sometimes, and Randall is very altruistic. They are hilarious, dorky, and just love each other so much years after marriage, and I love them. They feel realisticly married. Jack and Rebecca have a great love story too.

Out of the other characters, their stories are good too. My third favorite couple is probably Kate and Toby, but it seems like they get divorced and Kate marries her music teacher. He is kinda mean to her, so I’m not sure if if it’ll be an enemies to lovers type thing or he’ll just be a character we love to hate. I don’t mind enemies to lovers if it is done well, but I’m not sure if it will be with the limited time the show has left.

I’ve come to care for all the Pearson family and I want them the be happy. Even if their endings aren’t perfect, I have just become so attatched. Kate was in an abusive relationship in the past, after her father died, so she could enter one again. I can see her falling into a bad cycle, but I hope it doesn’t happen to her. The fact that they divorce makes me sad, especially since I love Toby, but it is realistic. Whenever shows end with a bunch of happy married couples, it feels to simplistic, like everyone is paired off.

So, that brings us to Kevin. Kevin has had a complicated relationship with love. He married his high school sweetheart, Sophie, but they got a divorce soon after. His marriage to Sophie seemed impulsive, a desire for security in the midst of the unknown. His father died, and Kevin wanted one person to be in his life forever. That I get.

I also noticed that the show refuses to make love a solution to someone’s problems or a clutch. Characters rarely fall in love with the idea of a person and then magically have everything work out.

That brings me to singleness. Kevin is most enjoyable as a character when he is with the people he loves like family, rather than romantically. The relationship between Kevin and Randall, Kevin and Kate, and Kevin and Randall’s daughters are more compelling and sweet than his romantic relationships. As to Madison, I’m not sure how I feel about them as a couple. Another love story could be nice, but it could also be nice to see Kevin happily single and happily co-parenting with Madison.

I can see this happening. After all, the show notes and uses other lifestyle options adoption and IVF and Zoe–who didn’t want kids– why not include parents who aren’t romantically involved?

Especially after we learn that Edie and Nicky fall in love, is there really room for another love story? And does Kevin need a partner to be happy– of course not.

As much as I love the couples in this show, This is Us clearly shows that other forms of love, between parent and child, between friends, and between sibilings is just as beautiful. The show can take this point a step further, not everyone needs to end up in a romance to be happy. It would be nice to see Kevin, Kate, or someone else end up single and enjoy a single lifestyle. Even if they are romantic, romance does not have to be their story. There are plenty of them that aren’t told.

It is worth noting that This is Us includes not just heterosexual, but LGBT characters as well. Romance between men and women dominates the Pearson family story, but it is not the entire story. The triplets see Jack and Rebecca as part of a great love story and they expect their children to fall into the same. Randall is a bit shocked when he hears that his birth father William, is bisexual and had a long-term boyfriend named Jessie. His teenage daughter, Tess, later comes out to her family as gay and she starts dating non-binary classmate. This is Us mostly shows sexuality as a part of life, which felt refreshing.

I also like how the show really rejects the happily ever after and shows the intense beauty and pain of life. I feel uplifted when I watch the show. The relationship between the family is honest, caring, and just plain heartwarming, but they aren’t living in a perfect world. Like, the Pearsons have been though hell after their father died. The kids were only eighteen. His death impacted them all years in the future, and they are all grappling with tragedy to this day.

We see death not as an end, but a part of a circle of life. Just because we die does not mean we are forgotten. It is no wonder that Rebecca appears to be dying in the finale and we see her memory fading. But her family will remember her, and they will tell her stories to their children as they create their own. I’m including the scene because it sums up the show pretty well. Kevin shows Tess and Annie a picture:

“What is we’re all in the painting everywhere. What if we’re in the painting before we’re born. What if we’re in it after we die. And what if these colors we keep adding on top of each other until they’re not colors anymore? Wer’re just one thing. One painting.”

“And this wild, sloppy, magical thing, this right here. I think it’s us.”

This is Us shows our lives, our memories, or relationships as part of an interconnected web. The show doesn’t answer any or ask questions about what happens to the person after death. But it doesn’t feel sad to lose someone and no longer see them. Still, we realize death doesn’t define us. In life we part of something greater than ourselves, a history and we lose ourselves in the painting. Kevin notes this. The view of history in the show isn’t quite linear, it doesn’t necessarily achieve perfection or fall apart…it just is. It is not quite a circle either. New experiences and choices change the painting. The triplets children, for example, have not followed the paths of their parents completely. But they don’t have to. All of our experiences are wonderful and unique, but they come together in a great painting. The who picture and image reminds me of the cosmos. Take a look at the stars and how large they are and you realize that we’re part of a greater world and story than ourselves. But our story is there, it doesn’t go away like some stars.

Kevin realizes he has to talk about death in his painting. He initially apologizes, but then realizes as he tells the story that death is part of life. But dying doesn’t mean we’re gone and we disappear. The people we lose are still part of the painting. No matter what we do, no matter what lives we live or where we come from, we are all part of it.

When I listened to Kevin’s speech, I felt wonder and awe. The painting also feels full of unknowns, and there is no pressure to figure it all out. We are all interconnected, through the fact that we exist. Life can be messy, and sad and imperfect, but the connections we have with others, family, friends, and people we’ve never met or will never remember are still present in this web. The picture isn’t one one person can make and it is a web that just can’t be untangled, In this painting, we are more than just ourselves. The past, present, and future, mistakes and errors make the painting, rather than ruin it. But we can choose to care about the people around us, because doing that makes those beautiful pictures. From grandparents to grandchildren, we are all part of this together and that is what makes life so wonderful.

Have you seen This Is Us? I can’t wait for the finale. How do you feel about the show ending? Let me know down in the comments below!

Chronicles of the Muse, Shows

Violet Evergarden Shows That Empathy Can Be Learned Through Writing

Violet Evergarden Shows That Empathy Can Be Learned Through Writing

Anime Review (with spoilers):

Violet Evergarden Season 1

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Trigger Warning: This show covers a suicide attempt, PTSD, and war violence.

Written by Paige Wilson and Ashley Ostrowski.

Overview

Pros

  • Shows the power of writing
  • Beautiful animation
  • Amazing art style
  • Accurate depictions of trauma and PTSD
  • Emotionally impactful episodes
  • Realistic development of empathy through interaction with others
  • Great music

Cons

  • Many viewers found it boring, at least at first
  • It would have been a bit better to get more character development for characters other than Violet
  • It was never explained how she became a killing machine or why she became a weapon
  • Episodic feel can leave one wanting more

Observations

  • Violet’s experiences are not very relatable for most people

Warning: Spoilers below!

Review

Violet Evergarden Season 1 is an anime that was released in 2018. It can currently be streamed on Netflix.

Violet is a 14-year-old orphan who was trained to be a weapon of the military in the fictional country of Leiden. Even though Leiden exists in a fictional universe, the anime feels like it takes place in 19th century Europe.

After a pivotal battle in which Violet loses her arms, she wakes up in the hospital and immediately wants to return to her post. The war, however, has been declared over. Having lived her whole life as a soldier as long as she can remember, she does not know how to live a civilian life and act without taking orders. She chooses to work as an “auto memory doll,” which is basically a nickname for the ghostwriters who write other people’s letters for them. Her reasoning behind this is that it will help her to learn the meaning of the words “I love you,” which are the last words spoken to her by Major Gilbert. Gilbert was the one who taught her to read and write and treated her like a person when other officials in the military treated her like a tool.

Gilbert gave her the name Violet; before that she didn’t have any name. Violets can symbolize truth, loyalty, grace, and gentleness. These are all qualities Gilbert wanted for Violet. He wanted her to just be able to live her life well, to not be resigned to a life of violence, and to grow up to be a wonderful young woman.

Violet already has some of the qualities symbolized by the color and the flower violet. She is very honest and straightforward. She does not lie and cannot understand when other people are lying. She is intensely loyal to Major Gilbert. And she is kind of graceful in a way, in the way that martial artists are graceful even when meting out violence. Gentleness is not a quality she has in great supply–she only knows how to be a soldier.

Major Gilbert helps her transition to civilian life even while in the military by treating her like a person rather than a machine. For example, he takes Violet into town and says that she can buy anything that she likes at the market. Violet is confused at first and doesn’t know what to get. She spots an emerald broach at a street corner that is the precise color of the Major’s eyes and she wants it. He buys it for her and she wears it all the time to remember him.

Violet is 14 when we meet her and she is stunted emotionally. At the beginning she is also expressionless nearly all of the time. It is not until she hears the sad story of a father who lost his daughter that she cries for the first time ever.

It is the process of writing letters for people that teaches her empathy. At first, her letters are excessively formal to the point of being more like a technical report than a heartfelt message.

As she continues to write letters, she grows in empathy and in her fluency of writing emotions on paper. She begins to feel regret and guilt for the deeds she did as a weapon of the military. She gains a much deeper understanding of human emotions with every letter she writes.

Violet develops short but meaningful relationships with several of the people who ask her to write letters over the course of each episode. Her episode with Clara Magnolia stands out in particular. Clara is a dying widow with a young daughter, Ann, who asks Violet to write several letters over the course of a week. Violet acts as a sort of babysitter to Ann, as Ann wants to spend time with her mother in the last days of her life, but her mother insists on writing letters. We as an audience get more and more frustrated with the mother for not spending more time with her child. It turns out that Clara was writing birthday letters to her daughter for the next fifty years. It was so sad. Did you cry? We both cried. The audience sees Ann receiving her first letter on the next birthday and we see Ann read more letters as she reaches a new birthday. It is a twist we hadn’t guessed, and it hits hard.

Princess Charlotte’s episode is also particularly memorable. Charlotte is going to be in an arranged marriage with Prince Damian of Flugel. When she is first on-screen, it seems like she is a young girl who is put into a marriage that she does not want to a man she has never met. She tells Violet she has no idea what to say in her letters, which are supposed to be flowery and romantic so that the public can see them. It turns out that Damian was the one who comforted her at a party when she was upset, and she really appreciated him. She did not know what to say because she liked him. Violet’s letters to Damian seem emotionless, and Damian’s letters to her also seem overly formal. She knows how she feels about Damian, but she doesn’t know if he feels the same. Princess Charlotte is upset. Violet suggests that they should write their own letters and it turns out he does. The kingdoms are intrigued by their passionate letters to each other and their wedding is a big celebration of love.

After a while, Violet finds out that Gilbert is presumed dead. It devastates her at first and it takes her a long time to recover. Nevertheless, she never truly accepts or believes that he is dead. It takes her a while to form relationships with the new people in her life, her new coworkers.

The first person to care about Violet is Claudia Hodgins, a man Gilbert asked to take care of Violet for him. He helps her find her first job. Violet meets many people when she gets her new job. Cattleya Baudelaire, Benedict Blue, Iris Canary, and Erica Brown are her coworkers. We get to know Iris in an episode, but the others aren’t as developed. They are likable, but they don’t get much screentime.

Is Gilbert alive? The story ends with an airshow where letters are dropped from the sky. Violet writes a letter for the Major where she tells him she believes that he is alive. We see Gilbert’s wounded body and we see him tell Violet to live, but we never see Gilbert dead. We see Violet at the end visiting a person to write a letter for them, and see a look of surprise when she sees their face, but we are not shown for sure whether this is Gilbert or if she is surprised for some other reason.

Another thing to note is the realism of the series. On Youtube, there is an excellent video where a veteran was interviewed about whether Violet Evergarden’s experience during and after the war was accurate compared to the experience of actual soldiers and veterans.

The veteran said her experience was exaggerated and yet largely accurate.

Some points that stood out to him:

Violet at one point tries to strangle herself. Her suicide attempt was true of many veteran experiences since suicide rates are relatively high among that demographic. The veteran said the episode with the suicide attempt “nailed it,” and was one of the hardest parts for him to watch because he lost several of his own war buddies to suicide.

When Violet tries to save the Major in the last battle before the end of the war, she fails to think straight and clear the area before rushing in to save him. The veteran said that was an instance of her emotions getting the better of her and said that was probably part of the reason she lost her arms and had to have them replaced with metal prosthetics.

The veteran also said that the way she crushed her emotions down was very understandable based on his own experience, and that he could appreciate why she had trouble interacting empathetically after living her entire life in the military.

He also said that he was annoyed about Violet saluting civilians randomly. He said that sort of thing didn’t really carry over into civilian life, but he could see why the creators chose to do this since all Violet ever knew was the military.

A final thing he noted as important was Violet’s nightmares–he said he experienced many nightmares and could relate to that.

The music in this anime is absolutely beautiful, the intro especially.

The intro song is called “Sincerely” by TRUE. It is about the power of words. The singer sings about learning words she didn’t know, which brings memories to the surface. She explains that there are words she may be incapable of understanding without the help of others. Specifically, the words “goodbye” and “I love you” are held up as special and powerful. They cause longing. The lyrics say that words do not have to be spoken to hold weight, they can cut to the heart even while they are unspoken but felt or read.

The outro song is called Michishirube and is by Minori Chihara. One of the lines from it, when translated into English describes a nameless flower that has found peace. This, to us, really describes Violet as she comes to terms with her actions during the war and accepts her new life as an auto memory doll.

The art style and animation are beautiful, especially when they show water or light as you can see above. The attention to detail is excellent and the character design is stunning. We see the characters in the snow, farmland, below the starry sky, and on the lake–among other settings.

In conclusion, we fully recommend this anime. We are aware that many people found the beginning boring, but we found that the development, in the beginning, was necessary and not really that boring. Although the anime has a very episodic feel that at times left us wanting more, there was a continued theme of Violet developing empathy. It is confusing why the military would choose a random 14-year-old orphan girl to use as a weapon, but we hold out hope that this will be explained in later seasons.

We will be putting out a podcast episode next week where we will share our opinions, so keep an eye out!