Personal Favorite Television Shows of 2021

As I sometimes feel closer to television than with a cinema, I decided to post my recommendation list of the shows that were, for me, best this year. 2021 was a rich year for television. We’ve received many surprises. Many shows became beacons of hope and comfort for those deeply affected by the pandemic and overall state of the world.

I, too, discovered gems that greatly influenced how I perceive certain things. Moreover, the below positions brought me much-needed comfort, sometimes thrill, sometimes tears. Similar to my list of personal favorite films, the list is not ranked nor in any particular order. I haven’t had a chance to watch all the shows that the television offered us so treat this list as merely a suggestion and, sort of, a love letter to the shows that helped me survive this year, thrilled me, often shocked me, or thoroughly made me laugh.

What We Do In The Shadows: Season 3

FX Networks

After two hilarious seasons, the third season of What We Do In The Shadows maintains a steady pace while making us laugh all over. The cast and crew deliver even more ridiculous, humor-laced situations and character development. With its new season, it remains a magnificent, bloodthirsty spectacle of laughter and absurdity.

When we think of Staten Island, we can’t help but think of Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), Laszlo (Matt Berry), and Nandor (Kayvan Novak), who live there with an energy vampire, Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch), and Nandor’s familiar and vampire enthusiast, Guillermo (Harvey Guillén). Following the shocking season 2 finale, the pack must deal with Guillermo’s brutal, albeit phenomenally coordinated vampire slaughtering who additionally turns out to be a descendant of the one and only Van Helsing. What does one do with someone who has killer instincts towards fangs in their blood?

What We Do in the Shadows maintains its momentum, with more entertaining adventures and engaging interactions for the audience. Season 3 unequivocally demonstrates that the series is one of those that never gets old. The characters of Berry, Demetriou, and Novak, as well as Proksch and Guillén progress and grow, taking us to places we’ve never seen them go before. You don’t want to miss it.

My full review here.

The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 4

Hulu

The fourth season of The Handmaid’s Tale brings the audience something that they’ve been waiting for—a taste of long-awaiting freedom, rebellion, and sweet revenge. The newest chapter delivers an utter satisfaction with characters evolving in a way that we’ve never seen before.

Each episode is filled with tension, often showcasing the rawness of the characters’ feelings. The creators take us outside the impenetrable walls to the outskirts of the country, where rebellion in the Southern and majority of Northwest and Northern District is alive and well. There are many people, rebels who actively fight against Gilead’s government. All the cards are on the table, and nobody is safe. Reunites ensue as well as heartbreaks that struck us into our seats and hold us there throughout the whole season. The Handmaid’s Tale is a television series that masterfully teaches us a lesson about the power of resilience. Although we’ve been reminded of it throughout three seasons, each new episode reminds us that the fight never ends. 

This season is unlike anything that we’ve seen before. Be ready for a wild, anxiety-filled rollercoaster that will leave you questioning your favorite characters and deeply realizing the damaging impact that Gilead leaves on its victims. 

My full review here.

Mare of Easttown

HBO Max

I’m sure that we all heard of Mare Of Easttown, if not through watching it, it’s certainly thanks to the sketch with Kate McKinnon on SNL.

When Easttown’s detective, Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet, Ammonite), is awakened by her elderly neighbor and informed of a prowler on the front yard, it’s just the start of the day straight from hell. She’s soon reminded of her long-lasting guilt when Dawn Bailey (Enid Graham, The Sinner), a woman battling cancer, goes on to the local tv and publicly demands answers regarding her missing daughter, Katie (Caitlin Houlahan). The young woman went missing a year ago, but the police never found anything. Young women continue to vanish, and a gruesome murder occurs as Easttown is rocked to its core. Mare joins forces with a county detective, Colin Zabel (Evan Peters, American Horror Story), to look into the murder and kidnappings.

Mare of Easttown is a thrilling, surprising murder-mystery drama. Many cliffhangers and startling moments keep the audience invested as they follow Mare’s investigation and want to know who the killer/kidnapper is. Although it’s not anything extraordinary, that’s what is best about it. The series has all the components we need: a compelling, mysterious murder, interesting characters, and a feeling of thrill. We don’t always need something fresh and reinvented. Sometimes, we simply want to visit a small town, live amongst its suspicious residents, and attempt to solve the murder faster than the detectives.

My full review here.

Midnight Mass

Netflix

Midnight Mass, starring Hamish Linklater in the lead role of Father Paul, manages to completely perplex the viewer and provoke further discussion on the subjects of faith, its abuse in the hands of a human, and rebirth, both presented metaphorically and literally in the show.

In Midnight Mass, Flanagan takes the theme of rebirth quite literally. After the “angel” drinks his blood, Father Paul is reborn, and the man then makes the decision for his parishioners and takes the choice away from them. They, too, are reborn for a brief time.

However, the rebirth can also be interpreted symbolically, as in Riley’s character. The Flynns’ oldest son, brilliantly portrayed by Zach Gilford, begins his life anew after returning to the island. Riley, who is still haunted by his past actions, keeps seeing a young woman he murdered while driving drunk. His rebirth is slow and subtle. In the final scene with Siegel’s character on the boat, we see him truly reborn. He lets go of the guilt, and he allows himself to be forgiven.

Midnight Mass has many other wonderful aspects. Among them are a stellar cast, stunning direction, and an emotional soundtrack composed by The Newton Brothers. Furthermore, the series tells a unique story and brilliantly explores it. In today’s world, the topic of faith and its abuse for selfish purposes has become personal. Midnight Mass becomes one of the scariest series this year due to this aspect, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Reservation Dogs

FX Networks and Hulu

Written by Serlin Harjo, Taika Waititi, and Bobby Wilson, Reservation Dogs premiered this summer and is currently available to stream on Hulu.

When I watched the first episode of this brilliant show, I couldn’t believe that we’ve been presented with so little Indigenous representation on screen. Reservation Dogs features all Indigenous writers and directors, along with an almost entirely Indigenous North American cast and production team.

The series focuses on and follows the lives of four Indigenous teenagers, as they spend their days committing crime and fighting it, in an effort to get to California. The main cast is absolutely amazing. Paulina Alexis (Willie Jack), Lane Factor (Cheese), D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai (Bear), and Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs (Elora) will make you laugh and cry, that much is guaranteed.

Ted Lasso

Apple TV

The second season of Ted Lasso delivers even more utterly hilarious, easy-to-repeat lines while providing the audience with insight into the soccer team’s daily life coached by a well-crafted character portrayed by Jason Sudeikis. At the same time, the show created by Bill Lawrence, Jason Sudeikis, Brendan Hunt, and Joe Kelly puts a focus on the development of the supporting characters, who realize that mental health is just as important as physical health.

The show’s success would be meaningless without the eloquent, witty, and refreshing writing, which only grows more powerful as it progresses. In some ways, the new season of Ted Lasso changes right in front of our eyes. Previously a baby, the story is now reaching its full potential, with the characters maturing and learning new things about life.

There is one constant in Ted Lasso that will never change. We feel it palpitating and surrounding us whenever we spend time with Ted, Rebecca, and the team. It’s the characters’ unending love and passion for football. “Football is life,” as Dani says, and the creators continue to follow this rule while creating characters so well-crafted and complex that anyone can fall in love with this exceptional series.

Yellowjackets

Showtime

Yellowjackets, by Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson, was the biggest surprise to me this year. Ever since I heard about the show coming, I planned to watch it. However, I didn’t expect that it would swiftly become one of my favorite shows of 2021.

Adapted from the Lord of The Flies, the series tells the story of the soccer group including high-school students female—the titular Yellowjackets. As they fly to attend the competition, their airplane crashes in the middle of nowhere. Surrounded by wildlife, the girls alongside their coach and two male students, are forced to search for food and safety. But what happens when the winter comes?

As we see the glimpses of the crash and the past, Yellowjackets presents the lives of the girls as grown women—at least those, who survived and were later rescued. When the threat from the past appears on the horizon, Shauna (Melanie Lynskey), Natalie (Juliette Lewis), Misty (Christina Ricci), and Taissa (Tawny Cypress) must reunite to find the one who threatens them and forever close the doors to the brutal past.

I could not recommend Yellowjackets enough as it currently airs on Showtime. The series and its creators remind us that, while binge-watching is fun, there is nothing more special than anticipating that one day of the week when your favorite show is on.

Dexter: New Blood

Showtime

Dexter comes back. I didn’t think I would ever say (or write, rather…) these words. New Blood was another big surprise at the end of this chaotic year. The creators take on the sociopathic, albeit polite and charming killer once again and attempt to rewrite what they, frankly, messed up at the end.

We pick up where we left it. Dexter Morgan, now widely known as Jim Lindsey, is a “golden, very helpful resident of Iron Lake—the town is now covered in snow. If Jim aka, Dexter doesn’t work in the hunting shop, or meeting his partner, a Chief of the Police, Angela (Julia Jones), the ever-smirking vigilante attempts to deny his true self.

But, the Dark Passenger eventually comes out of the shadows, just in time to meet his student in the person of a 16-year-old Harrison (Jack Alcott), who not only seeks the answers about his life, but also wants to meet a man who so wanted to be dead.

What I like about this show is that its cast is quite diverse. Besides Julia Jones in the first supporting role, we see Johnny Sequoyah as Audrey, Angela’s daughter, or Alano Miller as Logan.

The most important and, especially important factor of the show is the town’s relationship with the nearby Seneca Nation of Indians and the plotline revolving around it. The narrative talks about missing girls, many of whom are Indigenous.

The show takes unexpected twists and turns as it takes us on the nostalgic ride with the quite interesting present and future. Dive in if you didn’t yet.

That’s all! I do hope you enjoyed reading my list while finding out why I selected the above positions.

Personal Favorite Films of 2021

In terms of change, it was an interesting year for the cinema as well; it demonstrated that we are maturing into diversity and its rightful representation on screen, but we still have a lot to learn. Nonetheless, the creators delivered positions that, I am confident, will become timeless as the years pass. Each is unique, and each had something that piqued my interest in some way.

Each year goes by, and each year I think to myself: hopefully, the next one will be better. However, this is not entirely correct because every year has its ups and downs. As the year 2021 is drawing to a close, and the year 2022 will soon welcome us in its embrace, I think it was quite special in terms of achieving personal goals and keeping healthy in these trying times.

In terms of change, it was an interesting year for the cinema as well; it demonstrated that we are growing into diversity and its rightful representation on screen, but we still have a lot to learn. Nonetheless, the creators delivered positions that, I am confident, will become timeless as the years pass. Each is unique, and each had something that piqued my interest in one way, or another.

When I watch a movie, my mind is drawn to the meaning behind the script and the lenses of the cameras first. Each of the films listed below captivated my attention and lingered in my mind long after the film séance. There is no specific order to the list. These are simply the films that have had the most impact on me this year. I also want to state that I have yet to watch films on my list that I’ve been meaning to watch. The list is ever-changing, so take it with a grain of salt–just some films to watch if you didn’t.

Petite Maman

Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz in Petite Maman.

I’ve been a fan of Céline Sciamma for some time now. Petite Maman was one of my anticipated positions when covering the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival. What I didn’t expect is for this precious, illuminating film to become one of my ultimate favorites of this year.

The film tells the story of Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) who loses her grandmother. As the little girl assists her family in cleaning her mother’s childhood home, Nelly meets Marion (Gabrielle Sanz). The girls grow closer to each other over time, sharing many secrets that connect them in an unusual, beautiful way. 

Petite Maman tells an extraordinary story. The film’s imaginative viewpoint and truths hidden behind the lines of the script all resurface at the film’s emotional conclusion. Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz are at the heart of the film, stealing the spotlight from every other supporting character.

The Matrix Resurrections

Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss in The Matrix Resurrections / Warner Brothers

There is no secret that The Matrix trilogy is one of my ultimate favorite, dearest films. When I was in middle school and others were talking about how many cool things they got for the holidays, I’d proudly say that I got the original trilogy on DVD.

Finally, 21 years after we first met Thomas Anderson, aka, Neo (Keanu Reeves) —an IT by day and hacker by night, the beloved characters are back. Although the film feels more like a familiar, warm embrace and not a breath of fresh air, the new characters, new technology, and more elaborate fight scenes make up for it. It’s one hell of a comeback to Matrix. 

The excellence of the film lies within nostalgic script and dialogues that become an ode to the previous parts. Matrix Resurrections will undoubtedly divide the audience with its polarizing narrative. However, I’m sure that it’s excellent viewing for those who are just discovering the franchise and slowly following the white rabbit. At the same time, it becomes a great love story and nostalgic ode for the original trilogy fans. 

My full review here.

Mass

Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton in Mass by Fran Kranz, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Ryan Jackson-Healy.

I still, to this day, think about Kranz’s debut at least once a day. Mass truly breaks any boundaries and is one of a few films that delve into another side of the story.

The film tells a story of two pairs of parents—one of them the parents of the school shooter, while the others are the parents of the victim.  When Gail and Jay (Martha Plimpton and Jason Issacs) arrive at the chapel, they meet Linda and Richard (Ann Dowd and Reed Birney). Momentarily, all bets are off. The anxiety and uncomfortable tension arise from the very moment both families meet. It’s an indescribable kind of stress, the one that only people who can relate on a personal level can truly feel.

Kranz’s film will stimulate many conversations about the mental health system in which the United States lacks much, the issue of easy gun access, and much more. Mass is not an easy film to watch, but we must view it and talk about it. The film is a very powerful depiction of loss, forgiveness, and the coming together of two sides. The names of Plimpton, Dowd, Issacs, and Birney are worth remembering.

My full review here.

CODA

Emilia Jones in CODA / Apple TV.

CODA was such a surprise during Sundance 2021 and I quickly realized that it will become one of my favorite films of the year.

The heartwarming film by Sian Heder tells the story of Ruby (Emilia Jones), who’s the only hearing member of her deaf family from Gloucester. At 17, she works mornings before school to help her parents and brother keep their fishing business afloat. Ruby soon dreams of changing it after joining her high school’s choir club. The young woman finds herself drawn to both her duet partner and her passion for singing.

CODA’s entire cast is beyond incredible. Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur, Daniel Durant, and Eugenio Derbez deliver an incredible performances with Emilia Jones shining the brightest.

Heder presents a story that is often dismissed or not talked at all. CODA is an incredibly important, empowering, witty, and amusing portrayal of the family—you don’t want to miss it.

Censor

In the Sundance premiere Censor, directed by Prano Bailey-Bond, Enid (played by Niamh Algar) has an unusual job. Depending on the amount of violence in each film, her assignment is to determine whether the horror film passes or is rejected. Her days are saturated with scenes of blood, gore, and oftentimes rape. But she believes thoroughly in her work. Enid prevents people from seeing too much, continuously thinking about their mental health and psyche. She is the titular censor, and she thrives on it.

Censor is set in the 1980s and Prano Bailey-Bond attempts to visualize the streets of Europe of that time period. Viewers have the chance to explore the subject of C-level horror movies and see the United Kingdom as it was forty-something years ago. ’80s Europe is much different than 80s America. In the film, it’s much more poignant. Gloomier. The director captures that gloom perfectly well. It manifests itself not only in the characters. We can see it in the phenomenal production design by Paulina Rzeszowska (also of Saint Maud) who uses every surface she can work with.

Censor is one of the films that shock you by what you see on the screen. The reality blends with a dream while we experience the spotlight on video nasties and how they thrived. Very worth watching.

My full review here.

Playing with Sharks

Valerie Taylor in Paying With Sharks

In the documentary, Playing with Sharks, which premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, Sally Aitken showcases Taylor’s remarkable life and ends this documentary with a touching finale. The film is now available to watch on Disney+.

Valerie Taylor, a remarkable scuba diver, started spearfishing in the ’60s. She was one of the few women who took part in this activity. One could always notice her. Taylor always wore a pink or a red suit; a color that was not accidental. It was to commemorate the legendary Jacques Cousteau and his ever-present red cap. She was a force of nature wherever she went. Even in the typically masculine field of work, Valerie quickly showed other divers that she was equal to them. Aitken ensures that we, as an audience, fully see Valerie’s adventurous life by presenting us the footage that has been collected over the decades of her and her husband’s journeys.

Sharks are one of the most magnificent and powerful creatures of ocean life. Their majestic beauty manifests in many of their species. People like Valerie Taylor uphold said beauty and showcase it to us everyday individuals to better understand them. Playing with Sharks is a must-watch for everybody. It’s a film that gives us an interesting insight into the life of one amazing woman who wasn’t afraid of playing with sharks. 

My full review here.

Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar

Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo in Barb And Star Go To Vista Del Mar.

The plot of Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar can be divided into two parts. First, we are introduced to two middle-aged best friends, Barb (Mumolo) and Star (Wiig), who lose their jobs at “the hottest place in town”, a furniture store, Jennifer Convertibles. After their mutual friend convinces them to try something new, Barb and Star travel to the mysterious, most gorgeous place on Earth—Vista Del Mar. However, before the audience even gets to know them, there is an opening scene that contains something else entirely.

Soon after, we discover that Sharon Gordon Fisherman (portrayed by Wiig also) seeks revenge on a small ocean town; surprise, surprise, it’s Vista Del Mar! As she was bullied because of her skin condition, Sharon, with Edgar’s help (Jamie Dornan)—the man who holds a massive crush on his boss, plans to send mutated killer mosquitoes to the vacation place. That, of course, is supposed to happen when Barb and Star are there.

As this love letter is being written, the words aren’t enough to fully articulate how much we needed this film right now. While it’s always worth it to watch a film that fills our hearts with emotions and lets our minds reflect long after, we are also in dire need of something light that will take us and surround us with as much confusing yet hilarious weirdness as possible. This is what Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar achieves. Please don’t wait and go see it because it’s just a so gosh darn great film. 

My full article here.

Nomadland

Frances McDormand in the film NOMADLAND. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2020 20th Century Studios.

Nomadland, directed by Chloé Zhao and based on Jessica Bruder’s book, is a captivating story of a woman’s journey across America and becoming a modern-day nomad in the post-Great Recession era. While the film explores the issues of poverty and the consequences of economic failure, its true magic lies within the amazing stories that Fern (Frances McDormand) hears throughout her voyage, and the strong relationships she builds. Nomadland, in its most prominent aspect, teaches us the value of living in the now.

Over the course of her travels, Fern re-learns how to live and experiences newfound happiness caused by seemingly insignificant events. Zhao infuses the simple task of Fern learning how to change a tire with unexpected import. Just dancing with her new friends, or going with Dave to the zoo and marveling at the animals she sees, we get to live in the joy of the mundane along with her.      

The story of Nomadland is a humbling experience to me and makes me think about my own past life experiences. It helps me appreciate seemingly inconsequential moments between me and my relatives or friends. In perspective, they are the ones that I come back to the most.

Nobody

Bob Odenkirk in Nobody.

The first scene that comes to mind when I think of Nobody is when Hutch Mansell (Bob Odenkirk) gracefully approaches the record player, inserts the vinyl, and slowly lowers the needle. Suddenly, everything bursts into flames. Hutch’s entire vinyl collection burns in front of our eyes. As an avid vinyl collector, I was deeply hurt by the scene. But, as a fan of Nobody and Ilya Naishuller’s thrilling direction, I was blown away by almost every scene and fight choreography in the film.

If you had to describe Odenkirk’s Hutch, it appears that “quiet” and “ordinary” are two of the best words to use. The lead, however, makes sure that we keep changing our minds and second-guessing the next move. When Hutch’s home is broken into, the man is driven to violent vengeance and an inevitable reckoning with his own past.

Nobody is a film that is worth seeing multiple times. It’s unlike anything we’ve seen before–it’s not your typical action film. Odenkirk wreaks havoc, and after watching this one, you’ll probably want a kitty cat bracelet. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

Don’t Look Up

Jonah Hill, Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence in Don’t Look Up / Netflix.

Don’t Look Up is definitely amongst my favorite films of 2021. The dark, hilarious and extremely relatable satire by Adam McKay is off the chains. The entire cast ensemble brings something interesting, witty to the table. Each of them represents something else.

But who deserves the standing applause? It’s, without a doubt, Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio. This talented duo of actors, as Kate and Randall, two geeky astrologists who discover the comet coming to the Earth really stood out and did an incredible job. It’s one of the films that will remain relatable for quite some time.

Another solid part of the film is the script. You know that moment in Don’t Look Up when Cate Blanchett’s Brie says “I’d rather get drunk and talk shit about people”? Similar witty one-liners fill the script, making it very relatable.

McKay and Sirota wrote brilliant characters and a great premise. One of my favorite part is Lawrence’s Kate trying to figure out why the guy charged them for free snacks the entire movie

The entire film is built around funny situations while delivering a rather sadder, depressing statement. Definitely worth visiting again in the future.

These are the films that, somehow, stayed with me even after watching them. The list is quite personal, with surprising positions. Just a little recommendation at the end of the 2021.

May your new year brings prosperity and happiness!

Mike Flanagan’s ‘Midnight Mass’ and The Show’s Themes of Faith and Rebirth

Midnight Mass manages to completely perplex the viewer and provoke further discussion on the subjects of faith, its often damaging influence, and rebirth, both metaphorically and literally in the show. The series also addresses the issues of guilt and sobriety.

This article contains spoilers to Midnight Mass.

There is no doubt that Mike Flanagan, the director of Doctor Sleep and The Haunting of Bly Manor, is a master in creating a unique, elevated type of horror. Instead of focusing on the display of blood or jump scares, the director uses real-life terrors to affect the viewer. Through this procedure, his works are one of the scariest productions in the contemporary horror genre. For example, Bly Manor‘s topics of passing without being remembered, grief, and tragic love story made the series personally terrifying.

His most recent television series, a Netflix original series titled Midnight Mass, was something he had long wanted to make. The show, which stars Hamish Linklater in the lead role of Father Paul—the main and only priest of the close-knit community on a Crockett Island, manages to completely perplex the viewer and provoke further discussion on the subjects of faith, its abuse in the hands of a human, and rebirth, both presented metaphorically and literally in the show. The series also addresses the issues of guilt and sobriety.

The subject of faith is central to Midnight Mass. The majority of the scenes occur in a small church on Crockett Island, whether subtle or intense. The show is a slow burn, with the first episodes focusing on the characters’ study. Flanagan devotes his full attention to each character. As a result, the audience gets to know them very well. Amongst them are Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford)—a man who returns to the island after spending years in prison for driving drunk and killing a young woman, Erin Greene (Kate Siegel)—a soon-to-be-mom teacher, and Beverly Keane (Samantha Sloyan)—a particularly annoying and God-fearing woman who is willing to die for the priest if he asks.

As Father Paul mysteriously arrives on the island, strange things begin to happen, such as dead cats appearing on the beach or creatures with shiny eyes hiding in the dark. Nothing is scarier, however, than the resident’s unexplainable de-aging. Sarah Gunning (Annabeth Gish), a doctor on Crockett Island, surely attempts to solve the mystery, especially since her barely walking mother, Mildred (Alex Essoe), can suddenly stand, run, and even attend mass. But, while solving the puzzle is intriguing, the main issue is the residents’ God-fearing and Catholic attitude. They all have a strong faith in God, and while not everyone can afford to go to the measures of one Beverly Keane, the townspeople soak up every word of Father Paul like a sponge. Once could even say that the priest easily manipulates and brainwashes them, yet they still follow him “in the name of God.”

Mike Flanagan does an amazing, mind-bending job of demonstrating how dangerous and toxic faith—and faithful people—can be. It’s so simple for Father Paul to twist the words of the Bible to fit his needs and agenda. After being murdered by an “angel” and reborn, he poisons the residents with his blood “in the name of God.” Father Pruitt, who was previously old and suffering from dementia, is now young and practically indestructible. He’s using Bible verses as an excuse to tell lies and goe even as far as overlooking a murder. The latter is truly terrifying, especially when compared to real life. People of faith who believe that being a part of the LGBTQ+ community is an unforgivable sin don’t yet justify murder, but they are on their way to saying less and doing more.

Midnight Mass brilliantly depicts the aftermath of faith being used to mask the agendas of others. The show’s final three episodes, particularly its heartbreaking finale, truly encapsulate it. When Father Paul realizes what he has done, it’s too late and simply impossible to undo.

The identity of the “angel” responsible is unknown. Although the priest wholeheartedly believes that God sent the bloodthirsty creature to resurrect him and the residents, he is more likely to be an ancient vampire. It’s unclear whether Father Paul truly believes he’s an angel or if he’s just using it to mask his plan, and we can only speculate.

In Midnight Mass, Flanagan takes the theme of rebirth quite literally. After the “angel” drinks his blood, Father Paul is reborn, and the man then makes the decision for his parishioners and takes the choice away from them. They, too, are reborn for a brief time.

However, the rebirth can also be interpreted symbolically, as in Riley’s character. The Flynns’ oldest son, brilliantly portrayed by Zach Gilford, begins his life anew after returning to the island. Riley, who is still haunted by his past actions, keeps seeing a young woman he murdered while driving drunk. His rebirth is slow and subtle. The man spends the most time with Erin now that he is sober. In the final scene with Siegel’s character on the boat, we see him truly reborn. He lets go of the guilt, and he allows himself to be forgiven. The intensity of the moment, filled with emotions, grows even stronger as he burns to ashes.

Midnight Mass has many other wonderful aspects. Among them are a stellar cast, stunning direction, and an emotional soundtrack composed by The Newton Brothers. Furthermore, the series tells a unique story and brilliantly explores it. In today’s world, the topic of faith and its abuse for selfish purposes has become personal. Midnight Mass becomes one of the scariest series this year due to this aspect, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The season 4 finale of “The Handmaid’s Tale” is the series’ most satisfying finale yet

And that’s where the spectacle begins. Miller and Liz Garbuz, the director of the final episode, orchestrate a true tour-de-force, brilliant in perception and execution. The creators serve us yet another surprise that forces us to stand up and clench our fists in anticipation.

The below article may contain spoilers for the season finale of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Do you remember how, after waking up from a four-year coma, Kill Bill’s Black Mamba finally exacts her vengeance on those who had wronged her and it’s both delicious and satisfying to watch? June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss) waited about the same amount of time. After years of torture, physical and mental abuse, and rape, enraged June demands justice. With the final episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, “Wilderness,” airing this Wednesday, the creators may have delivered the most satisfying and utterly delectable finale that will leave you with goosebumps.

In the final scene of the ninth episode, we discover that Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) made a deal with Mark Tuello (Sam Jaeger) – the information about Gilead and its system for his and Serena’s freedom. While the man delivers the news to June, we observe her expression gradually changing. From the slight smile, it transforms into full-fledged rage when the woman runs after Tuello and screams, “That man is a fucking rapist and you know what he did to me! You know! You know what he did to those women! I’m going to fucking kill you!”

The Handmaid’s Tale — “The Wilderness” – Episode 410 — June draws on all her resources and relationships, risking everything to ensure her own kind of justice. June (Elisabeth Moss), shown. (Photo by: Sophie Giraud/Hulu)

The scene itself exudes rage, frustration, and anger. It easily translates into our world, where women are consistently let down by those who should have protected them and are forced to watch their oppressors walk free. We can feel June’s rage in every fiber of our being. In this and every other scene, Elisabeth Moss’ acting is riveting and enchanting.

In the season four finale, “Wilderness,” we see the main character struggling to accept that Fred is ready to jet off to Geneva to await his trial. When he returns, he will be a free man, as Fred tells Serena in one of the scenes. Luke tries to console June and even suggests that she should let it go (really, Luke?). However, it’s clear that the former Handmaid won’t rest until Fred has received justice for the actions he committed at Gilead.

Bruce Miller has a surprise for us just when we think it’s all over. June has a few more trump cards up her sleeve. Commander Lawrence is one of them, and he makes Tuello an offer: twenty-two women walking from Gilead in exchange for “our brother’s return.” It’s an indescribable feeling of pleasure and satisfaction to see confused Fred being escorted away in a van. It’s possibly the first time in an entire series that he’s treated at least a little bit like the women he oppressed – confused, scared, and unsure of what will happen next. Nobody, not even Nick (Max Minghella), tells him anything.

And that’s where the spectacle begins. Miller and Liz Garbus, the director of the final episode, orchestrate a true tour-de-force, brilliant in perception and execution. The creators serve us yet another surprise that forces us to stand up and clench our fists in anticipation. After the arrival in no man’s land, June appears in front of Fred with two items – a gun and a whistle; she demands the man to choose. 

Even in a dire situation that Fred finds himself in, bleeding from his nose, he doesn’t believe that June has what it takes to shoot him. But that’s where he once again underestimates the power and wisdom of women. After blowing the whistle, other formerly oppressed women, including Emily (Alexis Bledel), appear behind June. “Run,” she quietly says.

Our emotions seem to reach their apex, and we don’t believe that the joy can be any greater, but we are mistaken. Miller and Garbus go above and beyond in an aesthetically pleasing, highly evocative sequence to serve the long-awaited vengeance in the most satisfying way, both with narrative and direction. “It has to look like love. That’s what he needs,” June narrates as the chase begins. “Pretend you like it. Pretend you love it. Pretend you want it. He is your Commander. He is your whole world. Don’t run. Don’t kick. Don’t scream.”

June’s narrative intertwines with Leslie Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me,” which has become the series’ anthem. Fred ultimately receives what is known as poetic justice, just as the lyrics reverberate in our ears. Without a doubt, the overall composition of the scene is one of the most exciting and empowering scenes in the fourth season. The main character smiles contentedly and completes her revenge, much like Beatrix Kiddo serving The Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique.

Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and Serena Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski), shown. (Photo by: Sophie Giraud/Hulu)

June and others ultimately get what they’ve been waiting for. The character can finally move on, but that doesn’t mean her actions will be understood by those around her. For instance, Luke is struck by June’s appearance in the following scene. What will their future bring? What about the rest? When the season ends, a befuddled Serena is left hanging on Zoom, not knowing Fred’s fate. What will her reaction be? Is her safety jeopardized? What about June? Will she be able to heal and continue her search for Hannah?

The finale of the fourth season is the most satisfying yet. While the one of last season filled me with tears as the plane with children and Rita landed, this one filled me with utter satisfaction. Let’s hope that the cast and crew of The Handmaid’s Tale receive a slew of Emmy nominations this year, because they certainly deserve it. 

The Handmaid’s Tale is available to stream on Hulu.

“Nomadland” grounds us and reminds us the value of living in the now

While the the film explores the issues of poverty and the consequences of economic failure, its true magic lies within the amazing stories that Fern (Frances McDormand) hears throughout her voyage, and the strong relationships she builds. Nomadland is its most prominent aspect, the film also teaches us the value of living in the now.

Nomadland, directed by Chloé Zhao and based on Jessica Bruder’s book, is a captivating story of a woman’s journey across America and becoming a modern-day nomad in the post-Great Recession era. While the the film explores the issues of poverty and the consequences of economic failure, its true magic lies within the amazing stories that Fern (Frances McDormand) hears throughout her voyage, and the strong relationships she builds. Nomadland, in its most prominent aspect, teaches us the value of living in the now.

Fern, a recently-widowed woman who’s abandoned her old life to travel the country as a nomad, meets people similar to her, taking small jobs wherever she can. We meet Swankie, who teaches Fern a variety of things that everyday nomads ought to know. Fern also bonds with fellow nomads (most of whom are played by non-professional actors, real members of the nomad lifestyle), including Linda May, Bob Wells (an American vandweller who lectures others on a minimalistic and nomadic lifestyle) and Dave (David Strathairn), another fellow nomad who presents himself as a potential partner, a means to settle down again.

Linda May and Frances McDormand in the film NOMADLAND. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2020 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

One of the most unexpectedly effective components of Fern’s quest is the significance of fleeting, seemingly unimportant moments in her life. We see Fern exploring canyons with Dave, Swankie teaching the main character everything she knows, or a young man asking Fern for a cigarette and engaging in a light, rather introductory conversation. He’s with a group of young people travelling in a bus; he, like Fern, is on his own journey, where the details are unimportant save for the fact that they’re going somewhere. Fern gives him a lighter; “I’ll be seeing you,” he says. It’s such a trivial moment, but the last words carry a promise. The two are crossing paths only for a moment, but it’s clear these little moments are the reason they’re both out here.

The scene that also stayed with me was Fern celebrating New Year’s Eve alone in her van. It’s night when Fern lights a single sparkler, while wearing a  “Happy New Year” tiara.  When the time comes, Fern starts waving the sparkler, twirling, laughing, and shouting, “Happy New Year!”. It’s a simple scene, but it makes you want to be right there with Fern celebrating the new year. It’s a scene that’s forced me to ponder my previous celebrations with family and friends: when our life gets tough, and we need something to lean on, we come back to those memories of simple connection with others. Fern’s alone, but not really; we’re right there with her. Like the nomads, we’re alone together.   

Frances McDormand and David Strathairn in the film NOMADLAND. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2020 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

Over the course of her travels, Fern re-learns how to live and experiences newfound happiness caused by seemingly insignificant events. Zhao infuses the simple task of Fern learning how to change a tire with unexpected import. Just dancing with her new friends, or going with Dave to the zoo and marveling at the animals she sees, we get to live in the joy of the mundane along with her.      

The story of Nomadland is a humbling experience to myself and makes me think about my own past life experiences. It helps me appreciate seemingly inconsequential moments between me and my relatives or friends. In the perspective, they are the ones that I come back to the most.

Nomadland also showcases the crucial importance of human conversations and bonds. Especially now, when the worldwide pandemic forced the entire world to stay home, isolated within our bubbles, the simple beauty of human interaction isn’t lost on us. We’ve spent a year in Zoom meetings, interacting with people through screens and masks. Because of this, the simple task of going to the store and talking to strangers feels borderline impossible. Being away from people for so long, we seem to forget how to communicate. 

However, Zhao’s film reminds us that talking to people is crucial and mind-stimulating. In one scene, Bob Wells and a group of nomads gather around a sizzling bonfire and exchange life stories. “I’m a Vietnam vet and I got PTSD,” one of the members shares. “I really can’t handle loud noises, big crowds, fireworks. I got a pickup truck and a camper. I can live out here and be at peace,” he shares. Another person, a woman, tells the gathered group that she began her healing journey over two years ago, thanks to Bob and his videos. These brief moments when nomads can come together and express their adoration for this lifestyle, are truly significant and carry a unique charm.

Swankie. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2020 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

The next meeting’s atmosphere transforms into something more somber when Swankie passes away. Nomads gather around the campfire, throwing stones into the fire one by one. “Because she loved rocks,” says a woman holding a little dog.  When it is Bob’s turn, he does the same and says, See you down the road, Swankie.” What I paid most attention to in this touching scene was that nobody cried. In contrast – Fern smiled when throwing the rock into the fire. I was amazed by the characters’ view on death. Instead of spiraling into sadness, it feels like they know that they will meet Swankie again.

While I observed Fern’s journey and was highly moved by her tight relationships with the community, I was also charmed by the exceptional, breathtaking cinematography that adds to the beauty of Nomadland – be it a beautiful sunset, Linda May and Fern resting in folded chairs, or the aforementioned bonfire scene. With yet another factor, Nomadland forces us to reflect, maybe even on our life, and go back to these moments that seem irrelevant, still, they’re burnt into our memory because we value them for different reasons. Maybe it was the positive, euphoric feeling we felt during that moment. Perhaps it’s the person that we shared a moment with. 

Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2020 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

That’s the magic of Zhao’s film. With the exceptional acting of McDormand, the creators open and let us discover a different world, where we stop our busy lives and live in the now with Fern.  As we are mentored by Bob, Swankie, and Linda May, we also realize the faults of this country and the brutal aftermath of economic breakdown that left many no choice but to pack up, get into a vehicle, and travel, seeking work.

As mentioned above, it’s a picture that will let us reflect on our lives. We don’t need all the things we desire to be happy and free. What the film made me realize is that we live too fast and don’t appreciate trivial moments in our day. I was rather dismissive of them. However, Nomadland transformed my thinking. The film also encourages us to appreciate the people in our lives anew, as well as those ones who will appear in our path in the future.

Nomadland is available to stream on Hulu.