Happy new Autostraddle Merch Day, Boobs Tubers! We are, as I type this, working on your favorite list of the year: The Best/Worst TV Characters of 2018! This week, to prep you, Heather made a list of best lesbian and bisexual couples of 2018. Carmen recapped a wackadoodle episode of Black Lightning. Valerie Anne recapped a little Thanksgiving chaos on both Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl. And here’s what else happened.
9-1-1 209: “Hen Begins”
Written by Natalie
Once upon a time, Henrietta “Hen” Wilson was not a firefighter/paramedic. She wasn’t always the person who dove into a garbage compactor to save a homeless man or the person who scoured the ruins of a collapsed building to find a lost little girl. Henrietta Wilson wasn’t always a superhero and this week on 9-1-1, we got her origin story.
A few episodes ago, we learned that Hen’s path to becoming the Hen we all know and love began when she was 16: on her way home from school, she was struck by a stray bullet. But for the skill and care of some diligent paramedics, she would’ve died…a bit of backstory that is, scarily enough, cribbed from Aisha Hinds’ actual life. The admiration that Hen earned for parademics that day didn’t translate to her becoming a paramedic right away, though: first, she built a successful career working in pharmaceutical sales.
OldHen looks like an entirely different person — with her Lord & Taylor suit, beige peacoat, muted glasses, heels, cute bob and fiery red lipstick — but the Hen we’ve come to know is still there. When one doctor, with an apparent fetish for black women, touches her without her consent, she threatens to put a steak knife through his hand. Everyone laughs through the awkwardness and the meeting forges ahead, but OldHen’s willingness to endure this job is gone: she quits while waiting for the valet.
But, does OldHen rush right over to the first responders’ recruitment office to sign up? Nope, surprisingly, she goes to a life coach for help finding her passion. For the second time this episode, someone talks to OldHen about “fire” because, you know, this show has all the subtlety of an anvil, but Hen misses the sign. It’s only when her life coach collapses in the middle of her session and Hen’s forced to spring into action to save her, that Hen realizes that she’s meant to save lives. OldHen’s girlfriend, Eva — who doesn’t look to yet be in the throws of addiction (tell me that backstory, 9-1-1) — isn’t immediately supportive.
“Passion is for rich people, and the rest of us, we work,” Eva says, echoing words that have been used for eternity to dissuade poor people from following their dreams.
But OldHen persists. She persists through a training program that tests her physically and mentally, only to end up at Station 118 serving under a Captain who definitely does not want her there. The Captain makes her early months at the firehouse hell — bullying her at every possible occasion and attributing her mistakes to her gender, instead of her rookie status — and it nearly pushes Hen to her breaking point. She does, however, find an ally in fellow firefighter/paramedic, Howie (AKA Chim), who absorbs some not-so-friendly fire from the Chief for having befriended the new girl.
Hen takes Howie’s advice and seeks out support from another first responder she met: Athena Grant. 9-1-1 has done a lot of crazy things over the last 19 episodes but the idea that a lesbian got ANGELA BASSETT’s phone number and an invitation to drinks and didn’t call her immediately…well, that might be the most implausible thing this show has ever done. A girl that looks like ANGELA BASSETT slips me her number and suggests we go out, I’m calling her just as soon as I regain consciousness, but I digress. When she meets Athena, she also meets her small support group: other first responders who’ve gone through the same challenges that Hen is. She finds comfort and confidence in swapping horror stories and returns to the firehouse and makes an impassioned defense for her right to be there.
“All I ask is that when you look at me, see me,” she pleads. “See me the way I see you: as a proud member of this department, one of the rare few that chooses to spend their lives in service of those who are hurt and those who need to be saved.”
Before the Captain can add to his mocking applause, a call comes in and the Station rushes to the scene. Hen assesses the scene and realizes that they haven’t found all the crash’s victims but the Captain dismisses her speculation. Hen disregards his order, risking her career, and goes in search of other victims, with Chim following close behind. They find one dead body and a car submerged in the river and Hen dives in to check for survivors. Hen pulls a kid from the wreckage and she and Chim perform CPR to bring him back to life. With this profound reminder of why she decided to do this job in the first place, Hen finally breaks down and cries…and Chim joins her in that too.
Hen can barely bask in the glow of her save before she’s called into the Captain’s office. She’s expecting to be fired for disobeying orders but, instead, her captain’s getting the boot. While Hen never lodged a single complaint against the Captain for his mistreatment, her colleagues did. He’s out, the commander says, and Hen’s the future of the LAFD.
This episode of 9-1-1 was great…not just because it was a great vehicle for our favorite character on the show, but because especially given what’s been going on in California, it’s important to remember those who show up “when it’s your turn to have the worst day of your life.” Here’s how to help the victims of the California wildfires and a way to support the future Henrietta Wilsons of the world.
This Is Us 308: “Six Thanksgivings”
Written by Carmen
I called it! Back in September, the TV Team got together to write a list we playfully titled “Make It Gay, You Cowards.” We talked about the shows that frustrate us with their refusal to just go there already. I picked This Is Us for my selection, righteously arguing, “Are you trying to tell me that this is somehow the only big messy family in America without a gay cousin or aunt?”
I suggested that Tess Pearson, the second-eldest granddaughter, and someone who’s already been tapped to have a larger role as her adult self in this season’s flash forward, might be the one to look out for. Turns out, This Is Us Executive Producer Isaac Aptaker agreed with me.
Thanksgiving is a long established important holiday for multiple generations of the Pearson clan, and this year proves no different for young Tess Pearson. The minute the tween girl pulls her mother aside to complain of a “stomach ache” that would keep her from volunteering with her parents at a nearby soup kitchen, anyone could guess we were looking at a first period storyline. A comedy of errors involves Tess being walked in on by her Uncle Toby as she’s trying to figure out how pads work. Toby goes downstairs to get Kate for help.
Kate and Tess bond over Kate’s own embarrassing first period story (it involves tween Kate running in to her crush in the middle of the night and having to choose between lying about being a bedwetter at age twelve or telling the truth). Leaving her niece in a much more comforted and confident emotional state than she first found her, Kate reminds Tess that she can always come to her aunt with anything. After all, Kate teases, Tess will be having her first kiss soon, and maybe even – gasp! – a first boyfriend.
Tess looks down at her hands fidgeting in her lap and takes a deep breath before whispering to her aunt, “Or first girlfriend.”
The rest of their conversation takes place mostly off camera, but we know that Tess makes Kate promise not to share her new feelings with her parents. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Aptaker (who is also behind this year’s teen boy romantic comedy breakout Love, Simon!) promises that Tess’ coming out tale will be a slow burn. In particular, he notes that Tess’ sexuality will be play an important role with her adult self.
Tess is just 10 years old in the show’s present day timeline. Kids coming out at younger ages is a growing – and for me, exciting! – trend on TV right now. It’s wonderful how sweet young Tess is in this moment; that she speaks in tween words, that her sexuality isn’t something that somehow makes her “older” than she is. She’s a 5th grader, in a rainbow sweater, in her purple bedroom, talking to her aunt who loves her. That’s all it needs to be.
I love This Is Us because apparently I’m a glutton for emotional torture and crying through my sweatshirt every week. If I can do some of that crying over a new queer black girl? Even better.
The Young and the Restless
Two things about Y&R: first, Cait Fairbanks is delivering some of the best work of her young career as Tessa. It’s easy to get overshadowed by Camryn Grimes (Mariah) — some of the genre’s best and most experienced daytime actors do — but this storyline has really invigorated Fairbanks’ performance and I have no doubt that she’ll earn her second Emmy nomination. I loved seeing Tessa this week really trying to repair things with Mariah while also creating a back-up plan for when things go wrong. Growing up as she did taught Tessa never to trust that the ground beneath her feet was solid…and no matter how much she loves Mariah, she can’t shake that feeling.
Which brings me to my second thing: Tessa’s definitely about to die. Soap tropes exist for a reason and the scheming woman only survives if she’s tethered to one of the soap’s families and Tessa is not. Think Kendall Hart on All My Children or Sami Brady on Days of Our Lives…the others get killed and become the basis for a classic whodunit soap story. That’s just the way it goes on a soap…but given the history of lesbian and bisexual characters on television, waiting for the inevitable seems particularly cruel. — Natalie
Camping 106: Carleen?!
Yeesh, the U.S. adaptation of Camping is almost unwatchable. The first episode was rough, and it has only gotten worse. Now that I’ve seen Sally4Ever (whose creator made the original British version of this show), I hate the remake even more. I would put it up there with NBC’s whiff at Kath and Kim, even though I’m the only person on earth who will understand that reference. ANWAY. Harry remains great. In a surprise twist, she’s started bonding with Walt because her wife left her when she said she wanted to have kids, so she’s in pain; and Walt’s in pain because he’s married to Kathryn, who is a monster. David Tennant and Bridget Everett are pretty dang amazing together. This week, they go sleuthing together to look for a missing Carleen. They suit up like rangers, sit in bushes and talk about love, and when Walt finds Carleen’s slipper, Harry sats, “Good job, little buddy” and it’s the nicest thing that’s happened in six entire episodes of this trainwreck. — Heather
There was no toeing on this week’s Sally4Ever but there was still plenty of junk to make a person squirm! David and Sally have split up. Sally is officially with Emma. Sally’s not sure how to tell her hyper-religious parents either of those things, so Emma of course just goes right ahead and does it — and even though it stuns Sally’s mom, her response is nothing on David’s mom, who stumbles onto Emma and Sally going at it later that night and literally loses the ability to speak. There’s really no way to write about this show. You’ve just got to watch and see for yourself how long you can last. — Heather