In “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” an Exciting Return to the Wizarding World

Since the night of November 8, I’ve needed joy. Tonight, I found it, in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, J.K. Rowling’s new addition to the Wizarding World.

Based off a Hogwarts textbook, which Rowling wrote in 2001 to raise money for charity, the film Fantastic Beasts is Rowling’s first foray into screenwriting. She delivers a smart, funny, exciting movie, directed well by David Yates, with a plot full of promise for fans of the books.

After a brief, confusing first scene, the weakest part of the movie, we meet our hero, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a magizoologist and the author of the aforementioned Hogwarts textbook. Scamander disembarks a ship in 1926 New York, holding a briefcase full of magical creatures. From here on, the movie takes flight.

New York City is bustling and dark, and looks almost surprised when magic disrupts it. More bewitching, appropriately, is the world inside Scamander’s briefcase, with pockets of different habitats conjured to suit his beloved beasts. Richly colored and animated, innovative and entrancing, this world is as gorgeous as the creatures it shelters. Every beast, from the tiny, dependent Bowtruckle to the magnificent Thunderbird, is stunning — and more than a few could eat Donald Trump, a fun thought.

Of course, such wondrous creatures can’t be contained in a mere briefcase. Some of the beasts escape, which provides the main thrust of the movie. Along the way, Scamander meets Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), an ex-Auror for MACUSA, the Magical Congress of the United States; her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), a Legilimens, otherwise known as a witch who can read minds; and Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a No-Maj, the American word for a Muggle.

These four become a lovable quartet, cementing what I’ve found most distinctive about Rowling’s storytelling: her ability to craft characters so human, so real, I care about them as much as I do living people. The actors’ sterling performances help in this endeavor, led by Redmayne’s lithe, awkward, earnest Scamander, a hero all the more endearing for being a bit odd. Waterston plays Tina, who starts out wary of Newt but warms to him, as driven, brave and kind; she and Newt have promising potential. Sudol’s Queenie, meanwhile, is warm from the outset, beautiful and giggly, as charming as she is bright. Fogler rounds out the four with sharp comic timing as Kowalski, and is winningly astonished by most magic. Viewers can relate.

We meet less charming characters as well. Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) leads the Second Salemers, who want to expose and exterminate witchcraft in the United States. She approaches Henry Shaw, Sr. (Jon Voight), a newspaper magnate, and his sons, prohibitionist senator Henry Junior (Josh Cowdery) and Langdon (Ronan Raftery), hoping to convince them that magic exists, too. Among Barebone’s adopted children is Credence (Ezra Miller), a trembling, rigid, shell of a person, one of the mysteries the film explores. Colin Farrell rounds out the count, playing the shrewd, powerful Percival Graves, the head of MACUSA’s Department of Magical Law Enforcement.

You may have noticed a theme among the main actors so far: they’re all white. The lone exception is Carmen Ejogo, who plays MACUSA president Serafina Picquery. I’m disappointed Rowling did so little to diversify her characters, particularly after the Potter novels’ criticism on that front. Still, I have hope: the end of the movie leaves room for new characters, who may be people of color. So, too, does it seem likely that sequels will include characters of different sexualities. In addition, Tina and Queenie’s last name suggests they are Jewish. If so, they are the second and third explicitly Jewish characters in the Wizarding World, and the first Jewish protagonists. (If they aren’t, I will personally throw a riot, because I have waited 14 years for this.)

Besides the film’s diversity oversight, however, it shows a keen awareness of modern political issues. Themes of xenophobia, authoritarianism and extremism course through the movie, setting the tone for conflicts to come.

I’m crossing my fingers, though, that even with those conflicts, the sequels maintain Fantastic Beasts’ delicate balance. It is warm and dark, witty and action-packed, engaging for the eyes and the mind in equal measure. Fantastic Beasts provided a potent antidote to my post-election sorrow, and is a welcome extension of my favorite world. 

And its twist at the end, like the movie itself, is typical Rowling brilliance.

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Why Bob Dylan Deserves the Nobel Prize in Literature

My father and I have sung lullabies since before I can remember. We started our tradition when I was infant: he would sing; I would cry. Sometimes, I’d quiet down and listen. As I grew older, I began singing with him. Our lullabies feel as imprinted upon me as nails on my fingers. They remind me of home, like the scent of fresh challah or the first bite into my dad’s shortbread cookies.

Five of those lullabies are Bob Dylan songs. They soundtracked my childhood, and as the years progressed, the full Dylan canon began scoring my life. My parents are chiefly responsible for my musical tastes, and my dad in particular encouraged my appreciation of Dylan. He included Dylan in the same category as only a select few singer-songwriters — Tom Waits, John Prine, Joni Mitchell — whom he considered geniuses for their writing as much as for their music. Yet as wonderful as those other artists are, Dylan reigned, and reigns, above them. As Dylan himself told the Rolling Stones, as recorded in Christopher Sanford’s biography, Keith Richards: Satisfaction: “I could’ve written Satisfaction, but no way you fuckers could’ve written Tambourine Man.”

That’s basically right, but with an asterisk. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were musical geniuses. Their discography includes some of the best instrumental composing, from “Satisfaction” to “Gimme Shelter,” in all of English music. In no world, however — in no iteration of themselves — could Jagger or Richards have written the lyrics to “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Or “Blowin’ in the Wind,” or “115th Dream,” or “Like a Rolling Stone,” or “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” No one besides Bob Dylan could. Dylan is, of course, an excellent musician, and perhaps indeed could have penned the chords to “Satisfaction.” But Dylan’s extraordinary, rather than merely wonderful, talent has always been his writing. It is in the literary sphere that Dylan has thrived and soared. It is with his words, not his beats or riffs, that Dylan has articulated the angsts, joys, rages and fears of an entire generation, and many people after that.

Dylan is one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. That includes all novelists, all playwrights and poets. So, too, is Dylan one of the most unusual. He is a poet, yes: one glance at the lyrics to “Mr. Tambourine Man” conveys that. But, more specifically, he is a bard. Today, our use of “bard” usually refers to a famous poet or minstrel — hence William Shakespeare being called “the Bard of Avon.” However, a true bard, in the original sense, is a professional story teller: one who, through verse and music, orally tells his or her tales. This sense of the bardic tradition has declined, but the fact we still read “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” shows that it remains central and influential to modern literature. Dylan, today, carries the mantel that almost 3,000 years ago Homer bore.

For that reason, Dylan does not just fit squarely within the bounds of literature, albeit at its outskirts. He is also one of the most innovative and important literary figures today. Dylan, and few others, keeps alive the ancient intersection of song and story that has proved so powerful. What’s more, he has integrated the bardic tradition into popular culture, earning it modern fans around the world.

Dozens of writers besides Dylan would deserve the Nobel Prize in Literature: Joyce Carol Oates, Salman Rushdie, Joan Didion, Philip Roth and Haruki Murakami come to mind. Less widely recognized writers, from underdeveloped countries, would deserve the award as well. That’s the case every year. Dylan, in particular, doesn’t need the recognition or money a Nobel Prize brings. However, the bardic tradition does need a Nobel Prize — and it has just won its first in the award’s 115-year history. Moreover, Dylan himself deserves his Nobel Prize, for returning the bardic tradition to prominence in modern consciousness, for writing some of the greatest poems and lyrics of the 20th century, for widening the bounds of literature to include him and the ancient art he represents.

One day, I will sing lullabies to my children, and I will include Bob Dylan’s songs among them. In that way, when my children are too young to read, I will introduce them to the world of stories.

In ‘The Hammer of Thor,’ Rick Riordan Throws Convention Out the Window

***SPOILERS for Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan, which you should all read, suggested age range be damned.***

When I read the first book in Rick Riordan’s series about Norse gods in the modern world last year, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer, I noticed something unusual: the main character lacked a love interest. Samirah al-Abbas, the young Muslim woman Riordan created to fill the Strong Female Lead role, was engaged to and in love another character. Magnus Chase, the protagonist of the new series, had no romantic options in sight.

So I knew, when I picked up Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Hammer of Thor last week, that Riordan would introduce a new character to serve as Chase’s love interest. I just didn’t expect her to be a gender-fluid, transgender person.

Alex Fierro was assigned male at birth, but realized when she was young that she identified as both male and female. Because of her gender fluidity, her parents kicked her out, making her homeless as a mere teenager. She asks her companions to call her “she” or “he” based on which gender she identifies with more on a given day, rather than using the pronoun “they.” (She usually feels more female, hence my use of the feminine pronoun in this piece.)

Through Magnus’ well-meaning but ignorant gaze, the reader learns about gender fluidity, being transgender, the perils of transphobia, and the history of gender fluid and transgender individuals — according to Norse mythology, they’ve existed as long as Norse gods have. (Certainly longer, too.) Yet Riordan also emphasizes that Alex’s story is not every transgender or gender fluid person’s tale. She is one of many: being the only gender fluid or transgender person Magnus knows does not make her a mascot.

It would’ve been enough for Rick Riordan, one of the most popular children’s authors in the world today, to write a gender fluid and/or transgender main character. That inclusion, by itself, would have continued his intentional representation of diverse heroes. But he went a step further: Alex isn’t just a main character, she is a love interest, too.

In this book, she’s only subtly so. She’s got a lot of baggage; so does Magnus. Not to mention the fact they’re busy trying to save the world — y’know, normal teen stuff. They’ve also just met. But from the outset, the reader feels a connection between Magnus and Alex. Magnus finds her beautiful as a woman; he finds Alex handsome as a man. He is fascinated by her, he cares about her, and even though this book is meant for readers as young as 11, he is attracted to her.

Even in literature and media meant for adults, I have seen few portrayals of gender fluid or transgender people as attractive. They may be good, brave people, admirable and strong; but flat-out attractive? That one’s rare. Yet Rick Riordan, in a children’s book, broke that barrier. And he did so in a book that, today, hit Number 1 on the New York Times’ Bestseller List.

It’s almost impossible to quantify how much books impact people’s worldview, even children’s. (The Bestseller List highlighting The Hammer of Thor hasn’t even come out yet; Riordan just announced it on his Twitter.) But to give you an idea: the first book in Riordan’s Norse series, The Sword of Summer, had an initial print of 2.5 million copies. Many prints followed, meaning millions more children read that book. (And adults like me.) Since we can assume most of The Sword of Summer’s readers will get The Hammer of Thor as well, that means millions of children will meet Alex Fierro. Millions of children will be introduced to a gender fluid, transgender person for the first time. Millions of children will see a gender fluid, transgender person who is sympathetic, attractive, brave, smart, self-possessed, and wonderfully human.

That is revolutionary. That representation — to embolden gender fluid and transgender young people, to educate other children as allies — can, literally, change the world.

So you could say I got a nice surprise when I started reading The Hammer of Thor. By creating Alex Fierro, Rick Riordan threw the conventions of literary love interests out the window. And we’re all better off for it.

“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”: a Flawed, Fantastic Return to the Wizarding World

***WARNING: This post does not #KeepTheSecrets. Spoilers for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child ahead.***

A particular perspective has been absent in reviews of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

All critics are familiar with Harry’s story; some — even most — must be fans. But for phenomenons such as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, fans come in different degrees. Unlike the most prominent reviewers of Cursed Child thus far, I am a peak Harry Potter fanatic.

I’ve read every book from the original seven-volume series as well as the companion works, Quidditch Through the Ages, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and The Tales of Beedle the Bard. I have Hermione Granger’s robe and wand, which I’ve worn at least twice in the past year. I want to write children’s books because of Harry Potter. Not infrequently, I trace my decisions, opinions and values to lessons learned from Harry and his friends. I’ve already bought my ticket, four months early, to the film version of Fantastic Beasts. And I spent all my money and took a week off work to travel more than 3,700 miles to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child performed onstage in London, England.

So understand while reading this review that unlike most professional critics, I can’t just comment on the work itself. Watching and reading Cursed Child, I see most intently how this eighth story fits into Rowling’s Wizarding World.

In most ways, it’s a wonderful addition. Cursed Child begins where the epilogue to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh book in the original series, left off: with Harry (Jamie Parker) and Ginny Potter’s (Poppy Miller) middle son, Albus Severus Potter (Sam Clemmett), embarking for Hogwarts. So, too, do Rose Granger-Weasley (Cherrelle Skeete)— daughter of one literature’s great couples, Ron Weasley (Paul Thornley) and Hermione Granger (Noma Dumezweni)— and Draco Malfoy’s (Alex Price) son, Scorpius (Anthony Boyle). From there, Cursed Child takes a turn anticipated for nine years by fanfiction writers across the world: Albus and Scorpius become best friends. They bond in part because of strained father-son relationships, as both Harry and Draco struggle to relate to their children, and remain close after both are Sorted into Slytherin House and become, in Scorpius’ words, “true and total losers.”

From there, the play unfolds, with new threats of Dark magic and even Voldemort’s resurgence. Cursed Child poses a particular problem for avid Potterheads: as much as we — or at least I — want to immerse ourselves back into the Wizarding World, it hurts to see our heroes face more hardship. When I first read Deathly Hallows, I cried when I reached the last sentence: “All was well.” Its simplicity, its peace filled me with joy. For the first time since he was a year and three months old, Harry Potter’s life was good. He had a loving family, wonderful friends, no Dark wizards trying to kill him. After thousands of pages and millions of words, for Harry Potter, all really was well.

Cursed Child’s existence necessitates the end of that lovely line. A new play about Harry and his family wouldn’t exist with a point of tension, challenges to face. Here, a few arise, all difficult to watch. All I want for Harry is peace — so seeing his scar hurt set my mouth in a sour grimace. All I want for Harry is love — so seeing him and Albus fight made me wince.

But, as I said, Cursed Child is wonderful. It wouldn’t be if Harry and his friends didn’t emerge safe and happy once more. As intended, Harry even grows from the struggles he faces, mainly his relationship with Albus. The other characters grow, too — Albus and Scorpius, this play’s protagonists, in particular.

Albus and Scorpius provide a touching, lonely, adolescent core to this story. Their relationship is the best part of Cursed Child. (Although, as a Rose/Scorpius shipper of nine years and counting, I was thrilled by Scorpius’ crush on her.) Albus’ veiled sensitivity, dry humor and boldness mesh well with Scorpius’ awkward, nerdy, funny character. In truth, Scorpius was my favorite character in the play. Together, he and Albus form an unlikely pair that makes perfect sense, especially as played by Boyle and Clemmett.

In general, Cursed Child is strongest when it explores relationships: Albus and Scorpius’, Albus and Harry’s, and Scorpius and Draco’s are most prominent. In these emotional scenes, Rowling’s touch was most evident. Although her writing improved during her original seven books, Rowling, who helped create but did not write this play, has always had an extraordinary gift at representing humanity. The emotional core of her series lives in its characters, whom she makes so familiar, and how they interact with one another and their world. I loved Harry Potter, as a fragile six-year-old, because I saw my insecurities in Ron; I felt like an outcast, like Harry; and as a bossy, dark- and bushy-haired, brainiac girl with brown eyes and large front teeth, I was Hermione. Potterheads love Rowling’s series as much for her characters as for her world, and sure enough, I loved Cursed Child’s new faces.

But in reflecting old characters, the play had one major flaw. Rowling, playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany did immense disservice to Ron Weasley. Yes, in the Potter series, Ron fulfills the funny sidekick role, providing monkey barrels of comic relief. But he has always been more than that. He was a boy immensely relatable to readers, riddled by insecurities and self-imposed pressure. He’s not Hermione, but he’s smart in his own right, providing important knowledge and common sense. Most of all, he’s a fiercely loyal and brave friend. During the chess tournament in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Ron was willing to sacrifice his life for Harry and Hermione— at just 11 years old.

That full, complicated character is more than a sidekick.

Yet Cursed Child continued the Harry Potter films’ process of reducing Ron to that one guy who makes the audience laugh. Ron served no purpose in the play except to crack jokes and serve as Hermione’s love interest. He should have been given more to do. Why did Harry not confide in his best friend about his trouble with his son? Why did no one consult Ron, a brilliant chess player, for strategic ideas about how to take down the play’s villain? Why was Ron drawn as less perceptive and helpful than in Deathly Hallows, undoing seven books of earned character growth? I love Ron’s jokes, and he and Hermione are my favorite couple, but I reject Cursed Child’s version of Ron. Owning Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, instead of being Head of Magical Law Enforcement like Harry or Minister of Magic like Hermione, should not make him less important.

Cursed Child’s other character flaws were less striking, but more important to the play’s convoluted plot. In short: it turns out that Voldemort had a daughter with Bellatrix Lestrange who calls herself the Augery (Esther Smith). Calling herself Delphi Diggory, Amos’ supposed niece, she tries to reverse her father’s defeat by convincing Albus and Scorpius to go back in time and stop Voldemort from killing Cedric Diggory in the Triwizard Tournament.

Using the last remaining Time Turner, Albus and Scorpius indeed try to save Cedric, creating alternate realities as a result. By humiliating Cedric during the second Task, the boys make him as much of a loser as they are. Cedric grows so resentful of his unpopularity that he becomes a Death Eater and kills Neville Longbottom in the Battle of Hogwarts. This murder, which prevents Neville from destroying Voldemort’s last Horcrux, Nagini, lets Voldemort kill Harry and establish his fascist, Muggle-killing dictatorship.

A lot more happens in the five-plus hours of Cursed Child — in fact, that alternate reality only emerges at the end of Act Two. Eventually, Albus and Scorpius and their families defeat the Augery and save the Wizarding World. But the plot is riddled with holes, two of them being the revelations about Cedric and Voldemort.

Cedric Diggory was honest and fair-minded, saving Harry during the Third Task of the Triwizard Tournament and earlier, in the series’ third book, trying to arrange a Quidditch rematch when his team won because Harry fell off his broom. He was, as Albus Dumbledore put it, “good, and kind, and brave.” That person would not become a Death Eater, particularly with mere humiliation as his influence. Indeed, claiming Cedric Diggory could become a Death Eater insults his rightly lauded memory. A boy as good as him does not start advocating genocide because he’s become unpopular. That insinuation badly revises his character: it makes his sacrifice less significant, and his death less tragic. Although Rowling, Thorne and Tiffany make it a point to honor Cedric’s memory, they dishonor his personhood by presenting such a twisted version of who he could have become. Their version does not fit with the Cedric readers know, nor with the son whom Amos Diggory still mourns and loves.

In addition — and all you fanfiction writers who long ago predicted Voldemort’s child, skip this part — claiming Voldemort and Bellatrix would have a child together stretches belief. Of course, Bellatrix would be willing to carry Voldemort’s child: she’d give her life for the opportunity. But I find it hard to believe Voldemort would ask her to carry one. It’s not that he would reject the idea of progeny — in fact, I find the logic of him having a child entirely believable. A man obsessed with immortality would embrace any chance to continue his bloodline, and a man who did not comprehend love would not consider a child a weakness.

However, during his months at Malfoy Manor, Voldemort would not have thought that step necessary. One of Voldemort’s biggest faults was pride, which led him to underestimate his opponents and draw incorrect conclusions. He knew Harry sought to destroy his Horcruxes, but did not think he could find them all. He knew Severus Snape loved Lily Potter, but did not consider him capable of being a spy. He placed so much stock in the dichotomy of life and death, he did not understand why the Elder Wand would not work right for him. Only at the very end of the Battle of Hogwarts — possibly only when his own Killing Curse rebounded towards him — did Voldemort understand that he had lost. Up until then, because of his pride, he had little doubt he would win: he would not have taken the extreme caution of creating an heir. Besides, even if he had greater doubts, an heir wouldn’t have served his purpose. Voldemort didn’t just want to create a pureblood world; he wanted to rule that world. He didn’t want his spawn to do it.

The main fault of Cursed Child, then, is that its plot’s central premise doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t fit into the Potter series’ existing puzzle, and like most plots, it gains more jagged edges along the way.

How, then, can Cursed Child still be wonderful, with a mess of a plot and a gross disservice to a main, beloved character? To start off, even with fuzzy logic, Cursed Child is fantastically entertaining. The staged version, in particular, is stunning. The actors all play their parts well, particularly the younger ones, and the transitions and effects are nothing short of magical. I wouldn’t be surprised to find Hogwarts degrees on many of the crew members’ walls.

What’s more, there’s a reason I spent so much time discussing characters: they leave the biggest impression. When I left the Palace Theatre, I didn’t spend too much time mulling the plot. Rather, I thought about Scorpius’ endearing silliness; how much Rose takes after her mother; the ways Albus, during the play, had grown. Yet again, Rowling’s characters are as important as her plot, if not more. For this tried and true Potterhead, despite the play’s faults, those characters made Cursed Child spectacular.

Other Thoughts:

  • After that ridiculous hullabaloo about Ron and Hermione supposedly being a poor match a few years ago, which I won’t link to because it’s disgusting, I’m glad Rowling re-emphasized Ron and Hermione’s relationship in Cursed Child. In every alternative reality, Ron and Hermione were in love. In actual reality, they decide to renew their marriage. Ron and Hermione are my OTP — One True Pairing, for fanfiction novices — and I was thrilled to see them enjoying a healthy, loving relationship.
  • I’m equally happy Hermione is Minister of Magic. Boy, does she deserve it. And I like Rowling breaking gender roles, with Ron as the primary caretaker because of Hermione’s work. (And, later, with Harry cooking instead of Ginny.)
  • There’s another possible character flaw, which I didn’t include in my main review because I haven’t decided what I think yet. In the alternative reality where Voldemort triumphed, Severus Snape is still alive — and is secretly an active member, with Ron and Hermione, of Dumbledore’s Army. After failing to save Lily’s son, he says, he committed to her cause and even came to believe in it himself. Severus Snape is undoubtedly a hero in the Harry Potter series, and deserves his commendation and namesake. However, I’m not convinced he would continue risking his life for Lily after Harry’s death. Maybe I’m just not used to open bravery from Severus Snape, let alone him being chummy with Ron and Hermione, but his character in Cursed Child seemed a bit discordant to me. Like I said, though, I haven’t decided what I think.
  • I can’t imagine Voldemort having sex, no matter the purpose. If he did have a child with Bellatrix Lestrange, I imagine there must be a spell or potion for something like artificial insemination.
  • Cursed Child did an excellent job expanding Ginny’s character and showing her relationship with Harry as his wife. She comes across every bit as strong, brave, witty and determined as she wasn’t in the movies.
  • The play also does good, necessary work redeeming Slytherin House’s image. Albus and Scorpius both clearly belong in their House, and are equally obviously not evil. Cursed Child goes a long way towards fixing the fandom’s understandable but inaccurate anti-Slytherin bias.
  • It turns out that Harry Potter is afraid of pigeons. Join the club, Harry. They’re dirty, creepy and poop on people’s heads.
  • This seems like a good opportunity to remind everyone to read the Harry Potter books. They are better than the movies in every way, and if you want to read Cursed Child, it won’t be as good without the books as background: the movies don’t suffice. Additionally, if you’ve only watched the movies, please don’t judge Harry Potter based on them. Read the books. They’re one of our world’s great lights.

R.I.P. Rachel Goldberg, “UnREAL’s” Antihero Gone Bland

“UnREAL,” Lifetime’s dark drama behind the scenes of a “Bachelor”-esque reality TV show, has always held one main attraction for me: its starring character, producer Rachel Goldberg.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Quinn King, too. She’s a fearsome femme who runs “Everlasting,” the aforementioned “Bachelor” parallel, with an iron gaze and a grip as tight as her dresses. But Quinn, for all her biting one-liners and dictatorial rule, is a more familiar creature than Rachel. The manipulative genius who serves as Quinn’s protégé and “UnREAL’s” molten core, Rachel’s of a breed both common and rare. She’s an antihero as potent as Tony Soprano or Ray Donovan — but she’s one of the only female antiheroes to make her mark on television.

At least, she was. Until Monday’s fiasco of an episode, “Fugitive.”

The eighth episode in “UnREAL’s” uneven second season, “Fugitive” found Rachel under self-imposed lockdown, willingly medicated by her mother, a shifty psychiatrist whom she hates, after accidentally orchestrating the police shooting of a black man. Rachel’s character, up until this episode, has remained consistent: she believes in television’s power to make a positive difference in the real world, but her own selfish, duplicitous, morally compromised nature binds her to “Everlasting,” a show revolting and exploitative.

Sometimes, Rachel tries to turn “Everlasting” into her culture-changing platform, like by casting the show’s first black suitor, Darius, this season. But oil and water don’t mix: Rachel’s attempt at changing society explodes with the bang of a police officer’s gun. She takes and deserves blame for the bullet that hit Darius’ cousin Romeo. After he and Darius, rightly annoyed at “Everlasting’s” producers, took a car for a joyride with two white female contestants, Rachel called the cops, hoping to broadcast police bias against black men for the masses. She was too right about the bias she’d see.

After her plan falls apart, with Romeo and Darius in the hospital, Rachel lets her mother — who has claimed Rachel suffers from an assortment of mental ailments throughout the series — medicate her beyond coherence. I won’t rehash the rest of the episode for you; you can look up a review for that. But if you’re wondering why Rachel’s psychiatrist mom is doing something as unethical fas treating her own daughter, “UnREAL” answers your quandary with one of the worst twists ever: when Rachel was 12, one of her mother’s patients raped her, and her mother has treated and medicated her ever since then to protect her psychiatry practice.

And with that revelation, Rachel the Antihero died.

On the surface, revealing that one of Dr. Goldberg’s patients raped Rachel adds some value to the show. It explains why Rachel has always reviled her mother, and why Dr. Goldberg has always vaguely resembled a villain from a horror movie. Within that slim storyline, the twist works — it even helps.

But making Rachel a rape victim destroys much more than it explains “UnREAL’s” protagonist. The beauty of antiheroes is in their complication: they are both good and bad, likable and repulsive, smart and stupid, moral and corrupt. They contain contradictions, and in doing so, they resemble real people more than almost any other character type. Antiheroes work as plausible characters precisely because we see ourselves in them: we, too, consider ourselves somewhat inscrutable, a mix of qualities both desirable and unwanted.

That’s why there are so few female antiheroes. In general, women have been seen as vessels and stock characters rather than as full humans, in TV and real life. We’re chastised if we stray from gender norms; we aren’t allowed the same depth and complication.

Rachel was the rare exception — a product of “UnREAL’s” equally rare female showrunners, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro and Marti Noxon. Sadly, Shapiro and Noxon fell victim to the same tired trope so many men have employed. By making Rachel a rape victim, long-suffering in silence, they made all of her miscalculations, ambiguities and deficiencies a result of her rape. She can’t be blamed for her mistakes: they stem from suppressed childhood trauma. She can’t be reviled: now, we’ll always have her victimhood in our heads.

The Rachel we knew is gone, replaced by a character much more familiar, much less interesting and no longer important in the modern TV landscape. Male violence made her multifaceted: Rachel, like nearly every other woman in TV and film, couldn’t just be a person because she’s a person. She had to be Created by her nameless rapist. Yet again, a man became God.

I’m going to keep watching “UnREAL,” at least for the rest of this season. Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer continue to give Emmy-worthy performances as Rachel and Quinn. Their characters’ relationship continues to intrigue me. Maybe Shapiro and Noxon will even come up with an ingenious way to make their rape twist worthwhile.

But I doubt it. And until that miracle happens, I’ll mourn the death of Rachel Goldberg: a woman of limitless television promise, taken from viewers too soon.

Five Years Too Late, Seeing Myself

I love movies. I’ll watch nearly any genre, and I can usually bear the tropes. But among movie tropes I dislike, one turns my gaze particularly red: Overweight Guy Gets With Insanely Hot Girl.

That’s not to say I oppose such relationships. Of course not — as long as both sides are happy, power to them. However, until recently, I could not remember a single movie or TV show that turned the tables. Yes, I have not watched anywhere near all movies or shows. Yes, I am as forgetful as a sloth is slow. But as a young woman who’s struggled with my body and self-image, I have spent 19 years searching for representation in the media. I have spent 19 years looking for a hot guy attracted to an overweight girl.

Today, I found it.

On Friday, the band DNCE released its music video for “Toothbrush,” in which model Ashley Graham plays lead singer Joe Jonas’ love interest. In the video, Jonas gives Graham loving, longing glances; they make out in a club; he pleads for her commitment.

All usual music video fare, except that Graham is a plus-size model. She wears a size 16, and accordingly to Internet estimates, weighs between 180 and 200 pounds.

As befits her profession, Graham is gorgeous. She deserves her appearances in Levi’s, Marina Rinaldi and Nordstrom ads. She deserves her Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover. But by standard definitions, she’s overweight, and obviously so. The woman whose body and companionship Jonas desires weighs even more than me.

Graham’s heaviness and sex appeal — simultaneous, intertwined— are so important. 

When I was 14, a few pounds tipped me over the healthy limit: at that most vulnerable of ages, I was overweight. I developed an eating disorder because of my conviction that no one could love me if I had fat. It took more than a year for me to overcome my illness. Learning my worth did not depend on my weight took months alone.

To this day, I still struggle with my body image. At every doctor’s office, I step on the scale backwards. Certain pictures and words trigger the despair and self-hatred I once felt. Only this month, years after my eating disorder, have I begun learning how to eat healthy. For the past three years, I’ve been too worried that if I watched my weight, my disorder would return.

I wonder what I would have done if, at age 14, I had seen videos like “Toothbrush.” I wonder how I would have felt about my body if I had seen Ashley Graham adored by Joe Jonas. I may have developed an eating disorder anyway. But I may not have — and that possibility is crucial. It’s also heartbreakingly new.

That’s what this video means for people like me. It means we are sexy. It means we deserve love. Of course, we are worthy whether this video exists or not. But sometimes, drowning in a sea of skinny girls deemed Most Beautiful, we can forget that worth. I did.

I finished watching “Toothbrush” with tears in my eyes, thinking of the overweight, 14-year-old girls who will see themselves in Ashley Graham. I can only hope that soon, they’ll see themselves in other media, too.

Maybe one day, we’ll even have a Hot Guy Falls In Love With Overweight Girl movie. I’ll buy the first ticket.

“Master of None,” Like Me

When I started watching “Master of None,” the Netflix show “Parks and Recreation” alum Aziz Ansari helms, I expected to laugh out loud.

The fact I didn’t most of the time is not a knock on Ansari’s creation. If anything, it’s a tribute to what a strange creature that show is.

Reflecting upon “Master of None,” I remember an insight from one of my recent professors: no words are true synonyms. Words, like people, have histories. Falling out of people’s mouths and pens as they have for centuries, words accumulate implications like dust particles — ever-present, inevitable, invisible without a keen lens. Words carry connotations beyond their denotations. Hence the importance of diction: every word should be a precise choice, lest the writer convey a feeling that does not fit.

“Master of None” is not mirthful, as it rarely conveys or produces merriment. It amuses only sometimes, since it is almost anything but carefree. The show is clearly a comedy, but is not quite comical: the lack of ludicrousness is perhaps the show’s most distinct trait.

Rather, the show’s strangeness makes it somewhat droll. The dialogue and set-ups brim with wit. Both Ansari’s character, Dev, and the show itself mix sardonicism and optimism in equal measure. More than anything, “Master of None” epitomizes the adjective “funny”: clever and curious, waggish and odd, enjoyable and entertaining and difficult to understand.

I rarely laughed out loud while watching “Master of None” because I was too busy trying to understand it. I was, in a word, intrigued. In multiple words, I was fascinated, confused, astonished and a wee bit terrified.

The summaries I read of “Master of None” all pass the same posts: Dev (Ansari), a 30-year-old actor, navigates personal and professional life in New York City. His friends include Arnold (Eric Wareheim), a food-loving “token white friend”; Brian (Kelvin Yu), a Taiwanese-American actor; and Denise (Lena Waithe), a black lesbian. During the first season, Dev falls in love with Rachel (Noël Wells), a music publicist, in typical-atypical out-of-order fashion. Ansari’s parents Shoukath and Fatima have recurring roles as Dev’s parents, H. Jon Benjamin plays an acting colleague of Dev’s, and guest stars such as Colin Salmon and Claire Danes pop up.

But that summary, while sketching the show’s broad structure, only hints at what “Master of None” is really about. With a diverse cast, “Master of None” explores contemporary issues of race, ethnicity, immigration, ageism and gender. In one episode, “Parents,” Dev and Brian aim to learn more about their immigrant parents. In another, “Ladies and Gentlemen,” Dev quickly becomes a feminist after learning about the sexism women face everyday. In “Old People,” by spending time with Rachel’s grandmother, Dev discovers how capable the elderly can be.

And there are only ten episodes in the first season.

“Master of None” explores those topics with intelligence, confidence and what seems like personal insight. But that’s not what struck me most about the show. I’d read plenty of reviews before watching “Master of None”; I anticipated those episodes and they discussions they contained. What I did not expect was the frank, realistic portrayal of life as a 20s-30s something in the 2010s.

From Dev’s 45-minute Internet search for the city’s best tacos to the awkward, touching genesis of his relationship with Rachel, “Master of None” portrays life right now. More than any other screen entertainment I’ve watched, Ansari’s show looks like the inside of a crystal ball: a blurry, approximate glimpse of what my life in a few years could look like.

Clear differences exist between Dev and me. I am not male, Indian-American, the child of immigrants or an aspiring actor. However, both Dev and I — and every other character — are not caricatures. We struggle to get jobs, but sometimes we snatch one. Our wages are too low, and costs of college and real estate are too high. We all live in New York City, a land of opportunity and disappointment, department stores and subway grime, celebrities and pervs. Our day-to-day habits involve the Internet and that’s okay, no matter what the more bitter members of preceding generations say.

“Master of None” is grounded in reality. Dev could be any number of people I’ve walked past on Riverside Drive; I could’ve sat next to Rachel on the subway. They are unique, but in the way all individuals are, not like the exaggerated personas milked on TV. Because of the characters’ realness, I do not aspire to emulate them like I do Leslie Knope; Dev and Rachel, although a good couple, do not provide the same “relationship goals” as Andy Dwyer and April Ludgate. Rather, Dev and his friends feel normal — simultaneously average and special; people I know.

Because I am a lost, confused 19-year-old with equal experience in relationships and living independently (read: none), that relatable quality made “Master of None” a virtual class in adulthood. I felt like I learned while I watched. In my friend’s words after I sent her a series of texts about it: “Man, this show is making you use such big words.” It’s true — descriptors I sent her included “socially conscious,” “educational,” “intellectually stimulating” and “revelatory.” And I mean it.

Watching Dev and Rachel’s road to a first date, I learned more about hookup culture than any teen magazine has taught me. Seeing a woman pursued home from a bar by a man she had rejected, I realized how easily that could happen to me — and why the woman, while walking, dialed “9-1.” During the ninth episode, “Mornings,” which documented Dev and Rachel learning to live together, I witnessed big and little fights, good mornings and fraught ones, and sex treated with a frank, compassionate “yeah, duh” attitude.

It was terrifying and enlightening, both foreign and familiar, like adulthood itself often is. In my minimal experience, at least.

Because of that, I did not find “Master of None” laugh-out-loud funny. The show touched too much besides my humor — fears about finding a fulfilling job, insecurities about how to act in relationships, confusion about how anyone can ever call themselves “grown.”

To me, it seems nothing and no one ever grows up. Instead, we’re always growing. I am; “Master of None” is, too. The times Dev and his friends made me chuckle fell in the latter episodes, not the earlier ones, which seems appropriate. After all, part of adulthood is learning we don’t always know what we’re doing. We learn to laugh about it along the way.