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JCM last won the day on November 26

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  1. The #1 show on my list is an innovative take on the police show. Yes, I'm talking about... 1. Cop Rock With its unique blend of gripping drama and catchy music, there had never been anything like Cop Rock on TV before it premiered, and it's unlikely we'll ever see anything on TV like it again. This may be a surprising choice to many for the top spot because the show was cancelled after just 11 episodes and sports a putrid 53% rating on Rotten Tomatoes as well as a 4.4/10 on IMDB, but it really is a show you can either love or hate, and I happen to be one of the ones who love it. Coming out just as the Disney Renaissance was kicking into high gear, the Disney-owned ABC gave us a show with songs as easy to shake your head and sing along to as in movies like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King, but they happened to be singing them as people got kidnapped, shot, and killed. It truly was a masterpiece. And, of course, I'm kidding. The #1 show on this list isn't Cop Rock. It's... 1. The Wire David Simon's in-depth look at crime in Baltimore is the absolute peak of prestige TV in my eyes. The writing, acting, and directing are consistently good from the very first episode, and though it didn't get as much attention as another HBO show airing at around the same time also hailed by many as one of the best ever in The Sopranos (a show I've only seen one episode of, sorry), it was able to finish the story it wanted to tell, and it could not have done it much better. The Wire immediately separates itself from most other cop shows by putting just as much of a focus on the criminals as the police investigating them and not making all of the criminals bad guys by default but giving them a more nuanced portrayal while aiming greater criticism at the systemic issues that push many in these urban, African-American majority areas to crime in the first place. Every season focuses on a different dimension of these systemic issues, starting with the police department itself during the first season, the unions in the second season, the government in the third season, the schools in the fourth season, and the media in the fifth season. I have never seen a better depiction of the effects of urban decay than The Wire, and the fact that it's just as relevant today, if not more so, than when it first premiered in 2002 makes it a show that pretty much everyone should set time aside to watch. Breaking Bad and Mr. Robot are as great as they are in large part because of their main characters and the stellar performances by Bryan Cranston and Rami Malek of those respective characters. Without them, the shows would undoubtedly be worse and likely wouldn't be on this list, certainly not in my top 3. What puts The Wire a step above them is the fact that it doesn't rely on one character or one actor. My favorite season, season 4, had barely any of Jimmy McNulty, who had been the show's main character the first three seasons, at all. The show had a murderer's row of emerging talent, most notably Idris Elba, Michael B. Jordan, and the late Michael K. Williams. With this kind of talent and the show's reliably good writing to support it, they could handle a character as important to the show's events as McNulty taking a backseat, and with season 4, they had an opportunity to prove just that, giving us some of the best television to ever be put on the screen in the process. Though it was loved by critics even while it was airing, The Wire never got great ratings, with the slow pace and complicated storylines making it a difficult show to follow in the pre-streaming era. It also wasn't very flashy compared to most of HBO's hits, which was a deliberate decision but also something that hurt The Wire's viewership. Its focus on black drug dealers is also something that limited its appeal, with it likely not being a coincidence that season 2, which gave the spotlight to the city's mostly white dock union, had the show's best ratings. The reasons most HBO subscribers weren't digging The Wire are probably the same reasons Emmy voters didn't like the show, either, the ones who bothered to watch, anyway, making The Wire the best show to never win an Emmy, only being nominated twice for its writing and getting nada outside of that. Despite everything going against it, the show continued to stick to its philosophy, which was to give us an unfiltered look at what used to be a great American city. Though not a lot of what it had to show us was good, it's good that we got to see it anyway, and while it could have been easy for The Wire to succumb to all its cynicism, it ended on a hopeful note instead, making it clear that Simon and the rest of the crew still believed in Baltimore someday fixing the problems that led to the show's creation in the first place. 20 years later, Baltimore clearly hasn't done that, encouraging Simon to return to the city for his miniseries We Own This City that aired last spring, but I'm sure he hasn't lost his hope yet, and as long as that is the case, neither can we. That's it for my list! Thanks to everyone who read through this, and especially those of you who waited through the progressively longer breaks to do so. Even today, the list would likely be different than it was when I started, due to Atlanta's final season and the amazing (possibly top 10 worthy?) show I just finished in Barry. Still, it's close to enough to what my 10ish favorite shows really are that I'm happy with the list, and I hope that you all have a happy holidays!
  2. Act IV (SpongeBob is eating dinner with Gary when he hears a knock on the front door. He opens the door to find a mailman behind it holding a part of shoes with strange metal circles under their soles.) Mailman: Here are your government-provided gravity shoes. SpongeBob: Gravity shoes? Mailman: Yes. These will keep that giant hole in the sky from sucking you up like it's sucking up everything else. {The mailman points to the rift, which is now bigger than it was when SpongeBob last saw it and still growing. It's also much stronger, collecting trees, cars, and almost everything else around it.) SpongeBob: Wow! You guys work fast! Mailman: I will warn you that there is a small chance of these exploding, so you will not want to wear them for long. SpongeBob: Wha- Mailman: Have a nice day! (The mailman gives SpongeBob the shoes, gets into his truck, and drives off. SpongeBob carefully puts the shoes down before returning to the kitchen.) SpongeBob: I wish everything would go back to normal. Gary: Meow. SpongeBob: I wish I knew where Patrick was, too. That thing sucked up his rock, and I haven't been able to find him anywhere else since coming back from work. Gary: Meow. SpongeBob: Don't say that, Gary! He has to be alive. He needs to be. I...need him to be. (SpongeBob makes several flyers with a poorly-drawn version of Patrick and the words "Have You Seen This Starfish?" over it. He then leaves the house in his gravity shoes and staples flyers to different parts of the city. As he's returning home, he notices something coming out of the rift.) SpongeBob: What's that? (The object falling from the rift turns out to be Ianus, and he lands right on top of SpongeBob.) Ianus: Man! Good thing I fell on this soft, squishy mattress, or I'd be a goner! SpongeBob: (muffled) I'm not a mattress. Ianus: Oops! (Ianus climbs off of SpongeBob.) Ianus: Sorry about that. SpongeBob: It's fine! You falling from the sky isn't close to the weirdest thing that has happened today. Ianus: (looks up at the rift) I see. SpongeBob: So, what's your name? Ianus: I...don't know. SpongeBob: You don't know your own name? Ianus: I seem to have forgotten everything. My name, where I come from. Perhaps it will come back to me. SpongeBob: I hope it does! I've never seen a frog with two faces before! Ianus: And I've never seen a...cheese man? SpongeBob: I'm a sea sponge! Ianus: (laughs) I wasn't even close. (The rift, which briefly stopped pulling in everything around it after spitting out Ianus, starts again, causing Ianus to fly towards it.) Ianus: Help! Please! I don't want to go in that void again! SpongeBob: Don't worry, frog man! I've got you! (SpongeBob grabs Ianus with both hands, but then he starts to get lifted from the ground, slowing moving towards the rift with Ianus.) SpongeBob: No! The gravity shoes aren't strong enough! Ianus: I guess there's no other choice, then. You have to let go. SpongeBob: No! Ianus: Come on. You've got your whole life ahead of you. I'm just an old frog who doesn't remember who he is. SpongeBob: I'm not letting go! (Suddenly, two policemen appear and grab SpongeBob, pulling him down and pulling Ianus down with him. One of the policemen give Ianus a pair of gravity shoes, and he thanks the policeman before putting the shoes on.) Policeman 1: Who are you? I've never seen anyone like you around here before. Ianus: I...I'm Ianus. Yes, it's starting to come back to me now. (Ianus looks up at the rift again.) Ianus: That thing...I tried to stop the person who created it...but I couldn't. Policemen 2: You're telling us you know who's responsible for that? Ianus: Yes. It's...it's... (Ianus notices one of SpongeBob's flyers on a nearby flagpole.) Ianus: It's him! That's who created it! SpongeBob: You're saying Patrick made that hole in the sky? He couldn't have! Policeman 1: Do you where this Patrick is? SpongeBob: No! That's why I made those flyers. Policeman 1: Well, I'm sorry, but this is the only lead we have. Put an APB out for the starfish. Policeman 2: You got it. SpongeBob: No! (The policemen get into their car, which has bubbles shooting out of the top to keep it from getting taken into the rift, and they drive off.) SpongeBob: No! No! No! Why would you do this? Ianus: I simply told the cops what I remembered. SpongeBob: Are you sure you remembered it right? Ianus: (scratches both chins) I'm not sure, actually. (Ianus walks closer to the flyer and squints at SpongeBob's drawing of Patrick before opening his eyes again wide.) Ianus: Oh, Jupiter. You're right. It wasn't Patrick who made the rift, at least not your Patrick. SpongeBob: There's another Patrick? Ianus: Many. As many as there are universes. But there is one more dangerous than the others. That's the one who killed me. That's the one who we need to stop. SpongeBob: Wait, you're dead? Ianus: Do I look dead? SpongeBob: I don't know what to believe anymore. Ianus: As the King of the Multiverse, I have many ways to cheat death, but if the multiverse gets destroyed like it's looking like it will be soon, none of those ways will matter. SpongeBob: Multiverse? Destroyed? Ice cream? Ianus: I never said anything about ice cream. SpongeBob: Yeah, I was just getting my hopes up. What can we do? Ianus: I now realize that there's one thing that sets Evil Patrick's universe apart from all the others. SpongeBob: What's that? Ianus: You. SpongeBob: Me? Ianus: His universe is the only one that doesn't have a SpongeBob. Without a SpongeBob, he never got to experience love or friendship. He became bitter, angry at the universe, angry at all of the universes. He probably thinks destroying the multiverse and killing me for good will lead to a more fair multiverse replacing it. SpongeBob: Will it? Ianus: No. It will lead to nothing. There will be nothing left. Of course, I couldn't convince him of this even if I tried to. SpongeBob: Maybe we could. Ianus: Huh? SpongeBob: Me and as many other SpongeBobs as you can find! Have us meet this Evil Patrick and show him the love and friendship he's been missing out on! Then he will have to reverse it! Ianus: That idea may just be crazy enough...to get us all killed! SpongeBob: Do you have any better ones? (Ianus starts to say something but then stops. After a moment, he shakes his head.) SpongeBob: Let's do it, then! Ianus: Okay. (Ianus takes off his shoes and starts to float towards the rift.) Ianus: (turns to SpongeBob) Ready? (SpongeBob takes off his shoes next and floats towards the rift as Ianus is swallowed by it.) SpongeBob: Yeah...I'm ready! (End of Act IV)
  3. 2. Breaking Bad When Walter White and Jesse Pinkman first got into that RV, there's no way they could have known where it would take them. Similarly, few who watched this show about a chemistry teacher who finds out he has terminal cancer and starts cooking meth to support his family after he dies could have known that it would become a depiction of the rise to power and devastating fall of a drug kingpin. I started watching the show just a week before the finale aired thanks to a marathon AMC was doing, and though I rushed to catch up with everyone at school who was talking non-stop about the show in the fall of 2013, I still appreciated the stellar writing, acting, and directing of what had once been the best show almost nobody had been watching and was now a cultural sensation. It's only natural that I did my first rewatch in nine years on the platform most responsible for Breaking Bad's surge in popularity at the end of its run: Netflix. The show's fast pace and dense storytelling made it perfect for the budding streaming service, and it didn't hurt that it was really, really good, of course. Unlike its spin-off, Better Call Saul, and most of the other shows on this list, it took a while to get going, but once it got going, it gave us some of the best television ever produced, and its final season not only lived up to its sky-high expectations but somehow exceeded them. The last half of that season contained gut-punch after gut-punch, culminating with Ozymandias, which remains the best episode of anything I've ever watched (sorry, Soup Nazi) and wrapping Walter's story up the only way it could have been wrapped up with a victory lap of a series finale in Felina. Just as Ozymandias dethroned Soup Nazi as my favorite episode, Walter White dethroned Gregory House as my favorite character, somebody who starts the show off as a mostly decent man but gradually develops into a monster. He certainly had his pride and his willingness to make moral concessions that encouraged him to get into the drug business in the first place, but as he goes deeper and deeper into the business, his negative qualities become amplified and less of what made Walt a sympathetic character in the first place remain. A character that good simply could not work without an actor good enough to bring him to life, and thankfully, Bryan Cranston was up to the task. Before Walter White, Cranston's most famous role was that of Hal in Malcolm in the Middle, which was...a very different role, to say the least. The trust that was put into him to pull a role that complicated off paid dividends, including four Emmys for Cranston. This was a show that spoiled us with great performances, including Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman, Giancarlo Esposito as Gus Fring, Jonathan Banks as Mike Ehrmantraut, and despite claims to the contrary by a very loud and very annoying segment of the fanbase, Anna Gunn as Skyler White, but Cranston needed to get it right more than anybody else in order for the show to have the legacy it has had. Breaking Bad's legacy is obvious even today, close to a decade after its finale and two months after the end of Better Call Saul. You can't talk about prestige TV without mentioning it or you won't be taken seriously. You'll be hard-pressed to find it outside of the top 5 of any list of the greatest television shows of all time by people who have watched many more television shows than I have. You're unlikely to join a Discord server or subreddit that hasn't had a Breaking Bad meme posted to it recently. As Walter White said once, adding to an endless supply of memorable quotes from this show: "Nothing stop this train."
  4. Chapter 20 Dipper, Stan, Wendy, and Abuelita were in a large house, a very old house that seemed like it had been colorful and thriving once, a house you could even say was alive, but a house that was now worn down and clearly abandoned. "Where are we?" asked Dipper. "We are in my childhood casa in Colombia," said Abuelita. "Or at least what is left of it." "Hey, I went to jail in Colombia once!" said Stan. "Actually, I think there's still a warrant out for my arrest. Will we be here long?" "No," said Abuelita. "How did we get here?" asked Wendy. "I sent us here," said Abuelita. "You see, I have a gift. Everyone in my family, once they reached a certain age, developed a gift while we were in this magical city we called our encanto." "Encanto," repeated Dipper. "Like enchanted?" "Si," said Abuelita. "My own abuelita could control the weather with her mood, and my mother could hear everything around her, even the drop of a needle." "Man," said Stan. "I would have hated if my mom could do that!" "Well, my mother could, and I did hate it, but I often used my own gift to send myself very far away so that she could not hear me." "Why now?" asked Dipper. "Why couldn't you poof us to Disneyland the same way you sent us here?" "We are not supposed to use our gifts anymore, but I had to use mine to save your life." Dipper sighed. "Where do we go from here?" he asked. "Well, I know we can't let Zoey...and Merlin, too, I guess...win!" said Wendy. "I sure can! Think you can use that 'gift' of yours to send us to the Bahamas while that wizard sets the rest of the world on fire?" asked Stan. "I am going to call an old friend from our encanto," said Abuelita. "He can take us to a safe place. Until then, we will sleep here." Stan sat on a couch in the living room and crossed his arms. "Sleep? How am I supposed to sleep with everything going on?" he asked. Stan was asleep two minutes later. Wendy, Abuelita, and Dipper went to different rooms, and while it didn't take long for Wendy or Abuelita to fall asleep, Dipper lay awake in his bed just like the night before. No closer to finding his sister, he was terrified by the thought of what would happen if Merlin found her first. Merlin left the Mystery Shack with Abby Waybright and several other followers. "I'm sorry," said Abby. "I looked everywhere, but the only thing I could find was that pig." Just as Abby mentioned him, Waddles came out of the Mystery Shack with Abby's purse in his mouth. "Come on, give it back!" whined Abby, who reached for her purse before Waddles ran back inside. "It's all right," said Merlin. "Do you have any updates on our special operation?" "The news of your escape is spreading fast," said Abby. "There are riots all over the world. We're going to be taking down governments eventually." "Good, good," said Merlin. "The sun is almost rising. Would you like to take a break?" "Never," said Abby. "I've been with you from the start, and I'm going to help you see it through." Merlin smiled. "Well, I'm returning to that strange antique shop," he said. "Why can't you take a break?" asked Abby. "Everything's going according to plan. Even if those kids could stop you somehow, they won't be able to for long. "I must be certain." Merlin went back into the Mystery Shack, avoiding Waddles as he ran around chewing Abby's purse, and he closed his eyes and felt every source of electricity in the building. He realized there was one room he hadn't searched, a room that was underground. He tracked the underground room's electricity to a vending machine in the gift shop. He felt the vending machine, and he was able to manipulate its electrical currents to open the machine and reveal the secret entrance behind it. He walked down the stairs of the entrance and found a massive underground laboratory at the bottom of the stairs. "Interesting," said Merlin. Dipper had finally gone to sleep long after everyone else. Only a few hours later, he was woken up by Stan. "It's time for breakfast, kid!" said Stan. "Five more minutes," mumbled Dipper. "No can do! We are guests in Abuelita's home, and whatever she's cooking smells delicious!" Stan and Dipper joined Wendy and Abuelita, and the four of them ate breakfast. Later in the day, they were playing one of Abuelita's family's old board games when they heard on a knock on the door. "Stay here," whispered Abuelita. Abuelita walked carefully to the door and cracked it open to see who was on the other side. It was an old man with a large, bushy mustache. "Eduardo!" said Abuelita. "It's good to see you again," said Eduardo. Abuelita let Eduardo into the house and quickly closed the door behind him. "How have you been?" asked Abuelita. "Muy bueno," said Eduardo. Eduardo's grin got bigger when he saw Dipper, Stan, and Wendy. "And who are the gringoes you have here?" he asked. "Those are my friends," said Abuelita. "I need you to help us find somewhere safe." Eduardo laughed. "Not very often I see people coming here from America to feel safer!" he said. "Can you help us, though?" asked Wendy. "Si. I can help," said Eduardo. "Colombia has many places you can go to if you don't want to be found, but in order to keep it that way, you will be unable to leave them." "But Mabel!" said Dipper. "I will continue to search for Mabel as well as Soos," said Abuelita. "If I find them, I will bring them back, and we will all live together where Merlin cannot find us." "I can help, though!" Abuelita shook her head. "It is too dangerous. Merlin is searching for you, not me. I must do this alone." Abuelita closed her eyes and disappeared. "Abuelita!" cried Dipper. "It'll be okay, dude," said Wendy. "She'll be back with Mabel and Soos." "Stop talking to me like I'm some kid! I know Abuelita is just as likely to die out there as she is to come back with Mabel or Soos!" Wendy covered her mouth in surprise. "I'm sorry," said Dipper. "I...I didn't mean to snap at you like that. Let's just go." "So…" said Eduardo. "What type of music do you guys like? We will be in the truck for a while." Dipper left without saying anything. "You got any old-school rap music?" asked Stan. "None of the garbage they come out with today, the really old stuff." Eduardo laughed. "I'm sure I can find something," he said. Eduardo and Stan left the house with a still-shocked Wendy and headed towards Eduardo's truck, which Dipper was already leaning on while staring at the sky and hoping the solutions to all of his problems would fall out of it. The Calamity Box appeared with Mabel and Soos right above the Mystery Shack, and they landed right in front of the sign and beside the S that had fallen off of it. "I wonder when Stan is getting that fixed," said Soos. Suddenly, a military helicopter flew above them. "Wow!" said Mabel. "What's going on?" Mabel and Soos walked to a corner of the roof to find the Mystery Shack surrounded by soldiers and tanks. A man, presumably the leader of this military force, approached Merlin, who stood in front of the Mystery Shack as his followers hid inside, some of them peeking out through the windows. "You are hereby under arrest for seditious conspiracy and being in the country illegally," said the man through a megaphone. "Give yourself up now!" "Let me think about this," said Merlin. The man stopped, and he and his soldiers waited awkwardly for Merlin to speak again. "I've thought about it," said Merlin. "And my answer is no." "You heard him," said the man. "Attack!" The soldiers shot at Merlin, but Merlin raised a hand, causing the bullets to explode before they got anywhere near him. He did the same with shots fired at him from the tanks and helicopters around him, and Mabel and Soos hurried behind the giant S as Merlin rose into the sky. "This has gotten boring," said Merlin. Merlin pushed his hands together, and the general as well as all his soldiers fell unconscious. The helicopters fell into the ground, leaving massive fires that temporarily brightened the night sky as they exploded. Abby ran out of the Mystery Shack joyfully waving her cell phone. "I got all of that on camera! This is going to do wonders for recruiting!" said Abby. Mabel peeked into the entrance to the gift shop to make sure nobody was in it, then she quickly went down the ladder with Soos. "Merlin's more powerful than I thought," whispered Mabel. "Why are we whispering?" whispered Soos. "Because we don't want anyone to hear us!" One of the Children of Merlin walked into the gift shop from another room. "I can hear you guys just fine," he said. The man, who seemed to be in his early 20s, recognized Mabel immediately. "Hey!" he said. "You're that girl Merlin's after!" "No, I'm not," said Mabel. "So you're not Mabel Pines?" "No, I'm...Vrabel...Hines." The man raised an eyebrow then shrugged. "Alright, Vrabel. Sorry for the confusion. See you later!" The man strolled out of the gift shop, and Mabel let out a sigh of relief. "Thank goodness that worked," she said. "Nieto?" said a familiar voice behind Mabel and Soos. They turned around to find that Abuelita was now with them. "Abuelita!" said a beaming Soos. Soos and his grandmother hugged as Mabel watched in disbelief. "How...how did you get here?" asked Mabel. "I never saw you walk in." "I will explain later," said Abuelita after she finished hugging Soos. "But we must go before-" "Before I catch you?" said Merlin as he walked in with the man who had discovered Mabel. "See! I told you she was here!" said the man. "Dang! That Vrabel Hines trick was perfect, too!" said Soos. "I wonder how he figured it out." Abuelita grabbed Mabel's and Soos' hands, but Merlin used his wand to break Abuelita's connection with Mabel right before Soos and Abuelita disappeared. "Not this time, witch," said Merlin. Merlin pointed his wand at Mabel next, but before he could do anything, Waddles ran under him, causing him to fall backwards as Mabel's pet reunited with her. "Waddles!" said Mabel, hugging her pig. "You couldn't have come at a better time!" Mabel ran out of the Mystery Shack with Waddles in one arm and the Calamity Box in another before Merlin could get back up with his wand. "Follow that girl!" ordered Merlin. Mabel slid under a tank that had been ridden by a now-unconscious solider. She put a hand over Waddles' mouth as Children of Merlin stormed out of the Mystery Shack looking for her. She thought about using her powers to defeat Merlin and his followers, but she remembered how painful it was last time she used them, and she also remembered Bert suggesting that if she used her powers again, it would kill her. She hoped nobody would find her, watching the feet of people desperate to please Merlin running around her frantically. One pair of feet stopped right beside her tank, and her heart beat as she saw the person's knees, then hands, then finally, his face. "I found her!" said the person, who turned out to be a teenage boy. "She's under this tank!" The boy stood up and led more Children of Merlin to the tank. Mabel took her hand off Waddles' mouth, who let out a frightened squeal. "Sorry, Waddles," whispered Mabel. "And sorry, Dipper, wherever you are, but I've gotta do this." Mabel flew out from under the tank with pink hair, green eyes, and a blue aura around her. Before any of the Children of Merlin could respond, Mabel knocked them out with blasts of blue energy. The commotion caused Merlin to run out of the Mystery Shack, and he gasped as he saw Mabel floating in the air with her calamity powers in full effect. "How is this possible?" he said. "Everyone has some magic inside of them, but it isn't supposed to manifest like this!" "Well, it's manifested, and now you're about to manifest back to your own dimension!" said Mabel. "Do you even know what manifest means?" "Don't change the subject!" Mabel shot a blast of blue energy at Merlin, and he easily avoided it before pointing an open palm at Mabel and shooting a blast of blue energy at her. This shot landed, and it sent Mabel tumbling to the ground. Merlin slowly walked to Mabel as she writhed in pain. "It was always you," said Merlin. "You and your brother. It was always you two I could never figure out." "What...are you talking about?" said Mabel, who had to struggle to get out every word. "I've had dreams that I was right here, with loving disciples at my feet...well, not literally at my feet like they are right now, but I had done it. I had found this world without magic and convinced millions to depose their mortal leaders and make me their king. Those dreams I've had for hundreds of years, and when a wizard dreams, it is never just a dream. But in those dreams, something else happens. You and your brother turn my people against me. I'm not certain how, but I know that after you two show up, the people who had once been praising my name now curse it. I was also never certain of what you two looked like, just that you were young and on the planet I was trapped on before I came to this one. I thought it was that fellow Walt and the girl he was with when they visited New Britain. But no. It was you. You're the loose end I cannot afford to have, and until you and your brother are dead, I shall continue hunting you." "Merlin," said Mabel weakly. "Yes?" said Merlin. "Your face." Merlin felt his face in curiosity. "What about it?" he said. "It's dumb!" shouted Mabel. Mabel, who had regained most of her energy now, flew at Merlin and punched him so hard that he was knocked back nearly a mile. After he landed, Merlin felt his ribs, which were now injured, and he whispered a quick spell to heal them. "You'll have to try harder that tha-" started Merlin right before he was hit by a second blast of energy from Mabel, sending him flying back another mile. Mabel shot a third blast of energy, but Merlin was able to dodge this one before flying at Mabel and shooting a blast of energy at her, which she countered with another blast of energy that was able to keep Merlin's from reaching her but not quite overpower his. They both flew into the sky as their blasts of energy became stronger and stronger, forming a blue magical cylinder so large and so bright that it could be seen from outer space. Soos and Abuelita appeared in a woody area near a mountain range where Dipper, Wendy, Stan, and Eduardo were gathered around a campfire. "Hey, dudes," said Soos. "Soos!" said Wendy. Wendy ran to Soos and hugged him. "Man, I need to get trapped in a book more often," said Soos. "I'm loving the hugs!" "Where's Mabel?" asked Stan. "Merlin took her before I could bring her here," said Abuelita. "What? We have to go back!" said Dipper. "No, that's what he wants," said Abuelita. "Mabel may not be alive anymore, but if you return, you will both surely perish." "I can't just leave her with that psycho!" said Dipper. "Not after everything I've done to save them." "If you're going back, I'm going back," said Wendy. "I am, too!" said Soos. "No, nieto," said Abuelita. "I forbid it." Soos noticed a bow and arrow in the backseat of Eduardo's truck. "Hey, is that yours?" asked Soos. "Si," said Eduardo. "I am a big big fan of archery, and I have the scars to prove it, brother!" "Can I borrow it?" "Anything for the grandson of that lovely lady," said Eduardo. Soos ran to the truck, took the bow and arrow from the backseat, and ran back. "I'm not a kid anymore," said Soos. "Mabel helped me get back here, so I have to help her stop Merlin." "Okay," said Abuelita after thinking for a long time. "But where did you learn how to use a bow and arrow?" "I'll tell you after we get back." "What about you, Grunkle Stan?" asked Dipper. "Are you coming?" "Absolutely not!" said Stan. "I'm not joining your suicide mission." "If you don't help us, I'll tell mom." Stan began to say something, but then he crossed his arms again. "Fine!" he said. "See you later, amigos!" said Eduardo. "Give the magic man a kick in the shin for me!" Dipper, Wendy, Soos, Abuelita, and Stan all held hands before disappearing again. After five minutes of being deadlocked in her sky battle with Merlin, Mabel felt increasingly tired, and Merlin, sensing this, put even more effort into the blast of energy coming from his hands until he had the clear advantage. Unable to contain Merlin's blast any longer, Mabel flipped upside down while dropping her hands, letting Merlin's blast soar under her, and she flew back to the Mystery Shack, avoiding more blasts of energy from Merlin as she did so. The Children of Merlin she had knocked out earlier began to wake up, and they cheered as Merlin landed beside a now-weakened Mabel, who used the little energy she had left to crawl away from him. "I will admit," said Merlin. "I'm impressed by your courage. It's a shame I have to do this." Merlin pointed his wand at Mabel and said a phrase in Latin. Mabel then stopped crawling, laying face-first in the ground as her hair and eyes returned to normal. Dipper, Wendy, Soos, Abuelita, and Stan appeared moments later in front of a growing crowd of Children of Merlin that was still cheering, but not quite as loudly. "Mabel!" shouted Dipper once he saw her on the ground. "Oh, what a coincidence! I was just about to start looking for you!" said Merlin. Merlin pointed his wand at Dipper, but before he could use the same spell on him, Soos shot an arrow into his shoulder, causing him to cry out in pain and clench the fist his wand was in so hard that the wand snapped. "No!" said Merlin. Dipper ran to Mabel and flipped her over. He put an ear to her chest but didn't hear a heartbeat. "N-n-no," stuttered Dipper. "We're too late. She's... she's gone." Dipper hugged Mabel's body and cried. None of the Children of Merlin were cheering now. Abby, who was at the front of the crowd now, imagined Sasha's body where Mabel's body lay, and tears came to her eyes as she realized she had been supporting a monster this entire time. She looked around and could tell others in the crowd were coming to that same realization. Merlin held the two pieces of his wand together and whispered a spell to fix it, but it didn't work. "No worries," he said. "I'll fashion a new one. Children of Merlin, do any of you know if there's an enchanted forest around here I can get wood from?" A rock hit Merlin in the head, and he turned to Wendy, Soos, Abuelita, and Stan. "Which one of you did that?" he roared. "Did what?" asked Soos. Another rock hit Merlin, and he saw this one come directly from the group of Children of Merlin behind them. "How dare you!" said Merlin. "Any of you who are still loyal, tell me who threw that rock!" None of the Children of Merlin spoke up. "Insubordinate! Once I'll get my wand fixed, I'll do to all of you what I did to that girl!" threatened Merlin. Another rock hit Merlin, and soon he was being pelted by a barrage of rocks, all from the people who had once supported him. The people at the front of the crowd were now filming him on their cell phones and booing. The sight of Abby among those booing him felt almost as painful to Merlin as the rocks. "I cannot believe this," whispered Merlin. "The predictions are coming true. Despite everything I have done to stop them, they're coming true." In Washington, DC, the National Security Advisor to the President of the United States walked into the Oval Office, where the president and first lady were waiting for him. "Any updates?" asked the president. "I'm not going to lie to you, Mr. President. It's bad. The protestors are right outside the White House now, and while we're holding them off, we won't be able to for much longer. You need to act pronto," said the advisor. "Act how?" "The reason those people are rioting is because they want Merlin to take over, so if Merlin were dead, they wouldn't have a reason to riot anymore. We know Merlin is still at his base of operations in Gravity Falls, Oregon, so we know exactly where to strike." "Didn't we just send a bunch of military to Gravity Falls?" "Yes, and I haven't heard back from any of them. And I don't believe I ever will." "The helicopters, too? I really liked those helicopters." "The helicopters, too, Mr. President." The president sighed. "What do we do, then?" he asked. "We need to do something extreme to take down a force as powerful as Merlin, something that has only been done once before and that I hoped we would never have to do again," said the advisor. The president thought for a moment, and once he understood the advice that his advisor had just given him, his eyes widened. "You aren't suggesting that I nuke my own citizens, are you?" asked the president. "You have a choice, Mr. President: either you sacrifice the people of Gravity Falls, or you sacrifice the world to whatever Merlin has planned for it," said the advisor. "Well," said the president. "I suppose that isn't much of a choice at all." The president and first lady walked into a secret room only the president had the keys to. In the center of the room was a large red button. The president prepared to push the button, but he hesitated with his hand right above it. He turned to the first lady, who had the same grim expression on her face that he had on his, and both of them nodded. She put her hand over the president's hand, and they pushed the button together, sharing responsibility for the death and destruction that this sleepy northwestern town would be subjected to. Dipper still cried with Mabel in his arms after several minutes. He kissed her on the forehead and only felt sadder at how cold it was. Suddenly, he felt a warmth, and the blue aura reappeared around Mabel before spreading to Dipper, too. He felt the air being sucked out of his lungs, and he struggled to breathe for a few seconds before the air came flooding back in, causing him to gasp. He saw Mabel gasp, too, and he watched in awe as she blinked and smiled at him. "Hey, Dipper," she said. "Glad you could make it." "Always," said Dipper. The crowd cheered as Dipper helped Mabel to her feet. Stan, Soos, and Wendy ran to Mabel to hug her as Abuelita stayed with the crowd, regretful that she considered leaving Mabel in the first place. Merlin stood where he was, with bruises on his face and the rocks that caused those bruises in a jagged circle around him. "I can't believe this," said Merlin. "I'm the most powerful wizard who ever lived, and not even I can overcome the power of true love." As Merlin thought about what to do next, one of the former Children of Merlin pointed to the sky in horror. Others in front of the Mystery Shack looked up just in time to see a USA-branded plane fly away as the gift it left for Gravity Falls, a huge nuclear bomb, plummeted towards them. Merlin looked around as everybody panicked. Without thinking, Mabel activated her calamity powers and flew towards the bomb. "Mabel, no!" screamed Dipper. "I just got you back!" Mabel positioned herself right under the bomb and began to push, but even with her energy replenished, she wasn't strong enough to stop the bomb from falling. She closed her eyes, tears running down her face as she accepted that she couldn't save this city she had learned to love over the summer and the people in it she had loved even more. Just as she prepared to let go, she felt the weight of the bomb diminish, and as she pushed again, she felt it move in the opposite direction. She opened her eyes and realized Merlin was now beside her. Merlin didn't look at her and didn't say a word, but he continued to help Mabel push the bomb until they were high enough in the sky that they didn't have to push as hard to move the bomb. The bomb started getting hotter, making it clear that it was about to explode as Merlin and Mabel pushed it towards space. Merlin put a hand on Mabel's shoulder and finally looked at her. Mabel saw the weary old eyes of a man filled with regret, more regret than she had, and she had a lot of it. She saw a man responsible for the loss of countless innocent lives determined to prevent the loss of any more. He squeezed the hand he had on Mabel's shoulder until the shoulder started to hurt. Mabel cried out as Merlin ripped her from the bomb and threw her towards the ocean. She watched the bomb explode in the sky right before she hit the water and was rendered unconscious. One week after Merlin's death, everything had mostly returned to normal. To celebrate the siblings being reunited, Stan and their parents took them on a trip to Hollywood, where they were granted free access to anything they wanted to see thanks to their new friend Walt Disney. During a detour in Los Angeles, Mabel stopped by a thrift shop that one of the locals told her was known for being discreet. "Hello," said the old woman who ran the thrift shop. "Would you like to buy something?" "No," said Mabel. "I would like to sell something." Mabel took the Calamity Box out of a bag she was carrying. "This is a super valuable ancient box," said Mabel. "Make sure that you don't open it, though, because if you do, it will kill you." "A box that kills people? The tourists will love that!" said the woman. "How much do you want for it?" "A...hundred?" The woman gave Mabel a crisp hundred dollar bill before taking the Calamity Box from her. As Mabel left the thrift shop, she wondered if she made the right decision. She wondered if she could set things right with Charming if she visited Fairy Tale World one more time. She wondered if she could set things right with Bert if she visited Amphibia one more time. She didn't look back at the thrift shop, however, preferring to look forward and let the past stay in the past while never forgetting the lessons it had taught her. She reunited with Dipper at an ice cream store. "Where were you?" asked Dipper. "Just taking care of some loose ends," said Mabel. "Alright, Miss Cryptic, I got you your favorite, strawberry." "You know I hate strawberry!" "Then don't abandon me here again." "Speaking of that...I never got to say I'm sorry for abandoning you here with Merlin." "It's okay. You didn't know that he was here, and if you hadn't left, you wouldn't have been able to bring Soos back." "Yeah, I guess." "And Mabel...I'm sorry, too." "For what?" "For telling you what happened to us in that book wasn't real. It was real. I just...didn't want to believe it, I guess." "This is real, too," said Mabel. "You and me. Brother and sister. And I'll make sure I never forget that again." Mabel grabbed Dipper's ice cream cone and licked it. "You can be a real pain in the butt sometimes," said Dipper, rolling his eyes. Mabel and Dipper continued through the streets of Los Angeles, experiencing a magic that wasn't the magic of witches and fairies but a magic they could appreciate all the same.
  5. Chapter 19 Doc, Happy, Dopey, and Sneezy walked out of their cottage. "Bashful, where are you?" said Doc. "I'm not ready yet!" said Bashful from inside the cottage. "You're never ready!" scolded Doc. Doc counted the dwarfs that were with him again. "And where's Sleepy?" he said. "Oh, what am I saying? He's asleep!" Doc walked back into the cottage then pulled Bashful and Sleepy out by their ears. "Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!" said Bashful. Sleepy yawned. "Is it morning already?" he muttered. Suddenly, they felt the ground shake under them. "Oh, no! An earthquake! We should go back inside!" said Dopey. "I second that!" said Bashful. "Let's just say inside...for the rest of the day...and the rest of our lives." "That's not an earthquake," said Doc, pointing at a something deep in the forest. "It's horses." "Oh, no!" said Sneezy. "I'm allergic to horses!" "I'm not as worried about the horses as who they're carrying," said Doc. Once the men on horses got to the cottage, one of the men jumped off his horse and removed his helmet to reveal that he was King Octavian. "I'll make this quick," said Octavian, looking down at the dwarfs. "My army is about to conquer your lands, and instead of simply killing you, I will give you all a choice: return with us to our lands and be our slaves...or die." "Well," said Doc. "That choice isn't much of a choice at all." "We're going to be their slaves, right?" said Dopey. "Right?" Doc shook his head. "We've already escaped the tyranny of King Merlin and that awful pet of his. We shall cede our freedom to no one," said Doc. Octavian nodded. "Kill them," he said to the soldiers behind him. Six of Octavian's soldiers jumped off their horses and pulled back their arrows at the same time. "Hey, can't we just talk about this?" asked Happy. "I'm sure you don't want any blood on your hands." "We've killed thousands of people already," said Octavian. "Well, I'm sure you don't want any more blood!" The soldiers released their arrows, but before the arrows could reach the dwarfs, another arrow broke all six of them at the same time. Octavian turned to a bush to his right to find that the arrow came from none other than Prince Charming, who revealed himself from behind the bush holding a bow with a quiver of arrows around his shoulder. "Son!" cried Octavian. "Hello, father," said Charming. "I...I can't believe that you're alive! I can't believe that you're here!" "A little bird told me you were in the forest causing mayhem." A bluebird landed on Charming's shoulder that didn't have the quiver around it. "See!" chirped the bluebird. "I told you those jerks were messing everything up!" "Our quarrel is not with the peaceful inhabitants of this forest," said Charming. "It is with the queen." "And the queen's time will come," said Octavian. "But I've promised Livian an abundance of gold and slaves from our victory, and we won't get what's required from the castle alone." "You're working with the traitor Livian?" said an astonished Charming. "I had to," said Octavian. "I had to do whatever it took to bring you back, my son, my only son." Charming nodded. "Well, I'm here, so it's time for us to leave the forest and storm the castle," he said. Octavian turned to one of his soldiers. "Send word to Livian's forces that we're going to the castle," he said. The soldier jumped on his horse and rode away. A massive sneeze by Sneezy startled everyone around him. "Sorry," said Sneezy. "I couldn't hold it in anymore." Charming looked down at the dwarfs. "Didn't there use to be seven of you?" asked Charming. "Eight, but who's counting?" said Sleepy. "I know I'm not, 'cause I can't count!" said Dopey. "I will find your brothers," said Charming. "And I hope you find that girl, too," said Doc. "What was her name?" Charming struggled to speak as several emotions flooded him at once. "Snow," he finally said. "Snow White." Li Shang knocked on the doors of Evelyn's palace with Soos beside him. "It's General Shang!" he said. Evelyn opened the doors a few minutes later and led Shang and Soos to the breakfast room, where Bert and Mabel were eating crumpets. "Mabel?" said Soos. A crumpet that was already in Mabel's mouth fell out as she realized who the queen brought in. She ran to Soos and hugged him. "How did you get back? Where's Dipper? And who's that giant frog?" blurted Soos. "I'll answer all of those questions! I swear," said Mabel. "I just need a little time to get my thoughts together first." "Hi, I'm Frogbert, but most of my friends call me Bert," said Bert. "Did you happen to see any spiders out there? I don't think I can finish whatever this is the queen gave us without something to give it some flavor." Evelyn rolled her eyes. "So ungrateful," she said. "My queen, I have news from the battlefront you really need to hear," said Shang. "Oh, yes. How did our army do?" asked Evelyn. "Poorly. All of our soldiers are dead." "What?" "Outside of me and the kid I brought back, all of them." Evelyn began pacing back and forth. "So, are they coming?" she said after what felt like half an hour to Shang. "Of course," said Shang. "What do we do?" "We must flee these lands before they reach the palace. Otherwise, we're good as dead." Evelyn stopped and thought about what Shang told her for what felt like another half an hour. "No," she said. "I won't abandon my people." "Your people are being killed and captured as we speak! There is nothing we can do to save them!" said Shang. "If New Britain is to die, I shall die with it," said Evelyn. Shang's tough exterior collapsed as he fell to his knees, crying. "Please, my queen, don't let my failure to protect your kingdom cause you to give up on life!" he said. "It wasn't a failure on your part," said Evelyn. "You did exactly what I told you to do. You kept the boy safe. As for my kingdom, its days were always numbered." Evelyn whistled, and the Big Bad Wolf ran out the throne room. "Take care of Big Bad," said Evelyn. "Despite his name, there is a lot of good in him." "No," said Shang. "I can't leave without you." "You must." Evelyn hugged the wolf, and he whimpered. "They're coming, aren't they?" said the wolf. "Yes," said Evelyn. "Go with Shang. Our enemies can't reach you as far as China." The wolf sniffed. "Being part of a pack with you was...an honor," said the wolf. "You aren't going to try to talk her out of it?" asked Shang. "You clearly don't know her well enough if you think there's any chance of changing her mind," said the wolf. Shang blushed. Before he could say anything else, Soos appeared from the breakfast room eating a crumpet. "These things are delicious!" said Soos. Soos noticed the somber looks on everyone's faces. "What's going on?" he said. "I must be taking my leave," said Shang. "Now? But what about the castle?" asked Soos. "The castle is a last cause. I simply came here to retrieve the queen so we could escape to other lands." "Where are you going?" "I'm going to China. I suppose the wolf is coming with me." "What about the queen?" Nobody responded. "What about the queen?" Soos said again. "I'm not going with them," said Evelyn. "No," said Soos. "You promised me you would try to live!" "I promised you nothing," said Evelyn. "I'm the reason New Britain is about to fall. I'm the reason our soldiers and countless innocents are dead. If I leave now, anyone who's with me will be vulnerable. If I die at Octavian's hands, the war will be over, and if our citizens are lucky, there will be no further slaughter." Soos grabbed Evelyn by the shoulders, and the wolf barked at him. "Big Bad," whispered Evelyn. "It's okay." Soos looked at Evelyn in the eyes and then hugged her. "Well," said Shang. "I guess this is good-" Soos ran to Shang and hugged him, too. Shang awkwardly patted Soos on the back. "You're one of the best archers I ever had," said Shang. "For someone who had only been doing it for a day, anyway." After Soos let go of Shang, Shang and Evelyn faced each other. "Until next time?" said Evelyn. "Until next time," said Shang. Shang and the wolf left the palace, leaving Soos and Evelyn behind. "The Blue Fairy should return at any moment," said Evelyn. "You and the girl will be returning home...with the frog, I suppose." Soos and Evelyn walked into the breakfast room, where Bert and Mabel were now drinking tea. "Oh, Miss Evelyn!" said Mabel. "A super cute, talking raven left this for you!" Mabel gave Evelyn a piece of parchment that was rolled up and secured by a string. Evelyn broke the string and opened the parchment to find it had a letter written onto it by Octavian. "Dear Queen Evelyn," she read. "We will be at your palace by nightfall to negotiate your surrender. Tell your guards that if any of them try to stop us, they will die. With love, King Octavian." Evelyn rolled her eyes. "Surrender? Who are you at war at?" asked Mabel. "Some countries that wish to destroy us. Pay it no mind," said Evelyn, crumpling up the parchment. "I have powers! I could end this war myself if I wanted to!" said Mabel. "Wait," said Bert. "The last time you used your powers, you nearly died. I don't think it's a good idea for you to use them again." "Don't interfere," said Evelyn. "It's between me and the kings." Mabel shot a glance at Soos, and he shot one back. "If that's what you want," said Mabel. "You two aren't plotting anything, are you?" asked the queen. "No, of course not!" said Mabel unconvincingly. "Stay in your rooms," said Evelyn. "When the Blue Fairy shows up, I'll let you know." The Blue Fairy hadn't appeared yet by the time the sun set on the kingdom, but Octavian, Livian, and Prince Charming did appear on their horses, galloping towards the palace as the castle guards pretended not to see them. Once they reached the palace doors, Octavian knocked. "It's us!" said Octavian. "Don't make us wait longer than we need to!" The palace doors opened in less than a minute, and Evelyn tried her best to hide her contempt as the enemy royals walked in with two armed guards behind them. "Where shall we begin the negotiations?" asked Octavian. "The chamber should do," said Evelyn. Evelyn led Octavian, Livian, Charming, and their guards to the Council Chamber, and they all sat at a large table. "You haven't brought a guard of your own with you?" observed Livian. "I doubt he would help much if I needed him," said Evelyn. Livian chuckled. "You're right about that!" he said. Suddenly, Soos stumbled into the Council Chamber wearing armor and holding a sword that was clearly too heavy for him. "Sorry I'm late!" Soos said between pants. "What are you doing?" asked Evelyn. "As long as I'm your soldier, I'll do what I can to keep you safe," said Soos. "You are hereby dismissed from the Royal Army. Now, get out of here!" said Evelyn. "I reject your dismissal." "You can't do that!" "Tell your chubby soldier to sit down so we can get on with it!" said an annoyed Octavian. Evelyn sighed. "Have a seat," she said. Soos sat down in the chair to the right of Evelyn's, and he immediately recognized Charming. "Hey, I know you! You were in that dungeon with me!" said Soos. "It's good to see you again," said Charming. "Why are you with those two?" "Octavian is my father." "Dude, are you pulling my leg right now?" "I don't...think so." "Both of you be quiet!" said Octavian. "We are here to discuss one matter and one matter only: the queen's surrender." "Since you came all this way, would you like some wine?" offered Evelyn. "Like the wine you gave King Phillip before the scuffle with Merlin that killed him? I'll pass," said Livian. "Besides, we've brought wine of our own," said Octavian, producing a bottle from a handbag he was carrying. Octavian filled his, Livian's, and Charming's cups with wine, and Livian was the first to drink before they proceeded. "Starting tomorrow, the kingdom of New Britain shall be no more," said Octavian. "Do you seek to restore Germania?" asked Evelyn. "No, I seek to expand Galacia," said Octavian. "These lands will become part of my kingdom, and my son shall look over them until he's ready to rule Galacia as a whole." "What?" said Livian. "We didn't agree to any of this!" "I said you could help me take these lands and take your share of the profits, and you've done that," said Octavian. "You know I would never support an expansion as big as this one!" "Too bad that's not your concern." Furious, Livian stood up. "Don't think you can get away with this!" he said. "My army is waiting outside for further orders, and if you continue on this path, I'll have them...I...I'll have them…" Livian sat back down. "Why do I feel dizzy?" he asked. "The poison must finally be working," said Octavian. "Poison?!" Livian stared at the cup of wine he had just drunk from. "You...you poisoned me?" he said. "What a shocking turn of events!" said Soos. Livian's guard stood up, and Charming immediately pointed an arrow at him. The guard clenched his fists then sat back down. "Don't act so surprised," said Octavian. "You were the first to betray me, so I am simply returning the favor." "The Visigoths...will not rest...until you're dead," said Livian, who was now sweating. "Let me worry about the Visigoths," said Octavian. "You worry about getting right with the gods before the poison takes you." Livian stood back up and his legs trembled as he left the chamber. Livian's guard stood up again and held his hands up as Charming focused his arrow on him. The guard followed Livian down the hallway and out of the palace. Once he was certain they were both gone, Charming lowered his arrow and nodded at Octavian. Octavian then turned to Evelyn. "You are to announce to your subjects tomorrow morning that you will surrender these lands to me. After that, you are to leave these lands and never come back," said Octavian. "Understood," said Evelyn. "One more thing," said Charming. "Where is Snow White?" "I was wondering when you would ask me that," said Evelyn. "She and the others Merlin banished so he could play his games are currently being held in Viking territory. I can't say where, but I believe that they're alive." Charming studied Evelyn's face, but nothing about the weary, aging queen suggested that she wasn't telling the truth. He looked down at his cup of poisoned wine and pushed it away before looking back at Evelyn. "I do hope you find peace wherever you go," he said. "Count yourself lucky, soon-to-be-former queen," said Octavian. "I wanted to chop your head off, but my son convinced me to have mercy on you." "I appreciate your mercy, but I'm not sure I deserve it," said Evelyn. "Believe me," growled Octavian. "You don't." Octavian and Charming stood up, prepared to leave the palace, and they were nearly blinded as the Blue Fairy appeared in a flash of blue light behind Soos and Evelyn. "For the love of Jupiter!" cried Octavian. "Sorry, is this a bad time?" said the fairy. "No, go on. Do...whatever it is you're about to do. We'll be back tomorrow." Octavian and Charming left the chamber with their guard. "Hi, Miss Blue Fairy, ma'am," said Soos. "Oh, it's you. I'm happy you aren't dead," said the fairy. "Thanks! I'm happy you aren't dead, too!" "Where's the girl?" "Mabel!" shouted Soos. "Her room is on the other side of the palace," said Evelyn. "There's no way she heard y-" Mabel walked into the chamber. "Hi there!" she said. "I totally wasn't outside eavesdropping on you, the king, and his handsome son!" "Right," said Evelyn, who clearly didn't believe Mabel. "I believe the frog man will want to hear what I'm about to say, too," said the fairy. "Frog man!" shouted Soos. "The name is Bert!" said Bert as he walked into the chamber. "Really? You both were spying on us?" accused Evelyn. "No! We just were in the area!" said Bert, faking outrage. "Right," said the fairy. "Anyway, after much discussion, the Fairy Council agreed to have the green and pink fairies help me charge this box." "That's great!" said Bert. "That means we can return with Mabel to her dimension!" "About that...the other fairies agreed to help only on the condition that we use the box to send everyone back to their original dimensions." "Their original dimensions? Does that mean…" "Yes. You will have to return to Amphibia, and once Merlin is found, the box will send him back to Camelot where he will await punishment for his crimes." Bert sighed. "Well, Mabel, I guess this means goodbye," he said. Bert turned to where Mabel was standing, but she was no longer there. "Where did she go?" he asked. "She ran out when I announced the other fairies would help me charge the box," said the fairy. "What?" said Bert. "Maybe she really had to use the bathroom," said Soos, who after an awkward silence, added: "Or maybe not." Charming was preparing to get onto his horse when he saw Mabel come out of the palace. "Hi, Mr. Prince Charming sir!" said Mabel. "I'll catch up to you later, father," said Charming. "Are you sure?" asked Octavian. "Yes." "All right. Stay safe." Octavian climbed onto his own horse and rode off, leaving the guard with Charming. Mabel reached Charming and the guard moments later, out of breath. "Why did you come all the way out here to see me?" inquired Charming. "I just...wanted to apologize for lying to you," said Mabel. "There's no need to do that. I know you were only trying to escape Merlin's curse." "But I still couldn't help but feel bad about it! That's why I came back. To tell you that I never wanted to hurt you." Charming looked down, unable to look at the face that tricked him into believing it was the face of somebody he loved any longer. "I'm not hurt," he said. "Not anymore. I just want to set things right." "So do I!" said Mabel. "Then return home to the people who love you and stop Merlin once and for all." "Don't you still love me? Even though what we had started from a lie, my feelings for you were real, and I think your feelings for me were real, too." Charming struggled to respond, and after hesitating, he looked back up at Mabel. "Nothing that we had was real," he said after a long pause. "You're not the girl I love, and what you feel for me is nothing more than a flight of fancy." "I did not come all the way back for a 'flight of fancy'!" said Mabel defensively. "You should not have come back at all," said Charming. Before Mabel could respond, Charming turned to his horse and climbed onto it with the guard. "Charming, please!" said Mabel. "Goodbye," said Charming. "I do hope you kill Merlin." Charming pulled his horse's reins, and he rode off, not looking back once as Mabel watched with tears in her eyes. She returned to the Council Chamber several minutes later and found that Bert was no longer there. "Where...where did Bert go?" she asked. Soos, Evelyn, and the fairy tried their hardest to hide their discomfort, but Mabel could tell something was wrong. "Where did Bert go?" she repeated. "Bert isn't here anymore," said the fairy. "If you hadn't left in the middle of our discussion, you'd have known that the other fairies only let me charge the box in exchange for sending everyone back to where they came from. Bert came to Amphibia, so I could only send him back to Amphibia." "And he left without saying goodbye to me?" "He said he wanted to return home thinking only of the happiest moments of your friendship, not the...less happy moments." Mabel turned red, both with embarrassment and anger. "This is so unfair!" she said. "Why can't we use the box to go where we want?" "Having people in worlds where they don't belong upsets the balance of the universe," said the fairy. "The gems were entrusted to us many thousands of years ago so we could help keep that balance, but a corrupt king stole them from us and used them to conquer many worlds until he was thankfully stopped. We cannot allow the universe to fall out of balance again, so everyone, including you, Bert, and Merlin, must return to where you came from." "No," said Mabel. "I could have charged the box myself! I could have…" Tears continued to fall from Mabel's eyes, which were now green. Her hair became pink, and a blue aura appeared around her. Soos' eyes widened as he saw this. "Is this, like, a puberty thing for girls?" he asked. Mabel quickly returned to normal and fell to her knees weakly. "I'm sorry," said the fairy. "I truly am, but we all have our responsibilities. Can I trust you to send Merlin back to Camelot with this box once you encounter him?" Mabel sighed. "Yes," she said. "You can trust me." The fairy smiled and handed Mabel the box, which she planned to take back to Amphibia as soon as she got Soos home. "Close your eyes and think about where you want to go," said the fairy. "It's been nice knowing you dudes," said Soos. "Good luck on your journey," said Evelyn. Soos put a hand on Mabel's shoulder, and she closed her eyes. Seconds later, Mabel, Soos, and the box were gone.
  6. Chapter 18 Abby Waybright was in her bedroom in her apartment, scrolling on Facebook on her laptop, when her five-year-old niece barged into the room wearing a cloak too big for her and waving around a fake wand. "Expelliarmus!" said the girl. Abby rolled her eyes. "I knew I shouldn't have let you watch those Harry Potter movies," she said. "Is it true you met a real-life wizard?" said the girl. "Yeah, it is, Sasha," said Abby. Suddenly, the lights in the apartment went out. "W-what's happening?" said a frightened Sasha. "It's just a blackout from the thunderstorm. You'll be fine," said Abby, whose face was still lit by her laptop before she closed it. "What's that?" said Sasha, pointing to one of the outlets. Abby looked at where Sasha was pointing, and she saw a large current of electricity pouring out of the outlet. "Sasha, come here!" ordered Abby. Sasha ran into Abby's arms as the electricity morphed into the shape of a person. Abby watched in awe as Merlin appeared, illuminated by a blue energy around him. "How did you escape?" asked Abby. "You know that weirdo?" whispered Sasha, peeking at Merlin before turning back to Abby with a frightened look still on her face. "Yeah," said Abby. "It's okay, he won't hurt you." "When you visited me," said Merlin, "I told you I could leave that dungeon whenever I wanted to, but I wanted it to be a surprise when I launched my attack." "Does that mean…" "Yes. The attack begins tonight. Send the child to bed. I don't want her to bother us." Sasha, who was still being held by Abby, hugged her aunt tightly. "Please don't send me off!" said Sasha. "I don't trust him!" "It's late," said Abby. "You should already be asleep, anyway." "No!" said Sasha, pushing Abby away. Sasha pointed her wand at Merlin, who raised an eyebrow in surprise. "Stupefy!" screamed Sasha. "What was that...supposed to do?" asked Merlin. "Make you fall asleep!" "Well, it didn't work." Abby took the fake wand from Sasha and led her out of the room. "What did I tell you?" said Abby. "Don't use spells on guests." "I know, I know! But that guy in your room gives me the creeps! I don't want you to work with him!" said Sasha. "I'm a big girl. I'll be fine," said Abby. "Now, you don't want me to call your dad and tell him you've been misbehaving again, do you?" Sasha looked down at her feet. "No," she muttered. "Then go to your room and go to sleep. End. Of. Discussion." The lights turned back on as Sasha walked slowly to her room. She glanced at Abby once before going in, and once Abby was sure that her niece wouldn't attempt anything else, she went back into her room. "That girl," said Merlin. "Is she your daughter?" "No, she's my brother's," said Abby. "She's just visiting for the summer." Merlin nodded. "I've always wanted children of my own," he said. "But alas, I had greater ambitions." "Why did you come here?" asked Abby. "You were the one who told me of my followers, and I need you to get into contact with them to let them know that I'm out and that they need to be ready for the next steps of my plan." "Oh! O-of course I will!" said Abby, grabbing her laptop. "Is that device what you will use to communicate with them?" asked Merlin. "Yeah. I mean, I have some of their numbers, but most of what we do is over Facebook." Abby opened a page, and she scratched her chin. "This is new. One of those kids you were looking for, Dipper Pines, is apparently at Disneyland right now," said Abby. "Disneyland? Is that Disney fellow popular here?" asked Merlin. "Yeah! Everyone grew up watching his movies! There was even one starring you!" said Abby. Abby typed "The Sword in the Stone" into her browser's search bar, and pictures of the Disney movie appeared on her screen. "My beard's not that long!" said Merlin with indignity as he looked at the pictures. Merlin pointed to a yellow-haired boy in one of the pictures. "Who's that?" he said. "That's King Arthur!" said Abby. "You're friends with him, aren't you?" Merlin turned away. "I used to be," he said. Abby could tell something was wrong. "Did you two have a falling out?" she asked. "It doesn't matter," said Merlin. "It's in the past. Let's focus on today, because today, we can change the world." Abby nodded and switched to a tab with the Children of Merlin Facebook group open. As she did this, Merlin walked to a window and stared outside of it. "How do I find this...Disneyland?" asked Merlin. "It's in Anaheim," said Abby. "In California." "I know not these lands you speak of." "Wow. You clearly aren't from here. Duh! You're an ancient, magical wizard. Of course you aren't from here." "Draw me a map. I'm sure I'll find it." "I guess I can try." Abby rummaged through her desk and found a blank piece of paper. "Graphic arts degree, don't fail me now," whispered Abby. Wendy fell to her knees as the rain came at her faster than ever before. She looked at herself in the puddle under her, and her face was now covered in cuts and bruises. One of her eyes couldn't fully open, and her hair was disheveled from the rain and the fighting. She looked up at Zoey, who wasn't far from her and was just as beaten-up and as exhausted as she was. "We can't keep on like this," said Wendy. "Let's just go downstairs and get the others." "No!" hissed Zoey. "We've gone too far to turn back now!" "This isn't you! Those Children of Merlin...whoever the heck they are...they've corrupted you!" "I'm the same person I already have been. You just haven't realized it until now." Wendy stood back up and offered Zoey a hand, but she refused it. "You don't think I know about your friends making fun of me when they think I'm not listening? You don't think I understand how much of an outcast I am?" said Zoey. "You're not an outcast," said Wendy. "Yeah, I am, but I'm okay with it now, because for once in my life, I'm a part of something bigger than myself, bigger than Gravity Falls High School, bigger than all of that crap!" Zoey finally stood up, and she took a bow with the same pattern as Minnie Mouse's out of her hair to let her hair flow in the wind. Disneyland security reached them moments later. "Take the girl away," said Zoey. "Charge her with assaulting a cast member." "Zoe!" cried Wendy. "Don't do this, Zoe!" "After you've detained her, go downstairs, and you'll find that candy thief I was telling you about," said Zoey. The two security guards handcuffed Wendy and took her away despite her protests. Zoey checked her phone and noticed a Facebook message that caused her to open her mouth in astonishment. Dipper felt around the chamber Walt Disney's body was being held in until he found a button. He pressed the button as hard as he could, and the chamber started to rise to the surface. Dipper followed it as it got higher, higher, and SPLASH! Dipper and the chamber were both above water now, with Stan and Abuelita both on the edge of the hole now to see the miracle Dipper was telling them about with their own eyes. "I can't believe it," said Stan. "All that crazy stuff you were talking about...was real." "You're from Gravity Falls," said Dipper as Stan helped him out of the hole. "You should be used to this by now." Suddenly, everything around them started to shake, and the front of the chamber, which was clear to make it obvious who was inside, started to open. Walt Disney stretched and yawned before opening his eyes and smiling. "Hello," said Walt. "Do you think you can help this old man across that water? My legs are still quite tired from my rest. Dipper and Stan looked at each other before swimming to the chamber, helping Walt get between them, and swimming back with him. "I was wondering when someone would come for me," said Walt. "How long have I been away?" Dipper and Stan looked at each other again. "Mr. Disney, you've been in there for 45 years," said Dipper. "45? Heavens! I was never supposed to be gone that long!" said Walt. Walt sat down, clearly troubled. "Señor Disney," said Abuelita. "I know you do not know who I am, but I've loved your work since I was a child." "Thank you," said Walt. "What was the point of freezing yourself, anyway?" inquired Stan. "It was an...experiment. I'm not just a filmmaker, you see. I'm a scientist. I wanted to see if cryopreservation was an effective way to stop aging, but I only planned to be down here five, six years at the most. This is terrible. A scientific breakthrough, but terrible." "It's good we found you, though, because we need your help," said Dipper. "What do you know about Merlin?" "Merlin? He was a character in one of my last movies," said Walt. "Why do you ask?" "I'm not talking about that Merlin. I'm talking about the real Merlin," said Dipper. Walt stood up again. "What are you talking about, boy? Are you saying Merlin's in our world?" he said. "Yes," said Dipper. "Then we're already doomed," said Walt. "It took every trick in my book to get away from him, and even then, I almost didn't succeed. If he's managed to find his way here, I don't know if there's anything on this planet that can stop him." "No way!" said Stan. "We didn't come all the way down here for you to tell us there's nothing we can do!" "I don't know what you want from me," said Walt. "It's been so long ago, probably close to 100 years now. I remember reading a book of fairy tales with an older cousin and getting sent to this wonderful, magical world. I remember finding out that Merlin and his wife were trying to come here in our stead. I remember getting the Blue Fairy to betray him as me and my cousin acted out Cinderella, and I remember discovering the book and having to read 'and they lived happily ever after', before Merlin caught to up. And I assumed after that we lived happily ever after, but apparently not." "That's all you have? No weaknesses?" said Dipper. "The Blue Fairy was the only creature I saw capable of matching up with him, but unless she came here with him, then no, there's nothing that can stop him." Dipper punched a wall. "Arrgh!" he screamed. "Shh, Dipper, do you hear that?" whispered Stan. "Hear what?" "Footsteps." The security guards approached them with flashlights. "Are you Stan Pines?" said one of the guards. "Depends," said Stan. "What do you want with this Stan Pines?' "We have footage of you stealing from one of our candy shops. We'll need you to come with us," said the other guard. "No! I'm not going back to the brig!" said Stan, raising his fists. "Do you want us to get our tasers? Cause we'll tase the heck out of you!" said the first guard. "Stop," said Walt. "I own this park, so whatever he's done on these grounds should not be punished." "Yeah!" said Stan. "What he said!" The guards shone their flashlights on Walt's face. "And who are you supposed to be?" said the second guard. "Walt Disney," said Walt. The guards laughed. "Walt Disney is dead!" said the first guard. "If you need proof, here it is," said Walt, pulling out his wallet from his shirt pocket. The guards looked closely at Walt's driver's license before lowering their flashlights. "Fine," said the second guard. "But you better not drive anywhere, since that license expired in 1970." "I'll keep that in mind," said Walt. "Now, take us above ground. I've been frozen for so long that I forgot what fresh air tastes like." Dipper, Stan, Abuelita, Walt, and the guards returned to the stairs, and once they ascended them, they found Zoey waiting for them. "Why isn't Stan handcuffed?" asked Zoey. The guards pointed at Walt. "Ask him," said the first guard. "No," said Zoey. "It can't be!" "Walt Disney was down there, just like I told you!" bragged Dipper. Zoey backed away with a terrified look on her face. "What's wrong?" said Dipper. "And where's Wendy?" "Uh...I...have to go!" said Zoey before running off. Dipper turned to the guards. "Did either of you see where Wendy went?" he asked. "Who? The redhead? Zoey told us to lock her up," said the second guard. "What?" said Dipper. "Take us to her," said Walt. The guards led Dipper, Stan, Abuelita, and Walt to a small building in the back of Critter Country. When they walked inside, they found Wendy sitting crouched inside of a jail cell. "Wendy!" said Dipper. "Are you okay?" "I've been better," said Wendy. "Let her out," said Walt. The guards opened the jail cell, and Wendy, still sore from her fight, stood up slowly before walking out. "Why did Zoey have you arrested?" asked Dipper. "She isn't who I thought she was," said Wendy. Wendy glanced at Walt. "Of course Walt Disney's actually here," she said. "You didn't believe me?" said Dipper. "I wanted you to believe it, because it was easier than believing your sister was…" "Gone. Yeah, I know." "Your sister's missing?" said Walt. "Yeah, but you've already been a big help, so you don't need to worry about it," said Dipper. "I'm sorry," said Walt. "I had an older brother. The last thing I told him before I began my experiment was that I would see him again, but it seems I won't in this life." "You'll find your sister again," said Stan. "If there's one thing I know about you and Mabel from your time with me, it's that you always find each other." Everyone left the building, "Well, Mr. Disney, it's a nice park you've got," said the first guard. "Yeah," said Walt. "It's bigger than I remember, but nice." "By the way, can you put in a good word for us with the higher-ups? It's almost time for reassignments, and I would love a spot in Tomorrowland," said the second guard. Walt chuckled. "Of course," he said. After the guards left, Dipper looked up at Stan with a pleading face. "Do I still have to go to my parents?" he asked. "I promised them," said Stan. "But I'll tell them what I know now: you were right and we were wrong." Wendy playfully punched Dipper in the arm. "You actually did it! You found Walt Disney! Mabel's going to be so proud of you when she finds out!" said Wendy. Dipper smiled as he felt relaxed for the first time since Mabel disappeared. "I guess we better get going, then," said Dipper. "Thanks again, Mr. Disney." "Please," said Walt. "Call me Walt." "Do you need us to take you anywhere? The park closes soon," said Stan, looking at his watch. "No, I think I'm just going to...wait a minute. What that in the sky?" said Walt. The others looked up with Walt, and they noticed what seemed to be a star that was getting brighter and brighter until it was apparent that it was no star they were looking at. "It can't be," said Dipper. "Merlin?" whispered Walt. Suddenly, Zoey appeared from the darkness of the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh attraction, waving her arms and jumping in excitement as Merlin stopped in the sky. "He's here, Merlin! Dipper's here! We have him!" shouted Zoey. "You should have stayed hidden!" said Wendy, running after Zoey. Walt grabbed Wendy before she could fight Zoey again. "Stop," said Walt. "I'll handle this." Wendy, whose face was red with rage, nodded and returned to Dipper, Stan, and Abuelita. "You work here, right?" asked Walt. "Yeah," said Zoey. "Well, you don't anymore." "I figured." Walt, Zoey, Dipper, Wendy, Stan, and Abuelita watched as Merlin slowly descended from the sky like an angel of death. "Leave the others alone!" said Dipper. "It's me you want!" As Merlin landed, he shot a glance at Walt. "But it isn't just you, is it?" said Merlin. "An old friend of mine finally has a kingdom of his own." "Your desire to make a kingdom out of this planet won't work," said Walt. "The people will resist." "The ones who are living won't," said Merlin. "That girl and millions of others already worship me. They know that I am what this planet needs." "What this planet needs is for you to return to your own!" "Well, I won't. And if you are to make it out of this encounter alive, you will bend the knee to me." "Never!" Merlin raised a hand, and Walt felt his knees go weak. As Merlin lowered his hand, Walt tried his best to fight Merlin's magic before dropping to his knees, the rain stopping as Merlin got closer to Walt. "I'll have mercy on you," said Merlin. "But do not forget that I could have killed you and chose not to." "If you release this spell on me, I'll make you wish you had killed me," said Walt. Merlin nodded. "By the way, I found your portrayal of me in that sequence of drawings to be very offensive," said Merlin. "Take it up with my lawyers," said Walt. Merlin waved his hand, and Walt passed out. He then turned to Dipper. "I'm sorry about your fat friend," said Merlin. "I knew I had to have a Plan B this time, and sadly, it required his sacrifice." "You don't care about Soos," said Dipper. "You don't care about any of us! You only care about yourself!" "What do you think is about? Power for the sake of power? I want to make sure that no child grows up as I had, isolated from a society that doesn't understand him. That's what I did for New Britain, the first country that let humans, wizards, witches, dwarfs, and many more magical and non-magical creatures peacefully coexist, and that's what I will do for your planet. You need to understand that I'm no villain. The causes I fight for are noble, but just like any war, the war I'm fighting will have casualties." "If you really don't think you're a villain after everything you've done, then I have nothing else to say to you." Merlin sighed. "Very well. I hoped I would be able to reason with you, but it's clear I cannot," he said. Merlin took a wand out from under his robe. "The good thing about the death spell is it's quick," he said. "No!" cried Wendy. "You can't kill him!" "Well, he's too dangerous to be left alive, so what do you suggest I do?" asked Merlin. "Anything else!" "No. I'm sorry if you're fond of the boy, but this must be done." "Come on, Wendy," said Abuelita. "Vamos. If he says it must be done, it must be done." Wendy looked at Abuelita with surprise before walking to her. Abuelita grabbed Wendy's hand, and Wendy grabbed Dipper's hand from the left. Dipper was still trying to process what was going on as Stan grabbed his hand from the right, and the four of them immediately vanished. "What?" said an astounded Merlin. "How did they…" "So I'm guessing you didn't do that?" interjected Zoey. Merlin whisked his fingers through his beard, which wasn't as long as the pictures made it out to be, but still quite long. "It seems this isn't a world without magic after all," he said. Merlin flew back into the sky, leaving Zoey and an unconscious Walt behind him.
  7. 3. Mr. Robot When you think of prestige TV, the first networks that come to mind are HBO, Showtime, AMC, and maybe even FX. Before recently, USA Network was not thought of as a home of prestige TV and seemed to have no designs of being so. Shows like Monk, Psych, and Burn Notice were good and occasionally even great, but you knew what to expect from shows like that, which had well-defined structures and rarely ever deviated from them. They were TV equivalents of comfort food, giving you something better than the bland fast foody dramas the broadcast networks pump out but nothing that will challenge you with bold new flavors. Enter Mr. Robot. The Sam Esmail drama ignored the precedent set by the popular USA Network dramas before it and defied every expectation it could. With a main character whose various mental disorders and drug habits made it hard for him to determine what was real or not, Esmail and crew had the opportunity to create one of the most unpredictable shows we've ever seen, and it was an opportunity they took advantage of. The show was a huge success during its first season, but the second season proved to be too confounding for a lot of people, and the ratings began a steep decline. Despite that, network executives maintained their faith in the show and its crew, and while the show's ratings continued to fall over its final two seasons, the show itself only got better, ending as not just the best show USA Network ever produced but one of the best shows of all time. My two favorite episodes of Mr. Robot came in those last two seasons: eps3.4_runtime-error.r00, which unfolded in real time, and 407 Proxy Authentication Required, which not only defied expectations but defies description, an episode you have to watch yourself to understand just how game-changing it is. If there's one thing most of the shows on my list have in common, it's a willingness to experiment with the medium, to truly give us something that we haven't seen before. In a television landscape dominated by spin-offs, reboots, and remakes (some of them admittedly very good, like the show right under this one on my list), that's very important to me, and Mr. Robot's commitment to doing just that is what makes it one of my top three shows.
  8. Chapter 17 Soos carefully pointed his arrow at a target painted on a tree. He took a deep breath, pulled back the bowstring, and let the arrow fly. It sped right past the tree, disappearing into the darkness of the forest. Shang, who watched from behind Soos, shook his head. “I’ve given you 30 arrows now, and you haven’t hit the tree once,” said Shang. “That’s not true!” said Soos. “I hit the bottom of it that one time!” “We’re days away from this war, and you aren’t even close to ready.” Shang walked to the tree with the target painted onto it and pulled an arrow from its lower trunk. “I have other men to train,” he said as he put the arrow into his quiver. “Please!” said Soos. “Give me more time!” “No!” said Shang. “If we’re to stand a chance against the combined forces of Galacia and the Visigoths, I’ll need soldiers. Real soldiers. I’m going back to the camp. Return to the castle where you’ll be safe.” Shang began to walk away, and Soos was reminded of the last time his father left him at nine years old. Tears streamed down his face as he remembered his father kissing him on the forehead, promising he wouldn’t be gone long, and driving away, never to be seen or heard from again outside of the letters he had mailed Soos over the next four or five years, each with a new lame excuse for why he couldn’t return to take care of his son. Eventually, the letters stopped coming, either because his father could no longer be bothered to write to Soos anymore, or because his abuelita no longer wanted to show him his father’s newest batch of lies. Abuelita tried to convince Soos that his father walking out on them wasn’t Soos’ fault, but even before he left, Soos could tell that his father didn’t respect him, that his father saw him as weak. He no longer blamed himself for what happened, but as Shang departed, all of the negative feelings surrounding his father’s abandonment returned, and out of desperation, Soos sprinted after Shang, tackling him and causing the arrow to fall out of Shang’s quiver. “What are you doing?” said Shang, pushing Soos off. “I want another chance!” said Soos. “Just one more! Please!” Shang stood up and brushed dirt and leaves off his military uniform. “Fine!” he said. “One more chance.” Shang gave Soos the arrow and pointed to the target on the tree. “You hit the target, dead center, and I’ll resume your training,” said Shang. “If you miss, you head to the castle or that arrow goes in you.” Soos nodded. “Understood,” he said. Soos fitted the arrow into his bow, aimed it at the target, took another deep breath, this one deeper than all the ones, and steadied his feet, steadied his hands, steadied his mind. Soos closed his eyes and waited for nearly a minute as Shang watched him with intrigue. When Soos opened his eyes again, all he could see was the target. Now certain that he knew what he was doing, Soos released his grip. --- Peter was asleep inside of a horse-drawn carriage when he was stirred by a bright light coming through his window. “Huh?” muttered Peter, still half-asleep. The Blue Fairy opened the door to Peter’s carriage. “Hello, Pinocchio,” said the fairy. “Am...am I here?” said Peter. “Yes. Geppeto’s shop is right down that road.” “Why couldn’t you just poof me here?” said Peter, stretching. “I had to use a very dangerous, very rare type of magic to turn you into a boy,” said the fairy. “The type of magic that doesn’t work well with other spells. If I used a spell to send you here, it likely would have sent you here as wood, especially after that little number Merlin did on you.” Peter looked down. “I’m sorry for running away,” he said. “I’m not the one you need to apologize to,” said the fairy. “Do you think he’ll forgive me?” The Blue Fairy helped Peter out of the carriage and put a hand on his shoulder as they walked toward the shop. “I know he will,” she said. Just as they reached the shop, they were startled as the carriage exploded and the horses that were pulling it let out frightened neighs before galloping in opposite directions. As the smoke from the explosion disappeared, it revealed an unconscious Bert and Mabel lying where the carriage was. “Hey,” said Peter. “I know that girl! She was with us at Charming’s palace!” “How did she return?” wondered the Blue Fairy. “And who’s that giant frog with her?” Bert was the first to awaken, and he gave Mabel a slight push. “Hey, wake up!” said Bert. “Mabel?” Bert felt Mabel’s pulse. “She’s holding on, but barely,” said Bert. The Blue Fairy approached them. “Excuse me,” she said. “How did you and that girl get here?” Bert looked around. “I assume we’re not in Amphibia anymore,” he said. “No, you’re in New Britain,” said the fairy. “I’m from Amphibia, but Mabel…” “She came from different lands, I know,” said the fairy. “That box...did it bring you here?” Bert looked down at the chest, which was between him and Mabel. “Yes,” he said. “It sent Mabel to Amphibia, too. Do you know about it?” “I know those gems. Gems that looked exactly like those created the original blue, green, and pink fairies several millennia ago. They used to travel dimensions, acting as benevolent gods to every society they encountered, but the leader of one of those societies tricked the fairies, stealing the gems from them and banishing them to this dimension.” The gems on the chest were colorless again, but as the Blue Fairy tapped one of the gems with her wand, it glowed blue. “You think you can use that thing to heal Mabel?” said Bert. “I’ll try,” said the fairy. The Blue Fairy pointed her wand at Mabel’s chest, and the blue aura that Mabel had whenever her powers were activated flickered around her until the Blue Fairy lowered her wand again. “She’s hurt pretty bad,” said the fairy. “I can heal her, but it will take some time.” The Blue Fairy picked up Mabel and returned to Peter. She nodded to Peter, and he walked inside the shop, where an old Italian man was cleaning up. “Papà?” said Peter. The man raised his head at the sound of a familiar voice. He almost didn’t want to turn around, thinking it was a dream, but he eventually did, and as the man, Geppetto, found the boy he lovingly crafted out of the wood of enchanted forest tree standing in his doorway, not even his old legs could keep him from sprinting to Peter to hug him. “I’m so sorry for running away, papà,” Peter said, crying into Geppetto’s worn white button-down shirt. “It’s okay, son,” said Geppetto. “It’s just good to see you again.” “I wish I could be better. I wish I could be that perfect son you wanted when you made me here so many years ago.” Geppetto pulled back from their embrace and wiped the tears from Peter’s face. “Pinocchio, the blue fairy didn’t turn you into a real boy because you were perfect,” said Geppetto. “Far from it. She did it because you knew you were flawed and committed to working on yourself. That’s what makes us human.” The Blue Fairy carried Mabel into the shop with Bert following her. “Thank you for bringing my son back,” said Geppetto. “I was happy to,” said the fairy. “Who are the other two visitors?” “I’m Bert and that’s Mabel.” said Bert. “They are here from foreign lands, and as you see, the travel had a very negative impact on the girl,” said the fairy. “I was hoping you could give her a bed for her to heal in.” “Of course!” said Geppetto. “Take her to the room beside mine. Someone used to live there, but...she’s long gone.” The Blue Fairy nodded and carried Mabel to the room. “Oh!” said Geppetto. “There’s someone else here who has been missing you very much, Pinocchio.” “Who?” said Peter. Geppetto opened a drawer, and he poked something inside of it. Suddenly, a cricket hopped out and chirped in a way Peter immediately recognized. “Jiminy Cricket!” said Peter with excitement. “Pinocchio?” whispered Jiminy Cricket, wiping his eyes as they adjusted to the light. Once Jiminy Cricket knew it was Peter he was talking to, he hopped as high as he could to greet his friend, but before he could reach Peter, he was wrapped by a long, slimy tongue and pulled into Bert’s mouth. Peter’s mouth opened with horror as he saw this, and then he started to cry. “What did I do?” said Bert. “You ate Pinocchio’s friend!” said Geppetto. “Oh,” said Bert. “Well, Mr. Pinocchio, if it’s any consolation, your friend was delicious.” Peter cried louder now, and Bert awkwardly whistled while walking to the room the Blue Fairy and Mabel were in. “Hey, how long do you think it will be until she gets better?” inquired Bert. “I can’t say,” responded the fairy. “Why?” “I don’t think I’ll be welcome here much longer.” “What did you do?” “I saw a tasty snack in the air, so I did what any frog would do in that situation, but the boy apparently saw that cricket as more than food.” “My gods! You ate Jiminy Cricket?” “Obviously, I know I shouldn’t have done it now, but that doesn’t change that fact that I did it, and now we need to be somewhere else.” “I’m sure Pinnocchio and Geppetto will forgive you.” The was a knock on the door. “Come in!” said the fairy. Geppetto walked in with his hands behind his back. “So, Pinocchio was very upset, but I managed to calm him down after assuring him Jiminy Cricket’s death was quick and painless,” said Geppetto. “Thank you so much for doing that,” said the fairy. “Does this mean I’m forgiven?” said Bert. “Of course!” said Geppetto. Bert sighed in relief as the Blue Fairy gave him a look that essentially said, “I told you so.” “However,” continued Geppetto. “Just because you’re forgiven doesn’t mean you won’t be punished for your crime. I’m a strong believer in retributive justice, and the perfect retribution for what you’ve done, which Pinocchio agrees with, is for us to chop you up and eat you.” Geppetto revealed that it was an axe behind him, and Bert shot the Blue Fairy a look that essentially said, “I told you so.” The Blue Fairy rolled her eyes, grabbed Bert’s and Mabel’s hands, and disappeared with both of them moments later. --- Shang and his soldiers reached the Rhine, a massive river that divided New Britain from Galacia, at sunset. The archers, including Soos, took their positions alongside the river, and they waited for the Galacian and Visigothic armies to cross. Hours later, it was pitch black outside of the stars in the sky, and Soos began to fall asleep. The archer to Soos’ left punched his arm and pointed to small lights in the distance, not much brighter than the stars above them first but slowly getting brighter and brighter until it was clear that they were coming from the lanterns of enemy soldiers on ships. The archers stood up, pulled back their bows, and let hundreds of arrows fly, many of them killing soldiers aboard the ships. They quickly replaced their arrows and shot even more at the ships, and while some of the lights dimmed and some of the ships slowed down, they continued sailing towards the British land. Opposing archers returned fire once the ships were close enough, and Soos heard archers on both sides of him shriek in pain and fall to the ground. Soos focused on the enemy archers, and he was able to kill several of them and barely dodge an arrow headed for him. Shang and some of the knights pulled back dead archers and set up cannons in their now-vacant positions. “Ready…” said Shang once the cannons were fully set up. Soos tried his best to ignore what was happening around him and focus on shooting arrows while avoiding the arrows being shot at him. As the number of ships in the river increased, so did the number of arrows raining down on them. Soos used a shield tied to his elbow to deflect some of the arrows while continuing to shoot more out. “Fire!” screamed Shang. The ground shook with explosions as cannonballs went into the sky and sank many of the ships heading towards them. “Ready...fire!” More ships were taken down, but even more appeared. Soos got under his shield and reached for an arrow from his quiver before realizing he was out. “General Li!” exclaimed Soos. “I’m out of arrows!” Shang wordlessly grabbed a quiver of arrows from a dead archer and threw it to Soos. Soos struggled to catch it from under his shield. Once he got the quiver fitted to him, he turned back to the Rhine, squinting at the light coming from lanterns that were now brighter than ever before. He continued shooting arrows with the rest of the archers until the ships were so close that Shang had no choice but to order the archers to leave their posts. “Remember that we’re fighting for New Britain,” said Shang as he directed the archers to the front line of the regiment with the top British knights. The first ship hit the riverbank minutes later. More ships hit land as Soos and the rest of the archers shot their arrows at the soldiers coming out of the ships. The knights fought the soldiers who made it through the arrows, and for a while, the British forces had the advantage. As more of the enemy ships landed, however, it became obvious the defending soldiers were badly outnumbered, and the archers had to go deeper into their own territory as the knights who successfully held off the Galacians and Visigoths at first could no longer do so. Soos shot out his arrows at a rapid pace now, faster than all of the archers around him, even the ones who had decades of experiences, and most of the arrows he shot out hit their marks. Octavian’s ship was the final one to land, and he walked off the platform with an archer in front of him and an archer behind him. He smiled as he saw the vast majority of the casualties now had British colors despite their early advantage. Octavian put a blowing horn to his lips, and he blew into it with such power that the sound could easily be heard over the sounds of clashing metal on the battlefield. “I am Octavian, king of Galacia!” said Octavian. “And I come here with an offer!” The soldiers stopped fighting and turned to Octavian. Shang, who was now on the battlefield with his knights, reluctantly did the same but made sure that he was close to Soos. “You know you have no chance of winning tonight,” said Octavian. “Instead of dying for a lost cause, drop your weapons and surrender, and you shall be spared.” “No,” said Shang. “No! Don’t listen to him! Remember what you’re fighting for! Remember this is for New Britain!” The British soldiers looked at one another, their faces covered in blood, sweat, and tears, and over the next several minutes, all of them except Soos and Shang dropped their weapons. Shang grabbed Soos by the arm and returned with Soos to his horse. “Let’s go,” said Shang. “These men have made it clear where their loyalties truly lie.” As Shang rode off with Soos, the Galacian and Visigothic soldiers turned to the now-unarmed British soldiers and killed all of them. Soos used his shield to deflect the arrows now flying towards them until the enemy soldiers following them turned back. “Where are we going now?” asked Soos. “Back to the castle,” said a weary Shang. “This war is lost.” ---- Evelyn was cooking a deer for herself and the Big Bad Wolf when the Blue Fairy, Bert, and a still-unconscious Mabel appeared behind her, startling her. “Don’t sneak up on people like that!” said Evelyn. “Sorry,” said the fairy. “I didn’t know where else to go, so I just decided to bring them here.” “Is that...no! Merlin sent that girl back to her world! How is she here again?” The chest appeared in the Blue Fairy’s hands. “This box sent her and that giant frog here,” said the fairy. “This ‘giant frog’ has a name.” said Bert. “I don’t particularly care,” said the fairy. “I’m going to the Council to see if they’ll allow the pink and green fairies to help me reactivate this box. If they do, we’ll be able to send the frog, the girl, and the boy home, assuming the boy hasn’t…” “Hasn’t what?” said Evelyn. “Perished,” said the fairy. Evelyn took a deep breath and looked out the window. “He’ll be back,” she said. “How are you certain of that?” said the fairy. “Because I trust Shang.” “If Shang’s dead, too, it won’t matter.” Evelyn’s face turned red with anger. She felt tempted to hit the fairy but knew that doing so would likely provoke the fairy into doing something even worse to her. “Just get the box working again,” said Evelyn. “That’s the least we could do after the parts we played in Merlin’s scheme.” The Blue Fairy nodded and disappeared with the chest. The Big Bad Wolf walked into the kitchen moments later. “So...that’s what I smelled. I haven’t had frog in a long time,” said the wolf. “Will I ever be in a world where everyone doesn’t want to eat me?” said Bert to himself. “Don’t eat him. He’s a guest,” said Evelyn. “I’ll have your dinner ready soon.” The wolf growled. “Fine,” he said before walking out. “Have you ever tried deer?” asked Evelyn. “What’s a deer?” said Bert. “Right,” said Evelyn. “You’re not from here. Well, perhaps you’ll like it.” Evelyn helped Bert carry Mabel to a spare room, and they ate dinner shortly after that. A few hours after that, Mabel regained consciousness with Bert at her bedside. “I’m...I’m sorry,” whispered Mabel. Bert, who was starting to nod off himself, perked up when he heard Mabel’s voice. “Mabel! Mabel, I’m so glad you’re okay!” said Bert. “I’m sorry,” repeated Mabel. “Sorry for what? You didn’t do anything wrong.” “I’m sorry, Prince Charming.” “Who’s Prince Charming?” Mabel fell asleep again, and Bert sighed before finally going to sleep himself.
  9. 4. Better Call Saul How do you follow up a show as popular and critically acclaimed as Breaking Bad was? Regardless of your show's individual merits, it will be unable to avoid comparison to its more well-known sister series. BCS could have been seen as a failure just by being good, but miraculously, it was able to not just match the quality of the show that inspired it, but in the eyes of many, exceed it. Instead of trying to avoid comparison to Breaking Bad, BCS invited it, and that high standard led to a show better than I think anyone expected when it was announced during BB's record-breaking final season. Saul Goodman, Walter White's fast-talking lawyer, begins the show as Jimmy McGill, aspiring lawyer and brother of one of the most prominent lawyers in Albuquerque in Chuck McGill. The relationship between Jimmy and Chuck is the emotional core of the show, at least during its first few seasons, and it plays a big part in helping the show explain how Jimmy became Saul. The second-most important relationship, which becomes easily its most important by the show's end, is between Jimmy and Kim Wexler, who have a mutual attraction that isn't healthy for either of them. Outside of Saul, the most important character to return from Breaking Bad is Mike Ehrmantraut. His journey from cop to criminal enforcer is almost as compelling as Jimmy's transformation into Saul, and every time their stories collide, we're in for a treat. Saul and Mike aren't the only characters to return from Breaking Bad, of course, and every time we see a familiar face, it's exciting without being distracting, because the writers always make sure that it fits within the overall story arc. What makes a spin-off successful, like a Fraiser or a Law and Order: SVU, or a Better Call Saul, of course, is a hook that differentiates the show from the original without forgetting what made people love the original in the first place. BCS took a Godfather Part II approach to Breaking Bad, acting as both a prequel and a sequel while retaining much of what made BB such a huge hit. The writing, the acting, and the directing continues to be top-notch, and they're more consistent from the start than BB was, the result of a creative team that's much more confident going into it. Better Call Saul isn't just required viewing for people who loved Breaking Bad but for people who love great television in general.
  10. 5. Community The history of the sitcom is a long and varied one, longer than the lifetime of anybody reading this, but the goal has been the same since the beginning: to make the viewer laugh. That makes sitcoms harder to judge than other shows, but in my subjective opinion, Community is the funniest sitcom ever made as well as one of the best shows ever made. Taking place at a community college in Colorado, the show centers on Jeff, a disgraced former lawyer who starts a study group full of colorful characters. For its first 20 episodes, it's a mostly conventional sitcom, but two of the season's final episodes, Contemporary American Poultry and Modern Warfare, gave us a preview of the genre-bending show that Community would become. Community's so-called "gimmick episodes" or episodes styled to mimic everything from mafia and action movies like the aforementioned episodes, to documentaries ala The Office, to cheesy stop-motion Christmas specials, are among the highlights of each season. They also don't change up the style's format just for the sake of doing it generally but as a way of teaching us more about the characters. Remedial Chaos Theory, not just the best gimmick episode but the best episode period, is the show at its most funny, heartwarming, and inventive. It helped establish Community as one of the finest examples of its art form after just over two seasons, and despite a small bump in the road in the form of a fourth season without the show's creator, it completed its run as a hallmark of television, a series so influential that it helped launch a new streaming service (that died just a couple of months later oops). Community's greatness didn't translate into the viewership other great NBC sitcoms had, but the devoted fanbase and its refrain of "six seasons and a movie", an inside joke that blew up like many of the show's inside jokes, kept it going for much longer than it had any right to. Now that a movie seems more likely than it ever has been in the seven years since the show's conclusion, that devoted fanbase will be rewarded for its efforts with at least one more trip to Glendale Community College.
  11. 6. Gravity Falls Another animated show that proves cartoons can be enjoyed by far more than just children despite the insistence by studio executives (even today) that they can't be, Gravity Falls was an exciting, funny show that was unlike anything that had aired on Disney Channel before it. Taking place in the small town of Gravity Falls, Oregon, the series follows twins Dipper and Mabel Pines as they stay with their great-uncle Stan in his tourist trap, the Mystery Shack, over the summer. In the first episode, Dipper discovers a journal written by a secret author describing the supernatural goings-on of the city, and with the journal's help, he and Mabel learn how to navigate the strangeness they encounter every episode while also navigating the struggles and anxieties that come with growing up. The big animated hit that Disney had before Gravity Falls, Phineas and Ferb, managed to stretch a summer into eight years, over 200 episodes, and multiple movies, but Gravity Falls made sure it didn't wear out its welcome by ending after only two seasons and 40 episodes. I, like many of the show's fans, would have liked a little more, but after the experience Alex Hirsh and the rest of the show's crew gave us, I can't complain. The experience of watching Gravity Falls with all of its twists and turns, and most importantly, watching it all live, is what really sets this show apart from others in my mind. Had I binged the show years after it ended and after cultural osmosis made me aware of most of its big surprises, it likely wouldn't be this high on the list, assuming it made the list at all. That's what I love about television as a medium. Catching onto a great TV show as it airs, discussing it every week, and seeing new episodes at the same time as everybody else is a wonderful feeling, a feeling that's becoming more and more rare today with the growing fragmentation of TV and bulk release of episodes through streaming services. Gravity Falls felt like one of the last of a dying breed, and that's one of the things that keeps its memory alive ten years after it first premiered. Another thing keeping it alive is the Disney shows clearly influenced by it in DuckTales, the recently-ended Amphibia, and the soon-to-end Owl House, shows that prove cartoons can appeal to people of all ages by mixing their humor with strong storytelling and character growth, and I hope its an influence that doesn't go away anytime soon despite a corporate environment that's become increasingly hostile to those types of shows.
  12. 7. Batman: The Animated Series Though studios are pumping out more superhero media than ever before, none have come close to replicating the impact that Batman: The Animated Series had in the early 90s. Meant to mimic the style of Tim Burton's hugely popular Batman film from 1989, with music including the iconic opening theme inspired by Danny Elfman's score for the movie, BTAS used the seeds of what came before it to create what is still known by many to be the definitive version of the Caped Crusader. I mentioned during my review of Invader Zim that most children's animation at this time existed either to teach you stuff or sell you toys or both, and while BTAS had the occasional Aesop, and while I'm sure it sold a ton of Batman toys, it was clear from the start that the show's main directive was telling great, compelling stories, and it did that better than almost any other show, live action or animated, that I've seen. Even today, BTAS manages to stand out from the pack due to its art style, dubbed Dark Deco, which makes everything seem like it's happening in the shadows. The show had many memorable performances from its voice cast, but none were as memorable as Mark Hamill's turn as The Joker, a performance so strong that it legitimately holds its own against Oscar-winning depictions of the character by Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix. The show has been so influential on Batman canon that its takes on obscure villains like Clock King and Mr. Freeze have been adopted into the comics, and of course, no contribution to the Batman mythos by the series has been bigger than Harley Quinn, who at this point is eclipsed only by Batman and The Joker in popularity. A triumph of art and storytelling and the launching pad of television's first superhero universe, BTAS deserves all of the praise it has gotten and then some.
  13. I'm back! Who better to describe my next show than Cosmo himself? 8. Seinfeld One of the most influential sitcoms of all time, as well as one of the funniest, Seinfeld didn't have the warmth most of its predecessors had. It didn't have lessons, and in fact, it went out of its way to avoid having lessons. Its main characters weren't likable (the farthest thing from likable, actually) but it took the country by storm anyway. After watching just a few episodes of this show, you'll understand why. Two of the biggest shows of the 21st century, The Office and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, got much of their comedy from bad things happening to bad people, but Seinfeld did it better than either of them. There are many episodes I can point to as examples of the show doing what it does best, but none stand out more than The Soup Nazi, which I jokingly had listed as my Favorite Episode on my SBC profile (and still might, idk I don't feel like checking). The Soup Nazi is not only my favorite episode of Seinfeld but one of my favorite episodes of television. It takes something as mundane as buying soup and turns it into an absolute riot with stakes and a seemingly unconquerable villain while having everything wrapped up neat and tidy after 22 minutes. The Soup Nazi aired in one of the show's final seasons, and one of the incredible things about Seinfeld is that while most shows, especially sitcoms, get worse as they go on, Seinfeld only got better. The last season had what was probably the show's most experimental episode in The Betrayal, an episode with a plot that unfolded in reverse, and the finale stayed true to the show's philosophy by having no hugging and no tears, instead putting the main four of Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer exactly where they belonged: in prison.
  14. 9. Atlanta A show that defies genre, Atlanta was already one of the most unique shows on TV during its first season, but over its next two seasons, it continued to redefine itself. Created by and starring Donald Glover, the series used everything Glover had learned from writing and acting in comedy to give us a social satire about race relations and the issues that come with fame that was hilarious and thought-provoking from its very first episode. With a stellar cast of names that get more famous by the year and that have great chemistry with each other, Atlanta didn't have to deviate much from what it did during its first season to make an impact, but it did, anyway, propelling it from just a very good show to one of the best of all time. If Atlanta had anything resembling a formula by the middle of Season 2, it was thrown out the window for Teddy Perkins, arguably the show's best episode. It didn't have too many ha-ha funny moments, and the show's central characters Earn and Alfred had virtually no part of the episode's plot, but it thrived despite that. Now secure in the knowledge that it could completely ignore what had worked before to tell the stories it wanted to tell, Atlanta became more of an anthology series, a Black, Black Mirror, in its third season, which aired earlier this year after a four-year break. Atlanta's more than making up for lost time by premiering its fourth season next months, and the only expectations we can have going into it is that the expectations we will have will be subverted.
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