Teacher. Writer. Mom. Masters’ Candidate, Faculty of Education, Western University. Studying Pop Culture Media as a Decolonizer of Education Policy and Practice. I also volunteer as a Girl Guide leader in my spare time.
The Season 5 premiere episode of Mohawk Girls was firing on all cylinders! We have waited almost a year for their return, but the action picked up only one week following the “PowWow,” so I am going to jump right on in.
All evidence appeared to suggest that Anna (Maika Harper) had finally conformed enough to secure a spot in the world of Kahnawa:ke. In a constant state of defending her man Midas (Tanner Novlan) from the hoe-bags, she was feeling the effects of the Blow Job King’s quota: “Midas’itus.” Anna turned to Iostha (Allyson Pratt) to glean some advice for tackling the tube steak that included such varied techniques as feigning a cold, and flavoured lube to make the task more … ummmm … palatable? Seems Anna has a hard task ahead to hold her position. Is “Hat Girl” is really and truly gone?
Next, we visited with Zoe (Brittany LeBorgne) during some of her sessions in rehab. And true to form, she had a difficult time relinquishing control of her feelings. That control became ever so clear during her art therapy workshop. But the therapist saw through her. Apparently, she didn’t paint “her truth.” She popped off a second attempt and yielded a result that demonstrated her deep anger. Perhaps this was the tipping point Zoe needed as she finally let down her barriers and got to the root of her issues? In a long-winded rant, Zoe revealed how angry she has been towards her parents for most of her life. “Maybe, I’d know what I was angry about if I ever got to lead my own life. But, I always had to be ‘role model Zoe’ and ‘perfect daughter, Zoe’ so that everyone liked me and respected me and thought I was doing enough for my community …. I hate my life!” I’d say Zoe revealed her truth!
Meanwhile, Caitlin (Heather White) was once again settling into her role as Butterhead’s (Meegwun Fairbrother) girlfriend whilst dodging messages from Leon (Dwain Murphy). The town seemed happy about her decision to get back with Butterhead, and even her old boss Suzette came by to offer her her old job back. And apparently, Butterhead was also adjusting to his role of boyfriend. He made Caitlin breakfast! An extra bonus for Caitlin came in the form of an “I love you, Caitlin,” from Butterhead’s daughter. But that moment was quickly dashed. Instead of the family staying in, the old Butterhead was back and headed out to party with the boys. Once again Caitlin was left to babysit. One step forward, three steps back, or so it seems for Caitlin.
Finally, we caught up with Bailey (Jenny Pudavick), who had just returned from her dream vacation to Paris with James (Jeffrey Wetsch). However, the girls didn’t give her much of a chance to bask in her happiness and quickly dampened her sparkle. In constant defence of James, Bailey was most brutally attacked by Iostha. The town was not taking kindly to her choice in men. But ever the amazing guy, James tried to ease her mind, and prepared a spread reminiscent of Paris rekindling Bailey’s shimmer! I think we all need an Auntie Velma (Ashley Michaels) in our lives! Best advice ever: find a partner that makes you sparkle!
This episode really felt as though we have come full circle, back to where we began in Season 1: Bailey filled with wanderlust and defending her choice to date a white guy, Anna still trying to fit in in all the wrong ways and Caitlin looking for love from Butterhead but instead just making excuses for him. Ironically, it is only Zoe who, in Season 1 was just beginning to delve into the world of her sex addiction, has made any real progress through therapy.
How do you feel about the return of our lovely ladies? Let me know in the comments below.
First, before I say anything at all about Mohawk Girls’ Season 4 and the upcoming premiere of Season 5, I have to say I LOVE LOVE LOVE the press kit pic I used in the feature image for this article. If you recall the premiere season, our ladies were seen walking down the street together, very à la Sex in the City. Now as the fifth and final season is upon us, our Fab Foursome are toasting each other with the sunset off in the distance. They are four ladies who made it through everything life threw at them as the series prepares to close. Even the colours the ladies are wearing remain similar but more mature; refined. And ‘Hat Girl,’ is still ‘Hat Girl.’ Yeap! I am all about the metaphor.
It has been 335 days since the “PowWow.” OK, I admit it. I had to look it up. And I used one of those handy online calculators to figure it out. But still, for those of us invested in these characters, we finally made it to the beginning of the end of our journey with Bailey (Jenny Pudavick), Zoe (Brittany LeBorgne), Anna (Maika Harper) and Caitlin (Heather White). The fifth and final season of Mohawk Girls premieres Tuesday, Nov. 14, at 8:30 p.m. on APTN. And with only six episodes, you know co-creators Tracey Deer and Cynthia Knight are going to cram in as much as possible to ensure fans will feel satisfied. So, I thought a quick run-down of where we are now might be in store, just in case you haven’t had time to binge-watch Season 4 in preparation for Season 5.
Season 4 literally faded to credits just as Bailey seized her sparkle and Watio (Jimmy Blais) tackled James (Jeffrey Wetsch). This conscious choice by Bailey will mean lots of challenges for this pairing. She has been down this road before in Season 1 with a brief love affair that proved too much for Jack. This time though, she knows what she is up against. But will this new found love stand the test of Kahnawa:ke, let alone time?
Then there was the surprise by Zoe. She checked herself into rehab for sex addiction. She fully believes that she is sick and twisted. Thinking that she has lost everything she cares most about, including the election for Chief, Zoe felt she had no choice. But we all know Zoe is a very private person; she likes to keep control of her naughty little secrets. So how is therapy going to work for her? Zoe doesn’t open up and counselling is all about just that. She hit rock bottom in Season 4 but will she be able to climb back out in Season 5?
Meanwhile, the end of Season 4 still saw Anna struggling to fit in. Really, for a character that has been through so much, she has not made much headway on her path to self-discovery. Following a one night stand with Butterhead (Meegwun Fairbrother), she then hopped into bed with Midas (Tanner Novlan) a.k.a. “The Blow Job King” in order to quash Butterhead’s “dead fish story.” But where is this leading? For four seasons we have watched Anna turn herself into a pretzel just to fit in, but she keeps losing a little piece of herself in each incarnation. Will Anna finally stop fighting and realize that to find a place for herself she has to be herself?
And finally Caitlin. In Season 4 we watched Luscious Leon (Dwain Murphy) woo her and treat her with all of the respect she has always deserved. But, the pressures of dating a black man, even the loss of her job at the hair salon, and a full court press by a new and improved Butterhead had Caitlin giving it another go for the team! That sets up lots of potential storylines too: what about Leon? Will Butterhead lapse back to his old ways? Will Caitlin just settle, or will she find her inner Goddess and put Butterhead in his place?
I think that has us all caught up! We are faced with lots of possibilities. After talking to Cynthia Knight the other day, I think it is fair to say we are in for some surprises this season too! For both Tracey Deer and Cynthia Knight, this show has been a labour of love, so we can be sure we are in for a #BEAST of a final season!
What do you think is in store for our Fab Foursome this season? Let me know in the comments below!
Mohawk Girls’ season premiere airs Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. ET/CT/MT on APTN.
Mohawk Girls returns for its fifth and final season this Tuesday, Nov. 14, on APTN. Co-created and executive produced by Cynthia Knight and Tracey Deer, the series stars Jenny Pudavick as Bailey, Brittany LeBorgne as Zoe, Heather White as Caitlin and Maika Harper as Anna, four modern-day women trying to stay true to their roots while navigating sex, work, love and what it means to be Mohawk in the 21st century.
I caught up with the lovely and talented Cynthia Knight by phone whilst she was riding in the back of a cab during her recent visit to New York City. Stuck in traffic, we had a nice chunk of time to catch up since my visit to set in Kahnawa:ke, Quebec, last season. We had lots to cover, and we finally we managed to get around to this final season of Mohawk Girls.
How are you feeling right now as the final season of Mohawk Girls is about to be launched Tuesday evening? Cynthia Knight: Talk about ‘Empty Nester’. It is such a weird time. There are so many different feelings. We are so thrilled that we knew the series was ending because we got to finish up the girls’ storylines and get them to where we wanted them to be. And we were really excited for the audience to see that. All in all, from the time we first shot the pilot which was in 2009—the whole process has been about nine years.
I think for me, part of me is you know, looking forward to doing something else. But, it is really difficult, these people, these characters, we live with them all year long. We are in development, then prep, then production, then post, and then we start development again. And it has been like that for five years. So it definitely feels very weird that we won’t be coming back to this. We have been so incredibly blessed with a cast and crew that gets together every year and it feels like this wonderful reunion. Definitely, a lot of mixed feelings going on.
What about Mohawk Girls, as you are reflecting back upon the journey, are you most proud of? Tracey and I always like to create content that is above all else entertaining, but that also has a deeper message. To create material that is not heavy or preachy, that is entertaining, but is capable of something important and builds bridges between communities; I think we really found that magic formula with Mohawk Girls. I feel that the producers [Rezolution Pictures] and the network [APTN] and the fans have given us the ability in this platform to really talk and delve into these issues and this community. We shed light on who they are and, how similar we all are. We get to really break down stereotypes and misconceptions.
We get so much feedback from friends or people who happened upon the show and they are like, ‘Wow, we never realized this,’ or ‘We always thought Kahnawa:ke was that,’ or ‘I never really thought about native people in that light.’ To tell the story of Mohawk Girls in a light and entertaining way, so that people can just enjoy the show. To show modern, vibrant Mohawk women, and Mohawk people, and have that depiction on television when people are so used to seeing them in a very heavy, kind of historical context for the difficulties in many of their communities, I think really that is what I am most proud of. I feel that we really contributed to the very important and timely conversation about our [Canadian] history and our present-day relationships with native communities. People have definitely heard and responded, and I am just so elated about that.
As a writer, looking back over your many years working on Mohawk Girls, where are you as a writer now? It is so interesting. You know you learn and grow so much with each project. Tracey and I were recently working with our digital media people. We fell upon some old content from previous seasons and they did some amalgamation videos of fun moments from all of the seasons. It is so incredible to watch the progression and the journey. Mohawk Girls was the first time that Tracey and I were at the helm. Not only was she directing, and I was the head writer, but we were showrunning, so we got to see our creative vision. We made a lot of mistakes. We always do. We always will. But, we learned so much.
I think one of the main things as a writer is to be confident and really go for it with what you want to say. Have faith in yourself and your ability to it, but at the same time surround yourself with great talent, and be really open to their ideas and their perspectives. Even though I have been writing for a long time and at the helm of this show, it has been an incredible, incredible learning experience and an opportunity for a huge amount of growth.
What about colonization and the stereotypes of Indigenous people have altered your lens since your involvement with Mohawk Girls? Oh so much! I like to think that I am a conscientious person and an egalitarian. As a Jewish person, I and my people have experienced so much racism over the centuries as well, so I felt that I was so in tune with that and certainly with native people. And as a child, my mom’s best friend was from Kahnawa:ke so I had no notion of what it was beyond ‘they have different practices but we are all people’ and I thought I knew everything. But I have learned so much over this process.
We have this one storyline with Anna [Maika Harper]. People are telling her that McGill is a colonialist institution and she is being brainwashed and she, like me, was ‘really?’ It’s not that I didn’t believe but, I couldn’t even give you an example of what that meant if I tried. But researching and talking to Tracey, you see how ingrained it is in our way of thinking. So often you don’t know that you don’t know.
I am very, very sensitive to any jokes about any minority group, and I don’t remember what the comment was, but someone made a comment on set and I didn’t even react. A lot of people bristled, and I didn’t because I didn’t even realise that it could be offensive. Afterwards, I felt so horrible that I hadn’t noticed. The key is to learn and hear and understand and be open to knowing that there is stuff that you don’t know. It has been a huge long process for me of constant growth. Every season, every time I am in Kahnawa:ke, every time I am talking to people, I was shocked with how much I didn’t know, even me, a member of another minority, so I am highly sensitive to it.
Can you give us any hints about what is in store for our fabulous foursome this season? I think and I hope fans are going to be really gratified with where our characters end up. We’ve for a long time known for at least two of them where we wanted to end their storylines and two we did not know. We did not know Zoe [Brittany LeBorgne] and we did not know Anna. With Zoe, there is a bit of a surprise in store, but I won’t tell you what. Bailey [Jenny Pudavick] has a real battle this season. I mean you know, she is with James [Jeffrey Wetsch]. She has tried it before. How is she going to make it work? It is a real battle. Anna, we had lots of different ideas of where we end her, but we are very happy. And, I think Caitlin [Heather White] is the most gratifying.
Any last messages for fans that you want to share? You know, you can write something that you think says something important or that you want people to respond to, but if people don’t watch or get invested, and don’t care and don’t support the project then there is no show. But so much of what gets us through those very challenging times that productions like Mohawk Girls experience, is knowing people out there, both native and non-native, all sorts of people from across the country are invested and care about our girls, about the characters. I mean, they want to see what happens to them and they are learning and growing right along with them.
Tracey got this call recently from a Jewish guy who grew up in Montreal but was living in Toronto. And he had grown up thinking that Kahnawa:ke was this weird scary place that you just never go to but he just happened to catch an episode of Mohawk Girls. He then binge-watched the whole series and he called Tracey. He was in Kahnawa:ke. He came all the way from Toronto and brought his adult son and he was there for the weekend and he came to see the place and again, just build a bridge. He realized how wrong he was and how many misconceptions he had, and he wanted to open his eyes and see the place for real.
It is those kinds of stories or fans who are young women who are inspired by our characters’ bravery and relate to how flawed they are; this is really the whole joy and purpose of creating a series, telling any kind of story, and putting it out there. To touch people and to inspire people, make people feel that they are not alone. So for our fans who have been so vocal about it to us, we are just infinitely grateful for you sharing your stories and for all of your support and enthusiasm. This has been a really special experience.
My thanks to Cynthia for taking the time to speak with me.
Mohawk Girls season premiere airs Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. ET/CT/MT on APTN.
Is it possible to cram any more anxiety-riddled storylines into one show? Sure, if you toss in loads of special effects with million-dollar budgets perhaps. But 21 Thunder series writer Riley Adams outdid himself with the season finale. Most loose ends were satisfactorily tied up in very plausible ways and yet questions remained open, leaving an opportunity for the show to grow should the series be picked up for Season 2. More on that later.
I saw this episode broken down into three distinct sections: the lead-up to the match, the match itself and the aftermath. With that in mind, let’s dig in.
Everyone was feeling the pressure from the upcoming U-21 friendly between the Thunder and London. And then several of our favourites had additional pressures to contend with. Principally, Junior (Emmanuel Kabongo), Nolan (RJ Fetherstonhaugh) and Christy (Stephanie Bennett).
We opened with the police as they took Junior in to be questioned in connection to the Isaac Boka (Ryan Allen) murder. The police accused Junior of hiring Bamba (Clauter Alexandre) to kill Boka. Before they could press for more answers including those regarding Gregoire’s ring, the Thunder’s attorney arrived and escorted Junior out because the police had no immediate intention to arrest him.
Meanwhile, Nolan, still feeling pressured by Declan (Colm Feore) to throw the match against London, seized an opportunity to confide in Coach Davey (Ryan Pierce) only to learn he too is in on the match fixing. This only added to Davey’s own grief, rendering him useless when Christy sought him out for coaching advice. Her questions falling on deaf ears with Davey sent Christy to her mother, former coach Grace (Susan Bain). This nicely set up a reconciliation between these two strong willed women—cue a tear or two. They used the moment to bridge the chasm that had existed between the two for years, and ultimately Grace advised her daughter: “You take the fight to them.”
In the meantime, Emma (Clark Backo) was left waiting in the departure lounge at the Montreal airport, having taken Nolan’s parting advice to heart. She was off to Dublin to attend medical school. That was until she ran into Alex (Andres Joseph) at the airport—how about THAT tender moment between those two? Flight delay after delay left them time to talk through Nolan’s behaviour of late, piecing his inconsistencies together until they realized Nolan’s deceit was only a guise to protect Emma. Screw Dublin, it was back to the football pitch for these two.
That brought us to Lara (Eileen Li), who was entirely fed up with being under the thumb of Mangano (Bruce Ramsay) and his boys. Clearly a woman of higher intelligence, she was busily crafting a new plan. And, how much did we love that Russian roulette scene with Kevin (Kyle Mac)? Holy cojones, Batman!
Dawn on game day arrived complete with a threat of violence against Davey and Nolan should they fail to perform for Mangano. Then Christy gave a nice little pep talk to her team that effectively ran down the season’s events as she prepared us as viewers for the coming climax: the match we have all waited for.
Game time arrived with Fatima and Sly (Themala Mpumlwana), Grace, Emma, Alex and Mangano’s hit man all in the stands. Anyone unable to attend were glued to their sets watching as referee Desjardins (Trevor Hayes), Assistant Coach Davey Gunn and Nolan were all working against a win for Thunder. Frustrations mounted amongst the team. Upset by a lousy call from Desjardins, “Snacks” (Kevin Claydon) sacrificed his troublesome knee and took him out of play. Then Christy put two and two together, realized Davey was undermining her and ordered him off the field. That left Nolan, faced with a game deciding free kick in extra time and all too aware that he alone was the only man able to swing the game for London. “We win or we lose with you Nolan.” Since he had nothing left to lose he responded with “What the hell?” After all, he believed Emma was safely on her way to Dublin.
With that, the Thunder won. Pandemonium broke out in the stands, at Lara’s and in the prison. A double-crossed Mangano was left without his winnings and a victorious Declan pronounced, “Did you really think my boy would kneel to you?”
The final four minutes were a flurry: a shiv fight between Declan and Mangano in the prison left Declan bleeding out, the hit man’s attempt to hunt down Nolan was effectively waylaid by Davey, and a lost Sly in a crowd of celebrating fans.
The season closed with a happy, albeit suspicious, ending. Gregoire (Kareem Tristain Alleyne) conveniently returned from the dead and obviously wearing his ring; the very ring that was removed from Boka when he died. And finally, Emma ran into Nolan’s arms as they enjoyed this double-edged victory together.
As I mentioned at the top, we are left wondering if there will be a Season 2, and there are threads that writers have left dangling that leave that possibility open:
How will Lara and Kevin’s new money making scam pan out?
Is Declan dead?
What now for Coach Davey Gunn?
Was Gregoire somehow involved in Boka’s death?
Can Emma and Nolan’s relationship survive any fallout from Mangano et al?
I reached out to series writer Riley Adams on the occasion of the season finale for some parting comments and he had this to share:
“We are so proud to have created a show that embraces the Canadian values of diversity and opportunity while reflecting the highest international standards of craft in acting, direction, photography and design. And we are thrilled the international marketplace has responded so enthusiastically. We will be announcing in upcoming weeks our international partners for Season 1 and seasons to come.”
There you have it Thunder fans! I guess we wait for news about a possible Season 2. Congratulations to the 21 Thunder team for producing a superb program that reflects Canadian diversity and inclusion. A great metaphor for the beautiful game. I for one enjoyed tagging along for the ride.
Eileen Li, who plays Lara on 21 Thunder, was incredibly busy last week with her TIFF schedule. Still, she found some time to answer a few questions—ahead of the show’s first season finale on CBC—about her character, Lara, and her experiences with the predominately male cast of 21 Thunder.
Lara is returning to a dark place that she had fought to distance herself. How is that darkness for you to play? Eileen Li: It was quite liberating to explore that side of myself through playing Lara. I have a hard time being ‘the bad guy’ in my real life so it was great to play someone who knows what she wants and how to get it. It also taught me that everyone does everything out of place of need. It’s easy to peg Lara as just the bad girl, but there is a need and determination in her to survive and to make something of herself. I think we all can relate to that on some level. She’s definitely been the most complex character that I’ve been able to play.
How do you contrast your character with that of Nolan? You both come from pasts with criminal influences. He found his ‘good side’ through Emma, whereas your character attempted to find that through medicine. Pressures are threatening to pull Nolan under and he is essentially martyring himself to do the right thing, ending his relationship with Emma and pushing her away in order to keep her safe. Lara, on the other hand, is running with this darker side, resigning herself to this lifestyle. What are your thoughts on this as your character has developed? I absolutely think that through Emma, Nolan was able to root himself into his ‘good side.’ I think that without her love and unwavering support, he would’ve had nothing ‘good’ to fight for. Behind every man is an even stronger woman, am I right? Lara, on the other hand, has been surrounded by nothing but bad influences and nothing to root herself in. She has an innate ability to manipulate and is often one step ahead of everyone. I think that’s why she ends up being fed up with these other guys running her show. She wants to break away because she’s convinced they need her more than she needs them.
How does Lara reconcile her desire to be a doctor, and the Hippocratic oath she will have to take—do no harm, etc.—with her role in this game fixing ring, particularly taking care of Desjardins? For her, it’s all about being in survival mode. Like she says, ‘I’ve done things I’ve never thought I could do.’ It’s one of those things that she probably was always capable of, considering her family history, but it wasn’t until she was put in that situation, that she realized she could do really do it. What good is an oath if you’re dead? I think that’s basically what it comes down to.
As one of the few females who support a professional men’s team, how was that to live with as you went about shooting the series? 21 Thunder is very much about a men’s soccer team, but if you look at all the female characters in the show, there are all strong and intelligent women. I also think the show really highlights what it’s like to be a strong woman in a man’s world. In terms of shooting, these guys are the best group of guys you could ask for. They really are a team and the chemistry between all of us is evident on screen. We’ve all become very good friends, and that’s why this show has been particularly special to be a part of.
Can you tell fans a bit about yourself? Where you grew up? How you came to the business of acting? How you got this role? I was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba. My parents emigrated over from China with my two older sisters, but we’ve lived most of our lives here in Toronto. I started taking an interest in acting back when I was in high school but because my parents valued academics, I went to university for kinesiology. Shortly after my first year, I realized I need to pursue my passion and the rest is history.
I was filming Kim’s Convenience last year when I got the call about 21 Thunder. I put myself on tape and eventually had a Skype callback with the producers and director. I thought for sure I didn’t get the part because it was three weeks later that I got the call. It was a surreal moment for me.
What about this role are you most proud of now that the season is wrapping up? I feel most proud of representing a strong Asian woman on screen. Lara has been capable of holding her own in a room full of dangerous men. She’s smart and she’s a survivor. She may not be making the best choices in her life but there’s no denying that she’s powerful. I think that’s a portrayal of Asian women that we haven’t seen enough of.
My thanks to Eileen for squeezing me in for a few questions!
21 Thunder‘s season finaleairs Monday at 9 p.m. on CBC.