Size / / /

The new supernatural murder mystery series Nancy Drew continues the CW’s recent assault upon my childhood. Much like the reboots Riverdale (2017–present), The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018–present, moving from the CW to Netflix), and Katy Keene (2020–present), the show shares very little with its original texts. While names are retained and the overall focus remains that of a female detective solving mysteries in her fictional home town, by and large it’s actually helpful if the viewer knows nothing about the original series or any of its various reboots through the years. While the show has a variety of Easter egg references—with examples including the local high school being named Keene High (for Carolyn Keene), an episode titled “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase” intended to hearken a nostalgic viewer to the second Nancy Drew book written in the 1930s, and a contemporary visual reference to the book cover for “The Secret in the Old Attic”—the characters are largely unrecognisable, the plot points are rarely subtle intertextual references, and the show has so many ghosts and curses wandering about that it’s hard to keep track.

The yellow cover of a vintage Nancy Drew book that shows a drawing of Nancy Drew on the cover as a white reheaded teenager, wearing a red dress with white piping, opening a trunk in an attic while holding a lit candle and looking over her shoulder. The trunk has cloth and pages of music spilling from it. Image source: http://www.nancydrewsleuth.com/pc.html

Image 1 taken from: http://www.nancydrewsleuth.com/pc.html

A screenshot taken from the first episode of the new live action Nancy Drew that shows Kennedy McMann playing Nancy Drew as a white redheaded teenager, wearing mauve pajamas with white piping, opening a trunk in an attic while holding a lit flashlight.

Image 2: Screenshot from the first episode of the series.

No, you did not read that wrong. No, I am not joking. No, I do not mean the Scooby Doo variety of ghosts, but genuine in-world ghosts. I would love to pretend that explaining the plot will somehow magically make this make more sense; but I’m not that talented, and also this is a CW teen drama, so I honestly feel like we got off lightly with ghosts at this point. After the mid-season finale, in a fevered haze of longing to have someone else understand the mix of glory and what-the-fuckery that constitutes everything about this show, I called a friend and tried to explain the basics of the plot to her. I’d barely gotten to “so then Nancy Drew conducts a séance to call a sea spirit to recover the bones of a ghost who is eventually revealed to be her biological mom” before the dial tone was ringing in my ear. I know this is a review, but there truly are no words. I love this show. It’s such beautiful nonsense. I beg you, keep reading.

Taking place in the fictional town of Horseshoe Bay, Maine, Nancy Drew (played by Kennedy McMann) is a recent graduate who is taking time off from college to grieve the loss of her mother, Katherine Drew (Sara Canning), who passed away due to cancer. During this time, she’s working as a waitress at the (largely in the red) Bayside Claw under the management of also recently-graduated George Fan (Leah Lewis), and alongside Bess Marvin (Maddison Jaizani) and fry-cook Ace (Alex Saxon). When local rich guy Ryan Hudson’s (Riley Smith) wife, Tiffany Hudson (Sinead Curry), is murdered outside of the restaurant while being served by their staff, everyone is suddenly a suspect. The same night, Nancy accidentally records the ghost of seventeen-year-old Lucy Sable (Stephanie Van Dyck) and finds her life rapidly spiralling out of control as she races to solve the seemingly interrelated murders of Tiffany and Lucy.

The plot only gets more ridiculously convoluted after that, as we discover that Ryan Hudson is part of a rich family operating with the lawless impunity of the 1%, the Marvins are their rivals, Carson Drew as counsel to the Hudsons is the equivalent of a lawyer for the immoral rich (with all that entails), and that Tiffany Hudson was investigating the death of Lucy Sable, which may have gotten her killed. Somewhere in the middle of all of this, we also learn that twelve-year-old Nancy’s first case actually involved her catching a kidnapper who was in the thrall of a demon named “Simon” or “The Tall Man,” who can erase memories, all while being haunted by an ever-increasing number of ghosts, sea spirits, curses, and “things that should not even exist.” In one of the last episodes of Season One, Nancy Drew is forced to confront the fact that her current boyfriend has been killed, not by a sea spirit as she originally suspected, but by a human being. “I can’t believe it didn’t occur to me,” she gritted, as she slammed out yet another door, and I found myself pausing the episode so I could curl over and wheeze hysterically into a pillow because this is too ridiculous even for the CW.

All of this is true, and I’ve only barely begun to scratch the surface of Nancy Drew’s first season.[1] It is all this and so much more. That said, for a show that is impossible to take seriously in any way, it’s almost surprising how well Nancy Drew lends itself to larger discussions around contemporary pop culture. While I started out watching the show with no thought other than sheer horrified delight, I found that its attempts to reference or elide contemporary conversations oddly compelling as a way to trace chosen narratives being marketed to the CW’s audiences. At its base, the murder mystery genre as a genre is one that is particularly keen to distinguish between the law and justice, between what society might term lawful and lawless, and all the grey areas constituted by the distance between law and justice. With law being defined through ideas of citizenship (primarily through undocumented characters, including a recurring caste character, and migration narratives) and policing, while justice is decided through community and a tracing of historical events shaping the present and future, Nancy Drew’s mix of detective genre and supernatural mystery—wherein ghosts are so clearly an eruption of a specific sociopolitical past into the present—is a great way to start thinking through what the CW feels would resonate as haunting small town America in this current moment.

Having fairly recently read Andrea Kitta’s “Why Are Ghosts so White?”, an opening question for me was the choice to have Horseshoe Bay’s ghosts as almost universally either white or coded as white despite the fact that the show otherwise boasts a racebent multiethnic  cast. I found myself considering what it meant to have these multiethnic  casts who claim long-term roots in this region engage with only white ghosts, spirits, or demons. What does it mean that these hauntings erupt and are expressed towards a multiethnic  contemporary population, particularly when we account for the manner in which the construction of local “history” itself appears strongly coded by whiteness? I found myself sitting down to try and think through what it meant to have the fictional town of Horseshoe Bay set in Maine with this cast and these narratives, and how that talked to real world local population demographics that skew dominantly white and with violent and exclusionary histories. It felt impossible not to be thinking through the manner in which the show’s multiethnic  representation of Maine sits alongside contemporary narratives wherein New England’s history of abolition is often deployed to elide historical and ongoing racism.

Thinking through Kitta’s argument in the context of the show, I found myself picking apart the larger construction of its (white) feminist narrative. For example, this coding of haunting whiteness was something that was particularly marked for me in the construction of one of the supernatural beings threatening the group, the æglæca. Currently, the narrative suggests that the æglæca inhabits the sea, grants wishes if appropriate rituals are followed, and is potentially the ghost of a white woman (played by Jenaya Ross) killed under suspicion of being a witch during a long-ago journey to North America.[2] It’s worth noting that the term “æglæca” is one that appears in the Old English text Beowulf to describe Grendel and his mother, and has a complex and contested history wherein it has been used variously to describe being a warrior, a dangerous opponent, or (in a contentious and disputed set of readings) a demon.[3] Nancy Drew almost seems to play out this conflict in terms, moving between an idea of the æglæca as a demonic supernatural creature and the humanising of this figure. As a result, the show’s use of intertextual references then not only foreshadows an upcoming “epic” battle, but also subversively positions it as one that expands on the show’s (and original book series’) ideas of the feminist power of women. Yet the show’s framing of this discussion prioritises the construction of feminist power through historical white women, as we see the ghosts of the æglæca, Lucy Sable, and Tiffany Hudson negotiate histories of violent white patriarchal control. That Nancy has now to negotiate her relationship to power and control herself within this framing, negotiating her response to each father figure, suggests that despite a multicultural cast, whiteness remains the thing most haunting Nancy Drew.

This emphasis on historical and contemporary whiteness is then compounded in a variety of ways via the show’s use of the detective genre. For example, Scottish-Nigerian Tunji Kasim plays this show’s version of Ned Nickerson, called “Nick” rather than by his first name, to emphasise a break between the original media texts and this one. Notably, Kasim’s racebent Nick becomes the first incarnation of Ned Nickerson to be formerly incarcerated for the murder of a fellow football player in college (in defence of a female friend who was being sexually harassed). There’s something particularly pointed about racebending a character to a young Black male in order to bring in an extended narrative about incarceration only to never mention his Blackness as a factor in this. Nick and Nancy eventually break up over her emotional distance, with Nancy moving on to date Owen Marvin (played by Mexican-American Miles Gaston Villanueva) and Nick eventually dating George Fan (played by Chinese-American Leah Lewis).

Nick’s racebending has echoes with Angel Coulby’s racebent casting as Gwen (Guinevere) in BBC’s Merlin (2008–2012) in that the incorporation of a Black character is marked by casting yet absented in the content (i.e. the effects of race are never overtly discussed by this character or any of the characters around them), creating a seemingly (but clearly false) post-racial space. As Ebony Elizabeth Thomas and others have previously noted, Gwen in Merlin is the first incarnation of this character to be a servant, and seemingly only achieves her royal social status through a marriage opposed by in-world social norms. Similarly, the racebent incarnation of Nick moves from the media text’s original positionality of white (and thus innocent) all-American jock, to someone who has experienced incarceration and consequently lost all family systems of support, working a low-income job as a mechanic. The show’s refusal to name race in Nick’s storyline cannot erase the manner in which this Blackness becomes marked by the specific changes assumed by a story given to a Black man versus a white one, and the specific tropes it draws upon to flesh out these ideas. There is no way not to note this, particularly as his eventual chance to create new roots in Horseshoe Bay is largely made possible through a white woman’s guilt at the role she played in his incarceration, given that she did not understand the larger context in which the events were playing out.

Additionally, the early episodes of the series involve multiple scenes in which Nancy suspects Nick of being “dangerous” due to his past legal conviction, reads his confidential legal files to determine whether he can be trusted without his consent, and has a conversation with her (white) father, Carson Drew, who already knows of Nick’s circumstances, but warns her away anyway. All of this culminates in a conversation wherein Nick has to verbally convince a white woman that he is not a threat so she can state “I know” and retain power in that moment. The show’s use of the detective genre seems to inevitably end up in dialogue with surveillance cultures but, like most texts being written to presumably (white) feminist ends, these fail to consider the ramifications of race. The show never confronts the fact that Nancy’s choice to breach Nick’s privacy without his consent is problematic, nor does it acknowledge that by doing so, Nancy indicates her willingness to suspend Nick’s rights in a way that echoes the violent incarcerating surveillance state rather than subverts it (as the show attempts to suggest through its white feminist lens).

This point comes up again later in the show as Nancy and her friends gather information through various measures, many of which are illegal and, in some cases, also fairly unethical. In many ways, the show expects the viewer to willingly invest in Nancy’s data gathering, but I found myself extremely uncomfortable with the episode “The Sign of the Uninvited Guest” (1.18) which noted that Ace not only had set up CCTV systems in a public library, but that he had also installed a program to record keystrokes on all their computers. These factors were presented as helpful to Nancy’s extrajudicial law-making, but also normalise a massive breach of privacy and ethics, and subversively propound the idea that surveillance of this nature is automatically protective rather than invasive. Given that we are intended to see Nancy as more specifically clued in (through her willingness to take action and her knowledge of the supernatural) than the police and are to look to her for justice, the manner in which surveillance, ethical violations, and the disregard of privacy rights, particularly at public services like libraries, are normalised gives me significant pause.

Moreover, this is used to read private correspondence by a woman to track her movements and correspondence, positioning the argument along very gendered terms, wherein the surveillance state is specifically positioned to “protect” women through the process of constantly monitoring them. The process of surveillance is outsourced primarily to women—Tiffany is breaching Lucy’s privacy, later Nancy is breaching both Tiffany and Lucy’s privacy, and so on—yet the fact that Tiffany and Lucy were threatened and killed suggests that this breach of privacy is not only justified in the moment, but subversively propounds the idea of its need as essential.[4] However, for the breach of privacy to occur, surveillance itself needs to have pre-existed this, which means that their privacy was always already breached. In a world where privacy and data rights are increasingly in threat, and where a great deal of tech is prejudiced, it’s telling that the show’s narratives are constructed around white bodies—Tiffany, Lucy, Nancy, and Ace—and gendered so the threat is made present through the historical presumed vulnerability of young white women.

In contrast, the show’s treatment of Black women is telling. Detective Karen Hart (played by Alvina August, who is Zimbabwean-Canadian) is revealed to have been complicit in the killing of Tiffany Hudson, yet, through the show, tries to deliberately pin the crime first on Nick (the only Black man in the show), then on Carson Drew, before finally being exposed by Nancy and her friends. Diana Marvin (played by Black Canadian Judith Maxie) is the head of the Marvin family and intent on manipulating all her relatives, but Bess in particular. As I discuss later in this review, it feels particularly notable that the two primary threats to Bess’s long-term happiness and ongoing relationship are framed through Black women (Diana and Amara Alston [played by African-American Tiana Okoye]). Given that these are the only Black women who have speaking roles on this show, that they are all positioned as seemingly caring but deliberately manipulative does evidence the show’s willingness to play into tropes of predatory Blackness, particularly when contextualising a threat to the emotional wellbeing of white women characters. Intentional or not, the show’s subversive anti-blackness here speaks not only to Maine’s own complicated histories of anti-blackness, but shows the manner in which the addition of multiculturalism itself does not address the variety of ways in which misogynoir (a term coined by Moya Bailey and popularised by Trudy from The Gradient Lair) is manifested in these spaces.

However, if you are not convinced by either the changes to Nick’s narrative or the ways in which white womanhood is weaponised, then perhaps it's worth considering the changes to George Fan’s story. Fan, as the daughter of Victoria (Liza Lapira is Filipino-Spanish-Chinese-American) who drinks to forget her psychic powers, is positioned as simultaneously the most competent of the group in terms of job security and the most vulnerable to a sexual predator. She is in a secret relationship with the much older (white) Ryan Hudson when his wife Tiffany Hudson is killed, and there are strong implications here of grooming as the relationship starts when George is seventeen while Ryan is well into his thirties. During a later confrontation in the finale ‘The Clue in the Captain’s Painting’ (1.18), George recounts Ryan’s insistence on secrecy since he believes that people would not understand their relationship, that he would one day leave his wife for her, and that the promise of a financially and emotionally stable future (unlike her own current home life) was created by an older man taking advantage of a particularly vulnerable teen. George notes that this taught her not to value herself, but that she has since moved into a far healthier relationship, even if things remain “all warped in her head” and the effects of this predatory one still linger in her reactions to intimacy.

I was really glad that the show chose to talk about grooming and give George room to articulate her anger and confusion; the way in which it both seemed like she had agency, and yet the structural factors affecting her agency meant she had limited power and was vulnerable to a relationship that should never have taken place. I was glad as well that the show did not paper over this with immediate acceptance when it is revealed that Ryan Hudson is Nancy’s father, with Nancy struggling to come to terms with the fact that Ryan’s relationships with women are not only toxic, but, in George’s case, predatory. Yet at the same time, I was aware of how the show’s shift from George Fayne to George Fan carries markers with it that ping in particular ways when it comes to representation. George is extremely competent (playing to model minority ideas) and also sexually vulnerable (playing to specific ideas of vulnerable and abused, sexualised and submissive stereotypes about South-East Asian women). Her mother, Victoria, is shown to also move rapidly from relationship to relationship, and George notes this as a factor in her involvement with Ryan. Particularly vulnerable due to her mother’s drinking and absentee-parenting, George is the primary breadwinner of the family. There are multiple implications here which were not attached to raced white George Fayne, and which become specifically marked when presented on a raced Asian George Fan.

Rounding out the main characters, I found Bess Marvin’s updated characterisation particularly interesting. Played by British-Iranian Maddison Jaizani, Bess Turani is a poor immigrant from the UK who comes to the USA to find links with her rich relatives, the Marvins. She lives in a van, has low impulse-control when triggered by stress or anxiety, self-soothes with stolen expensive things, and is now an undocumented immigrant as her visa has expired. Jaizani playing this Bess Turani/Marvin versus the characterisation of Bess Marvin from the previous media franchises opens up a really interestingly messy space because Iranian identities are largely complex sites wherein whiteness both is and isn’t presented, leading to systems wherein cultural circumstances and ongoing histories of immigration display the non/white paradoxes of Iranian identity. That is, since race is socially created and a shifting marker, it’s particularly interesting that the character of Bess raced in this manner has a narrative wherein poverty, homelessness, law/lessness, and immigration and deportation are focal points of her narrative.

Disconcertingly, though perhaps usefully, I’ve been reading Neda Maghbouleh’s The Limits of Whiteness: Iranian Americans and the Everyday Politics of Race (2017) at about the same time as I was watching the show. Maghbouleh talks about the need to integrate “the study of immigration with the study of race and, by extension, assimilation and racialisation” since Iranian identities are categorised as white within traditional racial formations (i.e. through the lens of legal and social policy around race and immigration) but remain affected by the ways in which public conceptualisations of Iran in the USA are coded as seemingly deviant or criminal. This creates a nebulous zone wherein these identities both are and are not granted space in whiteness, largely dependent on an extreme and willing assimilation to cultural systems. Unsurprisingly, given that Bess’s storyline revolves in large part around her move to the United States for a better and more affluent life with the Marvins (with all the undercurrents of the traditional myth of immigration to the USA), her constant precarity in terms of living in her van as well as her immigration status (as her visa has expired), and her proximity to the Marvins (which would grant her protection and access to legal systems) being dependent on her willing assimilation and simultaneous exploitation as the family pushes her to gather information from her U.S. marshall girlfriend, Lisbeth [played by Canadian Katie Findlay who has Chinese and Macanese-Portuguese ancestry]).

As mentioned previously, Bess and her relationship with Lisbeth are subversively threatened by her Aunt Diana emotionally manipulating her while dangling the possibility of acceptance into the Marvin family (with the sort of wealth and connections that would not only see her well settled but would resolve her immigration concerns), as well as through Aunt Diana’s attempts to strengthen a business relationship with the wealthy Alston family by encouraging Bess to bond with the queer Black heiress Amaya Alston. Bess’s need to gain Amaya’s support for the Marvins, Amaya’s interest in Bess, as well as Bess’s own possible response, all position viewers to see Amaya as a threat to Bess’s current relationship with Lisbeth, and show Bess struggling to balance her deep-seated need to assimilate into the Marvins and what she is willing to do to achieve those ends. As a consequence, this compounded sequence wherein Diana’s manipulation and Amara’s clear interest read problematically as either threatening or sexualised Blackness playing out over the control of a vulnerable white woman’s body. I’m unsure where Nancy Drew plans to go with this but the show is already hinting towards problems between Lisbeth and Bess, and I’m hoping they don’t lean into predatory Blackness to play out that particular dénouement, particularly given that so far these are the only openly queer characters in the show.

As a result, while I genuinely approve of the racebent casting itself (it takes a ridiculous amount of talent to sell this hilarity of a plot as well as these actors do), it remains impossible not to see the ways in which the show wants to mobilise race but somehow marks these in ways that leave me more discombobulated than not. I find myself wondering whether these narratives were modified to account for the ethnicities of the characters hired to play these roles, or if the narratives themselves led to these casting choices being made as show runners felt that these ethnicities matched the images of these characters in their minds (thus perhaps reconfirming stereotypes they might hold). I would have complicated emotions about either scenario, and it’s something that I think we should all be thinking about more as multiracial casting is normalised: the ways in which these might either default to a kind of generic idea of humanity (coded by whiteness) or be used to propound harmful stereotypes about these communities.

Currently I’m particularly interested in Bess’s storyline because, perhaps inadvertently, the show is doing something relatively unexpected, and I’m interested to see where they go with the immigration storyline. (If you can’t believe I’m talking about undocumented migrant narratives on the CW’s sexy teen ghost murder mystery show, imagine how I feel.) Not only that, but Bess’s storyline somehow isn’t the only undocumented immigrant narrative the show offers. In the episode “The Phantom of Bonny Scot” (1.11), Nancy meets Bashiir (played by African-American Isaiah Johnson), an undocumented immigrant from Mogadishu who stowed away on the Bonny Scot, a ship that was blown up by Everett Hudson (father of Ryan Hudson).

Not only does Bashiir suffer from survivor’s guilt as the only person to survive the shipwreck, but he is also haunted by the ghosts of the seamen themselves, all while being terrified that he might be deported. He notes that he would have come forward but that the only narrative most Americans tend know about Somalia is that of presumed guilt or piracy (he is not wrong on this), and there was a strong chance he would be blamed for an event he could not control and as a result of which he experiences trauma. The episode resolves with Bashiir being granted immunity in return for his testimony, though this safety and resolution comes largely through Nancy (as a white woman) taking up his cause on his behalf.

Yet again, I end up torn between being glad that unaware viewers get a really basic idea of the refugee and migrant crisis and the fact that most undocumented immigrants are just trying desperately to survive—that there are compounded traumas of fleeing war only to be told their lives are “inconvenient” to other countries—and being annoyed that Bashiir has the least agency in the whole episode. Bashiir’s flight from war-torn Somalia is mobilised to discuss the trauma from the events on the Bonny Scot (because that’s relevant to the show’s contexts of histories haunting small town America), but has no room outside of a single sentence to discuss trauma refugees may experience from conflict in countries they’ve had to flee to survive. There’s ways to allow empathy when referencing this huge ongoing traumatic series of events, but the show prioritises a different series of principles. Bashiir is a footnote at best in the larger chain of the series’ events, there merely to allow for Nancy to gain a specific type of power, and I can’t help but think of what could have been possible if they had given this plot to a show or a writer that could give it the kind of depth and complexity it deserved.

That said, Nancy Drew is surprisingly nuanced about mental health. Season One covers a range of mental health issues—alcoholism (Victoria), suicide (Lucy), anxiety and low impulse control (Bess), trauma as a result of being literally haunted by men he watched die (Bashiir), and more—and actually offers context and care in a lot of ways. The series does a lot to show that mental health doesn’t just sit in a box separate from the world but that it’s often the result of the contexts in which a person is living: Victoria drinks because she needs to be able to control her surroundings and alcohol seems like it offers her that release. While the show notes the fact that this affects her and her family adversely, and it does not automatically presume forgiveness from George or the community more broadly, it was nice to see the show offer Victoria kindness, to have George understand her mother better as the hauntings proceed and she sees the kind of everyday reality Victoria has to live with. I found it really powerful that the show didn’t pathologise Victoria but spent time acknowledging her use of alcohol as a coping mechanism and noting that until the circumstances around this issue change, she may continue to use alcohol in this manner.

Similarly, while Lucy does die by suicide, it’s noted that the conditions of her suicide were socially driven, through ostracism, slut-shaming, and deliberate misinformation. While the show problematically uses her suicide as a grand reveal, it does much to note that Lucy lacked adequate support systems and that the community was culpable for her deteriorating mental health; Nancy going so far as to note they, the community of Horseshoe Bay, are Lucy’s killers. While the events in the show are tragic, it did feel valuable to have a show deliberately spell out that suicide, and particularly teen suicide, is often linked to everyday socioeconomic realities and aggressive moral policing, and that addressing these is essential if we aim to address the issue long term. As Bogi and I agreed, this is sadly not the default in contemporary media; the default is to usually pin it all on an individual instead of larger structural oppression.

While Bess does steal things when anxious or stressed, she discusses it with her friends and it’s not automatically assumed to be a moral failing. Instead, it’s discussed as a way for her to try and regain control of herself and self-soothe, and the group does its best not to judge her for it and continues to offer her support (with Ace often acting as her platonic anchor or platanchor). And while Bashiir is trapped in a haunted moment because he feels guilt and horror at events he could not control, the group listens to him when he recounts his story and Nick sits with him to ensure that the worst has passed. While the show exaggerates the traumatic episode into a literal haunting, I wouldn’t underestimate the value of having a scene where Nick waits with Bashiir so he’s not alone and where Nancy checks in on them both. The visibilisation of a community offering care is unusual, but deeply valuable in a supernatural detective show that’s talking about trying to learn about and from past harm and heal. And as Bogi pointed out, modelling this type of interaction is so helpful in a general societal sense and does a lot to normalise it.

This cycle of harm, addressing trauma, healing, and change is particularly evident in the episodes that have Ace’s father, Captain Thom (played by Deaf Italian-Canadian actor Anthony Natale), talk about resuming his work as part of the Horseshoe Bay police force, having left over a decade before due to injuries sustained during a car chase. I was really glad that the show had multiple actors using ASL—not just Thom and Ace, but also Nick who notes that he learned ASL to communicate with his cousin—and that Thom’s plotline was about more than just his previous injury. If anything, discussion of his injury is a small part of his overall role, with the larger part going to helping solve cases. When he decides to resume his role on the police force, Ace panics and they have a careful conversation in which both get to name their feelings and treat each other with care.[5] Thom notes that this is something he wants and Ace replies that he needs time to reconcile himself to it; both needs are acknowledged, and I loved that.

None of this care and community was what I expected from a CW show where, I shit you not, Nancy Drew tries to burn down a magic tree in all earnestness to retrieve her lost childhood memories, but there we are. As I said at the start of this review, it’s a show that’s such beautiful nonsense and, weirdly enough, does feel like the sort of show that defines life in 2020. It’s messy as hell, and there are definitely still moments (specifically that edge towards anti-blackness) where I’m deeply wary of what the show is alluding to, but it also does things for which I love it a lot. Ghosts and all, I’m genuinely excited to watch Season Two.

[1] Due to COVID-19, the show stopped filming with only eighteen episodes rather than the originally commissioned twenty-two that were to round out the first season. Representatives of the series have stated that these plot lines will be incorporated into the second season instead, as the show has already been renewed. As a result, the show’s mid-season finale comes quite late into the first season, and its unintended finale feels like the plot hangs.

[2] As Bogi Takács pointed out during eir reading of this review, there is a whole literature of Black hauntings related to the Middle Passage, and entire bestselling books with that theme, but the show does not incorporate this and centres it instead on a white woman who gets killed during her journey. Nor is the Middle Passage brought up in the later reference to Bashiir’s story. This is a deliberate choice made towards a kind of white past and haunting, and it establishes which community has the most access to historical representation.

[3] Mary Rambaran-Olm has made clear the manner in which Beowulf has been appropriated towards narratives of white supremacy. As Dorothy Kim notes, Toni Morrison read Grendel and his mother as raced Others and has advocated for a reading of Beowulf that acknowledges race. Similarly, Adam Miyashiro has read Grendel and his mother as Indigenous Others.

[4] Bogi noted that Nancy’s surveillance is positioned as surveillance and not as sousveillance, where the people with less power are doing the observation of the people with more power. I am grateful to em for this contribution.

[5] Bogi mentioned The Fries Test, created by Kenny Fries, which asks  “Does a work have more than one disabled character? Do the disabled characters have their own narrative purpose other than the education and profit of a nondisabled character? Is the character’s disability not eradicated either by curing or killing?” Nancy Drew definitely passes on the second and third points, while I remain more unsure about the first. Not all disabilities are immediately apparent, and the show has a range of people dealing with long or short-term trauma with effects on their mental health, but none of the characters use these terms specifically to self-identify. As a result, I would prefer not to attribute anything specifically to a character, particularly given how often these sorts of armchair diagnoses are badly attributed and contribute to the (often violent) pathologising of disabled people.



Based in India, Samira spends most of her time explaining Nicolas Cage movies to her father and making bad puns. In her everyday life, she’s an academic. At night, she watches terrible TV and posts blurry pictures of her cat. It’s a life.
Current Issue
11 Jan 2021

The egg must have hatched overnight, though he could see no sign of a hatchling anywhere. Only empty shell bits remained, strewn here and there across the tatami.
By: Ryu Ando
Podcast read by: Kat Kourbeti
In this episode of the Strange Horizons podcast, editor Kat Kourbeti presents "The karyōbinga sings to Jiro", by Ryu Ando.
a place nicknamed The Village of Fatherless Children
By: Nikki Caffier Smith
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
In this episode of the Strange Horizons podcast, editor Ciro Faienza presents Nikki Caffier Smith's “In Which the Deer, Unwittingly or Not, Moves In.”
Issue 4 Jan 2021
By: Maya Beck
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Stephanie Burt
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Stephanie Burt
Issue 21 Dec 2020
By: Octavia Cade
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Meep Matsushima
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Meep Matsushima
Issue 14 Dec 2020
By: ML Kejera
Podcast read by: Kat Kourbeti
By: Brigid Nemeton
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Brigid Nemeton
7 Dec 2020
Strange Horizons is now accepting fiction submissions for the Palestinian Special issue! The issue, edited by Rasha Abdulhadi and Basma Ghalayini will be published at the end of March 2021. We are open for submissions from now until January 31, 2021. Don't wait till the end to send your work!
7 Dec 2020
تقديم الطلبات مفتوح من الان و حتى تاريخ 31 يناير 2021. قدم/ قدمي عملك عاجلا و ليس آجلا!
Issue 7 Dec 2020
By: Toby MacNutt
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Anna Cates
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 1 Dec 2020
By: Ateri Miyawatl
Translated by: Ateri Miyawatl
By: Ateri Miyawatl
Translated by: Adam Coon
By: Vraiux Dorós
Translated by: Toshiya Kamei
By: Luz Rosales
Translated by: Andrea Chapela
By: Libia Brenda
Translated by: Allana C. Noyes
By: Ateri Miyawatl
Podcast read by: Ateri Miyawatl
Issue 23 Nov 2020
By: Michael Bazzett
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Michael Bazzett
Issue 16 Nov 2020
By: Cat Aquino
Podcast read by: Kat Kourbeti
By: Michael Chang
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 9 Nov 2020
By: Miyuki Jane Pinckard
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
Load More
%d bloggers like this: