Julie and the Phantoms is extraordinary from start to finish and its pilot episode, appropriately titled “Wake Up” sets the stage for what is to come beautifully. There are so few words to truly describe the incredibly transcendent feeling Madison Reyes’ “Wake Up” evokes from the moment her fingers trace the music sheets to landing on the piano keys and when she hits the final note of the song.
It is just the type of first episode conclusion that not only demands you watch further, but it is the type of scene that is so evocative, it leaves you speechless. (I’ll say this every time I write about Reyes as a performer, but how is this her first acting gig?) It’s phenomenal—the kind of performance that I genuinely feel it takes older actors so much time to master because grief isn’t easy to touch on when the emotions aren’t raw, or something lived through. Reyes brings to light a plethora of cathartic release to the song and it’s done in a way that has a clear impact on everyone around her too.
We’ve talked a lot about Julie and the Phantoms and how poignant its depictions of grief are, and through the eyes of a girl like Julie, it tells us a great deal about what it means to not only lose someone you love, but to lose the things that remind you of them too. If you’ve ever lost the parent you’re close to and the one with whom you share a talent or gift with then you know exactly why it’s so hard for Julie to play music after losing her mother.
When I lost my father at fifteen, I genuinely never thought (or even wanted to imagine) ever writing something creative again. When people would tell me that it’d come back and that I’d use words to work through my grief, it only made me angry. But here we are, nearly fifteen years later, and that’s the very thing I’ve done and continue to do. I’ve used my words to work through all forms of joy and heartache because passions can only sleep, they never die.
Julie’s break from music makes complete sense, but as does her explosive release and the powerful awakening that comes from a song her mother had written. Julie and the Phantoms, in a lot of ways, is a series about second chances—it’s a series about stepping out into the light as opposed to letting the darkness consume. And this moment especially, as the lyrics say, is about using the pain as opposed to letting it use us.
Darkness and grief never truly go away, but the sun always rises in the morning, which this moment gorgeously showcases as the sunrise blares through the garage window while Julie continues to sing her heart out. Grief is a part of us all. When you lose someone, it gets easier to cope, but the heartache and sadness never fully goes away. Instead, what you learn to do is honor the person. You learn to take the pain and put it into something cathartic and healing. You learn to take the pain and create something with it, in hopes that your creation wakes up someone else in the process too.
It’s the pure innocence in this number that speaks volumes because Julie’s pain and the absence of music in all their lives affected not just her, but the family too. Rose’s death has undoubtedly had a colossal impact on each of them in different ways, but the way it’s broken Julie has broken them even more. And that’s why it’s so important to see her father’s reaction to hearing Julie sing again. That’s why it’s so important to see Carlos’ unparalleled joy in hearing music again because for kids especially, it’s a different kind of sadness—therefore, this is a different kind of healing.
It’s the gorgeous detail that she’s surrounded by sunlight and plants–the two things in our world we can all universally agree on the fact that they represent light, hope, and meaning. They are proof of it. It’s the way she looks up for a moment, as though to her mother, when she sings: get up, get out, relight that spark, you know the rest by heart.
And then there’s the band. We don’t get a detailed glimpse into each of their expressions without zooming in, but what we see in their physicality tells us everything we need to know about how much this moment is cathartic for them too. How are they back? What’s their purpose? There are uncertainties and one too many questions, but with the sun blaring through behind them—it’s so promising of what is to come. It’s clear to see that this moment is crucial in creating a lasting friendship perhaps even, carefully orchestrated by Julie’s mom to ensure utmost happiness and the presence of healing melody in her family’s life until they meet again.
First the sunlight, then the band, Julie is far from alone in this world, but she has metaphorically awaken to a time where she will be deeply cherished by people (and ghosts) who’ll fight alongside her. It’s the showcase of inner strength and the exhibition of the idea that while we have the courage to rise above the waters ourselves, being surrounded by love is how we heal from the aftermath. Julie may have physically lost her mother, but she’s right there alongside through all this. She’s in the sunlight, she’s in the music, and seeing such moments along with what comes later serves as the beautiful reminder of just how much of our loved ones we have inside of us even when they’re physically absent.
Rewatch the moment below and come cry with us.