Saturday, November 18, 2017
I really don't want to walk back what I said last week about the show finding its sweet spot and slowly becoming a more watchable hour of TV. I stand by that with regards to last week's episode. But I forgot the cardinal rule of OUAT that I wrote for myself at least three seasons ago--take it one week at a time, do not let the good week foreshadow the next week's episode. For example, I could never--in a thousand years--anticipate that a magical flower, that apparently grows babies after one night of passion, would play such an integral part in the big Eloise Gardener reveal. How could I? Such a useless, silly, nonsensical MacGuffin could only come from the minds of writers who are lazy and want easy answers instead of trying to write something more compelling that weaves heart and magic into one. To be fair, that is what OUAT does a lot--they introduce an object that will play no role in anything outside of one event and lets that object be the reason the story progresses. Over the years we've had necklaces, mushrooms, tasers, wands, gauntlets, and even some coconuts. We were bound to get a magic baby growing flower eventually not just because of the writers penchant for terrible MacGuffins but also because the writers have proven that they don't care for the realities of human gestation. Zelena had a magically sped up pregnancy, gave birth, and then ran around in high heels all in the course of an hour; Belle's son magically became a baby again, and way way back in Season Three the writers suggested that Snow was pregnant with Baby Snowflake for about a year. Honestly, the fact that a magically flower-grown baby hasn't happened yet is the real surprise. But I'll get off this magic flower shtick because while the reveal of who Rogers' daughter is--Alice--and with whom--Mother Gothel--is dumb (dumb dumb dumb) the first hour of OUAT did provide some interesting commentary into Hook's character, which is really what we're here for.
--Alice selling stolen watches under a bridge seems exactly like something Alice would do.
--Should I even bother mentioning the problem of sexually untimid Rapunzel turning out to be Evil Mother Gothel?
--Giant Garden Gnome is super stupid but also super hilarious.
--–I normally really like Roni’s outfits but that polka dot necktie thingy is tragic.
--“I tend not to trust people who tie me up and drug me.”
--Henry is listening to "Bizarre Love Triangle" when he meets Nick in the bar. Incredibly on the nose there, OUAT.
--–“As much as I want to go to Storybrooke to get help, we can’t do that and they can’t know we’re here!” Because…..? Oh right. The whole cast quit a year ago.
--“Oh that’s cute. You think I’m going to villain monologue for you? Please.” Ivy is the best.
Saturday, November 11, 2017
I need to hand it to Once Upon a Time; it's certainly making quite an eleventh-hour resurgence. Just when I thought nothing about this show could ever interest me again or induce anything either than boredom or revulsion, it has done the unthinkable: it made me sit up, really pay attention, and want more. Sometimes rebooting a show can breathe new life into it and I don't know if it's the new characters like Drizella and Alice, or if it's the fact that what I once found so terrible and tedious is not only gone but completely forgotten about, or if it's a lovely combination of both but, despite a few headscratching set backs, season seven is proving to be more intriguing than I originally thought. I rarely discuss plot in these reviews because, first, by and large I am unconcerned with simply spitting back the plot spaghetti of this weekly TV show and, second, OUAT usually dishes up something worth discussing that interests me from a feminist, political, social, or mythological standpoint. But I think I need to pause here and praise the show for delivering a plot that does feel familiar (Dark Curse, memory loss, ect) but is being spun in a new way. I've said this before both in relation to OUAT and in relation to other pieces of media but you need not always tell me a new story; you can always tell me an old story well. This is helped quite a bit by Adalaide Kane who is doing exceptionally well as Drizella. There's a pathos to her portrayal of young Drizella that is aided by the fact that the writers smartly paired her next to Lana Parilla, who is still doing amazing work as Regina. A character like Drizella, with her background, wouldn't come across as successfully as it does if it weren't for the six year history the audience has had with Regina. We instantly understand Drizella, the temptations she must be feeling, the suffering she's endured because Regina understands it and we understand Regina. Drizella doesn't need to be fully fleshed out over the course of several seasons because the character in her closest proximity has done all that work beforehand. OUAT understands this by reinforcing the past in its current narrative; Regina brings up her own horrifying upbringing and, just to really soccer punch the audience with understanding, Rumple randomly strolls into the middle of this little lesson and offers Regina some advice in the guise of her old teacher, reminding her of some facts Regina avoided. Wheels within wheels and it all works, even if Drizella's education with Regina and her turn to the darkside literally takes place over the course of one afternoon. We've seen what twists and turns it took for Rumple and Regina (and to less of an extent, Cora) to turn down their own dark paths. This doesn't save OUAT from a some measure of criticism, naturally, because Drizella's plot to kill the random prince in order to darken her own heart so that Lady Treamaine couldn't steal it to implant into Anastasia is...strange to say the least. Why not just kill Lady Tremaine? Or why not just end Anastasia's "life" (if you can call it that). Instead, Drizella goes to extraordinary lengths to not only cast the Dark Curse (can there be any doubt that she cast it?) but to ensure that even Regina wouldn't want to break it because of something sinister that we likely won't figure out for another few weeks. While the Prince plot was silly, the other questions once again bring us back to our parallels and to the character in closest proximity to Drizella: Regina. I used to ask the same questions of Regina and Snow; why didn't Regina just kill Snow, why go through the trouble of casting a Dark Curse to separate Snow and Charming? The answer is easy, if heartbreaking: because when you've been tortured and mistreated it's easy to get caught up in that pattern and want to turn that torture and mistreatment on the guilty parties instead of either forgiving them or taking a more direct approach. Don't forget, Regina's first successful attempt at hurting Snow was a poisoned apple that put Snow in a death-like sleep, but did not kill her.
--Bella Note has stray dogs hanging around it. Classic, old school, OUAT charm!
--Regina's black outfit in the Enchanted Forest might be my favorite thing she's ever worn.
--“Things are always more fun when you start in the middle.”
--Rogers’s storyline still feels a bit disconnected right now. I’m sure it’ll sync up but in an episode like this, it feels out of left field. Prediction, for the record: his daughter is Anastasia and Lady Tremaine was originally Rapunzel, hence why she keeps her hair short and why she thinks fear is the greatest weapon of all.
--I think OUAT is trying just a bit too hard with Henry and Jacinda. Holding a radio over his head is cheesy but also fairly cringe worthy for a guy who wasn't even alive in the 80s. There is very little spark between these two and I think it might come down to the lack of chemistry between the actors. I will say, though, that Andrew J. West's little victory pumps were adorable.
--I really need Alice and Drizella in a scene together soon because I have a feeling it would be dynamic as hell.
--Rumple refusing the wheelchair and kicking it as he walked by: somethings never change.
--Two hour episode next week and then we have two weeks off!
Saturday, November 4, 2017
It shouldn't surprise viewers a lot, but Tiana's story doesn't match beat for beat the one you would see in the Disney film. Tiana's spunk is still there, though tempered just a bit too much for the live action version to truly resemble the animated one. Tiana, in OUAT, is a princess down on her luck, instead of a hard working serving girl trying to find a big break. Honestly, this doesn't do Tiana much credit because part of her animated version's charm is that she's a working girl; it makes her relatable. All of us can understand the hardships of having to work long hours to make ends meet, and while Tiana and her mother are facing financial ruin, it's not because they were poor to begin with but rather that their kingdom is losing money and they are forced to sell their many expensive goods. Tiana, in OUAT's version, is still traipsing around the woods in a ball gown and jewels whereas the animated Tiana spends a decent amount of time in an apron and waitress gear. Sabine, Tiana's cursed counterpart, has the working girl aspect down pat except she's lacking in the one thing that I think Tiana really needs: common sense. I get that a big part of Disney and of OUAT's borrowing of The Great Mouse is the idea that dreams come true; if you keep on believing a dream that you wish will come true. It's catchy, it's cute, it's schmaltzy and when you're a kid watching an animated princess and her tiny mouse friends sing about it, it's really easy to believe. It's also a load of nonsense. Sometimes, dreams don't come true. They just don't. Dreams require more than just hard work and pluck; they require time, effort, and most importantly money. Maybe I'm just a bitter thirty year old (entirely possibly) but Sabine'e entire idea that in order to make money--enough to pay off the newly escalated rent and, further, to buy a place for her, Jacinda, and Lucy--was to take over a fast food kitchen and make beignets is absolutely ludicrous. And, again, I get that this very in line with Disney and the projection of their brand and what it is they sell, but Tiana--like Belle--is a Disney character I consider to be, at the very least, practical. Sure, she thinks she'll accomplish her dreams someday and she is still a dreamer but she's got a levelheadedness to her that seems to be completely missing from Sabine. There are a myriad of problems with hedging your entire financial success on making some pastries. What happens when the manager of Mr. Cluck's comes back and won't let you work out of his kitchen? What happens when the demand for your beignets goes down after the novelty wears off? What happens when Sabine and Jacinda need to shell out more money to outfit the food truck with a stove, counter tops, and supplies? In a mythological realm, like the Enchanted Forest or even a Disney movie, these problems are rather nonexistent because reality in those worlds operates on belief and heart and not...y'know...actual reality. But Hyperion Heights isn't set in those worlds; it's supposed to be in the real world which is why I was so pleased to see Jacinda call out Sabine for her ridiculous ideas, at least initially. This is also why the Tiana side of the story--the flashbacks--felt a little more palatable than the Hyperion Heights side. Tiana's endgame--after much rigmarole--is to appeal to the prince for aid in her kingdom; she's no longer thinking about marriage or how a rich prince will save her but is taking matters into her own dainty hands, rolling up her sleeves and trying negotiation, something Sabine doesn't even consider for a moment when Victoria ups the rent. In other words, it makes Tiana look levelheaded and Sabine look rather dense, though given that the curse might break at any moment, I suppose that's not altogether bad.
--Can you tell I didn't have a whole lot to talk about this week? It wasn't a bad episode but the writers are still just throwing a lot of plot spaghetti at the wall and unlike in past years, I have little interest in trying to wade through it all. I am content to let it unfold on its own.
--Drizella is slowly becoming one of my favorite parts of this new season. I like her passive aggressive snark and her killer wardrobe.
--“I do have a few friends…on the other side.”
--The handsome prince and his lady love both turned into frogs! +10 for that twist; didn’t see that coming even a mile away! Actually started laughing hysterically.
--I’m not sure what it is, but I find the way Gabrielle Anwar plays Victoria to be really off putting. Maybe it’s her voice or slightly plastic-y face, but she’s just not doing it for me.
Saturday, October 28, 2017
I've been thinking a lot about the season one episode "Skin Deep" this week. It remains my all time favorite episode of OUAT and is really the reason why I jumped headlong into this show. Over the years, the writers have tested those fans who fell in love with their version of Beauty and the Beast. Belle became nothing more than a decorative object with a side of a Google search engine and Rumple went back and forth between good, evil, and gray, so many times that I feared there was nothing left to the cowardly but brave father and desperate soul that I once loved. By the end of Once proper, I wasn't even sure I wanted Rumbelle together at all. "Skin Deep" always felt like part one of a movie and while I suppose one could argue that the rest of the series has been interludes in that movie, this week's episode is its true finale. It's the one that makes the most sense--the re-orientates the two characters back to their best selves--because there have been plenty of moments with Rumple and Belle that flat out do not make sense except for the writers needing to create drama because, in their mind, Morally Ambiguous and Magically Addicted Rumple (copyright pending) was more interesting than mortal and trying for humanity Rumple. More is their loss given the overwhelming emotional heft behind this week's episode. What OUAT managed to squeeze into a few flashbacks could have been a several season arc of Rumple learning to be human again with Belle and his family guiding him. That's Rumple's story, in a nutshell. A man who crosses the line over into inhumanity for the love of his child and because of his own selfish desires only to find his way back, step by heartbreaking step, through the love of his family and their belief in him. I don't want to spend too much time harping on how very disappointing it is that the writers didn't go this route years ago, because if Skin Deep was part one of a two part movie, this week's episode does such a great job bookending it, complete with opening a curtain. For a long time Rumple's happy ending came in two parts: Belle and their growing family and, second, the dagger and the magic it grants. Rumple couldn't see a future without that dagger and went so far as to liken it to the true love he felt for Belle. The biggest issue there is that his love of the dagger was at odds with his love for Belle; magic or love which would Rumple choose is his most consistent throughline over six years. Surely there could be no happily ever after for Rumple (and consequently Belle and the rest of the GoldStiltskin clan) if Rumple clung to that power he so craved. Turns out, the writers realized this and decided to show us what Rumple's life was like without his dependency on that dagger.
--Okay, there's actually a lot of random plot spaghetti I guess I have to talk about somewhere so here it is! Alice is Roger's daughter. I have a lot of negative feelings about that reveal because first, it was clumsily done, and second, I think Alice being Rumple and Belle's daughter would be a much richer narrative given Rumple's past experiences with his children.
--Alice is gay! I wonder who her love interest will be, though. She mentioned having an ex who worked for Victoria Belfry, so my money is on Ivy.
--Speaking of: Ivy is a much more rewarding and interesting character than previously established. Her vulnerable side was refreshing after being nothing but snarky.
--"All I want is a life with you, Rumple...."
--“I took the dagger for one son; I won’t give it over to another.”
--I hate random prophecies inserted into narratives because the writers have written themselves into a corner. But I do like the name “The Edge of Realms.” Feels very fairy tale. Likewise, I'm going to ignore whatever plot noodle this "guardian" is until it becomes more relevant.
--Lucy's costume actually consists of a paper bag over her head.
--Of course Roni makes a cocktail called "Poisoned Apple."
Sunday, October 22, 2017
Seeds of Discontent
I suppose a story about resistance isn't totally apropos of nothing. Not in this day and age, not in this American political climate. The word "resist" and "resistance" have been bandied about so much over the past year that they've become a definitive touchstone of said year. When people speak of 2017, the word resistance will be woven into that narrative. Good fantasy, science fiction, or any sort of story, incorporates real life drama and issues and finds a way to speak some sort of truth about those touchy topics. Star Trek is probably the best example of this, from racism to sexism to ageism to elitism and all the -isms it used the genre of science fiction to parse out those topics. By using the term resistance so freely in this episode, OUAT finds itself in a precarious place. It has to find a way to both show and tell the resistance of Ella, Tiana and the others against Lady Tremaine and Victoria, while not making this resistance seem foolhardy, silly, or unimportant. The resistance here in the real world is too important for too many people and to see it reduced to a vague plot point only brought up as an afterthought is not a good direction to go in. That being said, it's also not necessary to have an over the top bad guy (or gal) who has no depth or emotion or character (the real resistance already has one of those sitting in the very real White House...) which is why it's nice that the show has done the smart thing and given their audience a nice, big, juicy bone to gnaw on instead of spinning their proverbial wheels on Lady Tremaine. I'll pause here to mention that making Lady Tremaine's motivation for everything--the Curse, if she cast it, her hatred of Ella, and her general bitchy demeanor--relate back to motherhood is wearisome. The show has done mothers to death from Emma, to Regina, to Snow, to Belle, and even to Zelena and those are only just the main cast of the past six years. Motherhood is one of those tricky themes that never quite lands as well as the writers want it to; sure, it had several bright and shining moments in season one but those moments became few and far between over the years as motherhood became the only way to redeem a lady villain. OUAT often sees women in two extremes, the much maligned Madonna or Whore trope. If you're a good person or on your way to becoming a good person, it's because you found a child/had a child/are learning to make up for lost time with your child. If you're still in villain mode, then you've likely severed all ties with your children and it is your children who are trying to save you. Lady Tremaine/Victoris has been like a classic fairy tale villain--mysterious but ultimately broadly drawn--until you learn that she's trying to save her fourteen year old daughter who's being kept "alive" inside a magical coffin. Too often, OUAT makes motherhood out to be the ultimate saving redemption for any and all women, which is more than just a little bit backwards, at the very least, and overtly misogynistic at the worst.
--Henry in his muddy red coat looks a lot like the coats Neal and Emma have worn in other episodes.
--Regina Mills: the character growth the show has mostly succeeded on. I loved watching her tell Ella that sacrificing one person for a whole cause doesn’t make it “right” and later telling Cinderella to forgive herself.
--Emma Booth’s character is very interesting! I get strong Rapunzel/Witch vibes from her and Victoria's final scene and I think Victoria is in the Rapunzel role, even though that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Sorta blows the hole in my running theory that Rapunzel is Wish Realm Hook's daughter, though?
--“The key to bringing down Victoria Belfry is a bearclaw!”
--A shocking number of people who did not care about the upkeep of the community garden are lined up to sign the petition to save it….
--How does one leave a letter inside a well….?
--UGH, the lampshade moment of Lucy’s “hey this is exactly like when you and Archie went down into the mines in Storybrooke! Remember that!?”
--"And here you are...in a bar..."
Saturday, October 14, 2017
There are some nights when I don't quite know what to write about this show. Tonight is one of those nights; I went into the hour thinking I knew what I'd want to discuss after the episode aired. It mostly involved contemplating if the transition from a female-centered drama to a male-centered one was a good idea. Even with all the history between the audience and Henry, as I talked about last week, this is a show that has prided itself--somewhat foolishly--on having strong females at its center. Would it not be better, from that standpoint at least, to make Cinderella the center of season seven, not Henry? This think piece would then lead into a discussion of Emma's final moments in the show in which she's asked to do precious little besides fret over Henry, make eyes at her husband, and announce that she's pregnant. It's not as if Emma being pregnant is a surprise; Hook and Emma did just get married (because the passing of time is weird on this show) and it's natural that they'd want to start their own family. What's odd about it is the fact that it was clearly written as a way to placate certain sections of the fandom. Not for a single second is Baby Captain Swan going to matter to the mythology of this show. The baby will be born off screen, possibly announced to Henry via a phone call at the end of the season and never seen nor heard from. The baby doesn't herald anything except the writers needing to appease rabid fans who frothed at the mouth all summer about their ship being taken away. The baby makes no narrative sense outside of that. However, I'm not going to spend this blog ruminating on any of that. Neither the idea of transitioning to a male centric show nor Emma's agency and questioning whether this was a ever a strong female centric show are important because the episode itself relegated them to footnotes. Season seven will be male-centered with flashes of different kinds of females interwoven in: the two "old guard" ladies in Regina and Victorian, both vying to remain dominant but for different reasons; the two plucky new combers in Jacinda and Sabine. Emma's agency remains as it ever was post season four or so, which is to say that her agency is mostly given over to Hook and the Captain Swan relationship, which is now blessedly over or at least off our screens forevermore. The topics this episode should have brought to bear are so minor and inconsequential that writing at length about them would only be tedious for writer and reader, both. Instead, this episode decided to go full balls to the wall crazy with plot spaghetti.
--I love that Henry’s apartment has tons of knick-knacks like Neal’s NYC apartment did.
--Andrew J. West is still doing good work as Henry; I find him cute, endearing, and slightly silly, which is basically Henry all over. He’s got that cute flustered stutter thing that Emma used to do.
--Regina doesn’t even blink at Henry being in his thirties! That’s just not a normal reaction for a mother. She should be lamenting missing all that time with her son. I find it extremely hard to believe that Regina and Emma would not have gone after Henry after a certain length of time had passed.
--“I never thought Captain Hook would find love…” Look, Killian Jones may have taken a new moniker but he still loved Milah, for crying out loud.
--Henry asks about the entire town of Storybrooke and his family except for Rumple, Belle, and Gideon. Ouch, Henry. Ouch.
--I didn't notice it so much in the premiere but Lady Tremaine's accent and mannerisms really bother me.
--So who's Hook's daughter? And who is the mother?
--I will take more of devious cop Weaver, please and thank you
Saturday, October 7, 2017
Stop me if this sounds familiar. Long ago--but not so long ago as to be the mythological past--a boy and a girl had a chance encounter in a far off magical land. The encounter was not one that instantly led to true love, but one filled with snark, sass, and obvious wait-for-it chemistry. Meanwhile, in the vaguely sketched present day of a totally different realm, the boy and the girl were separated by some nefarious means. One of these erstwhile lovers met a child with the power of belief in their heart who tried to convince them to undertake an adventure. No, it's not season 1 of OUAT, it's season seven but all those too familiar beats of Emma, Henry, Snow, Charming, and Regina are there in Henry, Lucy, Cinderella, and Lady Tremaine. It's easy to criticize this set up as too expected and too much of a rehash of OUAT's former seasons (and, to be blunt, former glory) but there's a different angle to all this: the universality of the hero's tale and the common threads that are found within that trope no matter who is playing what role. Sure, Lucy showing up at Henry's door and asking him to believe in magic and curses and then to bring back the happy endings to a bunch of down-on-their-luck fairy tale characters is almost beat for beat the same as Henry showing up at Emma's door six seasons prior but, broadly speaking, the woe begotten, despondent hero being called off on an adventure to save the world/universe/people because they are the only ones who can...is exactly how this story should start. It's how the vast majority of hero stories begin. Fairy tales are, after all, built on tropes that exist across multiple stories and cultures--the hero, the villain, life and death, monsters and the supernatural, good and evil--and to criticize season seven's opener because it's telling a very familiar story would be failing to recognize the commonality of all stories. Because these legends and fables are so common, with only hints of divergence based on culture mores (Cinderella's famous slipper--glass, wood, or fur for instance) it's fitting--if a bit of a head scratcher at first--to have a different Cinderella and Alice appear in the opener without having to retcon portions of season one and--almost laughably--the entire spin off series, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. In the Original Enchanted Forest, Cinderella may have been a blonde, blue eyed serving girl who found happiness with her Prince, but in this New Realm Enchanted Forest (I will pause here to say that the language we, as fans, have to invent to talk about the new season is cringe worthy) Cinderella is Latina, doesn't want anything to do with the Prince, and is possibly an assassin of some sort. Original Alice might have been an adventurer who fell in love with a genie and is currently living happily ever after in Victorian London, but this Alice is a rogue and epic badass who really doesn't want to be associated with just Wonderland (I mean, you take one trip and it's all your known for!). This new set up and introduction of new characters does cause some whiplash but it fits with how fairy tales operate here in our reality. There are different versions of all these "well known" stories as both young and adult Henry point out. In other words, to sum up what I'm saying, Henry's story doesn't need to be brand new; it is possible to tell an old story well and that's where we need to focus for this episode.
--Welcome back to the weekly reviews! While I was glad for the break this summer, I've missed writing so it's nice to have something to sink my teeth into again.
--Should we ponder where Henry gets his gas in the Enchanted Forest for his mothercycle?
--I think we're gonna skip right over the big "where's Emma Swan" question. I'm sure we'll get that answer sooner rather than later.
--Henry has the swan keychian on his keyring. Cue my sighs and sobs.
--Mr. Cluck's Chicken Shack is a delightful reference to LOST. I wonder if Jacinda ever heard of Hurley.
--As much as I loved Original Alice, I was instantly taken by New Alice. She's the perfect blend of surprise, mystique, and intrigue. Anyone else wanna place bets on her being Belle and Rumple's daughter because I got strong Stiltskin family vibes from her.
--Let's not try to figure out when "present day" is exactly, mmkay?
--"My wings!" "I cut them off when you were sleeping. Surprise."
--Quite possibly the worst version of Bippity Boppity Boo ever, amiright?
--Who does Jacinda think Lucy's father is? Since she clearly didn't recgonize Henry she must have some idea who fathered her child.
--Did Hook's curse fully break or was Rogers just jolted at seeing Emma?
--Operation Glass Slipper. Because...of course.