Monday, May 2, 2016
I suppose we should get this out of the way; to make it clear, in language that cannot be confused or misconstrued: Emma Swan and Captain Hook are canonical true loves. We'll bypass over Henry and season one (cause goodness knows that the writers did the exact same this week) though, I should stress, that one should be able to have True Love with a child and a romantic partner and not be unable to tackle the "you-shall-not-pass" test. Instead of trying to force Henry into this situation, let's talk about Emma Swan. It was her episode, after all. When Emma was conceived as a character, at the beginning of all things, there were several archetypes and fairy tale-like jargon that got attached to our young blonde and leather jacketed heroine. She was, first and foremost, the Savior. In the cosmic good versus evil battle, she was the lawful good, able to take down evil, curses, and dark magic with her innate and in born abilities. Part of that Saviorhood, we learned, was that she was born of the truest love in all the realms, the love between Prince Charming and Snow White. This compounded her Saviorhood and made her even more of a force to be reckoned with. Emma's entire being is that of True Love--she is literally True Love in the flesh, an incarnate entity made up of the most powerful magic of all; this is why Cora couldn't remove her heart in Season 2 and why her magic is white. By that virtue alone, Emma Swan should be able to pass Hades' test to enter the ambrosia fields without needing confirmation that she and Hook share true love. And, for this review, I'm going to ignore the fact that Hook and Emma shouldn't even be true loves at all, and instead focus on how the writers took Emma--someone who's entire being is the most powerful magic of all, a powerful and unstoppable force unto herself--and reduced her to only having a heart full of true love when she's with her (4 month long) boyfriend. I'm harping on the parenthetical that Emma is True Love Incarnate because ignoring this factor has been a trend for some time on this show; the show has begun lessening Emma's own importance as a cosmic figure and emphasizing her romantic story as being the only thing that makes Emma complete, with season 5A as the culmination. Emma's been on her own heroes journey since the moment Henry showed up at her doorstep and called her off on an adventure and a big part of that journey (nay, the biggest part) is the conquering of death or the representation of death and chaos by the hero. This is such an integral part of the journey that I was actually excited for Emma to live up to her cosmic role and defeat death (and Hades) with her own self actualization and herohood. She doesn't need anyone else to be a hero; Emma alone should be enough, but OUAT takes this long standing tradition and warps it into something decidedly not feminist/representative of strong women and unworthy of the character they created at the start. There is nothing wrong with twisting well worn tropes when the author is trying to make a point about society or give commentary on those tropes and, again, this isn't to say that a hero (or Emma, specifically) can't have a romantic love story, but the fact that in order for Emma to be that cosmic superhero she needs the true love she shares with a romantic partner to (literally) open the doors is malarkey. To drive this point home and further complicate it ask your self what role Hook actually plays here. If you remove the romantic love partner from this equation how does the story play out? Emma, down in the worst parts of the Underworld, can't pass the test without Hook because without him she doesn't have a heart full of true love. No, I say, no. Emma's agency and importance are her own and simply being True Love Incarnate means she should be able to pass these Tests (capital T cause we're in Cosmic-land).
--"I came for your...wow...this is hard...help." I really will miss Hades.
--The flashbacks were mostly fine this episode though I am frustrated that the show keeps inserting important life altering people in Emma's life and then never has her mention them until the episode they are introduced. The origin of the jacket was a long standing question, but I hate that it killed a few headcanons I had.
--Regina can remove Emma's heart because...?
--Lots of mythology this week, both Greek (Orpheus and Eurydice) and Egyptian (the scale for the weighing of a heart; it's just missing the feather of Ma'at, the living concept of judgement and fairness).
--Cruella and the Blind Witch are now ruling the Underworld. That will end well.
--The Royal Navy teaches Ancient Greek to its sailors? Well, I went about learning it in a weird way then.
--Henry can now control the Author's writing abilities to the extent that he can write what everyone's unfinished business is? How does that make sense?
Monday, April 25, 2016
The James and David portions of this episode left a lot to be desired because the show spent most of its time elsewhere on more compelling sibling drama. I don't blame them for this; Zelena and Cora are far more meaty and vital to our show than James ever was and it shows in how little I cared that he got shoved into the River of Lost Souls to spend all of eternity in torment. James' complaint against Charming rings as fairly hollow, doesn't it? At least, it does at first when you leave it as is and don't try to get to the root psychology behind it. James had glory; he was a warrior, a favorite son, and the only hope of a poor and broken kingdom. Yes, it was highly political; King George forced his hand, and maybe James had other plans for his life, but the show has never given James any real color or introspection so it's hard to tell what James thought of his father's plans for his only child. Did James have any sort of love (not including his bed and giant-robbing partner, Jack) that would have made him happier? James' true love is really himself; he needs to be the best and so he does everything in his power to prove his prowess. Maybe that's really the heart of the problem for James in retrospective, since he has only recently learned that his birth parents gave him up over his twin brother. For reasons unknown, to everyone, his mother and father chose to give him up over David. Why? Isn't that the real question that plagues James: why wasn't I good enough? Why wasn't I chosen? What was it about David that was better, more worthy, more lovable that I don't posses? A child that has been forsaken or abandoned has a very hard time accepting love from anyone in their adult lives, lest it be ripped away from them again--just look at Zelena's lament that Cora gave up the wrong child or even early Emma Swan being closed off from everyone, including her son. James is, in essence, over compensating by seeking out his brother for an imagined fault that James doesn't actually have; Ruth and her husband did not make this choice based on some perceived sin or error of baby James; they just simply made it and we will likely never know why. In James' mind, he needs to prove his birth parents wrong, to show them that they gave up the wrong child and that he was the "better" of the two. If he can defeat David, he can retroactively prove to Ruth and his father, and, probably more importantly, to himself that he is the better twin. It's actually pretty deep and interesting psychology so it's a shame that the show took the easy way out and pushed James into the murky depths below Underbrooke instead of letting him come to understand that the fault lies not in him, but in his stars.
I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised to learn that Regina and Zelena met earlier in their lives. Let me be briefly harsh here before I turn to gushing over some really outstanding moments: a lot of this flashback plot is convenient nonsense. So that we are all on the same page: inexplicably, and without warning, Regina gets hurt by a magic wand, needs healed from a blood relative (but not Cora cause of reasons) so enter young Zelena (and like last week's Red and Mulan, how did Cora get to Oz?) and then both sisters forget it all because a river from the Underworld just so happens to run by the Mills' house? That's so much convenient in one place that I can't help but wonder if the Enchanted Forest is really in the Forest of Coincidence (Galavant reference!) It was like the writers wrote the present day drama and then realized they needed a flashback (because what would this show be without its mandated flashbacks) and so they came up with something on the fly that could easily be wiped away in a manner of moments with a lazy handwave about magical waters. However, I am actually very willing to over look a lot of this eye-roll worthy flashback because of the raw power of the present day Mills women reunion. I've never been a big fan of Regina; I leaned so heavily toward Rumple so very early on in the show that Regina became his absolute antithesis and, in my eyes, mostly irredeemable; however there is no denying that her character arc and journey is one of the better conceived and more well thought out ones. Cora is magnetic even if ruthlessly coldhearted (or, in her case, literally heartless). Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I hate Zelena with the power of a thousand suns (except for this season because of how delightful she and Hades are together--and yes, this makes me question my own feminism). So three characters I don't have strong attachments or feelings to and they reduced me to some serious blubbering during their emotional reconciliation scene. That, my dear readers, is the power of good writing and it's what makes OUAT so damn frustrating sometimes. Every now and then, there are little sparks of brilliance, little reminders that the show could once reach inside your chest and squeeze your beating heart (much like Cora!). And shockingly enough, most of the time, it's not when there is some sexual-romance agenda being pushed.
--Does Cora really deserve to go to the "better" place? Not really. It goes back to what I was saying in episode 515 about whether you can have true redemption and forgiveness without first facing any punishment or consequences of your actions. Cora did a lot of bad and the only true apology she made was to two people--yes, the two people to whom she did the worst bits, but still only two. I don't know that it deserves an eternity in the River of Lost Souls, but I don't think she should get the fluffy cloud treatment.
--How about one final round of applause for Barbara Hershey who has deftly played Cora since season 1?
--I'm so glad Emma has a superpower that allows her to tell when people are lying. Seriously, Sheriff Swan, how did you not catch on to the James/David switcheroo?
--"Why is everything in the woods with you people?" And then Cruella punched Emma in the face. Attagirl!
--Hades setting up his little dinner date for Zelena, complete with his practiced dance moves, was adorable. I'm gonna miss this crazy blue-haired guy when the show invariably sends him packing.
--Hook thinks killing Zelena might be a step in the right direction. Will he keep her jaunty feather hat as a token to remember that kill by??
--So Robin has literally been in the woods with an infant in a car seat and the heroes have been bringing him baby wipes, formula, and diapers?
--I have no comments on Rumple's actions this episode.
Saturday, April 23, 2016
There came a point during my viewing of this film when I wondered if I'm not just a wee bit too cynical at times. Don't worry, readers. You don't actually have to answer me; I know I am. I've been trying to think back to my childhood experiences of The Jungle Book, the original Disney animated movie. Did I enjoy it then? I think I did, but certainly not the extent of, say, The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast. I liked the songs; I liked Baloo; and I know I loved Kaa (this, by the way, will come up again below so stay tuned). But for me, as a child, The Jungle Book felt too foreign. Talking animals were common in Disney films so I had no problem with that, but the lack of a real world made it too escapist. I've never been in a jungle nor witnessed any of its horrors (and the Disney film mostly makes the horrors of the jungle into jokes--it is, after all, a cartoon) and the cartoon landscapes felt too otherworldly to ever feel deadly. In the new live action film, the otherworldly feeling goes right out the window and becomes very real. But as I stated above, the realness feels flat, or at least unexplored, lacking in the depth of horror we know the jungle can offer. A jungle, in literature, can often represent as terrifying an ordeal as a haunted castle or a wild moor. More so, even, because the jungle in the actual Jungle Book is one of those wildly untapped ones; the kind that people go in to and never come out of (sort of like Mowgli). There are giant apes and ruinous temples and raging rivers and apparently elephants who are also expert landscapers. The jungle itself is supposed to feel like a living creature in this film, one that can be wild and deadly but also one that can nurture and endure. The film does a passingly good job at the latter, but it's the former where it falls down for me. We spend the last bit of the beginning of the movie moving from landscape to landscape with Mowgli and Bagheera--and yes the jungle is so vast and uncharted that it contains everything from rocky terrain, to dense forest, to yellowed Savannah, to something that looks akin to your local midwest state park. The jungle in this movie is the world, but it never feels truly like a threat (hint: it should!). It's not just Shere Khan who threatens Mowgli; the entire situation should be a threat. If Mowgli wants to chose the jungle (because that's where his multi-creatured pack is) that's fine, but the movie never shows the true horror of the jungle; but you better believe it shows the horrors of the man village. Bathed in fire--not just normal fire, mind you, but a fire that licks the sky and threatens to overtake the men standing around its warmth (tiny beings reduced to mere shadows before its red and yellow glow)--the man village is an unholy nightmare from which Mowgli runs.
--The animation of this film is gorgeous. The standout animation scene is probably Mowgli sitting on Baloo's belly, floating upstream.
--I especially loved the re-imagining of King Louie as a giant ape sitting on a throne of a long forgotten temple. Christopher Walken gives a very nice performance moving from stuttering kindly voice in the dark to oversized temple-destroyer in a matter of moments. Also, a round of applause to whoever thought up Mowgli finding a cowbell seconds before you first hear Louie speak.
--While I didn't like the actual plot ending, the ending-ending of the book closing whilst laying on a blue velvet cloth is so damn iconic I actually sniffled a bit.
--"You have never been in more danger of being extinct than you are right now." Baloo was on point.
--Even if their roles were smaller, most of the voice actors did a fantastic job bringing their talents to animal creatures. I say most because despite loving Idris Elba in everything he does, he was a bit too whisker twirling bad kitty this time around; the cartoon tiger was elegant in his villainy. He also missed the chance to showcase Shere Khan's trauma and (yup) humanity in light of his fears.
--Not nearly enough Kaa! The giant snake was masterfully rendered but her role was so small. And she didn't even get to sing "Trust In Me" until the end credits!
--Some clunky dialogue like right after Kaa tells Mowgli the story of the man and his cub who fought Shere Kahn in the distant past, she says, "and that man cub was you!" No kidding. You don't need to make this text. The young kid is wearing red pantaloons. It's clearly Mowgli.
--The actor playing Mowgli was a hit and a miss. One the one hand, he's incredibly young and his costars are tennis balls on sticks so it takes a certain amount of imagination to even make this work, but on the other hand, at no point did I forget that I was watching a kid "play" around. He never became Mowgli, in other words. Also, his annunciation could use some work at times.
--The constant "law of the jungle" refrain got wearisome.
--I'm glad Bear Necessities wasn't cut, but Baloo and Mowgli couldn't even sing it together in time?
--Final Grade: B
--Final Thought: This is a mostly acceptable version of a beloved Disney story and it strays little from the wheelhouse. But where it does stray is noticeable and without any real depth of exploration of what the film is really trying to say.
Monday, April 18, 2016
As I mentioned, this episode is a tricky one to navigate, not only because of my own "outsider looking in" perspective but also because I'm not sure there is much to sell the Dorothy and Ruby relationship outside of being outcasts in a show full of outcasts. There's nothing new here (unless we consider lesbianism new and that's a bridge I'm not going to cross) and it's not as if their sexual preferences made them outcasts. For Dorothy, it's her first trip to Oz that made her family believe she was crazy; for Ruby, it's her part time wolf status (and accidental ingestion of her former boyfriend) that caused her to feel so alone in the world. But one issue that arises is that virtually everyone on this show has felt like an outcast; in fact it's that feeling of being "otherized" that usually sparks their villainy. I do applaud--and will go into more detail in below--that the sexual orientation of Ruby and Dorothy doesn't play into their outcast feelings, but it also means that their connection is tenuous at best. So they feel like an outcast? Well, who hasn't? Other characters who have likewise shared those same feelings are not suddenly true loves, unless the show is about to endorse polyamory and have Regina, Emma, Hook, and Robin partake in a wild night in Vegas. To be fair (or, I suppose, fairly critical), exploration of true love and relationships is no longer the show's strong suit. Most relationships are now developed lightening fast, with almost no room to breathe for the two individuals in question. Merlin and Nimue, Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot, even Hades and Zelena (a couple I'm enjoying!) are tragically under developed. All it takes, apparently, is one flower, one neglectful husband, one adventure into a dark vault, one bike ride, or one walk through a field of poppies (and fighting some flying monkeys) to solidify that the character has "never felt this way about anyone!" Snow gives a pretty telling line in the present day that "love is freaking scary" and it is. And it should be. You're making yourself vulnerable and open and exposed. It's easy to get hurt, to be wounded. There's a reason why people scoff at love after only a few dates or days; human beings take time to get to that stage. We do not arrive at Planet Love without having to traverse an asteroid belt of emotions and conflicts (tortured metaphor, I know, but the show started it by likening Ruby to Toto!) Falling in love after only a few hours and expecting to have an earth shattering, curse breaking true love's kiss after one meaningful conversation makes true love that was fought for over a much longer period of time--like that of Snow White and Prince Charming--feel cheap, which isn't where the show should be going in their first LGBT outing.
--The present day plot was mostly fluff and filler because we've reached that part of the season in which everyone drags their heels in order to hit the 22 mark with enough story.
--I don't care how dense the trees in Oz are; Toto could not possibly sound like that.
--I did applaud the lack of outsider feeling over sexual orientation but lines like "one more life I destroyed because of what I am" are awkward and too heavy and really should be avoided before I take back my applause.
--"Chisel Chin Jr"
--Kansas and Wolfie sounds like a really terrible buddy-buddy cop TV show in the 1970s.
--Belle put herself in a sleeping curse and expects Moe to wake her up, not Rumple. I spent an inordinate amount of time last week discussing Rumbelle so I'll just leave this observation here for now and move the heck on.
--Hook actually said thank you! It's a miracle!
--Did the writers name this episode "Ruby Slippers" as a cheeky attempt to name the 'ship before the fandom could?
--Hades literally melted Auntie Em, mopped her up with a dishrag, and then wrung her into a mason jar. Can we keep him please? Just a little while longer?
--Belle has morning sickness but she is so newly pregnant that she didn’t even know she was pregnant when Rumple told her. But Zelena, who was pregnant for long enough to fully know she was with child, never had morning sickness? That makes NO sense.
--The feather on Zelena's hat bothers me, deep in my soul.
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
--Obviously, a bit of a rave from me, but there are a few critiques. The explanation Jackson gives Gil for what he discovered, based on the day of the riots, and various newspaper clippings was done in a such a handwav-y, exposition way that I didn't really catch the crux of it. Hopefully it gets readdressed in upcoming episodes.
--Jessie is the character who gets the least amount of coloring and depth here. But that's okay; one, it's a pilot episode, and two, this is really the boys' story.
--Speaking of Jessie, please don't make me sit through a torturous love triangle. Michael Raymond-James or not, I don't know if I have the strength to sit through another show in which his character fights over a girl.
--The dynamic between Jackson and Gil is by far the meatiest and interesting in this first showing. David Lyons and MRJ play off each other like absolute pros.
--"So this is what making it feels like." You'll forgive me if I read a bit of meta commentary into this Gil (MRJ) line.
Monday, April 11, 2016
This new and (more) handsome version of Gaston may not be roughly the size of a barge, but his ego certainly is (wanna see how many "Gaston" song references I can make over the next few lines?). I mean, who does this Belle girl think she is? She has clearly tangled with the wrong man! No one's slick or quick like Gaston; no one's neck is so incredibly thick like Gatson's! He's perfect, a pure paragon. Okay, that's enough. Obviously, I'm a bit of a "Beauty and the Beast" fan and this was some low hanging fruit that I had to pluck if only for fun. I rarely say this about Belle, who is more a prop than an actual fleshed out character with a personality, but she showed some real spunk and drive in both the flashback and present day events this week. So often Belle is just some strange combination of Google meets Rumple's redemption and hunny bunny; her entire story arc revolves around how she affects a villain and her screen time is relegated to either her sexual and romantic relationship or to explaining some plot point to the rest of the characters before vanishing off screen, back to her books, because goodness knows Belle doesn't have any friends in town that actually care about her as a person. That sounds harsh but there is one trait that is consistent with Belle all throughout the show; the girl is constantly trying to live up to an idealized--almost fictional--version of what heroism means. We, in our modern culture, would imbue heroes with "good" qualities but we are also very capable of acknowledging that true heroism is rare, if not extinct all together. Our moral lenses are heavily fogged with our own perspectives. A war is necessary or evil and as a consequence the soldiers fighting in said war are heroes or murderers. A certain group of people are villains or simply misunderstood. Political parties or leaders are on the right path or dead wrong with their various ideologies. Idealized versions of people are types--archetypes even--and they don't exist in our bloody, grey, complicated, nuanced, and complex world. But to Belle, they do and can exist. People are capable of true heroism in Belle's world, with heroism and heroes defined by compassion, forgiveness, love, generosity, and sacrifice. It's those qualities that Belle herself wanted to uphold in her first appearance back in season one's magnificent "Skin Deep" when she gave up her home and family to go and live with Rumple forever. To be a hero, in Belle's eyes, means clinging to those principles even when a darker path is easier or might even have a subjectively better outcome. Should she have just let Gaston kill the Ogre? Maybe! It might have prevented a war which undeniably killed dozens if not more of her people (though you gotta love the poetic idea that because she didn't let Gaston kill the Ogre, she was eventually freed of her arranged engagement and went off with Rumple which, in turn, let her discover true love). The underlying crux of this episode is how does Belle continue to live up to her standards of heroism but negotiate her identity when faced with an impossible problem, like protecting her unborn child from Hades without Dark Magic and continuing to love a man who thinks that turning the darkness toward the light is a fool's errand? The answer isn't actually a very hopeful one, at least not on the surface, something that seems rather shocking given what this show often tries to sell itself as--a message of hope in a hard world. Turns out, Belle may have to compromise her principles, she may have to let the darkness win sometimes. Can darkness be the right answer? Sometimes, yes. Our morals are all relative.
I suppose we shouldn't be too shocked that this episodes ends up siding with Rumple. Afterall, this is the same episode where we watch Hades send a decayed flower--that smelled of hopelessness--to his love interest and we're supposed to read it as genuinely romantic. But, to be serious, there are few objective evils in the world. I've often argued that even murder can be rationalized in certain circumstances (we live in America, land of the death penalty and never ending wars; this is to say nothing of Emma's murder of Cruella being "justified" because she was protecting Henry). Rape is my objective evil, a violation and power play to such a heinous degree that there is simply no way to rationalize it without revealing yourself as a sadist. OUAT follows the same idea and arguably has since its inception. This is a show that humanized the Evil Queen by making her an abused child who held her first love in her arms while her mother crushed his heart; this is a show that turned Rumplestiltskin from a wicked imp into a regretful father; who made the Wicked Witch an abandoned and unlovable child; who will make the Lord of the Underworld a brother maligned with a frozen heart. This is a show that, for all its faults (and goodness knows I have no issue in pointing them out) has maintained that there is grey in the world; indeed, insisting that labels like heroes and villains are flexible and change based on, simply, who is telling the story. Let's be clear: some of what Rumple is saying in this episode is hard to hear. He's not giving way in his assertion that the darkness is a part of him, that it can be used to protect and save everyone and, simultaneously, help give Belle the kind of life they both want. Rumple's snark comes out in full force when he questions Belle's decision to break and enter Gaston's locker in order to figure out a way to defeat the rogue hunter. If this is acceptable then why not other times when magic is handy to have around? Why is it that Belle is the one who gets to decide when the ends justify the means? Is it simply because her body count is much lower than Rumple's? How about all the times when Rumple's magic saved the pair of them (and more!) from utter disaster or destruction? If "Devil's Due" refocuses Rumple's character as the father who will do anything--anything, mind you--to protect those he loves, then this episode is about unfocusing Belle's character, challenging her core and making her (and us) question whether or not she should bend to what it is Rumple is saying. What's that line from "A Tale as Old as Time?" As a friend reminded me earlier this week, "then somebody bends, unexpectedly."
--It's a new actor playing Gaston and he was 100% better than the previous actor who was incredibly wooden and unconvincing.
--Has anyone told Hagrid that his brother Gwarp is in the Underworld?
--I honestly didn't care about anything going on with Emma, Hook, and Snow this week. Emma's suddenly a prophet? Sure! But if everyone could stop enabling Emma and her really poor decision making, that'd be great. No, she didn't force anyone to come and rescue Hook with her, but honestly some discussion (especially given Hook's behavior in the final two episodes of the arc) would have been splendid. Also, apparently Emma "Walls" Swan has no issues.
--Hades, I'm a big fan but you gotta cut it out with that hair.
--Mirror of Souls is our required MacGuffin of the episode.
--"I'm his only weakness." In the week since Zelena/Hades' tale, I've realized that I really do enjoy this pairing and that's really disconcerting for me.
--I'd like Belle and Hades's coats, please and thank you.
Saturday, April 9, 2016
--I'm sorry if this review got away from me and became singularly focused. But, honestly, I think it needed to be.
--You'll also have to indulge me while I spend the misc notes sprinkling out some truly amazing quotes from Ichabod and Abbie, and about them, in this episode.
--“Impossible!” “No, just highly improbable. Which, as luck would have it, is our stock in trade.”
--Ichabod is a Trekkie and recognizes that the "City on the Edge of Forever" is a superior episode. In hindsight, this is pretty clever foreshadowing that Abbie (Edith) would die.
--"Your heart belongs to Abigail Mills." Shippers have raged for days that Abbie and Danny gave into their underwhelming and underdeveloped love story. This episode seems to be a placation and an acknowledgement that Abbie and Ichabod are intertwined in ways that matter more than physical love without ever having them utter an "I love you."
--Good for Jenny, shooting Hidden One in the head and ending his life (and our misery of his character).
--"She was your hope. She was your everything. And I took her from you."
--Everything about the final moments between Ichabod and Abbie, opening with the pilot recall in the jail cell, to their talk in their archives, to their goodbye on the front porch--complete with one final Ichabod-style bow--was perfect in every single way that TV viewers and reviewers hope to have their main characters talk and interact. The fact that it ends with the devastating revelation that Abbie is really and truly dead....
--"We are eternal souls, Crane."
--"What is there for me in a world without you?" Goodbye, Abigail Mills. Goodbye.
--Will the show return? I don't know. Will I return if it does? I don't know. We'll see...we shall see.