Monday, May 18, 2015

In Which I Review Mad Men (7x14)

And then there were none....

Do you know what I did this week? I re-watched (almost) the entire series of Mad Men. AMC aired the whole shebang and I found myself drawn in, like the proverbial moth to a flame. What can I say? I can't resist the heady dose of complex characters, narrative, symbols and themes. Here we are at the end of everything Mad Men. The last Old Fashioned has been drunk, the last cigarette has been lit, the last ad has been pitched. What did I expect from the finale? I think, in my head, I expected something like Don traveling back to New York and having conversations with those he left behind. After all, the finale is called "Person to Person." But, as usual, Matthew Weiner subverted my expectations (remember when I firmly believed that Don Draper would die before the 1970s?) and gave me something that was out of the box, weird, and little bit confusing. That's Mad Men, though. In no universe, thinking about it now, would Weiner write something so introspective as what I just proposed. People don't work like that in Weiner's world--and indeed, do they really work that way in the real world? I've been saying for a long time that 'people do not fundamentally' change is the central tenant of Mad Men. The best they can hope for is to accept their own issues and learn to live within them. Don staying a self absorbed asshole who is also a mad genius when it comes to advertising? He doesn't change. He becomes only mildly self aware and uses this new found moment of clarity not to heal but to sell hope and love to the starving American public. Because at the end of the day, he's still Donald Draper. And he'd like to buy the world a Coke. One more drink for the road? Let's go. 


I suppose, looking at the finale as a whole, there are really three stories, three people who have to decide what their future is. Isn't that really what this was all about? We can't follow these characters all the way through their lives but at least we can glean what might become of them. Joan, Peggy, and Don are all question marks. Pete got his happy ending with Trudy and Tammy and they're off to conquer Wichita; Roger is going to make the most of what time he has left by marrying Marie and seeing the world with a new girl, forever the child at heart. Sally is going to step up and take her mother's place as head of the Francis household (soon to be the Hofstader household since she and her brothers are going to live with Betty's brother?) But Joan, Peggy and Don are at a crossroads, unsure of where to go. And that's what the finale wants to answer. For Joan, she's torn between love and career, something that shouldn't surprise us too much given that Joan has forever been trapped between those two. Joan has been held there more so than Peggy, I'd say, since Joan has always been searching for love whilst Peggy has been, more or less, content to give herself over to her work (oh yes, we'll get to Peggy.) The new man in Joan's life, Richard, is awfully demanding isn't he? He wants all of Joan and he wants none of her to go toward her career or her dreams and her ambitions. Joan had a guy like that once; Greg, her husband, once told her that she should be sitting in front of the TV eating Bon-Bons. Joan, though, is fed up with living in that world--a world that says she is nothing more than a body and she shouldn't partake in the pleasures of business. It's a bit shocking to find Joan back on the business end of things, though as a producer this time around. She was miserable at McCann and even feeling a little empty at SC&P before the merger, but looking back it was less about the business and more about the fact that Joan was never seen as being capable or having the same abilities as men. Joan got where she was thanks to her body--literally prostituting herself for her partnership. In this business, Joan answers to no one and is beholden to no one. Joan is her own boss; her successes and failings are her own and she's going to make the most of it. What is Joan's future? Probably pretty bright, even if it doesn't include love. At least not yet. It's Joanie. I imagine she'll find romantic love eventually. And even if not, she's got Kevin, she's got her business, and she's got a pocket full of money. You go, Joan Harris. Take on the world and look fabulous at the same time.

Peggy Olson got the true happy ending, didn't she? I never doubted she would. I have to admit that I squealed when she and Stan declared their love for each other, not necessarily because I have been hard core rooting for them but because it meant that Peggy made it after all. She gets the golden goose egg--the job, the money, the guy. I think Peggy learned very early on how to live not only in the world and its rules but live within herself. She's knows she is not going to fundamentally change--she'll always be driven and hard and myopic and obsessive. But that doesn't mean that, to quote Stan, Peggy can't find more outside of work. It was nice to see Peggy struggling with her future; she has always wanted everything and always wanted it now. She's an eager beaver, our Peggy Olson. So when Joan approached her about going into business together (someone fanfic the hell out of that, please) Peggy was understandably eager to take it and run, but not because she wanted to do it but because it would get her "there" faster. Where is there? Success, recognition, money, power, prestige. Everything Peggy Olson wants could potentially be fast-tracked if she up and left McCann and embarked on this new adventure. But what grounds her, ultimately, is that someone loves her and wants a life with Peggy, even if it means that her name won't be on the door until 1980. I think Peggy accepted long ago that she would never find love, not after so many failed attempts: Pete, Duck, Abe, Ted, and various other men. Peggy was too career driven, too focused on her upwards climb. She never realized that Stan was climbing up with her. Did you notice the wonderful "here and there" part of Peggy and Stan's conversation? Whenever Peggy has an intense heart to heart with someone and she has to try and explain her emotions, she tends to talk in location: "it's like one day your here..." she says to Peter in Season 2. Just two weeks ago she told Stan, with regards to the child she gave up that he's "there" and she's "here." But with Stan, he is both here and there. A distance between them doesn't exist. What's Peggy's future? You better believe she'll get her name on the door somewhere at some point, though probably not McCann. She's too talented to be left in that sausage factory; three years down the road and she'll leave and go someplace else to be a partner and a creative director before getting to put her last name above the door. And Stan will be there for it. Throw your hat in the air, Peggy. From a secretary in the steno pool to copy writer to copy chief. From the girl who got pregnant and didn't realize it to the woman who pitched how starved we all are for a connection---you made it.

And finally, at long last, we come to Don. What is there to say? A lot, I'm sure. But I'm going to restate the thesis of Mad Men one more time: people do not fundamentally change. Did Don change? Nope. He's just looking for the "new you." This new him is really just Don Draper 2.0 (or hell, maybe 3.0 or even 4.0 at this point); perhaps a slightly more self aware and self enlightened Don who has learned a little bit about himself as a product that sits on a shelf waiting for love, but Don Draper nonetheless. He did not become Dick Whitman again; he did not re-baptize himself. I have no doubt that Don, having cried his manly cries, having chanted his 'oms' got in a car, went back to New York, back to McCann and said, "I have a great idea for Coke." That commercial at the end about buying the world a Coke--that was Don's last pitch (that we'll see anyway). It was hippie-tastic and shows that Don did gain some wisdom from his retreat in California and everything he's experienced this season, but it also shows that Don still understands people and how to get them to want and desire and long for the products he's pitching. The world needs love and this product--Coca Cola--is just the ticket for what ails you. And that is pure 1960s Donald Draper. But how did he get there, to this juxtaposition between the new you and the old him? Slowly. Achingly. Step by stumbling step.

Don is the only person in this episode who actually made a "Person to Person" phone call, the most significant of them being to Peggy. Can I just say, there was some ugly crying going on during this phone call? Don reached out and really talked to three women (the three women in his life): Betty, the dying mother, Sally, the up and coming daughter, and Peggy, the woman who really understood him, far more than the Anna 2.0 clone-wannabe, Stephanie, who openly declares that Don is not her family. But Peggy? Peggy is his family. I was going to be pretty upset if Don and Peggy never spoke again but Peggy told Don what he needed to hear: "you can come home..." It doesn't matter to Peggy if Don isn't the man she thought he was; it doesn't matter to her if Don broke all his vows and took another man's name and never made anything of it. Peggy doesn't care, even if it's all the truth; she's seen Don at his disastrous worst and at his shinning best and she knows him, in and out, because he's seen her too. Don had to call and say goodbye to Peggy. He never said goodbye to Anna, but by God, he's going to say goodbye to Peggy. That broke my heart. But in the end, Don reaches some measure of peace and self-awareness, as much as a man like Don can find peace and become self-aware. He sits on a beach, in his beloved California, in a business shirt (not the plaid he was sporting all episode) and a smile lights up his face: he's got it--his next great idea, the idea that will define his career forever. He might be a "new you" but he's really the old new, just with some polish but it's up to you, the viewer, to decide how much polish and what he can do with it. After all, the Wheel moves forward and backwards and then takes us home again. Does Don now know what love is? He spent his whole life looking for it, after all. Maybe, but that doesn't mean that he's magically cured of all his ills. I don't think it really matters. Mad Men was never going to spell it out for you whether or not Don has a bright future. For all I know, after the Coke ad, Don went on a bender, picked up some whores and went back down his self-torture road of misery. Only to come up with a great ad afterwards, of course. Or maybe he decides he will make a better go of it this time around. Maybe Don will be a better father, a better boss, a better man. Isn't it pretty to think so?

I want to end this (last ever) review of Mad Men on a sappy note, if I may. Two years ago, when I began this little blog of mine, it was really for one simple reason: I wanted to talk about Mad Men. I had been watching the show for years and found it highly stimulating and engaging and thought provoking, but I had little to no outlet for discussion. I had toyed with the idea of a blog for awhile and finally, one fateful day, sat down and decided to just dive in. I told myself, at the time, that it would be a blog for just about anything: TV, movies, politics, books, whatever. As you might have gathered, my focus became decidedly more narrow and now is almost exclusively about TV. Mad Men has a lot to do with that. My reviews have vastly improved since then and I became more comfortable talking about TV and the way I read texts. Again, Mad Men has a lot to do with that. I don't know that I'll ever tire of talking about, thinking about, or even just simply watching this show. Twenty years from now, it will still feel fresh and innovative, quite a feat for a show that spent its run in an era long since passed. I'll always find something new in the re-watches and something worth examining. Even though this is my final word on the show as a whole, it's not my final thought. Can I quote Don? Is that too passe? "...There's the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product." That's me and that's Mad Men. A sentimental bond has formed with this TV show, one that won't easily or quickly go away. So to Bert and Roger, to Megan, Betty and Sally, to Joan and Pete, to Peggy and to Don (to them most of all), from the bottom of my heart, I will be forever grateful for you, your story, and what you gave me for ten years. And I will miss you.

Miscellaneous Notes on Person to Person

--"I translated your speech into Pig Latin..."

--"And this...is a cactus." I have a lot of love for the final Pete and Peggy scene together. They've come so far, from the married man who seduced Peggy on her first day to having a very healthy level of respect. The fact that Peggy parrots back Pete's, "a thing like that..." to him was touching.

--Roger actually wore something other than a three-piece suit and Don wore jeans! I die of shock, y'all.

--The phone call between Betty and Don was quite heartbreaking, especially when Betty gave him the cold slap that him not being around is just "normal."

--"It'll get easier as you move forward." Really Don? Has that been you experience?

--"You have to let him go; it doesn't mean you don't care about him..." And with that, I bow out.  

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

In Which I Review Mad Men (7x13)

Well, Happy Mother's Day to you too, Matthew Weiner. Only Mad Men would essentially kill off the original mother of the show on Mother's Day. There is only one episode left and while there is a sense of finality to all the characters--you better believe that's the last time we'll ever see Betty Draper-Francis--there is still an underlying tension of not knowing how all this will end and where we, the TV hobos, are going. This weeks episode, "The Milk and Honey Route," was one of those rare Mad Men episodes where I sat, slack jawed, staring at the screen wondering what I was watching. Most penultimate episodes of shows build toward something; there is a sense that the audience needs to prepare to take a giant leap forward in the following week by revving up the drama or the intrigue. Mad Men would never be so passe, though. Instead this weeks episode was very much about people being stuck, either in a certain location, in a situation, or an emotional mindset. This isn't to say that this weeks episode wasn't good--it's Mad Men; it's always going to be good. But rather, once again, Weiner and company subvert my expectations of what TV is supposed to feel like. In any other universe, the second to last episode of a series would have been loud and full throttle. Instead, it actually felt incredibly slowed down. It's hard to believe that we only have one episode left, forever. I'm not ready to say goodbye. So, instead, grab all your belongings and shove them into a Sears bag, hug your mother one final time and let's go. 

Is this the last we're going to see of Pete Campbell? It doesn't feel right that Pete and Don wouldn't interact one more time given how Pete has spent the past ten years attempting to become Don, but at the same time, this storyline is as close to happily ever after as Peter is likely to get. I'm just going to say it: the storyline for Pete this week was confusing. First, hello Duck. I never liked you so please go away with your drinking shame and your hat in your hands. Pete is quite happy at McCann/Erikson. He brought back in some clients after SC&P moved; he's obviously well liked and doing his job well. He's a cog in the machine; more important than some, less important than a whole lot of others. Don's prediction back in season one that Pete would eventually become a balding, middle aged executive with only moderate success seems to be coming true. Pete could spend the rest of his life at McCann and be adequately successful and happy. However, that's never what Pete wanted for himself. He wants to be King; it's literally his fantasy as we saw several seasons ago when being declared a King by a prostitute was what it took to get his motor running. Right now, Pete is a middle sized fish in the Ocean. What Duck Philips is presenting is a chance to be a shark in the middle of a duck pond. I guess I'm not one hundred percent sure what this new job is--account man for a luxury air travel agency? Sure. But what matters is that the opportunity to move to Wichita affords Pete a rather grand view of his life so far and what is missing from it: his family. Pete and Trudy were always dynamic together when their marriage wasn't falling to pieces, and to be fair it was often falling to pieces. But here, ten years after we first met Pete--wide-eyed, egotistical, eager beaver, dour Peter Campbell--he seems to have come to a conclusion about himself. He wants to be petted and admired and Pete can't be that at McCann nor even in New York. This latter part is important since Pete has always held New York in quasi-romantic terms. The suburbs of Cos Cob bored Pete; California turned into a nightmare, but New York was where he felt most at home, until it too turned on him and became "a toilet." Am I happy that Pete and Trudy got back together? I don't know in all honestly. It does feel a bit too saccharine for Weiner, someone who's never tried to present the world with kid gloves nor with cotton candy tinged experiences. Trudy and Pete were realistic as two well-to-do, upper class socialites who ultimately made each other miserable because their life together were never enough, at least for Pete. If Don is what Pete would become someday--divorced, mediocre, burnt out and bored--then it seems as though on some subconscious level, Pete is taking Don's departure as a the key to his happiness. Run west, Pete, with your family, become the King of Wichita and luxury airline travel and embrace the morning.

 I never expected to cry over Betty Draper, a character that I've never liked and stopped pitying after season one. Or maybe I cried over Sally and how broken she was, knowing that she was going to lose her mother very soon. I've said this so many time but I'll say it once more, the underlying thesis of Mad Men is that people do not fundamentally change, but they can learn to live within their own set of behaviors. Of course Betty's final letter to Sally was instructions on how to make her look at her funeral. Of course Betty included a picture of what she wanted to buried in with details on her hair and makeup. That's Betty Draper for you: vain, shallow, and pretentious. But sometimes, Betty Draper can be surprisingly deep. In the midst of all this vanity, Betty finally told Sally that she loved her. Betty has accepted her fate that she is going to die of lung cancer (finally someone on this show pays the price for smoking as much as they do). She's not going to fight; she knows it's over and she doesn't want to put Sally, Bobby, and Gene through what Betty herself went through watching her own mother die. Instead, Betty is going to march to the beat of her own slightly vainglorious drum. Betty will go to school, continue to be a mother and a wife and not be drawn into the morbidity of her final days. Betty matured quite a bit didn't she? She's still childlike with her haughty list of demands about her lipstick (something that reads more teenager instead of child), but she's accepted that this is who she is and the best thing she can do is to live in her own expectations of self. And, touchingly, tell her daughter one final fundamental truth: you are going to be okay. Sally might be the amalgam of her father and mother, the conservative yet hobo-esque beautiful girl, but like Betty said in her goodbye letter, she marches to the beat of her own drum and while that worried Betty, she understands now that it is Sally's strength. Embrace your drum, Sally. You are going to be okay.

And then there's Dick. Don? Dick. He keeps introducing himself to others as Don but at this stage of the game, Don is a mere shadow, a bad memory even. Dick Whitman has shed almost every single possession or construct that made Don who he was. No family, no wife, no friends, no job, no house, no business suit, and in the end no car--something he bought years and years ago as a sign of his status and wealth as Donald Draper. When asked how he earned his money, Don replied "I was in the advertising business." Past tense. It's over for Don and he has no intention of going back. He's a hobo and it's not even subtle anymore. There was one other construct that Don let go of in this episode: the secret of who he is. It's not that people before don't know that he's not really Donald Draper--Betty, Anna, Bert Cooper, Pete Campbell, Sally, Megan. They know. But the one thing no one has ever got was Don's true telling, that he was responsible for the real Don's death. It's always been couched as an accident, but here, in front on men who understand war and loss and survival, Don let's go of his greatest secret: "I killed my CO." Don's whole life has been plagued by the notion that he killed people--his whore mother who birthed him, his drunk father, his CO, and his brother Adam. By letting go of some of those burdens, by confessing, Dick Whitman is emerging from behind Don's carefully laid veneer. But back to being a hobo: it's not just that he's running; his possessions are in a bag, he's doing odd handy jobs around a home to earn food and board and in the end, he has no car and must rely on the bus and other forms of transport to get around. That's a hobo. That's what the hobo who showed up on Young Dick's farm in PA (one of the most significant episodes for Don) did and that's what Don is going to do. I don't think it's a secret that Don is slowly making his way out to California. California is his bliss. The final shot of this episode is Don sitting all alone at a bus station with a huge grin on his face. He's in heaven, finally, having emerged from McCann and New York hell. But here's the underlying tension now: what will Don do when he learns that Betty is dying or dead and that his children need him? Will he high-tail it back to New York and be a father or will he pursue his own pleasures and continue to head out west on the open road? People do not fundamentally change; Don is a runner. He runs from his wives, his family, his job, and he has been running from a Death denied (only to find it everywhere he goes...). So what will he do? Well, Sally has always been Don's saving grace on this show (her and Peggy) and I really want to believe that Don will turn around and go back to be with his children but....people. They don't fundamentally change.

And then there was one....

Miscellaneous Notes on The Milk And Honey Route

--Can we take a moment to appreciate how good Jon Hamm looks in 1960s/1970s casual drag? I mean, damn.

--Sally and Don were wearing the same colored shirts in their first phone call, with Sally wearing plaid, mirroring Don's plaid shirt in the final scene. Even half a country apart and those two are linked.

--"I walked into town and it's hard for me. I got flat feet." I didn't particularly care about Andy and his grifter storyline but it does serve to show how self aware Don can be. He knows this kid is him at a younger age, looking for a way out the only way he knows how: by conning people, something Don is an expert at doing. Don's best life advice: "you'll have to become someone else. That's not what you think it is." Quite a change from telling Peggy that "this never happened. It will shock you how much this never happened."

--Yes, Donald Draper got beat up with a phone book after he told his secret. It was a big bold move for him but it does rather reinforce the idea that he should keep his mouth shut.  

--Loved Sally's orange coat. 

--"You just do what you gotta do to come home." Or: Mad Men Season 7B in a nutshell.

--So, what is the final image of the show? Is it Don "Drapering" (the iconic shot of him lounging)? Is it a parallel to the first episode of Season 1 in which he sits by his children's beside, holding their hands (but this time with no Betty in the doorway?) Is it Don standing in the ocean, being re-baptized and reborn as Dick Whitman?

Monday, May 11, 2015

In Which I Review Once Upon A Time (4x21 and 4x22)

Hello. My name is Jacquelyn and I have very conflicted feelings about Once Upon A Time. That's a bit of an odd statement to make, I know, especially since I opened this S4B (Drag) Queens of Darkness arc by declaring myself to be someone who Anger-Watches OUAT. Now, I don't know what I am. Very slowly, over the past few episodes, my anger, bitter resentment and, yes, sometimes hatred, for this show has changed. I don't quite know what it has changed into but it has changed. I guess I have an entire summer to figure that out. All I've ever wanted was a good story; something campy and clever, something light and dark, something relaxing and thought provoking. OUAT was all that for me for a long time. And then they went and screwed it up and pushed plot and romance over heart and family (and, if you think about it, that's exactly what we got in this finale. First half: heart and family. Second half: ALL THE SHIPS).  The season four finale, "Operation Mongoose part 1 and 2" (epically stupid name, by the way) was a good story. There. I said it. The first half of this two part season finale was incredible. It felt exactly like the show that I had fallen in love with all those years ago. I couldn't tear my eyes off the screen: It was a good--nay--a great story. It was exactly the sort of thought provoking, philosophical discourse I once expected from this show. It took concepts that are far older than you or I and recast them to engage their audience in an almost Socratic way; what is a hero? What is a villain? What is love? What is sacrifice? The story of the season is one of the oldest there is--light vs dark. It's archetypical; it's universal; and I can't help but say that I enjoyed it. And then the second half happened and it was all I could do to not rip my eyes from their sockets, Oedipus style. So, I guess that evens it all out, right? Does a good first half mean that I forgive OUAT for the banality of season 3B or season 4A? No. Does that mean that I forgive them for killing Neal? Certainly not. It doesn't even mean that I'm looking at the show differently, but rather that for one hour--one shinning hour--it felt magical again. So, grab your favorite hero, villain, morally grey, intricately complex character, hug them tight and let's go! 

The Author Is Dead 

Let's not mince words: Issac is the avatar of Adam and Eddy into their own fictional universe. When it came to the Author in this two part finale, everything felt incredibly self aware and so very meta. I mean, this might be the most meta I've ever seen on any show outside of Supernatural. Isaac actually said #NoSpoilers (and if you follow the writers on Twitter then you know why that's significant). I honestly expected Adam and Eddy to appear, walking merrily along, waving and grinning. It's...interesting. I'll give the writers that. Isaac's story is pretty remedial in the end: he was a bitter employee who didn't like being taken for granted and denied what he thought was his bright future. He had a mean dictatorial boss who wanted Isaac to do things a certain way (or else!) and Isaac had to kowtow until one day he was chosen by Star Publications and started crafting his own stories--with a magic quill that made everything come to life. I am going to say this as clearly as I can: this is the story of Adam, Eddy, and ABC. Writers are clever and as much as I harp on Adam and Eddy and their now tawdry, soap opera filled show, they were (are) clever. They know how to say something without really saying it. The Author has always been Adam and Eddy's insert into their own story but never more so than now when they wrote Isaac making villains heroes (AKA: season two of OUAT and onward) and the heroes villains (just look at what they did to Snow White and Prince Charming this season). The Author even has rabid fans who demand that their favorite character(s) get happy endings while dressing up in cosplay.  But in his heart, the Author is bitter that he wrote stories that no one ever wanted to read--that what he originally had to say wasn't good enough. What Issac ended up writing was a book that took all his frustrations over being told that his original ideas weren't good enough and used them to get some of his own back a little. If you know anything about this fandom and its politics--or anything about TV as a business--then you know that rumors circulate (and to be fair I don't know if any of this is true) that ABC demanded that Adam and Eddy push certain story lines over others because of fandom, because of popularity, because of what the media consumed and reported on, even though it wasn't what Adam and Eddy had in mind. A lot of that played out, I thought, in Isaac's story.

All Isaac wanted to do was tell his story--the story he probably dreamed up in some hotel in Boston (again, if you know the story behind the story of OUAT...)--but he was denied that because of forces greater than himself. However, unlike Isaac, Adam and Eddy aren't going around and killing children or trying to feed them to ogres. There's reality and then there's fiction and the fact that this episode ended the way it did--the world "righted" so that the changed, non-original story staying the same--felt like Adam and Eddy surrendering to their fate. It might not be the story they wanted to tell, but it's the story they are going to tell fervently and zealously. I'm trying to figure out if how I'm reading Issac's story grants me any peace. I've always believed that ABC more or less demanded a change in the story; it's no secret that the show has morphed into something else. Even if you still love it (and, for the record, that's fine!), the writing and the style and way the story is being told has become markedly different. There is a lot more plot, a lot more focus on the hot and new, and a lot less focus on what was the heart of the show: a family trying to heal from years of conflict and strife who just so happened to be fairy tale characters. So Adam and Eddy may be inserting the real life situation, the story going on behind the scenes, in a very meaty and meta way and at least it gave me some measure of peace and understanding that the show wasn't supposed to go like this. But...doesn't that hurt more than never knowing? It begs the question, if the writers had never hit the reset button, if they had never done XYZ...what show would I be watching?

Both Sides Now

I just spent a fair amount of time trying to understand if the writers of this show were inserting their own personal drama into their own creation, so let's turn the page and go elsewhere: an alternate universe. In this AU, I am going to praise the living daylights out of the writing, the acting, and the story. I know. Shocking. This AU was amazing. I mean, actually amazing. Hello Dark Snow, can you stick around and be totally cool cause OMG! Here's a question, was this really the villains happy endings? Not...really, right? Regina was kind of miserable living her bandit life in a forest where she didn't feel welcome. Robin (a hero) was marrying a woman he clearly loved until he laid eyes on Regina. Hook (a villain) was a ship's mate who didn't know how to use a sword and spent his time scrubbing floors, which I would say is not his happy ending even if it was comedic gold. How exactly did the villains win and the heroes lose? I think ultimately it wasn't about the villains winning but about Rumple winning. This was, more or less, his happy ending--everyone else be damned. Rumple's AU was a life in which his dead son could be proud of him; he was married to Belle, and had a new family. He fought ogres, he saved little boys and whole villages, and he was a white knight (and apparently the Light One). It was everything Rumple has always wanted: to be the dashing hero and to get the girl. He's always been jealous of Charming. The most fascinating character, to me, was Snow White. Or Dark! Snow (Tar Pitch?) Finally, the writers let Ginny Goodwin out of the tiny box they've been keeping her in and let her have some fun. I wonder if they got the idea for this after seeing Snow during the Curse of Shattered Sight and how much fun Ginny obviously had during that. I'm not even bothered (much...) that we were never given any reason for how Regina upset the James and Snow (ew!) love story; I guess we're supposed to understand that the beginning chapters don't matter much, only the final (which might say something overall about the (Drag) Queens of Darkness plot this season). However, it doesn't matter because Ginny played Dark Snow so wonderfully that I found myself grinning every time she was on screen--who cares about the backstory, it was fun. Along with Dark! Snow, I loved the Dark Dwarves and Charming, the heartless boy toy in all black. Bandit Regina with the heart of gold who sacrifices herself for a kid that claims to be her son (but whom she doesn't really believe) was incredibly powerful and fits with what I've always believed Regina's happy ending should be: Henry. I'll even say this--Hook's character in the AU even made sense. Rumple made him a coward, unable to hurt anyone with his sword, the same sword used to taunt Rumple, the humble spinner, back in the day. That all fits in line with this reality actually being Rumple's happy ending and not the more general "villains happy ending."

Emma's story in this AU did feel a little lackluster since she was robbed of all her Savior-hood. I don't think a person's fundamental makeup should change--after all, even as a hero, Rumple chose the wrong path, the selfish path, something we've now seen him do time and time again. He was still the same man, hero title and clothing notwithstanding. No one should be able to alter Emma's heart and status as True Love Incarnate and render her moot. But for some inexplicable reason, Isaac was able to change that and so Emma's main role was flirting and setting the stage for Regina's big moment. Instead of Emma saving the day, it was the heady combination of Henry (go Henry!) and Regina that undid Rumple and Isaac's story. The one thing I could have easily done without was Zelena, a character so annoying that her insertion not only into this finale but this entire season was beyond unnecessary. Zelena and her pregnancy and her miraculous resurrection added nothing to this story, either the Queens of Darkness tale or the Author one. It was just for OutlawQueen drama but doesn't do anything except make Robin look bad and make the entire situation look incredibly squicky. One of the hesitations I have about AU's in TV shows is that there are often little to no consequences. The world is righted by the end and none of the characters are the worse for wear, sometimes they don't even remember their AU lives and thus never learn any kind of valuable lesson. I am so happy to say that this was not the case with OUAT this year. Everyone remembers, which means that now heroes know what it's like to be villains and villains know what it's like to be heroes. It changes the dynamic of the show in an interesting way. I think we're now officially past any reemergence of drama between the so called heroes and villains. I wouldn't expect Snow and Regina to be anything other than family at this point, for example. That's exciting because it does mean that there has been a modicum of growth and development (though, I'd argue that a lot of that happened at the 11th hour and with some bad storytelling along the way) but on the other hand, doesn't this mean that the show is going to have to continuously introduce new big bads over and over ad nauseum? Yes, it probably does. Which takes us to....

Black Swan 

Emma Swan, new Dark One. Shocking, right? No, not so much. They've been setting up all season that Emma could go dark and, full disclosure, but I knew in advance since I keep track of all the spoilers. But even if the writers hadn't hinted at it, and even if I didn't know all the spoilers, I still wouldn't be surprised. Why? Monomyth. There is a road and Emma's walking down it. Ease on down that Monomyth Road Emma Swan. Ease on down.  At its heart, the monomyth is a basic pattern that has found its way into stories all over the world by using universal themes, symbols, and archetypes. From the Natives of north America to inhabitants of Mesopotamia, certain stories are repeated time and time again without the any interaction between these cultures telling the same story. The most popular outline of this pattern was codified and described by Joseph Campbell in his 1949 work, “The Hero With a Thousand Face.” It is, easily, the most popular way to understand the heroes journey and is readily used by storytellers who want to tell the oldest story there is–one of light vs dark. There are a lot of stages in the monomyth and while the hero does not have to undergo them all, there are some ones that are more important than others. I'd argue that what we saw from Emma tonight, tethering the darkness to her using the dagger, was the first stage of her apotheosis. Coming from the Greek, apotheosis recalls the move to divinity, normally preceded by either literal death or metaphorical/ spiritual death. The hero is raised to a god like status.  For Emma this step is where the season is took us. Emma died, metaphorically, and once reborn she will become a fully realized savior. All the fantastical, divine, magical powers that a Savior can wield, she’ll wield. We might also expect to see some sort of descent into the Underworld here where the Hero meets with dead loved ones and gains knowledge needed to move forward (Odysseus, Gilgamesh and Aeneas travel to the Underworld in their epic poems, for example). This is often called the katabasis from the Ancient Greek and is a fairly common theme in the hero journey. I would note here that modern interpretations often have the hero undergo a metaphorical katabasis instead of a literal one: a dream, a journey to a crypt or tomb, some sort of vision that takes them to the great beyond, ect. In this case her first step toward true Savior-hood is to fall prey to the darkness, but that's okay, all Saviors walk a fine line between being light and being dark, between temptation and resilience. 

I am going to admit this rather freely: I find this to be exciting. The idea of a Dark Savior (and one we care about since I don't particularly care about Lily in the end) is fascinating. All the powers of the Dark One coupled with how powerful Emma already is has some fascinating overtones. Where did Emma go? How will she come back to Storybrooke? Can her new Curse be broken (and not by the pirate, even though I know that is where this is going)? Personally, I think Emma was taken to Camelot. With the (super heavy and awkward) plot dump of the dying Apprentice (handy!) we learned that the Sorcerer is Merlin, for....reasons. Is there a new Arthur movie coming out by any chance? It turns out that the Sorcerer fought the Darkness long ago and in order to defeat it, tethered it to a human vessel (um, that was rather shitty of you Merlin, geez) and thus the first Dark One was born. If Merlin has been keeping an eye on things for awhile (and that appears to be the case) then I think it's likely that Merlin zapped Emma to his realm because she's the new Dark One and I'm sure that upset some sort of cosmic balance or something. Honestly the whole Merlin reveal felt like a let down because I honestly expected something more, less cliche and more meaty. But isn't that the story of OUAT in general? How will she return to Storybrooke? I'm not even sure if she will. I can see Hook, Henry, Regina, and Snowing going to find Emma in season five (which, yes, is official). We haven't world traveled as a group in a while, so why not now? Go to Camelot together. I'm sure there's a plot device they could use!

Miscellaneous Notes on Operation Mongoose Part 1 and Part 2

--Obviously over the course of two hours, there was a lot of plot. So my notes will be more extensive than normal. Let's start with Henry. I love this kid. He has come so far and I wish the writers would give him more to do now that we've really seen his acting chops. Henry asking the Apprentice if he could use the pen to bring back Neal gave me a lot of complex feelings. On the one hand, I cried a lot because it’s about TIME Henry finally talked about how much he misses his dad. But on the other, it was rather heartless for the writers to bring up Hook’s non existent death in that moment and compare it. From a purely fandom perspective, that’s…going to create waves. People can talk about how Hook wasn’t really dead since it was in a book and thus doesn’t fall into “dead is dead” (and I get the argument) but, again, from a fandom perspective, it’s only going to make matters worse. And in a lot of ways, it felt like the final slap that we can’t let Neal’s sacrifice be in vain (to quote Emma last season) but Hook’s sacrifice can be reversed and Emma is even begging for it to happen. I’m not even asking for SF….sail on CS, go be true love. I’m asking for Henry to have his father back. And yes I am well aware of MRJ's commitments to another show and that he will never come back.

--EXCUSE ME BUT NEAL TAUGHT HENRY HOW TO SAIL A SHIP, NOT HOOK.

--Forgive me for what I'm about to say, 'shippers, but seeing Captain Hook die was one of the greatest joys I've ever gotten from TV.

--I am literally going to ignore everything about CaptainSwan for my own sanity. 

--And now I have to talk about Rumple. Well. Here goes: I hate the way his arc was finished this season. Having all the darkness sucked out of him is *so egregiously* hand wavey, it's insane. You mean to tell me that Rumple couldn't have figured out a way to do that himself to save his own life? Really? So Rumple can raise hell for an entire season but all it takes is a magic sucking hat and now he's human again? They couldn't even give him the "beast" ending from Beauty and The Beast. Also, why do I get the feeling that he'll be in that coma for a good long while?

--What was the point of Will Scarlett this season? What. Was. The. Point.

--Mal doesn't know who Lily's father was cause it was done dragon style. I can't even. However, OUAT isn't exactly a deep story so it's obviously Merlin.

--While the dragon and black tornado were graphically good, the background towns of the Enchanted Forest continue to be cringe worthy.

--Are Snowing just going to throw Isaac in a jail cell and that is that? What happened to August? Can he be turned back into a boy? Does Blue know anything about Merlin? If Emma had all her darkness removed then why did the Chernabog chase her? Where was Mal during all this? Henry is still the Author but broke the pen, so is he the Author in name only?

--Final thoughts on S4B: the Queens of Darkness were a mere distraction to the real story: the Author and the role reversal of the heroes and villains. Ursula and Cruella were really just around to kill time. Mal got more screen time and more development but that was only because of her ties to Lily who, after her own centric, ended the season with a whimper and not a bang. So much for that anti-Savior idea. This season felt far more organic and natural to the series as a whole because it tried to distance itself from the villains of the arc (who were, again, not really the point of the season) and focus more on the fundamentals of good and evil. However Adam and Eddy and the show continue to get bogged down in their own shipping drama and in their need to have big shiny Tweetable moments as opposed to quiet and introspective ones. But, it was a hell of a lot better than Frozen and Oz. 

--Overall Rating for S4B: B

--Episode Ranking

Operation Mongoose Part 1
Sympathy For the De Vil
Darkness On the Edge of Town
Operation Mongoose Part 2
Lily
Best Laid Plans
Mother
Poor Unfortunate Soul
Unforgiven
Enter the Dragon
Heart of Gold

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

In Which I Review Mad Men (7x12)

Do you get the chance to start over? That's the question on everyone's mind as the doors of SC&P close, as the building is decimated, and as the Mad Men take the slow and long elevator ride up to their so-called heaven at McCann/Erikson. The question is easily answered if you've been paying attention to how the TV show Mad Men views change and whether or not people can truly begin again: no of course they can't. They are always stuck at the beginning. In this weeks episode, "Lost Horizon," the audience (and the characters) very quickly come to the conclusion we suspected at the end of last week--going to McCann/Erikson is the equivalent of dying and going to hell where everyone looks, talks, and acts the same; creativity is squashed and squandered and all women are secretaries and sexual objects that men can use and dispose of as they see it. The episode teased that this move to the so called big leagues might actually work but quickly put the kebash on that within the first few minutes. This isn't advertising heaven. It's hell. You are now a cog in the machine; the shiny veneer through which McCann/Erikson wants you to see them is dirty and tarnished, closed up and closed in. It was another great (if weird) episode so grab a pair of roller skates and let's go!

There are really three main McCann/Erikson journeys this weeks--people coming and going, deciding whether or not this new adventure is going to work for them. Let's begin with Peggy Olson who is my personal hero. Damn. She makes killing your lungs and body slowly look good. First off, this unbelievable moment of her walking down a hallway, box in hand, toward her new office is a total callback to season one, the very first episode in which Peggy is the new steno girl. She's not much to look at and she doesn't fit in. The best piece of advice offered to her is to find a way to make her darling little ankles sing. It's 1960 and Peggy entered a man's world only for her to shake up that world by demonstrating that she was just as good (if not better) than the male ad writers. So here we are, at the end of her time at SC&P, entering her new life at McCann and what is she doing? Strutting. Like a proverbial peacock. She is loud colors and she is smoke in everyone's eye and she is carrying a painting of an octopus pleasuring a woman (that was owned by Bert and given to her by Roger because Peggy Olson is the real heir of the SC&P world). This is how you show character growth. During that parallel scene back in season one, Peggy was invisible except for the male sexual eye. She was a new treat, even if one that none of the men particularly were hungry for. In this final saunter, Peggy demands everyone's attention but not by virtue of being a female and pretty and sexual--nope, she demands your attention by taking on those classic male traits, living her life like a man as she explained to Stan last week. She's got a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, she's obviously hung over with the black glasses, she's deliberately showing off a highly provocative and highly sexual picture and Peggy Olson doesn't care. Peggy is not here to make the men of the world comfortable. You're not going to put a label on her; you're not going to reduce her down to secretary status; you will not make her less than what she is. Peggy could easily take over McCann if she played her cards right--in other words, acted like a man. My bigger question is, will she? It's interesting that the show kept her from going over to McCann until the very end. Every time she was ready to go, something got in the way--her office wasn't ready; the leadership treated her badly and rudely; she had to help Roger cope with loss. Fate kept interfering, as if telling Peggy not to go gently into that good night. Will Peggy stay or will Peggy go? Either way, I think she knows how to exist in this world now. But as her fan, I want more for Peggy than an office that looks like every other office; I want more than tired old board meetings with nothing but stuffy withered white men who will always look at her and see something that scares them, a reminder that the times, they are-a changing. I want Peggy to go be her own boss and be a creative director in her own right, not a cog in the machine (however impressive a cog she might be.)

First off, this can't be the end of Joan's story right? It's not like she's exited the stage forevermore? Please tell me I get more Joan before the show takes its finale bow. Joan's storyline this week broke my heart and made me see Feminist Red. Joan is nothing to this company but a good time fun girl with big boobs. She is there only for two reasons, she was part of the package deal as partner at SC&P and because the men of McCann think they can toy with her like they toy with all the secretaries. Joan has been absolutely reduced to nothing but a sexual object, her worst fear. In the eyes of the higher ups, she's a girl and she doesn't matter. It's a very sad state of affairs that, in so many ways, this is exactly the mindset that Mad Men opened with back in 1960--but again, people do not fundamentally change and especially not a towering monolith like McCann/Erikson that churns out business like a well oiled (slimy oil at that) machine. Joan upsets the balance; she was expected to come in and play nice with the boys and be subservient to them in every way. She has come so far since her days as head of the gaggle back at Sterling and Cooper. Did you ever imagine that the woman who's perfect piece of life advice was "men love scarves" would be name dropping Betty Friedan or the ACLU? Of course, lurking behind all this is the fact that Joan mostly got as far as she has because she prostituted herself; she can never escape that knowledge. It's no surprise that when confronted with the most vile form of misogyny at the hands of Jim Hobart she is wearing a gem green dress, calling back to the emerald she got for her one night of pleasure with the Jaguar executive. Ultimately Joan's story is a tragic one; she's right on the cusp of the first real waves of feminism and the feminist movement, but for her it's probably too late. The men of the world who only ever saw her body have won. Peggy walked into McCann like a man, Joan leaves like McCann like a defeated and deflated woman. I know it's a lot to hope for, but here's hoping that we get one more shot of Joan being happy and finding love and acceptance.

Speaking of love and acceptance, Don Draper what is your major malfunction? No, don't answer that. I know what your major malfunction is. But at least you're keeping true your (hobo) nature in this episode. The beginning looked so positive, did it not? Maybe Don could make McCann work. Hobart is obviously thrilled to have finally landed Don ("you're my white whale!") and everything seems designed to make Don be the best he can be, including killer business that Don would have been chomping at the bit for a few years ago. However, what Hobart fails to realize is that this isn't the Don Draper he's longed for. That Don Draper pretty much died and now Dick Whitman is walking around in a Don Draper meat suit trying to keep his rotting insides from falling out. Jon Hamm, incredible actor that he is, gets that look of intense fear when Hobart asks him if Don's introduced himself yet. "I'm Don Draper for McCann/Erikson." Totally lifeless, devoid of all Don's charms, an attempt that barely earns him a passing grade. More than that though, Hobart's attempt to make Don feel special is anything but; he's simply one of many, a truly horrifying life for Donald Draper. And in the end, the weight of all this is too much for Don. He can't live in this new "paradise" world where the creative department flips absently through research and clinically listens to pitches about cliche men as consumers (with set behaviors) drinking beer while Don and his fellow cogs eat white cardboard lunches. There is no soul there and for all his faults, Don wants advertising to have soul. He needs to believe that creativity can flourish but creativity died in the factory that is McCann. The great beyond is calling to Don instead. Side note, but I did love the image of the Time and Life building fading into the background as Don turned to look out the window. His horizon is lost. So what does Don do? He leaves. It's not like Don hasn't done this before; in fact, I'd say it's what Don does best.

When faced with something challenging that ruffles his internal feathers, he runs. Going back home and facing a life of being Dick Whitman? He runs. Having a bit of a breakdown in season two? He runs. And, like Don normally does, he ran west. Also, did you notice? Don ran but took on another man's name and life to get where he was going, all hobo style. People do not fundamentally change! So where did Don go? To Diana--yeah, that was a bit odd but again, keeping in line with Don's character. He has become myopically obsessed with Lady Di (death metaphor alert!) and is now following her to parts unknown. Will Don Draper catch his white whale (or in this case, sad brown waitress)? Probably not. And even if he did, would the having be as great as the pursuing and catching? Nope. What happens to Don now? Well, I don't think he's going to return to New York yet. I think he'll go West some more, probably all the way out to California to see if he can find his happiness there. Back to Ana's house one final time. The question is, will it work? If Don't horizon right now is a lifetime in the sausage factor of McCann where he becomes just another creative director in a sea of creative directors, can Don escape that and find his real horizon, the one he lost? The one where he is Dick Whitman and free from the lies and the image of Don Draper. People cannot fundamentally change, but that doesn't mean that they can't accept that they can't change. So...maybe. Maybe Don, out on his hobo trail, will find some sort of freedom in living the Dick Whitman life of running and running and running. Go Don. Find what you're looking for.

Miscellaneous Notes on Lost Horizon     

--"Advertising is not a comfortable place for everyone." Shirley is on POINT with that line. Love that a black female finally got to tell a white older man how it feels to be "other."

--"From now on, no one comes between me and your business." I hope Ferg gets pushed out of a window.

--"Maybe you're getting old." That was an incredibly sweet scene between Betty and Don. They were happy once, before Don Draper's inevitable pile of crap surfaced.

--BERT!! Sing for us!! But of course Bert appears, like Marely's ghost, to drop some Kerouac on Don: Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night? Like Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, Don Draper is heading west to trying to find his lost bliss.

--Peggy on roller skates is my life now.

Monday, May 4, 2015

In Which I Review Once Upon A Time (4x20)

Coooooooraaaaaaaa. Sorry. But every time I say Cora's name it has to sound like Snow White back in season two, when she held the Death Candle over Cora's heart. Don't worry. I won't say Coooooooraaaaa like that all through the review. It's just a nice way to dive head first into this weeks episode, 'Mother.' Unsurprisingly, this episode was all about mommies and their babies--Cora and Regina, Zelena and Baby Plot Device, Mal and Lily, Snow and Emma. You would think that Baby Snowflake and Snowing would be in there as well as Emma/Regina and Henry but nope. We're sticking with the mommies who hurt us and how we all need to let it go (FROZEN ALL THE THINGS makes a surprising return to the blog!) and forgive. On the whole, it wasn't a terrible episode; I enjoy the Author plot far more than I was anticipating because it does feel more grown up and less shiny Disney Fanfic come to life. It's a plot that is organic to the show, mostly because the book has been around for so long. The writers are finally playing with light and dark in a meaningful, if somewhat confused, way and it gives us something to sink our teeth into; a feast I enjoy instead of one I feel forced to endure. Outside of the Author plot line, the real question becomes can you forgive a parent who has so wronged you? Can you find your chance at grace? It's an interesting quandary to be sure and one that the daughters of the OUAT-world need to deal with. Oh, and let's not forget, the Author has got a hankering to write himself some fan fiction (preferably not of the smutty variety). Grab your daughter or pregnant sister (ick) and let's go! 


Please Keep Your Hands To Yourself

Wow, there was a lot of inappropriate man-handling in the past, amiright? Like, a lot of touching and feeling but the sort that makes you want to scrub your brain with some heavy duty, industrial strength bleach. I really did not need the Sheriff of Nottingham groping Regina nor did I need him flirting with Cora. The entire flashback--which I admit I thought had some of the weaker moments of the episode--was about Cora and Regina's first reunion since Regina pushed Cora through a mirror into Wonderland. This isn't to say I didn't like the flashbacks, more like they didn't hold my interest as much since they felt inserted and thought up for this episode only; they were never planned out from the last time we saw Cora and Regina, let's say. However, there are some really good in-character moments for these two ladies, Cora and Regina, and that is always worth noting and celebrating. Too often, lately, the characters on OUAT feel completely outside their basic paradigm, as if they are playing versions of themselves that even they don't recognize. Rumple not trying to get his son back? Snow and Charming being secret baby snatchers? All feel totally outside the basic mold of how we were told to view these characters. And while there is something to be said about character growth and change, it has to feel organic and not like it's only for the plot of the current arc. Snow and Charming are the greatest victims of this. Cora and Regina, on the other hand, have always had a very twisted relationship. It was one built on abuse and Cora's own supposed superiority. Mommy knows best, after all. Cora wanted Regina to get a happy ending so that Cora could live vicariously through her; it's something that, I think, is more grounded in the reality of our world than in the fantastical of the Enchanted Forest. Parents live for their children all the time. but not all of them have magic and the ability to remove hearts and take away your first love with a mere squeeze of their hand. Should Regina have trusted Cora as far as she did? No, but it's keeping in line with Regina's character: the daughter who only ever wanted her mother's love and approval but found it difficult to get since--lo and behold--Cora didn't have her heart inside her body for a long time. So Cora's insertion into Regina's life in a weird and twisted way (trying to get Regina to bang a man) and Regina's almost enthusiastic response to affection and attention are very much in line with how these two ladies were set up in season one, back in 'The Stable Boy.' Wow, did I just praise OUAT? Yes. Yes I did.

Let me back up a bit and explain what I mean by this. Why is Cora in the Enchanted Forest? To get Regina pregnant. Yes, I really just wrote that. And yes, that's really why Cora is back from Wonderland (via bunny! in his hat! so jaunty! I miss you bunny). Cora is, as always, very concerned with her legacy and making sure that her family stays on top. Regina hasn't exactly lived up to that idea yet. She might be Queen, but thus far, no babies have been sliding out. And I'm sure it is, in fact, for lack of trying. There have always been theories that Regina and Leopold rarely shared the same bed, something that does seem to be confirmed by their cold marriage. While consummation undoubtedly took place on their wedding night, it seems unlikely that Leo went to her again with any sort of frequency, if he ever did. Thus, Regina was able to keep herself from carrying a child. The issue comes in the years after Leo when she was sleeping with (raping) Graham. Why were there no babies then? Lack of babies does not a happy Queen of Hearts make. And so Cora finds a man in a bar and makes him pretend to be Robin Hood, whom Regina has only seen from the back. Because...of course Cora did. It's all pretty squicky. The plan fails spectacularly, of course, but there is a major consequence: Regina decides to make herself barren so that Cora never gets what she wants. I must say, that is very keeping with Regina's character. She is rash, she is heated and headstrong. She acts before she thinks, like marching into a wedding and declaring that she would destroy Snowing's happy ending if it's the last thing she does--even though she had no plan in mind. Regina is a hot head who simply *does* and then thinks later. Taking a potion to turn herself barren out of spite for her mother's machinations? Perfectly in line with Regina that we all know. I do want to point that the truth bombs Cora dropped at the end, however, like her mantra "love is weakness" being wrong are not in line with the character. The writers were doing so well until the end! Cora shouldn't have her heart right now, meaning she shouldn't be feeling genuine love or motherly feelings toward Regina. So breaking character and explaining to Regina that the only thing standing in the way of Regina's happiness is Regina herself, something Cora has finally figured out, feels a little bit like the writers forgot that Cora does not keep her heart inside her body and thus shouldn't be capable of these feelings.

All About Those Mothers 

Meanwhile back in Storybrooke, we get more mother and daughter reunions. First up, those dragon ladies. Lily is, more of less, full of rage and anger and resentment and has little to no interest in the bonding exercises Mal has planned. No trust falls for these girls in the woods. I am going to be rather critical of OUAT and how they treat motherhood in a second, but before I do, I want to stress two things. First, I love my mom and I think mothers in general are great. Second, I really did enjoy the Mal/Lily scenes and how they came back together; how Mal accepts Lily's darkness and isn't scared by it or won't run from it. I think that's really want Lily wanted all along: acceptance. She never had a real shot in this or any world after what Snowing did to her--she was forced into darkness instead of choosing it and thus believes that no one could never chose her. But Mal does. Mal thinks she is beautiful and worthy of love and praise. It's beautiful. But now, let me put on my critical thinking cap to explain why I find some parts of this storyline bothersome. It's the idea that motherhood is salvation. While I love mothers in general, they are not saints. I'm sorry, but they aren't and I think putting that label on them is unfair. It creates impossible standards since saints are perfect vessels of heaven and incapable of erring. Mothers, no matter how great mine and yours may be, are not perfect. They err. They are human. Ok, in this case Mal is a dragon, but let's put that aside. Mal's redemption and change of heart come solely because of her daughter and finally getting to be a mom, not through any acknowledgment of past wrongdoing. Before, even as close as last episode, she was still the tough Mal we know. Pinned and put together and all together tough-mafia woman. Look at her hair in this episode versus last week. The makeup people have reverted her to a softer more "motherly" look because her daughter came home; it's the same look they gave her right after she had laid her dragon egg. No more snarling and lip curling. No more pinned up and mobster gang woman. Now, she's a mom, which means being weepy, emotional, and more demure. It's a problem. Maybe Mal can still be a "tough dragon bitch" but that's not how the writers conceive of her anymore now that she's Mom! Mal and not Villain! Mal. The issue? It's just the tiniest bit (okay, more than a tiny bit) misogynistic but not the sort of misogyny we typically think of. This isn't hatred of woman (the normal definition of misogyny) but rather thinking that woman's path to redemption is through motherhood because it elevates the mother to a level they cannot achieve on their own. If it were just Mal then I'd have a little less of a problem, but it's not. Zelena is most likely headed down that path, and Cora did trod that path already, especially in her final centric "The Miller's Daughter" and in some ways Ingrid went down that path as well with Emma and Elsa. It's troubling but maybe that's all I need to point out.

In other mother/daughter news, Emma finally came to her senses all on her own and forgave Snow White! No, I'm just kidding, Hook had to prompt her and tell her how to feel. While forgiving her mother, Emma even looked at Hook so she could get the "yes, you're doing great. Keep saying exactly what I told you to say" head nod. Ugh. Anyway. I'm glad Emma finally saw reason, however it came about. Emma hasn't exactly been a perfect mother either, nor a perfect human being but she is still considered having hero status, going dark notwithstanding. The fact that she expected an almost impossible level of perfection from Snow and Charming (though, really just Snow) is a bit hypocritical of her to be honest. She can be mad because to realize your parents make mistakes is human, but her temper-tantrum went on for far too long and it was never logically advanced. It just stayed in the "I'm really angry" mode with Emma freezing out her mom and never trying to make any sort of headway. Of course she was too busy catching Ebola Eyes to really sit and discuss her feelings, so maybe I should give her a pass. Or not. At any rate, I'm glad to see Emma and Snow back on the same foot. I must say, I really miss the Emma and Mary Margaret friendship of season one. It was something special and sweet that Emma found a friend with the woman who, unbeknownst to Emma, was her mother. It was a great piece of dramatic irony, but I miss that easy friendship they had. Here's hoping that just because Emma and Snow are daughter and mother again, by way of admiration and forgiveness, also means that they can be friends again as well.

Ok, home stretch. Time to deal with Mr. Isaac and his magical pen. What does Isaac want? He seems to want more than just a good story; he's hella shifty, right? Everyone is getting that impression? His coy and unassuming love-fest for Regina really sold the fact that he's slick. He knows just what to say to keep himself in the villains good graces, no matter which villain he's working for at the moment. Saying "trust me" is a big key that you shouldn't trust him. Isaac also seems to be a bit of a fanfic writer. He enjoys "experimental writing." But what sort of writing? Is he just trying to jot down ideas? Was there some thread of a plot he really enjoyed but never got to develop fully? See, Isaac is really Adam and Eddy and how they want to explain their own creative genius. They too are authors who have a lot of ideas about how to make characters and their plots more relevant, more meaty, and more worthy of your time. I think that, if they could, they'd be surrounded by books they could just fill up with ideas and always have them at their beck and call, in case they realized that their current idea wasn't working. Actually, doesn't that sound exactly like how Adam and Eddy write? Start with an idea but go someplace else when a new shinier idea comes along. Yeah, that's OUAT. How many drafts does Isaac have? What do they consist of? And if he can write ideas down but not have them come to fruition what does that mean about free will? And what does that mean about the power of his pen? Shouldn't all his ideas come to life? Is something--like Fate/The Sorcerer--stopping him? See. Compelling if likewise philosophically complex, challenging and frustrating. So now what? Isaac has his magic ink and his magic quill and a new (very cool looking) black book entitled "Heroes and Villains." Where to start? The same place every story starts:  Once Upon A Time....

Miscellaneous Notes on Mother

--I don't care about Zelena or her baby, but if Regina had actually written Zelena and that baby out of existence, I would have flipped a lot of tables.

--I may hate the former Green Witch, but "another woman defining her happiness relative to the love of a man..." was the most perfect quote for this show ever. For one hot second, I forgot that I hated Zelena.

-- Emma holding on to the dream-catcher having all the emotions caused me to also have all the emotions. "He was a lot of things to me..."

--Rumple the Big Bad of this season and one of the most wanted men in Storybrooke just chills in Granny's and eats a bagel...?

--No, let's not give Roland a memory potion! Let's talk to him and try to explain the situation.

--Dr. Whale is an OB? Since when?

--Rumple. I need to talk about him, don't I? It sounds like Rumplestiltskin is going to die, but the Dark One will take over and use Rumple as a meat suit in order to bring forth chaos and mayhem. Goody. Another season in which we see Not! Rumple but some unholy entity who bears little to no resemblance to the character I loved. At least in that case, there will be no Rumple left over at all.

--"We can be happy in the future or we can angry in the past." OR: the motto of season 4B.

--Two hours to go. See you all for the finale next week!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

In Which I Review Mad Men (7x11)

And that, ladies and gentleman, is the end of Donald Draper. Alright, that might be a bit of a bold statement to make out of the gates since Don is still very much alive at the end of this week's episode, "Time and Life." Or rather, his body is still breathing, moving, talking, and showing all the normal signs of life. The essence of Donald Draper is dead, however. It got swallowed up by the hellish machine known as McCann/Erikson and there was nothing Don, advertising god, could do about it. Once upon a time, Don could start over and build something with his own two hands; now, Don can't even get a room full of secretaries to listen to him. Very steadily over this last half of the season, we've been watching Don lose those carefully constructed cards that made him the man of mystery and allure we loved (hated?) for so long. The rotting and dead core that is Don Draper is finally surfacing and everyone around him can see that he's a sad and morose guy who ultimately has no character because he's devoid of any meaning--just like the ads he writes. Is there anything left for Don Draper? Sex appeal, mystery, job, wife, and even to some degree Sally, have left him. Don jokingly tells Roger this week, "What's in a name?" as if he now understands that even his name is getting him nowhere, and of course the irony in that is clear: his name isn't even his own. Grab something depressing because while this was a stellar episode, it was very sad. 

For all its complex subtly and carefully layered meanings, sometimes Mad Men gives you episode as clear cut and in your face obvious as any other TV show. This was such an episode. Not that there weren't layers and symbols and carefully constructed narratives (most of which harkened back to previous episodes, the season two finale with Pete and Peggy and more readily seen, the incredible, TV defining season three finale, 'Shut the Door. Have a Seat') but, rather, that the surface reading isn't carefully belying anything deeper. It really is crystal clear: what happens to SC&P in this episode has happened before, but this time around, there is no saving themselves or the company. They can't start over. Again. There is no time, there is no drive, there is no desire or fierce hunger to match the time, drive, and desire and hunger of season three when Donald Draper, still an advertising god, waltzed into Bert Cooper's office and demanded his chance to build something of value with his own two hands. This time, it's the same scenario but you can't get past the beginning. This entire season began with one question: do you have time to change your life? The answer seemed to be, at the end of the first half, yes you can if only you remember that the best things in life are free and love can come to anyone. But the second half takes Mad Men's ultimate thesis--people do not fundamentally change--and has our main characters go through plot lines that they've gone through before to show that they cannot change, and by virtue of not changing, the outcome is different. This time, Don is going to lose. This bit of the story needs some plot so a basic rundown is in order: McCann/Erikson, the giant machine that turns out advertising like it's a science and not an art, has officially swallowed up SC&P. McCann/Erikson played dirty, waited long enough to make SC&P think they were in the clear and then struck the company we love and never afforded them the chance to try and get out of it. Don, Roger, Pete, Joan (sound familiar? It's very season three finale) and Ted tried their hardest to pitch a new idea--going out west and being left alone out there with a few select clients but Jim Hobart at McCann didn't even let Don finish his pitch (symbolic!).

The real meat of the episode, I think, comes during the meeting at McCann. Welcome to advertising Hell, though the devil in the red tie (Jim Hobart himself) will tell you that you're going to advertising paradise. I love how this was constructed. The SC&P heroes walk into an ad agency (yes, that's a pun on a season three episode title) and they think can take on Goliath. They might be smaller but they are not without friends. And, they've got Don, advertising god. The man who can lay down some seriously profound advertising on you that will make you weep. The man who came up with the Carousel. That's Don Draper. He'll put these giants in their place. Except, it doesn't work. Don isn't even allowed to get through his pitch, to do the very thing that defines Don Draper, before Hobart, our Satan figure, interrupts and tells Don to take a seat. That should be your clue. It isn't going to work. What follows next reads like the literal devil laying out a banquet of treats for you, hopeful that you'll give into temptation.  The men (and woman, though Joan doesn't matter in Hobart's male centric eyes) of SC&P, aren't exactly resolute. With a glint in his eye, Satan slowly turns to each of the people that he thinks "matter" and offers them their greatest temptation. For Ted, it's a pharmaceutical (something Ted hinted at last week). For Pete, it's Buick. And for Don, in a hushed and awed voice spake Satan, it's Coca-Cola. This is, by the way, another nice call back to one of the earliest episodes in season one in which Hobart tried to lure Don to his company by seducing Betty into being a Coke model. Nice, eh? The fact is, though, that none of those people--Ted, Pete, and Don--are going to be as respected and valued at McCann as they are right now. Ted, doesn't care. He's a sheep and will gladly bleat along so long as he doesn't have to make decisions. Pete is morose about it and self pitying, but ultimately probably won't do anything about it because, in spite of being a grimy little pimp, Pete can often be quite profound and knows this is the future of business (and, historically, he's right). He hit the nail on the head two weeks ago: we can never get past the beginning. And Don...well Don's basically dead on the inside and has surrendered to the end. He's our very twisted Jesus insert in this episode and unless he decides to balk, he just threw up his arms and gave into temptation. There is no fight in him anymore. When the news breaks to SC&P that they are being absorbed (which means that 90% of those people are going to lose their jobs), Don tries to give a rousing speech about how this is the beginning of something new and exciting, but he is literally drowned out by the buzzing of those around him. No one is listening to Donald Draper anymore, and Don has neither the fortitude nor drive nor energy to make them. He has surrendered.

The other plot of this week was Peggy and like the SC&P team above, so below. The past is circling the partners with narrative call backs to previous stories and episode that they seem to be only passing aware of; they know they've done it before but they it doesn't become as omnipresent to them. Peggy, on the other hand, is smack dab in the middle of her own haunted past as she and Stan try to cast little children for an ad. What does Peggy know about being a mom? She thinks very little because of course she gave up her own child, something that apparently has haunted her ever since. Don's advice to her, "this never happened. It will shock you how much this never happened" (god, one of the best moments in TV history) didn't quite reach Peggy's ears. She's lived by it certainly, but giving up her son in adoption has always loomed large over her, and never more so when Peggy is expected to "play mom." Her heartbreaking conversation with Stan was, first off, supremely acted by Elisabeth Moss but, secondly, just full of pain and regret but also triumph. Peggy wouldn't change her decision, but it doesn't mean that she isn't troubled by it. I also had a major squeal of delight when Peggy gave what might be her own personal thesis; if I had to sum up Peggy it would be exactly as she put it to Stan, "She should be able to live the rest of her life, just like a man does." That's Peggy. That's just Peggy to a T. Now, with that said, I must admit that I will be really disappointed if Peggy's big Mad Men end is her actually going to McCann/Erikson. Peggy wants to create something of lasting value but I'll tell you right now, she can't do it there. Peggy won't be respected or loved or even thought about. She'll go back to being one of many instead of the one and only. If her tale ends that way, I'll be extremely upset. Maybe Peggy could shuffle through life like that (after all, as Ted said last season, "You're going to die someday, you might as well keep cashing the checks.") but for Peggy fans, it would be heartbreaking.

Miscellaneous Notes on Time and Life

--Another highlight moment, the couch scene between Pete and Peggy, recalling the last time they sat thusly on a couch: the day Peggy told Pete that he got her pregnant and she gave away the baby.

--"Enjoy the rest of your miserable life!" Okay then Lou!

--Even the West is now closed to Don Draper unless he runs from McCann/Erikson. The West has always been Don's safe haven, his paradise. But now it's a dream denied.

--Trudy Campbell has a fabulous wardrobe and I would like that white dress please.

--Joan isn't even acknowledged by Jim Hobart. She'll become nothing but a secretary to McCann/Erikson.

--"I don't know because you're not supposed to know or you can't go on with your life."

--"You are OK." I need more Drunk Roger and Drunk Don having contemplative moments. 

--"I'm fine. I have work to do." OR: how to survive life if you're a character on Mad Men.
     
 

Monday, April 27, 2015

In Which I Review Once Upon A Time (4x19)

It's my birthday. Maybe that has nothing to do with this weeks episode, "Lily," but I thought I'd put it out there. Well, maybe it does have something to do with this weeks episode. What is a birthday? It's a time to reflect back on your life, the choices you've made, the wrongs you committed and the wrongs you've righted. It's a time to remember friends, family, and think about the future. And isn't that ultimately what Emma (and her dark hearted fated friend, our titular Lily) are doing in this episode? Remembering their friendship and all good times and the bad times and looking toward the future. Albeit, they have very different versions of the future given that Lily wants to suck the marrow from Snow and Charming's bones and make their corpses dance as she sits on the beast that rises from the sea and cackles. But hey, no one is perfect. Did I like the episode? That's always the question isn't it? For me, it's middle of the road--not great, but not horrible. This weeks episode was really about questioning if you can change fate, if you can beat destiny. Is Lily really fated to be "wrong" because of Snow and Charming's choices? Is Emma really fated to be the True Love Savior also because of Snow and Charming? And if Emma and Lily are really intertwined and have been since birth, then what does that mean for their collective and individual savior/anti-savior journeys? Grab your evil former best friend and let's go! 


The Chore Wheel Is To Blame

Can you defeat fate? And more importantly, should you try? According to the Sorcerer (who is apparently a giant blue smoke monster; a hybrid of the Man in Black and Robin Williams's Genie from 'Aladdin' in my mind) Lily and Emma's fate remain entwined as they have been and always shall be, even in spite of Lily's banishment. So when Emma was a little fetus type thing and Lily was a dragon fetus type thing, they were tied together? Who put them that way? Is "FATE" just some sort of universal force that no one can control or wield and we are merely puppets on strings; or does the Sorcerer have a larger role to play in this? Let's face it: the entire way the Sorcerer was presented, pillar of smoke, talking in a disembodied voice to his supplicant who fears to appear before this entity? It's not subtle; it's Moses and God, or really any kind of prophet/servant of the Lord and Yahweh Sabaoth (Lord of Hosts if you don't know your ancient Hebrew). The Sorcerer seems to be the show's own God-insert which makes me wonder if the Sorcerer is some sort of omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent figure then doesn't He control fate? Doesn't he make up these rules about who is tied to whom? Doesn't matter who it is--Lily and Emma; Emma and Neal; Snow and Charming; Regina and Robin. The Sorcerer is the clockmaker. Everyone is a cog and together we turn and create life around us but only once the clockmaker has put all the pieces in and wound it up. If The Sorcerer is God and Controller of Fate, then we have to wonder why he set up Lily and Emma to be so fated together. Is Lily some sort of Anti-Savior--a force to drive Emma to her final monomyth-laden fate? All Saviors need someone or something to battle against--Cora, Pan, Zelena, and Ingrid might be good seasonal villains (well, less so with Zelena) but a True Savior, in all their archetypical glory, needs someone equally mythic and cosmic to prevail against. Moreover, does the Sorcerer have an outlet in our world? If he's controlling the wheel of fate (not to be confused with the chore wheel though Lily seems to have a particular disdain for that as well) then he has to be controlling the fates of Emma and Lily in our world: putting them in Minnesota, putting them in Boston. Even their stories seem eerily similar with the same symbols, like necklaces and boy/girl crime sprees. If the Sorcerer can dictate fate in our world, then what does that mean for us humans here on planet Earth? My point is this; how much of this is fated (and perhaps controlled by the Sorcerer) and how much of this is simply based on choices? And which matters more in this universe? Regina says that our actions are our own but fate pushes us, yet it seems like fate is doing more than just pushing our characters. It seems to be dictating them. You know, like throwing a wolf out into the road so that your car gets a flat tire and you end up meeting your very own Anti Savior at a coffee shop. And for a show that has harped on "evil isn't born, it's made" we have two episodes in a row now where two characters are evil more so because of their nature and how they were born and not because of their choices. Is there an actual mission statement? Maybe. And I'll get to that in a bit.

So is Lily really evil? How do you even answer a question like that? No, really. Try. I'll wait. You can't can you? Neither can I. I don't know how to define objective evil and most people in this world don't know how to either. We have very little concept of objective evil because our world is so utterly subjective. Most of us would agree that slavery and rape are objective evil. Even something like murder gets murky because figures like soldiers and police officers, those who normally get the hero label, have to kill all the time. It's not pretty but we don't call it objective evil. We call it justice or war or doing the job. So if the two objective evils in this world are rape and slavery at the least, then is Lily really evil? Adult Lily tells Emma that because of her (and Emma's parents) she is hard wired to make bad choices, but that is a wholly confusing sentiment. We're all hard wired to make bad choices because, at the end of the day, humans are lazy, sloppy, greedy, lustful, and selfish. We all want what we want and we want it now. It's okay. It's what makes us human. It's not a bad thing; but it's our ability to walk away from being lazy, sloppy, greedy, lustful, and selfish that makes us better than our baser selves. Lily chalking all of this up to being hard wired is saying that she's no different from anyone else. And that may actually be the point in this philosophical exercise. How so? Well, put a pin in that because I'm going to come back to in a moment. But first: Lily knows everything that Emma wants to tell her because the Apprentice appeared to her on the bus and told her she was special. Note, for the children in the audience, if you are approached by a strange man who claims that you are special and he can show you how and why, run as fast as you can, scream for help and get to a well lighted area. Oof. Really, OUAT? Anyway, here are the questions involving that super special bus moment (beside why Lily didn't scream and run away): is the Apprentice indirectly responsible for Lily and her behaviors? First, he didn't appear to Lily until she was 15 or so, letting her bad decision making go unchecked for over a decade. Second, when he did finally step in, it was to tell her all about the Two Idiots who wronged her, putting her on the path she is currently on which is to burn Snow and Charming over a large BBQ. Once again, is Lily responsible for her actions or was she fated to be this way?


Savior And Anti Savior 

It's the oldest story there is--black and white, light and dark, good and evil. Except, even here on OUAT where things have reached soap opera levels of stupid (oh, we'll get there my friends. We'll get there) it's much more complicated. So I told you to put a pin in the Lily being just like everyone else idea and here's why. Emma has a choice: kill Lily or don't kill Lily. Lily has a choice: accept what happened to her and forgive or don't accept what happened to her and don't forgive. It's the same kind of choice we face every single day here on planet Earth (though, perhaps, without the theatrics). Lily isn't pure evil anymore than Emma is pure goodness and light. Even before learning about what her parents did and going down this darker path, Emma was given to fits of rage, jealousy, greed, selfishness, and has lied, stolen, and been violent. She is not some ray of light in a dark and abysmal world. Lily, by the same token, is not some dark and abysmal figure. She might have made wrong choices but she's also kind, sweet, caring, nurturing, forgiving, and helpful. She doesn't exist as a raincloud to Emma's sunshine. There are no heroes and villains; just real people with real problems (though, again, perhaps without all the drama). The entire point of this season wants to show (whether or not it's being executed well, I'll decide at the end of the season) that the line between heroes and villains is nonsensical and nonexistent. The Savior can go dark and the Anti Savior can be good. There is darkness in Emma and there is light in Lily just as there is in every single character on this show. What is going to matter more than what destiny says they are is who they say they are. Does Emma accept that while she is the Savior and responsible for the happy endings of everyone in Storybrooke, she might also have to be a little dark in order to understand the light? My answer is yes. The Savior (in all their mythic glory) cannot truly walk in the light until they understand the darkness. They must be tempted and tested and pushed to the point of no return before they reach their apotheosis and become the godhead or the ultimate Savior of the Universe or the Eternal Champion or the Prince that was Promised or the Dragon Reborn or any other fantasy/religious title you want to throw at me. That's Emma's journey right now.

One final topic and one that isn't moral or philosophical or archetypical but rather something so insultingly stupid that I laughed for 5 minutes solid. Of course Zelena is pregnant. Of course. Because while OUAT likes to dance with those deep questions that I've been putting forth in this review, it also likes its big shiny reveal and Tweetable moments. Zelena carrying her sister's soul mate's child? Daytime soap opera at it's finest (worst?) It is so unbelievably cringe worthy that I really hope everyone sees how simply ludercrious this is so I don't have to explain it. In an episode that had some pretty heavy quandaries, the fact that it ends with the most cliche and squicky reveal in this show's history pretty much sums up the show as a whole. It tries to be something deep and meaningful and offer commentary on life and the universe...and then your sister reveals that she's carrying your boyfriend's love child. Just when you think there is substance, the flash returns. I will say this; I think it's very likely that Zelena is lying about being pregnant because it's how she plans to keep Robin with her and cause Regina pain. Though, what's her end game? In nine months even stupid, straw-headed Robin is bound to notice that there is no baby being born to Zelena. And honestly, how far does your code really take you, Robin? The woman raped you and is carrying your child in order to torture another person and still you think you should stay. Your code is often frustrating but nevermore so than now. If Zelena is not lying and she really is carrying Green Hood Baby then, obviously, we're not getting rid of Zelena this year. Doesn't that just beat all? Here's hoping no one tries to cast the darkness from little Green Hood into another living soul! God, ain't fate a bitch?

Miscellaneous Notes on Lily

--Some of the dialogue between Young Emma and Young Lily was tortuously bad and cheesy. "It's like my whole life is darkness and when you're around, things are brighter." Not only is that full of the worst kind of cheese, it also feels pretty Queer Bait-y.

--Rumple's speech to Belle was quite nice but I'm not so sure this was the end of Rumbelle. I think at the very least, it's the end of Scarlett Beauty. Which is such a shame because it's totally been developed in the show to be believable and poignant (I'm holding up a Sheldon Cooper-esque Sarcasm sign). Do I ship Rumbelle again? Nope. But, I have to admit, I had some pretty Rumbelle positive feelings during that final shop scene.

-- Seriously, little children...do not follow strangers just because they offer you food! Stranger! Danger!


--I'm not touching the hot button ethnicity issues of Adult Lily with a ten foot pole.

--Emma is inside Neal's apartment for the first time since his death and she has no emotional reaction whatsoever. I would rage about this but Emma, while undergoing a cosmologically significant journey, is still Pod! Emma. 

--Could someone please tone down Maleficent's lipstick? It blinds me. Though, in other makeup news, at least Emma has gotten over her case of Ebola Eyes.

--Zelena is pregnant. I really need to end on this hilarity.