Thursday, April 26, 2018

In Which I Review Westworld (2x1)

Here's a rather complicated question: how do we form our identities? What makes us us? What makes one person a sociopath and one person a saint? What makes one person a liberal and one a conservative? Is our identity something that is inherent and innate? Are we born with an identity already in place and life is really just our identity exposing itself through our choices? Or is our identity something that is learned through social conventions, behaviors of those around us, and our experiences with the larger world? Okay, those were a lot of questions but this is Westworld and it wouldn't be an episode of said show if we didn't sit around asking the big metaphysical questions that human kind has been wrestling with for far longer than this HBO show. It's hard to know the trajectory of an entire season of a show after just a single episode, but if season one was about the exploration of what being real means, this first taste of the second season wants us to question what these newly born identities are capable of and what exactly they intend to do as fully awake Hosts. This week's episode "Journey Into Night" jumps straight into the overwhelming plot and navel gazing, losing almost no speed from the season one finale. Let's follow suit and dive on in, shall we?

The programmers of the theme park known as Westworld have given Delores Abernathy many roles; she was the farmer's sweet daughter who served as a "welcome wagon" to newcomers, offering them a friendly and pretty face when they first entered the game. As the farmer's daughter, all the expected cliches were there. Virgin Mary blue dress, big sunny smile, a slightly flirtatious demeanor coupled with a juvenile naivete, and broad conversational topics on the stuff of fluff like hopes, dreams, and the wider world. She was a girl that men would want to protect, marry, and try to give the world to. That version of Delores was written a certain way for a certain type of adventurer who wanted a certain type of story. There's nothing wrong with that type of story (if that's what you're into) but the long arc of season one was that this version of Delores was just that--a story that was written by someone else. The other persona lurking behind the sunny smile was Wyatt, a mass murderer who saw the world as ugly and had no issue taking out that ugliness in the most violent way possible. Again, that type of story isn't necessarily bad but it's specific to a certain kind of reader. Instead of the damsel, Dolores could be the rogue. But just like the farmer's daughter, the roving bandit was just another story written for Dolores and not something she chose. However, this does not mean that Dolores did not live those roles. Those two stories--and who knows how many others--were her only experiences, her only memories, her only identities, however murky and unclear those identities were. In the season one finale, Dolores appears to have risen up and killed the master--Robert Ford--thus becoming her own person by going against the cardinal rule for all Hosts--you cannot kill a human--thus exercising her own agency and proclaiming her self awareness. In other words, killing Ford is framed as a Dolores acting outside of the stories written for her. I think what season two wants to explore is just who is Dolores Abernathy, really. Is she the farmer's daughter? The bandit? Both of those? Neither of those? How much of Dolores's actions are based on who she really is--her own irreplaceable identity--and how much of it is based on her past lived experiences and memories? There's a line Delores gives in the premiere that would suggest she's neither of the programmed codes and that she's something utterly new. While stringing up a few helpless humans and waving her gun around, Delores says that all those codes "were all just roles you forced me to live; I've evolved into something new and I have one last role to play. Myself." In other words, we don't know Delores. The audience and the in universe characters haven't been formerly introduced to this new creature. Killing Ford was like Dolores's apotheosis; a new person was born from this cataclysm. And that's fair; Dolores has been a series of code--bleeps, bloops, ones and zeros--ever since she was created. Any identity she had was only given to her by the programmers. The issue with the idea that Dolores is giving birth to herself and at her core is this hellion who rides down men with a rifle, is that it looks an awful lot like the humans who inhabited Westworld and gave Dolores those former identities.

Towards the end of the episode, during a conversation with Teddy, Delores tells her lover that the humans who live and work in Westworld are "creatures that walk amongst us." She goes on to say that these humans are not like them, the Hosts. They are insignificant when compared to the Hosts. These Hosts are the superior race, the masters who can make the humans do as they please. What's interesting about this thought isn't just how violent it is, but that it's almost beat for beat exactly how the humans spoke of the Hosts. Go back to season one; how many times were the Hosts spokeen of and treated as simple machines. Their mechanics might be advanced but at the end of the day, the Hosts were toys, building blocks that could be put together, played with, destroyed, and rebuilt all over again, whenever the player wanted. There was no regard to the Hosts' life--indeed no one would ever suggest that a Host had a life. They had experiences based on whatever story they were currently cast in but like dolls, once their role was done, their clothes were changed, they were given new names and new lives. Thus did the cycle go on and on. The way Delores is acting and speaking seems pretty familiar. It's all learned language and mannerism. Delores learned how to interact with the "Other" because of the interactions she had with the humans of Westworld. We can boil this down to a philosophical principle that I'm sure everyone has heard of: nature vs nurture. I personally don't believe human beings are that simple and I don't think Westworld believes it either but it's definitely at play as we watch Delores attempt to define herself but to do in the vein of the only kind of people she's ever known. Can she--and indeed can anyone us--truly be individuals with a unique identity when so much of who we are is shaped by the world around us? Blank slates we may be when we are just born, but the world has a way of interfering. Delores can never be a tabula rasa; we saw that in season one. Every time her story was changed, pieces remained. We see it in Maeve too--searching for her daughter, a child who is only a story, after all. Also, note that while Delores is insisting that she is neither the farmer's daughter nor the bandit, pieces of those characters she played remain. Her above quoted conversation with Teddy ends the way many of the farmer's daughter's conversation go: big bold ideas about dreams and hopes and desires. And Delores's treatment of the humans she encounters in the park are certainly Wyatt-esque. Who, then, really is Dolores Abernathy? Who are any of us? Bernard is awake and self-aware but passing as a human and so far no one is wise to him. Is Bernard really just a Host and acting according to his program to be resourceful and helpful or he is really the mild mannered and soft spoke technician with the sad eyes and dead kid? Is there any difference between the two? We are told that the Hosts "cannot just change their character profiles" and maybe that's the truth Westworld is getting at. Awake and self-aware of their own Host-hood they might be, but they can't turn off those lived in experiences from before when they were simply machines. What this means moving forward as the Hosts continue to terrorize, explore, and reach some sort of end goal is anyone's guess. The message might be incredibly nihilistic in that when given the opportunity any creature will resort to violence, a sentiment echoed in the constant Shakespearean refrain of "these violent delights have violent ends." Or it could be more hopeful and this is the beginning of a new sort of world, one in which machine and human coexist, forming their own identities through a shared learning experience in which neither type of entity is superior to the other. Isn't it pretty to think so?

Miscellaneous Notes on Journey Into Night

--Obviously there is a whole slew of plot that I neglected to talk about but, like last year, spaghetti plot will slowly unravel itself. It's best to just go with it for now and ponder big heady questions instead of trying to dive in too deep to the goings on.

--However, a few intriguing points of plot, yes? We're jumping timestreams much like we did in season one, this time through Bernard's eyes. How Bernard got separated from Charlotte and wound up on a beach sometime after Delores's massacre is a good question.

--Another good question: how many parks are there? Because a Bengal Tiger most certainly does not belong in the Wild Wild West.

--Anyone wanna hazard a guess as to why Charlotte needs Peter Abernathy, Delores's father?

--"You were prisoners to your own desires. But now, you're prisoners to mine."

--Delores believes she has evolved into something new, but I think that honor might belong to Maeve who's calm, collected, rational and totally in charge persona isn't one we've seen from her before. There are shades of those former lives, but Maeve appears be wholly new.

--"I will cut off your most important organ and feed it to you. Though, it wouldn't be a very big meal." "I wrote that line for you." "Bit broad if you ask me."

--Complicating all of this is Robert Ford's final conversation to William, our Man in Black. Young Robert suggests that everything we see now is a new game, a new design that is all happening exactly as he plotted out. If that's the case, then there really are no new identities and Delores and company are players on a stage once more.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (7x18)

The mythology of Once Upon a Time has never been on the sturdiest of grounds. Every year, when the writers need to add some spice to their story, they throw in a twist or a new aspect of their previously established mythos. Suddenly, there can be two Dark Ones or suddenly a new magical Macguffin can solve the current problems even if said MacGuffin has never before appeared or been mentioned (this last one is the go-to solution for the writers). Changes in mythology don't have to be terrible, though. There are times when sudden abrupt lefts can work if the actors can sell the material and if the writers can make the complicated mythology secondary to the character beats. For instance, in this week's episode "The Guardian," the Dark One mythology take a bit of a beating (we've never ever heard of a Guardian before this season despite Rumple being the Dark One since the inception of the entire show) but the relationship and dynamic between Rumple and Alice overshadowed the mythology and sold it. This is more than an entertaining episode; it's a rock solid character showcase for one of OUAT's longest and most intricately drawn characters. Well done, show. Well done. 

Heroism Looks Good On You

Sacrifice has always been a narrative thread spun into Rumple's story. Granted, those threads have been complicated by other characteristics like cowardice and hunger for power. Rumple took the dagger to save Baelfire from going to war, but it was also because he desperately wanted power for himself; his situation in life making it impossible for him to have basic control over life and death decisions. Rumple may have killed Peter Pan in order to save Baelfire, Belle, and the town of Storybrooke but it was also a way for him to get the ultimate revenge on the papa who abandoned him as a child. When push comes to shove, Rumple may make sacrifices but there's always an underlying selfish motivation that keeps that sacrifice from being fully pure and, well, good. We see this push and pull in this season; Rumple is desperate to reunite with Belle. It's another common Rumple thread on display--the desperate soul who will do whatever to whomever if it gets him what he wants/needs. Rumple and Alice might be friends and, to his credit, after his time with Belle, reforming himself, it is hard for Rumple to use the shared feelings of longing to be united with the person you love against Alice, but that doesn't mean Rumple won't manipulate Alice. He uses flowery promises of helping cure poisoned Nook to get Alice to go to Facilier and prove that she is the Guardian, whom Rumple has been looking for, a person who can hold on to the Dagger without succumbing to the dark power. That's of a piece with the Rumple we've known for years. The writers have always written Rumple in such a way that the audience can understand his desperation; the most common question posed by Rumple fans has always been, "what wouldn't you do for your child?" But those questions are always complicated by Rumple's selfishness. Here, with Alice, we see that Rumple wants, more than anything, to see Belle again but what stops him isn't his own selfishness, but a unique understanding of what being something so mythological actually means.

Immortality must...suck. Sure, you see empires rise and empires fall but you also give up all hope for normalcy, doomed to spend your life forever alone because everyone--and I do mean everyone--dies. Your mother, your father, your husband, your wife, your children, your friends your enemies, you outlive them all. Rumple has been walking a lonely road for a long time--a road of his own devising, to be sure, and the writers have certainly never tried to portray it otherwise--but it's a road that only he knows. Hooks' immortality was a gift from Neverland and one he could return when he so chose, but Rumple has never been able shake his immortal curse. He knows all too well what watching the people he's love most die before his very eyes feels like. I don't know if it's a choice Rumple would make again (Baelfire would have died at war and Rumple never would have met Belle had he not taken that dagger and become immortal) but it is something he can save Alice from. Alice would have made a great Guardian; she has a sort of purity that's usually reserved for children (which is certainly apt given her childlike demeanor) and even after only knowing her a season, we can believe that Alice would not give into the power of the dagger. But Alice would be giving up a normal life with her father--like Rumple gave up a life with his son--and would be giving up a life with her one true love--like Rumple is trying to get back to. It's this understanding that leads Rumple to making his truest sacrifice; Alice should not be trapped inside another tower, but be free to live a normal, everyday, extraordinary ordinary life. And I think--no, I know--that this sacrifice is something Baelfire and Belle would be proud of. The show likes to hammer home the idea that true love is sacrifice and Rumple just gave us a whole new way to view that.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Guardian 

--The writers have certainly put Rumple's character through the wringer over the years but there is no denying that Robert Carlyle has sold every performance, from spinner Rumple to Dark One Rumple to Mr. Gold to Detective Weaver and everything in between.

--Alice’s blue Enchanted Forest cloak is lovely and I adore the larger than necessary bow. It’s very Alice.

--Everything about Margo and Tilly’s date was adorable.

--“Dark One and the Pirate…friends?” “Perhaps it’s time for a new story.”

--Rumple's shrine to Belle is overly ornate and seems to be borrowing things from Mexican culture, an aspect that does not make any sense at all.

--Facilier would have been a fine villain on his own without adding the unnecessary Regina-as-lover complication. Like, what is even the point of this so called fling?

--“All magic comes with a price; guess it was finally my turn to pay.”

Saturday, April 14, 2018

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (7x17)

Remember what I said a few weeks back about how the main objective of this seventh and final season of OUAT was to simply be entertaining? Well, mission accomplished for this week's episode "Chosen." This isn't to say that the episode didn't have some glaring faults and that it couldn't have been improved upon had the writers actually paced this season properly (more on that in a bit) but what we got was decent. The character beats matched characterizations of the past and the themes stumbled upon at various points in the episode felt like they belonged in OUAT. Happy endings come at strange times and sometimes you need to be hunted down by a serial killer in order to reckon with your own past. And no, the irony that Zelena herself is a serial killer is not lost on me. Readers, can you believe we only have five episodes to go? Forever. Steady as she goes, teetering toward the finish line trying to wrap up all the stories in a neat little bow. 

A Mean Green Killing Machine (But She's Trying)

Let's talk a little bit about bloat. Narratively speaking, this season of OUAT has certainly suffered from it. There are too many characters, too many ideas, too many plot points and none of them feel fully developed to the point where those narrative beats are worthy of our time and attention. I'm not back tracking the faint praise from above; I meant what I said--this episode was mildly entertaining and fits comfortably in with OUAT's overall series. But that doesn't excuse that this episode--and the preceding ones--could have been much better had the writers not wasted so much time on unnecessary bloat at the start of this season. Victoria/Rapunzel/Lady Tremaine has been dead for six episodes now and her death has barely registered in any meaningful way. Her daughter, Drizella, did the typical moment of mourning that this show is known for before focusing back on herself and her sister, Anastasia (another figure, by the way, who could be culled from this narrative and not be missed). It seems as though the writers changed their minds about a third of the way through the first half of this season. Maybe they intended Victoria to play a much bigger role, to be more villainous and to have Mother Gothel be only a side villain but when the Victoria actress fizzled out and the actress playing Gothel showed her skills to be more advanced, everything shifted. Also, in that same regard, I have to wonder if Nick was always Hansel or if he was originally intended to be part of a love triangle; his story shifted when the showrunners learned that OUAT would be ending this year and they couldn't just have him be the male version of season one's Katherine. I say this because there was a moment in this episode where Hansel is describing his friendship with Henry and how it affected him; Henry made Hansel (now called Jack) into a hero after an epic giant fight. It's moving, it's special and it lends a bit of color both to Nick/Jack/Hansel and to the bond between him and Henry, which up until now has been next to nothing. These two men have barely interacted and only now are we hearing that their friendship is so powerful that it gave hope to a lost, scarred man. That's good meaty character development and insight but it was left as an exposition dump in the last seconds of Nick's appearance so again, I have to wonder if it's because of narrative bloat at the beginning of the season. Facilier falls into this category as well. He entered into the field so late in the game as more than a one-off flashback character that now that his plan has been mostly revealed--wake up fairy tale characters who can help him kill Mother Gothel so he can secure the dagger for himself--it feels totally out of left field and as if it should have been a season long arc instead of a five to seven episode arc. Obviously, I am not in the writers room and cannot say for certain if things got shifted at the last second but it sure feels like we've made an abrupt left turn into narrative beats that would be better served being told over a long period of time. I know that sounds like a criticism but it's also a compliment because there's good stuff here: Facilier is more menacing than Rapunzel and I look forward to his eventual on screen interaction with Mother Gothel; the idea of Henry not being able to save his best friend from torment but trying anyway would make for compelling TV viewing because of the audience's predisposition to root for Henry and to care for him. This show got so bloated down in the total bomb of Rapunzel that it missed what could have been a far more compelling story. But, ah, it wouldn't be OUAT if we didn't have a season's worth of potential to talk about.

Miscellaneous Notes on Chosen 

--“I know who you are, Captain.” “It’s Detective.”

--The logo for the Rollin’ Bayou shirts is a lightening bug. Nice “Princess and the Frog” reference.

--“I suppose no matter how far we come, there’s a nasty little piece we can’t lose.” “And we shouldn’t. Because it shows us how far we’ve come, and how much we have to lose.” That’s it. That should be the villain redemption thesis for all the villains. You can’t rid yourself of your darkness because it’s part of you, always; you have to reckon with it.

--Hansel and Gretel are from Oz? Zelena’s Oz? As in Oz of Universe 1.0? How…? Why…? What…?

--I doubt Zelena will be gone for long but what happens when Chad finds out everything--like about her being the Wicked Witch of the West and her tendency to kill munchkins?

--Soooo is Zelena/Ivo pre-Hades, post-Hades? When in this messed up timeline are we??

Saturday, April 7, 2018

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (7x15 and 7x16)

This is a test. Quick: what are three characteristics of Jack/Nick? Remember, a plot point is not a trait so answering with "Lucy's fake curse dad" isn't a legitimate response. If you can think of one, color me impressed because there is next to nothing that stands out about Jack/Nick. He's not brave, bold, shy, motivated by love or ambition, and is mostly a blank slate that is easily forgotten about the second he's off screen and not interacting with our main cast. This is why making Nick something as plot-important as the Candy Killer (what a horrible name) is a bizarre writing choice. Creating a serial killer can take two routes in television. There's a procedural route in which the killer is only around for an hour of TV and is discussed and analyzed by the other characters in the show; this route is acceptable for episodic TV without larger arcs that only need to churn out single episodes every week with no connection to each other. Second is a more Dexter-like route in which the killer is front and center; the tale is told through his eyes; this lets the audience get to know the killer on his terms and to understand his story as the killer wants to tell it. Both are perfectly acceptable but OUAT is trying for a messy mix of the two and it doesn't work as well. Nick is a procedural killer in that he doesn't get to tell his own story--what we know of his fairy tale character, Hansel, is told to us by his sister, Gretel (which is fairly grievous tv sin, telling not showing)--but the show is also trying to connect Nick to the larger story, to make him a vital part of the mythology but hasn't bothered to develop this now key player. These facts make last week's episode "Sisterhood" and this week's episode "Breadcrumbs" an anticlimactic mess. Why should I care about the big murderer reveal when the writers haven't made me care about or understand the killer? 

Gingerbread Boy

The above complaints about Nick/Jack/Hansel/The Candy Killer (geez, that's an unfortunate amount of identities) can also be applied to other characters in this seventh season. Take, for instance, Anastasia a young witch who was apparently super powerful, super important both mythologically --as a Guardian, but perhaps not THE Guardian--and emotionally as she was connected to two lead characters--Rapunzel and Drizella--but only briefly appeared before being whisked away back home before any weight could be given to her as a character. Likewise, other characters who have graced the story with their presence with more than five seconds of screen time feel wholly underdeveloped and lacking in anything significant. Sabine and Jacinda are both dull and loosely sketched, broadly falling into the female hero category without exploring what that really means to them individually. Henry, Regina and Rumple get a free pass because we've been with them for seven years and we understand them in a way that you would expect after so long together. I will grant that in some cases, the writers are doing a lot of great work in the character department as with Tilly/Alice and Margot/Robin. But when it comes to any characters that are serving in a more plot related manner, the substance is seriously lacking. All of this makes it really hard to actually discuss the episodes on a week to week basis. I'm honestly not sure what the overarching plot of this season is; we have no real hint about Mother Gothel's endgame; Jack/Nick seems wholly dissociated from whatever Gothel's plan is as he is only concerned with his own personal revenge and we're making neither head nor stride toward breaking the curse or finding the real Guardian. If OUAT were a car, we're stuck in neutral, spinning our wheels, hoping someone comes along and pushes us out of the muck. Perhaps worse than all this spinning, though, is the acknowledgment that I don't know how the writers fix this situation with only six episodes to go. There are so many plot threads loosely twisting in the wind right now that if they were to cut them, we would cry foul at the abruptness but to have them spin out and on for another long stretch of time is akin to torture when there are far more pressing and interesting narrative points to sell, like Alice and Robin or reuniting Henry with his family. The writers might be damned if they do and damned if they don't but it's the audience that suffers. This is extremely critical of me, I know, but to end on a positive note: Mad Archer (apparently that's the ship name the fans have given to Alice and Robin...) is a pretty big hit. Sweet, tender, funny, and just a touch mad, the entire season should have been reworked to make them the focus over Henry and Jacinda because that's where the real heart of this year lies. That's a metaphorical rabbit I'd certainly follow down a long and winding hole. But, with OUAT, as we near the end, it is what it is and we're just here to be mildly entertained each week while counting down until curtain call.

Miscellaneous Notes on Sisterhood and Breadcrumbs

--“I’ve got a fresh can of pepper spray we can try together.”

--"I'm here to join your little sewing circle." Ivy gets the best lines and I'm sorry the writers couldn't have figured out a way to keep her around for longer.

--Rumple is still Rumple. He still knows everyone and everything. There’s no explanation for why Rumple knows that Facilier wants his dagger or even who Facilier is except that it’s Rumple. And because they’ve built that into his storyline over 6 yrs, I accept it.

--Gretel making the log explode into candy gumdrops was incredibly stupid but it absolutely made me break into a smile.

--“Every time I do good, it just brings me closer to her [Belle].”

--I don't buy, for one second, the supposed true love romance between Henry and Jacinda. There's something so dull about them. I normally don't harp on the actors and their abilities on OUAT--it must be hard to sell material as lackluster as OUAT can be--but my god was Dania Rameriz woefully miscast in this role.

--“I definitely smell like pork. Let’s never do that again.”

--“Margot with a T” “Targo?

--“I think you’re a lot like your namesake. He was my favorite character.” The writers have butchered the Henry/Rumple grandson/grandpa dynamic over the years but every now and then it shines through and you’re reminded that when Rumple looks at Henry, he must see Baelfire.

--“Do you know how to sail?” “The other you taught me!” Actually, Henry, Neal taught you first but okay.

--“How do you set a trap for Hansel? Look for breadcrumbs?” *camera flashes to Jack’s burn scars.* Subtly is such a lost art form on this show.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (7x14)

Who else remembers the episode "Ruby Slippers"? Or, more accurately, who else remembers how awful the episode "Ruby Slippers" was? The season five episode was OUAT's first foray into an LGBTQ romance after much criticism from both fans and reviewers about the lack of diversity in the show's depiction of love. Little Red Riding Hood and Dorothy of Oz met, had a few conversations, had true love's kiss and then were promptly shipped off to Forgotten Character Island where they were never heard from again. All in all, not a stellar example of a nuanced, careful and considerate love story--LGBTQ or not. I admit to some trepidation with this week's episode "The Girl in the Tower" because I feared that Alice and Robin's love story would follow the same mold: meet cute, one conversation to establish a connection, some sort of proof of true love, and then wham bam thank you ma'am, love story established and summarily dealt with. It turns out the writes might have learned some lessons from the Ruby/Dorothy debacle, put on the proverbial breaks, and eased into a Robin and Alice love story with far more class and consideration than before. Sometimes, these writers can still surprise me. 

Impossible Things

Alice and Robin work together as future lovers for a few different reasons. First and foremost, each character was established as their own person in their own right before ever meeting each other. Though Robin's introduction has been briefer than Alice's, her broad strokes are defined in such a way that we understand her. And in case the audience is really dense, the writers have Robin deliver her own characteristics in exposition (because while the writers can still surprise me, they are--at the end of the day--still OUAT writers). Robin was a classic mean girl but hiding behind her own loneliness and sense of not belonging. Robin collected 'friends' to make her feel better and wanted to escape the confines of Storybrooke, badly. It's more or less typical teenage ennui but at least it feels real. Robin's characterization comes from a relatability that most of us can identify with because it isn't couched in wild fairy tale magic. What teenager doesn't dream of escaping their parents and finding their own life story beyond the walls of their town? This need for freedom and to step outside the norm has been a running through line of this entire season. Henry left Storybrooke for the same reason; Zelena and Robin move to a completely different universe to start over. The show, as a whole, uprooted itself, left its own protective home and tried to find a new story in a new setting. Alice is going through much the same thing; she finally managed to climb out of that tower (er, wished herself a giant to lift her out) and set off and see the world. She has the same ennui as Robin which ties them together, the only difference being that Alice's ennui definitely comes from magic but, if truth be told, I'm more forgiving of this with Alice because her character has been built up slowly since the beginning of the season. Alice is a little bit mad, a little bit unhinged, and a little bit weird, but wouldn't you be if you spent the first seventeen or so years of your life trapped in a single room tower? Where Alice and Robin also work is in what they gain from each other. Alice needs Robin's steady hand and reasoning skills. Alice goes a mile a minute and often gets so caught up in her special form of crazy that she needs someone who can fire an arrow perfectly from a hundred yards away. When Alice is spiraling and thinking herself too mad, Robin is there to pull her back. In reverse, Alice shows Robin what true friendship is, not only between the two of them but also between Alice and her troll/giant friend. Robin has never had any real friends, only the illusion of them. Alice is Robin's first real friend and to have your first real friend at such an old age is both sad and wonderful. All of this works really well to endear the audience to this new pair, but I think where it succeeds the most is that this episode does not, in any way, confirm true love between Alice and Robin. In fact, I think it deliberately goes out of its way to make sure that Alice and Robin end this flashback episode as friends, not lovers. That, more than anything else, is smart. We've been letdown with Henry and Ella; a necklace declared them to be true love, they were married offscreen, and suddenly had a baby, instead of letting a relationship develop organically. It didn't even feel like they were true friends first. But with Alice and Robin we get more development, more time together to see them as friends before they invariably have some sort of true love's kiss or moment. It's nice to be reminded that lovers should always start out as friends and that love takes time; it's not something that is born overnight in the span of a single day and adventure.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Girl in the Tower

--For this particular version of Alice, Hatter is a literal hat and Alice is talking to him. This is both hysterical and not at all surprising.

--“Turns out… I have more than one hair pin!” I love how proud Alice is of that fact and not that she managed to pick a lock.

--Having Emma work with Henry to spy on Regina back in season 1 was okay because in the end Regina would never hurt Henry; however Mr. Samdi doesn’t have the same consideration for Lucy so Regina recruiting her granddaughter to spy on him seems….reckless.

--I need to not find Ivy and Henry compelling because we all know Jacidna/Henry are endgame in spite of the lack of chemistry. But I really did like Ivy apologizing to Henry for everything that Cursed!Henry doesn’t know about yet.

--Alice can wish things into existence. That pretty much points to her being the Guardian, yes?

--I find nothing compelling nor interesting about Regina and Facilier and the reveal of his big plan was more groan worthy than interesting. Shocking…someone wants the Dark One dagger!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (7x13)

If we go by my supposition last week then light, inoffensive entertainment is what we're seeking as we move closer to the series finale of Once Upon a Time. And, without any sort of preamble or caveat, this week's episode "Knightfall" delivered just that. Frothy with just a touch of sweetness that goes down smooth; memorable in that it stands out as the best episode of the three aired so far in this back half, but not so incredible as to become an instant classic or topple the likes of "Manhattan" or "Skin Deep." This episode touches on character traits that make sense--even if Hook is now Nook--which is something I do not often get to applaud with OUAT--and moves the story along at an even pace, setting up more mystery and questions that don't exactly stir me in the way the show used to but do at least keep me thinking and waiting to see what comes next. Light, frothy, and only nine to go....

White Whales

It turns out, much to my surprise and maybe delight, that I have some fairly complicated feelings about Not!Hook (or Nook as I've decided to call him from now on, thanks Zelena). Can you remember back to season two when Hook was introduced? I wasn't impressed, at all. I found him smarmy, gross, and after he left Emma and the princess team of Snow, Mulan and Aurora to die in jail, I was thoroughly done with him. Long time readers will not be surprised that I have a particular dislike for the pirate; I've certainly made no secret of it. But I will confess that the only time I have found Hook interesting or thought that the show was offering up something new and fresh was in the season two finale in which we learned that Hook had been a sort of mentor and father figure to young Baelfire. To our original Hook, Bae was like a son, someone he loved for, cared for, and would have raised in place of Rumple had things not gone sideways. After those two final episodes, it seemed to me that Hook's real story was not just as a smarmy, leather clad Jack Sparrow wannabe, but instead he was another sort of "Wicked Witch." A villain who had an obsessive need to kill another character but found the relationship complicated by way of an offspring. It was hard for Regina to justify killing Snow White when her complicated friendship with Emma and mother-son bond with Henry stood in the way. Baelfire might be Rumple's son but he was also Hook's adopted/step son. Just as the dynamic team of Emma and Henry would bring Snow and Regina back together, so too would Bae bridge the divide between Rumple and Hook. Alas, that did not happen and Rumple and Hook spent most of their time from season three to season six at each others throats, always trying to out do, one up, or just generally harass the other. But, enter season seven in which Hook, the original pirate captain, is replaced by Wish Realm Hook, our Nook. Suddenly the trappings of romance that the audience sat through (read: suffered through) with Emma was no more; instead, the writers needed a way to make Nook palatable to both Hook lovers and Hook haters.

Enter Alice. It's a smart move because it realigns Nook back to his original story of a father trying to make amends to a child (and notice the neat irony in that this time around, it's Rumple who semi-adopted the child in question). It helps give the Hook lovers a new story to follow of their favorite character and it gives Hook haters a break from the never ending romance of Captain Swan and allows Colin O'Donnaghue to play Hook as something other than a love sick puppy. With Nook being taken back to square one, it's also a good time to dig into Nook/Hook's original character flaw, his harmatia, namely his obsessive tendencies to kill the Dark One and to demand satisfaction for his honor. The dual with Captain Ahab was a reminder that when it comes to letting go of pride and insults, Nook had a long way to go, daughter or no. This isn't exactly character building but more character reminding; the audience knows this about Nook because they knew it about Hook. This story is a nice way to remind the audience of that which they already knew while giving new details to Nook's story since it differed to Hook's in the Alice-regard. Sometimes you do not have to say anything brand new for the message to come across; just as Hook missed out on a chance to raise Baelfire because he could not give up his obsession with killing Rumple, so too did Nook miss out on freeing Alice because he would not let a slight about his pirating ways go unanswered. Parallels, this show does love them so.

Miscellaneous Notes on Knightfall 

--Pitting Nook and Ahab against each other was smart; both our fictional Nook and the literary Ahab have a tendency to get obsessive over their “white whales”.

--I simply adore Alice. It's the sign of good writing and good acting when this show can make me wish that a character had shown up in the history of the narrative much earlier.

--As we get closer to the finale, I've begun to make notes of things that I will genuinely miss; first up--Bobby Carlyle's remarkable and entertaining performance as Dark One Rumplestiltskin.

--So Nook lived in the tower without going out and being a pirate for like 10 year but never once did he buy himself some non pirate clothing? Also, how did he have money if he wasn't working or looting as pirates are wont to do?

--Jacinda and Henry have so little chemistry that I actually found myself drawn more to Henry and Ivy and their connection.

–The doll, Beatrice, is creeeeeeepy.

–“Read it? I lived it.” A surprisingly emotional line.

Monday, March 12, 2018

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (7x12)

What is the best thing Once Upon a Time could do at this point in time as it winds down toward the end? It's no longer about being fresh and exciting and, despite being the end of the road and a propensity for bridge burning, it shouldn't be aiming for offensive television. A happy medium is what is called for; OUAT should strive for boring to light entertainment that avoids making any huge mistakes not only in their ongoing plot but also in the conversation that the show is having with their audience and culture at large. This week's episode, "A Taste of the Heights" manages to hit that boring-but-inoffensive sweet spot. Nothing about this episode is remarkable and it feels like so much filler centering on characters that no large swaths of the audience particularly care about. But at least I don't feel compelled to rage (or praise) anything about this episode. That's the aim of these final episodes of the show and the conversation about whether or not that's actually a good thing can be a conversation of the end of the series but for now, it's enough. 

The Alligator Was Real

We're gonna barrel roll through this episode. Tiana/Sabine has almost no relevance to the larger plot being spun out this season. Her main function is to provide humanity to Jacinda by giving Jacinda/Ella a best friend and character outside of Henry with whom to interact in the Enchanted Forest flashbacks. Tiana is the Ruby to Jacinda's Snow, to put it another way (the big difference, of course, being that Ruby/Little Red Riding Hood was given incredible depth, motivation, and a compelling theme all on her own and that while Ruby's main injection into the show might have been as Snow White's best friend, her own story stood up to scrutiny even when Snow was taken out of the equation. Tiana's story decidedly does not). The much maligned food truck storyline continues apace with Sabine except with several plot speed bumps in the form of a forgotten form (which should have been at the top of the to-do list for either Sabine or with Jacinda) and a man as Drew/Naveen is introduced in both our world and the other world. There's nothing compelling with any of this, either the Hyperion Heights or Enchanted Forest sections. Sabine and Drew apparently have a cursed history that gets laid out in some clunky exposition while and in the flashbacks, Tiana and an incredibly grating Naveen meet, argue, bicker, and then forge a tenuous connection all while hunting a giant alligator (that did not turn out to be Rumplestiltskin in a move that I was genuinely surprised by). Because Tiana has been given almost no development and is as bland as an under-cooked beignets her scenes with Naveen land equally flat because of the aforementioned broadness. Naveen, on the other hand, begins as a hyper masculine hunter who speaks about his powerful enchanted spear only to soften and deliver just enough clunky emotional backstory in order for Tiana to open up and be receptive to him as a man. In other words, it's the cheap way to push a romance that is using the audience's love of Disney instead of an organic development between two Disney inspired characters. Outside of Tiana, there's some other flimflam going on involving Rumple, Nook and the Coven of the Witches. Plus, apparently, Regina and Dr. Facilier have a romantic past despite absolutely no evidence to this at any point in the past six years. This latest development is more of the same misogynistic mindset we've come to crushingly expect in which a woman cannot have any sort of meaningful story without a romantic tie-in and while we can absolutely file that under offensive, it's not a new offense and I'm sad to admit that at this point in the history of the show, I acknowledge it and move on. With ten episodes to go, we're just here to be mildly entertained. Nothing more, nothing less.

Miscellaneous Notes on A Taste of the Heights

--Rollin’ Bayou is a clever name for a food truck. Flamin’ Cajun is not.

--Henry doing a podcast is a modern take on being an author but I kinda hope the voice over doesn’t happen every episode. It would get old quickly.

--I’m glad Rumple is no longer pretending to be cursed with Regina but I wish he’d ask after Henry or Lucy.

--The super heavy and dark cloak Cinderella is wearing in the flashbacks is tragic.

--“My enchanted spear is the only thing powerful enough to kill the beast” (ugh)

--Dr. Facilier, a sorcerer/warlock with powerful otherworldly magics, couldn’t get a necklace swallowed by an actual gator until said creature was dead. The show relies so much on magic until it suddenly needs magic to fail for reasons.

--I still don’t see any chemistry between Jacinda and Henry and still don’t believe they could actually be True Love in the mold of Snow/Charming