Monday, October 28, 2013

In Which I Review Once Upon A Time (3x5)

Here come the fangirls. Don't worry, I'm not one of them. For whatever reason, I've never truly warmed up to our dear Captain Hook. Maybe it's because I was already a staunch Dearie and my love of Rumple clouded my judgement. Maybe it's because our first introduction to him in 204's "The Crocodile" was as a man who helped break up a family and that didn't sit well with me. Maybe it's because he isn't really Captain Hook so much as a faux-Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Caribbean. And maybe it's because he uncomfortably reminds me of people in my past I'd rather forget. Whatever the reason may be, I've kept a wary eye on Hook and frowned whenever he graces my screen. This weeks episode, "Good Form," took us back in the past when Hook had two good hands (and a pony tail), and went by his rightful name of Killian Jones. Meanwhile in the present, Hook and Charming set out on an adventure together to try and find a way home. I will be frank: this was the weakest episode of the season for me. It was convoluted, confusing, and complicated. There was a lot of duplicity and deception and randomness that just didn't fit. A host of objects and plot devices were introduced seemingly out of nowhere. While I feel as though I have a better understanding of Hook now, it does not endear me toward him in the slightest. And yeah, Hook and Emma kissed. But we'll get to that. 

My Brother's Keeper

Hook got himself a funny little hat. Or, Jones, I guess I should call him. Lieutenant Jones of the Fairy Tale Land Navy and his (incredibly stupid brother) Captain Liam. Killian was a goody two shoes back in the day. He despaired of drink, sloppy dress, and "bad form." This is a nice tie into the classic Peter Pan mythology in which the fictional Captain Hook was obsessed with gentlemanly conduct and "good form." Even pirates have codes and there is honor among thieves as we learned in the last episode of Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. Jones and Jones have been tasked by the King (who knows which one?) to travel to a distant land. This land isn't familiar to anyone and the way to get there is rather complicated. Welcome to this evening's first two "magical mystery objects that have no significance outside this episode!" First up, a special golden inlaid sextant which is used to chart the stars and help guide the sailors. Of course the directions to Neverland are as always vague and no sailor in their right mind would simply say, "second star to the right and straight on 'till morning." 
The second is the Pegasus sail. Was anyone else confused as to who was chasing after the Jones's ship? The flag they were flying looked identical to the Naval flags the Jones' brothers were flying. Why were they suddenly being fired upon? Was it the incredibly vague enemy of the equally vague war Liam and Killian kept discussing in such a roundabout way that all it did was create more questions when I should be focusing on Neverland?
So here we have the Pegasus sail. For those unaware, the Pegasus was a Greek mythic creature who was part horse and part bird. He is normally associated with the hero Hercules. Apparently someone got a hold of this creature, cut all its feathers off and made a nice little sail for this boat. Oh and they painted a Pegasus on it too. Convenient sail is convenient. Why didn't they use pixie dust? You know, the traditional method of travel for the Jolly Roger. There is speculation that because that image of the flying Jolly Roger is so iconic, the writers and producers are saving it until the final scene of season 3. Perhaps. But man was this sail stupid. What happened to the poor Pegasus? He is now locked in some stable, wingless and sad, being ridden by stable boys and girls?

Anyway, the Jones brothers manage to fly, with their Pegasus sail, to Neverland where they run into Peter Pan. After 5 episodes we finally have the classic showdown I think most of us have been waiting for. Peter and Hook are iconic hero/villain characters and the audience has been waiting for that history to be uncovered. But unlike last week where Rumple and Peter met even though they are not traditionally associated with each other, this meeting between Hook and Pan fell flat. There were no sword fights. No taunting. No "codfish" references. Just Peter being enigmatic and Killian making deals he did not understand.

There are no kings in Neverland, just Peter.  Peter has been there for such a long time (seriously, how old is he?!) and Liam reveals that the real reason they've come to Neverland is in search of a plant that can cure any ill. When he shows the drawing of this plant to Peter, Pan laughs and says that this plant is used to kill people, not to save them. The plant in question is of course dreamshade, thus explaining how Hook knows so much about it in present day Neverland. Liam refuses to trust Pan given that the boy is only about 17 (in appearance) and the brothers set off to find the plant. Killian is at least a little bit skeptical and questions if the King would really send them after a magical plant or if this is a way to win that incredibly vague war against the incredibly vague enemy. Liam tells him that the King would do no such thing and to prove a point, cuts himself with the thorn of the dreamshade plant. Because he is apparently stupid. I don't care if you have blind faith in your ruler but rule number one of hiking through a mystical jungle that required you to FLY A SHIP to get to, where there are no living inhabitants except a boy claiming to be king is "don't trust the wildlife." And of course, within seconds Liam is on the ground near death as the dreamshade works its way up to his heart.

Killian is desperate and Peter shows up (the kid can vanish and reappear at will. He gets creepier by the second) to taunt Killian and make a deal. There are mystical waters on the island that are enriched with the magic of Neverland that keeps everyone so young and healthy. If Killian gives Liam a drink of this water, Liam will live. But, as Pan says, "all magic comes with a price!'" (TeamBrothers!) Killian is willing to do anything to save his brother and gives him the water. The two brothers, Liam now restored to health, set sail back to the Enchanted Forest feeling lucky to be alive. But as soon as they leave Neverland the price of magic becomes clear. Anyone who drinks of the water can never leave. The magic only works in Neverland. Liam falls down dead and Killian has lost his brother for good. Having lost his faith in the king and now his brother, the only (logical?) thing to do is become a pirate! Killian wastes no time persuading his men to join him in turning their backs against what he thought was "good form." Killian, the sailor, tosses his uniform off the ship, renames his beloved boat the Jolly Roger and Killian Jones, leather wearing pirate is born. There were a lot of call backs to The Crocodile in this episode; Liam died in Killian's arms and then was buried at sea just like Milah. The problem was that the flashbacks, while maybe the best bit of the episode, fell flat because of the convoluted reasoning behind everything. Why is the fountain of youth in Neverland? How does this affect time--because biological time is supposed to just stop in Neverland. And if the spring if still alive and plentiful today then why does Peter Pan need Henry's heart as the truest believer to restore the magic? What is Henry's heart going to do--make it a pleasant 70 degrees with no humidity and ensure that a nice steady rain falls every day so that the spring never dries up? Is Pan going to drop the heart in the water and *magic* the waters return to their magical ways? Except that clearly the magic hasn't faded in Neverland at all since Pan hasn't aged and the waters healed Charming! Speaking of Charming, let's move on to that little adventure.


Charming is a noble idiot. And I mean that lovingly, I swear. He is willing to die if it means there are no detours in finding Henry and getting out of Neverland. Hook, seeing that he can not convince Charming to tell Snow and Emma, decides to play on Charming's inner knight: he informs Charming that he may have a way out of Neverland but the adventrue is fraught with peril and most likely Charming won't survive. Naturally, Charming jumps at the chance to die for true love and family. It's what he does; it's part of his heroic code. It does make a reasonable amount of sense that Charming and Hook would grow closer. One is the White Knight with the chivalric code of honor; the other is the a pirate, a sort of Dark Knight, with his own code of honor that may not include rescuing damsels in distress but does have its own merits. In a lot of ways, Hook and Charming are each others mirror. Hook's plan is duplicitous at best: up a very tall mountain the sextant Liam used to get to Neverland is buried. They may be able to use the sextant to decode the coconut star map to figure a way out of Neverland. Sounds like a plan?

The two set off into the heart of darkness and it isn't long before Hook runs into Peter Pan. This was maybe my favorite scene of the episode. Peter has the upper hand, he knows why Hook is really doing this: Emma. It isn't so much that Hook cares about Charming as he does the affect of Charming's death will have on Emma, especially if it is found out that Hook knew all along. I'm going to take a side note here. For the first four episodes, Hook has been an honest to heaven gentleman when it comes to Emma. He held a small service for Nealfire in the bowls of the Jolly Roger; he praised Neal's pirate and survival abilities; he has been incredibly respectful about the fact that Emma just lost the man she loved AND more to the point, Hook is also grieving for Neal, the latter having been like a son to him. And then in this episode, despite it being only a day or two since that loss, he's hitting on Emma and eying her like some sort of letch. This entire episode felt off kilter because half our characters were doing things they wouldn't do. Why the sudden warp drive like pursuing of Emma? Was it just to justify the kiss? Way too strong, Hook. Way too strong.

Back to Pan and Hook. Pan alludes to all the business done in the past between the two. Pan reminds Hook of all the "dirty work" Hook did for him. What dirty work? What was Hook doing for Pan for those 300 years he was in Neverland? Was he leaving Neverland for brief amounts of time and bringing back boys to the island? Pan offers Hook a deal: kill Charming to prove your loyalty and I'll let you and Emma leave the island, she left her son once before she can do it again and you can help pick up the pieces. Sadly, we'll never know if Hook would have taken the deal because Charming overheard. Hook and Charming fight (for the second time this episode) and after Charming is lying on the cold hard ground, Hook offers him the waters of Neverland. It will cure Charming but it will force him to stay in Neverland forever. Charming say it's worth it and gulp, down goes the water. The two head back for the camp, new buddies. Speaking of the Jolly Roger Camp, in the intervening time Regina, Emma and Snow have come up with a plan. Y'know...for Henry.

I Sure Hope Neverland Has Insurance

Dear Henry, just because you can turn things into weapons, doesn't mean you should. Just an idea. Some people are wondering why Henry is so taken with the lost boys in such a short amount of time, but I think we need to look at Henry's life up until this point. He was friendless, in a time frozen bubble with an uber controlling mother, who was also an evil sorceress. This is the first time he has been among people who respect him as more than just the "kid." He is special to them. It does worry me that Henry became violent so quickly, but I was mollified by how guilty he felt the next time we saw him. Emma recognizes that Henry might start loosing hope and so they come up with a plan: kidnap a lost boy, bribe him with candy to take a message to Henry. What they don't count on is how loyal the lost boys are to Peter Pan. They don't want to leave or go home; they like Neverland and they like Peter. So what are two desperate mothers to do? Why take a heart of course.

Emma allowing Regina to take Devin's heart was both disturbing and justified. Poor Snow looked so traumatized that her daughter had allowed this to happen but there are lines Snow won't cross, even for family. The last time she did, she ended up with a black spot on her own pristine heart. But Emma and Regina aren't like Snow; they will go as many miles as are required to get Henry back. "I think we need to talk to our son," Emma tells Regina and with that the two of them find common ground in the midst of so much hostility.
Operation-Cobra-Rescue is now in full swing with a helpful little minion to play with but did Henry actually believe that his family is coming for him? He thought it was a trick and instead of pocketing the mirror for safe keeping, he dropped it and it shattered. Might he not want the family to come for him after all? What does he have to go back to? A family that constantly fights and uses magic against each other? A life where he must go to school and is told that his chance to be a hero will come someday, but not now? The appeal of Neverland is that you never have grown ups telling you what to do, you get to be the hero in your own little adventure story and I think that appeals to Henry. Alright, let's talk the smoochies.

My dislike of this episode is not actually ship related, as I hope I've been showing. It was a messy episode where they seem to throw things at a wall and see what stuck. Was I happy about this kiss? No not really. Did I know it was coming? Duh. Everyone and their brother did! They spoiled the heck out of this scene: pictures, gifs, sneak peeks. This is what the marketing department loves: a smoulder. I don't know what it means for "endgame" but the triangle is in full bloom. Is it a one time thing like Emma said? I doubt it. But I think it all depends on what happens next. There is some question of agency when it comes to this kiss: would Emma have done it under normal circumstances if Hook hadn't been making the suggestion and planting it in her head AND if Emma hadn't just been regaled with a tale of how Hook saved her father. I do think Hook was coercing her with suggestion but she did act on it. It's hard to tell what would have happened if Hook had just accepted Emma's thanks instead of asking if "her father's life wasn't worth more to her?" But it's over and done with and now we can move on. Oh wait, what's that? Pan showed up afterwards and told Hook that Nealfire is alive and in Neverland? Well that complicates things, doesn't it? What will Hook do: take the selfish path and keep it to himself or do the honorable thing and tell Emma? Or will it be both? My guess is that he will struggle deeply with this news but then decide to tell her only to find out that it's too late: Emma has already found out.

Miscellaneous Notes on Good Form

--Once again Regina has some of the best lines:
"I don't do rum"
"What I wouldn't give for another sleeping curse."

--Who is in the box? My top guesses are: Rumple and Pan's father, Real Belle, and Wendy Darling.

--One of the regulars over at my forum also thought this episode felt off and said that it felt, in large part, "fan service-y." Quite a few fan bases were appealed to last night: EvilRegals, Hookers, SwanQueen shippers, the CaptainSwan shippers, and the bromance of CaptainCharming. Everyone felt like they were just a hair to the left of where there characters normally are.

--No Rumple, no Neal, and no Belle. Yeah, I was just gonna love this episode wasn't I?

--Next week: ARIEL. OMG. ARIEL. My blog of next weeks show will be nothing but inner 3yr old spazzing with joy.


Saturday, October 26, 2013

In Which I Review Dracula (1x1)

Legend, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is "a story from the past believed by many people but cannot be proved true." 

Vlad the Impaler was a real life guy. We know his birth and death year; he know about his father and other family members. We know about Vlad's rule as Prince of Wallachia. We have actual physical historical documentation and records of Vlad's lfie. He is a historical person and is not a legend. Vlad, of course, is most famous (outside of the impalings which were numerous) for being Bram Stoker's inspiration for his famous vampire, but Vlad and Dracula are not one and the same. Dracula is not a legend, either. He's a fictional character that takes his name from the patronymic of a historical figure. Why am I harping on this? Because NBC for the past few months, in an attempt to ramp up interest in their new TV show, came up with the tagline "a legend is reborn," the entirety of which is so grossly inaccurate, that I had to start off this blog with some historical facts (the reborn part we'll get to in the actual review because this is not Dracula reborn. At all). 

Vlad III (1431-1476) was called Dracul because it was the name his father, Vlad II, used. It means son of the dragon. Language is not a static thing but morphs and reshapes itself over time so that now "dracul" can mean devilsh but you have to keep the original context in mind when discussing Vlad III. He called himself Dracul because it was what his father used. It is actually that simple. The Order of the Dragon, which the NBC show is using with considerable liberties, also existed and was founded in order to protect Christianity from the Muslims. This is really the driving point for why Vlad is remembered as some sort of bloodthirsty monster. You must understand that he was living at a time of incredible upheaval. In 1453, right around the time Vlad was coming into manhood and first ascended the throne (his rule is broken up into different years but that's incredibly complicated on its own) the Muslims took the city of Constantinople and renamed it Istanbul. There is virtually no way for me to stress the importance of this event in the Western and Christian Eastern World except with this bit of satire. This is the reaction of the Christians when the Muslims took one of the most holy cities in Christendom:
You must understand that the idea of the Muslims sitting literally across a tiny body of water eying the west freaked the Christians out to an absurb extent. The Ottoman Muslims continued to snatch up bits and pieces of land here and there, and Vlad's only reaction was to protect his people and his land. In Romania, Vlad is actually considered a hero! Yes, there are some pretty horrific stories about his sadistic killings and his fondness for impaling, which I will neither justify nor sweep under the rug. Best guesses put his body count at about 80,000-100,000. Cruel, yes. But historically understandable given the constant battling between the eastern Christians the Muslims who (again) were siting across an very small body of water with an almost unstoppable army. That's really all you need to know about Vlad. How about Dracula? Since this is a TV blog, I'm going to break down the characters both by who they are on screen and who they are in the Stoker book. 

Alexander Grayson/ Dracula 

The fact that our leading character has an alias and isn't going by Dracula at all needs to be your first big clue that there is something amiss.

Literary Version: Transylvanian nobleman and centuries old vampire with a host of supernatural powers such as superhuman strength, levitation, shape-shifting and of course hypnotic and telepathic abilities.

Television Version: Romanian vampire brought back after existing somewhere between life and death in a coffin for some untold amount of time. He is now playing as an American business man and entrepreneur interested in safe and free electricity and power.  (At this point we should shake in our boots with fear?) Alexander/Dracula has a secret plan to bring down the Order of the Dragon by taking business from them and robbing them of their riches. Thus far, shows no extraordinary abilities except brooding stare.

Mina Murray

Literary Version: A school teacher and fiancee and later wife of Johnathan Harker. She is often depicted as being held in thrall to Dracula and is slowly turning into a vampire, the Count both feeding off of her and feeding her which causes her to move in and out of consciousnesses. At the end of the novel she and Harker have a baby and presumably live happily ever after.

Television Version: A medical student under Dr. Van Helsing who is engaged to Johnathan Harker but shares a mysterious connection to Alexander Grayson. While not definitive yet, she is most likely Dracula's wife reborn.

Johnathan Harker

Literary Version: An English solicitor who is sent to assist Dracula in Translyvania. He soon becomes a prisoner of the Count and discovers that Dracula is a vampire. He also has an unfortunate run in with the Brides of Dracula. Over the course of the novel, he tries to kill Dracula several times until the climax at the end where Harker manages to slit the Count's throat.

Television Version: A newspaper reporter who is desperate for his "big break" in order to finally fit into aristocratic society. He hopes that his interview with Alexander Grayson concerning his magic electric power (for lightbulbs....) will be his big break.

Lady Jane

Literary Version:  Non-existant

Television version: Uber-wealthy wife of member of the Order of the Dragon. She is drawn to Dracula after meeting him and engages in a little risque behavior at an opera. who apparently is keeping a vampire in a cage in an effort to get information. Is deadly accurate with knives and swords. She is also really historically inaccurate. The plunging neckline of her dresses would cause so much scandal in Victorian England that old ladies would faint dead away. I'm all for strong female characters but at least keep them in whatever was appropriate for the times.

Lucy Westrena 

 Literary Version: Mina's best friend and Dracula's first victim. She is slowly drained by the Count until she "dies" and is reborn. She is a sweet and caring girl who becomes sexually vivacious. She is eventually destoryed.

Television Version: The walking sex pot. She flirts and is coy and wears totally non-Victorian clothing.

R.M. Renfield

Literary Version: A lawyer who eventually goes stark raving mad and eats all manner of insects after being tormented by the Count into worshiping him.

Television Version: I need to talk about race in TV for a moment. It is becoming more and more apparent that TV is suffering from an abundance of white people. In a show like this, where they are selling a brand name but giving you none of the brand (as you should already be able to tell) the casting department and writers could have really tried to mix it up and be unique. What if Mina was a person of color? What if Mina and Harker were an interracial couple? But no. They went with the horribly cliche type: the only person of color (by which we mean "not white") is the servant. I'm not even going to bother making any other comment than that. In the TV version, Renfield is perfectly sane and more than that, he's Dracula's confidant. He knows all about Dracula's plan to take down the Order of the Dragon.

There are some other characters here and there such as Abraham Van Helsing who in this TV version is a medical doctor and thus far not a vampire hunter, but in some bizarre twist is actually working with Dracula to take down the Order because his family was killed by the Order. Van Helsing is the man at the beginning of the episode who woke Dracula up. Also, some of the members of the Order who I couldn't keep straight so in my notes they were labeled "rich white guy #1" "rich white guy #2" and "rich white guy #3 who became Dracula's meal."

Are we just now getting to the plot?  This is where the wheels really fall off the wagon--though they've been rocking quite a bit since we started. Here's the biggest problem with the show: it's not Dracula. At all. I mentioned the tag line at the top of this now incredibly long blog post as being wholly problematic. The "reborn" issues is now at hand. What the writers of this show have done is taken "Dracula" as a brand, divested it of anything resembling Stoker's Dracula and then given it back to the audience, lying that it is Dracula. There is nothing Dracula about this show! Dracula, as both fictional character and work, is so prolific because he is so terrifying. There is something creepy yet enticing about him. He could seduce and cajole you into giving up your life blood willingly. He could create vast armies of vampires and minions. This Dracula (Alexander Grayson as I suppose we must call him) is nothing of the sort. He is not scary, he is not magnetic (sorry Johnathan Rhys Meyers but you're no longer Henry the 8th). He's a business man who doesn't think in terms of bloodlust but in terms of stock and bonds. Grayson's whole engineered plan is to hurt the wallets of the Order. He wants to subvert their plans with his new fangled technology which allows light bulbs to be lit up without needing to be attached to any sort of lamp, which I'm fairly certain we can't even do today in the 21st century! Our Dracula, apart from being sexual, has none of those mystical powers that make Dracula, Dracula. Please don't misunderstand, I'm not asking for Legossi. I'm not expecting him to wear a cape and speak about beautiful music made from the children of the night. But could he at least do something that makes me afraid? And then to top it off, Mina--instead of being held in thrall to the vampire--is actually his dead wife (killed by the Order of course). I found Alexander Grayson annoying. Meyers is always easy on the eyes and that may be a large part of what NBC is banking on, but his acting is limited to brooding sexily and being petulant. And then there is the American accent he is adopting. Why? Why make this guy American? The British Order of the Dragon has no interest in cooperating with an American, which he knew would happen. But if you really wanted to get on the inside of the Order to take them down, why make it even harder by putting on this act of being American? Especially when Meyers American accent is so horrendously distracting I was giggling into a pillow while trying to take notes. And then the blonde lady at the Opera who got *ahem* a standing ovation from Dracula turned out to be a ninja and I knew Stoker was weeping.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Blood is the Life

--I do enjoy the rather steampunk-esque feel to the whole show but honestly it's not enough to save it.

--Dracula is trying to sell coolant. I just have no words for how unhorrifying that is.

--Given the very brief flashback we saw of Dracula watching his wife burn at the stake, I'm going to assume that they are trying to connect him to Vlad the Impaler. He certainly had the hair.

--Best moment was the rooftop fight which was at least visually interesting. The blood work is also outstanding. 

Overall Verdict: It might be so bad that it's good. But more likely, it's just really bad. Watch the first episode and decide for yourself, but I'm only going to give it one more go before I write it off as simply idiotic.

Friday, October 25, 2013

In Which I Review Once Upon A Time in Wonderland (1x3)

We all have things in our past we'd like to forget. Moments gone by, people no longer with us, events that shaped our destiny as a whole and fundamentally changed who we are as individuals. According to the Knave of Hearts in this weeks episode of Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, "Forget Me Not," the best thing to do is move on, forget the past, forget the people you once loved. But is this really sound advice? And is it ever really possible to move on from the events or people who constitute our individuality? In the original ONCE episode "7:15 AM" Snow contemplates drinking a potion that will help her forget that she ever loved Prince Charming. Grumpy, the dwarf, tells her "I don't want my pain erased! As wretched as it is, I need my pain. It makes me who I am." Which begs the question, how do we live with our pain when it is suddenly staring at us in the face? (through an enchanted rope knot of course). 

Honor Among Thieves 

So it turns out the Knave of Heart is Will Scarlett. Who exactly is Will Scarlett? According to legend he is one of the more traditional Merry Men in Sherwood Forest; in some instances he is Robin's nephew. He is often the youngest of the Merry Men, hot tempered and most often seen in red silks. In most of the stories he is also the best swordsman, Robin being the best archer and Little John being adept at the staff. Our Will Scarlett is both alike and not at all alike to the literary version.

Our Will Scarlett is lately of the Merry Men--the opening bit of thievery being his test and initiation. Will is a bit of go-getter and suggests to Robin that they take on Maleficent's castle on the Forbidden Mountain. There they will find a huge chest full of gold that could save villages for years to come. It's too tempting for Robin to resist, naturally, and with Mal herself being out of the castle, why not? But this is where Will and Robin differ. This episode really focused on how Will can be like Robin but how he was blinded in the past by a love of something other than honor. While Robin believes that thievery is honorable, so long as its not for personal gain, Will is willing to risk Robin's ire if it means a better life.

Enter Anastasia. We learned last week that Will had a lady love who (most likely) broke his heart. I proposed at the time that this Anastasia was really the Red Queen. Anastasia and Will, from what we could tell, were deeply in love but poor and struggling with everyday life. They wanted magic and enchantment--so much so that when breaking into Mal's castle, Will steals a small looking glass. This looking glass, like so many do, creates a portal to another world, specifically Wonderland. I'm sure the reveal that the Red Queen was Anastasia was supposed to be shocking and gasp worthy, but the entire episode was laced with clues. When Will was in bed with Anastasia, you saw the blond up-do and heard the unmistakable voice of the Red Queen. When the Red Queen and Jafar learned that Alice was traveling with someone named the Knave of Hearts the camera deliberately panned to the Red Queen who had a somewhat visible reaction to the name. With him being Will SCARLETT and her being the RED Queen, it wasn't hard to put the pieces together.

What does this mean for the Red Queen's overall arc? Names in the ONCEiverse are important. They often give insight to the character and their narrative. The name Anastasia means "resurrection." I don't think it's a coincidence. I have the feeling that at some point the Red Queen will be faced with a choice--kill the Knave to carry out her plan or save the man she once loved. This show being what it is, she'll choose the latter and that will set the Red Queen on a path of redemption to being Anastasia again.

Knot Again

Puns! Puns everywhere! When the title was revealed for this episode, I originally thought it might have something to do with the flower which has its own symbolic history. Or maybe even a potion that Alice considers taking to forget Cyrus, a la Snow White. But no. This is Wonderland with Clothe Horses and Dragon Flies and Dandy Lions. Of course it's an actual knot. Tricky writers.

The main problem Alice and the Knave currently face is that Cyrus's bottle is missing, stolen from the earth. There are no clues as to who stole it (apart from the perfectly circular hole in the ground that looks like it was dug by a professional) but the Knave has a clever idea. The Forget Me Knot is a piece of magical rope that when tied together to make a type of lasso can show you the last event of any place when you hold the knot over that location. As Alice says, "where can I get this very clever item?" Clever though it may be, it is not exactly in a convienent place.

Welcome to the Underland, a seedy slightly BDSM night club run by Jabba the Hutt. Er...the Caterpillar. It's run by the Caterpillar. (No seriously, the Star Wars references in this episode were far from subtle). The Caterpillar has a claim on the Knave's head as Will is highly indebted to the JabbaPillar but sadly the JabbaPillar no longer has the Knot in his possession.  But lucky for them, the JabbaPillar likes to make deals: JabbaPillarStiltskin! The Knot is currently under the "care" of the Grendel (more on him in a second) and if the Knave can get the Knot, bring it back to the JabbaPillarStiltskin, then the debt is clear.

Here is one of the big problems this show is having thus far. It's trying to be too much. Last night we had Maleficent, the Grendel, the Bandersnatch, and the Jabbapiller. The beauty of Once Upon a Time was that in the beginning the show opened with "every storybook character you've ever loved" who all live together in an enchanted forest. This is why we don't blink when Snow's castle is next to Cinderella's both of whom have made deals with Rumplestiltskin who is the true love of Belle. These stories have no specific location and therefore can be lumped in one place. One of the complaints I see is when the show take characters who are tied to a specific land and move them to the Enchanted Forest for plot sake. So, people complained that Hook should never have been Fairy Tale Land because of his ties with Neverland. To some extent I agree and disagree, but Wonderland is really taking the cake on this. Jafar is acceptable because they established that he's not FROM Wonderland, but Agrabah and is simply in Wonderland to meet his end goal. However I have issues with the Grendel being in Wonderland. How did he, a mythic monster (and very very old) from England get to Wonderland? If he was just a guy who was disfigured by the Red Queen, fine. But why go and call him the Grendel thereby invoking his mythology--especially when the Grendel you are presenting to me is nothing like the story one? Now I wonder if Beowulf is running around Wonderland as well.

The Grendel is a parallel to the Knave, because this show adores their parallels. The Grendel has lost the woman he loves, his wife, and then was magically transformed into the misshapen creature we see now. Like Will who became the Knave, the kind husband became the Grendel who uses the Forget Me Knot to watch his final day with his wife over supper.

And then a Bandersnatch shows up to kill Alice. There is a lot of heroics and fighting and in the end, the Bandersnatch is killed and the Grendel gives Alice and the Knave the Knot. Of course later the Grendel sells them out to Jafar and the Red Queen before Jafar kills him with his serpent staff, but hey. They got the knot? Honestly the whole Bandersnatch part felt heavy handed. They could have saved it for later.

And Will gets to prove that he's an honorable man. After using the Knot to see that the poor Rabbit is working for the Red Queen, the Knave burns the rope instead of giving it to the JabbaPillar because if he gave it to the Jabbapillar it would be in his own self-interest. But if he doesn't, then the whole adventure was for Alice and he has proved himself a worthy and honorable man. But now all parties have been made aware of each other: The Red Queen and Jafar know the Knave is working with Alice; Alice and the Knave know the Red Queen and the Rabbit are working with Jafar.

Miscellaneous Notes from Forget Me Not

--The Knave is really the breakout star of the show. He gets the best lines.
""Don't pleasure me!"
"I wouldn't dream of it."
And Alice and the Knave continue to have a chemistry that is currently lacking with Cyrus and Alice. They need to fix this if they don't want people to suddenly ship Knave and Alice (which of course is already happening)

--I passed over the whole Bandersnatch episode but I do like that Cyrus knew just want to send Alice that she could easily defeat without needing to use a wish--I just wish this would have happened later so we could have avoided the whole Bandersnatch vs Grendel deathmatch. But I do wonder if soon Alice will be forced to use a wish.

--They need to stop using the CGI screen of doom. It's very distracting and is so bad and cheap looking that it takes me out of the moment every time.

--Things are progressing quite rapidly but I suspect that is because Once Wonderland is only 13 episodes.

--Doctor Who references along with the Star Wars ones. Underland is bigger on the inside and the Caterpillar was wearing a fez. My two fandoms have collided.

--No Once Wonderland next week but when it returns, I suspect wars break out between the factions. Jafar will accuse the Red Queen of caring too much about Will; Alice will confront the Rabbit; and the Knave will have to face his ex.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

In Which I Review Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (1x5)

I debated not doing a blog for this episode. "The Girl in the Flower Dress" was a bit long and drawn out and frankly played on themes already replete in the season so far: trust, loyalty, can Skye really work for SHIELD, and Coulson's trust in people to do the right thing (whatever that means). At some point the writers need to understand that I get it: Skye has torn loyalties between her liberal ideology regarding freedom of information and the fact that SHIELD is the first place that has felt like home to the computer hacking orphan. We saw this two weeks ago in "The Asset" and we saw it in the premiere pilot episode. However, once I realized that this was a mythology based episode, I knew I had to blog it. What exactly is a mythology based episode? In other words, non-filler. It is not "moral of the week" (though this show seems determined to trot out a moral agenda by varying degrees every week) and while it is another "superhero of the week" episode, it returns the audience to what was established in the pilot, namely Centipede. Quick refresher since it had been a few episodes. Centipede is an incredibly well funded, super secret, high tech, scientific organization that has been turning people into superheros. They have developed a serum that has the nasty side effect of making people into living bombs. The serum for some reason causes them to burn from the inside out. We have no idea who is behind Centipede but their ultimate end game seems to be making "little toy soliders" to do with as they please. 

One of the reoccurring themes this episode was the idea of illusions: things are not what they appear to be. A street performer has superhero powers that he might use for cheap tricks. A girl in a pretty flower dress is secretly working for a covert organization that wants to take your power. A reformed computer hacker may not be that reformed. A ideologue might be willing to compromise his integrity for the right price.  "Girl in the Flower Dress" was all about stripping (maybe burning would be a better word) the layers to reveal the truth.

Our story opens in Hong Kong where a street performer is having a rather lackluster performance. Everyone is polite but from the looks of his empty coffers, they aren't overly impressed. Sensing that he isn't about to make much money tonight, the street performer pulls out a show stopping number in which he appears to throw fire balls into the crowd, while a pretty girl in a flower dress looks on approvingly. Raina, our titular girl in the flower dress, would very much like to see the street performer, Chan, do his magic again. He hesitates and in the intervening moments takes the time to give us his story. The ability to make fire in his palms started a few years ago but the truly remarkable thing is that he feels no pain when he conjures the fire. And then men in flame retardant suits kidnap him. Like ya do.

Chan is taken to a secret lab where he is offered the chance to be a superstar! No more Mr. Ignoble, but instead Scorch, the newest superhero up there with the likes of Captain America (because his next movie is coming out really soon and hello free advertising!) It's an offer that is hard to refuse and the idea gets played on a few times during the episode. Raina states that "everyone wants to be remembered" (this is especially true when you have some sort of super human ability or power. I'm looking at you Mr. Achilles) and later Coulson laments "ah crap. They gave him a name," when Chan refuses to stand down, suggesting that Coulson understands that taking on a superhero name changes that person's character, makes them something different. Hal Jordan is just a guy, but give him a ring and a name and he's a different person. Clark Kent is a nerdy farm boy, but call him Superman and the Kent persona is almost washed away.

So what does Centipede want with Chan--I'm sorry. Scorch. Chan's unique ability isn't that he can throw fireballs; it's that he can do it without feeling any kind of pain. His blood platelets are essentially fire resistant. He can burn from the inside out and not be destroyed by it. Sound familiar? It should because it's Centipede's biggest problem in making their own superhero army. The plan? Remove Chan's platelets, essentially stripping him of his ability to create fire pain free (but he can still create fire) and then leave him neither super nor a hero.

Meanwhile, back on the plane (Side note: why are they always on the plane? Do they not have a base somewhere? Do they just randomly fly through the sky until they are told of a mission? I know the plane is impressive but wouldn't this wear on the body after awhile?) Skye and Ward continue to grow closer as mentor and protege. And I continue to be bored by both of them. Ward had potential in the pilot but he's severely lacking in charisma and charm. The team is told of the mission and the first big question they must answer is how Centipede found Chan, who was being kept under surveillance by SHIELD agents. Skye quickly puts her skills to use and discovers it was a fellow Rising Tide hacker named Miles. With whom she is rather...close. Cue the sexy time music. To demonstrate her divided loyalties, Skye alerts Miles to SHIELD and then proceeds to spend the afternoon with him discussing how SHIELD is really not the belly of the beast, how they are good people. This is interrupted when the team walks in on Skye and Miles post hay roll and her duplicitous nature is now out in the open. Skye then spends the rest of the episode trying to prove that she is loyal to SHIELD and has forsaken the Rising Tide. Of course there is more to this story, but we'll get to that.

Chan, having been stripped of his blood platelets, goes slightly Hulk like and decides to SMASH and BURN everything, including the Doctor we met in the pilot episode. Turns out she's not all that important but the Girl in the Flower Dress is. Hence, the title. The SHIELD team do manage to minimize the damage though they cannot save Chan. But now SHIELD knows that Centipede has the ability to inject the serum without causing their subjects to explode.

And then it's a Coulson/Skye showdown. Skye has one chance to explain her actions or she's done. Let's take a step back: during her afternoon delight party with Miles we saw that Skye keeps a very tiny microchip in her bra. She hands this over to Coulson and reveals that it contains all the information she has on her parents, missing or dead she's not sure. But their entire lives were wiped away clean, except for one document that was classified by SHIELD. She wants SHIELD's help to find her parents or at least what happened to them. And because sad orphans are sad, she is marginally forgiven.

And then there is some extra scene where the Girl in the Flower Dress is talking to a prisoner who tells her to move on to stage two by using "The Clairvoyant." Cue the dramatic music.

Miscellaneous Notes from Girl in the Flower Dress.

--Loved that after a rapid Chinese exchange between May and Chan, Coulson's only response is "So we're good right?"

--Place your bets on Skye's parents. Alive or dead (mother alive, father dead) and the chances that they are working for Centipede (high).

--May got to fight a little but she's still really under utilized though I did appreciate that they let Ming-Na use her native tongue in this episode.

--Do the science brainy duo do anything? And which one is which? It's a statement of how your show is going if I can't distinguish between people and don't care enough to look them up. 

--No SHIELD for another two weeks. When we come back, I suspect we'll see the return of Dr. Hill as our new villain and the hunt for Skye's parents gets under way. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

In Which I Review Once Upon A Time (3x4)

Habit (n): an action done on a regular basis, usually without awareness. A habit, from the standpoint of psychology, is a more or less fixed way of thinking, willing, or feeling acquired through previous repetition of a mental experience

Many of the characters on Once Upon a Time have habits that they fall upon when pressed. Rumple has the habit of using his power to bolster is own self interest and proving that he is not a coward. Regina has the habit of using magic to take the easy way out. Emma and Neal both have the habit of running before becoming too emotionally invested. Snow and Charming have the habit of making moralistic declarations of their goodness in the face of adversity. The point is, none of our characters are perfect and they all have some nasty habit that needs to be broken. This week's episode, "Nasty Habits" really focuses on how fathers and sons (and possibly brothers) share those habits and what it takes to break the abusive cycle. 

Home Is Where the Coconut Is

In our B-plot for the week, Tinkerbell makes what is perhaps the best observation of the series so far: how in the name of sanity do you expect to get home? You want to rescue Henry, that's great. Now how are you gonna get off Peter Pan's magical mystery island of mismatched toys? Until they come up with a solid plan for leaving Neverland, Tink ain't got time for this. Only two people have ever left Neverland before: Hook and Baelfire. The former we learn made a deal with Peter (side note: WHAT. What deal? Tell me!); the latter--everyone thinks--managed to escape by his wits and cunning and without Pan's permission. If Nealfire did it once, then surely the intrepid Jolly Roger Five can do it again! To the Baelfire Cave!
Bae's cave is both illuminating and depressing. After being sold given to the Lost Boys, Bae made a life for himself by being resilient--he made his own bowls and utensils. And he spent a lot of time drawing pictures of the lives he left behind, both of the Enchanted Forest and of London with the Darlings, the first place he ever felt like he could call home since Rumple became the Dark One. There are images of portals and Rumple's hand as it opens and lets Bae fall away into the swirling vortex of terror. Baelfire has also drawn the Darling family, their house in London, and even Big Ben with two stars echoing the classic line "second star to the right and straight on 'till morning." One thing before we talk about the coconut and the starry map. I am dying to know how long Hook and Bae were together on the Jolly Roger. After the events of 222, "And Straight On Till Morning" it seemed like the safest guess was about a month. But the more this season continues the more convinced I become that it had to be more than that. Hook knows about Bae's drawing ability (which he got from Milah. Come on Emma, put these pieces together); he knows all about Bae's secret cave of wonders; and most importantly, Hook and Bae were together long enough that Bae became quite the adequate little pirate, navigating by the stars and making coded maps. At this point in time, it's wild speculation but I think I am going to say that Hook and Bae were together, as a family, for at least six months. Hook is so broken up over Baelfire, almost like Rumple, as if he too is mourning his son. It's not even that he is mourning his last tangible connection to Milah, but he is mourning his actual child.
On to the coconut. How clever is little Bae? Kids got mad skills. As of this morning, there is a lot of debate over what the star map showed but at the moment it seems like it it showed the Phoenix constellation. Which makes all my SwanFire feelings exploded in a river of angst. Personally, I have a bit of history with the mythological bird (it played a very integral role in my Master's Thesis) but on a ONCE level, this bird shows up everywhere. Here are some for instances: it was a place of rebirth for Emma and Neal as well as being the birthplace of Henry (the second in Regina’s family to bear that name), who would be the key to the rebirth of Regina. But the map is in code and no one can read it except Nealfire. Who everyone believes is dead.
This inner turmoil causes yet another heartbreaking moment from Emma (Jennifer Morrison is really hitting all the right notes this season). On the one hand, she has never stopped loving Neal but on the other hand he really hurt her. He made her feel unloved and unwanted, the two worst possible feelings for someone with the level of abandonment issues as Emma has. She is beyond angry at Neal not only for dying when she needed him the most but for waiting until he was at death's door to tell her that he has loved her all along. The way back to SwanFire is going to be long but after last night I have faith in these two. Come hell or pirate kisses.Whenever Nealfire finds his way back to the group, Emma is going to be both overjoyed that the man she has never stopped loving is alive, and angry as Hell over the past. But Neverland is where your past catches up with you and you have reevlauate who you are. Emma has a totally myopic tunnel vision her own history. She doesn't know about the level of manipulation on Peter's part to ensure that she was always lonely and friendless and without a home. She, possibly more than anyone, has been played her whole life. Once Emma and Neal begin to put the pieces together, she will see that Neal had no choice in leaving. The lives of thousands depended on her. It's going to be a bumpy ride however. Hold on, SwanFire fans.


"I wish now to go back to mother for ever and always,” they had to tickle his shoulder and let him go.
He went in a hurry in the end because he had dreamt that his mother was crying, and he knew what was the great thing she cried for, and that a hug from her splendid Peter would quickly make her to smile. Oh, he felt sure of it, and so eager was he to be nestling in her arms that this time he flew straight to the window, which was always to be open for him.
But the window was closed, and there were iron bars on it, and peering inside he saw his mother sleeping peacefully with her arm round another little boy."
J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan and Wendy 

Over the summer, at our OncePodcast forums, we began predicting that Rumple and Peter Pan were brothers based on the original text in which Peter goes home to his mother only to discover the window is closed (the worst thing in the Peter Pan-verse) and his mother has a new son and has forgotten Peter. This is what causes Peter to flee to Neverland so that he'll never have to grow up. In this weeks episode we finally got to see some Peter Pan and Rumple interaction. It was worth the wait. Rumple is newly crowned as the Dark One and is having quite a bit of fun using his new found power to prove his worth, however, in doing this he forces Bae to stay home for protection. Bae is restless and wants a life, apart from being the Dark One's son. One night, while Rumple is away doing goodness knows what, Bae hears the call of magic music and follows the sound. The pipes are produced by a skilled Piper who lures children away who feel unloved and unwanted.  Rumple goes in search of his son only to discover the Bacchic-esque hedonistic display of young boys dancing around a fire. Peter has been luring boys to his side because Neverland is lonely and he wants friends, except that friends here really means minions to do his bidding. There is a reoccurring theme of game play with Peter. Every episode he's made some sort of reference to "playing" "games" the "board." All of this is one giant game to him. He is a very petulant (and dangerous) little boy, used to getting his way.
I have no idea how long Peter has been in Neverland but it has been awhile. Did you notice Rumple's face when he revealed the piper to be Pan? It was horror. Horror and shock and torture and surprise, as if all his childhood trauma's were coming back to bite him. Rumple looked like a wounded little boy who was just confronted with his worst nightmare. So based on last night's episode, what do we know for sure about Rumple and Peter Pan? We know they knew each other as kids. Rumple not only tells Baelfire this, but Peter also jokes about how Rumple has "grown up" and become the Dark One implying that they knew each other at a younger age. Not only did they grow up together, but they were once very close but at some point Peter did something that Rumple feels betrayed by. What could that possibly be? Well I think for this answer, we need to discuss the psychology of Rumple a bit. For Rumple, the greatest betrayal is someone leaving. According to Pan, "being left is what you're good at." Rumple's father left, something happened to his mother, Milah left and soon (very soon) Bae will want to leave, Cora will leave him standing in a field holding her own heart in her hands. The only person who has ever come back for him--EVER in 300 years--was Belle. Rumple equates leaving with not being loved (which is totally normal when people have these abandonment issues). If you leave it means you don't love me and that must be my fault. So the betrayal that Rumple feels when it comes to Peter must be along the same lines. What's my theory? So glad you asked.

Peter is the elder brother. He was born in to a mostly loving family and had a good life. Then his mother got pregnant a second time. This pregnancy did not go well and she died in childbirth. The baby survived and was "gifted" with the name of Rumplestiltskin. The death of his wife but the survival of his second child turned the father into a violent and cruel man who emotionally and psychically abused his children. Rumple got the lion share of the abuse and Peter would often step in to help his younger brother. At some point, Peter began to formulate a plan to run away, promising to take Young Rumple with him. But something went wrong, with Peter at least. He found is way to Neverland but fundamentally changed (my newest theory is that the Shadow is NOT Peter's but is controlling Peter and turned him dark). Peter never came back for Rumple leaving him at the mercy of their father. Eventually, Rumple and Peter's father ran away because of his cowardice and fear, leaving Rumple forever alone with spinsters. Rumple continued to grow up emotionally scared, having been left so often, and Peter grew up much slower and continually got darker and more manipulative. We shall see how it plays out.

Papa Don't Preach

 The reunion between Rumple and Nealfire was heart wrenching. Rumple refuses to believe that it's Bae for sometime, thinking it another illusion to trick him into not following through on his mission. For Rumple, there are two options: either Bae is dead and he is justified in dying for Henry to honor his son OR Bae is alive and Rumple has to seriously think about the right course of action. He can kill Henry and live but loose his happy ending with Bae OR he can let Henry live, sacrifice his life in the process and die. Either way, my Rumple looses. Nealfire lived in Neverland for a very long time and knows a few tricks they can use to defeat Peter and his band of creepers (side note: I cheered SO LOUDLY when my Nealfire hit Felix). Neal's goal is Henry, as it should be. This is his child and he is willing to do what it takes for save him from having his heart ripped out. I think in the end, this will bond Neal and Rumple. Or at least cause an understanding between them. Rumple spent 300 years searching for his son, going down many paths. Neal is going to do the same. The things parents do for their children. Oh look, a theme in ONCE! However this is one major difference between the two: Rumple will kill if he has to. Nealfire will not. Neal has always been a more honorable version Rumple, maybe morally gray at times but always with a clear ethical line. While Rumple is willing to do whatever it takes to prove himself a good man and die for Henry, Neal will not cross into the dark territory. Atta boy, Nealfire.

The plan is rather simple: get Henry and then work on a way to get out of Neverland. In other words, like The Jolly Roger Five, they have no idea how to get off Neverland. After a brief stop over at the home of a rather large squid (whom we have dubbed Leggy) PapaStiltskin and son have magic squid ink to render Peter Pan immobile. They then go after the Lost Boys. But of course, getting Henry isn't going to be that easy. They may have immobilized Peter but that doesn't stop the wicked little boy from revealing to Neal that there is a prophecy in place in which Rumple has a vested interest.
And finally after speculating all summer if Rumple would tell anyone, he lays it all out in front of Nealfire. Henry is Rumple's undoing but he was willing to die for Henry after Bae died. But of course, Nealfire goes into protective Papa mode and all he hears is that his dear old dad, who has a very NASTY HABIT of killing people casually, is after his son. It is a heartbreaking moment as Neal struggles between his past with his father and knowing what kind of man he is and his future as a father in his own right, who will protect his child at all costs. And because Rumple never chose him, he will not choose Rumple this time. Neal immobolizes his father, takes his son and declares "we're safer without you," and vanishes into the jungle. Of course, this does come back to bite him. Peter and his gang of miscreants find them and take back Henry but also capture Nealfire. Neal's final shouts of his love for his son and declaring that he WILL find him again killed me. And Henry, thinking that his family really may not come for him, hears the music of Peter's pipes and joins in the Lost Boy revelry.

Miscellaneous Notes on Nasty Habits 

--This episode was full of fantastic quotes:
"I'm not a boy anymore Felix and I'm sure as hell not lost."--Nealfire
"You're my happy ending"--Rumple
"I would have chosen you."--Baelfire
"I'm plenty hot!"--Charming
"Cause I'm sure pre teen Baelfire made lots of pasta."--Regina
"Am I supposed to be impressed that he made a night light?--Regina
"I knew the moment I saw him that I never stopped loving him."--Emma

--Rumple gone native with war paint. Is it ok that I found it hot?

--I can't talk about the Rumbelle stuff yet. It really hurts. Rumple is only going to get worse before he gets better and I think the next few episodes will have the Darker One Rumple do some very questionable things. I hope Real Belle gets to Neverland soon. He needs to see that someone will always choose him and stay with him because right now he is literally shutting out his conscience and moral center, which has always been represented by Belle.

--Snow and Charming unable to be parents is very sad. All Snow wants to do is be a mother but she has no idea how to be a mother to this little girl who is so very hurt.

--CaptainCharming bromance is getting some momentum. I really need Hook to tell Snow and Emma about Charming. I think it would be a step in the right direction. 

--I say this every week but Peter Pan is so creepy. And Robbie Kay, who plays him, keeps nailing it every week. He went toe to toe with Bobby Carlyle this week and was amazing. That takes SKILL.

--Hands down best episode of the season, at least for me.