Monday, November 18, 2013

In Which I Review Once Upon A Time (3x8)

Sometimes my theories are right. And sometimes they are dead wrong. While I do love how this episode played out and the big revelation of the night was better than I suspected it would be, TeamBrothers still makes more sense. But that's what happens a lot on Once Upon a Time. Just when you think you've nailed down what is happening on screen, the writers go and do a one hundred and eighty degree turn and surprise you. This weeks episode, "Think Lovely Thoughts," finally gives the full tragic history of Peter Pan and Rumplestiltskin. Like many backstories on ONCE, it's all about the choices we make and the impact they have on others. And of course, it focuses on just how messed up families can be. Seriously, I know creators Adam and Eddy brought this over from their time on LOST, but man. These guys need some intensive therapy, don't they? 

Fathers and Sons 

I very rarely flat out hate TV characters. Even if I find them taxing or unsympathetic, I try my best to at least understand them: their motives, their desires, their impulses. Even with Milah, my former least favorite character on ONCE, I tried to understand her boredom and dissatisfaction with her lot in life, lashed to the village coward and stuck in a dreary lifestyle. However, Malcolm might be the very worst character I've ever seen on ONCE. With these writers, backstories of villains are supposed to elicit sympathy and give the audience a better understanding of how our villains became who they are. Regina, the villain of season one, was an emotionally and physically abused young girl who lost the love of her life when her mother (another truly nasty person) ripped out his heart. Cora, the villain of season two, was poor and shunned and the daughter of a drunk who often forgot to do his work. Rumple...well, let's face it. Every time we get another Rumple backstory, it only add to how incredibly tragic his life has been. When ONCE first started a few years ago, I was instantly drawn to Rumple because he was so freakish; alone in his cell, green gold skin and obviously insane. But with his first backstory, "Price of Gold," I couldn't understand why they weren't mixing Rumple's story up; it appeared to be the very typical Rumplestiltskin story we all know. And then "Desperate Souls" happened, and I think I fell--well-- desperately in love with the man. Every single Rumple episode since then has been one of desperate loneliness and self hatred. Rumple's entire psychology can be reduced to one moment in his life: when his father left him. And this week we finally saw how that played out.

Malcolm is a trickster. A gambler. A drunk. A lowlife. Someone who is more than happy to make his son wait in a corner while he swindles men out of their money; money which will not be going to feed his family, but to buy more ale. Malcolm will leave Rumple with others while he goes out into the night, claiming to try and find employment, but really only indulging in his hedonistic desires. Did you notice how many traits Dark One Rumple will pick up from his father? The giggle, the manner of dress, the hand gestures. These are all things we associate with Dark One Rumple and not Spinner Rumple. Rumple literally became his father, in every way he could from dress and mannerisms to letting go of his sons hand when he needed him the most. I think despite claiming to not fear anything once he became the Dark One, Rumple actually became the thing he feared the most: his own father. His hatred for his father (which stems from the deepest love) manifests in his own self hatred and how he views himself. Never forget his line in "Skin Deep": "Because no one could ever, ever, love me." Little Rumple, however, truly love his Papa even though his father has never really given him a second thought. One of the most tragic moments (in an episode full of tragic moments) was when little Rumple was spinning to the praise of the Spinsters and said "I didn't think I had any talent" and "If I made money, then Papa and I can be together." Rumple has never been encouraged; he is Malcolm's burden and not one he wants to bear. And so the Spinsters offer him a way out. How did the Spinners get a magic bean? Those beans are not exactly ubiquitous and according to Malcolm, they are worth more than a shiny penny.  Also, those Spinsters were dressed way too fine to be as poor as they were supposed to be. Am I suspicious of those Spinsters? You bet. Typically, there are three spinsters, be they the Greek fates or the three fairies from Sleeping Beauty. So where is the third one? Could she possibly be a little Sneaky Blue Fairy? If fairies can be un-made, can they be made? Did the third Spinster leave and become a fairy, and then steal a magic bean to give to her sisters so that they might have a better life (and also set up a lot of events for some sneaky agenda? It would parallel how Blue gave Bae a bean to escape Rumple.) Ok, I have nothing but headcanon when it comes to Sneaky Blue Fairy but those Spinsters were suspect.

The Spinsters encourage Rumple to take the bean and leave for another land, away from Malcolm whom they know has never cared for Rumple. But Rumple, who has such a good heart and in a future parallel with his own son, believes that if he and Malcolm can just get away and be together, everything will be fine. It is exactly what Baelfire believed after Rumple became the Dark One. Bae believed that if he and his Papa used the magic bean, they could get away to a land without magic and be together. When Rumple approaches his Papa with the idea of leaving for a new land, Malcolm agrees but only if they go to the land of his choosing: Neverland. When Malcolm was a boy his father, every night before bed, would tell Malcolm to "think lovely thoughts" and in his dreams, Malcolm would go to Neverland where he could fly and play and be a carefree boy. We all want to reclaim pieces of our childhood, but Malcolm longs be an actual child again. Of course, the irony here, is that Malcolm never really grew up. He still played games and shirked his responsibility as a parent. (Are you sensing yet where this is going?)

When Malcolm and Rumple arrive in Neverland, it is just as Malcolm remembers: a virtual paradise. Except for one small, trifling thing: he has grown up. Neverland is for children, not adults. When you're an adult the belief of children no longer comes easy to you, jaded souls that we are. While Rumple can conjure up anything he desires, Malcolm cannot. I'm going to pause here and talk another father/son parallel. In the episode "The Return" Dark One Rumple tells Baelfire, "I can conjure anything you desire." Having watched "Think Lovely Thoughts," how much more sad is that moment? Rumple is desperately trying to keep Baelfire happy, conjure anything his heart desires because if he can keep Bae happy, then Bae will never leave him. Rumple could not give Malcolm what he wanted: youth, belief, freedom and so Malcolm let him go. So Rumple's almost excessive over protectiveness stems from having his father leave him when Rumple was the only thing standing in the way of Malcolm getting what he wanted. In order for Malcolm to get what he wants, they need pixie dust. The problem to all your solution: faith, trust, and pixie dust. And apparently it literally grows on trees. This part did seem a little convenient, did it not. A lot of people are questioning why Tink didn't just climb a tree and get more pixie dust but I think the solution is fairly simple, outside of suspension of disbelief. There is no more light in Neverland. At some point, it became perpetual night and therefore all the pixie flowers died off. I suspect there is at least one more flower somewhere in order to get our heroes home to Storybrooke. Also, a creepy shadow is following Malcolm and Rumple.

To whom does this shadow belong? Does it belong to anyone? Is it just a disembodied shadow, sans human? Later the shadow will tell Malcolm that it is the only inhabitant of Neverland, a place where children only come to in their dreams. But it also appears to help Malcolm out; it will tell Malcolm what he needs to do to become young again, young enough to fly, which is really what Malcolm wants. Belief is key here. If you believe it in Neverland, it comes to pass. But Malcolm cannot believe himself to be young. Why? Easy...Rumple.
So long as Rumple is around to remind him that he is a father, he cannot believe himself to be a youth again and if he cannot believe himself to be a youth again then he cannot fly and the magic of Neverland will not work for him. So Malcolm selfishly decides to give up his burden. This scene was do devastating. Rumple has led his father to paradise, to his greatest desires and then Malcolm lets his child's hand go and sends him off to a lifetime of absolute misery. And just like that, as Rumple is being airlifted out of Neverland by the Shadow, Malcolm transforms into who he was as youth: and, in case you missed it, Malcolm is Peter Pan.
Father of the year. How much did the shadow have to do with this? Did the Shadow want Malcolm to stay? The Shadow says that by Malcolm staying, he broke the rules. Is the Shadow against Malcolm and will it help out the Heroes? Or is the Shadow the real big bad in this situation and will it be coming back to haunt us? Like I said at the top, the revelation that Malcolm is Peter Pan played out well and certainly better than I thought it would when I began to suspect that TeamBrothers was wrong. And we have to give some very strong props to Robbie Kay who plays Peter Pan. This is a huge role for him to swallow; not only is he playing an iconic character but he's playing an iconic character who is nothing like the original and then added on top of that he's playing a de-aged father of Rumple, played by Bobby Carlyle. Honestly, if this was anyone but Robbie Kay and Bobby Carlyle, this whole story would fall flat on its face. But it works because of their supreme talent.

It seems that Malcolm's powers in Neverland are quiet exceptional. Without even thinking of it, MalcolmPan created Skull Rock and the hourglass that slowly counts down how long he has as a youth. However, all magic comes with a price. Malcolm broke the rules by trying to stay in Neverland forever and therefore his time is limited. But Malcolm is determined to find a way to stay forever, no matter how far he has to go or what he has to do. Sound familiar? It is what Rumple does when he looses Bae, except Rumple's intentions are far more honorable. Rumple searched for Bae over a lifetime for the chance to say he was sorry and that he loved him; MalcolmPan spent a lifetime looking for a way to prolong his life as a youth in magical land. The solution to his problem? The heart of the truest believer (who just so happens to be his great grandson) (Therapy, the boys of ONCE need it).

Where is Jerry Springer When You Need Him?

Man, this review is getting long. And I still have to deal with the present day stuff! (Mark of a good episode is a long review). Now that the Heroes have captured the Shadow inside the magical coconut with the candle (giggle), they can finally put into action the plan they devised with Tinkerbell back in 304. Do you remember the plan? No? That's because it was forgotten in the crazy CaptainSwanFire mess. The plan is actually quite simple: attack Pan's camp from behind and grab Henry, trapping Pan inside Pandora's box. Then using the Shadow in his coconut (giggle) get out of Neverland on the Jolly Roger. Plans this simple never go the way you intend and there are several bumps along the way.

First bump: Regina and Rumple rejoin the gang. The family is finally back together and shockingly enough, they still don't quite trust each other. You see, there is still this prophecy to deal with. You know, the one that says Henry will be Rumple's undoing? The one that only Neal knows and that he tells to everyone. Because Neal had to! This is his son and trust with Rumple is tricky. How can Neal trust Rumple at all when all Rumple has ever done is let him down? As Belle said a season ago to Rumple, "you toy with words like you do people." Actions are what they need from Rumple, not words from our master wordsmith. So despite his protestations, Rumple agrees to not use magic and to hand over the box to Nealfire for safekeeping. I love every interaction between Rumple and Neal; they are my two favorite characters for a reason and every time they are together on screen, magic happens. I really wanted Rumple to open up to Nealfire, though. I think Rumple being open and honest about just who Peter Pan is would really help heal the breach between father and son. This is an abusive cycle; secrets are kept, trust is lost, fathers hurt sons and sons hurt fathers. I'm counting on Rumple to break the cycle at one point and tell Nealfire about his life, his abandonment, his loneliness, and his self hatred.

Second Bump: Pan's camp is empty and there is a girl in a cage. Peter Pan and Henry are already on their way to Skull Rock so that Henry can fork over his heart, believing that he is doing it to save magic. So when the Heroes find the camp empty, they are upset but what's this! A girl in a cage! DarlingFire reunion! I was a bit disappointed in how the reunion was downplayed. It felt rushed and I really wanted Emma to learn about Nealfire's history with Wendy and how he sacrificed himself for her and her family so many years ago. But luckily for us, Wendy has some crucial information to share with the gang: magic isn't actually dying, Peter is. The heart of the truest believer is not going to be used to save magic, but to keep Pan immortal. Once Peter has Henry's heart he can absorb all the magic in Neverland and be a youth forever. There is a catch, of course (isn't there always?). While Peter Pan can live, Henry cannot. It's a trade. And one Peter is willing to make because he is a truly horrible person.

Third bump: Rumple cannot use Pandora's box on Peter. The heroes split up (NO!) in order to deal with different problems. Snowing are going to Dead Man's Peak to get magical water to get Charming out of Neverland (I will discuss the wasted storyline of dreamshade in my notes below because I have several things to say); Tink and Hook are staying behind at the camp to guard the knocked out Lost Boys; and Emma, Rumple, Nealfire, and Regina are going after Henry. As it should be! They are his parents and Rumple is only one capable of stopping Peter! But there is a hitch in the proceedings. But let's talk about the final Rumple and Peter meeting first. Powerful. Seriously, Robbie and Bobby killed it. Rumple's insistence is that he is nothing like his father, but of course he is. He made the same choices Peter did but unlike Peter he is trying to course correct. Rumple was doomed no matter what. He is no longer a child and the power of belief is now working against him. All Peter had to do was believe and imagine that HE had Pandora's Box and it happened. And Peter shows us just how low he can go by trapping his only son inside a box said to contain the world's darkest magic and evil. (And yes, I was freaking out last night. GET MY RUMPLE OUT OF THERE).

Fourth Bump: Henry's psychology. A lot of people this morning are claiming that Henry is down right stupid. How could he fall for Pan's trap? Well I think we need to look at who Henry is. He is, at his heart, a little boy who wants more than anything to be a hero. He longs for it. When Henry finally came out of the Curse fog, once he got the storybook, he realizes who his mother and grandparents are: heroes. Literal, actual, saviors and heroes. I think that weighs on him. Henry wants to be one of them. So when told that he can save magic, not to mention Wendy Darling, Henry will jump at the chance. Being a hero means sacrifice. So while his parents are begging him not to trust Peter Pan, to believe in them and their love for him, Henry still thinks that he had to be a hero. And so, with his own hand, he rips his heart out (and it's gold!) and give it to Peter Pan, allowing the boy who refused to grow up to fly once more. And our Henry collapses to the floor, as his parents surround him thinking that their son is gone. It's a race against the clock to defeat Peter Pan who now posses the heart of the truest believer and to save Henry who no longer as any heart at all.

Miscellaneous Notes on Think Lovely Thoughts

--Ok let's talking Saving Charming. This is by far the most wasted storyline of the season. It really served no purpose. In the end, all it takes is getting some magic water to take back to Storybrooke and then allowing Rumple to come up with an elixar out of stuff he already has in his shop. I am reminded of how the Blue Fairy came up with her magical memory potion at the end of season two. The dreamshade arc was totally pointless except for one thing: get CaptainSwan to kiss. That is all it served in the end. Charming as a character neither grew nor developed because of this arc. The dreamshade never even seemed like that big of a threat; Charming sweated a bit but he it barely affected him. He didn't hallucinate and outside of Hook, no one even suspected he was sick! I don't mind natural romantic moments that gradually build, but what I do mind are when other characters simply become plot devices in service of a romantic storyline.

--Best line of the night: "I'm not going in there with just my good looks." Oh Rumplestiltskin. I can't even with you sometimes. Just let me love you.

--Second best line of the night, when Rumple tries to swindle a deal for a favor out of Emma to save Charming, Neal said, "no. You'll do it because it's the right thing to do." What a contrast to Hook, who saved Charming just to get closer to Emma and then asked for smoochies in return for saving her father. Neal makes no demands. He tells Rumple there will be no tricks.

--The reason for Malcolm's name change was a bit wonky but I was ok with it in the end. Rumple named his doll (the doll that has been following him) Peter Pan and thus Malcolm takes the name of the symbol for childhood for himself. Does Malcolm care at all for Rumple? Peter claims that his actions were for the best because he could never be the father Rumple needed, but they were all motivated by selfish reasons.

--Trying to rank this episode with the others of the season so far. I'm not sure it was better than "Nasty Habits" but it's close. I think this is a solid 3rd place for me. 

--The Neveland storyline is close to wrapping up! And we still have pieces that need to be connected. How do Tink and Peter know each other? How do Hook and Tink? What was Hook doing for Peter? Do Hook and the Darlings know each other? How did Wendy get back to Neverland?

--We have a one week break but then it's back to the fun! #SaveHenry

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