Monday, March 24, 2014

In Which I Review Once Upon A Time (3x14)

A bridge episode is an episode that gets you from point A to point B with only hints of important information. It differs from a filler in which the episode is really not needed at all. This weeks "The Tower" is a bridge; it gets us from the big reveal that Zelena is Regina's sister and takes us to whatever happens next week. There were a few important themes fleshed out and possibly a motivation behind what Zelena is doing, but all in all, it felt like an hour of TV that you have to watch in order to get to another hour but because its central focus was a core character, it mattered more. The Rapunzel story was totally unnecessary and was an obvious ploy to play on the popularity and success of Disney's Tangled. The main drive of the episode was fear and overcoming it but it was wrapped up in magical handwaving and characters that we'll never see again.  

Who Is The Next Disney Princess On The List?

The episode opens as several Once Upon a Time episode do--with a dream sequence. Dream sequences can be overdone on TV, but on a show built on myth and magic, dreams make more sense than they do on other sitcoms. Dreams, in the classic world, were often seen as portents for future events and by reading the dream you could figure out your destiny. This dream sequence was set up to be something loving and delightful but then quickly turned into a horror film-esque moment--complete with spinning doll heads and daughter sucking wardrobes. Charming finds himself in Emma's old nursery, a place that is a direct contrast to the hallway Charming had previously been in--dark and alone and complete with the Evil Queen theme music. The nursery was bright and full of hope and happiness--the life Charming and Snow and Emma should have had. Instead of a baby infant Emma, however, Charming finds his little girl all grown up, standing in a (very poofy) princess ball gown, preparing for her first dance.

 While a tenderly sweet moment, it was also one of those times when I am reminded that Charming and Emma are the same age and how, if I didn't know they were family, it would be more romantic than father/daughter bonding time. It takes you out of the moment for just a second when Charming picks her up and spins her around because it felt like a lovers waltz. However, the scene quickly shifts to really highlight that this is a dream (Dream!Emma emphasizing that she's "not really here" and how "it's a shame that she never got this life.") Enter super creepy, drowned rat, Emma. Her hair is a mess, her ball gown is deflated and the wardrobe which was present throughout the whole sequence opens and begins to pull Charming's daughter from him. I will say this--it's about time they got around to how Charming felt about putting his daughter in a magical wardrobe. Charming's archetype is that he's the consummate white knight, and that's great. He plays it well. But the fact is, he stuffed his newborn into a tree and sent her out into a different world just praying that someday she'd find him. And in the seasons since they got their memories back, Charming hasn't once discussed his conflicting feelings over that moment. His confidence never wavered, he tells Robin Hood. But in all honesty, Charming should feel guilty and wretched about his decision. So it was nice to see Charming's conflict in this scene, trying to hold on to Emma as she vanishes from him. "Don't fail the next one, goodbye Daddy." Of course it's all a dream and Charming wakes up in his bed where Snow (who is way more pregnant than just 8 weeks! Seriously, costuming department get on that. Instead of being a tender moment I was laughing at how obviously pregnant she was) tells Charming that she is with child again. And Charming, claiming he is thrilled, does what probably 75% of all expecting fathers do: panics.

So apparently, Charming drinks when he's scared? Where did that come from? That's not knightly! Is this part of his "we are both?" I feel like they could have done without the whole drinking portion and just had Charming run to the barn in a panic. However, I do like the developing friendship between Robin and Charming--it's very fairy tale, the thief with the heart of gold and the white knight. Charming confesses to Robin that he is filled with dread that he will loose this child as well. Charming has never raised a baby; he might be a great father to Emma (yes we all love Daddy Charming) but he has no idea how to be a father day to day from start to finish. Robin tells Charming of a magical root called Night Root (really?) that will help anyone who eats it to conquer their deepest fears. Yes! Give the knight a quest--seriously, how quickly did Charming grab his sword and set off to the forest? When in doubt, Charming goes on a heroic quest. What can I say? It's his archetype.

The quest leads him to a clearing where he finds the root and is about to eat it when a cry for help resounds. Note to self, never answer the call for help. Coming upon a tower, Charming begins to climb the incredibly long braid of hair and finds a young princess named Rapunzel (shock!) locked in the room. I want to pause here and talk about a few things: filler characters and race. I'll go into more detail later about the former, but my biggest problem with this take on the Rapunzel tale was how very unnecessary it was. This new princess has no connection to any other character, she has never been seen before, her kingdom is in the vague north, ruled by a king and queen we've also never seen before. She is there for one purpose and one purpose only--to give Charming something to do. And that's where race comes in. If there is one accusation that is launched at ONCE that has more than a measure of legitimacy, it's their depiction of people of color. In TV P.O.C. are not just African but anyone who is not European/American white. To date, ONCE hasn't done a spectacular job of representing them--they either die or are evil or are written off very quickly while our heterosexual white pretty people get to take center stage (Regina being our one exception as Lana Parrilla is Latina). So for example: Cinderella's Fairy Godmother (killed by Rumple in 104); Sydney Glass/Magic Mirror (murderer who winds up locked in an insane asylum by Regina); Lancelot (dead at the hands of Cora long ago); Billy/Gus the Mouse (dead); Tamara (evil); Mulan (written off with no explanation and given a total fan service SleepingWarrior moment). Do you see where I'm going with this? Thus far, any person of color gets the shaft by the writers. So imagine my disappointment when it look like Rapunzel will be following the same pattern even though they took a really ingenious step by having her be African American in the first place! But now it feels like that was just to quiet the critics because she turned out to be colorless and forgettable. She is there to assist Charming in his quest, not to be a character in her own right. In fact, if she hadn't had the hair, would you even know she's Rapunzel?

Rapunzel's story is fairly straight forward, but *really* different from the actual fairy tale, which is problematic for me. The thing about ONCE is that while they twist the fairy tales to suit their own needs, there are always elements that remain the same--Snow White still ate the apple, in other words. Rapunzel is in a tower with her long locks, but her story is totally changed. In the original, Rapunzel's mother is pregnant and craving a specific vegetable that only grows in the witch's garden. Her father steals some of this vegetable and then sells his daughter to the Witch when she catches him. But in ONCE, Rapunzel is a princess who lost her older brother (and the heir to the throne) in a tragic accident. This tragedy means that Rapunzel is now the heir to the kingdom, a notion that really frightens her; frightens her to the point of nightmares. I'm not a fan of his damsel in distress vibe she is giving off; it's not what ONCE does with their iconic princesses. Rapunzel learned of the night root and set out to conquer her fears. After she ate the root, a witch appeared and chased her into the (overly super convienent) tower and each time she tries to leave, the Witch prevents her. And here is the big twist, if you want to call it that. The Witch isn't real. She is the physical manifestation of Rapunzel's fear and therefore looks like Rapunzel herself. It's twisty but I don't know if I like it. It means that Rapunzel and this whole flashback have no connection to Oz or to Zelena. Rapunzel and her story are literally there to prop up Charming and his story. So, of course, Rapunzel conquers her fear, but only after some encouragment from Charming. And apparently to conquer her fear, she has to cut her hair and have the "witch" fall from the tower? Sure. Honestly this whole flashback felt really pointless to me. Leave Rapunzel out of it and let Charming conquer his fear in the Enchanted Forest to parallel what was going on in the present day Storybrooke.  And then Charming gives Rapunzuel back to her parents (ugh) and he and Snow having a private public. While everyone has a party? (wut)

The episode ends with a Snowing moment in which Charming finally tells Snow what he fears: loosing this new child like they lost Emma (twice). Now, why didn't you do this in the first place, Charming? "I had to go on this magical mystery quest in order to assure myself that I'll be a good parent." Instead of just talking to your wife who would essentially the same thing? And see, this is the biggest problem of them all--there was no point to this flashback. It felt filler and unnecessary and the only vital information was the night root which does play a part in present day, but surely they could have thought of a different approach, one that did not involve Rapunzel. It is as if Adam and Eddy have a list of "popular Disney princesses" and feel the need to incorporate them one after the next. You watch: season 4 will have Elsa from Frozen be the big bad, just because it made tons of money at the box office. And Elsa will have a pet lion named Simba.  Adam and Eddy need to branch outside of Disney already. I know they work for the big Mouse, but there are so many other stories and myths that don't exist inside the Disney universe. I know Disney is beloved but just because it's popular doesn't mean it needs to be done.

This Is Why I Drink Coffee

Meanwhile, 9 months (what. how. No. Learn math, Adam and Eddy) later the gang of 5 are at Casa Snowing discussing the winged creatures known as Flying Monkeys and how the Wicked Witch is after them. It's time to search for clues! Hey, I know! Why don't we look at the newbie in town who has wormed her way into Snow's life and is constantly wearing a giant GREEN emerald? Come on, guys. We've done this before: mysterious stranger in town, knows a lot, is super helpful. Probably got something else up her sleeve. But they ignore the warning signs and go to inspect Regina's office where Charming tries to smell blood only to determine that it is hollyberries that grow in the woods. Rolling my eyes over here. First, really Charming? You tried to smell blood? Second, Regina claims she went over her office with a fine tooth comb and found no clues, but oh look! Berry juice! Okay then. So now we are looking for a witch with berries on her shoes. Charming has an appointment with the villain and so we are left with Hook and Emma to go off in search of the berry-witch. But one scene at a time because our characters end up splitting into different groups.

Let's start with my Imp. Last week I wondered if he was faking his insanity, but this week I think it's pretty clear he is insane at least most of the time. He sits in his cell, with his spinning wheel, and spins because it "cleans the mind and soothes the soul." I think this might be the most insane we've seen dear Rumple. When he was locked up in the Enchanted Forest before Regina's curse, he was clearly deranged but also lucid enough to know how to have a conversation with someone--like Snow and Charming. In this case, I think he is more insane that he is lucid. And what is possibly making him insane? Is it the fact that the Witch likes to...shave him. For appearances sake (except not). What was this?? This was beyond deranged and creepy and strange. "Let me shave you with this dagger that controls you." So yeah, Zelena shaves Rumple and while she does, she tells him a little story. Her father was a drunk and possibly a magic addict who couldn't hold his hands steady enough to shave his face, so Zelena had to do it for him. She got really good at it, apparently, except that she "accidentally" nicks Rumple and take a bit of his blood. Which only adds to the overall creepyness of what she is doing. So why does she need Rumple's blood? To break into a safe inside the pawn shop and get the night root that Rumple keeps there (for reasons?) And why does she need night root? To make Charming go on a magical mystery tour of bravery. I guess.

Charming is summoned back to Snow's side in order to meet the midwife, Zelena, whom Snow now trust implicitly. Because apparently the curse made Snow stupid. Come on, Snow!! Yes, Zelena lies and says she knew Snow's nanny but since when are you just trusting her? Shouldn't you be a little bit more suspicious of someone who wants to make your life super easy? At least Charming has some good sense and tries to voice his concerns, which are shot down buy hey--he tried. And Zelena, in the background manages to sneak some of that night root into the Charming's tea. Now he is going be facing his fears manifested in a physical form of himself.

This played out better than the Rapunzel storyline but there was a little bit too much exposition between Charming and Fear!Charming. Charming, as always, is the White Knight and makes giant declarations of "I will die for my family!" and "True love!" and whatever else. I did like that it's seeing Emma's yellow bug coming to save him that reminds Charming that he's a good father and he will fight for his children no matter what. So he stabs himself with his sword and, having conquered his fears, the Fear! Charming poofs up in smoke.
And then so does Charming's sword? The broken hilt of the blade is magicked away in green smoke (gee, I wonder who did that). But why? Cue exposition from Regina. While Charming was facing his fears (literally), his courage was transferred into the sword, making it a totem of that bravery. Someone (Zelena) poofs away that totem and now has it in her control, which should worry the audience. This is the only important part of this episode. Think about it: this is the Oz myth. Zelena just took bravery, or at least the totem for it. In essence, Charming is the reverse Cowardly Lion. Now, I don't know why, but my theory is that Zelena is stealing the reverse traits of the classic Oz characters from those who have them in abundance. So she stole Charming's totem for courage (Lion); she needs the totem of someone with lots of heart (Tin Man) and the totem for someone with lots of smarts (Scarecrow). Who might fit this bill? I'd say Neal for heart and Belle or Rumple for brains. If it's Rumple, then the dagger might be his totem and Zelena is thus collecting totems from the important men in Emma's life (her father, the one who ensured she was the Savior, and her *maybe* true love). Zelena will probably also go after Henry and take his loyalty, thus keeping Henry as Toto and Emma as a Dorothy stand in. What could Zelena want with them? I don't know. But that was the only intriguing part of this episode.

The ending sets up the mystery for next week (and yes, I am skipping over the Hook and Emma stuff in the woods because I'm a little miffed that he's glad Emma's heart is broken. But I am happy she called him on his lying crap. I think Hook knows what happened to Neal). Regina, Emma, Charming and Hook make their way to the storm cellar at Zelena's to discover that the lock is broken. But inside they find a spinning wheel and straw that has been turned into gold. "Who do we know who can turn straw into gold?" asks Charming. Only one person. And now they know Rumple is alive.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Tower

--First lack luster episode of the season. There has to be one or two each season, I know, but I hope this doesn't signal the downfall of season 3B. The first two episodes were great.

--Mrs. Gold. Ok, I'm calling it now. Rumbelle wedding by seasons end.

--Shaving Rumple was really disturbing. Please never do that again

--Sweet Henry and Regina moment by the lake. However, why isn't Henry more confused about why everyone in town wants to get to know him? And why is Henry spilling secrets to a woman he's met once? Just because she bought him ice cream?

 --Hook is back to making moon eyes at Emma and lying to her face. Yippee.

--WHERE THE HELL IS NEAL. *ahem* I'm fine.



  1. A) Everything I typed just poofed, so fun.
    B) In short, I agree. The episode was lackluster, the Rapunzel flashback was unnecessary, and the race thing has been an issue. Sidenote, did you notice how Rapunzel's mom gave the Charming's an odd look? Was that supposed go be significant? it took them about three months to storm the castle that WW just willingly walked away from within the first few days after everyone gets back? WHAT? I don't get it. And snow looks way more prego than she is supposed to be in EF. Is the actress really pregnant in real life?

    Don't you know that you are allowed to tell a stranger anything once they give you ice cream or candy?

    You talked about how WW is collecting totems to fight Emma, but why? I thought WW has an issue with Regina.

    Who broke Rumple out and why?

    They have to know it is Zelena by the next episode...I mean for Christ's sake, they found a Rumple's holding pin in her backyard. And why did Regina looked so pleased once they realized Rumple was alive?

    PS: I can't wait for Elsa and Simba next season. Most adorable villains yet. I hope Olaf at least makes a cameo.

    1. Ginny Goodwin is *very* pregnant in real life. (with Josh Dallas's baby who plays Charming)
      As far as the timeline...I don't even know because they are obviously horrible at math.
      Totems: not sure unless there is some spell she can do with them to take down Regina.
      Rumple: my guess is Neal. I think Neal is a double agent working against Zelena by working for her.

  2. Replies
    1. Personally, I don't think he is a monkey. I think Zelena took his heart OR to follow the totem idea, she took the Swan pendant which represents Neal's heart. I think he is under her control but has a small semblance of free will and trying to break free.