Monday, December 15, 2014

In Which I Review Once Upon A Time (4x11)

I have a Mudslide. That's not necessarily relevant to Once Upon A Time or this week's episode, "Heroes and Villains," but I thought you should know that I am drinking while writing this. Granted, it's a little drink. A small celebratory "I made it!" toast to myself for making it through the first half of this season. Look, let's be frank with each other. I haven't been happy. I think that's readily apparent in, oh, almost every review I've written for this show since the season began. I've been snarky; I've been mean; I've yelled and screamed and cursed and caterwauled (how does one wall a cat?). And I have, in vain, tried to rationalize my own continual watching of what is now an inferior product. So maybe my drinking is also in memoriam to what ONCE once was (ha, word play!) Here's the frankness part of this years mid-season finale: it was a mostly dull, treading water, heavy handed, plot device filled, too soap opera-y written, hour-long melodrama that isn't worthy of the show that once gave me Skin Deep and Manhattan. BUT--oh sweet heaven above, there is a but--there was one scene that really stood out that made me feel something besides a sort of disgust and hatred for this show. A scene that actually made me whimper in sadness and remember what I once loved in ONCE (oh hey, more word play. Must drink more often). But there's also a chance that a little dalmatian puppy is secretly Cruella De Vil and that makes me want to burn things because of the utter stupidity of that idea. Let's do this, shall we?

The (Drag) Queens of Darkness 

Look! A plot device! And we're only 10 minutes into the show. I doubt that is a record for ONCE, but it is certainly rather early. Normally the magical deus ex machina nonsense comes toward the end just when all hope is just about lost. It's a magical thing! From a magical land! That does magical...something? I don't know. It leads you to the person's greatest weakness which doesn't make a whole lot of sense. First off, how does it know which person to seek out? Does you have to tell it, "okay magical gauntlet. Find me the weakness of Mr. Bob!" And then it (magically) finds the weakness of Mr. Bob? Does it pull you along? Does it float toward the person at rapid fire pace? How does the person doing the seeking then keep up? Does it POOF you? Does it require blood, hair, nails, semen? God, I hope it's not that last one, though did anyone else think there were quite a few suspicious fanfiction like lines coming from Rumple and Belle this week? I mean, I swear I've read some of Rumple's dialogue in Rumbelle fanfiction over at A03. Anyway, this is the first non-FROZEN ALL THE THINGS flahaback in a good long while (okay, except for one tiny part that was done only to appease the masses of FROZEN fanatics but we are so totally skipping over that mishegas.) Instead, we are treated to a rather timeline wonky Rumbelle centric (featuring DISNEY ALL THE THINGS--that's going to be my new thing guys; get used to it). When was this supposed to take place? I assume it was early on in Belle's stay because of the unreliable curtains being closed, but at the same time, Rumple lets Belle out in the herself...where she can run away? When it was pretty firmly established that Belle never left the castle until Skin Deep when Rumple let Belle go for good? So, what...he trusts that the girl he is holding captive in a dark cell isn't going to up and run away when she's out doing his laundry? Yeah, that sounds logical. And later, in the present day, Belle says that this particular flashback was the first time Rumple saved damsel-in-distress-can't-do-anything-because-she-is-not-really-Belle and that this moment was when Belle first began to see the good in Rumple, the man beneath the Beast. But in "Lacey" she begins that episode by crying over her forever-vacation in the Dark Castle and by episodes end, she sees goodness in Rumple when he gives her a library after sparing Robin and Marian. So...what? It goes back to something that I've touched on before and will likely do so again: the writers don't care about the past episodes. They care about the here and now, the current story arc, the current magical villain and their problems without trying overly hard to stick to canon or established fact. They are hoping that their audience has amnesia (I do not) and won't care that their flashbacks are feeling increasingly disjointed and bizarre (I do).

So, let's do the most basic rundown of this flashback. Belle, new to the Dark Castle, but not so new that she doesn't fear or resent Rumple's attitude and way of life (the timeline is an illusion, like cake) that when he returns from Camelot, she questions why he needs this weeks's current plot device--I mean the magical gauntlet of feelings but also shows an interest in learning about Rumple's life out in the world since she is a shut in (except when doing laundry...yeah, this bugs). When Belle continues to pester him, Rumple banishes her to the woods to do laundry where she does not try to run away like any sensible human being would do...until she spots a puppy dog. I swear to every deity in this universe, if that dalmatian is actually Cruella and she can turn herself into a dog, I will burn this world to the ground. Talk about a Ruby-esque plot twist that wouldn't be fresh or inventive and woild be, frankly, silly. Let's take the defining characteristic of Cruella, the thing that makes her a villain and make it her secret identity! Riiiight. Also, if true, it means that Cruella is probably Perdita and is looking for Pongo, her long lost true love who was stolen by Roger and Anita. Or something like that. Let's face it, that is something akin to where this is going. Why do the villains want to win? Because they are sad sacks of sad who probably only need love to make them whole!

Oh look. Maleficent got herself a new hat and wardrobe. Raise your hand if you are surprised. If you read my blog, then you know that I did not find the Disney live adaption of "Maleficent" to be...uh....good. My review was less than happy but at least ONCE had established Mal in her own right on their show. They actually decided to step away from her Disney incarnation in the first season and I found that to be delightfully refreshing and entertaining. It was something ONCE was founded on: these are only the stories you think you know. They could cater to Disney but not take him absolute. Now, we've got Mal decked out as the Mistress of All Evil, with a dragon staff, the demon horns, wearing all black and looking incredibly Jolie. I know the DISNEY ALL THE THINGS is a controversial topic in this fandom. It does seem like Adam and Eddy can't win. On the one hand, if you don't make the Disney incarnations close to their Disney counterparts then people are going to complain. But going too close to Disney--as this show is now doing at an increasingly alarming rate--also causes people to complain. It's clear that Adam and Eddy "changed" Mal's wardrobe not for story reasons but for money and marketing reasons. Now she "looks" like Mal--Disney's Mal, at least. And that's what matters to the Great Mouse. The second you see Snow wearing that appalling red, yellow, and blue getup, run for the hills, though. That's a sign that the Mouse is really running this shindig. So what is up with these three (drag) queens of darkness? What do they want? Who the frack knows or cares. I'm not kidding. If ONCE is constant in one thing, it's that these three--Mal, Cruella, and a really horribly dressed Ursula--will have tragic backstories in which they became villains because they had their hearts broken or lost loved ones or had bad fathers and mothers. That is how ONCE operates: by formula. Take villain X. Give them roughly the same backstory that is full of sad, connect them to either Regina or Rumple, and present it with a new shiny bow, trying to fool your audience that you're reinventing the wheel. There is no invention anymore. Everything is so literal: the Rock Trolls were actual Rock Trolls! The Wishing Star was an actual Star necklace! The fact is, right now, I know next to nothing about what these three (drag) queens of darkness want. They apparently faced Rumple once before and were his students (oh god help me...that means one of them is in love with him!) but that's about it. They mostly just whine that the "game" is rigged and they can't win because they are villains. Well then maybe you shouldn't do villainous things! It's not a hard concept! I fear that ONCE is actually going down this rather bizarre path that destiny (or The Author) made these people villains instead of the villains doing really terrible things. It's horrible morality (pipe down OutlawQueen, I'll get to you) and it flies in the face of "evil isn't born, it's made." In the end when Cruella says, "the game is rigged" I almost threw my imaginary popcorn at the screen. Which takes us to....present day.


The plot device broom found the plot device door! I...weep. Now that the FROZEN ALL THE THINGS storyline is done, the writers finally turn to the Rumple-is-Evil storyline. And we got a full explanation for why Rumple has been acting the way he has all season! And boy was it good. You see Rumple...nope, wait. Sorry. I lied to you just then when I said we got a logical, well thought out, well written reason. We got jack squat about his motivation except power is good, I can have it all, and power power power. Here's what really irritating me, this idea that Rumple has never given up power before. Does anyone else remember when he threw the dagger at the Wicked Witch, finally choosing Neal over his power? How he allowed himself to be taken by Zelena in order to save his child? Does no one on the writing staff remember the only good (using that word hella loosely) thing about the worst episode of ONCE ever? So, now, at the end of all this, why in the name of sanity is Rumple even doing all this? What was his plan after he cleaved (twitch) himself from the wavy knife, to quote Anna? Go forth into the world aaaaaand? And would the dagger even have any power over him in the real world anyway? There is no magic out there, right? That's the whole point of sending Marian over the town line, to cure her FROZEN heart? So then doesn't it follow that the dagger shouldn't be able to control the Dark One out in the real world; he shouldn't be beholden to it because its magic is rendered null and void? So he needn't have gone through with this cleave (twitch) storyline in the first place? In other words WHAT THE HELL WAS THE DAMN POINT OF THIS ENTIRE RUMPLE STORYLINE EXCEPT TO ONCE AGAIN SEPARATE RUMPLE AND BELLE AND MAKE RUMPLE INTO THE MOST EVIL PERSON IN THE KNOWN UNIVERSE?! Answer: because Adam and Eddy have no idea how to write "good" characters because they are too fascinated by the dark. Look around, folks. How much Snow and Charming did you see in this weeks episode? The episode was called Heroes and Villains...but where were the original heroes of our show?

 And so we come to the moment of the show that almost broke me. Before walking through the convenient door (that is open cause LOVE), Anna spills the beans about Rumple being a lying liar from Liar Town (population: Rumple and Clara Oswald). It's an overly silly moment that is highlight by the fact that ONCE had the perfect, ready made reason for Anna spilling the beans that would have made more sense than the magical gauntlet of feelings and Anna's sudden need to talk to Emma one last time: Belle. Have Anna and Belle interact--actual character interaction from people who met in the past that furthers the plot! Shocking I know! Once Anna tells it like it is, Emma and Snow (because Ginny Goodwin is contractually obligated to be in so many scenes, cause other than that Snow added zip to this moment) run over to the clock tower where Rumple is in the process of cleaving (twitch) and crushing the pirates heart (must. resist. making. comments). Rumple is having a rather hard time crushing Hook's sad pathetic (can't resist too much) heart and it turns out because Belle POOFed (or something?) out of thin air with the real dagger. You see, she found the magical gauntlet of feelings and it led her to the real dagger. That's when she knew; the dagger and the power it represents are Rumple's true love, not her. Oh hey. Did the show just kill my (former?) OTP? Did they just un-canonize TL Rumbelle? Huh. Has anyone checked Tumblr? Is it on fire?

At the town line, Belle finally admits the hard truths: Rumple hasn't changed at all. He is hurting people (though she still doesn't know about Zelena) and only cares about his power. Instead of seeing the man beneath the beast, now she only sees the beast. It's time for Rumple to go and thus Belle, using the real dagger, commands him over the own line. It's pretty heartbreaking and Robert Carlyle and Emilie de Ravin deserve a huge round of applause. This was the moment to why I loved Rumbelle and ONCE so much before. Rumple, here, is sacred and lonely and ugly and selfish and cowardly and afraid, and it's breathtaking to watch Bobby act all these things. When he crosses over, Rumple's leg is instantly hurt again and he falls to the ground. Belle can't even look to see if he's gone, she just turns away and that's that. He's already lost her. I don't need my Rumbelle to be all fluffy and gooey. I'm okay with angst. I'm okay with a good story. Belle shoving Rumple away because of his addiction is a good story, and not one that was necessitated by this whole mini seasonal arc of Rumple being super duper evil. They could have found another way to let Belle in on what was going on with Rumple without the sucking hat. What will Rumple do now? Go to NYC of course! Where he finds...Ursula...and they make plans...and wait what? How is she in our world? Oh my god, if there is another plot device door, I will cut someone. Their plan? Find the other two (drag) queens of darkness and find "The Author" and have him write their fate. Or...something. Guys, I'm calling it right now. The Author is some sort of amalgam of Merlin and YenSid and he lives in our world under the name Walter, but you can call him Walt. The Great Mouse will be pleased.

Miscellaneous Notes on Heroes and Villains

--There was a lot of stuff that I left out because it doesn't really deserve my full attention, so we'll do this bullet point style. Up first, OutlawQueen. Goodbye Robin! Actually, I thought Regina letting Robin go was quite touching. She was chosen, finally, but in the end it doesn't matter. If Marian doesn't get across the town line, she'll die and Regina won't have more blood on her hands. Character development. Atta girl. Will we see Robin again? I sorta hope not. In the end, I can't support this ship, not after sex in the crypt and the fact that Regina makes Robin want to be a man without honor and principles.

--Next up, CaptainSwan, albeit briefly. How is it that Emma doesn't question Hook, at all, about his goings on with Rumple. I mean, she still doesn't know about the hat sucking and the nun sucking. Is she ever going to find out? Is no one concerned that the nuns are missing? Why haven't they realized that ALL THE NUNS ARE GONE?! No, seriously. Rationalize this for me.

--One more FROZEN ALL THE THINGS reference. This time "chocolate!!!" complete with the giggle. Gah. I won't miss this arc.

--Henry and Belle scene! How adorable! But Henry didn't mention Neal when discussing New York City. That's just wrong.

--"You have a hole in your heart." Yes, and its name is Neal but you'll never hear Rumple talk about it ever again.

--A bird that poops sand dollars that talk.

--Normally I'd do some sort of season/mini season wrap up, but like season 3B, I'm too exhausted from ONCE to even try. At least, not a full one. I do want to talk about one thing and that is: why we don't let mega corporations run art. They have different agendas. No one will deny (and certainly not me) that TV is also a business that requires cold hard cash. But mega coprs, a la the Great Mouse, don't care about art for the sake of art. They care about their bottom line. If anyone really thinks Disney isn't calling the shots now on ONCE, let me tell you this: guess what comes out of the Disney vault in February, a month before ONCE returns for 4B? Yes, 101 Dalmatians. Is it any wonder why Cruella is showing up now? It's marketing. It's all clever marketing where the two--ONCE and Disney--play off each other. It's very "you scratch our back, and we'll scratch yours." There is no heart to this show anymore, well not substantial heart anyway. It's all about the big shiny object to play with until the writers get bored and move on. While I like the 11 episode arc structure because it does give me a long break, it's killing the emotional center of this show. Why bother getting invested? Why bother theorizing when the writers use not-so-clever magical handwaving to wrap up the story in ways that the audience never saw coming? What's the point of getting involved in Anna and Elsa when a magical wishing star unites them and a magical door takes them home (where apparently they defeat the invaders of Hans and his brothers in like a day...?) Adam and Eddy don't care about storytelling anymore; they care about product. They aren't mutually exclusive, but once upon a time (more word puns!) they cared about one more than the other.

--Final Grade for Season 4A: C- (though, for the record, I liked Ingrid way more than I liked Zelena)

--Final Episode Ranking for 4A
Shattered Sight
Heroes and Villains
Breaking Glass
Family Business
Rocky Road
Smash the Mirror
A Tale of Two Sisters
White Out
The Apprentice
The Snow Queen


  1. Hello! I just wanted to say that even as a Hook fan (lol you might know who this is mwahaha :P) I love your reviews and please never stop writing them..either 4b will be good or a total mess I guess we'll see in March.

    Oh and I wanted to mention that yes, I agree about Emma or even Hook not mentioning anything that happened while he was with Rumple it's ridiculous that Emma literally had Hook's heart in her hands and yet didn't even wonder and question why the hell Rumple had it to begin with?? I mean really. I could go on but I'll stop there.

    And so begins another crazy hiatus.

    1. Thank you for reading!

      (ponders who you are)


    Well, SOMEONE had to take up that mantle. Cora's dead, Peter Pan's dead, Jafar is stuck in a bottle who knows the Dark One, Rumple kind of IS the most evil person in the known universe now by default, until someone from the unknown universe shows up and supplants him, I guess.

    I think this story came about because Adam, Eddy, and Robert Carlyle were tired of people forgetting that Rumple was not only a villain but one of the worst around AND that, although Regina and Hook fans are guilty of the same thing, Regina and Hook have at least done much more of their own choice to better themselves, whereas Rumple was pretty much forced into it by a situation (the Pan/Neverland one).

    Eddy Kitsis: It’s very interesting, because Rumple warned us in season 1 that he was a difficult man to love. Every time we show that side of him, people like to gloss over the fact that he was one of the world’s biggest villains.

    1. Similarly, Robert Carlyle has been explicit in how much he dislikes it when Rumbelle the ship overshadows Rumple the character for many fans. When an interviewer insinuated fan unhappiness that Rumple was doing bad things that Belle wouldn't agree with, Robert seemed flat-out frustrated.

      Robert Carlyle: Belle and him are two entirely separate things. It's wrong. You cannot combine these two characters together and think they're the same thing. There’s loads of stuff out there talking about “Rumbelle.” It doesn't exist. He is absolutely a character in his own right, as is she.

      He definitely loves her. There's no doubt about that and he wants to be with her. This other thing, [other] part of his life, is probably bigger. Because this has existed long before she came along and will probably exist long after she's gone. This hat and this kind of quest for magic and power is so massive for him. This kind of addiction he has to it is huge. That's what drives Rumplestiltskin more than love.

      That, in the end, was the point of the arc: to re-establish Rumple and Belle as individuals with their own lives and agendas outside of their relationship. This was especially needed for Belle, who's was stuck in the rut of just being Rumple's lover instead of living the life of adventure she'd dreamed of, a fact that was already highlighted with "Family Business" and its flashback to before she met Rumple. As she put it: "I lost my way trying to help you find yourself."

    2. Hello, thank you for reading. I hope you don't mind a rather bullet point style response. (busy time of the year)

      1) With regards to "someone had to take up the mantel." Well, no. No one HAS to do anything. There is no imaginary or real gun pointed at Adam and Eddy's head, the holder of said dangerous weapon threatening to pull the trigger unless A and E write a BIG BAD into each and every season (though if there is something like that, then it's Disney...but I digress). And this speaks to maybe the single biggest problem on ONCE as a whole, and something I've touched on briefly above: the formulaic writing. A and E tend to believe that in order to create watchable drama they must bring in a Big Bad from a new land with new magic and a new backstory. It could be watchable if the villain was interesting enough and the story didn't feel repetitive (hence why the Oz arc was damn near unwatchable but the Pan one was better). I understand the overall concept that you must give your protagonists something to fight against, but that "thing" need not be a Big Bad. There is so much internal potential drama between our characters that keeps getting swept under the rug for the sake of NEW VILLAIN! That's the problem with A and E as writers: they are boys with toys who won't step back from their overloaded toy chest to realize that they've neglected their original toys. Again, I will say where were Snow and Charming for most of this season? Snow we can give somewhat of a pass--Ginny did just have a baby, though it didn't stop her from doing excellent work in Shattered Sight. But A and E like their shiny toys and that doesn't make for good writing. So, as to the idea that someone HAD to take up the mantel of evil, that's a false assumption based on a faulty premise.

    3. 2) Rumple as evil. I have said this (I think to you if you're the same anon who frequently engages with me...and I enjoy it! So keep reading!) many times. I have never once forgotten that Rumple has done really terrible things. Not once. Like I say in my blog time and time again, both with regards to Rumple and not, I do not have amnesia. I remember it all. The point is not that Rumple has never done terrible things and so these terrible things feel out of left field...the point is that the terrible things in the past were well reasoned and well written. I could choose to sympathize with them or not, but at least they were articulated. Rumple's plan in universe never made any sense. So he wants to cleave (twitch) himself from the dagger..on the whole, not a bad plan. But if his entire goal was the cleaving followed by the leaving, then it doesn't make a lick of sense. Outside in the non-magical real world, who the heck is going to try and take that dagger and make Rumple their puppet? How is Rumple actually going to be beholden to the dagger? And would Rumple's magic even work in the outside world? Meaning that cleaving himself from the dagger, but retaining his power, wouldn't come to pass out in NYC. He'd be powerless. Which was the exact opposite of what he was intending. Now, when it was 300 years ago (or season 1) and he did all these really terrible things, it made sense given his impetus of finding his son and the trauma of letting go of Bae's hand. That was a logical storyline. This not so much. However, I do agree with you on one point, which brings us to....

      3) Establishment of individuality with regards to Belle and Rumple. I totally agree that Belle and Rumple exist outside of their ship. Well, Rumple does. Rumple has other stories besides being one half of a ship. Belle is a mix of Google and a crutch to the writers. She hasn't been allowed to do anything outside of being Rumbelle ever. That's a shame. They are have truly and egregiously misused Emilie. I am 100% a-ok with Rumple and Belle have individual arcs not tied up with one another. But the idea that this needs to happen by way of Rumple going Super Duper Non-Logical Evil doesn't go together. These ideas do not necessitate one another. Rumple does not need to go Big Bad in order to give Belle her own storyline. That in and of itself is a Rumbelle--or at least Rumple heavy--storyline for her. They had the perfect opportunity for Belle to establish herself in her own right with Anna and they failed to deliver on that because of the magical gauntlet of feelings. And honestly, all of this goes back to point number one, the formulaic writing and the lack of creativity from the writers these days.

      But as always, thank you for reading.