Monday, March 2, 2015

In Which I Review Once Upon A Time (4x12)

Hello. My name is Jacquelyn and I anger-watch Once Upon A Time (I won't say hate-watch because against all odds, there was one episode last half of season 4 that stood out as quite good). I thought maybe I should put that out there into the universe. This past season more people have been reading my blog and, more to the point, commenting and I want to make sure that we're all on the same page here. If you're expecting a praise worthy review, you will likely get no enjoyment from my blog. If you still think the sun rises and sets with ONCE, you'll find my reviews frustrating and angry. But, hey, I am frustrated and angry with ONCE, so it fits. This is not to say that you all are not welcome here in my mirror fun house, but be prepared: I stopped loving this show awhile ago. Now I'm only here for the snark. Three months off was not enough; I don't know if any amount of time would be enough. But here we are again--once more unto the breach with the spring premiere, 'Darkness on the Edge of Town.' So where do I stand with this episode? It was...serviceable. Yes, that's the word I am going to use for it. The hard part is that we are so far into the life of this show--four seasons now--that I can not NOT look at any kind of premiere and compare it to ones that came before. Compared to season 4A's premiere 'A Tale of Two Sisters,' this one was better. It was tighter, funnier, more focused on characters I care about, and less bubblegum pink (if TV can have a color, which it can and does). However there were also some straight up stupid and silly things happening and when you compare this weeks episode to ones like, 'Heart of the Truest Believer,' or 'New York City Serenade,' or even the 'Pilot,' we are worlds from where we once were. With that in mind, that in order to watch this show, I have to lower my standards--something I feel disinclined to do since I don't think you should ever have to negotiate your expectations when it comes to media--let's jump head first into this new 11 episode arc. 

Rumplestiltskin's Council of Ladies 

Green magic breath. Because magic handwaving is too mainstream. Sweet mother of God, what is that? Why does Cruella have green magic breath? Who invented that and what were they smoking when they did? Walk me through how this came about in the writers room. They want Cruella to be magical, okay that's understandable. But how do you get from that perfectly fine notion to green magic breath? Can you tell I am bothered by the green magic breath? Other than Cruella's halitosis, the relatively short flashback was essentially answering the question of how the (Drag) Queens of Darkness all met and became bosom buddies. If you guessed Rumple, you're right! Remember, he's the cool kid--he knows everybody. It's something we basically already knew from the end of the last arc so it's not something we need to dwell on for very long. I will say this; I am glad that the writers tied the Dark Curse into this little tet-a-tet-a-tet...a tet. I was worried from the start that Rumple's sudden desire to get a happy ending because he was a villain and needed other villain's help was a pretty big fumble. Rumple has always wanted his power, but the manipulation he played out behind the scenes in the EF of the past was always in service of getting his son back (though you'll never hear him mention his son Baelfire on screen ever again...). Tying back into the Dark Curse (which he gave to Regina who gives it to Mal at some point but Mal told Regina in S1 that she didn't know where it came from....?) was a nice way to remind the audience that Rumple was the puppet master and ultimately feels less "story of the arc" and more "story of the show."

So why these three villains? To be perfectly frank, Rumple doesn't need all three. He really just needs Mal and Cruella but Adam and Eddy have never known when to stop with their shiny toys. There is quite a bit of extemporizing from Rumple about Bald Mountain and how each of the villains posses some ability that will help him get the Dark Curse and long story short, Cruella has bad breath, Mal is a pyromaniac and Ursula has tentacles. Seriously, that's Ursula's power? Rumple needed her because she has long tentacles that can reach far and grab a shiny orb on a pedestal. Oof. Basically Ursula is Moon Moon (internet meme, look it up people). Taking the shiny precious object awakens Gollum. Wait, no. That's the wrong mythos. It awakens the Chernabog. Cause we have demons now; a hellbeast who is probably best known for frightening children of all ages in the movie Fantasia (shock, given the broom and the hat from last arc). Basic rundown that Rumple gives before he leaves the (Drag) Queens of Darkness to their fate (because of course he betrayed them): the Chernabog seeks out the heart with the greatest potential for darkness and eats it. Sure, whatever. What's more important is that this is a bonding exercise for the (Drag) Queens of Darkness. They have to work together to escape being made a tasty snack. I'm sure I'm supposed to have warm fuzzies or something but frankly I find almost nothing about these three to be endearing or powerful or worthy of my time. I can't get over how Jolie-esque they've made Mal; she's a far cry from how ONCE depicted her in season one. Ursula is freaking Moon Moon and she looks like the ultimate fashion victim. She's got the peplum, she's got gauntlets, she's got the crazy hair, she's got the tentacles, she's got the headdress, and she's spilling out of her dress. It's straight up crazy. She looks like a Project Runway reject from the unconventional challenge. Now, Cruella I find I like more than I expected. Victoria Smurfit is playing her as unhinged and it's rather fun because it's mixed in with a faux 1920s flapper "oh daaaaarling" demeanor. But the ultimate problem still remains that we do not need all three of these villains, plus Rumple. Why should I be emotionally invested in these three when they are either farcically bizarre (Ursula); a cheap knockoff of a recent movie (Mal) and delightfully unhinged but obviously going to be under utilized (Cruella) because I think it's pretty clear that Mal will take center stage here. At any rate, they all became best friends and lived happily ever after. Or, you know, not. To sum up: the flashbacks are necessary but becoming increasingly underwhelming and dull.

Not Our First Monster Bash

Yes the title of my section is a Hook quote. I can occasionally be okay with some of the drivel that passes from his cursed anti-True Love lips. And yes, I will be passing over the Hook and Belle stuff until the end to save myself from a full on rant. Meanwhile, back in Storybrooke: something has been released and is tearing apart the town! Omgosh! This NEVER happens, guys. Except, you know, every season. This portion of the episode was better than the flashback, but there was also a lot of treading water and people rehashing things that we already knew: Regina and Emma are looking for the author; Belle is sad; Hook is angry; Fairies are in a hat; Snow and Charming don't exist until the writers need to remind the audience that they do. Six weeks have passed and life continues as normal. Everything is at a standstill in the town and I think that works with the idea that things are just very human and non-magical right now. Henry goes to school; Mary Margaret teaches (wut); Regina is mayor again and setting stuff on fire (wut). The slow start to the present day action, I think, is supposed to drive home the point that there is nothing happening in town. So thank god Belle found someone to translate a magical language from another realm! No, seriously. She thinks a professor in Oxford translated a magical spell for her. How does this NOT send up red flags in her mind? It's another language from another world that involves magic! And someone magically translated it for her, no questions asked? And she doesn't stop to think that maybe this is Rumple (because of course it's the puppet master). I guess it plays into how the writers think of Belle as being smart only after she's done tons and tons of research but until then she can't see her nose in front of her face or the forest for the trees. I mean, it's not like Belle's ever been perceptive or intuitive, right? What show am I watching again?

So the fairies come forth from the hat to everyone's happiness cause we all love ourselves some fairies. Helpful little plot devices that they are. And guess what else comes forth: Chernabog, naturally. I have no idea how he got into that hat, nor do I really care. I don't think it will ever be explained. Like so much of this show. The interesting thing is that Chernabog doesn't seek out Regina, as one might expect but rather seeks out Emma. She has the heart with the greatest potential for darkness. The writers have never said that love was *always* good (and, in fact, the overwhelming message of love and romance on ONCE is straight up negative from my admittedly biased and bitter perspective). They did once have Rumple say that love is a disease and has killed many and that's true philosophically speaking. As True Love Incarnate, I guess Emma would not only be the ultimate good but the ultimate weapon as well. People kill in the name of their savior all time and religion is a driving force behind so much of the world's conflicts. Sounds like I'm praising the show, doesn't it? Here's the rub: none of it matters. If you actually think Adam and Eddy would allow their original character, the one whose non-traditional fairy tale they are supposed to be telling, to go evil and more to the point, stay evil, then I've got a large bridge to sell you. Emma will be tempted, I'm sure, but full on darkness from their savior who's job it is to bring back the happy endings? Please. Not even remotely possible. What do I think is possible then? Death. No, that's not Emma bashing despite her Pod status. It's her archetype. Savior's die; they are reborn, yes, but first they die. And if you think Emma will be in danger for long, look at how Chernabog was dealt with this episode: quickly and swiftly. He was launched from the roof of a car and evaporated--a hell beast demon gone because of geography. He was nothing more than a way to set up the idea of Evil! Emma. Do I think there is a possibility that Chernabog will return? Sure, of course. There always is on this show (unless you are Neal). But, Chernabog went the way of the Wraith and Marshmallow--dealt with and never seen again.

Meanwhile, on the edge of town...darkness comes. Yes, I know; it was low hanging fruit. Cruella and Ursula and Rumple need to find a way into town so enter the worst plot device I have ever seen on this show--that includes beans, brooms, wishing stars, Pegasus sails, and gauntlets. Do you know what they used? A phone. Ursula called up Regina and asked to be let into the town. Storybrooke is impossible to find and enter unless you make a phone call. Now, I'll be fair, it's not just the phone but it's also the scroll from the Snow Queen which the heroes just happen to have lying around...for...reasons? Of course, I had issues with the magical scroll that transported the Snow Queen into Storybrooke in the first place, so it's not like I was a fan of using it and a silly phone call to get into the town once more (please let us in Regina! We promise to be good! Sweet mercy). However, passing over the silly and stupid phone call, Rumple starts to lay out his plans and I must admit that Bobby did a great job (as he always does) of making Rumple so watchable. Now, I hate what the writers have done to him this past season, turning him into Not! Rumple but Bobby does show that vulnerable side at the edge of town while Cruella points a gun at his head (cause bitch be crazy, yo). Rumple tells Ursula that he wants what they want--a happy ending and what that means is his own business, not theirs. So here it is, my one and only prediction and theory for this show. I think Rumple is going to die, for real, at the end of this season. I think he (and Bobby, to be perfectly honest) want released from this life (or contract for Bobby) and his own dependence on magic. Adam and Eddy have already set up this idea with Ingrid last season who off'd herself as a way to get a happy ending. I think Rumple will die and the final scene for him will be him entering some sort of after life where a 14 year old Baelfire waits for him, just like Ingrid's sisters were waiting for her. As for the (drag) Queens of Darkness, what are their happy endings? I don't care. Their happy endings could be a pizza and I'd find it as emotionally resonating as wanting love and a family at this point.

Miscellaneous Notes on Darkness On the Edge of Town

--So, Hook and Belle. I hated this whole scene. Or, rather, I have a lot of issues with the fact that Belle's heartfelt teary speech was given to Hook of all people. Why? I’m glad Belle was having that conversation but I cannot abide her having it with a man who once beat her, shot her and tried to murder the man she loves. Especially when he’s never given even her any sort of genuine, non snarky apology for actually hurting her. Putting the abused and the abuser in the same room and expecting them to bond when there has been no mea culpa leaves a very sour taste in my mouth. Just because Hook was a victim of Rumple as well does not, under any circumstance, lessen the fact that Belle was once his victim. If anything being Rumple's plaything should make him realize that what he did to Belle was wretched and he owes her 100000 apologies.

--"Many years ago" is Adam and Eddy speak for "we have no idea when this is because we don't actually keep track of the timeline"

--"Because your life is crap." Rumple in his robe with his Ramen. Bless. (I wish I could quit you Rumple, but I don't know if I ever can)

--Mr. Cluck's is a LOST reference, a far superior show in every way, shape, and form.

--So the Author and the Sorcerer are different people who are also on opposite sides of the fence, as it were. My guess? The author is the good guy (and Walt Disney) and the Sorcerer is a bad guy (who created the Dark Curse and is the First Dark One).

--Snow and Charming have a history with Ursula and Cruella. What happened between the foursome? At this moment in time, I kid you not, I think there is a secret baby or something. Why? Because Adam and Eddy love themselves some Star Wars. Also, holy clunky dialogue Batman!
 "no one must know what happened between us in the EF = everyone is going to find out what happened between you in the EF"


  1. I like the Hook-Belle friendship since Rumple ruined both their lives and I'm all for forgiveness, but I agree that the lack of an apology scene is bothersome and symptomatic of a big problem: writer laziness via "Offscreenville".

    The time skip is the usual cop-out they take to having to write scenes like that, Hook and Belle have been on good terms and working together for 6 weeks, so the audience is supposed to conclude that the sincere apology happened offscreen during that time, prompted by Belle saving Hook's life (when he wanted it to be saved this time, as opposed to in "The Outsider"). He DID realize what he did to Belle was wretched and apologized, perhaps 100000 times, but it was totally offscreen. That's all well and good, but the writers underestimate how badly people WANT to see scenes like this, how much they LIKE scenes like this. It's not just Belle-Hook and it's not even just now, this has a problem for a long while, since Season 2.

    1. Thanks for reading!

      So, Offscreenville is a very good way to put this. And it happens to Belle quite a bit--her apparent reconciliation with her father being a perfect example. Belle is very forgiving (see: Rumple) so it's not a matter of me questioning that she can't forgive Hook but rather that Hook hasn't made any sort of onscreen moves that he is sorry. Which is a huge problem for the show and ethics/morality.

      As for the writers, once again I agree. They tend to be singular in understanding what the audience wants to see. For example in the Hook/Belle situation, they know that a large part of the fandom--and let's talk frank here, it's the fandom, not the "audience" which tends to encompass the general audience as well but it's never easy to know what the GA wants--so, thus select parts of the fandom wants to see Hook work with Belle (not the other way round) in order to prove that Hook is a changed man. But because that select portion of the fandom believes *already* that Hook is a changed man, they don't need to see the apology. They think Hook is in the clear. So the writers are catering to one select sect and not the whole piece of the pie. The rest of the pie would like to see an apology--if only so people stop demanding it!

      It's the other major problem with the writers: they pick and chose who to play to based on popularity and vocalization. So, while I liked the Regina/Emma stuff this episode and I want to see a friendship progress, it also felt heavily like SQ-bait.

    2. I too would like to see a friendship progress, but it's actually being handled 100 times worse than the Hook-Belle one. At least there, we see the former abuser being the one to emotionally comfort and accomodate his former victim (even to the point of putting in a good word for Rumple, which is no easy feat for him). Whereas not only have we ALSO never gotten an on-screen apology from Regina to Emma, but it's always Emma, the former victim, emotionally comforting and accomodating Regina, the former abuser, who has done far worse to Emma than Hook did to Belle. I really wish this stupid Author plot didn't exist, and we could have a friendship where Regina tries to elevate Emma, who could really use it.

    3. With regards to Regina and Emma, I would also like to see a friendship progress that feels more natural and not like one of them (read: Emma) is constantly trying to apologize for anything Regina feels Emma did that was wrong. I mean, does Emma even know that Regina ordered Emma's death when Emma was an hour old? But this speaks to a much a larger overall problem with ONCE which is the inability to write compelling *friendships* that last longer than an arc. They had one with Red and Snow but then A and E got distracted by shiny objects and Red became a babysitter. Emma and Elsa had something nice, but then Elsa left after the Frozen arc and will never come back. Belle has no friends and apparently nothing outside of Rumple and research. Snow has nobody now except her husband and new son, and vice versa. Regina had Tink but now has nobody except Emma who keeps bending over backwards to make Regina feel better about herself, but it doesn't go both ways. It's highly troublesome.

    4. Agreed, sad but true.

      (Also, could you please remove my deleted comment? Thank you.)

  2. Always a delight to read these. I agree with what you write, naturally with the exception of Emma being able to turn evil. In the promo when she looks pale and deathly, I assumed it was because that was a doppleganger. I'm not sure I like that the TrueLove incarnate can be evil; that seems like an impossibility. Especially when you have Regina or even MM who has taken a life via magic candle. The idea of corrupting the one character who is supposed to be incorruptible when there are plenty of other people for the picking is irritating.

    And as a side note, I think Cruella has green magic breath because of the animated movie with her cigarettes.

    1. With regards to Emma's appearance, I think that might actually be Jennifer Morrison. She spent a lot of S4A looking like death warmed over, with huge dark circles under her eyes and limp, lifeless hair. I'm not trying to bash her but I wouldn't take the way she looks as a sign of anything.

      As for the idea of the Savior and whether or not she can be corrupted, I disagree. From an archetypical stand point, it would be far stranger for her to not be tempted. All Saviors get tempted--Frodo and the power of the Ring, Jesus in the desert with Satan, Harry Potter and wanted to seek the Horcruxes for himself, Luke Skywalker and contemplating the Dark Side, even Buffy being tempted by how Faith views slaying and the world. So that part fits the mythology of a Savior. Where I think Adam and Eddy will draw a huge line in the sand in the extent to which Emma will be corruptible. In fact, I'm willing to bet that the "Temptation of Emma Swan" does not last long at all, perhaps an episode or two, before "true love saves the day" cause that's their favorite trope.

      I agree that Cruella has green magic breath because of the cigarettes associated with her animated movie, but they could have made the smoke red or black--colors associated with Cruella in the first place. Green breath automatically brings halitosis to mind.

  3. Hello! Great review it's good to read them again. I LOLed at this "He was launched from the roof of a car and evaporated--a hell beast demon gone because of geography. " HAHAHAHAHA it's so ridiculous but it actually happened. Only on this damn show.

    Oh, and I didn't even realize the LOST did I forget that?! And lets be honest that scene of villains ordering fast food was the best thing in the entire episode.

    1. Thanks for reading! And yes, I do love a good LOST reference. The fast food moment was quite funny.