Monday, April 20, 2015

In Which I Review Once Upon A Time (4x18)

If she doesn't scare you, no evil thing will. Here's something rather shocking: I actually enjoyed parts of this weeks episode, "Sympathy for the De Vil." There were twists and turns that felt like season one of OUAT, back when there was a magic to the show unlike any other. Cruella, not being scorned by love and a man, but instead being a literal sociopath who, in turn, spurned and scorned a man (and fed her mother to her dogs)...that's good. That's more than good, that's delightful. That's the sort of meal I can sink my teeth into and enjoy. Now, don't misunderstand, there were plenty of things about this episode that I found utterly ridiculous (story worlds don't exist in time...? The Author poofs to other lands...? Cruella ended up in the Enchanted Forest how...?) but often times a good twist can overshadow the criticisms in plot devices used, dialogue uttered, and squicky special effects. I'm not sure if this was the my favorite of the season (still think it's 'Darkness on the Edge of Town') but this was one hell of a step up from last weeks utter travesty in storytelling. Everyone grab a puppy coat and some gin and let's go to 1920s! Fictional! London (because that's a thing now). 

Like A Spider Waiting For The Kill

So Cruella wasn't scorned by a man and then went evil over how unfair her life was without a man. I mean, let's all take a moment and appreciate that ONCE actually didn't go this incredibly misogynistic route like they have many times before in which women feel worthless or can no longer be good because "my man done left and hurt me!" The aspect of this narration that I truly appreciated was that for most of the episode you thought that's exactly where this backstory was going. The Author up and did something nasty to the poor woman and she went evil because her heart was broken. But nope! Cruella is actually a sociopath who enjoys killing and couldn't care less about the Author...and probably gives even less thought to the rest of humanity. Her backstory isn't in keeping with the idea that evil isn't born, it's made, but it is something utterly different from that now trite and repetitive theme that has been hammered home to us about a million times now. I appreciate the difference. I think there is probably a line somewhere with mental illness and it's very possible that the writers crossed it (I'm honestly not sure since I'm not a mental health expert) but sociopathy is a condition that causes this kind of behavior--not caring about others, being able to fake emotions to gain trust and sympathy, using everyone around you in a manipulative way. Does it make you evil? No. Does it mean that the ill person should die? No. But I do recognize that in this fairy tale world story, Cruella's danger was to everyone around her and in order to advance some parts of the story and move it forward, she was going to go down, even if it might make me question (once again) the mortality of the show. But I'm sort of talking in circles and getting ahead of myself. Let's really look at Cruella here in all her sociopathic and crazed glory. Let's dive in and splash around in that darkness, eh?

The way the narrative of Cruella was set up was rather...genius. Yeah, I just called something OUAT related genius. Don't worry. I haven't changed my tune about the show in general. Do you know why we have little kids in TV shows? To garner sympathy. TV audiences have a hard time hating little kids, especially when said little kids are running from an authoritative figure like an oppressive mother dressed in all black who uses dogs as a scare tactic. It brings to mind Henry in Season One, constantly running from the Evil Queen. You rooted for Henry and rooted against Regina because we are hard wired as a species to want to protect children. The fact that it's a little girl, with our current Cruella story, only sells the point more; think The Walking Dead--the little girl who turned out to be...well, a crazy sociopath who thought she could hear the Walkers talking to her and wanted to be their friend. We watched horrified as Carol killed her because you don't hurt children but at the same time, you knew it's what had to be done. This episode and Cruella's backstory had a similar vibe. The audience is now tuned to think of Cruella as a poor soul, locked in her attic by her mother, tortured and lonely. Showing us a character like that touches something human inside us; we might never have been locked in an attic (well, I should hope not) but we understand and empathize with the loneliness and the fear and her wanting, simply, to live. That feeling of wanting to live is a theme the Author and Cruella apparently share. The Author (who's name is Isaac so I can finally stop writing "The Author") lives his life by writing stories but never living a story himself. He records, he changes, he manipulates, but he never gets to experience what it's like to live a story--in which he's a dashing and handsome man and a beautiful woman is enraptured by him. Cruella appeals to that, having lived a life of solitude as well, not being able to live her own story. They seem to be kindred spirits, but that's the beauty of the sociopathy. Cruella knows how to play on people's weakness and use it to her advantage: in this case getting out of the house to start, and then--once she learns Isaac's secret about being the Author--stealing his quill and wanting to use it after she kills her mother (and skins the dogs for a coat). You see, Cruella, is a killer. An utter killer. She murdered her mother's husbands and then she murders her mother. For a lark. Cruella just wants to watch the world burn, folks. That's her villainy. It's interesting because it's fresh and new. It's what I used to expect from OUAT long before they sold out for cheap tricks and cliche storylines.

The one part of this flashback I did not enjoy was the incredible amount of plot holes and wonky hand waving. How about I just spit out these questions at random. I don't even have answers or solutions; I just have a lot of questions and some eye rolling. Realms of stories don't have time? They exist outside of time? Then how would it always be 1920s Flapper era, even before America had their 1920s flapper era? How did the Author get to 1920s! Fictional! London? How did he get back? How did Cruella get to the Enchanted Forest? How did her car get to our world? Why do you need both the ink and the quill? Why did the ink change Cruella's eyebrows and hair? Can the Author write himself into different places? Do any realms have time and progress? The Enchanted Forest obviously progressed. Did the original "real world" authors (like Barrie or Baum) write those worlds into existence? Do you see what I'm getting at? They are interesting questions but they are also being left incredibly vague with the understanding that they will never be explained. It's supposed to be handwaved away with "magic." But it's sloppy and frankly confusing. When writers don't respect the rules of their world, it's obvious and it pulls audience members out of the narrative moments because suddenly we're focused on trying to rationalize the fantasy world breaking. And it becomes increasingly hard to make excuses for the poor and sloppy handling of said world and universe, which is why I've stopped and now just point out all the flaws and rail again them.

OMG! They Kidnapped Henry! Those Bastards! 

There wasn't a whole lot going on in present day Storybrooke which is why this is going to be much shorter (yes, yes, yes. I'll talk about Rumbelle later.) Really the entire present day story was leading up to Emma killing Cruella to save Henry, not knowing that the Author had written that Cruella could never harm another soul as long as she lived. It was a good twist, but this is the question I really want to ask: Is this really enough to make Emma go dark, like Gold hopes and planned? Because, this was, in Emma's mind, justifiable homicide. She doesn't know that Cruella has been "banned" from hurting people and is unable to actually hurt Henry. All Emma knows is that the lunatic has a gun pointed at her son and has every intention of using it--or so Emma thinks. What wouldn't a mother do in this situation? See. There we go. We're back to that that question that ONCE has always wondered about; namely, what lengths would a parent go to in order to protect their child? From Rumple ripping apart worlds, to Snowing taking Emma's supposed darkness and putting it in Lily to Emma killing another person to save Herny, the theme of parents and their offspring is one that keeps coming back up. Even in the flashback, Cruella's mother believed that there was no way to fix Cruella (and to be fair, there isn't) so for other people's safety and for Cruella's, she locked her in an attic. Should this act of preserving her child really cause Emma to go evil? And if it does, what does that say about all the other acts parents have committed in the name of their children but has not caused them to go all red-eyed (no, seriously. What is up with JMo's look lately?) and demonic. Did Snowing go evil after the Lily incident? No. They tried to be better heroes. And we constantly see how Regina's love for Henry is really her saving grace. So for Emma to go full on Dark Side after this leaves me with a lot of questions about continuity and fairness. The writers have been playing up Evil! Emma this season but the way of getting her there leaves a lot to be desired. In other news, how the heck does Henry have no survival skills yet? This kid has been kidnapped how many times now? Many. The answer is many. And he still can't manage to get away from the crazy people? Seriously, kid. Start carrying some pepper spray. I think I am going to paraphrase Buffy here, "Henry's in trouble. Must be Sunday."

Miscellaneous Notes on Sympathy For The De Vil

--Alright. Let's do Rumbelle. Kill me now. Or just give me lots to drink. First off, I have a lot of issues with the idea that Belle would willingly give up her heart to the Evil Queen, a woman who held her captive for 30 years. But moreover, that moment in the woods (while well acted) was just full of NO. The way "Belle" spoke to Rumple was hard to watch. And why didn't Rumple realize he wasn't kissing is True Love? Shouldn't you know that? Also, ex husband? When did that happen? How did that happen? Did she fax him divorce papers while he was in NYC living on Ramen?

--"I'm a really terrible person." Well, she did warn us. Also, dragon eggshell to keep your youth. The hell is that?

--Emma is behaving like a petulant child right now. I get that she's angry; she has every right to be. But to say that she doesn't trust Snowing and Charming with Henry's life?? Are you kidding me? They'd never hurt Henry. It's actually the opposite of their Lily story--they protected their family first and foremost. If the writers want me to buy that Emma has grown as a character then she needs to develop a new coping mechanism.

--Speaking of Emma, I also have a really big problem with the idea that because the villains--Hook and Regina in this case--never touted themselves as paragons of virtue, their deeds aren't as bad or reprehensible. That's...not how this works Emma. That's not how any of this works.


1 comment:

  1. -Perhaps I missed something in my clambering attempt to catch up...but how/when did Mal learn that A) Cruella and Ursula knew about her daughter, and B) left her to die?
    -And the whole Snowing thing where they removed all evil potential from Emma has become further convoluted because she just killed someone. Do I think it was justifiable, yes...but she still murdered. The taking of a life seems pretty not okay, and yet that should not have been possible.