Monday, May 4, 2015

In Which I Review Once Upon A Time (4x20)

Coooooooraaaaaaaa. Sorry. But every time I say Cora's name it has to sound like Snow White back in season two, when she held the Death Candle over Cora's heart. Don't worry. I won't say Coooooooraaaaa like that all through the review. It's just a nice way to dive head first into this weeks episode, 'Mother.' Unsurprisingly, this episode was all about mommies and their babies--Cora and Regina, Zelena and Baby Plot Device, Mal and Lily, Snow and Emma. You would think that Baby Snowflake and Snowing would be in there as well as Emma/Regina and Henry but nope. We're sticking with the mommies who hurt us and how we all need to let it go (FROZEN ALL THE THINGS makes a surprising return to the blog!) and forgive. On the whole, it wasn't a terrible episode; I enjoy the Author plot far more than I was anticipating because it does feel more grown up and less shiny Disney Fanfic come to life. It's a plot that is organic to the show, mostly because the book has been around for so long. The writers are finally playing with light and dark in a meaningful, if somewhat confused, way and it gives us something to sink our teeth into; a feast I enjoy instead of one I feel forced to endure. Outside of the Author plot line, the real question becomes can you forgive a parent who has so wronged you? Can you find your chance at grace? It's an interesting quandary to be sure and one that the daughters of the OUAT-world need to deal with. Oh, and let's not forget, the Author has got a hankering to write himself some fan fiction (preferably not of the smutty variety). Grab your daughter or pregnant sister (ick) and let's go! 

Please Keep Your Hands To Yourself

Wow, there was a lot of inappropriate man-handling in the past, amiright? Like, a lot of touching and feeling but the sort that makes you want to scrub your brain with some heavy duty, industrial strength bleach. I really did not need the Sheriff of Nottingham groping Regina nor did I need him flirting with Cora. The entire flashback--which I admit I thought had some of the weaker moments of the episode--was about Cora and Regina's first reunion since Regina pushed Cora through a mirror into Wonderland. This isn't to say I didn't like the flashbacks, more like they didn't hold my interest as much since they felt inserted and thought up for this episode only; they were never planned out from the last time we saw Cora and Regina, let's say. However, there are some really good in-character moments for these two ladies, Cora and Regina, and that is always worth noting and celebrating. Too often, lately, the characters on OUAT feel completely outside their basic paradigm, as if they are playing versions of themselves that even they don't recognize. Rumple not trying to get his son back? Snow and Charming being secret baby snatchers? All feel totally outside the basic mold of how we were told to view these characters. And while there is something to be said about character growth and change, it has to feel organic and not like it's only for the plot of the current arc. Snow and Charming are the greatest victims of this. Cora and Regina, on the other hand, have always had a very twisted relationship. It was one built on abuse and Cora's own supposed superiority. Mommy knows best, after all. Cora wanted Regina to get a happy ending so that Cora could live vicariously through her; it's something that, I think, is more grounded in the reality of our world than in the fantastical of the Enchanted Forest. Parents live for their children all the time. but not all of them have magic and the ability to remove hearts and take away your first love with a mere squeeze of their hand. Should Regina have trusted Cora as far as she did? No, but it's keeping in line with Regina's character: the daughter who only ever wanted her mother's love and approval but found it difficult to get since--lo and behold--Cora didn't have her heart inside her body for a long time. So Cora's insertion into Regina's life in a weird and twisted way (trying to get Regina to bang a man) and Regina's almost enthusiastic response to affection and attention are very much in line with how these two ladies were set up in season one, back in 'The Stable Boy.' Wow, did I just praise OUAT? Yes. Yes I did.

Let me back up a bit and explain what I mean by this. Why is Cora in the Enchanted Forest? To get Regina pregnant. Yes, I really just wrote that. And yes, that's really why Cora is back from Wonderland (via bunny! in his hat! so jaunty! I miss you bunny). Cora is, as always, very concerned with her legacy and making sure that her family stays on top. Regina hasn't exactly lived up to that idea yet. She might be Queen, but thus far, no babies have been sliding out. And I'm sure it is, in fact, for lack of trying. There have always been theories that Regina and Leopold rarely shared the same bed, something that does seem to be confirmed by their cold marriage. While consummation undoubtedly took place on their wedding night, it seems unlikely that Leo went to her again with any sort of frequency, if he ever did. Thus, Regina was able to keep herself from carrying a child. The issue comes in the years after Leo when she was sleeping with (raping) Graham. Why were there no babies then? Lack of babies does not a happy Queen of Hearts make. And so Cora finds a man in a bar and makes him pretend to be Robin Hood, whom Regina has only seen from the back. Because...of course Cora did. It's all pretty squicky. The plan fails spectacularly, of course, but there is a major consequence: Regina decides to make herself barren so that Cora never gets what she wants. I must say, that is very keeping with Regina's character. She is rash, she is heated and headstrong. She acts before she thinks, like marching into a wedding and declaring that she would destroy Snowing's happy ending if it's the last thing she does--even though she had no plan in mind. Regina is a hot head who simply *does* and then thinks later. Taking a potion to turn herself barren out of spite for her mother's machinations? Perfectly in line with Regina that we all know. I do want to point that the truth bombs Cora dropped at the end, however, like her mantra "love is weakness" being wrong are not in line with the character. The writers were doing so well until the end! Cora shouldn't have her heart right now, meaning she shouldn't be feeling genuine love or motherly feelings toward Regina. So breaking character and explaining to Regina that the only thing standing in the way of Regina's happiness is Regina herself, something Cora has finally figured out, feels a little bit like the writers forgot that Cora does not keep her heart inside her body and thus shouldn't be capable of these feelings.

All About Those Mothers 

Meanwhile back in Storybrooke, we get more mother and daughter reunions. First up, those dragon ladies. Lily is, more of less, full of rage and anger and resentment and has little to no interest in the bonding exercises Mal has planned. No trust falls for these girls in the woods. I am going to be rather critical of OUAT and how they treat motherhood in a second, but before I do, I want to stress two things. First, I love my mom and I think mothers in general are great. Second, I really did enjoy the Mal/Lily scenes and how they came back together; how Mal accepts Lily's darkness and isn't scared by it or won't run from it. I think that's really want Lily wanted all along: acceptance. She never had a real shot in this or any world after what Snowing did to her--she was forced into darkness instead of choosing it and thus believes that no one could never chose her. But Mal does. Mal thinks she is beautiful and worthy of love and praise. It's beautiful. But now, let me put on my critical thinking cap to explain why I find some parts of this storyline bothersome. It's the idea that motherhood is salvation. While I love mothers in general, they are not saints. I'm sorry, but they aren't and I think putting that label on them is unfair. It creates impossible standards since saints are perfect vessels of heaven and incapable of erring. Mothers, no matter how great mine and yours may be, are not perfect. They err. They are human. Ok, in this case Mal is a dragon, but let's put that aside. Mal's redemption and change of heart come solely because of her daughter and finally getting to be a mom, not through any acknowledgment of past wrongdoing. Before, even as close as last episode, she was still the tough Mal we know. Pinned and put together and all together tough-mafia woman. Look at her hair in this episode versus last week. The makeup people have reverted her to a softer more "motherly" look because her daughter came home; it's the same look they gave her right after she had laid her dragon egg. No more snarling and lip curling. No more pinned up and mobster gang woman. Now, she's a mom, which means being weepy, emotional, and more demure. It's a problem. Maybe Mal can still be a "tough dragon bitch" but that's not how the writers conceive of her anymore now that she's Mom! Mal and not Villain! Mal. The issue? It's just the tiniest bit (okay, more than a tiny bit) misogynistic but not the sort of misogyny we typically think of. This isn't hatred of woman (the normal definition of misogyny) but rather thinking that woman's path to redemption is through motherhood because it elevates the mother to a level they cannot achieve on their own. If it were just Mal then I'd have a little less of a problem, but it's not. Zelena is most likely headed down that path, and Cora did trod that path already, especially in her final centric "The Miller's Daughter" and in some ways Ingrid went down that path as well with Emma and Elsa. It's troubling but maybe that's all I need to point out.

In other mother/daughter news, Emma finally came to her senses all on her own and forgave Snow White! No, I'm just kidding, Hook had to prompt her and tell her how to feel. While forgiving her mother, Emma even looked at Hook so she could get the "yes, you're doing great. Keep saying exactly what I told you to say" head nod. Ugh. Anyway. I'm glad Emma finally saw reason, however it came about. Emma hasn't exactly been a perfect mother either, nor a perfect human being but she is still considered having hero status, going dark notwithstanding. The fact that she expected an almost impossible level of perfection from Snow and Charming (though, really just Snow) is a bit hypocritical of her to be honest. She can be mad because to realize your parents make mistakes is human, but her temper-tantrum went on for far too long and it was never logically advanced. It just stayed in the "I'm really angry" mode with Emma freezing out her mom and never trying to make any sort of headway. Of course she was too busy catching Ebola Eyes to really sit and discuss her feelings, so maybe I should give her a pass. Or not. At any rate, I'm glad to see Emma and Snow back on the same foot. I must say, I really miss the Emma and Mary Margaret friendship of season one. It was something special and sweet that Emma found a friend with the woman who, unbeknownst to Emma, was her mother. It was a great piece of dramatic irony, but I miss that easy friendship they had. Here's hoping that just because Emma and Snow are daughter and mother again, by way of admiration and forgiveness, also means that they can be friends again as well.

Ok, home stretch. Time to deal with Mr. Isaac and his magical pen. What does Isaac want? He seems to want more than just a good story; he's hella shifty, right? Everyone is getting that impression? His coy and unassuming love-fest for Regina really sold the fact that he's slick. He knows just what to say to keep himself in the villains good graces, no matter which villain he's working for at the moment. Saying "trust me" is a big key that you shouldn't trust him. Isaac also seems to be a bit of a fanfic writer. He enjoys "experimental writing." But what sort of writing? Is he just trying to jot down ideas? Was there some thread of a plot he really enjoyed but never got to develop fully? See, Isaac is really Adam and Eddy and how they want to explain their own creative genius. They too are authors who have a lot of ideas about how to make characters and their plots more relevant, more meaty, and more worthy of your time. I think that, if they could, they'd be surrounded by books they could just fill up with ideas and always have them at their beck and call, in case they realized that their current idea wasn't working. Actually, doesn't that sound exactly like how Adam and Eddy write? Start with an idea but go someplace else when a new shinier idea comes along. Yeah, that's OUAT. How many drafts does Isaac have? What do they consist of? And if he can write ideas down but not have them come to fruition what does that mean about free will? And what does that mean about the power of his pen? Shouldn't all his ideas come to life? Is something--like Fate/The Sorcerer--stopping him? See. Compelling if likewise philosophically complex, challenging and frustrating. So now what? Isaac has his magic ink and his magic quill and a new (very cool looking) black book entitled "Heroes and Villains." Where to start? The same place every story starts:  Once Upon A Time....

Miscellaneous Notes on Mother

--I don't care about Zelena or her baby, but if Regina had actually written Zelena and that baby out of existence, I would have flipped a lot of tables.

--I may hate the former Green Witch, but "another woman defining her happiness relative to the love of a man..." was the most perfect quote for this show ever. For one hot second, I forgot that I hated Zelena.

-- Emma holding on to the dream-catcher having all the emotions caused me to also have all the emotions. "He was a lot of things to me..."

--Rumple the Big Bad of this season and one of the most wanted men in Storybrooke just chills in Granny's and eats a bagel...?

--No, let's not give Roland a memory potion! Let's talk to him and try to explain the situation.

--Dr. Whale is an OB? Since when?

--Rumple. I need to talk about him, don't I? It sounds like Rumplestiltskin is going to die, but the Dark One will take over and use Rumple as a meat suit in order to bring forth chaos and mayhem. Goody. Another season in which we see Not! Rumple but some unholy entity who bears little to no resemblance to the character I loved. At least in that case, there will be no Rumple left over at all.

--"We can be happy in the future or we can angry in the past." OR: the motto of season 4B.

--Two hours to go. See you all for the finale next week!

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