Monday, September 28, 2015

In Which I Review Once Upon A Time (5x1)

In my last OUAT review, for the season four finale, there was a question of how I approach the show. The first half of the finale episode was so utterly magical and spectacular that for a brief wonderful moment, it felt like the show I had loved for so long. Of course, it all went to hell in a hand basket for the second half, but the point remains that when last we visited this show, I was torn about how I felt. I had all summer to think and...I came to zero conclusions. Absolutely none. OUAT is now an episode by episode experience for me. Some episodes will be less frustrating than others, though I'll always find flaws (it's what I do). That's going to be my approach. I still anger-watch OUAT but occasionally there might be a spark of brilliance. In the fifth season premiere, with the too-on-the-nose title, "The Dark Swan," the fight for Emma's soul begins. Straight off the bat, this season could be really great. No, I mean that seriously. It could be. This is hugely mythic and cosmic, two things that I adore in TV narrative. The show is taking the heroes journey and playing it out with Emma's "descent" into darkness and the question of whether or not Luke Skywalker the Savior can resist the Dark Side. If OUAT can get past the trappings of needing to insert shipping drama and create big Tweetable moments that are simultaneously buzzworthy and somehow squicky (Robin and Zelena, for example) and focus, instead, on crafting a heartfelt narrative about the perils of being a savior, then this season could really be something. know, not, because OUAT refuses to give up the ghost of loud tweetable moments. So, with all that in mind, grab another Disney/Pixar Princess (hello Merida) and let's go! 

Temptation, Thy Name Is Bobby Carlyle 

Normally, for OUAT, I break my reviews down into two parts: the past and the present. But this episode took a hard left and decided to eschew the normal narrative set up (for the most part) so I'm going to follow suit and only discuss what is going on in the present day. If there is one narrative point from start to finish, it's the idea of temptation. Darkness and evil are not slimy, disgusting things that lurk and hide in the shadows. It's one of my pet peeves when pieces of media present evil or the incarnations of evil as being somehow disfigured and deformed, revolting to behold. Evil is supposed to tempt you. It wants you to give in and in order to do that, it has to present itself as a very enticing offer. That apple in the Garden was probably the most delicious looking piece of fruit in the history of fruit. Temptation is seduction; it's about reaching out to some baser level and flashing you with all the shiny and pretty. Temptation is lust and wealth and power and and greed and it is supposed to feel good. It is at this crossroads of desire and abject horror that Emma Swan finds herself after the "vortex of evil" sucked her back into the Enchanted Forest and into the Pit of Eternal Goo, last seen in the episode where Neal sacrificed himself to resurrect Rumple. So, you know, happy memories for me! Right off the bat, Emma--our Jesus figure--is met by her own Devil--the Darkness who chooses to take on Rumple's appearance--out in the wilderness and is told and shown just how wonderful succumbing to the Darkness could be. The idea of tempting the hero is an old one, and one that almost every hero is going to encounter as they walk down Monomyth Road. Jesus was tempted in the wilderness; Harry is tempted by Voldemort and the Sorcerer's Stone and later the Deathly Hallows; Luke is tempted by the Dark Side; Buffy becomes a Dark! Slayer in season 6. All of this is on point and in line with what we expect with the heroes journey. It's Hero Writing 101 and it's older than you or I which is why I enjoy it. If you read my reviews, then you know I'm a sucker for a good archetype or a good old fashioned cosmic story. That's what this season is or at least needs to be. It's OUAT finally getting back to their roots and instead of introducing another new villain who has yet another connection to the CharMillStiltskin clan who has some horrendously cliche sob story, we have our capital "S"avior being tempted by a Cosmic Evil. It feels far more in line and organic to the show than anything they've done in the past two years. Wow, look at this. I'm complementing OUAT again, guys. It's a brave new world.

It's not just Emma Swan who is facing temptation, though. Back in Storybrooke, our delightful cast of characters are tempted in every direction for how to solve the Missing Swan problem. And by cast of characters, I really mean Hook and Regina because to hell with those other people, amiright? Oh, dear. I've gone back to criticism. Bound to happen, y'all. Actually, let's focus on this for a second. This is a major problem for me. Now, given that TV is a business and that TV writers often play to their strongest fanbases, I do understand that it's natural for Hook and Regina to get a bigger part simply because their characters are among the most popular. I can't tell you the last time I saw fans wanting to discuss Snowing except in how boring, one note, or frustrating they've become. And then last year they went and stole a baby, so they've got that going for them. Since Regina and Hook are incredibly popular with fans, they take center stage in the search for Emma, but this feels disingenuous to Snow and Charming who get little to do except say a few lines here and there and simply wait for Regina and Hook to act. Every action in this episode to aide in the search for Emma is done by either Regina or Hook while Snow and Charming simply stand around. It's...super frustrating because I remember back in season 2 when Snow jumped into a spinning top hat (this show, y'all) in order to find her daughter, Charming trying to follow behind. There is a line Hook utters at the end of the episode about heroes and villains coming together to save and find Emma and while that is a nice enough thought, it's not something we see on screen. It's just the mostly-reformed villains doing all the leg work while the heroes are sidelined. It's an issue OUAT has had for several seasons now because the writers find the villains more enticing, more interesting, and either easier or more fulfilling to write. As such, while I really loved Snow's line "we are going to put our nonsense aside and find my daughter" it also rang hollow because she's literally doing nothing but standing around with a baby, watching her step mother (Regina) who has, shall we say, anger issues, and Hook, someone who once left Snow for dead in a cell, work to find Emma while she does nothing. Charming, as always, is basically wallpaper.

But let's get back to temptation and how it plays into our other characters. For both Regina and Hook, temptation look a lot like a certain nasty green witch. Or, rather, a former green witch. Is there something to be said about the devil you know being better than the devil you don't? Zelena is powerful enough, and evil enough, to create a portal (plot device!) using the Apprentice's wand (plot device!) in order to take everyone to Emma. But Regina is loathe to unleash Zelena's chains and allow her sister to come out and play. For Regina, Emma's dilemma is stressful but not tempting enough to turn to her wicked sister, even though it is reemphasized time and time again that Emma sacrificed herself for Regina (something that continues to baffle fans given that Adam and Eddy insist that Emma did it for the town, not for Regina specifically. But hey, they gotta get in their standard amount of Queer Baiting, right?). Regina shows a level of restraint that is admirable because while it is important for the team to go and save Emma, there are other considerations, like having a hand chopping rapist witch on the loose! Hook, on the other hand--hook?--only cares about saving Emma and will play with anyone who can get him back to his main squeeze. I suppose, if I'm being generous with CaptainSwan (wut?), there is something in here about love knowing no boundaries and knowing no limitation but when was the last time I was generous to CaptainSwan? The fact is that love should have limitations. Love run rampant is neither healthy nor positive. It's dangerous and once again this 'ship is all about the ends justifying the means. I'm annoyed with the very heavy romance in this episode, be it CaptainSwan, OutlawQueen or even the always baited SwanQueen, because I really want Emma to save herself this year instead of it being a man who comes along and True Love Kisses the Darkness out of her, but my hope in that regard is very slim. I know where this is going, at least I think I do--a TLK that breaks the Dark One's curse and ends Darkness once and for all. I'll just wait and see; that's all I can do, right?

Miscellaneous Notes on The Dark Swan

--"....your turn." I laughed so hard and for a very long time. Temptation plays a role with the Camelot crew of some indeterminate point in history as well. Excalibur feels a bit "The One Ring" like in that it calls to people and only the worthy one can bear it. The Camelot cast is only briefly seen so there's not much to say about them right now.

--I love that the Dark One's dagger is the missing piece of Excalibur. I think that's a very interesting narrative point and sets up a thesis for the show as a whole. The sword is supposed to be a weapon of good, only working in the hands of a divinely appointed Messiah King. The fact that the missing bit of it is a weapon of evil and corruption speaks to the fact that there is very little that separates lights and dark and how in order to be complete you need both. I wonder if Merlin forged the blade and it broke into the dagger when he tethered the Darkness to a human.

--Speaking of Merlin, dude is a creeper in a movie theater, no? Also, super obvious that he's Merlin since "The Sword and the Stone" is playing on the big screen. Not subtle, OUAT.

--Hook is a horrible influence on Henry. Did the Pirate stop and think, even for one second, about the fact that Zelena killed Henry's father? 

--For the moment, Merida felt slightly out of place and was inserted rather sloppily. But I doubt we've seen the last of her. The fact that she actually explained why she's running around the woods means there is another story we're getting on top of the Camelot one.

--Zelena cut off her own hand and then reattached it. The woman is obviously insane and should not have possession of a child. But did the show go ahead and admit that Zelena raped Robin? Did I mishear that? Zelena called him an unwilling pawn and Robin emphasizes that he was quite unwilling. So...that's a rape admission right?

--"Do you like knitting?"

--"I like her spunk. Break her neck!"

--The ending. Oh ye gods, the ending. I hated this ending. I am fine with Emma being the Dark One. The season would be pointless if she wasn't, but again with the amnesia, OUAT? Really? Because you haven't done it to death!? It's an old trope and it's one that is past its expiration date. I might have ranked the episode higher if not for this horribly cliche and over wrought ending.


  1. Totally agree about the ending! The memory erasure is just so repetitive at this point. It's hard not to be disappointed or cynical towards the rest of the season, but the premiere just didn't have the pizzazz I had hoped. I'm gonna keep holding onto faith though! :)

    1. I respect that the writers had Snow say, "again?!" when they realized their memories were gone. At least they are self aware of the fact that they use this trope a wee bit too much. Enjoy the rest of the season. Thanks for reading!