Monday, October 12, 2015

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (5x3)

In Arthurian mythology, the Siege Perilous is the seat left open at the Round Table for the Knight who would one day be successful in finding the Holy Grail. It was left that way by Merlin. This week's episode, "Siege Perilous" is a very old fashioned knightly quest. It's exactly the kind of trope-tastic journey I'd expect when dealing with King Arthur of Camelot, only this time around he brought new good buddy, and equal White Knight stock character, Prince Charming along for the "horse" ride--or leisurely stroll through a really dark forest, as the case may be. Usually, Prince Charming episodes are fillers and disappointing because the writers are never sure what to do with their leading man (well, former leading man). He's never been fleshed out and given any level of complexity. However, this episode works for Charming because the writers gleefully allow Charming to try and be who he is: the white knight, the gallant hearted prince who holds duty, honor, and justice above all else but who still struggles with never succeeding in a quest. In other Prince Charming centered episodes, his honor and mettle would be tested and he'd have some serious self doubts (White Out) or the issue would be riddled with problems, either of a gender variety or a race variety (or, both, if you're the episode The Tower). But this week serves the good Prince and the good King well in that they are both a little bit more complex than their archetype. Grab yourself a magic mushroom and let's dive into a lake infested with mythological zombie creatures (or not). 


Let's just admit this right off the bat: OUAT has far too many Magical MacGuffins. We are at absurd levels of them by now; in fact, I'd say that we're beyond absurd levels. But, has anything been more odious than tracking down a magical toadstool that will somehow allow the intrepid little gang talk to a wizard living inside a tree? See, I can't even write that sentence without falling into a fit of laughter. As was pointed out to me by a friend, OUAT plot lines are becoming like Mad-Libs. The story is that Character X does Action Y in order to obtain Object Z. Then, to make it really fun, you just shout out the first noun and verb that comes to you. And thus you get Charming and Arthur going on a quest to find the magical toadstool in the Forest of Forever Night (but it's totally okay because they had the Unquenchable Flame that apparently came from the Burning Bush because Moses was in the Enchanted Forest, y'all). There are so many things wrong with what I just wrote, but look at all the randomly inserted objects and ideas. There are so many ideas crammed into one little adventure but, for once, I am going to move past this abundance of shiny things (wut?) and move into what I thought was the real heart of the episode: the new friendship of Charming and Arthur. It's a very interesting take that what unifies Charming and Arthur aren't their heroic or White Knight tendencies but instead their feelings of being inadequate, that they will never measure up to the expectations they place on themselves. The entire quest of Charming and Arthur is flat and rather boring and absolutely absurd, except in the conversation that comes because of it at the lake (you know, after the zombie knights are beaten back--because naturally). Charming gives what might be his most self-aware and introspective line in the history of his character, "I don't want to only be remembered as the man who kissed a sleeping princess awake thirty years ago." When you think about Charming's story from start to where we are now, he's had little success in the hero department. His daughter normally does the heavy lifting; his wife does more of the ruling and leading, and, in the past few seasons, the former villains go toe to toe with the villains-of-the-arc and come out the new conquering heroes. Charming has had little to do that shows he's a hero except espouse platitudes and, to add insult to injury, last season he helped steal a dragon-baby-egg. I often just refer to Charming as wallpaper because he's decoration, flat and unremarkable. But this one line gave him some color, some pizzazz. And goodness knows he needed it. How can you be a real knight if you Yes, he's always on the winning side but he's never the Shinning White Knight.

Along the same vein is Arthur who is clearly looking at his life and wondering if he's everything he should be. I'm not surprised that Arthur is also somewhat villainous--it's how OUAT operates with their various heroes and villains. But with Arthur, a little bit like Charming, he's on the winning side but never the winner. He couldn't even pull forth a fully formed Excalibur. He's only a king because of a prophecy. In other words, both he and Charming are looking to still prove themselves as the White Knight and Rightful King (yes, all caps. Welcome to Cosmic Town). Arthur's desire to protect his kingdom stems from both paranoia (I'm sure Camelot has had its problems) but also from needing to believe that he is truly the rightful King for more than just mystical and magical reasons. Like Arthur jokes to Charming at the lake, "some large rock decided I was a hero and a prophecy was fulfilled." Both men come from humble backgrounds and never believed that they were worth anything special. Farmer David and Little Wart were just background characters in the larger story until fate intervened; but it needs to be more than destiny playing fast and loose for them to make them feel worthy. It needs to feel real; like they did something to really earn those white cloaks and monikers. And thus far, it's not going so well--and doubly so for Arthur who is conspiring against his new friend Charming and forcing his loyal knights to commit suicide. You may want to stop that if you want to be a true hero, Mr. Arthur. Is Arthur really a villain, though? His motivations are complicated (at least as complicated as it gets on this show). It's for his kingdom (good intentions) but also his ego (bad motivations). What I really want to know is what else Arthur has done that makes Lancelot (shock: he's alive!) claim that his former best friend is a straight up villain. Something tells me that Sir Arthur doesn't want Merlin out of that tree. Ever.

Rise and Shine 

The present day action of this week's episode was rather lackluster and useless (because I don't touch Captain Swan with a ten foot pole unless I feel really compelled--and no, not today, kids) but I do want to talk about Rumple and his new tabula rasa status. First off, welcome back to the land of the living, Rumple. It's good to see you but I sincerely hate how you came back. Hook's sword, which was used to threaten Peasant Rumple way back in the day, awoke the Imp. There were a few other artifacts that would mean a great deal more--be more poetic--than the pirate's sword. What other objects touched his skin while Rumple was still a man? Let's see: his spinning wheel, his original cane, Bae's toy ball and Bae's shawl. In fact, the last one has always been Rumple's talisman and the fact that it's not used as such here is really strange, except when I stop and remember that this show has a very strict No-Nealfire clause firmly entrenched in its narrative. So, in that case, sure! Use Hook's sword. Why not. Anyway, back to the now awake-Rumple: he is neither good nor light. He just exists. He is malleable. He can be changed and shaped and formed into whatever Dark Swan needs him to be and, in this case, the Leather Swan needs herself a hero to pull forth the sword. But can Rumple really ever be a hero in the ordinary world? It took Isaac rewriting the entire universe to make Rumple a hero last time. And the time before that, when Rumple was on the right path, he fell off for...reasons (again, the No-Nealfire clause). Are Rumple's power hungry tendencies really gone? For good? And if yes, should they be?  That’s not how character redemption should work. It shouldn’t be because of a plot device (sucking hat, for an example) but because of hard work and making good choices. I mean, I know that sounds simple and un-TV like where we can have SHINY things do all the work for us but…let a girl dream. I want Rumple redeemed because he works for it; because he clawed--tooth and nail--to be forgiven and find the light on his own. But this...this is what I'm left with now, a world where the Magical McGuffins do all the work and redemption happens via plot device. As for the larger question of if Rumple can be a hero or not, only time will tell. But like Charming and Arthur, can Rumple really be a hero if he didn't do anything (truly do anything) to earn that title? You can pull that sword from a rock, but that don't make you a hero.

Miscellaneous Notes on Siege Perilous     
--Arthur can drive a car even though he's a knight of Camelot and does not have "we are both" memories. This sort of stuff drives me nuts because I cannot suspend my disbelief when the show is being totally illogical.

--The poison of Agrabah vipers doesn't make you poof up in smoke. Go ask King Leopold.

--"We've been violated!" Emma took Happy's axe because the writers can't get past the JMo/Michael Coleman Twitter nonsense. 

--Lancelot did not hold the Siege Perilous in Arthurian mythology. It's actually kind of important that he never held it, ie: never found the Grail.

--Regina looked amazing in that red dress, but her "Evil Queen" conversation with Zelena was horrible. Make up your mind, writers. Is she redeemed or not because basically threatening your sister's life = Not redeemed.

--Hook admitting that he was the villain in the Rumple scenario of long ago. First off, FINALLY. Yes you were a villain and you did a terrible thing. But last week Hook was still calling Rumple the bloody crocodile and Hook hasn’t actually done anything to prove he’s sorry for what he did to Rumple (or to those that he hurt after Rumple). It’s one thing to say it out loud, but it’s another to make amends. We’re missing the other half of the puzzle.

-- Once again some terrible morals, or at least twisted ones. Guinevere and Lancelot chose to have an affair. Arthur did not force them to have sex. OUAT has a weird habit of taking away people’s ability to chose and making it someone else’s problem.

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