Monday, October 26, 2015

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (5x5)

Well this episode happened. Here’s the thing; this week's episode "Dreamcatcher" is very hard for me to watch, analyze, and discuss because right now I hurt. That’s the thing with OUAT. It knows how to bait and reel you in. Obviously, the Neal references tonight were just…yeah. All over and they hurt. The problem (THE PROBLEM) is that I know that the references and hints were all bait and they were all there to try and appease a group of fans and that, in the long scheme of things, they don’t mean anything. The show will continue to promote another ship (and bait, still, another one) and Neal will be forgotten once more. Notice how they don’t even say his name–Hook gets to say Baelfrie, but Rumple can’t even say “Bae.” Sure, because that makes logical sense. I guess, if anything, this episode continued to prove to me that SwanFire was always endgame but somewhere along the lines it got…killed. In other news: this week's episode was 100% better than last week in terms of morals (well, mostly) and a lot better in terms of plot, though still with the abundance of Magical McGuffins. Seriously, stop that! Right now it’s tying with 501 for best episode of the season and it also feels like we are actually beginning to advance the plot a bit more, which is always welcome. How about we shed our tears and dive in? Let's go!

You Don't Know You Have A Heart Until It Breaks

The biggest theme of this episode was heartbreak over your first love. Henry and Violet; Regina and Daniel; Emma and Neal. Those three relationships--all of which ended badly or were somehow tainted by the machinations of others--took center stage this week as we learned that losing your first love is often the catalyst for knowing you have a heart to begin with. It is with this theme that I want to spend most of my time instead of going from past to present. Author's prerogative, I guess. I hope I don't get sucked into a book by an old Apprentice. When we first met young Violet, I was against Henry having a love story, even if it was puppy love. The fact is, our young Swan-Mills-Cassidy boy wonder is too damn young to have a girlfriend when he doesn't even have a single friend and spends most of his time either kidnapped, trying to make his various mothers stop killing people, or hanging out with his fuddy duddy grandparents. The boy is lacking in the social graces, is what I'm saying. How about we develop Henry with his peers without making it romantic? But, of course, here on OUAT, you're not really a character until you're romantically liked with someone of the opposite sex. However, I will put all of those quibbles (which still stand, by the way) aside in order to say that I found this week's version of VioletBeliever (cute ship name or really silly? I can't decide) to be heartfelt and sweet. It wasn't presented as a new epic love story; it was actually just a boy and a girl having similar interests and common backgrounds and fumbling their way around each other because they honestly don't know how to interact at this stage. But, hey, none of us knew how to interact with the objects of our affection when we were thirteen (side note: Henry is thirteen? Is that...real? Does that match anyone's timeline or am I just supposed to nod and go along with it? Right, nod and go along). What struck a chord most between Henry and Violet was that they've both lost a parent. When Violent announced that she had lost her mother some time ago, I actually rolled my eyes because of course she had. That's how OUAT tells stories: everyone loses a parent--though, that's just rather common to fairy tales. But what really mattered is that Henry can relate; Henry knows the pain Violet is in because he's in it too. There are things, he tells the young lass, that he wishes he could tell Neal, things they could talk about. I have maintained, through it all, that if ABC absolutely mandated CaptainSwan, then fine, I'd deal but Henry deserves his father and Neal deserved a chance to be a father. Taking that away, robbing OUAT of a chance to explore that father/son dynamic (while Neal was helping to heal the breach with Rumple) is powerful storytelling and should have been at the heart (correction: it was the heart of the show) of OUAT. The fact that Henry is sharing in this pain with Violet speaks to a level of self-awareness about their characters and human nature that I didn't think Adam and Eddy still possessed. Right on, boys.

This love story, of course, is not without its issues (because, again, that's how OUAT rolls). Oh, Emma. Emma Emma Emma. You became Cora. That was a twist I did not anticipate and whenever OUAT can surprise me, in a good way, I will genuinely applaud it. I knew that Emma's descent had to be a dark one (how could it not? Savior turning into the Dark One should be dark) but I didn't expect the victim in Ms Swan's descent to be her son, Henry, and his new girlfriend (who is just a girl and just a friend for now). Henry, of course, has been manipulated by a mother before, but that was always on Regina's shoulders. Regina had no problems magicking her son or trying to poison Emma or convincing Henry that he was crazy for believing that the town was full of fairy tale characters who lost their memories (spoiler alert: they were and they did!) While Emma may not have believed Henry way back in season one, she did not try to emotionally manipulate him so that Henry would do as she wanted. She never went behind his back. Remember what Henry said? "You don't have to be mean, I can tell you like me." Henry saw through Emma's walls because he knew she was the hero he needed. For Emma to pull Violet's heart out and command the young girl to break Henry's heart in order to gain her weekly Magical McGuffin (tears of the broken hearted mixed together with other random potion ingredients in no set measurement to free a wizard from a tree. This show y'all) is a level of low that is...well, it's low. Let's just say that. It's a Malcolm and it's a Cora level of low. However, while it's low there are two other things I'd like to point out about HeartSnatch! Gate. Here’s the thing that bothers me: the idea that Regina’s heartbreak wouldn’t be strong enough. Just because you move on with another person doesn’t mean that the pain still isn’t there. It doesn’t mean that those memories don’t still have a hold on you. Regina can love Robin all she wants but losing Daniel was a major turning point in her life. Probably THE turning point. The idea that this lost isn’t strong enough comes across as a weak sauce of an excuse just so we could see Emma do something hurtful. The writers wanted to kibosh the whole Regina-Daniel thing so that they could simultaneously kibosh using Emma-Neal’s death and simultaneously (lots of simultaneously’s) split up Emma and Henry as a team and make Emma look like a true villain because true villains take hearts (Rumple, Regina, Cora, Zelena). As soon as Regina's heartbreak tears over Daniel did not work, I thought we'd be watching Emma holding Neal as he died. Of course, that would be thematically important and would show that Emma was still human inside (something utterly important in Dark One portrayal--we saw it with Zoso wanting to be free, and we saw it in spades with Rumple) so, naturally, it couldn't happen that way because SwanFire must be baited but never explicit. Instead, Henry's heart is broken for various plot filled reasons. All of that I have a problem with, but the next bit, not so much. The other aspect to all this is a reoccurring motif: desperate souls do desperate things. This fits so seamlessly into the show that I can't hate the plot line of it, not entirely. The more dark magic Emma uses, the more she becomes addicted and the more addicted she becomes, the scarier it gets and the more desperate Emma becomes to rid herself of that dark magic but this only drives her to use more dark magic. It's a horrible cycle and it's a narrative through line that OUAT actually sticks to. I give them credit when credit is due, and it's due here. Now give poor Violet back her heart, Swan!

Speaking of the Lady Swan, she is not over Neal. Not even by a long shot. As I said above in the opening, I know all of these Neal references were bait, but they were so carefully crafted as to make Neal look like an absolutely stellar man. Someone you would fall in love with and someone you would stay in love with for a long time. Like Emma, back in season three, confessed to her parents, "I never stopped loving him." There is something heart wrenching about watching Dark One Emma Swan cry over a dreamcatcher after hearing Rumple talk about his lost little boy and how you always lose the ones you love. My friend has a great metaphor for OUAT that I think I'd like to share. The story of OUAT was a bridge and it was really Emma's fairy tale. When we meet the Swan, she is broken hearted and closed off and has her famous walls but over the course of the show, in the end, with villains and magic and plot along the way, she opens up and becomes a fully realized Savior. Emma was always supposed to go dark (heroes journey 101) but on the other side of that darkness were her home and her family. Part of this narrative bridge was Neal and SwanFire. It was part of the structure that held up that bridge. The story of Emma becoming the fully realized Savior and a fully realized Emma Swan was finding a new kind of Tallahassee with Neal and Henry in the town of Storybrooke with the Evil Queen, Snow White, Prince Charming, Rumple, and Belle and everyone else. It was the idea that Tallahassee need not be the actual Floridian city but a feeling--it was the feeling of home. Never forget that this entire series began with Emma being cast out of her home. The ending is clear: Emma Swan comes home at long last and is embraced by and embraces all those she loves with open arms. What happened, along the way, was the the show removed those structural beams and replaced them Styrofoam. The narrative is still there: Emma will still go on her heroes journey and still rise as a fully realized Savior and fully realized Emma Swan but the poetry, the magical poetry of OUAT, is long gone. Instead of Neal, we have another character who doesn't have the same resonance and poetic appeal that Neal did in terms of Emma's journey to find her home and now with our current plot of Emma's battle with the darkness. Who better to know what it means to be lost to the power of the Dark One if not Nealfire Cassidy? This entire show centered around a young boy who watched his father be over taken by the Darkness, flee from that father, and then that father seek out a way to find him again and create a Savior in the process. Hook's character is periphery to all of that and that's why the narrative bridge is now so lackluster and full of holes. It can't hold up under the scrutiny it once did because it has removed its support beams. There were some other really beautiful SwanFire moments in this episode but I'll leave them until the notes. I'll just say, in closing of this section, that SwanFire was supposed to be end game. It was always supposed to be Neal and Emma finding their way back to each other, to their respective families, and finding Tallahassee in a quiet town in Storybrooke.

Behind The Mask And Under The Tree

We've got one more love story to tackle and it's a shorter one. Raise your hand if you're surprised that Merlin lost the only woman he's ever loved to the Darkness. If you have your hand raised, then I'm going to assume it's being done sarcastically. It is, of course, exactly how OUAT rolls (I keep saying that this week, don't I?) Let's just be open and honest here: the first Dark One was also Merlin's lost love and it's probably Nimue. There’s a reason the writers put that person in a mask. There is a big reveal to be had later on. Nimue is the First Dark One and Merlin’s lost love and he couldn’t kill her because he loved her so much, but she couldn’t kill him either, so she turned him into a tree. It would be keeping with Arthurian mythology that Merlin loved Nimue and she eventually put him in a tree for reasons that are complicated but here will likely be reduced to "darkness inside her." It's not very fresh nor innovative and while it sticks with mythology, it's rather rote and expected. However, I'm going to be very glad to get that story because, at long last, we'll have some answers about the Dark One and how he/she/it came about and more importantly why. I have no idea why Nimue is the First Dark One or how that happened. Was it a magic spell gone wrong? Was it fate? Did Merlin mean to tether the Darkness to Nimue? Was it an accident? Was he trying to tether it to himself or to the sword/dagger? Also, where is Merlin now? We haven't seen him in Storybrooke. Oh god. Did Emma kill him!? Please tell me she did not kill a person of color Merlin. Plus, he's kinda cute, amiright? I'm willing to leave it all to speculation right now and just wait and see. The themes of the episode were enough this week; the plot can wait. And now, I think I'll go look at the dreamcatcher I made in honor of SwanFire and Neal and mourn over the love I lost for this show. (Yes, that was dramatic of me, I know).

Miscellaneous Notes on Dreamcatcher 

--"I liked your dad because he was always himself."

--"Changing so someone likes you never works." Wise words, Emma Swan. Now if only you would follow them.

--"Only You" the song Henry played for young Violet is the same song Neal used to play for Emma because "it always works." So basically, it's a SwanFire song: "Only you can make this change in me. For it's true, you are my destiny. When you hold my hand, I understand the magic that you do. You're my dream come true. My one and only you." Yup, that's pretty SwanFire to me.

--Regina shooting down Hook trying to teach Henry how to woo a woman. Attagirl, Tiger Mom!

--Could the writers please stop using "many years ago" for Camelot. How many is many? 50? 100? 10000? 2? See, no one knows! 

--The front porch conversation between Emma and Regina felt very season one, especially with Regina switching to calling Emma "Ms. Swan."

-- What is this Rumple and Merida NONSENSE. Seriously. What is this story?? It’s stupid is what it is. Since when is learning how to fight a sign of bravery? And wasn't Rumple already brave when he faced his father and sacrificed his own life for the sake of his family? Also, how does Merida know about the book?

--I want Regina's red dress. Now, please.

--Impressive CGI for freeing Merlin, with both light and dark magic. Pretty thematically heavy. Well done, OUAT.

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