Monday, November 30, 2015

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (5x10)

I spent the day watching Jessica Jones; in fact, I became so enthralled with the Netflix Original Series that I almost missed the 8pm start time of this week's OUAT, "Broken Heart." I know; that would have been a shame. But the reason I am bringing this up is that Killian Jones/Captain Hook and Kilgrave--the antagonist in Jessica Jones--share something in common: they are both vile, horrible, sociopathic monsters who think the world is there's for the taking and that they are owed anything and everything they want. The are both vessels of white male privilege who cannot fathom a world where they do not get whatever they desire. The object of their affection--Emma Swan and Jessica Jones--are just that, objects that the two villains believe belong to them, without brokering any argument. Their charms, good looks, and general prowess (not to mention the aforementioned privilege) should be enough to woo the pants off (oh, I mean that literally) any woman. With Jessica Jones, it does not work and Kilgrave is shown, time and time again, to be nothing more than a damaged man who leaves a trail of bodies in his wake simply because he can. He is an embodiment of white heterosexual male privilege who can even dictate your emotional state ("smile") and the story belongs to his victims and not an attempt to, in internet parlance, woobify said monster. Hook is a different story. In OUAT, the writers believe they are writing a sympathetic character who, yes, has killed and maimed and even kept trophies of all his victims, but not a real monster; rather, a hurt man whom women fall for because of some sort of half-hearted redemption he has supposedly undertaken. Emma falls into the trap of (as Kilgrave tells Jessica) "we're inevitable." Why am I bringing this up? Because so much of this week's OUAT episode is about the writers knowing and remembering that Hook is a monster but without the logical follow through that the heroine (damaged though she may be) does not end up with him, that the stalking, obsessive nature of your villain does not grant him the prize of said object of affection in the end. It's a bit of a mixed bag for me this week, but grab the blood of a man who has been to hell and back (sweet Christmas, what fresh hellish Magical Mcguffin is that?) and let's go!

There's Always A Loophole

When Emma rose from the Black Goo at the Vault of the Dark One, she tried--valiantly--to fend and fight off the darkness. It was hard and part of the flashbacks this year have been all about that internal struggle of Emma Swan to remain the Savior and person she was before and not give into the temptation of darkness. Hook, on the other hand, gets one talk from DO Head! Rumple and he's off to Darkville to kill himself a crocodile. Strength of character; this dude ain't got it. A lot of the flashbacks this week revolve around changes in character attitudes, almost at a blink-of-an-eye pace. Hook is angry with Emma but they kiss and make up in the woods, but only until Hook becomes angry with Emma once more and then they kiss and make up at the river. But then surprise! Hook was only playing Emma and still really wants his revenge so he'll cast the Dark Curse to take everyone back to Storybrooke in order to kill his enemy. It's all a giant waste of time and the back and forth of Hook's attitude is a time killer in order to delay the inevitable. We all know that the Dark Curse was cast and that somehow there was a loophole because whoever did it has to use the heart of the thing they love most and Emma, Hook, and Henry are all alive so we're back to the aforementioned loophole (twitch--but see previous blog posts about the total disregard for world building because I am not going to belabor the point once again). Because the focus this week, for me at least, will be in Storybrooke, I am only going to briefly touch on one problematic point in the flashbacks. Raise your hand if you're surprised that Merlin died. Now raise your hand if you're surprised that he died at Hook's hand. I have been predicting for sometime that Merlin was dead and that somehow there was a "all Dark Ones" loophole so that wasn't shocking. But the sad fact is that the perpetrator of the murder wasn't shocking either. That isn't a slam against Hook (though, he's killed before as demonstrated by his many baubles) but rather that I am not surprised that the Person of Color was killed to further a white character's story. When the various Arthurian members were cast for season 5A, I was actually very pleasantly surprised that the writers had cast a Latina Guinevere and an African Merlin. Sure, it was clearly because the writers were aware of the (well deserved) criticism that OUAT has a serious race problem, but at least they were trying to course correct and appease instead of letting it slide. Little did I know what they had in store for these two new PoC's. Let's take inventory, shall we? Guinevere was enslaved by her white husband and then turned into a rape object, also by her white husband, because of his man pain over her kissing a black character. That same black character, by the way, was spotted tonight before he was sent packing to his mommy because heaven forbid that Lancelot play any sort of active role in his own mythology. Merlin, the show's most powerful sorcerer, was also enslaved by a white character (Arthur) and then was killed by another white character only to fuel that white character's storyline. This show has such a major racial problem but the egregious issue is not that it has a race problem and is trying to actively make a commentary on race in fiction or in our reality, but that it's an unintentional racial problem. In other words, the writers don't actually realize that the plot they write for the people of color are always the same and always racist--they appear and then are summarily dismissed once they have served their purpose. You know, there's an actual trope called the magical negro; their main purpose is to come to the aid of the white characters and once they have fulfilled their role as a helpmate, they either die or simply vanish from the narrative. Adam and Eddy, once again, you're not part of the solution. You're part of the problem.

The Anchor Around Your Neck

I am about to break a cardinal rule of my blog: Thou Shall Not Talk About Captain Swan. Well, I guess I break it every now and then and this time it's not necessarily discussing CaptainSwan so much as it is discussing what Hook said to Emma in Storybrooke. During a particularly heated tet-a-tet between the two Dark Ones, Hook lays into Emma with some cold hard truths. In many ways, the things he is saying aren't actually false. Emma does does destroy her own happiness by refusing to let anyone in and by refusing to believe that she can have happiness. She did it with Henry, with her parents, with the town of Storybrooke, and even with all her various love interests from Neal to Walsh to Hook. The pirate calling her on those famous walls (which, honestly, should have been destroyed by now after so many people have been let into Emma's heart) shows a level of self awareness that I didn't know he had. Also in the self-aware department are the writers themselves. For a brief moment, during this heated argument, the writers of OUAT seem to actually get and understand that Hook is a problematic and vile character. Let me pause here to say that there is nothing wrong with problematic and vile characters. We need villains in storytelling or how else would we know who the heroes are (this is sounding fairly Doctor Who-ish, is it not?). We also need anti-heroes because the world is, by and large, not divided into heroes and villains. It's far more complicated than that; we need characters like Walter White and Don Draper and Tony Soprano to illustrate how gray our world is. Hook falling into the villain or ruthless antihero category is a comfortable place for him and a good, long standing narrative tradition.

The problem lies not in his villainy and vile nature but in the fact that the writers never let him stay there and actually explore that self-same villainy and vile nature because the writers spend more time turning him into a "love sick puppy dog." This version of Hook--this man who calls Emma an anchor and nothing more than a pretty blond distraction, who declares that he's happy so long as he gets what he wants and who point blank tells Emma that he wants to hurt her like she hurt him--is a fascinating character and we're back to my opening comparison to Kilgrave. The Purple Man (his comic book name) says much the same to Jessica Jones when he tells her that she's the one thing (sorry, person) who ever walked away from him and that awakened a yearning in him because he simply had to posses her; he informs Jessica that what he did--the torture he inflicted and the stalking he conducted--cannot be rape because he earned her by spending money on her or doing noble things (like, say, giving up a ship). If the writers stayed in this territory, highlighting Hook-is-a-monster nature and how much of a sociopath he is--and not going down the boring and troubling romantic lead route--then the writers could actually manage to say something of value (like Jessica Jones is) about male privilege, rape culture, and the power of victims to rise above the crimes perpetrated on them by not falling into the "we're inevitable" trap when the abuser uses love as an excuse. The problem, my dear readers, is that for all the self-aware writing on OUAT this week, I know (or at least suspect with a high degree of certainty) that Emma will forgive Hook for all the terrible things he said, waving it away as a speech created by the Darkness and not representative of who he really is and CaptainSwan will continue to be sold and promoted as some sort of love story for the ages. It's akin to claiming that Jessica should end up with Kilgrave because he said he loved her and, after all, he's working really hard for her. And that's all I really have this week. Yes, I will go into some Greek mythology next week if we're going where I think we're going (hello, Underworld) but this week I really wanted to focus on some social and cultural problems that OUAT has had and how, in theory, it could be done well if the writers were up to it. I wonder if there's a Magical McGuffin for that.

Miscellaneous Notes on Broken Heart

--Emma needs someone to tell her to have hope? She can't just have hope after 5 years? Emma is a petulant three year old who is emotionally reset every year.

--There are Dark One Chronicles? Since when? And why haven't we ever used them to...I don't know...figure things out?

--Belle's pink coat was adorable and I'd like it in my closet, thanks.

--I will admit to loving Rumple's speech to Belle outside of Regina's house. But, at the same time, I'm really proud of Belle for walking away from the problematic relationship and marriage (ex-marriage?) in order to give herself some time to figure out where she stands.

--Props where they are due; the sword fight between Hook and Rumple was very good. 

--"Baby Hood" LOL

--Redemption through motherhood for Zelena it is then! Ah, the problematic Madonna trope rears its misogynistic head.

--"Once you go green, you'll never go Queen" Okay, hilarious line and while I appreciate Regina saying that what Zelena did to Robin was vile and horrible, stop dancing around calling it rape. It was rape. Just say it.

--"I never abandoned you" claims Newly Dark One! Hook in Camelot to Emma. Um, you left her in a jail cell to die, with her mother and Disney Princess friends. So...no.

--Apparently Hook would have returned Milah "soiled, but returned" to Rumple all those years ago. Ye gods. The morals. The misogyny.

--A boat of Dark Ones feels like the set up to a really bad joke.

--No, but really: the blood of a man who has been to hell and back.

8 comments:

  1. My only objection to this review is that while your assessment on Hook is spot-on, it's ALSO true for Regina and Rumple. They too are sociopathic monsters treated as heroes and romantically desirable when they are anything but and haven't really changed, see Regina GLEEFULLY admitting to how much more horrible things she's done than Zelena, and Rumple showing NO attempt to reach Dark One Hook through compassion or empathy over his condition or end their feud in any way and instead acts exactly the same as he did after killing Milah and leaves Hook alive just to suffer. I cheered when Belle left his worthless ass AGAIN, at least she's not so far gone as the perpetually blind, moronic Robin Hood (who apparently is fine with BOTH his wife's killers staying in his life.)

    Bottom line: I don't care how much Hook cries for Emma or Milah, or Rumple for Baelfire or Belle, or Regina for Henry or Robin...these people are irredeemable psychopaths and the show glamorizing them is gross.

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    1. Thanks for reading!

      I agree that my commentary about Hook extends to Regina and Rumple as well. I focused on Hook this episode because it was more or less his centric. Regina, I've never quite warmed up to even with her so-called redemption. I think she has moments where it's clear she's trying or moments that do feel as though she's come along way (the end of S3A, for instance) but the writers are clearly still delighted in her Evil Queen-persona because it rears its ugly head in the present day, most usually (lately) around Zelena. The writers want it both ways; they want to say that she's redeemed but they don't want to put away the Evil Quck shtick because they find it so fun to write.

      I agree with Rumple as well, especially Rumple S4-present day. I had a lot of sympathy for him back in the day (he was my favorite character once upon a time...) because I found him to be a fascinating combination of the Trickster archetype (like Loki) and the Father archetype and he felt fresh and innovative. Not to mention the fact that Bobby is still phenomenal in this role. Everything he was doing was horrible and definitely shades of black, but the motivation behind it was so human that I couldn't help by sympathize/empathize with the Imp. I don't know what to do with him now. He's too far gone to ever really come back at this point and his redemption wasn't earned even in the slightest. It was done through a magical plot device and frankly ridiculous. I did applaud Belle leaving Rumple because it's a strong message that loving someone sometimes isn't enough; you have to think of your own heart and emotional well-being. I wish the writers would stick to that but I get the feeling Belle will go back to Rumple before long (but without the didactic commentary on the cycles of abuse; same with Emma and Hook when, at some point, she will wave away everything he said because "Darkness.")

      The larger point is something you touch on in your response, the romanticization of villains, particularly over heroes. It's more than just OUAT, it's our culture. I have yet to figure out why, but give people a villain and a hero and most of them will find a way to make the villain sympathetic and turn the hero into a self-righteous goody two-shoes. It's Thor and Loki, basically, from the MCU. I don't know if it's because our culture is becoming more and more cynical that heroism doesn't exist in our reality or if it's just the "hot" factor or what but it's everywhere.

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    2. Agreed, but at least with the MCU, it's only ever been certain FANS who have romanticized and woobified Loki while ignoring that he's a mass-murdering psychopath, the movies have always been honest and treated him as such ("He killed 80 people in 2 days." "...He's adopted.")

      Heck, this extends to characters in the MCU TV shows like Grant Ward (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D), Wilson Fisk (Daredevil), and as you mentioned, Kilgrave (Jessica Jones). No matter how much fans they have who romanticize them, the shows never do the same (even when fans who want them to never shut the eff up about it, like in the case of Ward.)

      It's a shame Once couldn't do the same. I think it did a good enough job in the first season, but then it fell apart by treating Regina and Rumple as victims in the second, with Hook pretty much existing as a convenient way to do that for Rumple...and then the third season decided that HE oughta be a victim too. I dread the inevitable woobifying Zelena is going to receive...

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  2. I apologize, but I came upon this canon-warping review and could not just say nothing.

    "they are both vile, horrible, sociopathic monsters who think the world is there's for the taking and that they are owed anything and everything they want."

    No...just no. Killian Jones' motto from his debut episode is "a man unwilling to fight for what he wants deserves what he gets". Killian doesn't believe he is owed anything at all, he doesn't think the things he wants are going to be handed to him on a silver platter. That would be Regina, Rumple and Zelena (hint: between them and Hook, only one of them did NOT spend most of a season trying to arrange for a magical Author to rewrite fates so that they had everything they wanted...guess which one?)

    Please tell me one case when "vile, horrible, sociopathic monster" Killian believed that he was owed anything. Because as I remember it, this is a guy who beat himself up for doing bad things against his will when Rumple controlled him, and denied any credit or "hero" label after he helped undo it. Similarly, he didn't bask in the glory of getting Ursula her happy ending, he only bemoaned how he took it from her in the first place and how he slipped into his old bad ways against her earlier, stating that he was a villain and therefore might deserve losing his happy ending (Emma).

    "They are both vessels of white male privilege who cannot fathom a world where they do not get whatever they desire."

    Again, you've got Killian confused with Rumple (and Regina, just swap "white male" to "rich female").

    "The object of their affection--Emma Swan and Jessica Jones--are just that, objects that the two villains believe belong to them, without brokering any argument."

    When has Killian expressed belief that Emma belongs to him? Here are some of his past lines:

    "When I win your heart, Emma, and I will win it, it will be because you want me" (Stark contrast to Kilgrave with that part)
    "I wouldn't risk my life for someone I see as merely loot. Whatever we become is as much up to her as it is to me."
    "I'm sorry but I hope you never forgive me because that means you'll get this in time to save yourself!"
    "It has to be her choice!" (When Snow is about to control Emma with the dagger.)

    He knows, understands and respects that Emma is a person, it's that person he fell in love with, not an object.

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    1. "In OUAT, the writers believe they are writing a sympathetic character who, yes, has killed and maimed and even kept trophies of all his victims, but not a real monster; rather, a hurt man whom women fall for because of some sort of half-hearted redemption he has supposedly undertaken. Emma falls into the trap of (as Kilgrave tells Jessica) "we're inevitable."

      This is because that's EXACTLY the character they wrote. Trying to equate Kilgrave and Killian is the most disingenuous things I have ever seen a fan do because the situations are the EXACT OPPOSITE. What did Kilgrave do when he fell for Jessica Jones? Hurt her friends and family, mind controlled and raped her, did all sorts of reprehensible things in order to force her into loving him. What did Killian do when he fell for Emma? Braved dangers in a place of past traumas to him in order to help save her son, helped save her father's life, traded his ship in order to reach her so that she could save her friends and family, and proceeded to continue risking his life for her, her friends and her family time and time again.

      What's more, Emma didn't fall into ANY trap. She wasn't forced to do anything. She was interested in Killian too, she CHOSE to flirt with him and kiss him in Neverland, CHOSE to say it's "good" that he won't stop thinking of her when they were seperated, CHOSE to keep him around as a friend and confidante for her personal issues in Storybrooke, CHOSE to flirt with him again in Storybrooke (ironically at the same time Hook stopped flirting with her since he had cursed lips), and CHOSE to enter a relationship with him, she INITIATED it.

      Your problem is that you are a raging Emma/Neal shipper convinced that it was meant to be "endgame" (I read your rant in the 5x05 review), and so you will ignore and distort everything related to the ship that ended up being canon in order to feel better about it, including the notion that Emma was somehow forced by Hook into a relationship with him when instead she belonged with Neal (because destiny forcing them together is so much better.) People cry about rape culture and misogyny when actually using it themselves by dismissing a woman as stupid or brainwashed or "lesser" because she dared to enter a relationship with a man of her choice rather than the "suitable" one that was Neal. For all the cries that Hook acts like he owns Emma, you people sure give the impression that you believe Neal owned her.

      "Why am I bringing this up? Because so much of this week's OUAT episode is about the writers knowing and remembering that Hook is a monster"

      No, it's about remembering that he WAS a monster and is so again with the darkness inside him. And even then, the arc isn't over yet, a judgement call is premature.

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    2. "but without the logical follow through that the heroine (damaged though she may be) does not end up with him, that the stalking, obsessive nature of your villain does not grant him the prize of said object of affection in the end."

      What? Dark Hook (apparently) HATES Emma now and she is NOT an "object of her affection" anymore, how would it even be a prize if she ended up with him?

      And what I find most damning about this review is that it conveniently leaves out that Emma:

      1. Forcibly put the darkness in Killian against his will, against his protests.
      2. Immediately controlled him with Excalibur after she had done the above.
      3. Memory-wiped him and then manipulated him for her own plans.
      4. Magically roofied him and then chained him up in her basement.

      Now, imagine if Killian had done these things to Emma, especially that last one. The accusations of rape culture and Killian being a misogynistic monster who treats Emma as an object would be DEAFENING. But when a WOMAN does it, silence. And then when the man ends up retaliating, THEN the abuse accusations start up again, toward HIM. Can you not see the glaringly obvious double standards at work here? Killian didn't put the darkness in Emma, he stopped people from controlling her with the dagger, he gave her back her memories to save her family back in Season 3, and he never did anything close to that last one. But he's the abuser. OK.

      For a brief moment, during this heated argument, the writers of OUAT seem to actually get and understand that Hook is a problematic and vile character.

      So because he told her cold hard truths as you admit he did, he's...problematic and vile? Even when he said it in response to the "problematic and vile" stuff EMMA did to him? Whuuuuuuut?

      Hook falling into the villain or ruthless antihero category is a comfortable place for him and a good, long standing narrative tradition. The problem lies not in his villainy and vile nature but in the fact that the writers never let him stay there and actually explore that self-same villainy and vile nature because the writers spend more time turning him into a "love sick puppy dog."

      Right, because it's Hook. When it was Rumple back in Season 4, I doubt you were nearly as happy even though it's "a comfortable place for him".

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    3. "The Purple Man (his comic book name) says much the same to Jessica Jones when he tells her that she's the one thing (sorry, person) who ever walked away from him and that awakened a yearning in him because he simply had to posses her"

      Again, Dark Hook says it to Emma and supposedly wants to hurt Emma, her friends, and her family because he just plain doesn't LIKE her anymore, he has no yearning to "possess" her at all. How is this different from literally any other villain Emma and co. have gone up against, just because he happened to be Emma's boyfriend until Emma screwed things up and turned him into the Dark One against his will? You keep treating this as if Killian is going after Emma because she dumped or rejected him, not because she abused him, which she did. It doesn't make it right of him, but it makes it a dark and villainous thing, not a misogynistic rape culture thing.

      "cannot be rape because he earned her by spending money on her or doing noble things (like, say, giving up a ship)."

      So apparently you think Hook raped Killian, or that his relationship with her can be equated to rape, since he only "bought her" by "giving up a ship". Even though he kept silent about that for a long time and only admitted to it, in an underplaying way, when Emma prodded him about it, after which Emma chose to kiss him and enter a relationship with him all of her own accord. There are no words (except that "giving up a ship" was actually a far greater deal to Killian, for several reasons, than you make it out to be.)

      "If the writers stayed in this territory, highlighting Hook-is-a-monster nature and how much of a sociopath he is--and not going down the boring and troubling romantic lead route--then the writers could actually manage to say something of value (like Jessica Jones is) about male privilege, rape culture, and the power of victims to rise above the crimes perpetrated on them by not falling into the "we're inevitable" trap when the abuser uses love as an excuse."

      How could they have said that given that Killian's male privilege had squat to do with Emma choosing him anymore than Neal's male privilege would have if she had chosen him, Emma is the one who has been perpetuating rape culture in the current season not Killian, and Killian is HER victim, she has committed crimes on HIM, essentially using the "we're inevitable" trap that he did NOT ever use on her. You have Swanfire scales in your eyes, please take them out.

      "The problem, my dear readers, is that for all the self-aware writing on OUAT this week, I know (or at least suspect with a high degree of certainty) that Emma will forgive Hook for all the terrible things he said, waving it away as a speech created by the Darkness and not representative of who he really is and CaptainSwan will continue to be sold and promoted as some sort of love story for the ages. It's akin to claiming that Jessica should end up with Kilgrave because he said he loved her and, after all, he's working really hard for her."

      Once again you refuse to mention how Emma is the one who wronged Killian in this relationship and Killian saying terrible things to her is not on par with her doing terrible things to him, and equate CaptainSwan to Jessica and Kilgrave when it has nothing in common beyond two pretty characters and the guy having "Kil" in his name. Honestly, when I read "abuser who should get with the woman because he said he loved her and, after all, he's working really hard for her", my mind goes to Rumbelle, not CaptainSwan, particularly in this episode. What is this, like, his 7th chance to "work really hard for Belle"?

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    4. "Um, you left her in a jail cell to die, with her mother and Disney Princess friends. So...no."

      So yes, because he was very clearly talking about them in a relationship. It's hysterical when this incident is used as a shot against CaptainSwan when Emma and Killian were ENEMIES at that time, AND Emma, her mother, and Disney Princess friends left Killian to certain death by ogres and possible death by giant or Cora, but once again this is conveniently ignored because the woman always has to be a victim of a man, no matter what the context.

      "Apparently Hook would have returned Milah "soiled, but returned" to Rumple all those years ago. Ye gods. The morals. The misogyny."

      OK, THIS is the one thing there's no defense for, that was Dark Hook being the frat boy douchebag Killian used to be back in the day and it was inexcusable. I get that he doesn't think much of himself for being a pirate, but to call Milah "soiled" for sleeping with a pirate is insulting to her, the woman he loved and evidently still holds love for. He's probably saying it just to mess with Rumple rather than honest misogyny, but that's no excuse for saying it, he shouldn't have said it at all.

      I just heard Milah may show up in the Underworld, I really want her to kick Rumple and Killian's asses now.

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