Monday, November 2, 2015

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (5x6)

Here's a question for all my readers: do you, in all honesty, care about Once Upon a Time's Merida? I don't mean the Disney/Pixar Princess; in fact, just forget that pixelated red haired girl. I mean the live action character on your screens this Sunday: do you care about her? Or are you projecting your care for the aforementioned pixelated character on to this woman? Because this week's episode "The Bear and the Bow" was all about Merida--her problems, her character, her family, and her claim to the throne--and I honestly couldn't be bothered. Merida is one character that needed to be left alone, or at least not make her way over to OUAT. Merida, the young headstrong girl who refused romantic entanglement because she wanted to be who she was, would only be mangled from that positive role model to this aged up, hit-first-ask-questions-later kidnapper on OUAT. And, shockingly enough, that's what happened! Who needs character motivation or well thought out character progression when you can rely on people's fond memories of a Disney/Pixar movie? Because Merida only shows up sporadically, and with only hefty information dumps and overly loud bagpipes a'playing (because she's Scottish, y'all), we never get the chance to get to know her, not properly. So why care? OUAT managed to rob Merida, and the movie 'Brave,' of all its heart and spirit and message. This week's episode was much like other Belle centric episodes: dull, lackluster, frustrating, and causing the narrative (if that's what we want to call this season so far) to grind to a standstill. Get ready to face a giant bear and let's go!

Always Bring A Book To A Fight  

The opening scene to this week's episode feels like the set up to a really bizarre and decidedly unfunny joke. Prince Charming, Captain Hook, Merlin and Google--sorry, Belle-- walk into a jail cell. Why is Belle there to begin with? Why is she carrying a book? Why does anything think that bringing Belle--and her Google-powered iPad--along to rescue Lancelot is a good idea? This is one of the biggest (I know I say that a lot, but it really is) problems on Once Upon a Time: this total disregard for logic and explaining situations. We, as an audience, are not inside the writers heads. I do not know what their thought process was (and even if I did know at one point, it has since been utterly transformed, probably by a magical mcguffin) when they rationalized that Belle going into that jail cell was a good idea. I am just expected to buy into the idea that Charming, Merlin, and the pirate would take Belle along to a scuffle, fight, violent encounter, or any other synonym that involves fisticuffs. This wasn't the only instance of hand waving away questions of logic and problems with writing in this episode. Merida kidnaps Belle because she needs magic to rescue her triplet brothers. Okay, in some regards that makes perfect sense and I can see why Merida--who has had encounters with magic in the past--would think that magic is going to solve her problems. To be fair, it's how her Disney/Pixar character operated. But the issue here is that at no point did Merida see or hear that Belle has magic. Literally, all Belle did was point to something in her Google Operated iPad and Merlin did the magic on Lancelot's cell bars. Belle was....a book stand. Yes, that's what she was. She held a book and played a poor man's version of Siri while Merlin, the most accomplished wizard in the history of the Onceiverse, waved his hands. Logically, Merida should try to kidnap Merlin. Or even Emma if the Scottish red head was feeling particularly feisty and fresh, but no--she goes with the non-obvious, illogical solution of Belle. Finally, one more instance (that I'll talk about) in which logic is brushed aside and the writers simply tell us, "worry not about this!" Emma finally figures out that Merlin was the creepy usher in the movie theater when she was but a wee lass. Like the audience has been doing all season, she questions how Merlin was there since he was stuck inside a tree photosynthesizing for several millennia. Merlin, I kid you not, looks at Emma and tells her it doesn't matter how, what matters, instead, is what he told her (do not do the thing, young Skywalker!) On a show that can make up magical handwaving excuses faster than you can save Magical Plot Device, Merlin dismisses a major seasonal question with a condescending and patronizing answer and we are expected to swallow it, lock, stock and barrel. Nope, sorry. That's not how I roll. This is one case when the writers could have simply said "magic" and it would have been keeping in line with how powerful we're told Merlin is. Instead...we got the equivalent of a pat on the head and sent outside to play with our toys like good children.

So how was the BraveBeauty adventure? Dull, exposition dump heavy and full of rather insulting stereotypes. In other words, the same as her adventure with Mulan in Season 2 and her adventure with Anna in Season 4. First, the Scottish highlands are in the Enchanted Forest and just a quick boat ride from Camelot! How fortunate! This is a larger issue with OUAT that, to be fair, I've had for a few years and not just since the bloom went off the rose. Inserting legends that do not take place in some sort of fairy tale kingdom, or imagined alternative fantastical landscape, is hard. It's why Mulan's insertion back in season two felt awkward because how do you properly insert China into another realm? How can anything like China--the historical China that birthed the legend of Mulan--exist in another world. Mulan, and legends like Merida and even Arthur and his band of knights, belong to historical times that are born from events, circumstances, and other eras of days gone by. If the writers were to somehow explain that there is a common link between the stories in our world and the fictionalized Enchanted Forest and that, somehow, stories from the Enchanted Forest found their way to our world, then maybe I could suspend my disbelief and accept that the Scottish highlands and China are in the Enchanted Forest. The same goes for answering how on earth our world knows about Snow and Charming (and all your other favorite Disney movies) but got the stories wildly wrong. Sadly, this is another instance of the writers writing what comes to them in the moment or arc instead of using any sort of logic or well thought out worldbuilding. In that same vein, the Scottish highlands of the Enchanted Forest appropriated a lot of traditional Scottish motifs but rendered them as cliche instead of nuanced. I'm a big fan of Outlander and that's a show/book that respects culture and tries to portray it as accurately and respectfully as possible. OUAT's Scottish culture was just trying to recreate the Disney movie down to the guy with the poofy white hair. It doesn't work here because it doesn't feel genuine; it feels like a parody. I almost expected Merida to yell "you may take my lands, but you'll never take my FREEEEDOOOOM" a la Mel Gibson in 'Braveheart." Poor Belle. Whenever the writers remember that she exists and decide to send her on a girl power adventure, it never develops into anything positive.


Meanwhile, back in Storybrooke, the character formerly known as Rumple limps around, saying and doing stupid things that make me want to break his other leg. But first, before I go down that particular rabbit hole, let's stop by the so called heroes of Storybrooke and hear what they have to say about Rumple's fate. Oh, they don't care about Mr. Gold/Rumple/The Crocodile. If Rumple dies, then that's his own fault because he had many opportunities to turn into a hero. But these so called heroes absolutely have to save Emma Swan because she's innocent and the darkness simply has a hold on her but through their hard work, perseverance and determination (and love!) they can save the Swan! Hip hip huzzah. You flipping hypocrites! The darkness has been canonically established to be a sentient entity that can corrupt even a SAVIOR. What does that mean? It means that Rumple was just as much under the influence of that darkness as Blessed Emma Swan. So it means you should try to save BOTH. Because they BOTH matter and are family! COME ON. Remember when Rumple sacrificed himself for his one true love and his son? For the town? He is worth fighting for, just like Emma. This conversation was downright insulting to Rumple and to the characters themselves. Not even Regina would stick up for him; Regina who has a very complex relationship with her former master, father figure, enemy? Tell me, Snow and Charming, how many times has Rumple helped you and your family out in Storybrooke? How many times has he stopped whatever he was doing to help you with your various dramas because the two of you couldn't collectively figure your way out of a paper bag? Rumple's heart was literally being turned black by the same Darkness that is now infesting your daughter, but he's not worth saving because he couldn't fight it anymore than she could. I simply cannot with this level of hypocrisy from an Evil Queen, a Pirate and two Baby Snatchers! It was because of this that when Rumple and Belle were about to drive over the town line, I found myself yelling, "go! go! be free!" The other characters in the show will never afford Rumple an ounce of sympathy or compassion and only see him as the Dark One, never mind that his actions (while dark) were rooted in something totally human and understandable (finding his son). We still have no idea why Emma's doing what she's doing (brooding long and hard over a sword, removing everyone's memories, and ripping out little girl's hearts) but at least Rumple's motivation behind his sinister nature was compelling. Okay, I had to get that off my chest. Now, on to the Imp himself and some egregious character assassination.

Back in season two, when we finally saw how Rumple came by his famous limp, it was a story full of heroism and cowardice. A father returning home and a soldier fleeing the perils of war. It was this delicate balance of heroism and cowardice that really defined Rumple. He wanted to be brave but didn't know how so he found courage in trying to be a good father, even if it meant he was labeled a coward by everyone he knew. For Rumple, it was better to be a coward than to abandon his child. It worked on a really well thought out level when you remember that Rumple would later abandon Bae, but that, in turn, Rumple had been abandoned by Malcolm. It was a lovely circular story about the cycle of abuse and abandonment. However, in this week's episode, the writers decided to screw the pooch (bear?) and remove any and all complexity behind Rumple's character by simplifying it to the most base terms ever: Rumple is a coward, plain and simple. As Rumple tells Belle during their fight at the town line, he only injured himself because he was scared. That's it. Just scared. Nothing about manipulation from a seer, nothing about the fact that he was going to die and leave his child alone, nothing about how he "did it all for the boy!" Rumple is just a coward, guys. Malarkey. Absolute malarkey. And to make matters worse, it doesn't even fit with what was said last episode! Remember last week when Rumple talked about how he did everything for his boy? This show can’t even stay consistent from week to week, let alone arc to arc! Why should I continue to be invested in this show and its characters when they can't even be written consistently? Everything changes depending on what the plot calls for and who is writing the script of the week, which means that the characters comes across as disingenuous and poorly developed. Next week, Rumple will be back to explaining how everything was for Nealfire! But, hey. Rumple fought a bear by making it swallow a small bag (no, seriously, what was that??) and then magically pulled a sword from the stone, so there's that!

Miscellaneous Notes on The Bear and the Bow

--Very few one-liners this week, but I did enjoy Zelena's "was that a kick my little Munchkin?" I may loathe her, but Zelena does know how to be wickedly entertaining.

--Rumple shattered Chip. Back when Chip broke in season 2, it was heartbreaking because it was done in the heat of the moment after Amnesia! Belle and Rumple had been through an emotional roller coaster. This week it just felt silly and stupid and eye-roll worthy. Yes, I get it. Belle is going to save him!

--The CGI for the bear was okay. Much better than Mal's dragon back in season 4, at the very least.

--So, wait. Is Nimue not the First Dark One? Is she still alive? Why can she help? Merlin's voicemail was interesting.

--Merlin is seriously cute.

--Hook is back to calling Rumple the Crocodile and not caring if said amphibian dies. Two episodes ago, Hook was giving Emma some sort of sob story about how he (Hook) was the villain in the Rumple/Hook story of Season Two. Consistency. What are you?

--The return of the magical mushroom, which apparently can't be burned. There's a drug joke in here somewhere. 

--"You turned me into a hero." No, Rumple, Belle did. Did you not watch your own episode? But now that Rumple has pulled the sword from the stone, what can he possibly do against the Dark One?


  1. I just want to say how much I enjoy your blog, esp your opinions on Once.... I share a lot of your views and it's really awesome to have a place to go each week where I can count on some feminist, in-depth analysis. Thanks for always posting!