Monday, April 25, 2016

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (5x19)

Readers, I have a question I'd like to put forth: will you make chaos with me? Say what you want about the lightening fast and crazy maelstrom that is the Hades and Zelena works, for reasons that I'm not sure I can fully explain. A lot of it has to do with the sparkling chemistry between the actors and the other half has to do with the writers and actors both embracing the loony tunes show that is Zades. Do you know what else works? When the show remembers one of its founding principles: that everyone, no matter if you're a hero or a villain, needs a community in order to flourish. We are shaped, changed, enhanced, torn down, and rebuilt by our family, be they of the kind bound by blood or by affection. Without a place to plant our feet and know that we are home, we are adrift and outcasts. And what, really, is the Underworld if not the weigh station before you reach your final destination? This week's episode, "Sisters," remembers this worthy family-first motif by looking at people who don't belong to any sort of community and contrasting them to someone who does. Brothers they may be, but James doesn't have a bedrock like Charming does. Sisters they are trying to be, but Zelena is torn between the new fledgling community she could be a part of and the insular twosome with her Lord of the Underworld while Regina's remarkable transition from enemy to member of the community is given weight. And at the heart of it all, a mother tries to forge a connection with a daughter long since cast out. Things were revealed, the ante was upped, and important themes were pushed to the forefront. After last week's major disappointment, I'll take it. Let's go start some chaos! 


The James and David portions of this episode left a lot to be desired because the show spent most of its time elsewhere on more compelling sibling drama. I don't blame them for this; Zelena and Cora are far more meaty and vital to our show than James ever was and it shows in how little I cared that he got shoved into the River of Lost Souls to spend all of eternity in torment. James' complaint against Charming rings as fairly hollow, doesn't it? At least, it does at first when you leave it as is and don't try to get to the root psychology behind it. James had glory; he was a warrior, a favorite son, and the only hope of a poor and broken kingdom. Yes, it was highly political; King George forced his hand, and maybe James had other plans for his life, but the show has never given James any real color or introspection so it's hard to tell what James thought of his father's plans for his only child. Did James have any sort of love (not including his bed and giant-robbing partner, Jack) that would have made him happier? James' true love is really himself; he needs to be the best and so he does everything in his power to prove his prowess. Maybe that's really the heart of the problem for James in retrospective, since he has only recently learned that his birth parents gave him up over his twin brother. For reasons unknown, to everyone, his mother and father chose to give him up over David. Why? Isn't that the real question that plagues James: why wasn't I good enough? Why wasn't I chosen? What was it about David that was better, more worthy, more lovable that I don't posses? A child that has been forsaken or abandoned has a very hard time accepting love from anyone in their adult lives, lest it be ripped away from them again--just look at Zelena's lament that Cora gave up the wrong child or even early Emma Swan being closed off from everyone, including her son. James is, in essence, over compensating by seeking out his brother for an imagined fault that James doesn't actually have; Ruth and her husband did not make this choice based on some perceived sin or error of baby James; they just simply made it and we will likely never know why. In James' mind, he needs to prove his birth parents wrong, to show them that they gave up the wrong child and that he was the "better" of the two. If he can defeat David, he can retroactively prove to Ruth and his father, and, probably more importantly, to himself that he is the better twin. It's actually pretty deep and interesting psychology so it's a shame that the show took the easy way out and pushed James into the murky depths below Underbrooke instead of letting him come to understand that the fault lies not in him, but in his stars.  

...And Sisters

I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised to learn that Regina and Zelena met earlier in their lives. Let me be briefly harsh here before I turn to gushing over some really outstanding moments: a lot of this flashback plot is convenient nonsense. So that we are all on the same page: inexplicably, and without warning, Regina gets hurt by a magic wand, needs healed from a blood relative (but not Cora cause of reasons) so enter young Zelena (and like last week's Red and Mulan, how did Cora get to Oz?) and then both sisters forget it all because a river from the Underworld just so happens to run by the Mills' house? That's so much convenient in one place that I can't help but wonder if the Enchanted Forest is really in the Forest of Coincidence (Galavant reference!) It was like the writers wrote the present day drama and then realized they needed a flashback (because what would this show be without its mandated flashbacks) and so they came up with something on the fly that could easily be wiped away in a manner of moments with a lazy handwave about magical waters. However, I am actually very willing to over look a lot of this eye-roll worthy flashback because of the raw power of the present day Mills women reunion. I've never been a big fan of Regina; I leaned so heavily toward Rumple so very early on in the show that Regina became his absolute antithesis and, in my eyes, mostly irredeemable; however there is no denying that her character arc and journey is one of the better conceived and more well thought out ones. Cora is magnetic even if ruthlessly coldhearted (or, in her case, literally heartless). Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I hate Zelena with the power of a thousand suns (except for this season because of how delightful she and Hades are together--and yes, this makes me question my own feminism). So three characters I don't have strong attachments or feelings to and they reduced me to some serious blubbering during their emotional reconciliation scene. That, my dear readers, is the power of good writing and it's what makes OUAT so damn frustrating sometimes. Every now and then, there are little sparks of brilliance, little reminders that the show could once reach inside your chest and squeeze your beating heart (much like Cora!). And shockingly enough, most of the time, it's not when there is some sexual-romance agenda being pushed.

The writing here might be too on the nose, like when Cora allays Zelena's fears that it is too late for her to join in any sort of community by telling her eldest daughter, "it's never too late, you never stop being connected," but it's the kind of clear message that this show often needs when it gets too muddled in plot and shiny tokenism (still not over last week, guys). What I loved most about these present day mother and daughter(s) scenes was the way the three characters know each other and can cut each other to the quick in a matter of moments because while OUAT is all about reminding us that no one can heal you like family, it's also eager to touch on the fact that it's also family who hurt you the most. Zelena can tell Regina that her younger sister is cut from the same dark cloth as their mother and it's true! Regina even gets to say some of those iconic lines that Cora has uttered over the years, like knowing what is best for someone, even if the person in question wants something totally different. Regina has no qualms about poisoning her sister if it means "protecting" Zelena from Hades, a man her sister does truly love! Sound familiar? It should because Cora had no problem killing Daniel, a man Regina truly loved, in order to ensure that Regina led the life Cora mandated. Cora, meanwhile, gets right to the heart of what she really did to Zelena all those years ago when baby Wicked Witch was just an infant being left in the woods. Cora doesn't need Zelena to explain how it felt to be so abandoned, Cora can explain Zelena's emotions: "what I did left a wound that's been festering for decades." Even better, Cora openly admits she did it for ultimately selfish reasons, because she was young and ambitious and didn't want to be saddled with a baby when she could have a better life. It wasn't noble, it wasn't kind, it wasn't like Snow giving up Emma so that everyone could have their best chance, it was a self-centered decision based on Cora's needs, Cora's wants, and Cora's desires. Add to this that Cora finally changed her mind about her life long doctrine that love is weakness and called herself a fool for ever believing that love can't be selfless and can't help more than it hinders and we are left with a sweeping but logical transformation that really did take Cora many years to go accomplish. This is a very big step and piece of character development for a character who has only ever been in a handful of episodes and it goes to show that often times the writers do remember the important themes and motifs of their colorful cast of characters, that they can get them to an organic and logical point when the writers drop all the shiny pretenses and the wonky MacGuffins and the tired shipping moments and focus, instead, on community, on family, and on being connected through blood, through affection, and through all the hardships life has to offer. Zelena isn't necessarily redeemed and whether or not Cora should have gone to the better place is a big debate that bears a lot of thought (it'll be in the notes, guys) but this really was a step in the right direction for the thesis of the entire show and trying to get back to the last semblance of what it once was. But, before I get too hopeful, someone throw a burlap sack over my head and take me far far away.

Miscellaneous Notes on Sisters

--Does Cora really deserve to go to the "better" place? Not really. It goes back to what I was saying in episode 515 about whether you can have true redemption and forgiveness without first facing any punishment or consequences of your actions. Cora did a lot of bad and the only true apology she made was to two people--yes, the two people to whom she did the worst bits, but still only two. I don't know that it deserves an eternity in the River of Lost Souls, but I don't think she should get the fluffy cloud treatment.

--How about one final round of applause for Barbara Hershey who has deftly played Cora since season 1?

--I'm so glad Emma has a superpower that allows her to tell when people are lying. Seriously, Sheriff Swan, how did you not catch on to the James/David switcheroo?

--"Why is everything in the woods with you people?" And then Cruella punched Emma in the face. Attagirl!

--Hades setting up his little dinner date for Zelena, complete with his practiced dance moves, was adorable. I'm gonna miss this crazy blue-haired guy when the show invariably sends him packing.

--Hook thinks killing Zelena might be a step in the right direction. Will he keep her jaunty feather hat as a token to remember that kill by??

--So Robin has literally been in the woods with an infant in a car seat and the heroes have been bringing him baby wipes, formula, and diapers?

--I have no comments on Rumple's actions this episode.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

In Which I Review The Jungle Book (2016 Disney Movie)

Well, Disney you did it again. And by "it" I mean you took a beloved classic, let some real humans take the well worn characters for a test drive, and profited an almost obscene amount of money by playing on people's nostalgia and fond remembrances of days gone by. It's what you're good at, poking the childhood feels with clever songs and beloved narratives and I tip my hat to you for being able to put forth a "new" product every year that isn't, strictly speaking, new, innovative, fresh, forward thinking, or any typically positive adjective movie makers aim for when casting their lens or pens at a new project. That sounded like a heavy criticism, but it wasn't, truth be told. These are the films I grew up with; these movies and stories are my childhood and I, sucker that I am, join the masses in indulging in some fond recollections. Like my Cinderella movie review from a little over a year ago (was it year? gosh, time doth fly) there's very little need to set up this review. The plot is so well known that it barely (pun?) needs remarked upon at all. But unlike the Cinderella rave review, this one gets only a tentative "good" from me. There's something lacking in this new Disney live action adaptation, as if the film couldn't push itself to try and say something new. It certainly wasn't bad, but I did not leave the theater believing in the power of fairy tales again. And maybe--just maybe--it's because the Jungle Book isn't a fairy tale (though many of the tropes are well embedded). There's something darker and more feral at the heart of the jungle and the movie really missed the chance to explore the heart of darkness in man and beast alike. The jungle isn't for kids (despite the sugary sweet ending this film gives) and by not delving into the savagery of both man and beast I am left with something wanting. Hopefully I can unpack that a bit below, eh? Grab a cowbell (because of course) and let's go! 

General Thoughts

There came a point during my viewing of this film when I wondered if I'm not just a wee bit too cynical at times. Don't worry, readers. You don't actually have to answer me; I know I am. I've been trying to think back to my childhood experiences of The Jungle Book, the original Disney animated movie. Did I enjoy it then? I think I did, but certainly not the extent of, say, The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast. I liked the songs; I liked Baloo; and I know I loved Kaa (this, by the way, will come up again below so stay tuned). But for me, as a child, The Jungle Book felt too foreign. Talking animals were common in Disney films so I had no problem with that, but the lack of a real world made it too escapist. I've never been in a jungle nor witnessed any of its horrors (and the Disney film mostly makes the horrors of the jungle into jokes--it is, after all, a cartoon) and the cartoon landscapes felt too otherworldly to ever feel deadly. In the new live action film, the otherworldly feeling goes right out the window and becomes very real. But as I stated above, the realness feels flat, or at least unexplored, lacking in the depth of horror we know the jungle can offer. A jungle, in literature, can often represent as terrifying an ordeal as a haunted castle or a wild moor. More so, even, because the jungle in the actual Jungle Book is one of those wildly untapped ones; the kind that people go in to and never come out of (sort of like Mowgli). There are giant apes and ruinous temples and raging rivers and apparently elephants who are also expert landscapers. The jungle itself is supposed to feel like a living creature in this film, one that can be wild and deadly but also one that can nurture and endure. The film does a passingly good job at the latter, but it's the former where it falls down for me. We spend the last bit of the beginning of the movie moving from landscape to landscape with Mowgli and Bagheera--and yes the jungle is so vast and uncharted that it contains everything from rocky terrain, to dense forest, to yellowed Savannah, to something that looks akin to your local midwest state park. The jungle in this movie is the world, but it never feels truly like a threat (hint: it should!). It's not just Shere Khan who threatens Mowgli; the entire situation should be a threat. If Mowgli wants to chose the jungle (because that's where his multi-creatured pack is) that's fine, but the movie never shows the true horror of the jungle; but you better believe it shows the horrors of the man village. Bathed in fire--not just normal fire, mind you, but a fire that licks the sky and threatens to overtake the men standing around its warmth (tiny beings reduced to mere shadows before its red and yellow glow)--the man village is an unholy nightmare from which Mowgli runs.

And this is what I mean by my own jaded cynicism. It's a Disney film, for crying out loud. I shouldn't be rooting for something akin to Conrad's Heart of Darkness! But lessening the terror of the jungle felt out of place with the realism the movie brought in other terms, like the animation, voice acting of most of the cast, or, yes, the raw human emotions the animals invoke when they deal with the incredibly real problems of Shere Khan's threats, losing a loved one, or friend. This is topped off by what I feel is a very rough ending that makes everything too saccharine and too "happily ever after." Again, it's a Disney film so why am I being so harsh that the storybook closed and all's well that ends well? Well, I think it's actually because the animated Disney film--the one that should by virtue of medium be more Disney-esque than this new live action one--chose a very different path, one this new movie eschewed in a rather eyebrow raising manner. Mowgli doesn't leave the jungle; the closest he gets to the man village is the threshold, where he steals some fire and runs back to his jungle home. The animated film pushes Mowgli toward humanity. Like mythical Enkidu, Mowgli is tamed not by fire but by the lure of his own burgeoning manhood--in other words, he sees a pretty girl. Humanity is placed above the law of the jungle, the wild untamed forests, and even his two best friends Bagheera and Baloo in the animated film. It's definitely a bold statement for this 2016 film to cast humanity so dark and have Mowgli stay in the jungle--after all, humans are doing a pretty nice job of wrecking the planet as is, right (yes, the modern overtones of this movie are fairly heavy at times). But it cannot be that straightforward (jungle good, village bad), not when your plot has side moments like a blood thirsty tiger, a law in which peace between "tribes" of people only comes during great upset (like lack of water), and a 2,000 pound ape who wants to rule his empire with the help of the red flower (fire). All three of those "dangers," except Shere Khan, are given little room to truly become terrors and instead are either quickly resolved (the rainy season comes quickly) or are made into comic and iconic moments of song and dance. And once the imminent threat of Shere Khan is removed, the jungle returns to a paradise. My criticisms sound harsh but only because there is so much more this film could have done to emphasize that the jungle and the village are one and the same--packs of peoples or animals, seeking to dominate and protect their own. King Louie wants to bring the jungle under his control with fire? So do humans. Driving home this point--that there is little separation between the wild and the civilized--would go a long way in demonstrating that Mowgli would be at home in either place and is both beast and man.

What I Liked

--The animation of this film is gorgeous. The standout animation scene is probably Mowgli sitting on Baloo's belly, floating upstream.

--I especially loved the re-imagining of King Louie as a giant ape sitting on a throne of a long forgotten temple. Christopher Walken gives a very nice performance moving from stuttering kindly voice in the dark to oversized temple-destroyer in a matter of moments. Also, a round of applause to whoever thought up Mowgli finding a cowbell seconds before you first hear Louie speak.

--While I didn't like the actual plot ending, the ending-ending of the book closing whilst laying on a blue velvet cloth is so damn iconic I actually sniffled a bit.

--"You have never been in more danger of being extinct than you are right now." Baloo was on point.

--Even if their roles were smaller, most of the voice actors did a fantastic job bringing their talents to animal creatures. I say most because despite loving Idris Elba in everything he does, he was a bit too whisker twirling bad kitty this time around; the cartoon tiger was elegant in his villainy. He also missed the chance to showcase Shere Khan's trauma and (yup) humanity in light of his fears.

What I Disliked 

--Not nearly enough Kaa! The giant snake was masterfully rendered but her role was so small. And she didn't even get to sing "Trust In Me" until the end credits!

--Some clunky dialogue like right after Kaa tells Mowgli the story of the man and his cub who fought Shere Kahn in the distant past, she says, "and that man cub was you!" No kidding. You don't need to make this text. The young kid is wearing red pantaloons. It's clearly Mowgli.

--The actor playing Mowgli was a hit and a miss. One the one hand, he's incredibly young and his costars are tennis balls on sticks so it takes a certain amount of imagination to even make this work, but on the other hand, at no point did I forget that I was watching a kid "play" around. He never became Mowgli, in other words. Also, his annunciation could use some work at times.

--The constant "law of the jungle" refrain got wearisome.

--I'm glad Bear Necessities wasn't cut, but Baloo and Mowgli couldn't even sing it together in time?

Final Grade and Thoughts on The Jungle Book

--Final Grade: B

--Final Thought: This is a mostly acceptable version of a beloved Disney story and it strays little from the wheelhouse. But where it does stray is noticeable and without any real depth of exploration of what the film is really trying to say.

Monday, April 18, 2016

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (5x18)

Poor Mulan. Always the bridesmaid and never the bride. See what I did there? I eased into the tricky LGBT waters by starting off with a joke. Clever, right? I'm starting with a joke to break the ice because this week's episode, "Ruby Slippers" is a tricky one for me. At the outset let me just say, I am not a member of the LGBT community,I am ally instead. I self-identify as a heterosexual cis woman and because I do occupy a certain place of privilege where my type of romantic love is constantly given weight and a speaking voice in narrative, it is harder for me to critically analyze an episode of TV that is designed to speak to those who do not occupy my social sphere--who are marginalized, disenfranchised, maligned and altogether lacking in true representation on TV--without sounding like a pompous arse. My opinion that this episode wasn't really enough to push the LGBT cause or that it left a foul taste in my mouth for its cheapness and tokenism shouldn't overshadow an LGBT person who felt like this episode hit on certain themes and motifs that are relevant and important to them as a member of the LGBT community. Theirs is the voice that matters more in reactions to this episode, but since this blog is a one woman show, I guess mine has to suffice. Grab your shiniest shoes, glue an abnormally large feather to your hat, and let's go! 

The Adventures of Wolfie and Kansas

As I mentioned, this episode is a tricky one to navigate, not only because of my own "outsider looking in" perspective but also because I'm not sure there is much to sell the Dorothy and Ruby relationship outside of being outcasts in a show full of outcasts. There's nothing new here (unless we consider lesbianism new and that's a bridge I'm not going to cross) and it's not as if their sexual preferences made them outcasts. For Dorothy, it's her first trip to Oz that made her family believe she was crazy; for Ruby, it's her part time wolf status (and accidental ingestion of her former boyfriend) that caused her to feel so alone in the world. But one issue that arises is that virtually everyone on this show has felt like an outcast; in fact it's that feeling of being "otherized" that usually sparks their villainy. I do applaud--and will go into more detail in below--that the sexual orientation of Ruby and Dorothy doesn't play into their outcast feelings, but it also means that their connection is tenuous at best. So they feel like an outcast? Well, who hasn't? Other characters who have likewise shared those same feelings are not suddenly true loves, unless the show is about to endorse polyamory and have Regina, Emma, Hook, and Robin partake in a wild night in Vegas. To be fair (or, I suppose, fairly critical), exploration of true love and relationships is no longer the show's strong suit. Most relationships are now developed lightening fast, with almost no room to breathe for the two individuals in question. Merlin and Nimue, Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot, even Hades and Zelena (a couple I'm enjoying!) are tragically under developed. All it takes, apparently, is one flower, one neglectful husband, one adventure into a dark vault, one bike ride, or one walk through a field of poppies (and fighting some flying monkeys) to solidify that the character has "never felt this way about anyone!" Snow gives a pretty telling line in the present day that "love is freaking scary" and it is. And it should be. You're making yourself vulnerable and open and exposed. It's easy to get hurt, to be wounded. There's a reason why people scoff at love after only a few dates or days; human beings take time to get to that stage. We do not arrive at Planet Love without having to traverse an asteroid belt of emotions and conflicts (tortured metaphor, I know, but the show started it by likening Ruby to Toto!) Falling in love after only a few hours and expecting to have an earth shattering, curse breaking true love's kiss after one meaningful conversation makes true love that was fought for over a much longer period of time--like that of Snow White and Prince Charming--feel cheap, which isn't where the show should be going in their first LGBT outing.

I will agree that Ruby and Dorothy get more development than the likes of Arthur/Guinevere and certainly more than Lancelot and Guinevere, but only by virtue of Ruby being an old hat to the audience. Because of our long standing love of Ruby (a season two regular and part of the original OUAT Season 1 pack of beloved characters) it's easier to believe her emotions and go along on her own torrid rollercoaster of self-esteem and doubt. We feel safe in watching her many emotions play out because we've been down several winding paths with our Wolf Girl before--from Granny and Peter to killing her mother. We know Ruby; we will accept her emotions as valid because they have been shown, not simply told, slowly and solidly over the years. It's harder with Dorothy who was inserted only this season (as a grown up) and only for this purpose. And this brings me to another criticism: tokenism. It's not really tokenism, I suppose, because Ruby and Dorothy will likely flutter off to Forgotten Character Island to live happily ever after and if we see them again, it won't be in service to their story but because the writers occasionally like to play with old toys. Tokenism would keep the couple around only to highlight the shows own diversity, making their sexuality the only interesting and story-worthy thing about them. Giving the show an LGBT relationship and not having it be one in which the characters in question fight for their right to love is a good idea; not taking their story further and developing it organically and instead dropping it like the proverbial hot potato is less so. It reeks of sensationalism and trying to generate buzz. And that's a problem because it's using gays and lesbians as a punch line; it's the answer to a long standing "joke" about who Ruby would end up with and whether or not Adam and Eddy would address the gay elephant-sized fandom in the room.

As I hinted above, I did enjoy that Ruby and Dorothy's sexuality is never brought to bear. The words lesbian or gay are never uttered nor are any of Ruby's friends shocked to find her leaning in a direction she's never leaned before. That by itself is a fantastic message. These characters--Snow, Charming, Emma, et al--believe in love and the power of love so much that for Ruby to love Dorothy is simply an honest, heartfelt and beautiful expression of agape--universal, all consuming love. Brava to OUAT for that. That message is sadly rare where too often LGBT storylines are reduced to social commentary about how homophobes condemn gays and lesbians; something valuable, to be sure, but something that has been hit too many times at this stage. For Snow to be so open--to the extent that she doesn't even question Ruby's love of Dorothy--is refreshing in a world where these types of acceptance should be commonplace, but aren't. The fact that the show doesn't shy away from showing a very extended true love's kiss between Dorothy and Ruby is also to be applauded. Other shows would have panned away and made the moment about the witnesses instead of the actual kissers. It's easy to see that OUAT and the writers are trying to convey the weight of love, any love. From Charming giving up his freedom so that Snow can leave the Underworld and travel home to baby Snowflake, to Ruby and Dorothy tearfully admitting that they don't want to lose each other, the power of love is emphasized in the episode. But my last criticism needs to be stressed: poor Mulan. For over three seasons now, it has been fairly obvious that Mulan was in love with Aurora. She was denied her chance to express her feelings in season three because of Aurora's pregnancy but those feelings obviously linger (in spite of OUAT's insistence that they play the pronoun game and keep who Mulan loved a guarded secret). The fact that Mulan has no part to play in the LGBT storyline, except as a witness, is more than a little frustrating. I have to wonder if the Great Mouse dictated that their character (and certainly this version of Mulan belongs to Disney) be left in Limbo. That's a whole other bag of worms, one that casts some dispersion on Disney for not understanding the evolution of what "family" means and how their brand translates to all manner of people (seriously, how big is the LGBT Disney fanbase? My guess is massive). Mulan should have been part of this because while Dorothy and Ruby are perfectly fine (if problematic for all the reasons I already stated) it did come out of left field; I would never assume the sexuality of any character but there was no hint or buildup for Dorothy and Ruby whereas Mulan has previously been established as having same sex feelings for another. All of this is to say that navigating this episode is tricky. It's hard to applaud when the end result feels like a cheap thrill for the writers but the ultimate thematic message behind the episode is definitely applause worthy. I guess the best we can hope for is that the writers don't neglect the wide spectrum of love there is in the world. For a show that wants love to be its central tenant, they need to keep moving forward; to find a way to balance buzz with heart. They used to know how. Maybe they can figure it out again. Wait is that hope? Gosh, that's contraband! To the River of Lost Souls for me!

Miscellaneous Notes on Ruby Slippers

--The present day plot was mostly fluff and filler because we've reached that part of the season in which everyone drags their heels in order to hit the 22 mark with enough story.

--I don't care how dense the trees in Oz are; Toto could not possibly sound like that.

--I did applaud the lack of outsider feeling over sexual orientation but lines like "one more life I destroyed because of what I am" are awkward and too heavy and really should be avoided before I take back my applause.

--"Chisel Chin Jr"

--Kansas and Wolfie sounds like a really terrible buddy-buddy cop TV show in the 1970s.

--Belle put herself in a sleeping curse and expects Moe to wake her up, not Rumple. I spent an inordinate amount of time last week discussing Rumbelle so I'll just leave this observation here for now and move the heck on.

--Hook actually said thank you! It's a miracle!

--Did the writers name this episode "Ruby Slippers" as a cheeky attempt to name the 'ship before the fandom could?

--Hades literally melted Auntie Em, mopped her up with a dishrag, and then wrung her into a mason jar. Can we keep him please? Just a little while longer?

--Belle has morning sickness but she is so newly pregnant that she didn’t even know she was pregnant when Rumple told her. But Zelena, who was pregnant for long enough to fully know she was with child, never had morning sickness? That makes NO sense.

--The feather on Zelena's hat bothers me, deep in my soul.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

In Which I Review Game of Silence (1x1)

There are lies we tell to make ourselves feel better. Well, ain't that some heavy truth-telling? And coming from a broadcast TV show no less. This isn't to say that broadcast TV doesn't do introspective storytelling, but this sort of quiet (or skull cracking loud) navel gazing is all too rare lately on network TV when showrunners and network head honchos are trying to earn every bit of money they can through the use of shocking twists, guest stars, and tweetable storylines. A tense, taut, edge of your seat but ultimately powerful story is more apt for cable television, so bravo to NBC for taking a risk with Game of Silence and their opening episode, "Pilot." It also doesn't hurt that Michael Raymond-James is in it (and yes, that's mainly the reason for this review. He'll always be my Nealfire, and I'll go where he does.) But nostalgia over dead characters on another show aside, Game of Silence has a lot of promise in its first hour. There's mystery and tension and love lost and friendship and revenge and trauma and a really great soundtrack. At the heart of this episode lies the question about how far you're willing to go to heal the wounds from your past and how far you're willing to go for your friends. The answer might not be as simple as one would expect. 

Let's be upfront and honest here at the proper start: a lot of this is hard to watch. Childhood trauma comes in all forms. Our little lives are shaped by so much; our friends, our families, our early loves and our early loses follow us like ghosts. However, those sorts of traumas are of the mundane variety. This isn't to say that they aren't effective in damaging our souls or that your (or mine) traumas are any less important to the make up of our psyche. But very few of us went through what Jackson, Gil, Shawn, and Boots went through at Quitman Juvenile Detention. The acts that happened to them are of the true evil variety, not the learning-to-live-in-the-real-world type. They are the type that fundamentally alter your very being; that make and shape you into something and someone you likely would not have become otherwise. Sweet, tender, small Gil becomes a scrappy fighter when pushed too far. Watching children--and they are actually children, not teenagers, not young adults, but children--be beaten, whipped, intimidated, forced to fight for the entertainment of adults, and, yes, probably raped is incredibly hard. Stomach turning, rage inducing, close your eyes and watch from behind your fingers, hard. That might mean that this TV series isn't for everyone and I wouldn't even blame you. My own TV inclinations lean toward the mythical and the otherworldly, things heavily couched in fantasy and a somewhat safe distance from these all too real circumstances. The mythical traumas of Westeros is a far cry from the urban horrors of Quitman. But, these disquieting events aside, the heart of the episode--the bond between the four (now, sadly, three) kids turned into traumatized, trying to survive adults--is well worth the watch. It's something that speaks to us on a human level, even if you've never been the same position as Jackson, Gil and Shawn.

The true highlight of this pilot number is the connection between the three friends. It's been twenty-plus years but when Jackson is reunited with Gil and Shawn for the first time since they left their hell on earth behind, you feel the weight of the friendship. Don't we all have a group like that? It can be years, decades even, but it seems like no time has passed since we last saw them. You click; you fall back into old patterns with people who know you better than anyone else--time and space and distance be damned. Jackson goes back to being the protector almost instantly. A lot of that connection isn't just because their pre-teenage years were spent in hell, but also because they spent the first part of their lives in an idealized and idyllic paradise. Look at the way the pre-car crash scenes are shot. These slices of life are all sunshine and joy and childhood wonder. The sort that, when we encounter the other side of life (the bad side), instantly become a dreamscape where we can flee when it all gets to be too much. It's very little-suburb of America with its water holes and rock cliffs and Def Leopard (really, the soundtrack for this show is amazing). It doesn't even matter that the dreamscape can be compromised by drunken mothers; in that land, in that reality, you're the hero and your friends are true and strong and the only demons you have to fear are the kind you can flee from by driving a car, peddle to the meddle, fast. And that is what we are all trying to get back to; we are trying to get back to a place where our troubles were not so very heavy and soul-crushing. The only way Jackson, Gil, and Shawn can get there is with each other. At the end of the episode, lawyer Jackson who is lying to himself about having moved past the past gives a rousing closing argument about letting go and yet...and yet, we know he hasn't. None of them have, but they haven't moved past each other either. One of the repeated lines from this pilot episode is that Jackson, Gil and Shawn are brothers. Not just friends, not just fellow inmates, not just comrades in arms...but brothers. Bonded by something that is stronger than blood. Bound by a connection that none of us likely understand nor have experienced but that still feels familiar. "We all want to be able to move on with our lives, but the past is never the past. If it were...there'd be no tragedy." The ending sequence, showing the length and breadth the gang will go to now to avenge (yes, that's the right word. Avenge their lost innocence, to reclaim that which was taken) what happened to them, sets up the narrative for the rest of the series. How far will the three go? Have they crossed a line already with the murder in the rain? Well, maybe that's the wrong question; maybe the right one is: wasn't the line already crossed when they were but tiny tots in the big house? More like the kids were shoved over the line, weeping, clawing at the ether for protection and only finding it only in each other. Maybe there is no line anymore. Maybe there is only the deafening silence of your past, rearing its head, daring you to forget.

Miscellaneous Notes on Pilot 

--Obviously, a bit of a rave from me, but there are a few critiques. The explanation Jackson gives Gil for what he discovered, based on the day of the riots, and various newspaper clippings was done in a such a handwav-y, exposition way that I didn't really catch the crux of it. Hopefully it gets readdressed in upcoming episodes.

--Jessie is the character who gets the least amount of coloring and depth here. But that's okay; one, it's a pilot episode, and two, this is really the boys' story.

--Speaking of Jessie, please don't make me sit through a torturous love triangle. Michael Raymond-James or not, I don't know if I have the strength to sit through another show in which his character fights over a girl.

--The dynamic between Jackson and Gil is by far the meatiest and interesting in this first showing. David Lyons and MRJ play off each other like absolute pros.

--"So this is what making it feels like." You'll forgive me if I read a bit of meta commentary into this Gil (MRJ) line.

Monday, April 11, 2016

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (5x17)

Is morality relative? Do classifications of actions (right, wrong, good, evil, light, dark) really just come down to where you're standing and what view you take? Does it come down to your life experiences? Your past, present, and your perceived future? Can you justify any action that should be objectively wrong just because you can see the potential good of an outcome? Yeah, I know. Those are hard, serious questions to open this blog with. It's no shock that these questions are coming on the heels of a Rumple and Belle episode, this week's "Her Handsome Hero." These morally grey topics always come up, like flowers growing from decay(!), when Rumple decides to do a thing that ought not to be done but the thing in question is for some greater (and more importantly, human) reason. Should Rumple manipulate an entire realm and separate mother (Snow) and infant child (Emma) for 28 years? No, probably not. But should he do it so that he can find his own son and ask forgiveness? Okay, different ball game. In the last Rumple episode, I discussed how Belle's pregnancy, while squicky in terms of how the child was conceived, refocuses Rumple's character as a father who would do anything for their child. The issues come when we have to deal with those "anythings." Rumple may want to be the man who can use the darkness for light in order to prove to Belle that he's a better man, but he doesn't want to do that today. It's all relative on tonight's episode so grab a mirror designed to make evil flash and burn in the reflected's eyes and let's go!

I Bet He Uses Antlers In All Of His Decorating 

This new and (more) handsome version of Gaston may not be roughly the size of a barge, but his ego certainly is (wanna see how many "Gaston" song references I can make over the next few lines?). I mean, who does this Belle girl think she is? She has clearly tangled with the wrong man! No one's slick or quick like Gaston; no one's neck is so incredibly thick like Gatson's! He's perfect, a pure paragon. Okay, that's enough. Obviously, I'm a bit of a "Beauty and the Beast" fan and this was some low hanging fruit that I had to pluck if only for fun. I rarely say this about Belle, who is more a prop than an actual fleshed out character with a personality, but she showed some real spunk and drive in both the flashback and present day events this week. So often Belle is just some strange combination of Google meets Rumple's redemption and hunny bunny; her entire story arc revolves around how she affects a villain and her screen time is relegated to either her sexual and romantic relationship or to explaining some plot point to the rest of the characters before vanishing off screen, back to her books, because goodness knows Belle doesn't have any friends in town that actually care about her as a person. That sounds harsh but there is one trait that is consistent with Belle all throughout the show; the girl is constantly trying to live up to an idealized--almost fictional--version of what heroism means. We, in our modern culture, would imbue heroes with "good" qualities but we are also very capable of acknowledging that true heroism is rare, if not extinct all together. Our moral lenses are heavily fogged with our own perspectives. A war is necessary or evil and as a consequence the soldiers fighting in said war are heroes or murderers. A certain group of people are villains or simply misunderstood. Political parties or leaders are on the right path or dead wrong with their various ideologies. Idealized versions of people are types--archetypes even--and they don't exist in our bloody, grey, complicated, nuanced, and complex world. But to Belle, they do and can exist. People are capable of true heroism in Belle's world, with heroism and heroes defined by compassion, forgiveness, love, generosity, and sacrifice. It's those qualities that Belle herself wanted to uphold in her first appearance back in season one's magnificent "Skin Deep" when she gave up her home and family to go and live with Rumple forever.  To be a hero, in Belle's eyes, means clinging to those principles even when a darker path is easier or might even have a subjectively better outcome. Should she have just let Gaston kill the Ogre? Maybe! It might have prevented a war which undeniably killed dozens if not more of her people (though you gotta love the poetic idea that because she didn't let Gaston kill the Ogre, she was eventually freed of her arranged engagement and went off with Rumple which, in turn, let her discover true love). The underlying crux of this episode is how does Belle continue to live up to her standards of heroism but negotiate her identity when faced with an impossible problem, like protecting her unborn child from Hades without Dark Magic and continuing to love a man who thinks that turning the darkness toward the light is a fool's errand? The answer isn't actually a very hopeful one, at least not on the surface, something that seems rather shocking given what this show often tries to sell itself as--a message of hope in a hard world. Turns out, Belle may have to compromise her principles, she may have to let the darkness win sometimes. Can darkness be the right answer? Sometimes, yes. Our morals are all relative.

Honey, I Promise I'll Be Good; Just Let Me Kill This Fool First

I suppose we shouldn't be too shocked that this episodes ends up siding with Rumple. Afterall, this is the same episode where we watch Hades send a decayed flower--that smelled of hopelessness--to his love interest and we're supposed to read it as genuinely romantic. But, to be serious, there are few objective evils in the world. I've often argued that even murder can be rationalized in certain circumstances (we live in America, land of the death penalty and never ending wars; this is to say nothing of Emma's murder of Cruella being "justified" because she was protecting Henry). Rape is my objective evil, a violation and power play to such a heinous degree that there is simply no way to rationalize it without revealing yourself as a sadist. OUAT follows the same idea and arguably has since its inception. This is a show that humanized the Evil Queen by making her an abused child who held her first love in her arms while her mother crushed his heart; this is a show that turned Rumplestiltskin from a wicked imp into a regretful father; who made the Wicked Witch an abandoned and unlovable child; who will make the Lord of the Underworld a brother maligned with a frozen heart. This is a show that, for all its faults (and goodness knows I have no issue in pointing them out) has maintained that there is grey in the world; indeed, insisting that labels like heroes and villains are flexible and change based on, simply, who is telling the story. Let's be clear: some of what Rumple is saying in this episode is hard to hear. He's not giving way in his assertion that the darkness is a part of him, that it can be used to protect and save everyone and, simultaneously, help give Belle the kind of life they both want. Rumple's snark comes out in full force when he questions Belle's decision to break and enter Gaston's locker in order to figure out a way to defeat the rogue hunter. If this is acceptable then why not other times when magic is handy to have around? Why is it that Belle is the one who gets to decide when the ends justify the means? Is it simply because her body count is much lower than Rumple's? How about all the times when Rumple's magic saved the pair of them (and more!) from utter disaster or destruction? If "Devil's Due" refocuses Rumple's character as the father who will do anything--anything, mind you--to protect those he loves, then this episode is about unfocusing Belle's character, challenging her core and making her (and us) question whether or not she should bend to what it is Rumple is saying. What's that line from "A Tale as Old as Time?" As a friend reminded me earlier this week, "then somebody bends, unexpectedly."

 Of course, Belle doesn't so much bend as accidentally push Gaston into the River of Souls (which apparently feeds into the Bay in the Underworld? Okay, sure. We'll go with it.). This is where the episode stumbled a bit for me, though more because I thought it was a touch shocking and I'm not sure what it means for Belle going forward. It turns out that Rumple is right and, in the heat of the moment, you do what you have to do in order to save those you love. But should that mean that Belle is ready to accept Rumple's lifestyle and devil-may-care (pun intended) attitude toward Dark Magic? Well, I don't know. Belle, if that hug and sorrow at the end are any indication, is resigned to the fact that Rumple was right, she was wrong and now she has to live with what she's done to her former boyfriend/fiance. And yes, to an extent, that certainly is true and it would be interesting to watch her inner turmoil over damning Gaston to the River. There is, however, an issue that I hope (oh dear, that's contraband) Belle raises with her erstwhile husband: Rumple doesn't just use the darkness in the heat of the moment to protect those he loves! He uses it when he needs something, when it suits his (read: non-family oriented) ends. And this is really the problem with Rumple as a whole. His justification is always going to be that he's protecting his family, be it Baelfire or Belle and the new baby, but he said it best last week, "I love this dagger." He can't let go of that enchanted object, of the feeling of power and control he has over his own life that the dagger gives to him. So whether it be for his family or not, Rumple still makes bad choices and uses dark magic for nefarious and decidedly non-light reasons. Rumple's line that he wants to be the man who can use darkness for light "but not today" speaks volumes. When push comes to shove, he'll take the road he wants to take, consequences be damned. Gaston's end is an honest accident and Belle probably could have helped him move on by using her heroic virtues of compassion and forgiveness, but instead her lasting impression is not to refocus her own character by these high ideals but to accept Rumple's own relative morality, to bend to the idea that "darkness always wins." There is an in-between, Belle dear. We often call it a grey area and I bet, if you tried really hard, you could see it; sort of like how you saw the man beneath the beast and loved both at the same time. Understanding that morals are relative doesn't mean you can't strive toward those high ideals of heroism. It means it's harder than anticipated. But anything worthwhile usually is; and if being a true hero isn't worthwhile, then I don't know what is.

Miscellaneous Notes on Her Handsome Hero

--It's a new actor playing Gaston and he was 100% better than the previous actor who was incredibly wooden and unconvincing.

--Has anyone told Hagrid that his brother Gwarp is in the Underworld?

--I honestly didn't care about anything going on with Emma, Hook, and Snow this week. Emma's suddenly a prophet? Sure! But if everyone could stop enabling Emma and her really poor decision making, that'd be great. No, she didn't force anyone to come and rescue Hook with her, but honestly some discussion (especially given Hook's behavior in the final two episodes of the arc) would have been splendid. Also, apparently Emma "Walls" Swan has no issues.

--Hades, I'm a big fan but you gotta cut it out with that hair.

--Mirror of Souls is our required MacGuffin of the episode.

--"I'm his only weakness." In the week since Zelena/Hades' tale, I've realized that I really do enjoy this pairing and that's really disconcerting for me.

--'Sup, Red?

--I'd like Belle and Hades's coats, please and thank you.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

In Which I Review Sleepy Hollow (3x18)

Hey, I know that Headless Horseman! Welcome to the final episode of season three. It's been quite a journey; from time apart to happy reunions; to quietly scary Pandora to loudly boring Hidden One; from the death of Abbie to the death of Joe; from Witnesses apart to Witnesses together, we've been on a journey that took us from Sleepy Hollow to the Jeffersonian to the Underworld and back home again (as all good hero journeys should end). It's hard to say what happens now, but if this is the end, it certainly went out with a bang. This potentially series ending episode, "Ragnarok," saw our team of heroes battling to stop the end of the world before the Hidden One could consume it all. It's just another Friday night in Sleepy Hollow, in other words. Heroes, for most of history, have been male and for most of TV narrative, white males. Ichabod fits the hero model to a T, beyond just being a white male. He's romantic; he's got a poetic soul; he's compassionate; he's got an air of destiny about him as well as an otherworldly feeling that follows most heroes around like a neon sign (or lightening bolt scar) indicating who they are. And then there's Abbie. Right from the start, she's the "normal" one. Her story expands gradually to be equally mythic, but from the beginning, Abigail Mills was sturdy and steady, the pragmatic and level-headed bedrock. But, just like her partner, Abbie's a hero. She's a phoenix, just you watch her soar. Grab some tissues for the road, never stop hoping, and let's go!

"Death wins in the end" it seems, even if the victim happens to be a goddess. The show made a very smart move and removed the Hidden One from the action almost immediately, placing the much more compelling and complex Pandora in his place. While quite a bit of this transition was mumbo-jumbo, magic handwaving, it works for this spaghetti-to-the-wall show because the thesis that Abbie as a hero is still being hammered home even when you have Greek Fire, a magical box, and a dying god. The hero defeats the villain and, as it usually does on this show, it takes the unparalleled power of both Witnesses to stop the terror that envelops their little hamlet. Abbie sacrificed her life to defeat the Hidden One; Ichabod used his former enemy--the Headless Horseman, the embodiment of Death--to take down Pandora. It takes two. It always takes two; there must always be two Witnesses. I am going to push the proverbial stop button on this idea to make a confession (because this really is the heart of the episode) and admit that I don't know how to talk about this yet. And chances are, I'm going to do a sloppy job of it (so your humble blogger is begging your indulgence). I was honestly shocked (and upset and heartbroken) that Sleepy Hollow killed off Abbie Mills tonight. Yes, death wins in the end for mortal Witnesses and immortal goddesses alike. I know that the soul of the Witness is eternal and it passes to the next in line (like some sort of Slayer-esque power) but, without trying to put too fine a point on this, Abbie is the Witness. There are no ifs, ands, or buts in this regard. This season has driven home over and over again that the bond between Abbie and Ichabod was mythic, special, and necessary to the existence of both individuals. There is a level of betrayal that I feel as a TV viewer right now because how could any TV showrunner so utterly miss the point of what made their show worth talking about--not two Witness souls living inside whoever-bodies--but Ichabod and Abbie, the heart and soul of this campy, weird little show. I am trying to put that aside for the moment because, in all honesty, this was a very good episode of Sleepy Hollow. Everything about it--from the defeat of the villains, to the reappearance of Headless and Sheriff Corbin, to Ichabod and Abbie's bond--felt perfectly in line with what the show has been saying about magic and friendship for three years. And maybe a good episode pales in comparison to the hurt over losing a favorite character, a character who helped define the show; or maybe the death of a character pales in comparison to a show really bringing the story home in a (mostly) satisfying way. I have always maintained that death in narrative can have a purpose; if something changes inside the story universe, then the death mattered and the story knows that losing anyone--friend, lover, family, enemy, hero, villain--should matter. It should count. It should affect people. Killing Abbie could be a bold storyline; it could propel Sleepy Hollow in a direction that opens up many narrative doors simply by virtue of new blood. But do you want it to?

Readers, let's be honest. This episode really boils down to one question: can you have Sleepy Hollow without Abigail Mills? Following the conclusion of this episode, I tweeted something rather mean that I'll reiterate here: in the span of an hour I went from begging for renewal to praying for cancellation. And, again, this was a season-best episode of Sleepy Hollow, from the emotional beats to the mythology building. But it is so hard--so very hard--to imagine this show without Abbie Mills. What was it she said last week, "what we do, we do together." Can you really have Ichabod without his Leftenant? I feel the need to point out some very necessary criticism because while I sing the praises of the show subverting the traditional hero depiction of a white male, and replacing him with their black female, the killing off of said female hero, and having Abbie tell her white male counterpart that her job was to get Ichabod "to this point" and that, because she's done that, she can "be at peace" is all manner of feather-ruffling. This feather-ruffling comes not only on the heels of Abbie's final demise, but also on top of her--what--fourth sacrifice for the team? I'm willing to swallow this less than salient gendered reading because Ichabod is just as much a hero as Abbie and our man-out-of-time got our Leftenant to her point as much as she did for him. Still, how can the show sell me on having Ichabod and Random New Witness, whom we have yet to meet, running around the world built for Ichabod and Abbie, saving the day? In case anyone is hopeful, Nicole Beharie has done her post-mortem and she is officially out of the show; I don't know if rumors about her unhappiness can be believed or not, and while that's something to consider, it doesn't make our sadness over Abbie's death go away. Like I said above, I'm doing this rather sloppily because my mind is so very torn. Ichabod without Abbie? Makes no sense. Sleepy Hollow without Beharie? Also makes no sense. But there is--heaven help me--there is something almost enticing about Ichabod with a new partner, watching him help a new Witness (like Abbie helped him find his way in this brave new world), to see the dynamic team conquer evil one more time. And, after all, is it not Abbie's soul? She's the Phoenix and when you see the bird after emulation, it's still the same bird. None of this review feels proper, does it? It feels more like a frustrated viewer trying to rationalize what she just witnessed (which, okay, is maybe what TV reviews honestly are at the end of the day). Let's step away from Abbie for a hot second and remind ourselves (and really, I mean remind myself) that the show is still charming, still campy, and can still turn out a seasons worth of stories that are thoroughly enjoyable to watch. But eternal soul or not, Abigail Mills is dead. Actually dead. Pieces have been put into place for if/when Season 4 is a reality, but I'm not sure it should come to fruition. Like Abbie, maybe it's better if we find our peace with this episode, this disquieting turn of events, and move on. Tally Ho!

Miscellaneous Notes on Ragnarok 

--I'm sorry if this review got away from me and became singularly focused. But, honestly, I think it needed to be.

--You'll also have to indulge me while I spend the misc notes sprinkling out some truly amazing quotes from Ichabod and Abbie, and about them, in this episode.

--“Impossible!” “No, just highly improbable. Which, as luck would have it, is our stock in trade.”

--Ichabod is a Trekkie and recognizes that the "City on the Edge of Forever" is a superior episode. In hindsight, this is pretty clever foreshadowing that Abbie (Edith) would die.

--"Your heart belongs to Abigail Mills." Shippers have raged for days that Abbie and Danny gave into their underwhelming and underdeveloped love story. This episode seems to be a placation and an acknowledgement that Abbie and Ichabod are intertwined in ways that matter more than physical love without ever having them utter an "I love you."

--Good for Jenny, shooting Hidden One in the head and ending his life (and our misery of his character).

--"She was your hope. She was your everything. And I took her from you."

--Everything about the final moments between Ichabod and Abbie, opening with the pilot recall in the jail cell, to their talk in their archives, to their goodbye on the front porch--complete with one final Ichabod-style bow--was perfect in every single way that TV viewers and reviewers hope to have their main characters talk and interact. The fact that it ends with the devastating revelation that Abbie is really and truly dead....

--"We are eternal souls, Crane."

--"What is there for me in a world without you?" Goodbye, Abigail Mills. Goodbye.

--Will the show return? I don't know. Will I return if it does? I don't know. We'll see...we shall see.

Monday, April 4, 2016

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (5x16)

Proof that Zelena is the true evil of this show? She was born on tax day. A day full of bad omens if ever there was one; beware for the tax man and the green Wicked Witch of the West cometh! But hey, I'm sure someone out there loves the tax man because, as it turns out, someone out there loves Zelena too. Granted, it's the lord of the Underworld, but beggars cannot be choosers, I suppose. In this week's episode, "Our Decay" (gosh, what an awful title) Hades's prime motivations and true feelings are revealed as the writers throw out all the Greek mythology that was ever recorded or beloved and decide to rehash a lot of their own plot; because who needs the greats like Homer, Hesiod, and other notable Greek bards when you can just use your own tired and overly simplistic material to get all the Twitter birds a' fluttering! Can you tell I'm not exactly a fan of this episode? Well, that may not be strictly speaking true; it was clunky and messy and I don't know why I'm supposed to care about HaLena (Zades? HellWitch? GreenGod?) but it wasn't without some form of entertainment. When two balls-to-the-wall batty characters get together, you're at least in for some fun (and apparently bike rides). Grab a baby or a demon-looking scarecrow, or help yourself to a pile of brains and let's go!

Riding on Bikes With Strangers 

If a tall dark man with a predilection for fire and death asks you to take a ride on his bike just say no, kids. Riding on bikes only leads to sex--or true love's kiss, I'm never quite sure with this show. Okay enough joking around; let's get serious. The God of the Underworld is in love with The Wicked Witch of the West. Wait, I thought I was supposed to stop joking? This is rather nonsense, right? We can all agree that in no universe other than OUAT would anyone link up and romantically connect the green witch of Dorothy's nightmare and the ancient Greek Lord of the Underworld. And yes, you can argue that this is part of OUAT's charm--pulling stories and myths from different parts of the world and putting them together in a hodgepodge stew and making us love it even if it doesn't look right or appealing. And I'll even grant that in a lot of ways, it's clever. Given how OUAT likes to disregard the "real" mythology and insert their own, many viewers had called that Zeus and Hades wouldn't see eye-to-eye. The show is too deeply indebted to Disney for the writers to not follow the theme of adelphos vs adelphos (that's brother in Ancient Greek, y'all). Because that brotherly un-love story is already a part of OUAT's set up, connecting Hades and Zelena seems like a logical move; after all, her entire story has been one of fighting her sister, the sibling who seemingly got it all while Zelena was cast out (literally!) into the woods (and then a tornado picked her up and carried her safely to Oz. This show, guys...this show). The problem isn't the logic; it's that the writers set this romance up too fast, developed it too fast, and rely on telling us that Hades and Zelena are true love (through some painfully clunky dialogue) instead of showing us the development slowly and organically.

We use the word organic a lot in criticism. When I use it, I mean that the story and character progression happen in a logical and human fashion. The progression is not just because some plot point dictated that "X" had to happen in order for "Y" to be explained. That's plot pushing character instead of character pushing plot and while they work together, the characters development should push the plot in certain ways. As I stated above, the Zelena/Hades connection makes a certain amount of sense. If the writers developed it, slowly, and let me see why they are true love over the course of several episodes and not just one silly bike ride, then it might actually be a pretty powerful love story. We haven't had a villain/villain love story (successful, at least) on this show. Snow and Charming are both heroes. Regina and Robin are villain/hero; Emma and Hook are hero/villain with Belle and Rumple being the same. Having two villains fall in love and better each other through their love would be interesting to watch but that's the biggest problem. We're not watching. We're being told. Right off the bat, there is a level of exposition that is designed to tell the audience where the plot is going before the episode ends: Hades's heart has been frozen or cursed because of the ills wrought on him by his older brother, Zeus, and only a kiss borne of true love can save him and restart his heart and make it flutter again. Guess what he tries before episode's end! If you guessed a true love kiss with the woman he gave this exposition to, then go get yourself a gold star cause you're right! The flashbacks go from this set up (frozen heart) to the bike ride which is supposed to tell the audience that Zelena is the girl for Hades, to character narration in which Hades drops some of the most awkwardly written dialogue the writers could think and he explains that Zelena is his true love and that they need to kiss so that they can both be free of their revenge lust. What you don't see is anything other than some mild flirting, a small connection (which is what this episode should build on instead of zooming--on a bike no less--to the end of the story where the two are supposed to kiss). If the writers insist on telling me how the characters feel instead of letting the characters show me and take me along for the ride (again, on a bike, I presume) then why should I care? Because while the final scene in Hellbrooke between the two reunited would-be lovers was actually kind of powerful, it fails to emotionally resonate fully because their love story was so small and undeveloped. Think back to season one, when Snow and Charming were reunited in the middle of Main Street when the Curse broke; remember how powerful that was? Because you spent 21 episodes (more or less) beforehand watching how hard they struggled to be with each other; you saw every up, every down, every long look, every sacrifice, every moment when you saw them prove over and over that they, without question, were each other's true loves. Remember, true love is supposed to be rare; that's why it must be protected and cherished. That's why, even though Snowing are beyond boring and dull now, when they do get their moment in the sun (those tiny moments!) you still feel something--because the show took the time to make you care.

Nothing Grows Here--Including Originality

Let's deal with the elephant in the room: this season, which for the most part has actually upheld some of its intrigue and appeal, is a rehash of season three, specifically the second half. It's well trod upon ground. Hades wanted Zelena's baby so he could go back in time (using the other ingredients that Zelena tried to use back in 3B) so that he could get the upper hand on his brother Zeus and, I suppose, not be lord of the Underworld. If you look to your left you'll see the Greek poets weeping. Look, Hades wasn't this kind of guy (sorry, god). Someone had to take the Underworld and he did his job with a firm hand. He didn't try to overthrow Zeus; he didn't stage a coup or revolt. When souls came to his domain, Hades judged them fair and square and was more or less content to just reside in the Underworld, away from the rest of the pantheon. There was no revenge plot. In the myths, the three brothers--Poseidon being the third--drew lots and Hades got the Underworld while Zeus got to go play with lightening bolts in the sky; it didn't matter that Zeus was younger. So it goes, you know? But like I said already, it's not really surprising that the writers went the more Disney route given how much they follow Disney already. But what bothers me more is the total lack of originality in Hades's plan. It's what Zelena tried to accomplish back in 3B! If you're going to go the Disney route in motivation (take down Zeus) then at least go the Disney route in Hades's plan--bring on the Titans, I say! Those are some interesting creatures, full of the over-the-top characteristics that the show loves to play with. But, of course, the writers had to make Hades have the same plan as Zelena because how else can they get the two wicked evil doers together (hint: plot forces character which makes this whole true love thing rather inorganic!) I will say this, though, to end on a more positive note: the final scene between Hades and Zelena was pretty powerful. I like that Hades isn't forcing Zelena to love him, that he's going to build up trust between the two of them so that she can see he is serious in his love. That's good! That's what this show needs--to show me that there is love between the two. Outside of Zelena/Hades nothing really happened this week other than that some truths were revealed (while the heroes sit around their death apartment or death diner because that's normal) and a few more layers to the crazy cake were built. We're at that part of the season where the story comes to a stand still so things can be stretched out for a few episodes--it happened last week and it happened this week; no progress except in a few answered questions but the plot football stays firmly on the yard line it was originally on (I don't speak yard line even a thing?) But hey, a baby is in the Underworld now so that's gotta be good for morale!

Miscellaneous Notes on Our Decay

--Talk about a really flat and uninspired Dorothy. The actress needs some oomph in her step cause, wow, was she monotone and lifeless. This Dorothy and Meg from 513 should get together and see who can out-dull each other.

--The Scarecrow was the stuff of nightmares.

--Dorothy will win in Oz because she has the love of the people. And a dog. Sure.

--Rumbelle, Rumbelle, Rumbelle. What am I to do with you? "If you want me to be a different man, I’m sorry. This is who I am.” I need to think about this more. My first instinct was utter disagreement. It’s not really the truth to who Rumple is in the beginning; it is true to the OOC character we know now. I didn’t like it. And it was poorly written. But it wasn’t without merit and the sentiment that "I can be a better man but not a different one" is intriguing and not something the show has done before.

--Hades and the Devil get conflated and mixed up, according to Hades. Lucifer a thing in this universe now? I don't know how to take that. Especially given all the very "devilish" qualities the show has given to Hades.

--Zelena literally ripped out the Scarecrow's brains. That was intense and all manner of funny/weird.

--"We're regulars at the diner in Hell!"

--"My enemies became my family." That's a great line and one that reminds us what OUAT's main thesis was--that there is nothing more important or essential than family (blood or communal)

--Hades made the Underworld look like Storybrooke for Zelena. So what did it look like before?

--"Things don't grow here. They decay. But it can be our decay." That is some clunky and weird dialogue, friends. "Wouldn't it be nice to not be alone anymore?" This, on the other hand, has a certain human resonance to it because we can all easily relate to it.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

In Which I Review Sleepy Hollow (3x17)

Does anyone know where the River Styx is? I'm asking because after this season of TV (and four years of undergrad to earn my history degree) I am genuinely confused as to where this mythic river is. One would think it would be where the Ancient Greeks thought it was (it is their mythology after all); but it turns out it is both in Stroybrooke, Maine and is, also, the river known as the Delaware. So, really, humans are surrounded by the Underworld and we're all just moments away from tipping into Hell. How's that for optimism! In this week's episode "Delaware," our wandering heroes, weighed down by all that they have lost, plunge once more into the heart of darkness, traversing the Underworld in an attempt to stop a malevolent god (seriously, are the writing teams of OUAT and Sleepy Hollow swapping notes and ideas?) This is not only the penultimate episode of the season but, most likely, of the series and like the sands running through the Hidden One's hourglass of doom, we're running out of time to tie all the threads of this season into a neat little bow and finish this effectively. That's not a criticism; it's a harsh reality of TV. You never quite know when you're going to be given a pink slip. However, with the threat of cancellation hanging over our silly little show, the writers did an admirable job trying to give everyone something to do and play a part in the greater conflict. The team is complete, Danny and Pandora having rounded it out nicely, but, with the clock ticking away, time is our enemy as much as the Hidden One. Pour yourself a good strong cappuccino and let's go.

In the original Greek mythology, the only thing left inside Pandora's magical box, after she opened it, was hope. There is something beautifully poetic, then, that the restoration of the magical box can only happen with Ichabod and Abbie working together. Everything in the box has fled and the world is going mad; but Abbie and Ichabod are the hope. The plot of this show is such a hodgepodge of crazy at this point that it's almost not worth really delving into the mechanics, but the sentiment behind the plot is still very much relevant. Ichabod and Abbie are the hope, the unifying glue that stem the tide of evil before it sweeps over the world and a very angry god becomes even angrier. The Ichabbie-team dynamic of this show works well, even if there are now multiple players, each of whom have a little niche or specialty and make a valuable contribution. But as much as this is a team effort, it's all down to our two Witnesses. I think this, more than anything, is the lasting legacy (for however long that legacy does last) of Sleepy Hollow. There are teams on TV; Abbie and Ichabod didn't break the mold. Instead they bettered it. Consider other teams on TV; there tend to be a few kinds. Male/male in which one is a rigid, by the book kind of guy and the other is a more lax Lothario type; the female/female dynamic tends to be the same, but with women. There are also less bar trips and more wine and discussing relationships.  Then there are the male/female teams who invariably, almost without fail, turn romantic. It's the famous will they or won't they that has plagued team dynamics for as long as team dynamics have been around. Ichabod and Abbie could be romantic, and I've certainly had a positive reaction about that in the past, but honestly, they work better as best friends. More than best friends, even. They are soul mates, in that unique way that has nothing to do with romantic sexual love, and everything to do with such an intimate knowledge of each other that you transcend your own individual existence and exist together as one being. Ichabod and Abbie have individual lives, individual personalities, and different approaches to the world. But they exist, as the best version of their selves, together; through time and space and history, the Witnesses have to be together to be complete. This is why I reject, utterly, Betsy being alive in present day and inserting herself into the story. First, was there ever a character on Sleepy Hollow more mundane and dull than Betsy? Katrina can give her a run for her money, but at least Katrina was a part of a larger story whereas Betsy is simply the ye olde assistant Crane doesn't need. Given the looks between Betsy and Abbie, I suspect that if Sleepy Hollow is renewed for season four, the two women in Crane's life will detest each other (much like Katrina and Abbie did at first). There were a lot of sweet moments between Ichabod and Abbie that reinforced their singularity (like hand holding!) that nicely contrasted the very warped version of love between Hidden One and Pandora but also between Betsy and Ichabod. While the two former spies worked well together in the past, their souls do not speak to each other as Abbie and Ichabod's do; Ichabod never attempted to find Betsy (and instead went forth and married another woman) and the bond between the two did not save Betsy as it saved Abbie. And this is ultimately what I mean by bettering the mold when it comes to Ichabod and Abbie; their existence, happiness, and importance depend on each other but in a way that is unlike any other on this show and a great many others.

A lot of what I just wrote are beats that the show has been hitting frequently and even more frequently this past arc than any other. There are other things in this episode, though again, they are more of the same beats. The Hidden One and Pandora are an emotionally abusive, sick, twisted love affair that went no where fast. Danny Reynolds reveals to Sophie that he's been spying on Abbie for the higher ups in the FBI, something we already knew (at least in a small way) and, again, something that demonstrates that what Abbie and Danny have is nothing compared to the mutual-soul-existence of Abbie and Ichabod. Papa Mills turns out to know more about the supernatural than previously thought (though, I think this makes sense given how fatherly August Corbin was to both Mills sisters, as if he was aware of some secret about them, something Papa Mills alludes to). And, finally, the real shocker of the year: Jenny killed Joe. Does anyone else think that Joe won't stay dead for long? I'd be surprised given how tender and sweet the writers have made the most recent Joenny moments. All of this is to say, as I stated in the opening, that there are many threads hanging out in Limbo right now with only one episode to go. Many of these threads are in case the show gets picked up for another season, but many are also plot points that need to be tucked away in one hour next week. It might not happen; in fact, most often writers struggle to tie all their plot points together before the end of a season. But one thing remains: Abbie and Ichabod will survive, so long as they stick together, because "when it comes to you and me, Leftenant, there is no greater certainty."

Miscellaneous Notes on Delaware 

--Ichabod and Abbie having a normal everyday moment like coffee and donuts is too precious for words.

--"If this doesn't work, we're just two people. In a boat. Singing."

--I don't talk about it much but one of the best things about this show, apart from the natural chemistry between Ichabod and Abbie, is how it defies traditional color lines with heroism. Abbie Mills, black 21st century woman, holding the American Flag on the Delaware, replicating one of the most iconic white-man moments in American history. That's powerful.

--The special effects of the storm were cool, but it would have been nice to see some of this intense (as Jenny called it) hurricane instead of just the after effects.

--So why is the FBI spying on Abbie? Do they know she's a Witness?

--The Ford Product Placement was annoying and obvious.

--"This time you are not alone." These two, I'm telling you...bless.

--One more to go!