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.


  1. Hades and Zelena had great chemistry.

    That last scene was sweeping and romantic.

    AND YET, the basis for the pairing and this deep, true love is one bicycle ride which only furthered this weird impotency metaphor with Hades!? Color me disappointed as Hell (pun intended.)

    1. Also, what to do with Rumbelle? I personally recommend throwing it, and Rumple, into the trash at this point because holy SHIT was Rumple going all out into emotional manipulation and abuse in this episode, it even surprised me and I had stopped shipping them in Season 4! I just can't see any redeeming this bastard anymore, and poor Belle deserves better.

    2. Thanks for reading!

      First, excellent pun-age. Damn, how did I miss that opportunity?

      Second, Rumbelle. I am at such a loss. Sincerely. I don't know what to do with these two (and really, with Rumple). On the one hand, I think Rumple is spot on with a lot of what he says to Belle about Belle. She did fall in love with the beast and the man, a point she acknowledges in 315 when she tells Nealfire “I love him, even the parts of him that belong to the darkness.” But it's also using her feelings for him against her in a pretty twisted manner. It's more or less, "You loved me when I was like this before, why can't you love me now?!"

      But on the other hand, she can’t trust him as he is now. He’s lied and manipulated not only the town too many times since 3B but also her, the latest being the omission that he took back the Dark One’s Powers. Rumple claims he can be a better man but not a different one because he loves the dagger (power) as much as he loves her. And this is where I stumble.

      The show seems to be suggesting that it’s okay, and even good, for Rumple to love his drug and his wife the same amount and that Belle needs to face facts, accept him as he is, or leave him forever. Yes, it’s a way for the show to have its cake and eat it too–keep Rumple the “interesting” dark one and have Rumbelle get their HEA but I find it to be disquieting that the show is encouraging us to root for Belle to accept her lying, drug addicted husband as is and not root for evolution of character and redemption.