Monday, April 11, 2016
In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (5x17)
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.
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."
--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.
--I'd like Belle and Hades's coats, please and thank you.