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.

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