Monday, May 9, 2016

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (5x21)

There is a word that was swimming in my head during several of the key scenes in this week's episode "Last Rites." That word is tacky. When you think of the word tacky there are certain connotations that come to mind: cheap, tasteless, crude, and trashy. Like a fine layer of slime that coats some sequined leotard found in the dusty corners of a thrift shore, that's how I feel after watching this episode. I wish I had sadness over Robin Hood's death; I wish I had the same reaction to this week's death that I had two seasons ago when another under-developed, good man and father died (yeah, there are some Neal callbacks this week). I don't necessarily feel angry over Robin's dying; his development has been marginal and his character flaws (wonky honor code, indecisiveness) outweighed any virtues (like being the heroic thief who stole from the rich to give to the poor and would lay down his life for king and country). I'm going to unpack this tacky feeling below but it's a shame that an arc I was enjoying, with a villain who had more charisma in his little finger than the past several villains combined, became such a (sadly) predictable mess before the end of the season. Hades, we didn't deserve you. Grab a phallic looking Olympian crystal (this is a thing that does not exist in mythology) and let's go! 

Only One Can Live....

Can you put definitive value on a life? Or, maybe more accurately, can you put different values on different lives? Does person A matter more than person B? If your answer to this last question is yes, then it begs the next series of queries of who gets to decide such matters and what rubric they use to determine which life, which soul, matters more to the universe. Whether or not the writers this week consciously sat down and decided which life had more value, and how to determine such an astronomical feat, I don't know; though, I err on the side of caution and say that the writers probably did no such thing. But when you kill one character and raise another from the dead, all in the span of ten minutes, you are telling your audience one thing: the character that lives matters more. Either they have something worthwhile to contribute to the story and universe at large or they simply mean more to those loved ones they left behind; but, in short, their continued life means more. Let's finally add some names to this scenario: Hook matters more than Robin. Now, I ask you: why? I know that I try to maintain some distance on Hook when I can but in this case I cannot. Another man died and while his death did not trigger Hook's resurrection, I am forced to ask why Zeus could not also bring back Robin (simply wave his hand and undo the Olympian Crystal). Is Hook really that worthy? Did he really do that much good in this episode as to override all the previous murders, plots, and y'know, almost sending everyone (including a 13 year old!) to the Underworld simply because "I was a Dark One?" What makes Hook so necessary to either the plot of Once Upon a Time or the universe that the show inhabits that warrants him another (another, another) chance at life?

Let's look at both characters, shall we. Robin is not the most dynamic of characters on this show. He's never really been anything more than a prop through which to explore Regina's redemption; he supposedly has a code of honor but it only comes into play when the plot or angst calls for it. Robin's never really stood out as the ultimate hero nor has been the ultimate villain. He simply exists in a scene, hangs out with Regina, and fires off some arrows when the audience needs reminding that Robin is the best archer in the land. In other words, he's dull and boring but not a black hat, mustache twirling baddie of the highest order. Robin's only real crime is being so lackluster (and speaking on behalf of the boring types of people, that's not a serious crime). This, however, is a writing problem. These professional writers clearly don't know how to make Robin more interesting, which should make us call into question their artistic integrity, at the very least. Hook, on the other hand, has quite a bit of blood on his...hook. Count the baubles that represents some (not all) of his victims (for example, he did not take a trinket off of Claude and we know Hook killed Regina's guard). While Hook has stopped killing people who irritate him or dare to stand up to him, he did make several horrible choices during his time as the Dark One. And while, yes, we can say he was infected by a ruthless entity who only snuffs out the light, the show does not give the same consideration to Rumple so it seems only fair to either forgive Rumple all his crimes while he was the Dark One or hold Hook accountable for all his crimes as the Dark One, which includes killing Merlin, bringing all the former Dark Ones to Storybrooke, and almost sending everyone to the Underworld for all of time. Murder aside, Hook's other sins include: maiming (Rumple); threatening bodily harm (Archie); shooting (Belle); violently attacking (Belle); and other "lesser" crimes like stealing and lying. Now let me be clear that I expect our villains to act like villains; if they didn't do heinous things, then they wouldn't be villains. But that's the point: Hook is a villain. Maybe a mildly reformed one, but there aren't enough pros to outweigh the cons. There is, quite simply, not enough good to even out the bad even adding in this episode's fight with a soup-y ghost creature. And when we are comparing his life to Robin's, then it's no contest. Boring character development should trump truly evil acts. If one character should have gotten this deus ex machina from Zeus, it's Robin, not Hook. I hate to make children the forefront here, but Robin has two children, whom he loves, whom he fought for, whom he has tried to protect and serve as best as he could (and maybe he didn't do it very well, but he's loads better than any sort of care Hook has ever shown for....well, any child! His life lesson to Henry was that you cheat to win; let's not forget the time he sold Baelfire to a sociopath, a man he would later call "a bloody demon.")

The tacky feeling, then, doesn't just stem from the weighing of the lives and finding Hook the more worthy, but from Emma Swan and Hook's actual reunion, literally on the grave site of their fallen friend. I don't care what Snow says; Emma set all of this into motion, beginning last season when she decided to save Hook by making him the new Dark One and then when she made the choice to go after his soul in the Underworld--heading to the land of the dead without a sensible plan, without thinking through any of the consequences or any of the dangers. Snow and company may have chosen to follow Emma to that place, but Emma knows these people...there was no way they were going to sit out when Emma comes to them, heart in hand, and says she's choosing love. At the funeral, it appears that Emma is really starting to get the full weight of consequences. Just when I think Emma might have a breakthrough and realize that her actions have damning results, just when I think Emma might actually take responsibility, she is rewarded for all her behavior with her pirate. This is what I mean by tacky and heartless. The funeral for Robin--yes a boring but ultimately okay character--just ended and here comes Hook, zapping back to life and into Emma's arms just as she's about to have her "ah-ha" moment of self-actualization. It's like Hook stops all of Emma's character progress or something (not so subtle commentary is not so subtle). I understand that this is supposed to an emotional moment for Emma who was just starting to grieve for yet another fallen lover, but the way it comes across is so utterly tacky (see, there's the word again) that it made me recoil in horror. Poof yourself somewhere else; anywhere else. I don't care where, honestly. Granny's, Snow's loft, the new Swan house, the docks, the middle of Main Street. Just not here, not in this place, not in this time. Emma Swan made terrible life choices that resulted, in the end, with the death of a hero and instead of learning a vital lesson for rewarded with some smooches. This show's morality continues to baffle me; is it really about hope? At the end of the day, does anyone find this episode or this show all that hopeful? Do you, because of this show, really believe that happy endings are possible if you just keep believing? Really. I'm asking.

Glowy Phallic Objects 

Meanwhile, on the other side of this delightful plot, Hades turns out to be a pretty simplistic villain. He's Rumple but without the many seasons worth of backstory to elicit the proper amount of sympathy. Honestly, it's really a good thing that actor Greg Germann was so dynamic or else the Hades character would have been an absolute wash and waste. Hades simply wants it all: the girl, the power, and apparently the kingdom? Where did this come from? Hades had a kingdom; he was lord of the Underworld. His kingdom just happened to be populated by dead people that he was holding in captivity unto perpetuity. But, hey, any port in a storm. Just like Arthur and Rumple (yeah, yeah. I'll get to him later), Hades desires a kingdom full of peasants he can bend to his will, only to go home to the missus at the end of the day and watch baby Pistachio play in the garden. The show seems to be making a case that you cannot have it both ways--you cannot be powerful, oversee a kingdom or a people with any sort of ambitious drive--and have love in your heart for those closest to you. I guess that's fair; one should come before the other, theoretically. I don't necessarily think that you can't have love for your kith and kin and not also desire power or have ambition (but this leads to a much broader question of if ambition is wrong or if never ending ambition is wrong, which--if I had to guess--is what the show is trying to get at; that overflowing ambition is wrong. Poor Slytherin house). But to return to Hades, it's just a shame that the show didn't feel the need to flesh him out. This is the first seasonal villain for which we've never gotten a back story; we had one flashback with Zelena to set up Zades, but usually the show complicates their villains by revealing the "truth" of their history. Cora was a Miller's Daughter, poor and unloved by a drunk of a father who went to bed with a liar and had a child out of wedlock. Pan was poor and greedy and selfish. Ingrid was considered a monster by people. I expected to see the conflict between Hades and Zeus (but, then again, this is a show that is all about telling me and not showing me, so I guess we'll never really know how things went down on Olympus apart from what Hades told Zelena in passing). I'll miss the humor and levity (but also terror) Hades brought, but the creativity the writers could have really pushed with his character clearly got stabbed by the same Olympian Crystal that killed Robin and Hades; both gents and the creativity got totally wiped from existence and I'm left with a pile of ashes and no phallic objects to scoop them up with.

Miscellaneous Notes on Last Rites 

--Like Neal, Robin never even got to say goodbye to his children.

--"Hello there..." Maybe underwhelming at the end, but there's no denying that Hades was fantastic while it lasted.

--Raise your hand if you're shocked that Zelena named the baby Robin. No one? Yeah, me either.

--I am completely at a loss about Rumple. So he want to rule Storybrooke? It's his kingdom? Since when is this part of his plan or any notion he's ever had? All Rumple ever wanted was his son (and yes, to keep his power). But world domination--or even just Storybrooke domination--was never a part of this. And now that Moe's decided to ignore Rumple asking for help, I guess Belle better get really comfortable in that Burning Red Room.

--And Hook managed to magic those pages into the story book in I know everything in the Underbrook has a "mirror" in SB, but Hook isn't magical.

--What an utter waste of Zeus!

--Regina tells Zelena that true love is sacrifice and that love means giving up everything for someone else. I'm sorry, but no. This is a horrible message. Love is grand and great but your identity, your self worth, your agency, your individuality, and your life are not something you toss away just because of "true love"--whatever the heck that means on this show and in real life. Robin begged Hades to kill him instead of Regina but doesn't even stop for a moment to remember that he has two children. What kind of message is that? A bad one.

--Did this episode ruin the whole arc? This Underworld story had some clunkers already, to be sure, but nothing as egregious as this one. I guess we'll see where I stand next week during the two hour finale.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry, but nothing about this episode affected me emotionally in any way after the crystal dildo turned up. That a crystal dildo killed Robin by zapping him, and then killed Hades by having his girlfriend violently SHOVE IT INTO HIS CHEST...I cracked up. Oh, this show.