Monday, October 3, 2016

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (6x2)

Everyone has a truth that they find hard to swallow. There are things we tell ourselves in order to live with certain personal revelations, to avoid facing that which we find stomach turning. It's part of human nature; flight has always been easier than fight. But, sometimes, your problems are standing before you in a leather dominatrix outfit with hair so high it might reach the good lord Jesus and then you really have no choice but to turn and face them head on. Fireballs ablaze. In this week's episode "A Bitter Draught" several of our heroes must deal with hard truths about themselves; they must swallow the bitter pill that their problems--be it their pasts or even their futures--aren't so easily fixed or solved or gotten rid of through revenge and plotting. So many times our characters are asked to face the firing squad of a new big bad and they manage to do it with aplomb; but when it comes to the internal--to those intangible and invisible problems, including the most basic one of all, the question of "who am I?"--the brave characters who stand up to such much strife find it more than a little difficult to make any headway. Like last week, we're still trying to explore if the characters can ever really come home again, happy, healthy and hale. Grab some poisoned wine or a long lost coin and let's go!

Who Are You? Who Who? Who Who? 

Have you ever had an identity crisis? I haven't but I'm sure it's the pits. The real focus this week is on Emma and Regina's separate but parallel identity challenges. For the former, these issues stem from her uncertain future in light of her more than a little troubled past. For the latter, it's all about the past from which she can never fully escape. Let's start with Regina and leave Emma to stew in her own troubled juices for awhile. Regina's story this week picks up where the finale left off; the Evil Queen cannot be killed because as nice a notion as killing your worse half is, it's not exactly practical or really even possible (magical serum notwithstanding). We are large and we contain multitude, to quote Walt Whitman, and to deny a part of yourself is to deny your whole wonderful, nuanced and highly complicated self. Regina, bless her, cannot actually escape the Evil Queen because while she might have split from her more malicious and nefarious persona, those feelings of anger, rage, and revenge--which can be best summed up in "passion overflowing," the main drive of the Evil Queen--still lurk inside her now mellowed out form. All it took was a simple manipulation and a test to see how far Regina would go--granted this time to protect Snow and Charming instead of doing them ill--for our Mayor to realize that she is just as capable of murder and other crimes of passion, even without her leather clad Queen inside her, egging her on. This is Regina's bitter draught (roll credits!) to swallow; she may never actually be free of the Evil Queen because she is the Evil Queen. But she's also Regina, the lonely and scared stable princess; she's Henry's mother who changed every diaper and soothed every tantrum; she's Emma's friend and Snow's confidant and Zelena's sister. Regina can be all these things and not give in to the evil inside; it's about temperament and restraint and knowing when to act and when not to. Regina as the Evil Queen was always tempestuous and hot headed, flying off the handle even if she had no plan. Regina, in control of her inner rageaholic, can make plans and discuss options calmly and rationally. Snow and Charming are not in danger from Regina anymore, and neither is anyone else. She's managed to worm herself into the Storybrooke fold. No one is going to ignore her when they have family dinners. Like Hook's own personal revelation this week, Regina has to learn to forgive herself, to accept the bad things she did in the past and continue to make amends, realizing that she'll always have the Evil Queen as a part of her, but it need not be the dominant part of her.

And then there is Emma Swan. First, let's take a moment to appreciate that Emma is finally going to therapy; girlfriend has needed it for about 4 years (probably closer to 20+ years given her abandonment feelings since childhood that were compounded by Ingrid and Neal). Let's also applaud the fact that while it's hard for Emma to admit, out loud, that she's going to see Archie, she's getting support (from Hook of all people!) for seeking someone to talk to. The stigma of mental health in America is pretty poor--the idea that going to a psychologist is a sign of weakness because we should be able to "pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and fix our own problems;" for the show to have Emma not receive any grief from her loved one(s) about this is a lovely thing to see. Asking for help and admitting that you're not okay takes a sort of human strength that even Saviors struggle with. But, of course, because it's Emma, asking for help comes with some barriers, mainly that she wants a quick fix to her problems, not to actually face them. Emma gives the highly telling character line "I'm the Savior--if I can't help people then who am I?" Henry revealing to Emma that she's the Savior has been both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it gave Emma her family and a place to belong. On the other, it has put more responsibility and life or death situations squarely on her shoulders, a burden no one would want. Even Jesus, in the Garden, asked for this cup to be taken from Him. Saviors..they get weak, guys. But for Emma the idea that these visions and the "Savior Curse" go hand in hand with being unable to do her cosmic job has caused her to question everything, including her identity. Like Regina, Emma is seeing herself as only one part of her identity: the Savior; take that away and you're left with just Emma, the orphan who runs from her problems, never settles down, and belongs nowhere and with no one. But both of those "people" are Emma and Emma is both of those "people." I complain about Emma and her never ending Walls (and her seasonal reset) but knocking down those walls doesn't mean that Emma isn't still a scared little girl behind her Savior bravado. Regina's easy solution--that didn't work--was to remove the darker parts of herself. Emma's solution is to bury her head in the sand and figure out a work around that proves her Saviorhood instead of going to those whom she loves, and who love her, and ask them to help her thus denying her Saviorhood agency. Maybe the Savior doesn't get a day off but Emma needs to learn that they can ask the cavalry to ride in and assist. Emma's bitter pill to swallow is that she must burden other people with a task she finds too difficult to comprehend; but what Emma fails to see, so far, is that this does not undo her Saviorhood. It fact, it heightens it. I'll go ahead and predict this here and now: neither Regina nor the Evil Queen are under the hood, but it's Emma herself. It's the scared orphan who shuts people out and refused to stick around in one place. Can Emma kill her? And really, should she kill that version of herself? Take a page out of what Regina is going through, Emma: it doesn't work. Accept your Saviorhood and accept your non-Saviorhood self. You are both.

Miscellaneous Notes on A Bitter Draught

--I said nothing about the flashback this week but that's because it was super underwhelming. No one really wants to see yet another time when the Evil Queen tried to kill Snow and Charming and the Count of Monte Cristo fell flat. However, the flashbacks did feel like a classic episode of OUAT, so I'll let the dull nature slide.

--What I won't let slide is the fact that we've never seen nor heard of Charlotte ever before and her random insertion felt really off. Especially when the Charmings went and threw her a party.

--I normally give Hook next to no credit for anything, but his level headed, remorseful and non-egotistical apology to Belle for beating her, shooting her, and trying to kill her several times was a pleasant surprise and I genuinely appreciate the sentiment. I also appreciate that his only role tonight was in supporting females (Emma and Belle) and not dominating the scene.

--I need to erase all memories of the Evil Queen trying to all but hump Rumple against his curio-cabinets.

--Rumple has a key to the Land of Untold Stories? How did he come upon that?

--Who killed DaddyCharming? And does anyone really care?

--I don't care for eggy bread either, Granny.


  1. While I did love his scene with Belle and felt it was long-needed, I didn't find the self-forgiveness angle that surprising since Hook is the only "main-cast villain" character on this show who routinely beats himself up for falling short of the man he wants to be. His screw-ups in the Rumple blackmail situation in 4A, the Ursula situation in 4B, in 5A he brought up how he regretted the way he treated Rumple back when they first met, and of course there was the whole episode with his brother in 5B that was all about how he couldn't forgive himself for what he did to Emma and her family as the Dark One. He's still got a ways to go, as he admits, but I appreciate that he's farther along than Regina, and certainly farther along than Zelena and Rumple.

    1. Zelena, especially. There are quite a few apologies she needs to make. Thanks for reading!