Monday, October 17, 2016

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (6x4)

What makes a man a man? Or, perhaps even more on the nose after this week's episode, "Strange Case," what makes a man real? If you read my review of Westworld, published last week, then you know that show is also currently grappling with the notion of real and identity. There were a few markers I set forth as dictating "real." Memory, senses, biological responses, emotional responses, cognitive ability; all of these make up part of our identity and let us know that we are real. We have conscience thought, have the ability to reason and make decisions; likewise, we fear the end of this moral coil and thus count ourselves as part of the "real" and not part of the imaginary or "fake." Is Hyde any less real than Jekyll? Is his being hinged only on the existence of Jekyll? If Jekyll would cease to be, to evaporate into nothing more than ephemera, would Hyde cease to exist? The answer is yes, but the reverse should also be true. If Hyde were to die or be destroyed by any sort of force, Jekyll likewise should die. Why? Because they are two sides of the same coin. Jekyll is Hyde and Hyde is Jekyll. This, obviously, causes a bit of problem when we look at how certain plot points play out this week. Oh, and just for kicks, women are wanton whores! Fun, right? Grab yours tails and your top hat and let's go!

Not Truly One But Truly Two?

One of the cruxes of Robert Louis Stevenson's novella, Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde, is Dr. Jekyll's revelation that man is not truly one being but rather truly two diametrically opposed foes (Hamilton lyric? Yes; yes it is). Lurking inside the heart of every good, upright, noble, and generous man is a beast; an evil, shady, self absorbed, and selfish animal who has more in common with the ancestors of the past than with the enlightened and forward thinking gentleman of today. In OUAT, Jekyll's own desire to squash his inner Hyde (as Rumple clumsily names him) is his haphazard attempt to quell his own self-loathing and the fact that Hyde represents a side to Jekyll he'd rather not share with the world for fear of being ostracized, laughed at, or maligned. His solution, however is fairly problematic. Hyde is Jekyll, never forget. They share the same memories, the same biological responses. They even love the same woman. They are both equally real--in the way that we define real--but they are opposite sides of a coin. Jekyll is all poise and propriety. Hyde gives the appearance of elegance but under his fancy dress lies a cunning, passionate, and resourceful heart. Super-ego and Id. The issue comes not in the show's depiction of each individual half---Jekyll is staunchly repressed, going so far as to harangue his fiancee for not conforming to societies expectations about proper femininity (oh, more on that in a bit...) and refusing to indulge or give in to his own desires; Hyde is all lust and power and potency. No, the issue comes with the notion that because Jekyll is the original, he is more real than his inner "beast." This rings as wholly antithetical to what the show has been setting up if not just this season then all series long. You cannot escape who you are. You are both proper and not; you are strong and weak; you are potent and impotent. Jekyll isn't the original anything; he's the face presented to the world because his world and its views dictate that a man must be a certain thing; you cannot be both, even though we have ample evidence that men in his world are leading double lives, hence the little tangent about Dr. Lydgate and the pretty assistant. Men (and women as with Mary, torn between her desire to be a good daughter in a Victorian society and her desire to be a sexually fulfilled being) are both; neither is original, neither is more real and neither has claim to being over the other.

When, in Storybrooke, Jekyll is impaled and Hyde also dies as a result, it's hard not to feel like the show is missing its own themes in favor of drumming up some manufactured drama and tension for the much beloved Mayor Regina Mills. In order to kill the Evil Queen, Regina must die! But, like with Jekyll and Hyde, that fails to take into consideration the fact that Regina is the Evil Queen, will always be the Evil Queen, and she--the person she is now--does not have primacy on identity. This is doubly true when you consider that the Regina we know now isn't even really "original Regina" who was a stable princess, scared of her mother, a passive agent under a tyrant who simply wanted to be free. The Regina we see now, the one claiming she has to die, has been through a life time's worth of heartache, drama, and conflict--most of which happened during her tenure as the Evil Queen! Sticking with Regina, she's a multi-facited, multi-personality person. She is a mother and a queen and a step mother and a witch and a mayor and a daughter and a sister. Regina is all of these things and neither of them take the lead over the other. For example: if Henry were in danger and Regina had to use magic to save him, is that her mother side or her witch side? Or is she both while being all the other aspects in my list? The real solution to Jekyll and Hyde, and likewise to Regina and the Evil Queen, is not that one is more real and thus capable of destruction; it's integration. It's about temperament and finding the courage within yourself to be all your aspects, not just one over the other. I have no doubt that the writers will find some not-so-clever way to save Regina from death but by going this route they are really missing out on the opportunity to delve into the inner psyche of their characters while they learn to accept who they all, warts (and occasional murders) and all!

Whores, The Lot Of Ya!

This show has a problem with women. My saying this likely comes as no shock given how I've discussed Emma Swan in the recent past but this week's excursion to (Fictional) Victorian England and Mary's plight of whore vs Madonna makes it all the more apparent that there are some truly old school thoughts about the "fairer sex" going on here. If you were to take pause and consider evil women on OUAT--whether through a curse or through their own making--what sort of characteristics and deeds come to mind? Regina, when she was in full Evil Queen mode, raped Graham both in the Enchanted Forest and for 28 years in Storybrooke under the guise of cursed feelings inflicted on an unwilling participant. Lacey (Belle) wore even shorter skirts, drank, swore and lusted after the dark side of Mr. Gold; Zelena raped Robin; Alternate Universe Snow was heavily sexualized in the same manner as Regina; Dark One Emma Swan all but jumped Hook's bones the first chance she got. Do you see a common theme here? Fallen women are loose women. When women go "bad" their villainy or evil is seen in their aggressive sexual desires and open displays of sexual conquering. Now this isn't to say that those acts weren't evil and they didn't do their job of demonstrating villainy; of course they did. The issue is that when the writers need to demonstrate women as villains or, in Mary's case, give the woman a reason to be turned upon and die, they turn to the old trick of making them aggressively sexual beings. Let's look at Mary, who is not a villain but who's actions are in the same vein and, because of which, meets much the same fate as the villain personalities of our core characters (ie: they all get resolved in favor of a more passive, less sexual type). The basic sum is that Mary wanted a man who would show her passion and desire and overthrow societies conventions. For these thoughts and her acting upon them, Mary died. She was, essentially, punished for her sexual feelings; Hyde even makes pretty clear that he is displeased to have discovered that Mary is a creature of desire. While it's equally clear that Jekyll hates this aspect in Mary because he also hates it in himself, and while I guess you can argue that Jekyll (and Hyde) were punished in the long run, it was not for expressing their sexual feelings–Hyde is basically a walking talking id–but instead punished for Jekyll repressing these same desires. Double standards, anyone? There were a lot of sexual overtones this episode with a binary that men should be virile and women passive. Jekyll is the real villain because he’s weak and, basically, impotent. Hyde isn't exactly a hero but his take change, lust driven mindset is presented as far more sympathetic than Jekyll's impotent weakness. After the past two weeks in America and the current alarming election cycle, these sorts of backwards old school gender dynamics really rubbed me the wrong way. You can say I am biased and skewed because I've always been heavily bent toward reading texts through a feminist and rape culture lens, but there is something so squicky about the fact that as soon as Mary takes agency and, more importantly, sexual agency, she dies. Food for thought, as always.

Miscellaneous Notes on Strange Case

--If ever there was any doubt that I was done with Rumbelle and Rumple, this episode sealed the deal. This was the first time where the two felt like they loathed each other, not just that were having a marital spat. It was hard to watch, especially as Rumple is devolving into an emotionally abusive spouse.

--I enjoyed Snow teaching this episode. These lighter, character moments are a welcome relief from some of the darker, more confusing plot driven aspects. With that said, did she go from Newtonian Physics to Algebra with one breath?

--"All science needs is a little magic."

--Oh hey look. It's Princess Jasmine. More on her next week, I guess.

--Violet showed up to give Henry a smooch and then vanished into the nothingness! Character development, it needs work.

--Goodbye to Jekyll and Hyde. It turns out that they were a little more entertaining than I originally envisioned, especially Mr. Hyde. On to the next part of this arc. Aladdin and Jasmine...that's your cue.


  1. I didn't get the same view as you did of this episode. Have you ever heard of the "Nice Guy"(TM)? That's a type of guy, usually meek and "impotent", who believe that they are entitled to a woman and to her doing what she can to please them because they are "nice", because they aren't the aggressive, swaggering type, and complain about "friend-zoning" when the woman does not return their affections. Sometimes, they use violence or even kill the woman in their anger. It's a subtle and insidious type of misogyny and objectifying of women, and I feel that is what this episode was critiquing through Jekyll and Rumple (who was the same with Milah and has not changed an iota as far as Belle is concerned). Jekyll was not punished for being weak, he was punished for being entitled. Mary was not punished by the narrative for being sexually active, but by Jekyll for that reason, and we're supposed to be repulsed and horrified by it, not think that Mary in any way deserved it.

    1. I don't think this is anything new either, I think there's always been a kind of foil thing going on with Rumple and Hook: both started out with different but equally problematic views of women in "The Crocodile", Hook seeing them as sexual conquests, Rumple as objects to own and have functioning properly as wife/mother. Hook's development has had him getting better in his views (by the last few eps of S3 he has given up on Emma returning his affections but still wants to be there for her and help her regardless, and in "Smash the Mirror" he flat-out hopes she breaks up with him since at least she'll be safe...if anything, Emma has been the problematically clingy one in the relationship these last two years, as I think you've noted), while Rumple has only gotten worse (beyond all the deceiving of Belle and trying to make her love him whether she wants it or not, he's now even given up the "Nice Guy"(TM) pretense and is just going outright abusive toward her.) Hook's the villain who becomes more of a hero, Rumple's the villain who becomes more of a villain, and Regina's the one who is always torn between the two spectrums, shown most clearly with the current plot. I don't know what Zelena is supposed to be, though.

    2. Thanks for reading as always!

      A few things that pass through my head reading your responses.

      1) I do think Jekyll suffers from "Nice Guy" trope as well. The self-entitled aspect comes through not only with Mary and how she "should have waited!" specifically for him but also with his interactions with the scientific community and how they absolutely need him to be apart of them. I don't think my ideas about Jekyll disagree with yours very much because impotency and emasculation go hand in hand with self-entitlement. Jekyll feels he is entitled to certain things--Mary's heart and body along with accolades in the scientific community--and when he does not receive them, he feels emasculated because as a man he should automatically "get" these things. I think that's largely why Hyde comes across as so potent and why Mary is drawn to him; it's couched in the language of "passion and desire" but given that they ended up in bed together and Jekyll kills her in light of that, it's not just vigor for all things life, it's heavily sexualized...which, again, speaks to both entitlement (men deserve the body of a women) and emasculation. This brings me to...

      2) Mary. I do think she was punished for being sexually active. She does die seconds after it's discovered she spent the night with a man. The twist is that it's the same man she spent the night with who does the deed. It goes back to Jekyll's entitlement and emasculation. If Jekyll had not been so repressed and so determined to squash his own inner sexual desires (believing he was entitled to Mary) with what he calls the beast and what Hyde manifests as, (all swagger, confidence and virility) then he would not have killed Mary.

      There are other ways to write the narrative so that Mary does not die--she could simply realize what Jekyll has been doing and leave both him and Hyde, deciding to make her own way neither putting duty nor desire above the other. But the writers went that extra step and had Jekyll kill Mary because he felt entitled to her body and someone else got to have her before he did... all because Mary made a choice to put desire above duty and propriety.

    3. As for your second post, I suspect the writers don't know what to do about Zelena either. She hasn't been developed enough to get a clear read on that.

      As for Hook vs Rumple, I don't actually disagree, as shocking as that may seem. The writers are trying to make the former into a hero and the latter into more of a villain, to be sure. I still find Hook problematic in light of S5A and S5B though more or less because of Emma's responses to Hook (though Dark One Hook gave me all manner of fits!). Rumple I have problems with simply because of Rumple not because of how people are reacting to him. I mean, I'll never like Hook but honestly the nicest thing I can say right now is that I have nothing BAD to say about him.