Monday, October 17, 2016
In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (6x4)
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.
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.
--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.