Monday, November 14, 2016

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (6x8)

Mirror, mirror on the wall, what land is the most under developed of them all? To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure how to talk about this week's episode, "I'll Be Your Mirror." There is certainly a lot of potential here; the Evil Queen views herself as a strong leader, someone who gets the job done, moral consequences be damned. As an American, hot off a turbulent political election, this strikes a major chord with me. This relative morality (a concept often hammered home in OUAT) is extended this week to our littlest Charming, Henry. Can the boy with the heart of the truest believer turn dark side--or at least take a step off that precipice--if it means he can save his mothers? But in the midst of all this potential, we have a frustratingly opaque world with rules that don't quite make sense and a philosophy that doesn't match what we've been told or shown in the most recent past (though, ironically, it does match a more distant past view of light and dark). These issues constantly threaten to pull you out of your enjoyment and understanding of the episode, which is why I'm so often harsher on decent episodes that do have interesting moral quandaries. See; hard to talk about! Was it good? Or have we moved beyond "good" and "bad" when it comes to OUAT? Are we just trying to reach a finish line? I don't know, but we've got two episodes left this first half of season six and it's time to start wrestling with this (ahem) dragon of a plot (see what I did there?) Grab a mirror and let's go!

Turn To The Dark Side, Young Swan-Mills 

Would Henry ever go dark? That's a question with which the show has wrestled before. In season three he agreed to give Peter Pan his heart when he believed magic was dying; in season four he seriously considered writing his father back to life before the Apprentice convinced him it was a bad idea, and in season five he, first, almost did write Cruella back to life so that Emma wouldn't have to live with the moral consequences of having killed the De'vil and, second, destroyed magic so that his family wouldn't get hurt anymore. These actions are not evil, per se, but they do exist in a morally grey area. Peter Pan was pretty clearly manipulating Henry (Wendy Bird and all) and Henry saw first hand what happened if an Author tried to write a story the way he wanted instead of recording them as they actually happened. Henry's viewpoint is that he's, first and foremost, concerned with his family, their happiness and their general well-being. Perhaps more than anyone else, Henry understands how much this family needs each other. At the tender age of 11, Henry went out to find his birth mother because he believed, whole-heartedly that his family was cursed and that it was up to his Savior of a mother to save them all. The family needs each other and likewise Henry needs them. He's only thirteen, after all (though, a thirteen year old watching nothing but John Hughes films makes me question what decade the writers room is living in. Are they also trapped in a curse?). Henry still has some growing up to do and despite Emma and Regina by episode's end believing that they've done their job in raising him, Henry needs his mothers tender loving care. Henry has girl questions and school functions that terrify him. He still has to graduate college! Henry will never not need Regina and Emma--we all need our mothers, all the time. The show hasn't ever minced words about the way our mothers affect us so it comes as no surprise that when faced with a decision to save his mothers, even at the cost of an innocent life, Henry actually stops and considers what the right and what the best course of action is. It's much like Emma in season four when she killed Cruella; she did not do it maliciously, but out of a mother's protective nature to save her son from a woman who literally skins dogs and wears them as coats (I miss Cruella). The internal conflict with Henry was interesting but also a bit underwhelming given that I didn't, for a second, think the writers would actually have him kill the Dragon. The writers like to keep Henry in the ultimate good alignment. He can be tipped toward lawfully just but he always rebounds back to his preferred state of "Heart of the Truest Believer" and "Ultimate Do-Gooder." What's slightly more interesting is that the Evil Queen is so hell bent on getting Henry to her side. Is it really Henry she's after, or is her true impetus about loneliness?

Two Of A Kind

Is the Evil Queen really evil? I know, that seems like a dumb question; after all, the name really gives it away, right? It's what Regina named herself in the Enchanted Forest of the past once she accepted certain aspects of herself. For the first few episodes, the Evil Queen came across as that most evil and malicious parts of Regina. She reveled in wanting to watch the family tear themselves apart but as time has gone on, the Evil Queen is channeling more of her mother-- that love is a weakness and a weapon but is not pure unadulterated evil. This doesn't quite scan with what the writers said early on in interviews this summer, but since we rarely tackle these outside forces in my reviews, let's let sleeping dogs lie and we'll try to speculate why the Evil Queen is turning less chaotic evil and more lawful evil (sort of, the alignments here are tricky). It's my belief that, at the end of the day, the Evil Queen is more lonely than she is evil. The first indication of this is the Evil Queen's relationship with Zelena. If the Evil Queen really was so determined to destroy everyone, that would include Zelena; they were enemies of a sort in season three when Zelena tried to make it so Regina was never born, which would mean the Evil Queen would never exist at all. But instead, the Evil Queen sought her out to befriend her; they've even had a spa date. But now there's a rift, a tiny tear between the sisters largely because of Zelena's jealousy over the (totally disgusting) nature of the Queen and Gold. In other words, there's a hole that needs filled, a desire to have someone to whom the Evil Queen can relate and she'd much rather stick within her own family. Enter Henry. If the Queen could corrupt Henry, she'd have someone who would understand her, be like her, sympathize with her, and even help her. And, the cherry on top, it'd be someone she does love in whatever way she understands love. When Henry rejects her, the Queen is left with one choice: Rumple. And lo, we get another horrible display of kissy faces between the two that makes me want to claw my eyes out. It's not love between them; but it is mutual understanding. These two live in the darkness, they feed on it. And when the people they want--Zelena/Henry and Belle--reject them, they are left with just each other. As ugly and as tortured and as skin crawling as it is, it's what they are left with. What Rumple gets out of this remains to be seen. The Evil Queen wants a family--a remnant feeling left over from Regina--but Rumple? I think his plans with the Evil Queen are far more nefarious. With only two episodes left to go, I get the feeling it's going to only get harder to watch Rumple.

Miscellaneous Notes on I'll Be Your Mirror 

--I chose to not point out all the logistic problems with the Mirror World in the review proper but let's talk about them now. I think it’s a bit of a wasted potential. We’ve seen what mirror images can do to our characters–like S4 with Belle looking into Ingrid’s mirror and seeing an “opposite” Belle, of sorts. I think this more than anything should have been played up, instead of just a barren landscape with lots of mirrors. Also, confusingly, for some reason magic doesn't work there and even though Regina tells us that the mirrors in Mirror World are only one way, we also learn that Sydney lived in Mirror World and we know he and Regina easily communicated for years. I also have no idea how putting one mirror back together was supposed to aid in escaping but the show got around that by having a MacGuffin.

--And in this week’s “random MacGuffin” category we have: the Hammer of Hephaestus! Feel free to make up your own story as to why Rumple has that.

--The montage of Snow/Charming asleep and awake was seriously adorable.

--The EQ doesn’t consider herself evil, but a strong leader who does what is necessary. What's the difference? If a leader kills thousands or if a leader disenfranchises huge swaths of people to appease a majority and the "others" live in terror of him, is the leader merely Machiavellian or evil? Asking for a nation friend.

--“Family makes you stronger than you’ll ever be alone.” AKA: how to sum up the themes of OUAT in one sentence.

--The Dragon lost a daughter. It’s Lily isn’t it?

--Place your bets now: who is in the lamp? I say it's Jafar.

--No new episode next week, so see everyone in two!

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