Monday, November 28, 2016

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (6x9)

Readers, I have a question for you. Do you believe there comes a point when a character has crossed so many lines, done untold amount of ill, and caused so much pain and suffering that there is simply no way back for him? That any hope of forgiveness or redemption is long gone and the only road left to take is to descend into even lower depths of villainy? In short, can Heisenberg ever be Walter White again? I'm asking because I realized tonight, watching Rumplestiltskin--a character I loved from the first moment I saw the Pilot and have defended a lot, though not recently--that I officially can't even stomach the Imp's presence on screen. Don't mistake me; Bobby Carlyle is a gift to the acting world and even with the poor and shoddily written material, he manages to imbue Rumple with a certain amount of tortured pathos, but the Rumple I once knew, loved, and cherished is long gone and this...vile creature left is hard to watch. No. Worse than hard to watch. He's impossible to watch. It's hard to approach a review for an episode like "Changelings" which left such a gross taste in my mouth, but why not. Let's go!


Is Your Mama A Llama?

Back in season three, audiences were introduced to a creature called the Black Fairy. She existed off screen (a lot of things exist there, come to think about it). This Fairy was supposedly dark and dangerous, but she had a magic wand that could help out the heroes in their fight against Pan so the character was created, though no one was the wiser about who she was apart from the Blue Fairy who, as official Exposition Ex Machina, could tell the tale. I'm bringing this up because in tonight's episode it's revealed that Rumple's mother is, in fact, that same Black Fairy. To some extent, this is an interesting development and it does help inform Rumple's character, though after six years you'd think something as basic as parentage and relationship with said parents would have been covered and with some degree of depth, but I digress. This reveal means that both Rumple's parents abandoned him, that both parents left him for less than noble reasons--the pursuit of power over love, the pursuit of immortality over love. Is it any wonder why Rumple think he's not just a difficult man to love, but an impossible man to love? Anyone who is supposed to love him--his mother, his father, his wife, his son, his second wife, his second son--leave him. In Rumple's eyes they either don't give him a chance and/or don't accept him for who he wants to be (a Dark One with lots of dark magical power) and so the implication is that he's unlovable. There's a lot of great character work in there and it used to be what made Rumple so complicated and nuanced. He wasn't so much a black hat as a victim of the cycle of abandonment in a socio-economic world that made it next to impossible for him to be in control of his own life or of those loved ones around him. That lack of control over his own destiny is what made him, famously, a desperate soul. In short, I don't mind the reveal that the Black Fairy is Rumple's mother--though this raises a host of questions about biology and magic given that Rumple is half fairy (which means Bae is a quarter fairy, and Henry an eighth) and also raises questions about how a mortal and fairy managed to have sex and deliver a child without the Blue Fairy knowing when Nova and Dreamy couldn't even go on a date, but again I digress. What I mind is the total lack of foreshadowing and how very fan service-y this feels. For years, people have hounded the writers about the Black Fairy (who is she? Will we ever see her? Will we get her story?) and, at the same time, pestered the writers about Rumple's mother (who is she? Will we ever see her? Will we get her story?). Given that the show does not have long to live, though another season seems guaranteed, it's time to answer those questions in the quickest, easiest and most efficient manner possible, no matter how clumsily it comes across. So there you go: the Black Fairy is also Rumple's mother who abandoned him upon birth and neither Rumple nor Belle ever mentioned it when the Black Fairy was brought up previously.

I won't linger on the Black Fairy issue but I do still have problems with the flashbacks, namely the status of the Rumbelle ship every time the writers pay a visit to the Dark Castle and Belle's time there. In "Skin Deep" it was easy to see how Belle could fall for Rumple. He opened himself up and let Belle see the man under the beast. There was genuine affection and trust on both parts. It's what made that episode so compelling and watchable, the slow and careful transformation of both parties toward each other. However, let's examine the general plot of the flashbacks this week. Rumple steels an innocent infant, manipulates Belle into reading Fairy (wut?) and then takes the child in the dead of night to meet with the most devious Fairy of all time in order to strike some sort of detente or bargain--information for child. And, yet, I am still expected to believe that Belle, having borne witness to all of this, fell madly and completely in love with Rumple. Apparently the imminent danger the baby was in mattered not in the long run. You know, people joke about Stockholm Syndrome with regards to Beauty and the Beast, but even this is a bit much. It's not just this incident; it's all the incidents stacked up on top of each other--it's torturing Robin Hood and using a baby. It's verbally assaulting her and mocking her without the playful tones in his voice. It's all of this terrible weight that makes the Rumbelle ship look not just unstable and abusive now in present day, but completely impossible in the past! I used to understand why Belle fell for Rumple in the Dark Castle, and not just because it's mandated by the Great Mouse, but because she saw that he was a scared, lonely, damaged man who had suffered greatly in his long life. But now Belle comes across as more than simple and naive; she comes across not as someone who can't tell the difference between right and wrong, but as someone who simply doesn't care about right and wrong in the long run. What does it matter that Rumple tortured Robin Hood when she got a library in the end? What does it matter that Rumple put a baby--a BABY--in harms way when he caught her as she slipped off a ladder? If these assaults on the once good ship Rumbelle weren't bad enough, we now have to turn to the present day where things are, if you can believe it, worse.


Welcome Baby Gideon! Your Life Sucks. 

Toward the end of the episode, Rumple tells Belle that he'd "never hurt her. Ever." This is utter nonsense but let's look at the context. Belle has just given birth, approximately seven months ahead of schedule, and has sent her only child away with the Blue Fairy (of all the creatures you'd entrust a child with....) while her husband, and supposed true love, tries to track down his laboring wife in order to steal their child, cut the child's cord of fate/destiny/whatever you want to call it, in order to force said child into loving him. This is what the writers have done to Rumple and Belle. This is such a hot abusive mess--and while that is hard to admit and even harder to watch--that hot mess would be fine if the writers knew they were writing a hot abusive mess with a clear moral message behind it. Even something as simple as "this is what abuse looks like, kids!" would get a nod of approval, but instead they wrap it up in Rumple's self-confidence issues and try to normalize it as everyday romantic angst, which it most assuredly is not. There are so many problems that it's hard to know where to start. Rumple's belief that he'd never hurt Belle is nothing more than empty words because abuse isn't just physical; it's mental and emotional and for two seasons or so, Rumple has done next to nothing but be mentally and emotionally abusive and even if he can't see that--even if he thinks he's always done what he thought was best--for the writers to put words like that in a characters mouth and not have anyone call him on it (even if Belle is too feeble to do so there are others in the room) is egregious. Looking at Belle, however, her constant waffling about Rumple is grating. In the span of five minutes in this week's episode, Belle declared loud and proud that she was never going back to Rumple only to tell him to his face that if he hurt her and their son (which she knows he has EVERY intention of doing!) he'd "lose her forever" as if her mind wasn't already made up. I don't want to blame the victim, but Belle's inconsistency is the only thing constant about her in recent years and it almost--almost--makes me sympathize with Rumple and his downward spiral. As exhausting as he is, so too is she. There is no positive way to spin this; Rumple and Belle getting back together and trying again for whatever reason--true love, Rumple says he's sorry, Rumple gives up power, Belle changes her mind for the millionth time, for the sake of their infant son--isn't good enough to erase the level of damage these two have undergone. Maybe it's best if baby Gideon stays away for good; maybe it's for the best that he never know either his mother or his father. And maybe it's for the best that Rumple dies and Belle leaves town forever and ever. However, as I'm sure will happen sooner rather than later now that we have a bonafied genie in our camp....wishes rarely work out the way we expect.

Miscellaneous Notes on Changelings

--"Wingless glow worm."

--So fate really does exist for everyone? It’s a literal thing that can be cut, modified, changed, and un-fated?  But what if you’re not magical or what if you’re fated to just leave a normal, every day life? Do peasants have lines like this? Can they be cut by the shears?

-- Regina’s heart controls the Evil Queen? And she hasn’t put this into practice until this very moment? Like she didn’t bother to use this trick when the Evil Queen was threatening Snowing? Or literally at any point during these first 8 episodes?

--Aladdin is now the Genie. Okay, sure. Probably not a great idea to have a magical wish-granting Genie around when there is also a malevolent Dark One and a sociopathic Evil Queen, but whatever. I’m sure if I cared about Aladdin that’d matter to me.

--Anyone got a read on when these flashbacks take place?

--–Blue can pop into Rumple’s Dark Castle and free Belle…but she couldn’t free Belle from Regina’s prison…?

--I’m really excited to not see Jennifer Morrison fake shake anymore.

--Next week is the Winter Finale! One big question as we cross that threshold: was there a point to this half-season?

2 comments:

  1. What, no remarks on the STUNNING display of hypocrisy from Regina toward Zelena?

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  2. I think I skipped over it because I found it so baffling and (yes, good word) stunning. I talked about this back in the episode in which Regina tells Zelena she blames her for Robin's death, but unless the writers have Regina misdirecting her anger because she really blames herself for Robin's death, then the entire sister storyline right now is bizarre. Regina's speech to Zelena in this episode felt totally out of left field but so did her blaming it all on Zelena in the first place. There's blame to go around--Hades for starters; Emma, Rumple, Regina herself. It feels very much like forced drama (unless, again, they are planning on revealing that Regina is placing blame on Zelena because she really blames herself and can't cop to it)

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