Monday, December 5, 2016

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (6x10)

Who is Emma Swan? This question, both in a literal and a metaphorical sense, has been at the center of the show since the beginning. When we were introduced to Ms Swan, all those years and adventures ago, Emma was a self-defined orphan, loner, and troubled soul. Drifting from place to place, Emma never put down roots or formed attachments for fear of her heart breaking once more. In a literal sense, Emma's the Savior; even as a child, we've seen that Emma could tap into her magic when her emotions were heightened. Being the Savior is who Emma is; like she tells Hook, "in this case the cliche is true. I was born for this." In this week's episode, our last OUAT episode for 2016, "Wish You Were Here," Emma goes through a proverbial looking glass to see what life is like on the other side, to see what her life would have been like if she was not blessed/cursed with her cosmic importance. These questions of existence and Emma's cosmic importance have always resonated with me, so I was pleased to see the show explore these questions, if in a clunky, bizarre, and world deconstructing manner. However, I'm not so sure that any of this made a lick of sense and if I have previously lamented that this season so far has no point, then I shall revise my statement that instead of being aimless, its aim was to obfuscate and delay the real story (the Black Fairy) until the final moments of the winter finale. Make a wish and, for the final time this year, let's go!

The Upside Down

There are many questions that come with an alternate universe in storytelling and many of them I likely asked myself two years ago when OUAT delved into Isaac's penned manuscript. That version of shifted reality made enough sense to let the world feel like it could actually exist and any glaring faults in logic and character could easily be chalked up to Isaac's lack of skill and his own human folly in trying to create a world where heroes were villains and villains, heroes. This world--this wish-granted universe--does not have a saving grace like Isaac and, as such, I find myself wondering the writers even remember certain aspects of their mythology, their story, and the universe it resides in. This isn't to say that some aspects of Wish World weren't coherent; Emma growing up a princess who had everything she ever wanted and was beloved by family, friends, and subjects alike made perfect sense. Of course Emma's life would be radically different; not only would she be unmagical but she wouldn't be that scared, stunnted orphan who wished she wasn't alone on her twenty-eighth birthday. Emma's life is one of joy and wonder, unhampered by the concerns--both magical and mundane--that have followed her these six seasons. But there are other aspects of Emma's life that don't quite scan, as if they were attempts by the writers to curtail fan criticism at the head before anyone could angrily tweet their displeasure. One aspect in particular fails to make sense: Henry. I understand that the writers don't want to leave Jared Gilmore out and that there is a poetic nostalgia to Henry (kind of, sort of) being the one who makes Emma remember who she is once more, but Henry's existence in the Enchanted Forest of this AU makes little sense because nothing about him has changed. He's still the son of Nealfire, who either never went to Neverland or somehow made it back to the Enchanted Forest one hundred plus years later where he grew up, met Princess Emma and had a child with her before dying in some heretofore unexplained manner. I get that the writers are aiming for consistency with Henry--after all Henry can't literally exist if you change one of his parents--but in this warped AU, how am I to explain his conception, birth, and the death of one of his parents when the story of the universe has been so fundamentally altered?

Let's parse this out, shall we: if Emma was never the Savior and Storybrooke never existed, then Greg and Tamara never came to the sleepy town in Maine, never kidnapped Henry and never took him to Neverland at Peter Pan's insistence. If these events never happened then it follows that Peter Pan never followed the heroes back to Storybrooke and never met the sharp end of Rumple's dagger, taking his son into death with him. With me so far? If Rumple never sacrificed himself, declaring that villains don't get happy endings, and the Curse was never reverse cast, then the gang of heroes (minus Emma and Henry) never wooshed back to the Enchanted Forest where Neal and Belle were tricked by Lumiere and Zelena in to turning the key of the Dark One's Vault, thereby releasing Goo!Rumple and having Neal pay the ultimate price of resurrecting his father. This is the thing with AU's; you change one detail--be it little or big--and the whole narrative changes. A good writer has to account for those details, those ripples in the pond. Now, you could say that Nealfire died in some other manner and obviously before Henry was born given that this AU version of Henry doesn't know or remember Neal, but that opens a whole other narrative door that will not be answered given that the AU spell is broken, Emma remembers she's the Savior, and everyone (including Robin...uh, hi. Deal with you later) is about to head back to Storybrooke. You can try to rationalize this as a dream world and so everything has that hazy, not quite real feel of a dream, but that doesn't hold water any more than the AU itself does: Emma and Regina don’t leave the world by waking up–they (almost) take a very literal magic bean that created a very literal portal back to their very literal Storybrooke. That’s the problem. If this was a dream world, then the bases are covered and we can handwave away all the wonkyness. But it was never stated as such. Belle was still asleep when she went to dream world, her subconscious traveled. But Emma and Regina–their very bodies and beings–traveled to this AU. I'm not harping on this simply because Neal is involved; if anything, I'm delighted that the writers didn't try to change Henry's parentage to, say, Hook. I'm harping on this because these sorts of flaws are apparent in everything that happened this season.

Any internal, previously established logic, world building, narrative plot point, or in some cases character development, has flown the coop this year. This isn't the first year, but this is the first where I feel like the poor world building and attention to detail is actively destroying what could have been a very thought provoking, interesting, and meaty storyline. The idea of the Evil Queen coming to town and facing down a unified front, including Regina, and everyone having to battle their own demons feels like the final chapter in a long Hero's Journey. We've battled and defeated the agent of Death, now here comes Chaos Incarnate to upset our happy home. Emma defeating the Evil Queen--preferably by reintegrating her with Regina--and saving her own Saviorhood, as well as the home she previously tried to run away from, is the perfect end to her story. She's come home; she's come into herself. Emma accepted her own identity and everything she is--mother, daughter, Savior, witch, Dark One, Light One. A complete circle--round and round it goes, until we arrive back home. But that's not what happened. Instead the story devolved into pointless tangents--the Land of Untold Stories--that went nowhere and only built up more questions about doors and keys and unmentioned characters--which vanished once Jekyll and Hyde had been dispatched; Rumple and Belle's never ending angst and abusive relationship; the supposed resurrection of Robin; Charming's father; the Black Fairy, Gideon and previously unmentioned "darker realms;" Aladdin, Jasmine and Agrabah (with a side helping of totally pointless and uninteresting Jafar). What's wrong with having one solid, narratively complex story? Why not make this entire season about Emma's Saviorhood; keep the Evil Queen as Chaos Incarnate with a small helping of Jekyll and Hyde to provide commentary on the separation of self but drop everything else and focus on the core: Emma's internal struggle with this last bit of her journey--ultimate acceptance of herself. Maybe I'm asking too much; maybe I need to acknowledge that TV is a business and in order to write a 22-episode season, I need to expect a lot of rabbit trails and misdirection. But, I'm stubborn that way, and I know the sort of writing I want isn't impossible. It was called Season 1 and as many callbacks as this current season had to that season (this finale in particular) it's still a shell and shadow of what once was.

Miscellaneous Notes on Wish You Were Here

--I honestly didn't mean to make this review so short or lacking in the many plot lines that were happening this week. The problem is that there's nothing to say. Emma and Regina/the Evil Queen carried the bulk of the narrative while everyone else either stood around and fretted over what was happening or had absolutely nothing to do with the AU at all and thus didn't really fit into the review proper.

--The Black Fairy raised Gideon to be a monster and I guess that's where the next half of this season is going. Alright then. Also, this is a total Angel/Holtz/Conner rip off, right?

--I still don't care one iota about Aladdin and Jasmine and their journey to Agrabah (what if it's at the bottom of the sea! Did they even think about that?)

--“What are you gonna do…throw a fireball at yourself?”

--Normally the show’s costumes are on point, but Aladdin’s genie outfit is horrid

--Regina literally runs up to a group of dwarves and asks where Emma is without even pausing to question which type of world she’s in. She knows it can’t be present; if it’s the past, no dwarf is going to trust her; and if it’s a reality where Emma wasn’t the Savior, then it follows that she’s a defeated Evil Queen and, again, no one would trust her!

--There’s a literal KEY TO THE KINGDOM??? What nonsense is that?

--So, where was Zelena this week?

--I have very little to say about Robin Hood coming back. He's not been brought back to life in the same way Hook was brought back in S5 but it speaks to something I mentioned above: the writers trying to placate the fans by giving them what they think they want. They keep doing this; there's a difference between listening and hearing. What the writers hear is that people were upset at Robin's death; what they aren't listening to are the reasons why. It goes beyond OutlawQueen.

--“Nothing makes sense. Anything is possible.” This is like the most literal description of this show since S3B I’ve ever heard.

--So, as is tradition, how about some thoughts on season 6A as a whole? I guess it's safe to say that I wasn't really a fan of this first half. It's not that it was bad in the same way S5A was bad--which rubbed against me morally, ethically, and as a feminist. It was bad because it didn't matter; there were so man stories going on at once but none of them got any sort of real attention or focus because apparently everything is happening next year. That is one way to write, but I don't believe it's a good way. We got no further explanations for the Land of Untold Stories (keys! doors! people go there a lot apparently!) because once Jekyll and Hyde died, that story and those ideas/people exited stage left to the metaphorical Forgotten Character Island. Jekyll and Hyde themselves, while well acted, never felt like a real threat because they were kept either off screen or locked up, making snarky comments at anyone who visited. The Evil Queen was supposed to be the real threat this first half and it's true she managed to create some small measure of chaos (like with Snowing) but for someone who was was conceived as "totally evil" she was left mostly to make witty comments, kiss Rumple, and lament with Zelena. The fact that the Evil Queen was out getting manicures like it was an ordinary day and she had nothing better to do is downright bizarre. Regina, in the first season, did more dastardly and "Evil Queen" things to Emma than the actual Evil Queen did to anyone this year! The Evil Queen's storyline also continued the maddening insistence that all evil/fallen women must somehow be sexually aggressive. More time was spent on her making out and flirting with Rumple than any long game she was playing against her real enemies; and this was not out of affection or genuine interest or even because sex is great and fun, but because in the minds of the writers, if a woman is evil then she must also be predatory in a sexual nature. It's a gross trope and it needs to go away already. The other major storyline this year was Aladdin and the idea of Saviorhood but like the Land of Untold Stories and Jekyll and Hyde it went basically nowhere. In this case, it's likely because it's going to come up next year, but that doesn't mean that some decent amount of time shouldn't be spent at least exploring those ideas. Do you know why Aladdin is a Savior? I don't. Do you care about his story, Jasmine's story or anything to do with them? I don't. Instead of laying groundwork into one of the biggest mythological constructs in the Onceiverse--the idea of Saviorhood--Aladdin simply appeared when needed, helped Emma see the light, and then became a genie. Along the way we got still more stories that were teased before dropped like a hot potato for next year--like Charming's father, the Black Fairy, and even Gideon. This isn't to say that there weren't good moments or ideas here. Lana Parilla got to act her socks off playing both the Evil Queen and Regina; Snowing's centric episode was a delightful reminder of how powerful their love story is. Little things like costume, some of the CGI and witty one-liners remain a staple of the good parts of this show, but that's part of the problem: only the little things remain.

Final Rating for Season 6A: C

Final Episode Ranking for Season 6A (least to favorite) 

10. Street Rats (6x5)
9. Changelings (6x9)
8. Wish You Were Here (6x10)
7. The Savior (6x1)
6. A Bitter Draught (6x2)
5. The Other Shoe (6x3)
4. I'll Be Your Mirror (6x8)
3. Dark Waters (6x6)
2. Strange Case (6x4)
1. Heartless (6x7)

See everyone in March!

1 comment:

  1. If Rumple's words to Belle that "necessity" for their son will make her love him again actually comes true, I am done. Like you, I loved Rumbelle once, but now them getting back together would repulse me beyond anything this show has ever done...and it has done a LOT of problematic crap.