Monday, May 16, 2016
The above epigram is from "Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde" by Robert Louis Stevenson and, if I'm being perfectly fair, the small novella is actually a perfect launching point for the sixth season of our fairy tale show. After all, it is also "Jekyll and Hyde" where "all human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil..." is written. Is that not exactly how OUAT has defined all their multi-layered characters in the past few years? The villains are sympathetic and redeemable while the heroes can be selfish, myopic, condescending and, when you least expect it, they snatch a baby from its mother and fill it up with darkness! The point, though, is that darkness and light exist in all the characters, as if they are actually two separate individuals. Of course, they aren't and that's rather important to the Jekyll and Hyde novella. Jekyll and Hyde are not two people; they are different aspects of one person and when you defeat one, you defeat the other. Identity is such that you cannot squash or destroy one aspect of yourself. It's always there, lurking under the surface, be it a kindly angel telling you to behave or a mischievous devil wanting your id to take over. Regina got it right in the first hour when she tells Emma, "I'll never be at peace with myself." Coming to terms with all parts of your identity--be they Evil Queen, Dark One, Mother, Pirate, Hero, Princess, Bandit, Farmer, and/or Knight--is supposed to take work and hardship. It's supposed to be incredibly difficult and to be perfectly blunt, it may never happen. There may always be a war within you. For some, it's easier to give in to one aspect than to put in the effort it takes to lessen the darker tendencies of man. Think about Dr. Jekyll in the novella; he truly struggles with his darker half; it's a psychological thriller about the depravity of man when it's unleashed. So much of these two finales are about the two original villains of OUAT--Rumple and Regina--accepting or fighting with their other identity. Can Rumple be more than the Dark One obsessed with power? Can Regina ever truly be free of the Evil Queen? All of this, naturally, is paralleled with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and what appears to be a rather complicated but modestly respectable relationship (at least, while they are joined together). For Regina, the answer to her problem of the internal identity war is to destroy that one aspect of herself that keeps her up at night. This bothers me quite a bit, if I'm being honest. Regina, more than anyone, has had a pretty decent redemption arc. While the show may not be concerned with justice (ie: caring enough about the victims to allow them any peace), it has made Regina suffer time and time again and had her pay for some (not all) of her crimes. In this regard, Regina's character development has been one of the better stories on the show. It's been a five season long struggle, flitting back and forth between the Evil Queen with the ready-made fire balls and Regina, the lost and lonely little stable girl. The idea that all Regina needs to be really free of her evil self is a magical potion that allows her to kill the Evil Queen persona (literally) isn't really keeping with any of the above themes I've mentioned nor with her character arc thus far. Regina's worked for her redemption; unlike Rumple she didn't need a magical hat-suck to rid herself of the darkness; it was a part of her but controlled, Regina having learned her lessons and fought her instincts anytime they threatened to overtake her (like when Hook magically comes back from the dead but Robin doesn't). This magical serum is a cheat not only because it doesn't keep in line with the original source material (it is actually rather antithetical to it) but because it shortchanges all that Regina has accomplished over the years. Suddenly, she got a magical fix to her problems that really only creates more ills than it solves, undoubtedly, with the Evil Queen coming to play and make mischief inside Storybrooke. Regina might feel free without the Evil Queen persona, but she needs to learn that the Evil Queen is always a part of her, and that she needs that fierce strength and determination but in more moderation than the Evil Queen would like.
There exists, we are told, a Land of Untold Stories, a safe haven where all the lost and forgotten stories can find refugee. First off, does this mean that the people living there are aware that they are story characters? Because why else name your little corner of the world a land of untold stories if you're not aware of your own fictionhood. Do they think/know they are considered fictional in other realms? How does that mess with identity? Think about it--you know that you're considered fictional in other corners of the universe and that your story is unfinished or forgotten. Wouldn't it make you wonder about what your end is? Do you get to decide your own end? Does this new found agency make you non-fiction? See, this is almost smart of the writers (almost because I'm not sure if they intended these very meta questions). In a way, the writers are assuaging any doubt that the show has run out of steam. Nope, they say, look at all these random characters gathered in one realm. We're gonna tell their stories now; maybe we've used up most of the famous Disney-cache but we've still got more tricks up our sleeves! Aren't you just dying to hear all about these untold stories? See; they got me there cause I totally answered "yeah!" I'm actually really intrigued how these stories/characters are unfinished or undeveloped. What happened to them? Are they all part of the forgotten novels left on people's desks, abandoned because the writers couldn't make their plot bunnies work? Are they legends or myths? Are they Western stories or might we hope for other cultures? Are they fairy tales or science fiction (cause so much of the makeup of that world looked pretty Jules Verne meets H.G. Wells). Do they get to decide their own fate or do they need a Savior/Author team-up to finish their stories (which I'd be totally down for since the past season was way too lite in terms of Emma and Henry working together). I wonder if Cthulhu lives in the oceans around the Land of Untold Stories. Right now this land is pretty intangible because it's fresh and new and not even remotely like any fictional universe we've seen before--Wonderland, Neverland, the Underworld, and Arrendale were all familiar through our experiences with their original source material. What isn't so intangible, though, are Jekyll and Hyde; not unexpectedly, Hyde seems better fleshed out and developed and more likely to receive the bulk of the narrative next season. Here's a query: if Hyde brought all the forgotten stories to Storybrooke to get their happy endings, does that make him a hero? Is he writing his own story to cast himself as a hero? Is season six about him helping the Untold Stories complete their stories, even if the heroes are trying to stop his wicked ways? I know I'm asking a lot of questions, but that's how season finales are designed--to entice you into watching next season. Well, I'm a sucker because I'm here to stay. See everyone in September!
--"When you're upset, we follow you to Hell!" Regina slayed so much of this episode, especially her anger toward the unfair resurrection of Hook while Robin remains 6 feet under.
--How did all those OUAT book get into the library? That's actually a fascinating idea and I hope we explore that next year.
--Really Henry? Operation Mixtape?
--Regina doesn’t say goodbye to Roland. Mmkay. But Zelena, who raped Roland’s father and who pretended to be his mother, gets to. I repeat…Mmmkay.
--Neal, the guy with no unfinished business, had an unfinished quest to destroy magic and kept it all in a journal. And never mentioned it. Ever. Mmkay.
--“To be clear, I was fine running”
--Really great to see the Dragon again; continuity many years after the fact.
--Using the power of a wish to bring your family back invokes a certain Disney song: “When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are, anything your heart desires can come to you….” That’s powerful. It’s one of the most powerful messages in the Disney-verse. I actually kinda teared up a bit thinking about this. Along with this, Henry encouraging everyone to believe using the idea of nostalgia, the idea that when we were younger and less jaded we were capable of belief the likes of which can change the rules of the world. Isn’t that what drew so many of us to OUAT in the first place? That nostalgia for our childhood stories, for a time when we believed in the possibility of magic and hope and happy endings? I don’t get sentimental about this show a lot (not anymore) but that’s powerful stuff.
--Violet’s dad is a Yankee from Connecticut who found himself in Camelot. That’s hilarious.
--Henry destroyed magic in 5 seconds flat. Like he literally held up a cup for five-ten seconds and POOF. ALL of magic is gone. LOL Okay. (Also, Ghostbusters much?)
Final Rating for S5B: B
Final Episode Ranking for S5B
12. Last Rites (5x21)
11. The Brothers Jones (5x15)
10. Ruby Slippers (5x18)
9. Labor of Love (5x13)
8. Firebird (5x20)
7. Souls of the Departed (5x12)
6. Her Handsome Hero (5x17)
5. Only You (5x22)
4. Devil's Due (5x14)
3. An Untold Story (5x23)
2. Sisters (5x19)
1. Our Decay (5x16)
Monday, May 9, 2016
Can you put definitive value on a life? Or, maybe more accurately, can you put different values on different lives? Does person A matter more than person B? If your answer to this last question is yes, then it begs the next series of queries of who gets to decide such matters and what rubric they use to determine which life, which soul, matters more to the universe. Whether or not the writers this week consciously sat down and decided which life had more value, and how to determine such an astronomical feat, I don't know; though, I err on the side of caution and say that the writers probably did no such thing. But when you kill one character and raise another from the dead, all in the span of ten minutes, you are telling your audience one thing: the character that lives matters more. Either they have something worthwhile to contribute to the story and universe at large or they simply mean more to those loved ones they left behind; but, in short, their continued life means more. Let's finally add some names to this scenario: Hook matters more than Robin. Now, I ask you: why? I know that I try to maintain some distance on Hook when I can but in this case I cannot. Another man died and while his death did not trigger Hook's resurrection, I am forced to ask why Zeus could not also bring back Robin (simply wave his hand and undo the Olympian Crystal). Is Hook really that worthy? Did he really do that much good in this episode as to override all the previous murders, plots, and y'know, almost sending everyone (including a 13 year old!) to the Underworld simply because "I was a Dark One?" What makes Hook so necessary to either the plot of Once Upon a Time or the universe that the show inhabits that warrants him another (another, another) chance at life?
Meanwhile, on the other side of this delightful plot, Hades turns out to be a pretty simplistic villain. He's Rumple but without the many seasons worth of backstory to elicit the proper amount of sympathy. Honestly, it's really a good thing that actor Greg Germann was so dynamic or else the Hades character would have been an absolute wash and waste. Hades simply wants it all: the girl, the power, and apparently the kingdom? Where did this come from? Hades had a kingdom; he was lord of the Underworld. His kingdom just happened to be populated by dead people that he was holding in captivity unto perpetuity. But, hey, any port in a storm. Just like Arthur and Rumple (yeah, yeah. I'll get to him later), Hades desires a kingdom full of peasants he can bend to his will, only to go home to the missus at the end of the day and watch baby Pistachio play in the garden. The show seems to be making a case that you cannot have it both ways--you cannot be powerful, oversee a kingdom or a people with any sort of ambitious drive--and have love in your heart for those closest to you. I guess that's fair; one should come before the other, theoretically. I don't necessarily think that you can't have love for your kith and kin and not also desire power or have ambition (but this leads to a much broader question of if ambition is wrong or if never ending ambition is wrong, which--if I had to guess--is what the show is trying to get at; that overflowing ambition is wrong. Poor Slytherin house). But to return to Hades, it's just a shame that the show didn't feel the need to flesh him out. This is the first seasonal villain for which we've never gotten a back story; we had one flashback with Zelena to set up Zades, but usually the show complicates their villains by revealing the "truth" of their history. Cora was a Miller's Daughter, poor and unloved by a drunk of a father who went to bed with a liar and had a child out of wedlock. Pan was poor and greedy and selfish. Ingrid was considered a monster by people. I expected to see the conflict between Hades and Zeus (but, then again, this is a show that is all about telling me and not showing me, so I guess we'll never really know how things went down on Olympus apart from what Hades told Zelena in passing). I'll miss the humor and levity (but also terror) Hades brought, but the creativity the writers could have really pushed with his character clearly got stabbed by the same Olympian Crystal that killed Robin and Hades; both gents and the creativity got totally wiped from existence and I'm left with a pile of ashes and no phallic objects to scoop them up with.
--Like Neal, Robin never even got to say goodbye to his children.
--"Hello there..." Maybe underwhelming at the end, but there's no denying that Hades was fantastic while it lasted.
--Raise your hand if you're shocked that Zelena named the baby Robin. No one? Yeah, me either.
--I am completely at a loss about Rumple. So he want to rule Storybrooke? It's his kingdom? Since when is this part of his plan or any notion he's ever had? All Rumple ever wanted was his son (and yes, to keep his power). But world domination--or even just Storybrooke domination--was never a part of this. And now that Moe's decided to ignore Rumple asking for help, I guess Belle better get really comfortable in that Burning Red Room.
--And Hook managed to magic those pages into the story book in SB...how? I know everything in the Underbrook has a "mirror" in SB, but Hook isn't magical.
--What an utter waste of Zeus!
--Regina tells Zelena that true love is sacrifice and that love means giving up everything for someone else. I'm sorry, but no. This is a horrible message. Love is grand and great but your identity, your self worth, your agency, your individuality, and your life are not something you toss away just because of "true love"--whatever the heck that means on this show and in real life. Robin begged Hades to kill him instead of Regina but doesn't even stop for a moment to remember that he has two children. What kind of message is that? A bad one.
--Did this episode ruin the whole arc? This Underworld story had some clunkers already, to be sure, but nothing as egregious as this one. I guess we'll see where I stand next week during the two hour finale.
Monday, May 2, 2016
I suppose we should get this out of the way; to make it clear, in language that cannot be confused or misconstrued: Emma Swan and Captain Hook are canonical true loves. We'll bypass over Henry and season one (cause goodness knows that the writers did the exact same this week) though, I should stress, that one should be able to have True Love with a child and a romantic partner and not be unable to tackle the "you-shall-not-pass" test. Instead of trying to force Henry into this situation, let's talk about Emma Swan. It was her episode, after all. When Emma was conceived as a character, at the beginning of all things, there were several archetypes and fairy tale-like jargon that got attached to our young blonde and leather jacketed heroine. She was, first and foremost, the Savior. In the cosmic good versus evil battle, she was the lawful good, able to take down evil, curses, and dark magic with her innate and in born abilities. Part of that Saviorhood, we learned, was that she was born of the truest love in all the realms, the love between Prince Charming and Snow White. This compounded her Saviorhood and made her even more of a force to be reckoned with. Emma's entire being is that of True Love--she is literally True Love in the flesh, an incarnate entity made up of the most powerful magic of all; this is why Cora couldn't remove her heart in Season 2 and why her magic is white. By that virtue alone, Emma Swan should be able to pass Hades' test to enter the ambrosia fields without needing confirmation that she and Hook share true love. And, for this review, I'm going to ignore the fact that Hook and Emma shouldn't even be true loves at all, and instead focus on how the writers took Emma--someone who's entire being is the most powerful magic of all, a powerful and unstoppable force unto herself--and reduced her to only having a heart full of true love when she's with her (4 month long) boyfriend. I'm harping on the parenthetical that Emma is True Love Incarnate because ignoring this factor has been a trend for some time on this show; the show has begun lessening Emma's own importance as a cosmic figure and emphasizing her romantic story as being the only thing that makes Emma complete, with season 5A as the culmination. Emma's been on her own heroes journey since the moment Henry showed up at her doorstep and called her off on an adventure and a big part of that journey (nay, the biggest part) is the conquering of death or the representation of death and chaos by the hero. This is such an integral part of the journey that I was actually excited for Emma to live up to her cosmic role and defeat death (and Hades) with her own self actualization and herohood. She doesn't need anyone else to be a hero; Emma alone should be enough, but OUAT takes this long standing tradition and warps it into something decidedly not feminist/representative of strong women and unworthy of the character they created at the start. There is nothing wrong with twisting well worn tropes when the author is trying to make a point about society or give commentary on those tropes and, again, this isn't to say that a hero (or Emma, specifically) can't have a romantic love story, but the fact that in order for Emma to be that cosmic superhero she needs the true love she shares with a romantic partner to (literally) open the doors is malarkey. To drive this point home and further complicate it ask your self what role Hook actually plays here. If you remove the romantic love partner from this equation how does the story play out? Emma, down in the worst parts of the Underworld, can't pass the test without Hook because without him she doesn't have a heart full of true love. No, I say, no. Emma's agency and importance are her own and simply being True Love Incarnate means she should be able to pass these Tests (capital T cause we're in Cosmic-land).
--"I came for your...wow...this is hard...help." I really will miss Hades.
--The flashbacks were mostly fine this episode though I am frustrated that the show keeps inserting important life altering people in Emma's life and then never has her mention them until the episode they are introduced. The origin of the jacket was a long standing question, but I hate that it killed a few headcanons I had.
--Regina can remove Emma's heart because...?
--Lots of mythology this week, both Greek (Orpheus and Eurydice) and Egyptian (the scale for the weighing of a heart; it's just missing the feather of Ma'at, the living concept of judgement and fairness).
--Cruella and the Blind Witch are now ruling the Underworld. That will end well.
--The Royal Navy teaches Ancient Greek to its sailors? Well, I went about learning it in a weird way then.
--Henry can now control the Author's writing abilities to the extent that he can write what everyone's unfinished business is? How does that make sense?