Monday, May 16, 2016

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (5x22 and 5x23)

Remember back in season two when young, still-baby-faced Henry decided to blow up magic by throwing some dynamite down a well? It was a stupid plan then because it neglected to take into account all the good magic has done for the residents of Storybrooke and Henry, in his own naivete, didn't realize that magic is more a neutral universal force being wielded by flawed individuals for good and bad reasons. At the time, I rationalized it with Henry's age, his trauma from watching his mothers battle each other, and a rather sweet desire to fix his family by removing what he (at the tender age of 11) thought was the problem. What does it say about the emotional growth of characters on this show that two years later, at the age of 13 (maybe even 14), Henry still has the same impulse: bad things happen to his family and instead of calling members of his family out on their life choices, their actions, and their own shaping of the world, he blames magic and sets out to destroy it? It's season five finale time and in the two hour special, "Only You" and "An Untold Story," and, like Henry, we appear to be repeating a lot of the past. Like so many arcs of stories gone by, this science vs magic one (complete with scientist Jekyll and mad-magic-man Hyde) has potential because in many ways it's being cast as dark (science and magic) vs light (magic and science). A lot of science fiction deals with that almost invisible line between science and magic and how cultures put binary restrictions on those two. It's not exactly new for the show to examine the different personas of the characters and have them fight their inner demons but something about this upcoming arc does feel fresh--maybe it's because for the first time it won't be an internal struggle. That of course could fall flat on its face once its fully realized episode by episode.  But who knows. Maybe I'm wrong and season six will be the one that won't fall to pieces before the end. Grab a black cup and red serum and let's go! 

Suffer Me To Go My Own Dark Way

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.

While Regina might be trying to reject or destroy her own inner demons (er, inner demon in one helluva dress) Rumple is gleefully accepting his own darkness admitting, not for the first time this season, that he likes the darkness and it's as much a part of him as the light. In a way, this is keeping more with the Jekyll and Hyde manifesto. Do you know why people do bad things? Because it usually feels pretty good, either in the moment or even for long term. Why do alcoholics or drug addicts keep using? It feels good, it gives them a rush, it helps them feel more at peace, more connected, more at ease. We call it indulgence for a reason. This isn't meant as an excuse for mankind's less that savory aspects but behind every bad deed lurks some sort of good feelings (why do you think the moniker crimes of passion exists?). Bullies, after all, aren't miserable being bullies. They tend to relish it. Rumple likes doing bad things; he enjoys the control and the feelings of control that power gives him. For a man who was so poor, so downtrodden, that he didn't even have control over the life of his son or his own life, the power the darkness gives him helps him achieve that which was always out of grasp when he was simply a humble spinner. He can control his own life, his own destiny and because he became so consumed with that control, he started controlling other people's destiny as well (just look at Rumple in season one). I suppose if Rumple wants to let his inner dark flag fly, then that's his business (I don't have to like him for it) but there is one problem that he himself raises. He hides his little pockets of light in other people, first in Bae and then in Belle. Those two are his light, what keeps him from going so fully over the edge as to be totally consumed by the darkness. For centuries, Rumple's sole focus was Baelfire, a love for his son so passionate that it blocked out everything else. Bae was his light and he fought for it. Now that our dear Nealfire is gone, Rumple's light has been placed in Belle (hence his sadness earlier this arc that Belle learned the hard way that sometimes...darkness does win). One of Rumple's most famous lines about Belle is that she was a "brief flicker of light amidst an ocean of darkness." Placing all your goodness in others is problematic because people are fickle, cruel and y'know...die. Much like with Hook placing all his hopes for a happily ever after and redemption in Emma, Rumple needs to be good for the sake of goodness, not hope to find redemption in others because as it stands, Rumple has lost both of his sources of light. Baelfire is dead and Belle is lost to a land of Untold Stories (huh, that's kind of ironic isn't it? A character who gets no screen time and little development is now banished to a land of Untold Stories). Perhaps Rumple's quest to find the Belle-Box will help him find his own inner light? Perhaps it's not too late for him to break his own darkness or at least use it for good, especially with a magical serum floating around that can have Dark One Rumple confront Spinner Hero Rumple? Wouldn't that, more than anything, cause Rumple to change his tune? I say these things but then I remember that when push came to shove, Rumple chose to save the shard of plastic filled with magic over the Belle-Box.

Welcome To A New Land! Here You'll Find Plots For Season Six And Beyond! 

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!

Miscellaneous Notes on Only You and An Untold Story

--"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?)

How about some thoughts on S5B overall? I don't say this lightly, but this was easily the best and most fun arc of OUAT since Neverland (S3A). Yes, there are a host of problems including an unclear motivation for the seasonal villain, horrible morality, pointless plotlines that served no purpose, and some poor world building. But a lot of times, a charismatic character and an idea can override a lot. Look at the way I praise Sleepy Hollow (okay, except the S3 finale) and its spaghetti-to-the-wall writing; it's helped along by its dynamic twosome. Hades with all his charms, one-liners, and chemistry with Zelena made the episodes enjoyable; at least eclipsing the more eye-roll worthy aspects of 5B. While I still loathe that Emma's entire story is centered around her romantic relationship, while I still don't approve of Robin's death, and while I still find myself frustrated with the themes of redemption, atonement, and forgiveness being paraded around this show, there was enough intrigue, thought, and interesting otherness happening that it elevated an arc that could have gone bottom up much quicker than it did. There was also a surprising amount of closure between characters and storylines. Regina got to say goodbye to her mother and father; Emma had a better final moment with Neal; Pan is out of the picture of good. The writers took what usually works, the dynamics between the characters, and tried to craft a story around those moments. I applaud Rumple's story becoming (mostly) about being a father again; I like the way Belle's heroic black and white world is being tested; I like(d) Zades and exploring the idea of love changing a person. However, there were definitely bad parts, like the travesty that was the LGBT tokenism relationship, the underdeveloped backstory and motivation for Hades, the James/David storyline, and the super silly Hercules and Snow one-off. And of course, even though this should have really been Emma's moment to shine as the Savior of this little enterprise, it wasn't and the character is becoming increasingly hollow and pod-like. I started off this arc with one question: was the show worth it? After 111 hours of OUAT I can't say a resounding yes. But I can't honestly answer no either. There were gems here, buried under a lot of plot and some MacGuffins, but they are there. As long as they keep cropping up, I'm here for the long haul.

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

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (5x21)

There is a word that was swimming in my head during several of the key scenes in this week's episode "Last Rites." That word is tacky. When you think of the word tacky there are certain connotations that come to mind: cheap, tasteless, crude, and trashy. Like a fine layer of slime that coats some sequined leotard found in the dusty corners of a thrift shore, that's how I feel after watching this episode. I wish I had sadness over Robin Hood's death; I wish I had the same reaction to this week's death that I had two seasons ago when another under-developed, good man and father died (yeah, there are some Neal callbacks this week). I don't necessarily feel angry over Robin's dying; his development has been marginal and his character flaws (wonky honor code, indecisiveness) outweighed any virtues (like being the heroic thief who stole from the rich to give to the poor and would lay down his life for king and country). I'm going to unpack this tacky feeling below but it's a shame that an arc I was enjoying, with a villain who had more charisma in his little finger than the past several villains combined, became such a (sadly) predictable mess before the end of the season. Hades, we didn't deserve you. Grab a phallic looking Olympian crystal (this is a thing that does not exist in mythology) and let's go! 

Only One Can Live....

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?

Let's look at both characters, shall we. Robin is not the most dynamic of characters on this show. He's never really been anything more than a prop through which to explore Regina's redemption; he supposedly has a code of honor but it only comes into play when the plot or angst calls for it. Robin's never really stood out as the ultimate hero nor has been the ultimate villain. He simply exists in a scene, hangs out with Regina, and fires off some arrows when the audience needs reminding that Robin is the best archer in the land. In other words, he's dull and boring but not a black hat, mustache twirling baddie of the highest order. Robin's only real crime is being so lackluster (and speaking on behalf of the boring types of people, that's not a serious crime). This, however, is a writing problem. These professional writers clearly don't know how to make Robin more interesting, which should make us call into question their artistic integrity, at the very least. Hook, on the other hand, has quite a bit of blood on his...hook. Count the baubles that represents some (not all) of his victims (for example, he did not take a trinket off of Claude and we know Hook killed Regina's guard). While Hook has stopped killing people who irritate him or dare to stand up to him, he did make several horrible choices during his time as the Dark One. And while, yes, we can say he was infected by a ruthless entity who only snuffs out the light, the show does not give the same consideration to Rumple so it seems only fair to either forgive Rumple all his crimes while he was the Dark One or hold Hook accountable for all his crimes as the Dark One, which includes killing Merlin, bringing all the former Dark Ones to Storybrooke, and almost sending everyone to the Underworld for all of time. Murder aside, Hook's other sins include: maiming (Rumple); threatening bodily harm (Archie); shooting (Belle); violently attacking (Belle); and other "lesser" crimes like stealing and lying. Now let me be clear that I expect our villains to act like villains; if they didn't do heinous things, then they wouldn't be villains. But that's the point: Hook is a villain. Maybe a mildly reformed one, but there aren't enough pros to outweigh the cons. There is, quite simply, not enough good to even out the bad even adding in this episode's fight with a soup-y ghost creature. And when we are comparing his life to Robin's, then it's no contest. Boring character development should trump truly evil acts. If one character should have gotten this deus ex machina from Zeus, it's Robin, not Hook. I hate to make children the forefront here, but Robin has two children, whom he loves, whom he fought for, whom he has tried to protect and serve as best as he could (and maybe he didn't do it very well, but he's loads better than any sort of care Hook has ever shown for....well, any child! His life lesson to Henry was that you cheat to win; let's not forget the time he sold Baelfire to a sociopath, a man he would later call "a bloody demon.")

The tacky feeling, then, doesn't just stem from the weighing of the lives and finding Hook the more worthy, but from Emma Swan and Hook's actual reunion, literally on the grave site of their fallen friend. I don't care what Snow says; Emma set all of this into motion, beginning last season when she decided to save Hook by making him the new Dark One and then when she made the choice to go after his soul in the Underworld--heading to the land of the dead without a sensible plan, without thinking through any of the consequences or any of the dangers. Snow and company may have chosen to follow Emma to that place, but Emma knows these people...there was no way they were going to sit out when Emma comes to them, heart in hand, and says she's choosing love. At the funeral, it appears that Emma is really starting to get the full weight of consequences. Just when I think Emma might have a breakthrough and realize that her actions have damning results, just when I think Emma might actually take responsibility, she is rewarded for all her behavior with her pirate. This is what I mean by tacky and heartless. The funeral for Robin--yes a boring but ultimately okay character--just ended and here comes Hook, zapping back to life and into Emma's arms just as she's about to have her "ah-ha" moment of self-actualization. It's like Hook stops all of Emma's character progress or something (not so subtle commentary is not so subtle). I understand that this is supposed to an emotional moment for Emma who was just starting to grieve for yet another fallen lover, but the way it comes across is so utterly tacky (see, there's the word again) that it made me recoil in horror. Poof yourself somewhere else; anywhere else. I don't care where, honestly. Granny's, Snow's loft, the new Swan house, the docks, the middle of Main Street. Just not here, not in this place, not in this time. Emma Swan made terrible life choices that resulted, in the end, with the death of a hero and instead of learning a vital lesson for rewarded with some smooches. This show's morality continues to baffle me; is it really about hope? At the end of the day, does anyone find this episode or this show all that hopeful? Do you, because of this show, really believe that happy endings are possible if you just keep believing? Really. I'm asking.

Glowy Phallic Objects 

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.

Miscellaneous Notes on Last Rites 

--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 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

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (5x20)

It seems, my dear readers, that we have reached the one episode in which I struggle to write a review. It invariably happens every season  And yes, they are typically Captain Swan episodes. How do I approach writing a critical review about a couple whom I find so distasteful that I simply avoid talking about them except when it is absolutely necessary? Last arc, my solution was an entire diatribe about emotional truths and how attempts to convince me of the sanctity of Emma and Hook as a romantic partnership was futile before examining the ways in which Emma's Dark Swan arc failed any conceivable test of feminism and logic. This year? Well this year I find that I'm enjoying the Underworld arc overall and don't want to suddenly be pulled into a long tangent about why I find Captain Swan so damning, though, almost without fail, that will happen somehow. But here we are, with the episode "Firebird;" roughly forty-two minutes of Hook and Emma facing some sort of ultimate test as though the show doesn't sell the same superlative song and dance routine about every story these two share. How about I just remove my own heart and try to do this as analytically as I can? Let's go. 

What's (True) Love Got To Do--Got To Do--With It?

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).

What makes this even more laughable and cringe worthy is that the writers couldn't even let the True Love declaration/confirmation happen organically and in any sort of natural way. Charming kisses Snow goodbye and awakens her; Zelena kisses Hades in gratitude and to show that she trusts him and his heart begins to beat; Belle gets Rumple to let down his guard and trust her for a moment and his skin changes. These are moments that make sense because they aren't just driven by the plot but because in that moment the two people have a deep connection and they aren't hoping to get anything out of a kiss in return. There is no prize to be won nor no goal to accomplish in other words. Charming doesn't know he's going to wake up Snow and Belle didn't know that she had True Love with Rumple but in that moment Charming and Belle know that kissing their partner is the right thing to do; it feels right. The show has twisted True Love to be a prize at the end of finish line, a goal that couples need to reach in order to be "valid." Hook and Emma aren't breaking a curse, they aren't declaring their love in a moment of passion and because the moment is right...they are doing it in order to open a set of doors in order to get precious ambrosia from a field so that they can get Hook back up topside. It's plot driven and it's incredibly clunky. Forgetting that Emma's heart and very essence alone should be enough to open the doors once it is set upon the scales, the confirmation only comes about because Hook was about to die in a firestorm and Emma's heart was being squeezed and Emma decides to save Hook from the flames by way of hug-tackle (that's what it looked like, it all happened pretty fast). And, because Emma chose Hook and the doors opened, they apparently have true love? But isn't this in and of itself a problem because if you were to replace Hook with anyone else (Regina, Henry, Snow, Charming, anyone with whom Emma has a passing realtionship) Emma would make the same choice (the Savior always saves) and then suddenly Emma's got true love with everyone (it's like her cosmic nature dictates that she's True Love Incarnate or something!) Hook is just a filler for anyone else; his very being doesn't actually matter but now the writers have canonically made Hook Emma's one and only. Why should I care that Hook and Emma are now True Love when the moment comes because of forced plot and could have happened with any other character? As for Hook's "sacrifice" at the end, I'm sure it means something to someone but not to me because I don't believe for one second that we won't see Hook alive again and topside with Emma. Death means very little on this show and the writers wouldn't dare part with a ship that they believe is compelling and the greatest love story of all time (hint: it's not).

On the flip side of all this, we've got two other true love couples muddling their way through deception and deceit. I've made note of this a few times already but Rumbelle and Zades are being pretty heavily paralleled. You have two men who have almost unlimited power and who have a chance at true love and a happily ever after if only they'd let go of their revenge and need for ultimate power. The question comes down to if they can let go or not (largely the overarching theme of this episode). Is Rumple capable of being a better man and a different man? Can Hades actually be something other than the Lord of the Underworld? Right now, it doesn't appear that either couple is going to make it to the finish line of S5 (and not because Belle is in a box). Unlike when Rumple killed Pan back in S3A, this "murder" wasn't done in the service of others, but more out of malicious intent. There is no sad goodbye, no kiss on the forehead, no tender parting. It's cruel and harsh, condemning his father to a life of agony in the River of Lost Souls. Pan deserves it, of course, but Rumple's casual murdering ways are a bit scary. What will Belle say? She knew the first time around that Rumple did it to save everyone and it was perfectly in line with her ideals of heroism--bravery, sacrifice, forgiveness--but this time, Rumple's motives are more in line with how Gaston defined heroism in 517--it's all about power. Is Rumple changing? Nope and given that the TLK he tried didn't work even a teeny tiny bit, I'm inclined to say he won't be having a switcheroo any time soon. But is there light at the end of the tunnel? Yeah, maybe, but only because the other couple in question is clearly going down before the end of the season( which is a shame because, as it stands, Zades is far more entertaining and worth watching than Rumbelle) and the writers have to give the Big Moment to one of them. I find myself glad that Hades and Zelena got their True Love's Kiss because even though their relationship is incredibly fast, it's entertaining to the point that I'm willing to over look the fastness (and we know it won't last, so enjoy the ride). I think Zelena has a case of heart-eyes right now; it's not as if Hades lied to her. Hades told her, point blank, that his plan was to leave the heroes in the Underworld and takes Zelena and her baby topside to the Real Storybrooke, which is what he did this episode, manipulating Emma and Hook down to the depths of the Underworld, and trapping Regina and company in the library. Hades made no promises about changing; he's been clear that his reformation is for Zelena's love and her love alone. Zelena's the one who got it into her head that her love could change him (perhaps a side effect of living among the heroes for so long) and I suspect that if Zelena were to clear her head a bit, she'd remember that she delights in the more wicked aspects of Mr. Blue Hair. Zelena and Belle are set for a pretty serious heartbreak, in other words, but only Belle (and Rumple) will come out the other side. Like Captain Swan, the writers wouldn't dare to break up one of their most popular, non-arc specific ships, but playing Rumple as the villain when need be is too tempting for the writers to ever let go of entirely. Hades may exit our show fairly soon, but Rumple-the-sometimes-peasant-killer is here to stay.

Miscellaneous Notes on Firebird

--"I came for is" 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?