Monday, April 17, 2017

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (6x17)

I have been thinking a lot about the DNA of this show. I know I've done this before--broken down the basic premise of Once Upon a Time to get at what the core really is. It's a simple show, at its heart, and I have no desire to repeat myself, though if it's at all possible that the writers read my blog maybe I need to. There are a few DNA links that are important to understand about season one of OUAT. Mainly it involves an Evil Queen, a cursed realm, and an orphan girl named Emma Swan who just so happens to be the Savior and will save everyone. If that is all I told you about season one of OUAT, you would have the bare bones but a good enough understanding of the premise of the show. Except, then, this week's episode, "Awake," happened and now I have to reexplain that while, yes, there was a Curse that caused everyone to forget their memories, Snow White and Prince Charming actually accidentally woke up this one random time because of a flower on the side of the road but then they took magical memory potions to go back to the way they were so they could hold off on being saved for another eighteen years. I just complicated everything and now the show looks haphazard which, let's fact it, it is. Grab your true love flower and let's go!

The Writers Are Really Hoping You Burned Your Season 1 DVDs

In the broadest sense, I get what the writers are hoping to elicit from their audience with this episode. The notion that Snow and Charming gave up their only child, sent her into a strange land, and sacrificed their chance to be a family has always been powerful and emotionally resonate. It's why those last few moments of the Pilot are so strong; you see the hope in Snow's eyes as she realizes that Emma got away; the new hope, the Savior went into the wardrobe and because of that the kingdom has a sliver of belief that someday they will be rid of the Evil Queen's curse. The writers are hoping to cash in on those feelings by setting up a roughly similar scenario once more, only this time ten years into the future and not in the Enchanted Forest. It's a sort of emotional manipulation in which they hope you don't notice that while they tug at your feelings of nostalgia they are, at the same time, destroying the very basic DNA of the show and replacing it with a watered down, convoluted, overly complicated piece of narrative that simply doesn't work because of how powerful the original story was. Think about this way: what's more powerful? Snow and Charming meeting on the Storybrooke streets as Snow and Charming for the first time in twenty-eight years because their daughter shared a true love's kiss with her child or Snow and Charming meeting in a cold and isolated hospital room, having been woke up because of a random heretofore unmentioned flower that has some vague magical properties and not because of Emma at all? Take Snow and Charming out of the equation totally and look at Rumple. Which scene works more--the one where Emma gives her name and a light goes off in Rumple's head or the one where Charming mutters Emma's name as he turns to leave the shop and suddenly Mr. Gold is Rumple again only until he takes a memory potion to erase his memories of having woken up? I would argue that in both cases the original moment far outstrips the first. Is the moment in front of the door where Snow and Charming decide that they have to let Emma grow up without them, believe that she's strong enough to grow up alone and find them, a powerful one? A bit,  yes, especially on Snow's end since it's the most in character she's felt for a long time. But it's a rehash of an already powerful moment, the one where Snow, having just given birth, lies in bed with her husband and begs Charming to take their daughter and get her to the wardrobe before it's too late. That moment I'll remember long after I've forgotten this paltry new one. The first question any writer should ask themselves before they put pen to paper is, "why should I write this? Is this really something that the world needs?" If your answer is no then scrap it and come up with something else. I get that from a seasonal standpoint this episode needs to resolve the curse upon Snow White and Prince Charming but there are other ways to do that without having to likewise show this tortured flashback that undoes so much of what made the first season so great. The entire town drinking a part of the sleeping curse and diluting it enough to wake up Snow and Charming? Yes, all sorts of illogical but a sweet enough moment that keeps with the idea that Snow and Charming are heroes and the people of the Enchanted Forest/Storybrooke love them and respect them. At this point I am beginning to conclude that the writers simply don't care about any sort of consistency. They just want to turn in 22 episodes, get renewed and start all over. Snow and Charming, season one, and even we deserve better than this.

Miscellaneous Notes on Awake

--It’s really nice seeing Granny, Archie, the dwarves and Marco. It reminds me of when SB felt like a real lived-in town.

--“We were destined to clash since the dawn of time.”

--I didn't make any mention of it in the review proper but apparently Tiger Lily used to be a fairy and feels responsible for not stopping the Black Fairy when she had a chance.

--Neverland is looking rather Vancover-y.

--Not only is there a potion to remove the darkness in one's heart but a curse is now akin to darkness in a heart!

--Why did it take ten years for the flower that reunites true loves to grow in Storybrooke? And why didn't it pop up when other big baddies (Cora, Pan, Zelena, The Queens of Darkness, Dark Swan, Hades, all the Dark Ones ever, the Evil Queen) come to town?

--Emma was always the Savior. She didn’t need to be 28; that’s just when she came to town. She was born the Savior because she was born of Snow White and Prince Charming and because of Rumple’s machinations. It was not because she was “of age.” That is nonsense.

--Snow is willing to risk a forever-coma and leaving her second child an orphan if it means Emma can have her boyfriend back. While I know that parental sacrifices for their children is a major theme of the show, I honestly think the writers have forgotten that Snow and Charming have a second child. We also really need a scene of Emma's internal angst here to make her look less callous and cold in choosing Hook over her parents as easily as it appears.

--Hook's shadow had a little shadow hook. That is hilarious and little bit adorable.

--Pongo is in a bad mood because he’s off gluten.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

In Which I Review Doctor Who (10x1)

Let's get down to the basics of what Doctor Who, as a TV show, is. At its heart, it's a campy, pulpy, highly stylized fairy tale, with a rich half-century mythology, mixed with a science fiction beat that likes to examine the relationship between the divine and the human throughout the cosmos. Nothing reminds us of this more than when a new companion enters the scene and meets the Doctor for the first time. It's always an eye opening experience, whether it's running from Autons, ridding the Judoon of the Moon, fighting fat aliens, or saving London from giant eyeball monsters. The companion serves as the everyman who is called off on an adventure by the grand old wizard (our blessed Doctor, he plays so many archetypes) to slay dragons and stop malevolent villains. In the season ten opener, "The Pilot" (clever title for a show trying to get back to basics) we meet Bill, the newest wide-eyed human to stumble into her own fairy tale and be offered the chance of a lifetime. This episode's purpose is twofold: to introduce new viewers to this crazy and zany show and to begin the not-so-long goodbye to two old friends. Grab your sonic and let's got!

Do you remember your first episode of Doctor Who? I do. I was a freshman in college, bored and avoiding homework (probably German given my loathing of it); the TV was on and I was mindlessly flipping through it. I hit the SyFy channel--which might have still been called the Sci-Fi channel at that point--and saw some strange man in a black jacket running through a child orphanage with a blonde woman. Suddenly there were kids in gas masks and the scene had an obvious sense of drama and tension. I had no idea what was going on, but there I sat, brows furrowed, remote control frozen in hand unable to change the channel. I had just caught the end of "The Empty Child" from the first season of a newly rebooted fifty year old show. I knew none of the Doctor Who mythology or its legendary status in England; my science fiction experience was firmly American based with Star Treks and Stargates. So imagine my surprise when, just a few episodes later, there was a totally different man running around with the same blonde woman also claiming to be some sort of medical professional. It was at this point that I set the remote down, curiosity long since peaked, and picked up my laptop. I typed "Doctor Who" into the search engine (probably Internet Explorer, heavens forbid) and...well, the rest is history. Any time the show was on--marathon form or singular episode--I made a point to watch until I had managed to see most of the Ninth Doctor's one season run and the beginnings of the Tenth. Why am I telling you all this, readers? Because I am one hundred percent positive that someone out there in the wide world just watched their very first episode of Doctor Who. This idea is the main thrust of the season ten premiere. The villain of the week is not all that compelling nor interesting but everything here serves to enchant a new viewer into watching more. For all the bombastic tendencies of show runner Steven Moffat, his swansong season opens as a sort of love letter to the most bare bones version of Doctor Who, the kind that probably fascinated him as a child when all that mattered was a madman, a blue box, some sort of horribly costumed monster, and a companion who stood side by side with a mythic hero on a grand adventure.

None of this is to say that this is a perfect episode; far from it. As I mentioned the villain is fairly mundane and forgettable. The Daleks make only a cursory appearance; they serve as a way to introduce a new viewer to the most famous of the Doctor's enemies as opposed to being a real threat or to set up a long storyline. Also, I'm also still not sure what purpose Nardole serves as a secondary companion apart from keeping the Doctor from being alone in between Clara and Bill. Nardole's companionship is sweet and endearing and he does the most magical thing all companions need to do, namely not get in the way of letting the Doctor carry the weight of the story. This was something Amy and Clara never quite learned, both former companions being set up as having a magical destiny or being somehow more important than just normal humans swept off on an adventure through time and space. It's hard to relate to a character with a pre-ordained destiny like "The Impossible Girl;" Rose may have become the Bad Wolf but that was by her choice after her experiences with the Ninth Doctor not because she was always supposed to become godlike. To bring this back to Nardole, his presence grounds the Doctor; he's obviously unimpressed by the flying magician and has a unique ability to telegraph what the Doctor needs to hear (like being kind or not being alone) without it being preachy. Still, the more characters you have in a show, the more development and importance I expect them to play. Nardole needs to not get in the way, but I don't need him to be a vessel making subtext into text. The Doctor's problems with loneliness are well document and having a spouting head literally calling him out on it--as he did at Christmas--would be, frankly, tedious. Speaking of, the Doctor is in fine form, here. When you're introducing the Doctor to an audience for the first time, there are some sweet spots one must hit. He almost always comes across as slightly insane--seriously, think about the the first time all the companions met their Doctor. He's most likely talking gibberish but with an air of incredible intelligence, Einstein on an acid trip, so to say.  The Doctor must also radiate a certain kind of power, an otherworldly quality that sets him apart from the humans caught up in the frenzy. Peter Capaldi has never failed in either of these endeavors and in meeting Bill, he is full of spunk and charm coupled with an edge that suggests he is not a being to be messed with. So, if we have a back-to-basics set up and a rudimentary Doctor, where does the episode really shine? It shines in Bill Potts.

The past two companions have not been my cup of tea. Amy Pond was too abrasive and Clara's school girl crush on the Eleventh Doctor as well as her "Impossible Girl" shtick, making her out to be the most important companion of all time, was hard to stomach. But in Bill I think we may have finally come back down to Earth; a normal, everyday, average, mundane human being. An extraordinary person because of their ordinaryness. It's where Doctor Who began, either with a schoolteacher or a shop worker, and it's fitting that in this stripped down season opener, Bill makes her first appearance as a relatable companion swept off into the divine without any hint that she is "more" than what she appears. Along with being a fresh take from past companions, making Bill an ordinary girl is a smart move on the part of the show because there is something that makes Bill--not different--but a change from the past ladies (and gents) who have flown in the TARDIS. Bill is gay; she is the first openly gay modern human companion (Captain Jack being more of a pansexual and not modern and not a full time companion) on the show. Now, I want to pause here before I discuss if the show was successful in depicting Bill's homosexuality because it's important to note that while I think Bill is a positive example of the homosexual community, it's also not really for me to say because I do not belong to that community. I identity as heterosexual and therefore any attempt to read a homosexual character as "right" or "wrong" in terms of depiction rather misses the point altogether. It's up to the community to tell me if they think Bill is a positive creation. However, I shall muddle through this as best I can. What I like best about Bill's homosexuality is how understated it is; this is not an episode where Bill needs to come out, be reassured by some heterosexual that she is "okay" and have the hour turn into a Very Special Episode. Instead, Bill casually mentions, within the first 10 minutes, how she fancied a girl she met while working in the University cantina and then a big part of the episode is spent chasing Bill's crush from a night in the bar. At no point does the Doctor--or the show--make Bill's homosexuality a big deal. It's simply part of her, as is her quick wit, her cheeky comebacks and her sadness over the loss of her mother. Too often in TV, a homosexual character has to justify their sexual orientation, explain to the audience that this is who they are and then patiently describe, to those not in the know, wanting to be treated as normal. Doctor Who carefully and cleverly eschews this treatment of Bill and simply lets her be. And what she is, is fun! There are bits of other companions in Bill; she's got a hefty bit of Rose with her family loss and her working girl attitude; she's got Donna's banter ability and if the constant shots of Susan's photograph are any indication, she's got a small bit of the Doctor's granddaughter in her as well. I found myself smiling at Bill's first time out in the TARDIS and her slow realization that the blue box really was quite magical and not just a single room. I think she'll be a worthy companion, someone who can match barbs with the Doctor but never lose sight of the wonder of it all, just like all of us be we old or new companions setting out to see the universe anew.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Pilot 

--"I am very particular about time."

--Has the Doctor already met Bill's mother or is this one of Steven Moffat's famous wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey plot lines?

--"That's my face, yeah?" Bit flexible about that are you?" "You have no idea."

--Why is the Doctor in disguise and why can't anyone know he's hanging out in Bristol as a professor? Also, what election is he speaking of?

--Any guesses what is behind Checkov's Vault?

--I'm not sure how I feel about the Doctor only having Susan and River's photos on his desk. I get that those two are "family" in the tradition sense (granddaughter and wife) but all the Doctor's companions are family to him, after a fashion.

--The one revelation missing from Bill's encounter with the Doctor is that he's called a Time Lord, he has two hearts, and he regenerates into a new person when his death is at hand. But given that this is Peter Capaldi's final run as the Doctor, I guess she'll find that out soon enough.

--"I can't just call you the Doctor. Doctor What?" Yeah, Bill's gonna be just fine.

Monday, April 10, 2017

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (6x16)

Everyone wants tickets to Hamilton, even when the hit Broadway musical won't have come out in your corner of the universe for another two years or so. But hey, everyone's gotta have a dream, right Isaac? In all seriousness, though, having a dream isn't too far off the mark in terms of themes for this week's episode, "Mother's Little Helper." Emma dreams of a normal life with her fiancee, her son, her family and not having to stare down some impossible evil every few months months. Gideon and the Black Fairy have their own dreams that, despite outward appearances, are thematically linked to Emma's. In fact, if we were to pinpoint a theme that is looming large over this arc as a whole, I would say freedom and normalcy are at the heart of this backhalf. From Charming wanting his family to be whole again and to be free from the weight of his father's death to Regina reuniting via shared evil and love with her other half to Emma trying to grasp her life by both hand and control it instead of having it controlled, the idea of wanting this particular story to come to an end and hoping the chaos will settle keeps poking its head around the corner and grinning, Cheshire cat like. Grab a can of Raid and let's go!

No More Wire Hangers!

Gideon and Emma are the same person. Maybe I should be more specific because on this show that little joke could actually turn out to be true (looking at you Zelena and Marian from season four!). The writers are going to some great lengths to draw parallels between Gideon and Emma; it's no small coincidence that Gideon returns to Storybrooke right after his twenty-eighth birthday. Emma, of course, did the same. Both Emma and Gideon had what can only be described as a rough childhood and while those specific circumstances might be different, the emotional trauma behind them is the same. Emma was shuffled around, moving from place to place, never having a proper home or a real family. These experiences left her with feelings of low self-worth, someone undeserving of love and acceptance. It took Henry, Mary Margaret and a belief in herself to really knock down those long standing beliefs. Gideon, unlike Emma, did not migrate from place to place; his stationary existence was an equally hellish one that fueled the same self-loathing. Unable to truly be the hero Gideon read about in his book, he hid behind the Black Fairy's magic and power, grasping at it to assuage his own feelings of low self-worth. The way Gideon clung to the Black Fairy, ready to do her bidding, calling her mother and swallowing lock-stock-and-barrel her lies reminded me of how Emma clung to anyone who would offer her even the any love and affection--Ingrid, Lily, Neal--until it was invariably taken away through varying circumstances. Just like Henry showed up on Emma's doorstep with a woe-begotten face and a sad story, asking Emma to face her past actions, so too did Gideon have to look someone in the eye--a childhood friend he swore to protect--whom he had wronged and own up to his life choices. All of this is nicely rounded out by the fact that Gideon wants to be a Savior, or rather to channel Emma's own unique power into ripping a hole in the fabric of realms so that Mommie Dearest can come through to town. The parallels here are tricky because this is where Gideon and Emma do diverge. While the former wants to be the Savior but it going about it all wrong the other dreams of a life not being the Savior even though she's constantly stepping up to the plate when asked. Gideon is being manipulated by the Black Fairy by way of a ripped heart, I don't think his desire to be a Savior lies solely in that manipulation. Despite turning a blind eye to the pain of the children in the mines and acting as the Black Fairy's henchman, it was obvious that these actions were distasteful to Gideon and that he could still remember the suffering of his childhood. The Black Fairy never quite broke him, even if she does hold his heart. And that is perhaps more like Emma than anything else. Think back to season one; Emma Swan might have been jaded and had a massive chip on her shoulder but some part of her still believed and had hope for things to get better, that she could find her place in this world. If Emma had truly given up all hope, she would have left town the second Henry was back with Regina; she'd have driven off even when she believed Regina did not love Henry. She wouldn't have cared; get back in the bug and forget this experience ever happened. But Emma stayed; she got to know Henry and the town and, moreover, opened herself up to love because some part of her believed it was all still possible. Despite his heartless condition, I think the conversations with Rumple and simply being around Belle are having an affect on Gideon much the same way Henry did to Emma.

At the top of the review, I spoke of dreams and what our characters are dreaming of. This is still another parallel between Emma and Gideon; a dream of normalcy. Gideon didn't hang on to the book Belle sent with him because it's such a compelling story or just because of Belle's nice note inside, but because that book was his only tether to the idea that life could get better, that it could be normal if only he could find his family. That book is Emma's blanket, and her bug, and her swan necklace. It's Gideon's totem that keeps him hoping that he won't be alone for his next birthday. The desire for normalcy and for an end to these stories of villains and heroes is all over the episode and season. Henry is going into trances because his storybook knows that it's the final chapter; Snow lamented at the very beginning of this season that her and Charming's life is one of lather, rinse, repeat and it spurred her to go back to teaching (incrementally, I have to assume, given how little we see her do it and how she's currently spending huge swaths of time asleep). I don't want to read authorial ennui or burnout into the show but never before has it truly felt like the writers were gearing up for "the end." This isn't to say that the writers are sick of their show but that even they know it's time to draw this particular story to a close. Happily ever after has to come eventually, right? Even the Black Fairy, with what little we've seen of her, wants a more normal life, free from her constraints. Yes, she's a villain and that comes with a mad grab for power--and apparently child labor--but if they don't turn her story on its head and reveal that she was made evil but something traumatic, I'll eat Emma's red leather jacket. My point is that the show is trying to tell us something and it's not the usual twaddle about hope and family; I think it's trying to tell us that this story--the one about this weird interconnected family of fairy tale characters--is coming to an end. That doesn't mean that another story can't start--the Sorcerer's House is full of books after all--but that this one in particular is ending and whatever normal means for those characters who have made up this bizarre little tale is coming, sooner than we think.

Miscellaneous Notes on Mother's Little Helper

--Along with all the parallels between Emma and Gideon, the writers are going back to some season one iconic moments like revealing that the Black Fairy created the Dark Curse and that she gave Snow White the magic powder that turns people into bugs.

--I really have no idea why the Black Fairy created the Dark Curse, however. Also are we to believe that the reason she did not cast it was because she does not love anything at all?

--The Black Fairy called Gideon “Dearie.” Nice little inside joke

–“Freedom. Sports car. Big Apple. And Hamilton tickets.” I mean, I would honestly demand the same.

--The Black Fairy has Gideon’s heart. Thank god; a logical, no-nonsense canon compliant answer to why Gideon’s plans and understanding of Saviorhood makes zero sense.

--According to Emma, portals take extreme magic and do not just pop out of thin air. I call massive lies, writers.

--Snow White's hypocrisy is unnerving. In front of Belle, a person who has never wronged her, Snow declares that she'll help Emma kill Gideon because it's mother-daughter bonding. Didn't Snow learn anything from the incident with Mal and the dragon-egg-baby?

--Emma Swan, you have magic. When a giant spider is chasing you, do not run around the house. Poof out!

Monday, April 3, 2017

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (6x15)

I have a confession to make before I review this week's episode "A Wondrous Place;" about thirty minutes into the hour, I stopped--full on stopped--taking notes because I was laughing too hard. Mind you, this was not because anything about this episode was side splittingly and genuinely hilarious but rather because the writing in this Aladdin and Jasmine centric was so illogical, nonsensical and straight up weird that I couldn't take anything that was happening even the tiniest bit seriously. I have disliked episodes before; usually those episodes have something morally offensive in them: a perpetuation of rape culture, a morally dubious plotline, an inconsistency in character that spoils the entire arc of an individual, ect. But, rarely, do episodes of OUAT completely and totally bomb because the writing is so atrocious. Well, congratulations Once Upon a Time; you done did it! Hold on to your sanity cause we're going into the deep end of crazytown. 

What Is Narrative? And Why Does It--What's The Word--Suck?

I'll tell you what--I'm not even going to bother to properly reviewing this episode. There is nothing to be sussed out in between these pages of fluff and filler. Sure, we could sit here and analyze the parallels the show is trying to draw between Jasmine and Hook; both feel guilty over the things they've done in the past to the point where they hide behind their guilt, afraid to jump into love's waiting arms lest it fail to catch them. I guess that's one way of looking at Hook and Jasmine's own internal dilemma but it all falls flat and borderline offensive when we consider that Jasmine's great crime was not marrying a villain, who was duping her in the first place, with aims of stealing her kingdom and ruling over her people and that's Hook's crimes (heck, scratch Hook and add your favorite villain who could have had the same silly parallels drawn--Rumple, Regina, Cora, Pan) involve actual, life ending murder. Hook isn't guilty of being played by someone bigger and stronger than him and failing to stop a conspiratorial plot! He did actual bad things and the idea that the show is trying to draw some sort of emotional parallel between him and Jasmine is frustrating but so inside the wheelhouse of OUAT that you know what? I'm not bothered! No, really. I'm not. It doesn't bother me because there are other, more pressing, horrible things to talk about. So here it is, folks. Instead of a review, which would be hard to read and even harder to write, I'm going to sit here and discuss all the things that don't make a lick of sense in this episode or are just plain dumb. Let's start with the absurd number of plot devices in this show. OUAT has always had a bad rap when it comes to these MacGuffins; every episode or so, another is introduced that is cringe worthy in the extreme. The best MacGuffins usually find a way to upset the previous established logic of the show or to be so blatantly stupid that they defy any sense. This episode we had Kraken's Blood, which can apparently take people from Storybrooke to the Enchanted Forest and back again (because season one was five years ago and nobody cares anymore!). We had a never before seen ring that was housing a lost city unbeknownst to everyone. This one might be my favorite. It does that magical thing MacGuffins often do which is to literally drop into the hands of the person it--this inanimate object--needs to be revealed as the answer to all your questions! How many times did Jasmine talk about the ring, show us the ring, reference the ring in present day and flashback? Of course it was where Agrabah city was hiding! Following this truly wonderful bauble, the show gave us a double whammy--a shellphone that can allow Hook to call (yes, call) Emma across realms. That's not the best bit, though. This shellphone can be interrupted by the Tears of Savior that Gideon just happened to gather from Emma while she was sad-crying in a bar and while he pretended to be the legendary Aesop! Other TV shows, look out! Once Upon a Time is hot on your Emmy-nabbing heels with such rich narrative twists like these.

The silly and overused plot devices may not even be the worst part. After all, OUAT has an extensive history of using a good ol' fashioned MacGuffin to fill in as an easy answer to a seasonal problem. No, there are other points in this week's episode that are equally baffling and weird such as the entirety of the Aladdin, Jasmine, Ariel, and Jafar plot. First off, what was the point of Ariel in this week's episode? Apart from the show wanting to grab all the old favorites one last time, Ariel was just there to be a funny line delivery machine, essentially taking the place of Regina with the core group. So Ariel, having rescued Prince Eric, is living in a secluded "off season tiki hut" like a wayward and homeless teenager, collecting flotsam and jetsam in her bathrobe? Even if Eric's kingdom was destroyed by the Dark Curse (any of the three versions at this point), why aren't the happy couple rebuilding it? Forgetting about Ariel, the real absurdity of this week comes from Aladdin (overbearing and demanding and self-centered) and Jasmine (completely unlikable and pathetic) and the rapid fire change of fortune they experience with Jafar. This is why I confessed to having not taken notes about anything past a certain point because I'm pretty sure Ariel gave Jasmine Jafar's lamp (continuity error: that's not his lamp!) only to have Jafar pop out like a demented jack-in-the-box with a turban the size of a small city, knock everyone but Jasmine out, somehow poof away his genie curse (because no one watched Wonderland!), engage in a bizarre conversation with Jasmine about, I don't know, heroism, before she--in turn--threw some red powder on him and turned him into a screaming staff. Y'know, right before she lip-locked Aladdin and Agrabah grew ten sizes. As far as villains go, Jafar was completely wasted on the parent show which is absolutely a crying shame given how powerful and resonate he was in Wonderland. Go back and watch these final scenes again; it's like a strange and awkward high school production where everyone misses their mark and forgets their lines so they start ab-libing a story that they think makes sense. Are we sure the well known writers in the OUAT room are still writing? Are we sure they haven't passed off responsibility to interns who are working around the clock to pump out 12 more episodes, all while mainlining coffee, Red Bull, and Xanax? Honestly, I'll accept that answer as legitimate since the alternative is that we have to endure seven more episodes like this!

Miscellaneous Notes on A Wondrous Place

--Because I spent the entire review having a bit (lol) of a rant, I'll highlight some of the more positive aspects of this episode.

--Unlike like 95% of Emma’s outfits this year, I actually like her red plaid jacket.

--This episode needed less Jasmine/Jafar/Aladdin nonsense and more drunk Snow making random bets with Vikings.

--“It's are supposedly artisinal. Which I think means STRONG!"

--“Why is this rug flying!” “It’s a carpet. A magic carpet.” “It’s clearly a rug.”

--How did Jafar know about Eric and Ariel, enough to fool Ariel at least?

--“Come on, Princess. How many times are you almost going to kiss me?” Dude, back off. If she doesn’t want to kiss you, then she doesn’t have to kiss you. If she wants to, she will. If she’s torn over if she does or not, give her SPACE. This is not a difficult concept.

--"Didn’t you hear the Captain. We have no Kraken’s Blood!” Really, that line though.

--"Son of a fish!"

Saturday, April 1, 2017

In Which I Review Sleepy Hollow (4x13)

What is the fight against evil really about? It's about freedom. Evil is often talked about in abstracts but when you get down to the nitty gritty, evil is understood as a lack of freedom and lack of choice. Evil can be seen in tyranny and oppression. It's what the colonists fought for against King George and the English; it's what Ichabod, Abbie, Diana, and Molly are fighting for against Moloch, The Hidden One, and Dreyfus. All three major antagonists of Sleepy Hollow had dreams of not just unleashing Hell on Earth, but forcing the peoples of Earth to live under their harsh and unjust subjugation. The concept of freedom is often equally ephemeral but it certainly becomes concrete enough when it is threatened. In this week's episode, "Freedom," Crane and his partners fight to stop a mad tyrant from taking over America. Grab your soul and don't sell it to the devil and let's go! 

The real crux of the problem this week isn't the Four Horseman or even Ichabod's long standing feud with his son, Henry. It's the fact that the main villain, Malcolm Dreyfus, is immortal and cannot be killed by any means that Ichabod and his team have here on earth. The key words there, by the way, are here on earth. Enter: Hell and all its minions. Sleepy Hollow has never shied away from a good journey to the Underworld; both Ichabod and Abbie have had to escape Purgatory and--come to think of it--both had to escape the Catacombs of Death as well. The katabasis, a regular staple on the shows I review it would seem, serves a good narrative purpose in that it reveals information to the hero or heroine of which they were previously unaware and it is usually the jumping off point for the next phase in their journey, defeating the villain. All of this fits comfortably in the this week's episode as Ichabod and Lara--who very much wants to be seen as a separate individual from Molly--travel down to Hell to strike a deal with the Devil. Every TV show pictures Hell differently; some simply add a red filter to their previously established locales, some create an entire new set and feel, and some create a landscape that is equally familiar and foreign. Sleepy Hollow took this last route and I have to say it was effective; both Ichabod and Lara have experienced a very mundane sort of hell. A war zone and an orphanage are both hellish in their own ways and having Hell look differently for each person is a clever move and avoids a lot of the cliches the show could have gone with like fire and brimstone. The information revealed in the katabasis is obviously useful; the Devil is willing to strike a deal with Ichabod because while an Apocalypse would grant him more souls to torment, Dreyfus snaking his way out of a deal irks the Devil more. In return, Ichabod is given the Philosophers Stone which can magically harm Dreyfus and allows a bullet to kill him. It's all neat and orderly and, yes, rather spaghetti-to-the-wall which is in the wheelhouse of this show. The larger issue I'm having this week is not with any plot device but rather the future of the show.

Quite a few threads were left up in the air; Henry is still out there, hating his father and still the avatar of War. Lara left Columbia, officially the new Witness because of some time travel explanation that leaves Molly un-Witnessed. Jenny decides, off screen, to stay and be a part of them team permanently without telegraphing to the audience if this is satisfactory to her; Alex and Jake kiss in the heat of the moment (not that I actually care about these two) and, the biggest cliffhanger of them all, Ichabod sold his soul to the Devil to gain the Stone to kill Dreyfus. I'm not sure if the show is getting renewed--ratings are rather dismal--but if it's not, which I'm sure the writers would have suspected given that this season was a bit of a Hail Mary pass to begin with, then several of these storylines were clumsily executed. What was the point of making a Molly a Witness at all if she was going to serve no purpose as said Witness? The show could have made Lara the new Witness at the start, have her be a woman from the future to contrast Ichabod being a man out of time. What was the point of having Jake swoon over Jenny for several episodes before moving on to a new girl if he and Alex were to kiss and have stars in their eyes? What was the point of Henry coming back to life if he was going to do a rapid fire about face in character just because Ichabod drops the word "freedom" a few key times? The main point of this season of Sleepy Hollow was to prove to me--and the audience at large--that the show deserved to continue to exist. It certainly had moments where I could see its argument but overall it didn't succeed in making its case. These cliffhangers leave me with the impression that if Sleepy Hollow got a fifth season, it would be still another new show, an amalgamation of the previous seasons--a new Witness, Ichabod versus his son, a quirky love story between a tough girl and a sweet guy, and a new approach to procedural over mythology. Being charming only gets you so far; you must also have an aim and the logline "the war of good versus evil" can only be spun out here and there if each season is simply a new threat, a new evil, lather, rinse, repeat. Wars end and progress--definitive progress--must be made. Last year, after Abbie's death, I said I probably wouldn't be back but I here I am, another season finale. If the show returns, I'll be here, hoping that Sleepy Hollow can find its way back to the crazy, surprising, heartfelt, purposeful show I know it wants to be.

Miscellaneous Notes on Freedom

--All season Sleepy Hollow has been making fun of the Hamilton phenomenon. So, naturally, they open with Ichabod and Henry having a duel. I half expected a "10 Duel Commandments" reference to be made.


--The scene in which Ichabod and Lara's journey to Hell was interrupted by a cable technician was classic Sleepy Hollow. I especially enjoyed that having to reschedule his internet hookup to some vague three weeks in the future between the hours of 8am-9pm was "the torments of the damned have already begun."

--If the show does return it can benefit from trimming the excess, meaning specifically Alex and Jake. No offense to their actors but neither one of their characters offers this show anything new or interesting.

--"Is this hatred worth sacrificing your freedom?" I'm always glad when the show works in John Noble but the idea that freedom meant more to Henry than taking down his hated father seemed pretty out of character. He was, after all, more than happy to be Moloch's plaything.

--"I have traveled back from Purgatory, the Catacombs....and New Jersey."

--If this is goodbye, then thank you all for reading. If not, see you next year!

Monday, March 27, 2017

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (6x14)

Perhaps Ms Whitney Houston said it best when she crooned, "The greatest love of all/ Is easy to achieve/ Learning to love yourself/ is the greatest love of all..." Yes, tonight the Evil Queen learned to love herself with a little bit of help from her..."better half" (sorry, that quote was too funny to not use it in full.) The Evil Queen emerged on the scene earlier this year, back and ready to take down Snow White, Prince Charming, and all the dogooders who have vexed her; what we ultimately got was a watered down version of her royal Evilness, focusing more on a concluding chapter in Regina's own internal saga. Self loathing and self hatred have always been a cornerstone in Regina's story; she clung to dark magic because she felt so rejected by those around her and while these feelings in no way diminish or excuse her villainy, they do make the deeds more complex. It's not all good news in this week's episode, "Page 23," however. Grab your damaged and broken heart and let's go!

Queen, Love Thyself! 

A lot of tonight's episode almost goes without saying. Regina, abused, tortured, and tormented by Cora clung to the one thing that made her feel good--Daniel. When he was taken from her, Regina turned to performing acts of darkness and evil in his name--seeking out vengeance against Snow White--because she not only hated herself for her role in Daniel's death but also the person she became. Over the years, Regina hid her self loathing behind her own narrative of being a victim. If pesky little ten year old Snow White hadn't told a secret, Regina would be happy and in love and her life would be grand. It's a nice narrative but it's failing in one regard: evil isn't born, it's made and everyone had a hand to play in Regina's turn to darkness, not the least of whom was Regina herself. Evil is a choice and she chose to go down that dark path because the darkness felt good; it felt right in the wake of Daniel's loss. Self flagellation can be a powerful tool. When reverse-engineered Cupid's Arrow found its way to Regina's closet mirror, it should have registered hard with Regina that her quest to destroy Snow White was really, all this time, a quest to punish herself for choosing evil when there was always another way. Regina still could have had love in her life be it with little Snow White who needed a step mother or even with Robin Hood had she taken that path and walked into the bar that night. Of course, that was not meant to be and in the end Regina wound up with so much more: Henry, her family, and the residents in the town of Storybrooke, who have stopped screaming and running in terror when she enters the room. But most important of all, Regina has learned to love herself, all of herself, not just the bright happy spots, but those that still belong to the darkness. The show's villains often say that they need to be better people, as if the solution is actually to rid themselves of darkness altogether but Regina is a good example of how this isn't true. It's not about getting rid of the darkness; the way to be a better person, to truly change, is to chose to do the right thing and not give into the temptation darkness offers up; the heavy handed symbolism is right in front of us: Regina takes back some darkness and gives some love to the Evil Queen. Do the right thing, learn to love yourself. So, when you know that you should tell your fiance that you murdered her grandfather, don't--instead--try to destroy the evidence of those memories instead of coming clean. Yes, this was a bash against a certain pirate but it's to prove a point. In a lot of ways, Hook has always been like Regina in that he hates a certain part of himself. Killian Jones, naval officer, was upright, noble, and honorable. When Liam (the first one, not the one Hook abandoned after he killed their father) died, Killian lost all those traits and turned into the opposite of everything he had once been and grew to loathe himself for it. Again, this does not excuse the pirate of all this many countless misdeeds, like killing Robert, but Regina and Hook are a study in contrasts this week. Where Regina has learned to love herself and stops herself from giving into another act of villainy--choosing to share her love with the Evil Queen and take on part of the darkness--Hook chooses the wrong path by ignoring all the advice given from Archie and Captain Nemo. Does Hook need to learn to love himself? Yeah, of course. But he also needs to learn to (quite simply) not do rotten things if he wants to be seen as a hero or even just a good guy.

Miscellaneous Notes on Page 23

--Okay, let's get my major criticism out of the way. Yes, major props for vanquishing the Evil Queen through love and self-love at that. However, did this story have to end with the Evil Queen finding romantic love with Robin Hood? Why isn't self love, self forgiveness, and peace enough for right now? The writers constantly put forth the idea that what cures a villain isn't love, but romantic sexual love. It's childish and frankly tedious.

--With that said, Dark OutlawQueen had the chemistry and spark I wish Regular OutlawQueen had had when they met back in Season 3B.

--Somebody might want to point out to Henry that he is sending his mom to a realm where his alter ego is trying to kill the Evil Queen for the murder of Snow White and Prince Charming. Awkward.

--"Couldn’t you use magic to dig this hole?” “I could but where would the fun be in that?”

--Seriously, how do these shears work? They are supposed to separate a person from their destiny, so is the show saying that Regina was always destined to be the Evil Queen because that throws a wrench in my whole analysis. I honestly don’t get this MacGuffin.

--No idea where Gideon is sending Hook but I suspect wherever it is will provide Hook just enough narrative to prove himself to Emma and have himself forgiven.

--I really wish Emma would have some sort of reaction to learning about Hook's murders. Her blase reaction to the body count is really disconcerting. She doesn’t even care about how it affects David, just herself and her relationship with her fiance. Ugh.

--This episode utterly wasted Rose McIver's appearance. It's okay, Liv Moore. You're still my favorite zombie!

--“And now I love myself. And so should you.”

Saturday, March 25, 2017

In Which I Review Sleepy Hollow (4x12)

When push comes to shove, never ever listen to the recently animated and reborn jar of black goo. I have often said it in my Sleepy Hollow reviews but I feel as though it has never been more appropriate than now in this week's episode, "Tomorrow": this show is written by throwing spaghetti at a wall and seeing what sticks. Just to recap we have time travel Molly, demon controlled Dreyfus, Zombie Hessians that are defeated by Greek Fire, the resurrected and much older son of our leading man, and glimpses of a dystopian future that seem eerily similar to our non dramatized present. If this really is the beginning of the final goodbye for Sleepy Hollow, then brava to the writers for going full on balls-to-the-wall crazy and running with the most absurd of plots. And hey, that's not a criticism. This episode was engaging, thoughtful, and actually really enjoyable. The fact that it's legitimately insane is just an added bonus at this point. Grab a bottle of black goo and let's go!

I'm not one hundred percent convinced that there is any higher analysis to be had here this week; granted, I've also thought that there was a lack of higher analysis for about a year and it hasn't stopped me from giving my opinions and thoughts on any passing episode. There are, however, really nice beats that perfectly align with previous emotional beats, the main thrust of it all being teamwork, a staple motif in the spaghetti platter that is Sleepy Hollow (the pasta sauce, if you want to really torture this metaphor). Whether it be Ichabod and Abbie, Ichabod and Diana, Ichabod and Molly, the sisters Mills, Jake and Alex, or any combination thereof, teamwork and ability for different people with various backgrounds, expertise, and views on life to work together to defeat evil has always held the show together. Ichabod couldn't do it on his own; Abbie and Jenny needed each other to move past their traumatic childhoods. Diana needed Ichabod and his presence in Molly's life for her daughter to realize her full potential. There are a lot of pairings-up this week and they all serve to highlight that it is the parts that make the whole. While Diana might think that Ichabod needs a totem in the form of a clothing or a picture, intuitive Molly can see that Diana is a loved one and its through her own mother that the second Witness can reach the first. Molly (or maybe we should call her Lara since Molly is once again her own being) is trying to hide her feelings behind a tough shell, but it's her own mother who gets to the root of the problem Molly has being back in the past; she's an angry scared little girl who lost her mother, her father, and her father figure in one fell swoop and had to rely on whatever came her way, even if it was Malcolm Dreyfus. It's only through Diana's understanding and compassion and letting Molly/Lara talk about those feelings that Molly/Lara is able to reconcile with her internal angst. For Ichabod, it's the presence of his other divine half--the other Witness--that saves him from being swallowed wholly by the Horseman of War. And off in Sleepy Hollow, Alex and Jake get to show how far they've come under Jenny's careful eye as they take out Zombie Hessians (I'm not making that up. Zombie Hessians, guys. Spaghetti meet wall). Even Malcolm and his demon friend Joeb fair better because they are working together; they might lose Ichabod as the Horseman of War but they gain another ally, someone who is eager to team up with those he likes. Welcome back, Henry Parrish (who will always be Walter Bishop to me); Henry isn't just looking for teamwork with Malcom and Joeb--in fact I'd say those two are more of a convenience rather than a sought after team. No, Henry is looking to take his place as the rightful Horseman of War. That's a match made right in the very bowels of Hell and Henry is eager and very willing to make his favorite partnership work. One team will win as the curtain closes on Sleepy Hollow, maybe for the final time.

Miscellaneous Thoughts on Tomorrow 

--In the alternate future Molly/Lara leaves, Jenny is a Resistance fighter. If anyone finds this shocking, you haven't been paying nearly enough attention.

--"The Riders will come." Straight up terrifying and outta the mouth of babes.

--I appreciate that the show references its own past, like finally giving the Horseman of Death his proper name (Abraham von Brunt) and mentioning Katrina's season two time travel spell.

--"Time travel sure does complicate verb tenses."

--"The only thing that matters is that your survived."

--"You and I. We are the Witnesses!" "Yes. We. Are."

Monday, March 20, 2017

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (6x13)

Almost three years ago I blogged Neal Cassidy's death. It was hard and hurtful and it's a TV moment that has stayed with me since he passed quietly in the Storybrooke woods. During that particular blog I discussed what character assassination was and how Neal's reckless devolution into toying with dark magic was antithetical to how his character had been presented for so long--jaded but always cautious and fearful of dark magic because he knew first hand what it could to do someone. I never thought I'd see another moment in which Baelfire's character was under attack and certainly not almost three years after losing him when the show has treated him reverently anytime Nealfire made an appearance. I wish it were possible for me to analyze this episode totally objective, completely devoid of any lingering feelings and emotions over Baelfire and look it through analytical eyes and not subjective human ones. But, alas, I do not posses that ability and I am coming at this episode, "Ill-Boding Patterns," as someone who deeply loved Baelfire and thinks the show just, once again, retroactively shattered their characters for the sake of shiny shiny plot. Hold on to your daggers; it's going to be a bumpy ride. 

Where Does One Get One Of These Memory Potions?

What kind of character was Baelfire? It's hard to pin him down and point out specific traits because of who he grew into; Neal was jaded and lonely and had more abandonment issues than anyone else on the show, perhaps barring Emma. But Baelfire, from what we've seen over the course of several seasons and many flashbacks, was kind, gentle, brave, loving, and had a childlike ability to believe in his papa. That last trait is what comes to mind most often. Even in the face of Rumple's descent down the dark path, Baelfire believed that his papa could turn it all around if he just tried a little bit harder to resist the siren's call of the Dark One's Curse and its dagger. Baelfire was a boy who was willing to give up everything--his home, his way of life, everything and everyone he had ever known--in order to take his Papa to a place where dark magic couldn't affect him. That's the Baelfire we've gotten to know and that's the Baelfire that was lurking just underneath Neal's sardonic grimace and rough exterior. So how do we as an audience rationalize Baelfire's sudden about face a few months before the same child will take a magic bean and open a portal to another world in hopes that his father can be saved? I guess these memory potions are super handy to have around; not only will they make you forget that you ordered the murder of someone but also they clean up your soul so it's all sparkly clean! It's a shame all the villains haven't discovered the wonderful effects of these elixirs. I suppose we should suss out exactly why Baelfire ordered the death of Beowulf at Rumple's hand. It certainly wasn't self-defense; Beowulf was all set to go back to the village and continue to spread his lies about Rumple and his apparent monsterness. It wasn't self preservation; Rumple, the character who never wanted to move away from his village even when Milah begged and pleaded and left to shack up with a pirate, actually told Baelfire that they could just leave town to escape the impending town mob and its persecution of the Stiltskin clan. Baelfire could have let Beowulf walk away, packed a knapsack and moved on with his father who had clearly passed some sort of "light" test when he was willing to let Beowulf leave unscathed. The reason for Bae's sudden deathly command? We must either believe that he's petty and didn't want to give up his home and life, which is pretty antithetical to future events, or he was corrupted by the power of the dagger, which seems equally bizarre given that his name isn't on the dagger and no one else who has ever come into contact with the dagger had the same reaction who wasn't already impure of heart. If you want Beowulf die and reinforce the thesis that Rumple will do anything for his children, a motif picked up strongly in the present day situation, then the narrative path here is clear: have Rumple give into dark magic whilst Beowulf is threatening to Bae. It solidifies what we already know from past flashbacks--Rumple protects Bae at all costs (remember the man turned into a snail and consequently squashed?) and in order to protect his child, Rumple uses that which Bae does not want him to use.

Because the writers so enjoy their parallels, this Baelfire and Rumple situation is picked up with Gideon and both boys' papa in present day Storybrooke. Here we have Rumple trying to do whatever it takes to save his son even if that means darkening his already blackened soul. Rumple willingly taking on more darkness to ensure that Gideon is not further corrupted is completely in line with the Rumple set forth at the beginning of the series; in fact you could have shown the present day events with the flashbacks of "A Desperate Soul" and gotten the point across much more efficiently, effectively, and cohesively instead of the flashbacks we were given (added bonus: Baelfire doesn't undergo character assassination!) Adding to this sense of frustration is the memory potion, AKA: our MacGuffin of the week! I feel like we haven't had one all season so it's nice (read: disappointing) to see it back in action. Does anyone understand the mechanics of a memory potion? I don’t understand how a memory potion affects darkness in one’s soul. Not remembering you’ve done something bad completely takes away the impulse to do bad things? It means your soul is turned bright white again? This seems pretty nonsensical to me. Why not just give all the villains memory potions then! Rumple told Gideon that this incident (with Beowulf) had darkened Bae’s soul. And if a memory potion can make you forget the power of the dagger and the lure of dark magic then why hasn’t Belle drugged Rumple’s morning cup of coffee? All of this is to say that this week's episode served only to trash an already dead character by hurting what had been established in the past without any chance for that character to make any sort of amends or to clarify. We left with a tainted version of Baelfire when leaving him and his story alone would have sufficed immensely.

Miscellaneous Notes on Ill-Boding Patterns 

--Hook gets a lot of credit from me for that introspective and self-aware conversation with Archie. However, 1000 points from House Pirate for not telling Emma about Robert when he had the chance! Talk about souring the proposal.

--"Queen Cobra."

--Zelena and Robin’s team up is hard to process. On the one hand, this isn’t our Robin so he’s not the one Zelena raped. On the other hand, it’s still Robin and it’s hard to see Robin being chummy with Zelena after all the history.

--“It’s just like when you needed the crutch to walk.” A true line, to be sure, but it’s also a bit on the nose. It’s always been perfectly understood as subtext that Rumple traded one crutch for another.

--The Blue Fairy forged Hrunting–a hero sword–but she couldn’t defeat the Dark One’s curse, had no hand in creating Excalibur and has been useless for years. I am so confused on how powerful she actually is!

--"You darkened your soul so our son wouldn't have to."

Sunday, March 19, 2017

In Which I Review Beauty and the Beast (2017 Movie)

When I was five, my mom took me to see Disney's animated classic Beauty and the Beast. Being so young you'd expect that I have few memories of this experiences but it turns out I have quite a few. I remember loving "Be Our Guest;" I remember crying when I thought the Beast died at the end (side note: I still cry during this part whenever I rewatch) and I remember completely and utterly believing that I would someday grow up to be just like Belle. I know I'm not the only one; girls in my generation align themselves with Belle quite frequently. She's smart, ambitious, desperate for a life "out there" and more or less tells the patriarchy to stick it where the sun don't shine. Unlike the older Disney princesses whose hallmarks traits include being good, proper, pretty, but ultimately in need of rescue from a prince, Belle was my first real example of what a strong female could be, someone who drives their own story, makes their own choices, and is every bit as much of the hero as the male prince. Plus, you know, that gold dress is really awesome. In recent years, Disney has been working overtime to take their much beloved animated classics and turn them into real life; some are successful (Cinderella) and some, while visually arresting, fall flat in attempting to bring something new and different to a story that needs updated (The Jungle Book). When the Great Mouse announced that they would tackle Beauty and the Beast, and Harry Potter's Emma Watson would be playing my younger self's icon, it seemed like a recipe for greatness. But is the magic I experienced at the age of five present in this live action film? Grab your teapot, your candlestick, and your clock and let's go! 

General Thoughts

This is a tale as old as time (sorry, lame joke I know. It's low hanging fruit but totally within my reach) and all the classic moments are found embedded in this new version. Where the story differs, though, is in trying to provide more character motivation that isn't necessary in an animated Disney film largely aimed at an extremely young audience. In the animated movie, the Beast is understood to be beastly even from a young age but without any given reason. While it is true that the privileged and the rich can exhibit traits like vanity and arrogance, there is usually something lurking beneath the surface to explain those characteristics. Here, the Beast is given an appropriate backstory (unsurprisingly it involves a dead parent and a less than ideal other parent) which compares and contrasts nicely with Belle's own tragic backstory and rearing under a far more kindly father. In the animated movie the titular Beauty and Beast have little in common except their circumstances of being literally locked up together but here, in this live action movie, the two can bond over their own loneliness. Belle even remarks that her village is as lonely as the Beast's castle. The two are also outcasts and that further bonds them. While Belle, in both the animated and live version, is loudly (and in sing-song style!) told she's odd and out of place, the animated Beast is shown to have a good dose of friendliness with his servants through their own damnation and desire to see the curse broken. In the live version, though, in order to parallel with Belle, the Beast's relationship with Lumiere, Cogsworth and the like is awkward and stilted because the Beast does not know how to interact with these people he's condemned to a life of objecthood. What's even more interesting here is that the various servants feel that they are responsible for the Beast's situation given that they did not save the young prince from his wretched father. This overwhelming guilt fleshes out the servant characters who's only original purpose was to provide Belle a window into their enchanted life and help explain the Beast's internal thoughts when he's incapable of doing so; this in turn helps them to feel more human as opposed to just enchanted objects who sing to you over your dinner.

The other nice throughline in the film is a strong feminist statement about the capability of women in a man's world. This should not be unexpected given that Disney's Belle is one of the first modern princesses who takes action to run her own narrative and is not solely depended upon a man to be the actor in her story. It's not a secret that Belle longs for a life outside of her provincial one but here it's achingly apparent that the patriarchy is hindering Belle's happiness. Gaston has always been a brute but his overbearing personality is all the more seen in this film when he thinks Belle's resistance only makes the prize more worth having. There are moments from the Disney film that are recast to give Belle more agency; for example, in the original film it is Chip who breaks Belle and Maurice out of the cellar but here it is Belle using her hairpin to help pick the lock and aid in the escape. At another time, Belle actually tries to escape her imprisonment at the Beast's castle instead of accepting her fate, which is a departure from the animated film. Likewise, while Belle goes toe to toe and retort for retort with the Beast, she is moreover shown to be his intellectual equal; they may not agree on if Romeo and Juliet is the best Shakespeare play or not, but Belle does not suffer from lack of imagination, independent thought, and understanding found in a more prestigious and male oriented education. There are also smaller moments in which Belle does math, invents the washing machine, and tries to teach a little girl to read despite the schoolmaster disliking women reading immensely. The fact that Belle and the Beast bond over long walks, books, and poetry shows that the her beauty is found within, not just without. She's a fully formed character and not a set of values meant to change the Beast into a man.

What I Liked/Did Not Like

--I need to start with the biggest controversy surrounding the entire film: the character of LeFou. In the animated Disney film, LeFou is the comedic sidekick to Gaston and his only role is to prop up the villain's ego and not be disgruntled over the treatment he receives. It's not a great character but LeFou does serve to show how terrible Gaston truly is--a man who beats up and bullies his best friend isn't a man to write home about. In this new version, however, the movie decided it was time to give LeFou some extra flavoring and so they made him subtly gay. This is the first openly gay character in the Disney universe but it was also made a bigger deal by the producers than is depicted on screen. It wasn't really until the end scene when the film openly showed LeFou as homosexual; until then, however, while it was never explicit, Josh Gad and the writers depicted LeFou in what can only be called overtly cliche homosexual hallmarks. He's flamboyant though you can make the argument it's keeping with a cartoon character. I will say, however, that LeFou was not the spineless twerp he is in the animated film; in this modern version he has a strong conscious and is a voice of reason to Gaston's brutish neanderthal nature.

--This is a visually stunning film. The colors--either natural or garish--are rich and eye-popping and the graphic design is breathtaking. Pay close attention to the costumes in this film. A lot of color themes are worked throughout; in the early story the prince and palace are shown in harsh bright colors, almost unnatural and otherworldly. Belle is rendered in her hallmark blues and natural tones though she stands in contrast to the vulgar townspeople who are in shades not found in nature (though, tellingly, they are found in the Prince's castle before the enchantment). The Prince himself wears his normal blue coat but it slowly changes until he becomes more human and his blues are picked up in Belle's wardrobe.

--Speaking of, the Beasts's final powder blue outfit was delicious and I'd love to own it.

--However, whatever was going on with Belle's iconic blue dress was distracting. Was it tucked into her waist? Is that the design of the dress?

--"Hello. And what is your name?" " a hairbrush."

--The incorporation of some of the original French fairy tale was a really nice touch.

--All the actors did a bang up job but Emma Watson and Dan Stevens did particularly well. However, while I love Emma Thompson generally her depiction of Mrs Potts was a bit too cliche. Mrs. Potts is supposed to be kind and motherly but I was overly distracted by Thompson's over the top cockney accent. Honestly, would it have killed them to get Angela Landsbury back?

--It does bother me that the library scene was not recreated exactly as it is in the animated film but the continuing motif of being intellectually compatible and bonding over the library books made up for it.

--Between his career defining work on Legion and this wonderfully nuanced and careful portrayal of the Beast, I sort of fell a little in love with Dan Stevens.

--All the classic songs are here and done with aplomb, though "Be Our Guest" was noticeably slowed down. This is perhaps made up by the soaring solo performance by the Beast as Belle leaves the castle; it gave me honest to goodness shivers.

Final Grade and Thoughts: A-

The changes made serve the story well but are not so frequent as to distract Disney fans who came to relive some early 1990s nostalgia. The themes that made the animated movie so strong are here aplenty ready for new young girls to grasp on to.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

In Which I Review Sleepy Hollow (4x11)

The mythology of Sleepy Hollow has always been deep, developed and, above all else, insane. When your show centers on a man coming back to life, the Horseman of the Apocalypse, and George Washington secretly leading a society of spies that attempt to stop the spread of evil, how could it be anything but deeply strange? However you have to give the show its due diligence when it manages to go still deeper four years after the initial pilot episode. Because one secret society was not enough this week's episode, "The Way of the Gun," introduced a cadet branch of the Masonic Order who sought to transform the world through the Four Horseman. Round and round we go, until we come back home. While much has changed on Sleepy Hollow since that beginning point, it's nice to know that this show hasn't completely forgotten from whence it came. If this is the end, let's go back to where it all began: the Horseman, the Apocalypse, and the coming of unrelenting evil. 

At this point, Sleepy Hollow reads a bit like a wanted advertisement: "Wanted: One Horseman of War; needs to cause chaos, exhibit malevolent traits, and does not necessarily need to get along with others. Will work in tandem with three other powerful beings who seek to destroy the world and create a new order. All applicants must submit their resume to Malcolm Dreyfus, internet billionaire and all around psycho." The clock is ticking down and in order for Malcolm Dreyfus to bring about his plans of worldly dominance, one more Horseman of the Apocalypse is required, specifically War.  However you have to question the intelligence of both Ichabod and Diana when they put their trust in a perfect stranger who shows up, robs the Archives, and clearly knows too much about all the supernatural goings on--which is why making Lara an aged up version of Molly was, admittedly, sorta brilliant. This whole time I've been complaining that Molly was too off to one the side; as a Witness, her role needed to be front and center, alongside Ichabod Crane but the show refused to make Molly anything other than a scared little girl who hid under her bed and let the adults handle the problem. Diana felt more like the Witness instead of Molly, in other words. The fact that this child-Witness grows up with our main villain as a father figure, in a future timeline, and becomes one of the reasons that Ichabod turns into the Horseman of War was a twist I did not see coming and I need to applaud the writers for it. It brings Molly into the action the only that would have been acceptable given that time travel has long been established as possible in this world. It's also strangely poetic. Two seasons ago, Ichabod struggled to save his own son, Henry, who was turned into the Horseman of War by the demonic version of Dreyfus (seriously, Molocoh and Malcolm would get on like a house on fire); now, in an effort to save his pseudo-daughter Molly, Ichabod becomes War. Again, wheels within wheels and circles within circles. With just a few episodes to go, it's no longer about saving just the world. It's about saving Ichabod Crane.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Way of the Gun

--I demand that for every child's play henceforth Ichabod Crane be in attendance.

--The perimeter alarms didn't go off until Lara/Molly was in the tunnels, but not when she literally stole a book off a shelf.

--The fight between Lara/Molly and Jenny was really well executed but also extra meaty once Lara's identity is revealed.

--So Ichabod isn't going to be War forever, right? That would be nonsense. Paging Henry Parrish!

--As of right now Sleepy Hollow has not been renewed and it's unlikely it will be given the poor ratings. There are two episodes to go before I can reflect on if this season was a success.

Monday, March 13, 2017

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (6x12)

Hey remember last half of the season when the writers decided that maybe Charming's father hadn't died in a drunken wagon accident but instead something nefarious had occurred? And then remember how they dropped that story like a proverbial hot potato for the rest of the arc? Turns out, the story was going to come back around just when I stopped even remotely caring about it. That's lucky, I guess. In this week's episode, "Murder Most Foul," David goes looking for answers about his father's death and we are treated to a rather nice throughline about fathers and sons, fathers trying to fix their families, and the weight of heroism on a non-perfect being. However, in many ways this episode also shows the worst inclinations of the writers and how they can't leave well enough alone. It's a strong episode but it results in a mixed bag of feelings. Grab your lucky coin and let's go!

Fathers and the Sons Who Screw Them Up

The fact that Once Upon a Time likes to explore parental relationships is nothing new. After all, this show is largely built on a series of parents and their children trying to navigate a world of villains, heroes and all the in-between facets; whenever possible, the writers throw in a mother or father (blood, bond, or figure) into the mix and watch our core characters scurry to understand their own personal narratives in light of said parents. David's life, then, is no different from Robert's or Rumple's, the two other fathers in this episode who set out to do right by their children. It's an unusual combination of characters, to be sure but there is something quaint in the universality of their stories. Robert we've never met and have only heard of in passing in one episode (and that detailed his drunken demise); Rumple's history with his son is long and sordid and covered in many episodes over the course of the years. Charming isn't exactly the odd man out because he was, in his own way, looking for his child, Emma, without knowing it but what sets Charming apart is that he's supposed to be noble, not a wretch. It's that complicated white knight trope back to bite him on his steel plated armor behind. This complication last arose in season five when Charming and Arthur (before we really knew what kind of shady figure the King of Camelot was) discussed how they aren't sure if they are heroes because their deeds are largely exaggerated or not particularly valiant; Charming tellingly said that he didn't want to be remembered only as the guy who woke a princess with a kiss. The search to save one's family, as is the case in Charming's current day situation, would be a song worthy of a bard but it's complicated by the fact that it is selfishly motivated. Charming isn't just out to discover the truth, but he's out to prove something to himself--that he can save his family and that being Prince Charming, with all the trope hallmarks that come with that lofty title, is in fact enough. Where the episode draws a nice parallel is with Rumple and Robert. Both are looking for their own sons. Rumple lost Baelfire ages ago and has spent every moment of every day trying to find a way to see his son again, if only to apologize. It's noble and heartwarming but it's also selfishly motivated; it's not about what is best for Baelfire (Neal, famously, doesn't want to even see Rumple let alone hear his excuses) but what Rumple needs. Robert, similarly, is trying to locate James, his lost child, and save him from King George. But again, this isn't exactly pure; in trying to save James and fix his own family, Robert is trying to fix himself from the mistake he made in selling James to the King. Tellingly, Robert spells it out to James's and David's mother, Ruth: "fixing this broken family, this is how I fix myself." Rumple believes Baelfire can cure the sadness and darkness within; Charming thinks finding his father's killer and avenging him will give him clarity as Prince Charming to save Emma and unite his family against Gideon. These three men have something else in common, though: they are all dead wrong. Fixing oneself comes from within, something Archie and David tell Hook during the pirate's own angst this week. You have to listen to your conscience and change who you are. Rumple needed to let go of magic and the darkness in order to be truly united with Baelfire. Robert needed to give up the drinking and provide a good home for Ruth and David. And David needs to realize that being Prince Charming isn't enough and never can be because Prince Charming is an idea, not an actual person. Prince Charming must be just and moral and righteous all the time; he must win all his battles, defeat his foes, and save the maidens/towns/kingdoms all while maintaining his heroic integrity. No one can do that, certainly not a flawed, arrogant, somewhat inept farmer. Wanting to fix your broken family is absolutely a laudable thing but true change comes from within.

There is, however, a flip side to this narrative and that's the revelation that it was not King George who killed Robert but rather Captain Hook. Why. Just...why? This is what I mean by this episode showcasing the writers worst instincts. For the writing staff, the reveal that it was Captain Hook, in all his pirate glory, who killed Robert coming moments after Hook was given permission to ask Emma to marry him was just too juicy to pass up. It's also rather horrible. I was prepared to let George be the killer because while it would have been predictable, the overall story of Robert’s journey to find his lost son and bring him home was charming (no pun intended) and heartwarming and matched nicely with the likes of Rumple/Neal and present day Charming and Emma. But no. The writers have to go and have a big tweetable twist like Hook killing Robert and then hoping to propose to Emma. It’s the worst inclination to not let sleeping dogs lie but constantly stir up more drama that ultimately leads nowhere. Does anyone actually think Emma isn’t going to forgive Hook and claim “it’s in the past and we all do things we regret.” Does anyone actually think she’ll take a stand and say that Hook not only murdered her grandfather but robbed an innocent man of his life? A life Hook could have easily saved (and still taken the gold in the name of piracy?). No, of course not. She’ll handwave it away in the name of love and say yes to the ring and being Mrs. Jolly Roger. And I’m not saying Captain Swan is the only couple that has these truly unnecessary roadblocks without any payoff (Rumbelle is also guilty) but it’s so draining to watch this sort of unnecessary drama when the story was actually good as is.

Miscellaneous Notes on Murder Most Foul

--It was nice to see Snow White back in action this episode. Also, the advice she gives to Regina was lovely and pays off big time at the end of the episode.

--So Robin totally stole the Snake Evil Queen, right? He's way more suited to that version of Regina than our non-Evil Queen Regina.

--"Demon box."

--“Someday, may we all be reunited with our sons.” That hurt right in the chest area. Also, Bobby was totally on point as the Dark One this week; haven’t seen a performance like that from him in awhile.

--“Better be safe?” I normally find very little amusing about Hook, but watching him and Charming try to chem-lab their way to magic was fairly hilarious.

--Emma’s floral blouse-thingy in the opening Storybrooke scene was hideous. Maybe the most hideous thing she’s ever worn.

--Pleasure Island has modern carnival rides for kids living in the medieval-esque time period. Didn’t they all wonder what a light bulb was?

--I really wish we had gotten to see some of Emma and Henry's canoe adventure. Operation: Don't Rock The Boat.