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.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

In Which I Review Sleepy Hollow (4x10)

What are you hungry for?Perhaps your answer is pizza but I was speaking in a more metaphorical manner. What do you crave? I personally desire a show with a cohesive narrative, interesting characters, and an overarching and involved mythology. It's a tall order but not impossible. This week's episode, "Insatiable," is all about cravings, the sort that feel like they can never be fulfilled. Sleepy Hollow produces a bunch of Tantaluss' and asks us to watch as the water continually recedes back and back and back. Whether those cravings are safety, catching the bad guy, harmony, love, a place to belong, or the flesh of the human sitting next to you on the Subway, Sleepy Hollow wants us to know that sometimes, you can't what you most want. Grab your steak knife and let's go!

First, a bit of a confession. I am finding it more and more difficult to review Sleepy Hollow. Lately my reviews read (to me) as lackluster, short, and without any real analysis. It's not lack of understanding but instead it comes from a rather by-the-book narrative that employs the same motifs, themes, and symbols it has always used. The monsters are less effective, the chemistry between the parties is less compelling, and the overall narrative is less gripping. This isn't to say that there aren't things to discuss but rather discussing them seems a chore instead of a pleasure. If season four is a reboot (which is absolutely is) then the reboot is failing to captivate its audience and provide reason to tune in week after week. With that out of the way, this episode did have a solid theme (if a bit rote) that was demonstrated across many of our characters. Several of our characters are desiring something that seems just out of reach; a hairsbreadth away from being attainable, these desires can drive people mad. Imagine seeing your goal, knowing it is right in front of you and not being able to reach it. For Alex, it's another person. Obviously Sleepy Hollow has decided that Alex's other trait--besides scientific skeptic--is liking Jake. It's not the strongest storyline and I wish Sleepy Hollow could have figured out a way to make Alex more likable and approachable without saddling her with an unrequited love story, but at least her story fits with the theme of the week. Jake, for his part, is oblivious, but that's Jake's other hallmark trait, isn't it? While he might be bookish and intelligent, he's unwise in the ways of people and picking up on interpersonal signs. Diana's story this week is both understandable but also grating (which might be another theme across the board this week). Of course Diana wants to protect her daughter; of course Molly is her first concern but her zealous "get Dreyfus at all costs" mentality costs her team. As Ichabod says, "we must always stay on the same page." Diana can't beat Dreyfus without the team and as much as she desires ending the threat to her daughter, it doesn't do to ignore the proper way to go about these matters, as a team with Ichabod, Jenny, and the two superfluous others. It's Jenny's story this week that has the most impact and that's largely thanks to our emotional connection to this Miss Mills. We already know that Jenny is a wanderer; she roams hither and tither and settling down in Sleepy Hollow was only because of Abbie and the mission there. Without those two things Miss Jenny is left adrift, craving her old life, a life of adventure in far off places, never having to settle down and get involved in the mundane life. Watching Jenny struggle between these two options--the settled and the floating--is far more compelling than the others this week because I'm invested in Jenny's decision. The show already lost one Mills; can it really lose another? The other question that naturally occurs with that one is whether or not Ichabod can survive the loss of another Mills. With all the desiring going on this week, it's rather telling that Ichabod has a full life. He has a team, a home, a mission, and is recovering from Abbie's loss. For Ichabod, "D.C. is shaping up to be home." If the reboot is sincerely working for anyone, it's Ichabod.

Miscellaneous Notes on Insatiable 

--Another point of criticism, but I remember when the monsters of the week had interesting and almost human backstories instead of just being drawn from obscure mythologies.

--A woman goes nuts and starts chowing down on passersby. This is witnessed by several D.C. residents yet is not commented upon or makes any sort of news. I know that D.C. is a dog-eat-dog world but surely even the most Frank Underwood-esque of politicians would note when one of their own eats another person.

--Dreyfus is creating new Horseman. That's actually quite cool given the past mythology of the show. Might Henry Parrish show back up? After all, he's the only Horseman of War I'd ever want to see.

--"Actually I'd go with smashing success."

--"I was a master at Rubik's Cube." "I have no idea what you just said"


Monday, March 6, 2017

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (6x11)

All stories, at their core, are about transformation. This isn't really a startling revelation but it is is certainly axiomatic. Once Upon a Time has had this transformative thesis as one of its centers for a long time, along with hope and the importance of finding one's community. The narrative of the show transforms our characters from one of despair to one of hope. Emma has transformed from a friendless orphan to a Savior with an extended blood and non-blood kinship. Regina has morphed from an innocent to a villain to an anti-hero struggling for the light. Whether the story is a positive one or one of breaking bad, all stories are about change. Stagnation does not for riveting narration make. The spring premiere episode, "Tougher Than The Rest," is all about characters making subtle and not so subtle decisions that change their destiny, their fate, and their story. These attempts at agency may cause the story to take a turn, to transform, into something that is decidedly a poorer fate but our OUAT characters would argue that it's making the choice that is the real difference. The show itself has transformed several times, most notably from a family driven story in which the villains were nuanced but still villains to a romantic driven story that centers on the villains and their psychological makeup while casting the former heroes as morally grey. It is possible that as we stare down the final 11 episodes of this season that OUAT is trying once again to transform itself. Into what, I don't know. But maybe it's making that change that will be the difference. Grab your lucky swan and let's go!

A Swan By Any Other Name....

The tale of the Ugly Duckling was never one of my favorites; I always felt sad for the "unfortunate" creature who was so unloved because of how his physical appearance was perceived and could only be self actualized once it had been welcomed into a community of like minded souls. There are two lines of thought when it comes to this fairy tale, both of which are mentioned by young Emma and teenage August--because when you're living on the street, there's nothing like a good philosophical discussion about the nature of self worth and belief. In Emma's young mind, the duckling had always been a swan but it couldn't see its own inner (and outer) beauty because of the various hardships of its sad life. It absolutely makes sense that this is Emma's perspective. Her life, at the tender age of 10 or 11, has been nothing but woe upon woe. Her birth family abandoned her by the side of the road; she grew up in miserable foster homes, feeling unloved, unworthy, and unwanted. If there is a beautiful swan hiding behind Emma, she can't see it because everything in life is solidifying her own worthlessness. Teenage August--who apparently kept such careful tabs on Emma that he could find her hiding under an overpass in the middle of a mega American city?--has a bit different perspective. When we revisit August as a character there is usually one hallmark characteristic: his belief in magic, hope, and transformation. August believed, even back in season one, that Emma could become the Savior if she, in turn, just believed as August did. Belief is at the root of any good Pinocchio story; a father who wanted a child so badly that a puppet came to life and a puppet who wanted to be real so badly that he eventually became such. August's take on the Ugly Duckling reflects his own story and experiences. For August the Ugly Duckling needed to believe, and never stop believing, that it was a swan before it could become one. It was the power of belief that changed the Duckling into a Swan. This suggests that the Ugly Duckling really was ugly and alone--that society's perception of it was spot on. It was only because the duckling never stopped believing that it could be better that it eventually became better. Let's pause here and discuss the actual tale of the Ugly Duckling as recounted by Hans Christan Andersen. The story is pretty sad (as all Andersen tales are) but what I think is important here is that it is Emma's take on the story that is more true to the original. The Ducking, through a life of solitude, does not realize that it has always been a swan. It's only when it finds a pack of swans that accept the duckling for what it has always been that the duckling finds its happily ever after. That's Emma's story, is it not? Emma was always a Savior, was always Emma Swan, just not fully self-actualized because she had no community; we've seen evidence of her magical abilities, not to mention her compassion and her need to help those in need. Emma has never not been Emma Swan, Mythical Savior, but it took finding her community to recognize it. It took Henry's love, Mary Margaret's friendship, Storybrooke's acceptance and Emma's own quiet desire for belonging to see herself as the who she truly was. I'm not sure that August's story is necessarily bad--and as I pointed out, it fits with August's own experiences about the nature of belief. What I find tedious and a bit disconcerting is that it is August's perspective that is given more weight and credence. Indeed, Emma only becomes "Emma Swan" because of August.  Emma adopts the surname Swan because August encourages her to never stop believing that she could eventually become the Swan in the story, implying that Emma was the Ugly Duckling to start which isn't strictly true. It's also yet another example of Emma's story being moved down the chess board because of a man, not because of Emma's own agency. I would have loved if Emma took the last name Swan because of her perspective on the story of the Ugly Duckling--that she was always a Swan, but needed to find her community. It fits with Emma's overall story even if young Emma didn't know how strongly the fairy tale would match her own.

Sure. Let's Confuse the Mythology Even More 

There are a few other key transformations in this episode from Robin looking to change his destiny by coming back to Storybrooke with Regina to Rumple openly admitting that he doesn't want his son to kill Emma because he recognizes that such deeds are a cry for help against unimaginable pain which, for the first time in forever, pushes Rumple back to his transformative phase that he was undergoing before everything went to hell. But the other biggest transformation outside of Emma Swan is that of Gideon (Gold?). Gideon's story is his never ending belief that he can be a hero and a Savior if he just takes his destiny into his own hands, a bit of a neat parallel with Emma who is likewise trying to take her own destiny into her own hands. It's interesting that Emma's perspective on the Ugly Duckling would work well for Gideon. He's likely already a hero if we can define heroism as survival against a villain (which I think we can) and working hard to end corruption and evil. Gideon could also be a savior if we define savior not in terms of mythology but in terms of action. If Gideon were to save or rescue the realm of the Black Fairy from dear old grandmama then would he not already be a savior? Regina was called a savior figure in season 3B because she saved Storybrooke from Zelena, so the same applies to Gideon. Emma's perspective on the Ugly Duckling works with Gideon but Gideon takes quite a different perspective. Is anyone else super confused on the nature of Savior magic and mythology after Gideon spills the beans on his plan? In what part of the OUAT universe does Saviorhood work like the Dark One's Curse? It never has; Emma is a Savior because she's the product of the truest love and because of Rumple's machinations with the Dark Curse. Aladdin is a Savior for some vague handwave-y reason involving being a thief with a heart of gold and a "diamond in the rough" (whatever that means). Emma's Saviorhood and Aladdin's Saviorhood has little in common but it does have that neither of them had to kill another Savior in order to gain their status as Savior. Gideon is motivated by his own horror of a childhood and some sort of innate goodness that fuels his desire to save others from the Black Fairy--which in and of itself is interesting and a good narrative jumping off point--but confusing the Savior mythology (even more than it already is after the introduction of Aladdin) calls Gideon's character into question. You could theorize that Gideon's belief that killing the Savior would make him a Savior came from the Black Fairy but if Gideon has shrugged off all of the fairy's other lessons (like hatred and evil) then why would he follow this one? I hope there is more to the story and that under no circumstance Saviorhood works the way Gideon believes but until such time Gideon's narrative is much like other tales in OUAT: too much, too fast, and disregarding what has been shown or stated in the past.

Miscellaneous Notes on Tougher Than The Rest

--The Wish Realm drives me absolutely bonkers. It's fun but with no substance. It raises a lot of questions (Hook came back from Neverland when? Why? Did he give up his quest for revenge against Rumple? How do August and Emma even know each other?).

--The final conversation between Rumple and Belle was a breath of fresh air after all the angst and drama of last season. They seem to finally understand that they must work together to save their son. I also deeply appreciate Rumple's perspective on Gideon's plan. He recognizes how addicting darkness can be and how it's really just a cry for help.

--Old, fat, and drunk Hook is really the only good kind of Hook.

--"A tree?" "A magic tree." "Oh, well, forgive me."

--So Robin's soul traveled to a "not real" alternate-wish realm and inhabited a new version of Robin? Does that make any sense?

--"I am fated to die. And I will die. But not today."

--Belle died of starvation in the Wish Realm and all that's left of her are her bones. It's like the writers couldn't think of anything interesting for her character in this new world of infinite possibilities.

--You know Gideon is going to be trouble because he broke the clock tower.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

In Which I Review Sleepy Hollow (4x9)

Was it a smart move to make the new Witness a child? Several reviews ago I discussed how having Molly be a child, and quite a young child at that, was a staggering difference between her and the Witness who came before, Abbie. The latter had an independence and ferocity of spirit that was not directly tied to her Witnesshood but to being an adult. Molly lacks that; so far, when danger rears its ugly head, Molly has spirited away, hidding out of sight, waiting for the adults of Ichabod and Diana to save the day. It does little to prove that Molly has the same cosmic significance as Ichabod or even Abbie. Where the show used to be focused on two partners, it can feel that this is now the Ichabod Crane show. In this week's episode, "Child's Play,"  Molly is put front and center and we are asked to consider her status as a child as an asset and a strength, not a hindrance. Grab your favorite childhood toy and let's go!

There are perks to being a kid, not the least of which is an active imagination and the ability to create worlds and figures by simply believing you can. The best authors and artists likely had over active imaginations as children. As with adulthood, however, if there are perks, there are also pitfalls. Puberty isn't exactly fun; school is draining; you have little independence, no money, and are controlled by those older than you. Perhaps more obviously, parents have almost total control over your existence. The feelings toward one's parents can range from love and devotion (for providing the necessities of life) and anger and resentment (for the control, the restrictions, and the cloying clingyness). Molly, at the gentle age of 11, is going through all this plus dealing with a world that is suddenly full of monsters, demons, and the supernatural. Not to mention the whole cosmic destiny thing. Getting through the sixth grade is hard enough without wondering if you favorite imaginary friend is going to come to life and attack your mom. Molly's id, Mr. Stitch, has no motivation outside of what Molly's deep subconscious is feeding it--that dynamic of love and respect vs anger and resentment. The little girl loves her mother Diana so much that she can't bear to voice the feelings she's keeping locked up inside. Molly is scared and feels alone; she is worried about real monsters coming to get her in the middle of the night and not knowing if her father is really her dad or a shapeshifting wolf. But because Molly loves her mother so much she can't tell Diana all these feelings because that's a burden to her mother. But being told constantly that everything is okay is equally draining when the world keeps demonstrating how it's not actually fine. Dreyfus is incredibly creepy when he shows up exactly where Molly is like some sort of dark wizard, but he's got a point when he manages to pinpoint Molly's unhappiness. Mr. Stitch allows Molly to act out this unhappiness without actually acting out (the downside being that Mr. Stitch can hurt people). So is Molly's innocence and childhood a plus? It certainly can be; Molly has the ability to imagine things the adults cannot; Molly's kindness and childlike acceptance are another bonus and when push came to shove, Molly beat the monster of the week through acknowledging and giving weight to her own feelings, one of the vital moves one must go through on the path to becoming self-actualized. Abbie needed to face the three white trees and Moloch; Molly needed to face Mr. Stitch. This was the first big step in allowing Molly on to the team in a more prominent feature. She went into the belly of the whale and emerged victorious. How very Witness of young Molly Thomas.

Miscellaneous Notes on Child's Play

--Dreyfus's vision of the future includes being close friends, possibly even a father figure, with Molly, with intimate dinners on the White House lawn. I have no idea what to make of that.

--Pizza, according to Ichabod, is Neapolitan Flat Bread and Chinese is a far better fare.

--Mr. Stitch is very much like the Golem of season one that was attached to Ichabod's son, Henry. Nice callback.

--"Battling against the supernatural made us sisters again."

--I continue to not care about Alex and Jake, though the latter had some funny moments this week.

--"We must rescue ourselves."