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.


  1. Are we going to talk about how Regina STILL keeps the hearts of her "enemies" (read: innocent victims) in her vault, outright addresses this and in the same breath claims "I've changed"? The treatment of Regina, Rumple, Hook and Zelena on this show is ludicrous, they all ought to be depowered and joining Lady Tremaine in garbage duty.

    1. I made note of that as well. It's rather horrifying that Regina hasn't given those hearts back and that she could, possibly, still have tons of people at her beck and call.

      I also thought Zelena was particularly irksome this episode, even though she only had one scene. She raped (real) Robin in order to get pregnant to drive a wedge between Robin and Regina and has the gall to make those sorts of demands without having a full set of facts.