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."


  1. To be fair to Hook, he was tipsy at the moment and Emma (after having gone through his personal belongings, WTF Emma) pretty much pushed him into a proposal situation. Colin said that Hook should have still told her, but since he wasn't in the best state of mind due to the alcohol, his lowered inhibitions ended up working against him rather than for him. It's almost like a dark comedy moment, especially with Hook's "...Crap!" look of realization while hugging Emma.

    Speaking of Hook, it's actually kind of nice that some Hook fans and Neal fans are uniting under common ground right now - both characters just got nonsensical murderous retcons put upon them for the same of "dramaaaa!"

    1. Yes, how exactly did Emma just happen to go through Hook's "sea chest" (I believe that is what she called it?) She might as well have just said, "I was rifling through your sock drawer because I was suspicious of you but, hey, all good cause no secrets, no walls, so you can totally pop the question now!"