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!

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