Monday, May 8, 2017

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (6x20)

Musical episodes are tricky. If music and random bouts of singing are not built into the DNA of the show, a musical can feel like a shark jump moment or so totally disconnected from the universe of the show that it becomes cringe worthy. There are some non-musical shows that make singing and dancing work for them. Buffy the Vampire Slayer's "Once More With Feeling" is, hands down, one of the best episodes of TV you'll ever see. Grey's Anatomy's own musical episode, "The Song Beneath The Song," is an example of a failed musical venture that didn't make sense. What set those two apart? Quite a bit like genre for a start--I can easily believe that a demon comes to Sunnydale and curses everyone to sing\--but also that Buffy's musical was heavy with development. The episode did not stop the flow of the story but actually pushed everything forward with some very big, very deep moments of clarity for multiple characters plus it utilized darker themes the lend themselves to song anyway, like depression, isolation, and abuse. I think it's fair to say that OUAT's own musical venture, "The Song In Your Heart," tried to be more in line with Buffy's than with Grey's; it's an Emma-centric episode that pushed its leading lady into the next stage of her on-going journey by way of personal revelation. This isn't only to sing the praises (pun!) of this episode because it was rather sloppy and (here's that word again) haphazard in its execution of deploying the same tired themes and story beats for the characters. Also, frankly it has a bit of a misogynistic overtone. In other words, it's an OUAT episode. But with singing. Warm up your own vocal chords and let's go!

Sing Me A Song

Let's face it: this episode was always going to be a tough one for me to blog. I'm not exactly CaptainSwan's biggest fan (lolz). But, I was an Emma Swan fan from the beginning and while I believe her character has undergone a radical and negative transformation over the past three years into someone I don't particularly like, I do believe the show can be at its best when it focuses on Emma's journey into both being a true Savior and into selfhood. With that said, I was delighted that this episode did not turn into a full on, no holds bar, CaptainSwan love-fest but instead was really about Emma, her parents, and her son. It's where the show began and it's still the sweet spot for OUAT. I do want to start with some negative aspects of this episode first before dovetailing into the more positive moments of the show so let's consider why this final hurrah for Emma's character is happening on the day of her wedding. The culmination of this week's plot is Emma realizing that she's never been alone, that she's carried her parents, and everyone's, magical "song" in her heart; she does this with Henry's help. All of this is in the wheelhouse of OUAT's own specific brand of family relations. The issue happens that directly following this moment is Emma's wedding, in fact the scene transitions from Emma's triumph to Hook standing at the alter as if the final moment of selfhood is marriage and that for Emma to truly complete her journey she has to be unified with another person, while wearing a (truly ugly) white gown. It's fairy heternormative and misogynistic that a woman's big moment is a wedding; the question to ask is did this episode and this moment in Emma's journey need a wedding to feel complete? No; it didn't. Emma's emotional growth would still have happened if the wedding had not. So, you might be asking yourself, why not have the wedding if the emotional growth would happen regardless, the answer is that the wedding adds a sour note to that emotional journey.

Please understand that I'm not suggesting that Hook and Emma shouldn't be married (though, long time readers will know my feelings on that subject well). I am suggesting that the wedding should have happened before Emma's big moment of self-actualization so that it does not feel like the proverbial cherry on top of the Emma-cake. Emma's big moment is realizing that she's never truly been alone and that moment against the Black Fairy, singing her heart out and breaking the spell on her whole family was powerful. It was an incredibly powerful visual (true story: I cried a lot during that number). I know I've been hard on Emma these last few years but right then, right there, that's the Emma I loved back in seasons 1 and 2. Emma is important because she's Emma Swan; she is full of the indestructible love from everyone in her life. She's not just someone's mother or someone's daughter or someone's wife. This has noting to do with walls or not being open to love; it has to do with Emma looking in the mirror and liking herself, seeing herself as a healthy, happy person. This is why the wedding is such a disconnect here in this episode! The show is promoting a rather conservative viewpoint (no woman is complete until she has a man!) that is perfectly encapsulated by Emma's wedding dress which is not only plain hideous but, because it's an exact replica of Grace Kelly's 1950s wedding dress when she married Prince Rainer of Monaco, it also pushes Emma back into a bygone era when women were defined by their marital status. If you're curious about what kind of outfits Emma used to be dressed in, and get a rough idea of how Emma's wedding dress should have been imagined, I'd suggest looking at the season two promotional photos of Emma in her father's armor but made female. Emma putting on a white 1950s dress and marrying a man should not receive a Super Special Episode and, let's face it, a large part of this episode is about that event. There's some retconish (and highly enjoyable) plot salad about magic songs in the heart or something but this episode is specifically designed to get Emma and the audience the alter. And that's my biggest issue with this week's episode. The culmination of Emma's character journey when she realizes that she matters, when she truly accepts herself as Emma Swan with all her faults should get the Super Special Episode. This episode should end with Emma singing her solo, driving back the Black Fairy, and standing shoulder to shoulder with her entire family. But tacking on the wedding makes Emma's journey all about this particular matrimonial final moment.

Since I've riffed on some of the social commentary within this episode, let's move on to what did work this week. First, how about a huge round of applause for the cast who gave this musical their all and looked like they were having the time of their lives? That sort of enthusiasm is infectious and I would be lying if I said I wasn't smiling through a lot of this cheesy escapade into singing and dancing. There are a lot of good moments like Hook's pirate rock song which is cheeky and clever and done exceptionally well by actor Colin O'Donoghue. Lana Parrilla was born to play the over the top crazy that is the Evil Queen hamming it up in song and dance and even the tiny musical moments--like Jiminy Cricket getting an insect solo--were heart warming and endearing. A musical episode needs to be entertaining; it needs to not be solely bogged down in the muck and misery of what the characters are going through with the arc villain. You need Tara singing to Willow in the sun and a guy celebrating the fact that the dry cleaners got the mustard out. "The Song In Your Heart" has those moments in spades so that even though the flashback is the exact same kind of flashback we've seen so many times before--The Evil Queen getting ready to destroy Snowing; Snowing realizing that their love is enough to save the day someday--it felt different; it felt fresher and more invigorated, like the actors weren't simply just going through the same tired motions. It's cheesy and it's campy but it's perfectly inline with the over the top type of drama and character OUAT does best. Everyone really stood out this week and, yes, good performances can absolutely override some questionable social themes. There are times when shaking up the status quo is a good thing and while I wouldn't recommend that OUAT ever try this format again, this was a proper shake up that gets us ready for the final two episodes of this season.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Song In Your Heart

--For the sake of my own sanity, I am going to skip over even thinking about discussing yet another memory wipe.

--Emma's wedding dress isn't the only unfortunate outfit here. Putting Hook in velvet takes the tux to a cheap place and makes him look like a black hole. Also, Snow? Get rid of whatever you're wearing...quickly.

--Favorite song? Probably the opening number "Powerful Magic;" Hook's pirate rock song "Revenge Is Gonna Be Mine," and Emma's solo "Emma's Theme"

--Least favorite song? "The Charmings vs The Evil Queen" because it's just a rehash of two previous songs. Something new there would have worked better.

--"And my! Do I sound...good!"

--Oh, hey. The Black Fairy cast the Dark Curse and apparently Emma now has to do what it once took her a year to do in two hours. Cool.

--Speaking of, does anyone really understand the motivations of the Black Fairy? Why is she even doing any of this? Simply because she's dark and Emma's light?

--"I'm sorry, dearie. Do you think the Dark One sings? I'd rather scratch my eyes out with a rusty fork."

--A big ol' whatever to the nonsense that is Hook and Rumple reigniting their feud.

--So was Belle not even invited to the wedding? Even after she went through the trouble of finding Snow's wedding dress for Emma? You know for a season that focuses heavily on her son being controlled by the most evil being in all of existence, she's had shockingly little to do or say.

--Two to go! See you all next week for the season six finale!


  1. "A big ol' whatever to the nonsense that is Hook and Rumple reigniting their feud."

    I want Hook and Rumple to drop all pretenses and finally embrace what their feud is REALLY all about - the next time they meet, Rumple needs to pull his dagger on Hook, Hook needs to pull his hook on Rumple, and then they need to start arguing over which one is bigger. Let's not kid ourselves any longer, that's always been the crux of the matter - insecure masculinity.

  2. That's it exactly. Exactly. And good lord is it annoying.