Sunday, October 22, 2017

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (7x3)

Once Upon a Time has always been concerned with defining heroism. Emma's growing heroism, Regina's turn toward it, and Snow's unwavering belief in it have been part of the center of the show. After all, every good story needs a hero. Both Jacinda and Henry are struggling this week to be the heroes Lucy wants them to be. Henry doesn't believe in Lucy's fanciful stories and Jacinda doesn't have enough conviction in standing up for what she knows is right to follow the heroic path. It makes saving a town--or even just a garden--a little more than difficult. Sometimes, though, what a hero really needs is another hero to remind them that being such a powerful force for good isn't a walk in the park; it means making hard choices and learning to live with them. You can't burn the petition or murder the kind cobbler, in other words. This week's episode, "The Garden of Forking Paths," wants to remind us that Jacinda might be on her way to herohood but first and foremost, she's human and a mother, just trying to be with her kid. 

Seeds of Discontent 

I suppose a story about resistance isn't totally apropos of nothing. Not in this day and age, not in this American political climate. The word "resist" and "resistance" have been bandied about so much over the past year that they've become a definitive touchstone of said year. When people speak of 2017, the word resistance will be woven into that narrative. Good fantasy, science fiction, or any sort of story, incorporates real life drama and issues and finds a way to speak some sort of truth about those touchy topics. Star Trek is probably the best example of this, from racism to sexism to ageism to elitism and all the -isms it used the genre of science fiction to parse out those topics. By using the term resistance so freely in this episode, OUAT finds itself in a precarious place. It has to find a way to both show and tell the resistance of Ella, Tiana and the others against Lady Tremaine and Victoria, while not making this resistance seem foolhardy, silly, or unimportant. The resistance here in the real world is too important for too many people and to see it reduced to a vague plot point only brought up as an afterthought is not a good direction to go in. That being said, it's also not necessary to have an over the top bad guy (or gal) who has no depth or emotion or character (the real resistance already has one of those sitting in the very real White House...) which is why it's nice that the show has done the smart thing and given their audience a nice, big, juicy bone to gnaw on instead of spinning their proverbial wheels on Lady Tremaine. I'll pause here to mention that making Lady Tremaine's motivation for everything--the Curse, if she cast it, her hatred of Ella, and her general bitchy demeanor--relate back to motherhood is wearisome. The show has done mothers to death from Emma, to Regina, to Snow, to Belle, and even to Zelena and those are only just the main cast of the past six years. Motherhood is one of those tricky themes that never quite lands as well as the writers want it to; sure, it had several bright and shining moments in season one but those moments became few and far between over the years as motherhood became the only way to redeem a lady villain. OUAT often sees women in two extremes, the much maligned Madonna or Whore trope. If you're a good person or on your way to becoming a good person, it's because you found a child/had a child/are learning to make up for lost time with your child. If you're still in villain mode, then you've likely severed all ties with your children and it is your children who are trying to save you. Lady Tremaine/Victoris has been like a classic fairy tale villain--mysterious but ultimately broadly drawn--until you learn that she's trying to save her fourteen year old daughter who's being kept "alive" inside a magical coffin. Too often, OUAT makes motherhood out to be the ultimate saving redemption for any and all women, which is more than just a little bit backwards, at the very least, and overtly misogynistic at the worst.

However, with that said, while I don't particularly like this particular return to form (a return to the mothership, if I might be so bold....) I am glad that some sort of motivation and character color has been added to Victoria who, thus far, has been one note and not a good note at that, in her Mayor Mills knock off clothing and personality. The real meat on this bone, though, goes to Ella who opens up more as we learn that, like a certain lead princess of seasons past, she too feels responsible for Victoria's turn toward villainy. We don't know what happened to Anastasia when she was fourteen (she did not, apparently, run away with Will to Wonderland, marry a King, and then have one hell of a redemption arc--not that I'm bitter about the original show continuing to ignore their spinoff...) but we do know that by having Ella blame herself, the relationship and story between Ella and Tremaine is made complicated which usually makes for more enjoyable TV. For example, this complicated relationship brings Ella face to face with what it means to be a hero: does she kill an innocent like Henry or the nice shoe maker in order to assuage her guilt over Anastasia and make a mea culpa to Tremaine? Or does she forgive herself for whatever happened as a child and protect the innocents from the wrath of Tremaine? Just like in Hyperion Heights, Jacinda is put to the test: does she choose the easy way out of being with her child in a swagtastic new apartment or does she stick with her convictions of what is right and what is wrong and save the Community Garden. Heroes are born in those quiet moments, these every day moments. It doesn't have to be when facing down a dragon or saving the world from Chaos Incarnate. It can just be in deciding fight for what is right. That is really what the resistance is--slay the dragon, if you can, be most importantly...just fight.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Garden of Forking Paths

--Henry in his muddy red coat looks a lot like the coats Neal and Emma have worn in other episodes.

--Regina Mills: the character growth the show has mostly succeeded on. I loved watching her tell Ella that sacrificing one person for a whole cause doesn’t make it “right” and later telling Cinderella to forgive herself.

--Emma Booth’s character is very interesting! I get strong Rapunzel/Witch vibes from her and Victoria's final scene and I think Victoria is in the Rapunzel role, even though that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Sorta blows the hole in my running theory that Rapunzel is Wish Realm Hook's daughter, though?

--“The key to bringing down Victoria Belfry is a bearclaw!”

--A shocking number of people who did not care about the upkeep of the community garden are lined up to sign the petition to save it….

--How does one leave a letter inside a well….?

--UGH, the lampshade moment of Lucy’s “hey this is exactly like when you and Archie went down into the mines in Storybrooke! Remember that!?”

--"And here you a bar..."

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