Saturday, November 11, 2017

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (7x6)

This show certainly does love its parallels, doesn't it? And no, that's not a criticism. In a show that is heavily built around archetypes like Evil Queens, Princesses, good and evil, it's natural that certain characters are going to gel together and feel like their stories are the same beats again and again. Of course Drizella and Regina get on like a house on fire; once upon a time, Regina was Drizella, a scared noble girl cowering before her overpowering and domineering mother who refused to let her daughter live her own life. It makes for a richer narrative to have Regina, older, wiser, and certainly seasoned in the art of coming back from the black, coach and try to help the younger girl down a path that won't lead to a dark heart. Regina has seen that path; she's walked it and she knows how lonely and repressive it can be. The sort of parallels on display in this week's episode "Wake Up Call" not only help inform Drizella, a new character that we're still parsing out, but also show just how far Regina Mills has come in the years since she strolled into Emma's nursery and watched, gleefully, as a world was ripped apart. 

Teachers and Students 

I need to hand it to Once Upon a Time; it's certainly making quite an eleventh-hour resurgence. Just when I thought nothing about this show could ever interest me again or induce anything either than boredom or revulsion, it has done the unthinkable: it made me sit up, really pay attention, and want more. Sometimes rebooting a show can breathe new life into it and I don't know if it's the new characters like Drizella and Alice, or if it's the fact that what I once found so terrible and tedious is not only gone but completely forgotten about, or if it's a lovely combination of both but, despite a few headscratching set backs, season seven is proving to be more intriguing than I originally thought. I rarely discuss plot in these reviews because, first, by and large I am unconcerned with simply spitting back the plot spaghetti of this weekly TV show and, second, OUAT usually dishes up something worth discussing that interests me from a feminist, political, social, or mythological standpoint. But I think I need to pause here and praise the show for delivering a plot that does feel familiar (Dark Curse, memory loss, ect) but is being spun in a new way. I've said this before both in relation to OUAT and in relation to other pieces of media but you need not always tell me a new story; you can always tell me an old story well. This is helped quite a bit by Adalaide Kane who is doing exceptionally well as Drizella. There's a pathos to her portrayal of young Drizella that is aided by the fact that the writers smartly paired her next to Lana Parilla, who is still doing amazing work as Regina. A character like Drizella, with her background, wouldn't come across as successfully as it does if it weren't for the six year history the audience has had with Regina. We instantly understand Drizella, the temptations she must be feeling, the suffering she's endured because Regina understands it and we understand Regina. Drizella doesn't need to be fully fleshed out over the course of several seasons because the character in her closest proximity has done all that work beforehand. OUAT understands this by reinforcing the past in its current narrative; Regina brings up her own horrifying upbringing and, just to really soccer punch the audience with understanding, Rumple randomly strolls into the middle of this little lesson and offers Regina some advice in the guise of her old teacher, reminding her of some facts Regina avoided. Wheels within wheels and it all works, even if Drizella's education with Regina and her turn to the darkside literally takes place over the course of one afternoon. We've seen what twists and turns it took for Rumple and Regina (and to less of an extent, Cora) to turn down their own dark paths. This doesn't save OUAT from a some measure of criticism, naturally, because Drizella's plot to kill the random prince in order to darken her own heart so that Lady Treamaine couldn't steal it to implant into Anastasia is...strange to say the least. Why not just kill Lady Tremaine? Or why not just end Anastasia's "life" (if you can call it that). Instead, Drizella goes to extraordinary lengths to not only cast the Dark Curse (can there be any doubt that she cast it?) but to ensure that even Regina wouldn't want to break it because of something sinister that we likely won't figure out for another few weeks. While the Prince plot was silly, the other questions once again bring us back to our parallels and to the character in closest proximity to Drizella: Regina. I used to ask the same questions of Regina and Snow; why didn't Regina just kill Snow, why go through the trouble of casting a Dark Curse to separate Snow and Charming? The answer is easy, if heartbreaking: because when you've been tortured and mistreated it's easy to get caught up in that pattern and want to turn that torture and mistreatment on the guilty parties instead of either forgiving them or taking a more direct approach. Don't forget, Regina's first successful attempt at hurting Snow was a poisoned apple that put Snow in a death-like sleep, but did not kill her.

Ivy's (sorry, Drizella) endgame is tough to riddle out, however. Surely she did not intend to end up her mother's lackey in this new world. Is that just the price Drizella pays for magic? I believe that Drizella wants Victoria to be awake but to still be under the effects of the curse; in other words Victoria believes she is the only person awake and is in control of Hyperion Heights only by Drizella's largess and design. Whereas, back in the Enchanted Forest, Drizella was powerless and Tremaine had all the power, here Victoria only has the allusion of control and power but Drizella is really pulling all the strings. But what made me sit up and want more this week was in trying to parse out what Drizella's endgame is. Regina didn't quite have one either when she cast the curse; she just wanted to to break up Snow and Charming's happily ever after and live her idea of happy ever after on her own terms. Ivy, by making sure the Witch in the tower is not only present in Hyperion Heights but awake and able to do at least marginal magic, must have some sort of end result in mind. An end result important enough to ensure that no one--should they awaken from the Curse--even try to break said Curse. Would Henry die if Regina tried to wake him up? Would Lucy? What terrible thing could possibly happen? These questions are plot focused but it's the first time in a long time when OUAT has made me want to question the plot in order to figure it out, not merely to criticize it. We are nearing the end of this first arc and I am hoping--against my better judgement--that the writers are going to deliver something that will keep this feeling of wanting more alive. It's nice to be reminded of what that feels like.

Miscellaneous Notes on Wake Up Call

--Bella Note has stray dogs hanging around it. Classic, old school, OUAT charm!

--Regina's black outfit in the Enchanted Forest might be my favorite thing she's ever worn.

--“Things are always more fun when you start in the middle.”

--Rogers’s storyline still feels a bit disconnected right now. I’m sure it’ll sync up but in an episode like this, it feels out of left field. Prediction, for the record: his daughter is Anastasia and Lady Tremaine was originally Rapunzel, hence why she keeps her hair short and why she thinks fear is the greatest weapon of all.

--I think OUAT is trying just a bit too hard with Henry and Jacinda. Holding a radio over his head is cheesy but also fairly cringe worthy for a guy who wasn't even alive in the 80s. There is very little spark between these two and I think it might come down to the lack of chemistry between the actors. I will say, though, that Andrew J. West's little victory pumps were adorable.

--I really need Alice and Drizella in a scene together soon because I have a feeling it would be dynamic as hell.

--Rumple refusing the wheelchair and kicking it as he walked by: somethings never change.

--Two hour episode next week and then we have two weeks off!

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