Saturday, November 18, 2017

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (7x7 and 7x8)

Reveals on TV shows can be tricky; you have to lay enough groundwork for the answer to seem obvious and yet not so devoid of mystery that it's not satisfactory, emotionally and from the broader narrative standpoint. What these reveals should not be is a big "gotcha" moment where you upend everything the audience thought they knew, just for the sake of upending everything. And, perhaps most importantly, the reveal shouldn't involve a dumber than dumb MacGuffun who's only purpose is to cause the big reveal and upend said expectation. Then again, this is OUAT so of course there is a dumber than dumb MacGuffin and a twist that no one saw coming because none of that ground work was lain. And that's just in the first hour, folks! In this two-for-one spectacular, "Eloise Gardener" and "Pretty in Blue" OUAT does what it does best: use ridiculous magical items to fuel a big twistastic reveal while dispensing with some trite and pithy mottos about family and belief. Yeah, that's not really a compliment. 

Lady Gardens 

I really don't want to walk back what I said last week about the show finding its sweet spot and slowly becoming a more watchable hour of TV. I stand by that with regards to last week's episode. But I forgot the cardinal rule of OUAT that I wrote for myself at least three seasons ago--take it one week at a time, do not let the good week foreshadow the next week's episode. For example, I could never--in a thousand years--anticipate that a magical flower, that apparently grows babies after one night of passion, would play such an integral part in the big Eloise Gardener reveal. How could I? Such a useless, silly, nonsensical MacGuffin could only come from the minds of writers who are lazy and want easy answers instead of trying to write something more compelling that weaves heart and magic into one. To be fair, that is what OUAT does a lot--they introduce an object that will play no role in anything outside of one event and lets that object be the reason the story progresses. Over the years we've had necklaces, mushrooms, tasers, wands, gauntlets, and even some coconuts. We were bound to get a magic baby growing flower eventually not just because of the writers penchant for terrible MacGuffins but also because the writers have proven that they don't care for the realities of human gestation. Zelena had a magically sped up pregnancy, gave birth, and then ran around in high heels all in the course of an hour; Belle's son magically became a baby again, and way way back in Season Three the writers suggested that Snow was pregnant with Baby Snowflake for about a year. Honestly, the fact that a magically flower-grown baby hasn't happened yet is the real surprise. But I'll get off this magic flower shtick because while the reveal of who Rogers' daughter is--Alice--and with whom--Mother Gothel--is dumb (dumb dumb dumb) the first hour of OUAT did provide some interesting commentary into Hook's character, which is really what we're here for.

At the top of the hour, Weaver gives Rogers some advice: "An obsession can be a dangerous thing." Hook's first starting point as a character has to be his obsession with seeking revenge on Rumple. It's how he was introduced back in season two; before he was a love interest or a would be hero or even before he was Wish Realm Hook, his main storyline was of a man obsessed with taking down his sworn enemy, the Crocodile. Over the course of the show, we've come to realize that Hook's obsessive nature doesn't just extend to the Dark One. He was obsessed with "good form" when he was an upright sailor still going by the name of Killian Jones. After turning pirate, he had more than a passing fancy for rum, using the drink like a crutch (something even his Wish Realm Cursed persona is afflicted by, drinking himself silly the night Eloise Gardener went missing). And, while this might not apply to Wish Realm Hook, our Hook had a bit of an unhealthy obsession with various objects of his affection, Milah and Emma. Milah and her memory was the sole reason for his hundred/hundred and fifty year quest for blood and Hook has given a few eyebrow raising pronouncements about his love for Emma that border on the unhealthy and creepy over the years (not to dive back into that dreadful mess which is now, blessedly, behind us). But still, obsession is one of the traits at the heart of Captain Hook and it carries over into his almost manic search for Eloise Gardener, a women he feels responsible for, keeping her diary on him like it's a talisman and a reminder of his past. Rogers, deep in contemplation over why this case matters to him so much, even confesses that, despite never having met the poor girl, he really feels that Eloise is family, he knows her that well. And of course the catch here is that Eloise--Alice (also called Tilly because lets load up on all the names, shall we?)--really is family; she's his unbeknownst-to-him daughter (born of a magical flower over the course of one night! Yes, I'm still harping on that). But this obsession speaks to something that gets picked up in the second hour of the two episodes: family always finds each other, a motto that is as big a hallmark to OUAT as Regina's killer wardrobe, Rumple's dearies, and Emma's red leather jacket. Obsession can be a dangerous thing; when Rogers thinks that Eloise is dead, it drives him to the bottle and to a point of despair. But the writers are also making a commentary on how obsession over things less vile than alcohol--like family--can motivate a person to working for the good. After all, would "Eloise" (who is really not Eloise) still have been rescued and Victoria locked up if it weren't for Rogers' obsessive tracking of the diary? And while the former of those two results isn't great, the latter is.

This dovetails somewhat nicely into the second episode which was, overall, a much poorer episode (even though there were no baby making flowers! I'll be over it soon, promise). What I disliked about this episode so much was that while it was set up to be an Alice centered episode that explored what happened between her papa (cringe!) and herself--namely a never before heard of curse--it very rapidly turned into a story about Ella and the members of her family that have almost no bearing on this story. Yes, there's the motto of family will always find each other and there's the element of obsession in Ella's father and mother and their twin heart necklaces, but instead of showing us this backstory, the writers have Ella deliver all of this through exposition and--while I'm not trying to be cruel--the actress playing Ella isn't stellar at this. She has enough trouble acting emotions with her fellow actors but put a long winded, complicated, magic laden, story in her mouth and it turns into a dull reading. It also speaks to something that has been wrong on OUAT for a long time, telling instead of showing. The goal here is to bolster Ella's character and make her more likable to the audience; backstory usually helps with that and on OUAT it's not only nice, it's mandatory for every character to have heaps and heaps of backstory. But when the writers are simply telling me the backstory and not letting me live in the moment by seeing it first hand, my feelings toward the character in question will likely remain unchanged. To cap this lackluster character foray off, the writers turned to their old bag of tricks and brought out another MacGuffin to drive relationships instead of letting it happen organically. Henry and Ella have true love because a necklace told them so! Instead of Ella learning to open her heart and be open to love and to Henry by learning that he'd never hurt her the way Ella's father was hurt by her mother, the necklace told her she should take a chance and be with Henry. Ye gods that's lazy writing. While it's perfectly okay for a MacGuffin like that to appear after the characters are deeply in love (think the necklaces Cyrus and Alice wore in the original OUAT in Wonderland) they are there to symbolize that which has already transpired, namely the whole falling in love thing! In this case, the necklaces do not solidify the love that is already present but inform the two characters that they are in love instead of discovering it themselves. It's a shame because obviously Henry and Ella are being set up to the next iconic love story, complete with an unnecessary love triangle. I had just hoped that the writers would do better by the couple they are setting the flag of their new show upon. Ah, hope. I knew better!

Miscellaneous Notes on Eloise Gardener and Pretty In Blue 

--Alice selling stolen watches under a bridge seems exactly like something Alice would do.

--Should I even bother mentioning the problem of sexually untimid Rapunzel turning out to be Evil Mother Gothel?

--Giant Garden Gnome is super stupid but also super hilarious.

--–I normally really like Roni’s outfits but that polka dot necktie thingy is tragic.

--“I tend not to trust people who tie me up and drug me.”

--Henry is listening to "Bizarre Love Triangle" when he meets Nick in the bar. Incredibly on the nose there, OUAT.

--–“As much as I want to go to Storybrooke to get help, we can’t do that and they can’t know we’re here!” Because…..? Oh right. The whole cast quit a year ago.

--“Oh that’s cute. You think I’m going to villain monologue for you? Please.” Ivy is the best.

No comments:

Post a Comment