Saturday, March 3, 2018

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (7x11)

Welcome to the beginning of the end. Writing about this series, knowing full well that we've reached its conclusion, is a brand new feeling. With the exception of my beloved Mad Men, I've never blogged a show until the end all while knowing ahead of time that the end was coming (but comparing the narrative neatness of Mad Men to the whatever-they-want-to-call it of OUAT is like comparing a dog to a tree; both exist on planet Earth and are made of molecules and that is all). This week's episode "Secret Garden" picks up right where we left off three months ago and the story involving a coven of witches led by Mother Gothel will carry us through to the end. It's a shame, then, that the episode is as poor as its predecessors. It was hard for me to pinpoint exactly what was missing in the first half of the season but it's still missing now that we've rejoined out regularly scheduled program and because of that it's still difficult to discuss this show outside of what must read as full on criticism. But we've only got eleven to go so we might as well just hunker down and do it. 

Daughters and Mothers Who Love Them

In case you missed, the big neon colored theme that keeps hitting you upside the head in this week's episode is mothers and daughters. There's the good if flawed relationship of Zelena and daughter Robin (Robyn? I know it's really spelled with the "i" but the "y" makes it a nice way to distinguish from her father). There's the flawed but on-the-mend relationship of Rapunzel and Drizella and there's the highly toxic, no good, really horrible mother/daughter duo of Mother Gothel and her newest victim, Anastasia. These are beats the show has hit on before with Emma and Snow, Regina and Snow, and Regina/Zelena and Cora. If the writers can find a way to make their plot about mothers and daughters, they do it; it, of course, is rather problematic given that the main writers and show runners are male and have idealized or romanticized motherhood as a path to salvation and redemption for any fallen female. This sanctification of motherhood has been a tricky subject for a long while on OUAT because of the antiquated and, frankly, misogynistic overtones given to any mothers. That is, of course, not to say that motherhood isn't a powerful force or a mother's love isn't almost otherworldly at times--my own mother would, no doubt, step in front of a train for me--but the writers only write about motherhood in black and white terms. When a woman falls from grace and becomes evil, it's usually at the rejection of her own mother or rejection of her child in pursuit of her own goals. When it's time for that woman to come back into the heavenly fold and be redeemed, it's through the love she bears her child. Relationships are far more complicated that evil equals bad parent and good equals good parent. Zelena and Robyn's relationship for instance should be filled with all sort of drama; not only is Zelena being too cautious in letting her daughter try to discover herself through magic (and we can pause here to discuss the overt metaphor of magic as Robyn's own eventual bisexuality/lesbianism) but Robyn's mere conception should be a subject that weighs heavily between the pair. Zelena raped Robin Hood, Robyn's father, and the fact that this doesn't create any sort of tension or unease between the two during their mother/daughter fallout in the Enchanted Forest is a waste of good, meaty, character building story. But that is also of apiece with how the writers have crafted this season. There is potential for good story in Rapunzel and Drizella; a mother who was so busy looking after the one daughter she thought loved her, that she failed to notice that she was shoving away her other daughter who also loved her. That's an interesting dynamic to explore; one cannot deny the complexity in a young Drizella trying to navigate her own familial situation in which her mother, Rapunzel, abandoned her--though not strictly by her own choice--only to return once Drizella had grown to love her step mother. Likewise, Rapunzel's post-traumatic stress of being held captive for years on end must be compounded by the notion that she was a captive of a different sort, the first wife who was no longer welcome into the family. Instead, the writers skipped over this human story and waited until the last second to have Rapunzel realize that she still loved Drizella, only moments before she decided to offer herself up as a sacrifice. Again, a bad woman is made right by way of motherhood. Rapunzel's death felt wholly unearned and only occurred after Drizella told her mother a rather sad story about who really lit the lanterns at night (or something, I readily admit that I lost focus during most of Rapunzel's scenes, so lacking in screen presence is Anwar in this role).

The only other mother relationship on display this week is that of Mother Gothel and Anastasia and there is no higher analysis to be done here. I mean, at one point Gothel actually puts Anastasia in a closet and then wipes her memory of almost draining the life from her. Gothel's motherhood motif is further complicated by the fact that she is Alice's true mother but seems not to care one jot about her wayward daughter. Because the writers like their parallels, I'm sure we'll witness Gothel's heroic attempt to right herself by way of Alice before the season (series) is over. But the larger point of this is the tiredness that OUAT is showing. If the narrative beats are the same, so is the conversation that I'm having with the show. This isn't the first time I've tried to point out the old fashioned approach to motherhood; nor, I'm sure will it be the last. The cracks of the show have been on display for a good long while but never before has the show felt so old. That is not a criticism, honest. Seven years is more than a lot of shows get and when it was good, it was exceptional. Now, however, we're staring down the last eleven episodes ever and there's an immense relief that washes over me, knowing that the end is in sight. Perhaps that is mean or cruel and I don't want to take away anyone's experience or sadness at the loss of this program, but for this tired blogger--who's cracks are also beginning to show--it's finally time to close this book and end the fairy tale.

Miscellaneous Notes on Secret Garden

--I know I’m a broken record but what is up with this nonsense timeline? How is Robyn a late teen in SB “years ago.” I legitimately do not understand.

--“You’re a believer Henry, even if you don’t know it."

--Nook! LOL that’s a good one.

--Love the Haunted Mansion shout out with Madame Leota, incorporating the voice over of the ride. Plus the Disney-sized wink that Memento Mori is the name of the gift shop outside of the Haunted Mansion ride!

--The fact that I’m relieved at minimal Jacinda in this episode is a sign of how terrible the writing/acting of this character have been.

--I don’t know how I feel about them waking up Lucy this early. The threat was never real (please, they’d never kill Lucy nor Henry) but now it feels like a waste of a good story.

--The high heel hit in just the right spot on the rope lever on the first try. *rolls eyes* Honestly, with an arm like that, Victoria should have played in the major leagues.

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