Saturday, April 7, 2018

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (7x15 and 7x16)

This is a test. Quick: what are three characteristics of Jack/Nick? Remember, a plot point is not a trait so answering with "Lucy's fake curse dad" isn't a legitimate response. If you can think of one, color me impressed because there is next to nothing that stands out about Jack/Nick. He's not brave, bold, shy, motivated by love or ambition, and is mostly a blank slate that is easily forgotten about the second he's off screen and not interacting with our main cast. This is why making Nick something as plot-important as the Candy Killer (what a horrible name) is a bizarre writing choice. Creating a serial killer can take two routes in television. There's a procedural route in which the killer is only around for an hour of TV and is discussed and analyzed by the other characters in the show; this route is acceptable for episodic TV without larger arcs that only need to churn out single episodes every week with no connection to each other. Second is a more Dexter-like route in which the killer is front and center; the tale is told through his eyes; this lets the audience get to know the killer on his terms and to understand his story as the killer wants to tell it. Both are perfectly acceptable but OUAT is trying for a messy mix of the two and it doesn't work as well. Nick is a procedural killer in that he doesn't get to tell his own story--what we know of his fairy tale character, Hansel, is told to us by his sister, Gretel (which is fairly grievous tv sin, telling not showing)--but the show is also trying to connect Nick to the larger story, to make him a vital part of the mythology but hasn't bothered to develop this now key player. These facts make last week's episode "Sisterhood" and this week's episode "Breadcrumbs" an anticlimactic mess. Why should I care about the big murderer reveal when the writers haven't made me care about or understand the killer? 

Gingerbread Boy

The above complaints about Nick/Jack/Hansel/The Candy Killer (geez, that's an unfortunate amount of identities) can also be applied to other characters in this seventh season. Take, for instance, Anastasia a young witch who was apparently super powerful, super important both mythologically --as a Guardian, but perhaps not THE Guardian--and emotionally as she was connected to two lead characters--Rapunzel and Drizella--but only briefly appeared before being whisked away back home before any weight could be given to her as a character. Likewise, other characters who have graced the story with their presence with more than five seconds of screen time feel wholly underdeveloped and lacking in anything significant. Sabine and Jacinda are both dull and loosely sketched, broadly falling into the female hero category without exploring what that really means to them individually. Henry, Regina and Rumple get a free pass because we've been with them for seven years and we understand them in a way that you would expect after so long together. I will grant that in some cases, the writers are doing a lot of great work in the character department as with Tilly/Alice and Margot/Robin. But when it comes to any characters that are serving in a more plot related manner, the substance is seriously lacking. All of this makes it really hard to actually discuss the episodes on a week to week basis. I'm honestly not sure what the overarching plot of this season is; we have no real hint about Mother Gothel's endgame; Jack/Nick seems wholly dissociated from whatever Gothel's plan is as he is only concerned with his own personal revenge and we're making neither head nor stride toward breaking the curse or finding the real Guardian. If OUAT were a car, we're stuck in neutral, spinning our wheels, hoping someone comes along and pushes us out of the muck. Perhaps worse than all this spinning, though, is the acknowledgment that I don't know how the writers fix this situation with only six episodes to go. There are so many plot threads loosely twisting in the wind right now that if they were to cut them, we would cry foul at the abruptness but to have them spin out and on for another long stretch of time is akin to torture when there are far more pressing and interesting narrative points to sell, like Alice and Robin or reuniting Henry with his family. The writers might be damned if they do and damned if they don't but it's the audience that suffers. This is extremely critical of me, I know, but to end on a positive note: Mad Archer (apparently that's the ship name the fans have given to Alice and Robin...) is a pretty big hit. Sweet, tender, funny, and just a touch mad, the entire season should have been reworked to make them the focus over Henry and Jacinda because that's where the real heart of this year lies. That's a metaphorical rabbit I'd certainly follow down a long and winding hole. But, with OUAT, as we near the end, it is what it is and we're just here to be mildly entertained each week while counting down until curtain call.

Miscellaneous Notes on Sisterhood and Breadcrumbs

--“I’ve got a fresh can of pepper spray we can try together.”

--"I'm here to join your little sewing circle." Ivy gets the best lines and I'm sorry the writers couldn't have figured out a way to keep her around for longer.

--Rumple is still Rumple. He still knows everyone and everything. There’s no explanation for why Rumple knows that Facilier wants his dagger or even who Facilier is except that it’s Rumple. And because they’ve built that into his storyline over 6 yrs, I accept it.

--Gretel making the log explode into candy gumdrops was incredibly stupid but it absolutely made me break into a smile.

--“Every time I do good, it just brings me closer to her [Belle].”

--I don't buy, for one second, the supposed true love romance between Henry and Jacinda. There's something so dull about them. I normally don't harp on the actors and their abilities on OUAT--it must be hard to sell material as lackluster as OUAT can be--but my god was Dania Rameriz woefully miscast in this role.

--“I definitely smell like pork. Let’s never do that again.”

--“Margot with a T” “Targo?

--“I think you’re a lot like your namesake. He was my favorite character.” The writers have butchered the Henry/Rumple grandson/grandpa dynamic over the years but every now and then it shines through and you’re reminded that when Rumple looks at Henry, he must see Baelfire.

--“Do you know how to sail?” “The other you taught me!” Actually, Henry, Neal taught you first but okay.

--“How do you set a trap for Hansel? Look for breadcrumbs?” *camera flashes to Jack’s burn scars.* Subtly is such a lost art form on this show.

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