Saturday, April 21, 2018

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (7x18)

The mythology of Once Upon a Time has never been on the sturdiest of grounds. Every year, when the writers need to add some spice to their story, they throw in a twist or a new aspect of their previously established mythos. Suddenly, there can be two Dark Ones or suddenly a new magical Macguffin can solve the current problems even if said MacGuffin has never before appeared or been mentioned (this last one is the go-to solution for the writers). Changes in mythology don't have to be terrible, though. There are times when sudden abrupt lefts can work if the actors can sell the material and if the writers can make the complicated mythology secondary to the character beats. For instance, in this week's episode "The Guardian," the Dark One mythology take a bit of a beating (we've never ever heard of a Guardian before this season despite Rumple being the Dark One since the inception of the entire show) but the relationship and dynamic between Rumple and Alice overshadowed the mythology and sold it. This is more than an entertaining episode; it's a rock solid character showcase for one of OUAT's longest and most intricately drawn characters. Well done, show. Well done. 

Heroism Looks Good On You

Sacrifice has always been a narrative thread spun into Rumple's story. Granted, those threads have been complicated by other characteristics like cowardice and hunger for power. Rumple took the dagger to save Baelfire from going to war, but it was also because he desperately wanted power for himself; his situation in life making it impossible for him to have basic control over life and death decisions. Rumple may have killed Peter Pan in order to save Baelfire, Belle, and the town of Storybrooke but it was also a way for him to get the ultimate revenge on the papa who abandoned him as a child. When push comes to shove, Rumple may make sacrifices but there's always an underlying selfish motivation that keeps that sacrifice from being fully pure and, well, good. We see this push and pull in this season; Rumple is desperate to reunite with Belle. It's another common Rumple thread on display--the desperate soul who will do whatever to whomever if it gets him what he wants/needs. Rumple and Alice might be friends and, to his credit, after his time with Belle, reforming himself, it is hard for Rumple to use the shared feelings of longing to be united with the person you love against Alice, but that doesn't mean Rumple won't manipulate Alice. He uses flowery promises of helping cure poisoned Nook to get Alice to go to Facilier and prove that she is the Guardian, whom Rumple has been looking for, a person who can hold on to the Dagger without succumbing to the dark power. That's of a piece with the Rumple we've known for years. The writers have always written Rumple in such a way that the audience can understand his desperation; the most common question posed by Rumple fans has always been, "what wouldn't you do for your child?" But those questions are always complicated by Rumple's selfishness. Here, with Alice, we see that Rumple wants, more than anything, to see Belle again but what stops him isn't his own selfishness, but a unique understanding of what being something so mythological actually means.

Immortality must...suck. Sure, you see empires rise and empires fall but you also give up all hope for normalcy, doomed to spend your life forever alone because everyone--and I do mean everyone--dies. Your mother, your father, your husband, your wife, your children, your friends your enemies, you outlive them all. Rumple has been walking a lonely road for a long time--a road of his own devising, to be sure, and the writers have certainly never tried to portray it otherwise--but it's a road that only he knows. Hooks' immortality was a gift from Neverland and one he could return when he so chose, but Rumple has never been able shake his immortal curse. He knows all too well what watching the people he's love most die before his very eyes feels like. I don't know if it's a choice Rumple would make again (Baelfire would have died at war and Rumple never would have met Belle had he not taken that dagger and become immortal) but it is something he can save Alice from. Alice would have made a great Guardian; she has a sort of purity that's usually reserved for children (which is certainly apt given her childlike demeanor) and even after only knowing her a season, we can believe that Alice would not give into the power of the dagger. But Alice would be giving up a normal life with her father--like Rumple gave up a life with his son--and would be giving up a life with her one true love--like Rumple is trying to get back to. It's this understanding that leads Rumple to making his truest sacrifice; Alice should not be trapped inside another tower, but be free to live a normal, everyday, extraordinary ordinary life. And I think--no, I know--that this sacrifice is something Baelfire and Belle would be proud of. The show likes to hammer home the idea that true love is sacrifice and Rumple just gave us a whole new way to view that.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Guardian 

--The writers have certainly put Rumple's character through the wringer over the years but there is no denying that Robert Carlyle has sold every performance, from spinner Rumple to Dark One Rumple to Mr. Gold to Detective Weaver and everything in between.

--Alice’s blue Enchanted Forest cloak is lovely and I adore the larger than necessary bow. It’s very Alice.

--Everything about Margo and Tilly’s date was adorable.

--“Dark One and the Pirate…friends?” “Perhaps it’s time for a new story.”

--Rumple's shrine to Belle is overly ornate and seems to be borrowing things from Mexican culture, an aspect that does not make any sense at all.

--Facilier would have been a fine villain on his own without adding the unnecessary Regina-as-lover complication. Like, what is even the point of this so called fling?

--“All magic comes with a price; guess it was finally my turn to pay.”

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