Saturday, March 24, 2018

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (7x14)

Who else remembers the episode "Ruby Slippers"? Or, more accurately, who else remembers how awful the episode "Ruby Slippers" was? The season five episode was OUAT's first foray into an LGBTQ romance after much criticism from both fans and reviewers about the lack of diversity in the show's depiction of love. Little Red Riding Hood and Dorothy of Oz met, had a few conversations, had true love's kiss and then were promptly shipped off to Forgotten Character Island where they were never heard from again. All in all, not a stellar example of a nuanced, careful and considerate love story--LGBTQ or not. I admit to some trepidation with this week's episode "The Girl in the Tower" because I feared that Alice and Robin's love story would follow the same mold: meet cute, one conversation to establish a connection, some sort of proof of true love, and then wham bam thank you ma'am, love story established and summarily dealt with. It turns out the writes might have learned some lessons from the Ruby/Dorothy debacle, put on the proverbial breaks, and eased into a Robin and Alice love story with far more class and consideration than before. Sometimes, these writers can still surprise me. 

Impossible Things

Alice and Robin work together as future lovers for a few different reasons. First and foremost, each character was established as their own person in their own right before ever meeting each other. Though Robin's introduction has been briefer than Alice's, her broad strokes are defined in such a way that we understand her. And in case the audience is really dense, the writers have Robin deliver her own characteristics in exposition (because while the writers can still surprise me, they are--at the end of the day--still OUAT writers). Robin was a classic mean girl but hiding behind her own loneliness and sense of not belonging. Robin collected 'friends' to make her feel better and wanted to escape the confines of Storybrooke, badly. It's more or less typical teenage ennui but at least it feels real. Robin's characterization comes from a relatability that most of us can identify with because it isn't couched in wild fairy tale magic. What teenager doesn't dream of escaping their parents and finding their own life story beyond the walls of their town? This need for freedom and to step outside the norm has been a running through line of this entire season. Henry left Storybrooke for the same reason; Zelena and Robin move to a completely different universe to start over. The show, as a whole, uprooted itself, left its own protective home and tried to find a new story in a new setting. Alice is going through much the same thing; she finally managed to climb out of that tower (er, wished herself a giant to lift her out) and set off and see the world. She has the same ennui as Robin which ties them together, the only difference being that Alice's ennui definitely comes from magic but, if truth be told, I'm more forgiving of this with Alice because her character has been built up slowly since the beginning of the season. Alice is a little bit mad, a little bit unhinged, and a little bit weird, but wouldn't you be if you spent the first seventeen or so years of your life trapped in a single room tower? Where Alice and Robin also work is in what they gain from each other. Alice needs Robin's steady hand and reasoning skills. Alice goes a mile a minute and often gets so caught up in her special form of crazy that she needs someone who can fire an arrow perfectly from a hundred yards away. When Alice is spiraling and thinking herself too mad, Robin is there to pull her back. In reverse, Alice shows Robin what true friendship is, not only between the two of them but also between Alice and her troll/giant friend. Robin has never had any real friends, only the illusion of them. Alice is Robin's first real friend and to have your first real friend at such an old age is both sad and wonderful. All of this works really well to endear the audience to this new pair, but I think where it succeeds the most is that this episode does not, in any way, confirm true love between Alice and Robin. In fact, I think it deliberately goes out of its way to make sure that Alice and Robin end this flashback episode as friends, not lovers. That, more than anything else, is smart. We've been letdown with Henry and Ella; a necklace declared them to be true love, they were married offscreen, and suddenly had a baby, instead of letting a relationship develop organically. It didn't even feel like they were true friends first. But with Alice and Robin we get more development, more time together to see them as friends before they invariably have some sort of true love's kiss or moment. It's nice to be reminded that lovers should always start out as friends and that love takes time; it's not something that is born overnight in the span of a single day and adventure.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Girl in the Tower

--For this particular version of Alice, Hatter is a literal hat and Alice is talking to him. This is both hysterical and not at all surprising.

--“Turns out… I have more than one hair pin!” I love how proud Alice is of that fact and not that she managed to pick a lock.

--Having Emma work with Henry to spy on Regina back in season 1 was okay because in the end Regina would never hurt Henry; however Mr. Samdi doesn’t have the same consideration for Lucy so Regina recruiting her granddaughter to spy on him seems….reckless.

--I need to not find Ivy and Henry compelling because we all know Jacidna/Henry are endgame in spite of the lack of chemistry. But I really did like Ivy apologizing to Henry for everything that Cursed!Henry doesn’t know about yet.

--Alice can wish things into existence. That pretty much points to her being the Guardian, yes?

--I find nothing compelling nor interesting about Regina and Facilier and the reveal of his big plan was more groan worthy than interesting. Shocking…someone wants the Dark One dagger!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (7x13)

If we go by my supposition last week then light, inoffensive entertainment is what we're seeking as we move closer to the series finale of Once Upon a Time. And, without any sort of preamble or caveat, this week's episode "Knightfall" delivered just that. Frothy with just a touch of sweetness that goes down smooth; memorable in that it stands out as the best episode of the three aired so far in this back half, but not so incredible as to become an instant classic or topple the likes of "Manhattan" or "Skin Deep." This episode touches on character traits that make sense--even if Hook is now Nook--which is something I do not often get to applaud with OUAT--and moves the story along at an even pace, setting up more mystery and questions that don't exactly stir me in the way the show used to but do at least keep me thinking and waiting to see what comes next. Light, frothy, and only nine to go....

White Whales

It turns out, much to my surprise and maybe delight, that I have some fairly complicated feelings about Not!Hook (or Nook as I've decided to call him from now on, thanks Zelena). Can you remember back to season two when Hook was introduced? I wasn't impressed, at all. I found him smarmy, gross, and after he left Emma and the princess team of Snow, Mulan and Aurora to die in jail, I was thoroughly done with him. Long time readers will not be surprised that I have a particular dislike for the pirate; I've certainly made no secret of it. But I will confess that the only time I have found Hook interesting or thought that the show was offering up something new and fresh was in the season two finale in which we learned that Hook had been a sort of mentor and father figure to young Baelfire. To our original Hook, Bae was like a son, someone he loved for, cared for, and would have raised in place of Rumple had things not gone sideways. After those two final episodes, it seemed to me that Hook's real story was not just as a smarmy, leather clad Jack Sparrow wannabe, but instead he was another sort of "Wicked Witch." A villain who had an obsessive need to kill another character but found the relationship complicated by way of an offspring. It was hard for Regina to justify killing Snow White when her complicated friendship with Emma and mother-son bond with Henry stood in the way. Baelfire might be Rumple's son but he was also Hook's adopted/step son. Just as the dynamic team of Emma and Henry would bring Snow and Regina back together, so too would Bae bridge the divide between Rumple and Hook. Alas, that did not happen and Rumple and Hook spent most of their time from season three to season six at each others throats, always trying to out do, one up, or just generally harass the other. But, enter season seven in which Hook, the original pirate captain, is replaced by Wish Realm Hook, our Nook. Suddenly the trappings of romance that the audience sat through (read: suffered through) with Emma was no more; instead, the writers needed a way to make Nook palatable to both Hook lovers and Hook haters.

Enter Alice. It's a smart move because it realigns Nook back to his original story of a father trying to make amends to a child (and notice the neat irony in that this time around, it's Rumple who semi-adopted the child in question). It helps give the Hook lovers a new story to follow of their favorite character and it gives Hook haters a break from the never ending romance of Captain Swan and allows Colin O'Donnaghue to play Hook as something other than a love sick puppy. With Nook being taken back to square one, it's also a good time to dig into Nook/Hook's original character flaw, his harmatia, namely his obsessive tendencies to kill the Dark One and to demand satisfaction for his honor. The dual with Captain Ahab was a reminder that when it comes to letting go of pride and insults, Nook had a long way to go, daughter or no. This isn't exactly character building but more character reminding; the audience knows this about Nook because they knew it about Hook. This story is a nice way to remind the audience of that which they already knew while giving new details to Nook's story since it differed to Hook's in the Alice-regard. Sometimes you do not have to say anything brand new for the message to come across; just as Hook missed out on a chance to raise Baelfire because he could not give up his obsession with killing Rumple, so too did Nook miss out on freeing Alice because he would not let a slight about his pirating ways go unanswered. Parallels, this show does love them so.

Miscellaneous Notes on Knightfall 

--Pitting Nook and Ahab against each other was smart; both our fictional Nook and the literary Ahab have a tendency to get obsessive over their “white whales”.

--I simply adore Alice. It's the sign of good writing and good acting when this show can make me wish that a character had shown up in the history of the narrative much earlier.

--As we get closer to the finale, I've begun to make notes of things that I will genuinely miss; first up--Bobby Carlyle's remarkable and entertaining performance as Dark One Rumplestiltskin.

--So Nook lived in the tower without going out and being a pirate for like 10 year but never once did he buy himself some non pirate clothing? Also, how did he have money if he wasn't working or looting as pirates are wont to do?

--Jacinda and Henry have so little chemistry that I actually found myself drawn more to Henry and Ivy and their connection.

–The doll, Beatrice, is creeeeeeepy.

–“Read it? I lived it.” A surprisingly emotional line.

Monday, March 12, 2018

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (7x12)

What is the best thing Once Upon a Time could do at this point in time as it winds down toward the end? It's no longer about being fresh and exciting and, despite being the end of the road and a propensity for bridge burning, it shouldn't be aiming for offensive television. A happy medium is what is called for; OUAT should strive for boring to light entertainment that avoids making any huge mistakes not only in their ongoing plot but also in the conversation that the show is having with their audience and culture at large. This week's episode, "A Taste of the Heights" manages to hit that boring-but-inoffensive sweet spot. Nothing about this episode is remarkable and it feels like so much filler centering on characters that no large swaths of the audience particularly care about. But at least I don't feel compelled to rage (or praise) anything about this episode. That's the aim of these final episodes of the show and the conversation about whether or not that's actually a good thing can be a conversation of the end of the series but for now, it's enough. 

The Alligator Was Real

We're gonna barrel roll through this episode. Tiana/Sabine has almost no relevance to the larger plot being spun out this season. Her main function is to provide humanity to Jacinda by giving Jacinda/Ella a best friend and character outside of Henry with whom to interact in the Enchanted Forest flashbacks. Tiana is the Ruby to Jacinda's Snow, to put it another way (the big difference, of course, being that Ruby/Little Red Riding Hood was given incredible depth, motivation, and a compelling theme all on her own and that while Ruby's main injection into the show might have been as Snow White's best friend, her own story stood up to scrutiny even when Snow was taken out of the equation. Tiana's story decidedly does not). The much maligned food truck storyline continues apace with Sabine except with several plot speed bumps in the form of a forgotten form (which should have been at the top of the to-do list for either Sabine or with Jacinda) and a man as Drew/Naveen is introduced in both our world and the other world. There's nothing compelling with any of this, either the Hyperion Heights or Enchanted Forest sections. Sabine and Drew apparently have a cursed history that gets laid out in some clunky exposition while and in the flashbacks, Tiana and an incredibly grating Naveen meet, argue, bicker, and then forge a tenuous connection all while hunting a giant alligator (that did not turn out to be Rumplestiltskin in a move that I was genuinely surprised by). Because Tiana has been given almost no development and is as bland as an under-cooked beignets her scenes with Naveen land equally flat because of the aforementioned broadness. Naveen, on the other hand, begins as a hyper masculine hunter who speaks about his powerful enchanted spear only to soften and deliver just enough clunky emotional backstory in order for Tiana to open up and be receptive to him as a man. In other words, it's the cheap way to push a romance that is using the audience's love of Disney instead of an organic development between two Disney inspired characters. Outside of Tiana, there's some other flimflam going on involving Rumple, Nook and the Coven of the Witches. Plus, apparently, Regina and Dr. Facilier have a romantic past despite absolutely no evidence to this at any point in the past six years. This latest development is more of the same misogynistic mindset we've come to crushingly expect in which a woman cannot have any sort of meaningful story without a romantic tie-in and while we can absolutely file that under offensive, it's not a new offense and I'm sad to admit that at this point in the history of the show, I acknowledge it and move on. With ten episodes to go, we're just here to be mildly entertained. Nothing more, nothing less.

Miscellaneous Notes on A Taste of the Heights

--Rollin’ Bayou is a clever name for a food truck. Flamin’ Cajun is not.

--Henry doing a podcast is a modern take on being an author but I kinda hope the voice over doesn’t happen every episode. It would get old quickly.

--I’m glad Rumple is no longer pretending to be cursed with Regina but I wish he’d ask after Henry or Lucy.

--The super heavy and dark cloak Cinderella is wearing in the flashbacks is tragic.

--“My enchanted spear is the only thing powerful enough to kill the beast” (ugh)

--Dr. Facilier, a sorcerer/warlock with powerful otherworldly magics, couldn’t get a necklace swallowed by an actual gator until said creature was dead. The show relies so much on magic until it suddenly needs magic to fail for reasons.

--I still don’t see any chemistry between Jacinda and Henry and still don’t believe they could actually be True Love in the mold of Snow/Charming

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.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

In Which I Review The Doctor Who Christmas Special (2017)

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays and Whomas! It's time, once more, for that most special of Yuletide traditions: the Doctor Who Christmas special. It's been an age since the show aired regularly and, as usual, it's more than a little bit nice to step inside the mad world of the TARDIS and our beloved everlasting Time Lord. But this year, as has happened before and shall happen again, we say goodbye to the current face of the Doctor and welcome a new--more feminine--face into this bonkers fairy tale world. This year's Christmas special, "Twice Upon a Time," isn't only the goodbye to Peter Capaldi as the titular Time Lord but also to Steven Moffat, a man who's steered the real life TARDIS through six seasons; a man who's tenure as said showrunner has been punctuated by brilliance but too often hallmarked by frustration. This is an episode less defined by the sugary sweet sentiments of Christmas specials past and more a writer trying to hang his hat up and finalize his message to a world of fans. Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat, we bid you farewell. 

Steven Moffat's episodes of Doctor Who are usually made up of a few key things: big, bombastic storylines with lots of flare, drama, and explosions; head scratching timey-wimey twists and turns and, fairly often, snappy dialogue and humor. This Christmas special had all of those; to wit, the First Doctor and the Twelfth Doctor accidentally run into each other at the South Pole where their personalities, mannerisms, and experiences clash; time freezes and almost inexplicably we end up on a hostile red planet with an angry Dalek. And that's all before the Doctor--portrayed by a man for fifty years--regenerates into a woman, an event that--when announced some months ago--sent shock waves of both anger and joy throughout the fan base, causing several internet explosions. But more than being a typical Moffat episode (which this episode absolutely is), the writer is attempting to lampshade, quite loudly to mix up some metaphors, the fact that this is his farewell episode and without being subtle (something Doctor Who almost never is anyway) explain to the audience how he wants his tenure to be remembered. For the sake of ease, forget the plot. The plot is a headscratcher at best that can only be rationally explained by scientific mumbo jumbo from a two thousand year old Time Lord. Instead, let's focus on what the plot is trying to say when we remember it in within the context of Steven Moffat's departure. The idea of Testimony--as presented by glass aliens who seemingly abduct the Doctor and his companions--is presented as evil; all plans the Doctor stumbles across are usually ill intended and in true Doctor fashion, he gives a marvelous speech about stopping Testimony and saving the Universe. The about face that comes toward the end of the episode is that, lo and behold, Testimony isn't an evil plot that the Doctor needs to stop by swishing his white cape and waving his magical sword. No, Testimony is Steven Moffat's way of saying that he, as showrunner, will live on in memory. That's perhaps a bit egotistical but Moffat's tenure is egotistical, which isn't always a bad thing; it means that his plot and often times coherence get lost because of the influx of ideas and themes. And nothing reads Theme-with-a-capital-T more than having an entire episode devoid of plot to focus on something as lofty as memory. Second, for a show that changes actors every few years and expects the audience to form the same attachment to the newbie, memory is vital. In fact, the word memory is dropped several times throughout key moments of the episode. Testimony's purpose is to lift people from the moment of their death, duplicate their memories and then put those memories in a glass figure so that the dead can live on amongst the living even while their physical selves die. Bill Potts, upon revealing that she too is part of Testimony reminds the Doctor, "what is anyone supposed to be except a bunch of memories?" Steven Moffat is a series of memories, not just his own that inform his own personal life--like being a long time Doctor Who fan--but the collective memories of TV watchers who now readily identify him through his works, both good and bad--Weeping Angels, the biggest library in the Universe and River Song, the Pandorica, Amy and Rory Pond, the 50th anniversary, Clara Oswald and Bill Potts. These memories, as treacly as it might sound, have been downloaded into us and we carry them forward, ensuring that Steven Moffat himself lives forever through these memories and works. And perhaps it might be overreaching but I also think that Moffat is asking that we remember him kindly; even as a showrunner who caused more than his share of controversy (to be fair, other showrunners of Doctor Who did not have Twitter and Tumblr to contend with, which isn't to say that some of the criticisms pushed on Moffat are not fair and accurate).

If the importance and immortality of memories is one sticking point of this episode, then surely the other is Moffat reminding us what the heart of Doctor Who is: a fairy tale. The First Doctor, brilliantly played by David Bradley, tries to remind those around him, including the Twelfth Doctor, Captain Lethbridge-Stewart and Bill, that the universe is not a fairy tale; there must be some logical reason why good triumphs over evil even though evil so very clearly has the upper hand. His way of looking at the universe is devoid of magic; the victory of good cannot possibly come down to the works of one bloke who drops down from the sky and fixes problems without ever asking for anything in return. "The real world," he says, "is not a fairy tale." Sometimes, good captains die in war on a cold hard battlefield, never to see their children again. Miracles are rare. And sure, that's certainly reality but it's not what Doctor Who is concerned with. It has never cared much for reality, especially at Christmas. At its heart, Doctor Who is a fairy tale with a hero who slays dragons. Steven Moffat uses the Twelfth Doctor to remind us that "the universe generally fail to be a fairy tale. But that's where we come in." And he's right! That's how to sum up the whole 54 years of this program. Moffat is reaching out across the fourth wall and asking, one final time, for us to understand his version of fairy tales. It might be louder, more explosive, and often a confusing jumble of plot points, but he tried to keep the fairy tale in mind. Think back on the various 12th Doctor finales of Moffat's tenure: he went to Hell and Heaven; he saved the planet; he sacrificed his life. He did what superheroes and fairy tale heroes do. Moffat, more than his predecessor, had the Doctor walking the Heroes Journey. The Doctor never lost sight of that, not for long, but fairy tales evolve and change. Sometimes there are robots as faithful companions. This, in turn, leads us to the next evolution in this fairy tale called Doctor Who: Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor. Finally, a woman! If Doctor Who is a fairy tale then the Doctor isn't just the dashing knight, at least not only a male gendered one. The Doctor is an archetype; he is above and beyond gender. The Doctor exists as we want him to exist--male, female, sexless and genderless, black, white, even green if we so chose. The archetype exists as a great series of bullet points, it's up to us (or Chris Chibnall, I suppose) to fill in the details based on what kind of fairy tale is going to be told next. And from this point onward, the fairy tale is mystery waiting to be told--or, perhaps it's better to say, to be retold. After all, it's been told twelve times before. Once upon a time....a hero fell from the sky. The rest? We'll just have to wait and see.

Miscellaneous Notes on Twice Upon a Time

--How about one big final round of applause to Peter Capaldi? While he wasn't often given the best storylines, his performance never suffered. He was truly a great Doctor.

--The other lampshading moment that I didn't touch on too much was the rather backwards attitude of the First Doctor with regards to women and their roles on the TARDIS, a relic of the 1960s much like some fans hangups over the new Doctor. Most of this provided us with some quality chuckles, but when the First Doctor threatened to smack Bill's bottom, that's when it went a titch too far.

--The Dalek was really pretty unnecessary, right?

--"I turn in to you?!" "Well, you have a few false starts but you get there in the end."

--Clara appeared for thirty seconds and because I was never a big fan of hers all I could think about was Queen Victoria and why she wasn't with Albert.

--I couldn't figure out the purpose of the Captain except as a way to make the Twelfth Doctor a Christmas hero until he revealed his last name. Tying the Captain to the Brig was a smart move.

--The Twelfth Doctor's final words read less as final words of a man dying and more like a showrunner exiting the building trying to pass on wisdom to his successor, which isn't to say that Peter Capaldi didn't deliver them beautifully: "never be cruel, never be cowardly. And never eat pears. Hate is always foolish, love is always wise. Try to be nice, never fail to be kind. Laugh hard, run fast, be kind. Doctor, I let you go."

--Welcome Jodie Whittaker. I can't tell you how pleased I am to meet you! Now, kindly get back inside your TARDIS, okay?

Saturday, December 16, 2017

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (7x9 and 7x10)

Yeah, I skipped reviewing last week's episode "One Single Tear." I realized, sitting in my living room watching it, that I had very little to say for a proper review. At least, very little that wasn't a series of critical questions involving poorly defined character motivations and feelings. The plot was mined from previous characters and the internal emotional struggles--which would have made the story not only more interesting but also helped with an audience only loosely invested in some of these characters--were lacking. In the end, instead of subjecting my readers and myself to a tortuously slow and meandering review, I skipped it and decided to do a two-for-one encompassing the fall finale, "The Eighth Witch." In hindsight, this was the right decision because two highly negative reviews in a row would have been exhausting. I began this year asking one question: is the continuation of OUAT through a reboot worth it? At winter's end, I believe I finally arrived at answer after changing my mind almost weekly. 


Gone Girl

Magic has once again been ripped from the Enchanted Forest. Sure, it's not the Enchanted Forest you know and remember from seasons past but these aren't the characters you know and remember; it's not the Curse you know and remember and it's not the show you know and remember. In other words, it's poetic that as magic is being removed once again from the make believe fantasy world of Once Upon a Time, the audience is getting a nice hefty reminder that the magic--television magic--has also fled. What would make this season of OUAT successful? That's the question I posed in most of my reviews, trying to figure out how much newness this show could withstand while also grappling with the question of how much nostalgia to hold on to. It's a precarious balance and I certainly didn't envy the writers the task. When a show has gone through as much change as Once Upon a Time has, trying once again to reinvent the wheel will usually only yield a very sloppy wheel. For example, you have original Once Upon a Time, which I denote as seasons one through the first half of three. The characters were well developed, logical, and the mythology made enough sense to allow the audience to keep abreast of new developments but also to theorize and try their hand at detective work (ie: who is Baelfire?) Original Once Upon a Time was like sitting down to read your favorite fairy tale only to discover that it had been upgraded to an adult fanfiction of the highest caliber. After the original came Secondary Once Upon a Time which stretches from the second half of season three to the end of season six. This is the era in which the characters stopped making sense, the storylines began focusing more on the villains and their redemption at the expense of the heroes, and the mythology became sketchy, unclear, and altogether unknowable. This was like sitting down to read your favorite fairy tale only to discover that a three year old had gone over it in Sharpie marker, replacing key points with poop emojis. Readable? Yes. Enjoyable? Less so. Now we have Tertiary Once Upon a Time, a story that I don't even know how to quantify yet. What exactly is this seventh season? Yes, parts of it are interesting and there's some really good work happening with the likes of Alice and Drizella, two characters who would easily blend into the Original OUAT but those two alone aren't enough to save what is ultimately a poor story. I hate discussing plot. I'd much rather talk about archetypes, themes, religion, character motivation, ect but I have to at least pause here and try to puzzle out the plot of this year so that I might touch upon those other ideas.

If I understand this correctly--and to be honest, I'm not sure I do--Gothel manipulated Drizella (having met her at some heretofore unmentioned time) and convinced her that there was a prophecy (is the prophecy real or made up to manipulate Drizella?) that the Curse (the Dark Curse? It's unclear) must be cast eight years after Lucy was born. Lucy, who by the way, more or less sprung from the head of Henry because the last time I checked, Henry and Ella has simply shared a kiss because a necklace told them to. They were nowhere near marriage nor sex. Gothel did this because, in the end, she wanted Anastasia--whom she believes is the Eighth Witch--for the Coven of Eight, which is an altogether stupid name to give a coven if you only have seven members. Somewhere along the way, Zelena and her daughter moved to the New Enchanted Forest; Tiana became a Queen; Tremaine joined the ranks of Henry and the heroes; Alice left her tower and Rumple became a stark raving loon. I can already head my readers crying "those stories are going to be told in the second half of the season!" and I'm sure we'll get answers to some of these stories when the show returns but none of the big plot--the casting of the curse, the reveal of Gothel as the Big Bad, Drizella's betrayal by Gothel, Rapunzel's dislike for her eldest child, or even something as simple as Henry and Ella's love story--felt like it was developed organically and in a way that made sense. The writers no longer write arcs; they write a beginning and an end and instead of trying to figure out the middle at the same time, they simply ensure that they reach their end come hook or crook. For example, they need Lucy to be born of Henry and Ella so they ensure that the audience knows they are true love, not through deeds and steady character development but because of a plot device necklace and then as soon as the audience blinks from that moment, boom! Henry and Ella have a child. The writers need a curse to be cast so they can have their new characters in the city of Hyperion Heights, so they come up with a Curse that resembles the Dark Curse except it's clearly not but instead of explaining the Curse and how it works, they simply have Regina cast it, hoping the nostalgia factor from Original Once Upon a Time is enough to keep us from questioning anything. It's not like this is new information, though, to be fair. The writers have often used the first half of a season to spin their wheels, building huge questions that they likely don't have an answer to yet, not until the second half. That's why the first half of an arc falls short when compared to the second, at least in my opinion (Queens of Darkness was better told than Frozen; Hades was superior to Camelot; The Black Fairy outshone The Evil Queen).

If it sounds like I, too, am spinning my wheels that's because I am. I don't know how to discuss this winter finale except to say that I hated it. There's nothing interesting to talk about. Will Regina end up finding a way to save both Henry and Lucy? Of course she will. The writers aren't going to kill either one. Will Gothel be taken down by season's end, with her plans foiled and Anastasia somehow returned to innocence? Yup, and I'll place a lot of money on all of that happening because of some MacGuffin that no one has ever heard about. Will Gothel likely get some sort of sob story? Probably and if history is any indication, it'll somehow revolve around how she was either rejected by her own mother or rejected by a man. In my season premiere review, I put forth the idea that Henry and Lucy's story is a clear reminder of Emma and Henry and that this was actually a smart move because of the circular nature of stories and archetypes in general and overall this argument still stands. This is only the middle of Henry's hero's journey in which he battles against the forces of death and chaos. I don't mind that sort of repetitive nature when it's in service of a broader statement about the nature of storytelling. Of course Henry's story is almost beat for beat the same as Emma's except for a few twists. But what bothers me is how haphazard (there's the famous key word from season six!) the actual plot-story is. The emotional journeys of Henry, Regina/Roni, and Rumple are bearable and in some cases enjoyable ("Beauty" being the best episode of the season and one of the best episodes the show has done in a good long while). But when too much plot that is too poorly executed and explained gets in the way, it's hard to be invested in those emotional stories. This is my truly round about way of saying that if the question on my mind for the past ten episodes was "is this worth it" my answer is a resounding no, which is a change from my initial maybe at the start of the year. Like Lucy, I guess I just don't believe anymore.

Miscellaneous Notes on One Single Tear and The Eighth Witch

--I'm sorry if this review doesn't actually discuss the episodes in question much. I'm slowly beginning to question my resolution to see this show through to the very end. Or at least to blog every single episode.

--“Right. Well, I’m not here to discuss timelines.” In other words, the writers would really like for us all to stop questioning how their world works and simply take it for what it is: under developed and at the whims of an external force.

--Why would you keep the frozen statue form of the woman who threatened to curse you inside your house on display?

--It’s pretty obvious that Alice and Robyn are going to be serious love interests. They can bond over the fact that their mothers raped their fathers in order to conceive them. (gags)

--Welcome back Zelena, I guess? I get what the writers are going for making Zelena engaged and having her choose her family over her life as Kelly but sometimes the writers take the whole “family over everything” throughline too far. Like, Kelly’s fiancee is her family too and Zelena even says she still loves him!

--The Eighth Ingredient is the never before heard of magic from a witch who crushed the heart of the thing she loves most. Good LORD. That’s the most oddly specific and dumb plot device since “blood of a man who’s been to hell and back.”

--Why should I even care about how powerful Anastasia is?. We literally just met her! And why is she even this powerful?

--Plot Device Battle: which is dumber? The magic from a witch who crushed the heart of the thing she loves most OR a white elephant that helps you remember your most important relationship?

--I usually review the arc as a whole during this winter finale wrap up but if my above review doesn't tell you all you need to know then I don't think another paragraph will do it. Needless to say, there are bright spots (Rumple and Belle's episode, Roni, Alice, and Drizella) but the overwhelming negatives outweigh all the good. The season continues the writers trend of biting off more than they can chew and not actually letting plots unfold at a steady pace leaving room for emotional growth and audience attachment.

Final Episode Ranking for S7A (lowest to highest)

10. The Eighth Witch (7x10)
9. A Pirate's Life (7x2)
8. Pretty In Blue (7x8)
7. Greenbacks (7x5)
6. One Little Tear (7x9)
5. The Garden of Forking Paths (7x3)
4. Eloise Gardener (7x7)
3. Hyperion Heights (7x1)
2. Wake Up Call (7x6)
1. Beauty (7x4)

Final Grade for S7A: C/C-

See you all in March!

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.