Monday, May 1, 2017

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (6x19)

Rumplestiltskin says it best tonight when he points out that the fate of his family rests on a dark wheel of parents and children constantly torn apart and separated from each other. Malcolm sent young Rumple back to the Enchanted Forest alone; Rumple let go of Baelfire's hand; Henry grew up without Neal and Gideon spent the first 28 years of his life with a really demented and terrifying grandmother. In other words, Rumple certainly isn't wrong in this. One of the strongest, and to be fair one of the most overused, storylines on OUAT is the constant internal angst between parents and their children usually going alongside abandonment issues. Neal had them, Emma has them, Rumple, Henry, Hook, Charming, and even Regina have issues with mommy or daddy dearest. When it comes to this week's episode, "The Black Fairy," it shouldn't surprise to anyone that it too comes down to parents, children, the struggle to maintain power and abandonment. It's a song OUAT knows well, and giving credit where credit is due, it's a song they know to sing (no, this is not a clever tongue in cheek joke about what's happening next week.) Grab your fairy wand and let's go!

Will The Real Savior Please Stand Up (Please Stand Up? Please Stand Up?) 

I have pros and I have cons. Let's start with the pros, shall we? The main thrust of this episode is explaining why Fiona, aka Future Black Fairy, gave up her only child, Rumplestiltskin. It comes down to a messy prophecy about how Rumple was destined to become a Savior (yes, this is a big what the f....moment) but accompanying that is that fate of Rumple, the Savior, is to face off against a truly evil force with a crescent shaped birthmark and die defeating them. Because Fiona loves her son--putting it rather perfectly that this tiny babe can make you soft and sharp all at once--she tries like mad to prevent her son's ultimate fate by finding the child with the mark upon its skin. I'm surprised the show didn't go for broke and make the mark a 666 on the forehead, but I digress. All of this is of apiece with other parent/children relationships on the show in which parents are willing to sacrifice anything to make sure their children grow up loved and protected. Everything, as it usually tuns out, except their power which has long been used as a drug metaphor on OUAT. It doesn't take a genius to figure out where this iteration of the story ends up going. It's almost Greek in its conclusion: by trying to prevent the prophecy from coming to pass, Fiona turns herself into the Black Fairy, complete with a crescent shaped scar, and consequently into the great evil Rumple was supposed to face down. Unable to live with this idea, Fiona uses the Sheers of Destiny on Rumple and cuts his Saviorhood from the young baby rather than giving up her power, claiming she needs it to protect Rumple. The sudden appearance of the scar on Fiona's arm is a nice literal representation of the often quoted tagline from the show that "evil isn't born, it's made." Fiona made herself the Black Fairy by going to extremes to prevent a prophecy that never would have come to pass if she hadn't tried so hard to get around it. Like I said: it's all rather Greek. If this push and pull of parenthood vs power sounds familiar, that's because it is supposed to feel familiar. It's a very clear and neat parallel with Rumple and Baelfire or Cora and Regina or Rumple and Gideon. Power corrupts on OUAT; the more you have the more it corrupts until the character is addicted to it and can't see the forest for the trees. This circular storytelling isn't a bad thing largely because Robert Carlyle and Jamie Murray act their socks off to sell what really is a six year old story. It also reminds the audience that Rumple's strongest stories have always been as a desperate father; he's not truly evil and while he has qualities of a trickster trope, it's not his ultimate arc. He's become addicted to the darkness but everything he did was for his son, to prevent Baelfire (and Gideon) from having to suffer a worse fate than growing up with a Dark One father--death. It's villainy and it's heroism all wrapped up in a confused, angry, abandoned package (complete with a yellow knit blanket). It add another dimension to Rumple's angst that instead of just having a mother who abandoned him, he has a mother who changed his life, cut him off from "good" and because of that, Rumple's made choices to walk in the darkness.

However. While all the intent is good, the execution is sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. I continue to think that the writers aren't talking to each other or reading each other's scripts before sending them off to the cast and crew to shoot because there is a pretty big disconnect between what was telegraphed to the audience a few weeks ago and what we're seeing this week. Let's start with the timeline (an evil and vile word if ever there was one). We've been told by characters on the show, both with their words and with their reactions to any mention of the Black Fairy, that she's the most dangerous and most evil creature we've ever encountered. It seemed pretty apparent by Blue's reactions that Black was on the same level as she; that they, if this is even possible, grew up fairies together, that if Blue is the original (good) power then Black is the original (evil) power. And yet, based on the timeline we saw tonight, Fiona is only about two hundred years old, younger than Hades and the Dark Ones, including the first Dark One, Nimue, and only became a fairy about a week after Rumple was born by waving a wand around and saying some gibberish. Not only that but while the show has made it clear that power can corrupt, Fiona got awfully powerful awfully fast. Based on what Rumple looked like when Blue brought the baby back to Malcolm, Fiona had only been out looking for a crescent marred babe for about a month or two. And yet, Tiger Lily is unable to stop Fiona from going crazy or creating the Dark Curse? Also, we're supposed to believe that Fiona and Rumple are parallels in more than one way, namely that everything Fiona has done was for Rumple and she never stopped loving him; she even shouts that back to baby Rumple in the final flashback moment before she's sucked off into a glowing portal of doom. And yet this whole season, in the present day, she has come across as having no affections whatsoever for her son, being immune to any love she may have once felt. But once Fiona learns that Rumple has discovered the truth of his life, suddenly she want to join forces? This is to say nothing of the fact that we're only given a very brief glimpse of Fiona's own internal angst and we're not allowed to sit with her, inside her head on her terms, for longer than half an episode. I believe I've used this word a lot this season but it's all rather haphazard. It's sloppily put together and the writers are depending on the audience remembering the dilemmas faced by Rumple, Cora, Regina, ect who had similar stories that were done in a more developed way. But, just to end this on a positive note, I think this does bring us one step closer to Rumple's true moment of heroism (not redemption, just heroism) in which he chooses to die, even though it's no longer his destiny as a Savior. He said, at the very end, that everything he does is for Belle and Gideon and just like how he died fighting Pan for his family, he'll die fighting Mommy Dearest for them too.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Black Fairy

--"That’s the problem with Saviors, isn’t it Ms Swan? Not quite as helpful as advertised."

--Emma talking to Rumple about the pain of abandonment was well done. It brought to mind some moments from Manhattan when Neal tried to say the same thing.

--To wit: "No curse, no monster, is ever going to be as terrifying as finding out why you were abandoned."

--Storybrooke has an Ikea?

--Every time the writers say “many years ago” it basically means “we don’t know nor do we care”

--Tiger Lily's dress might be the ugliest of all the fairies.

--How is “Rumplestiltskin” a perfect name for this situation, Malcolm?

--“It’s a vile, dangerous world, son.” “Because of villains like you. And me.”


  1. "It also reminds the audience that Rumple's strongest stories have always been as a desperate father; he's not truly evil and while he has qualities of a trickster trope, it's not his ultimate arc."

    Do you mean not PURELY evil? Because that is certainly true, it's true of all villains on this show except maybe Cruella De Vil, and Peter Pan once he became such (Malcolm had SOME pathos to him). They have the potential for good as much as they do for evil.

    But "not truly evil" sounds wrong to me. I don't care how much Rumple loves his family and his children and how desperate he is to help or save them - he has manipulated, harmed and murdered hundreds upon thousands upon millions of people over the course of many centuries and, above all, he takes clear enjoyment out of it because of how he loves feeling in control of everyone and everything as the Dark One, a sharp contrast to his miserable powerless coward past.

    That's why, as you do point out, his ending will probably end in heroism, but not redemption, since while he's always sorry for hurting his family that he truly wants to protect, he has never shown any shred of remorse or repentance for all he's done as the Dark One. As his mom accurately points it out, he loves being the Dark One, and he'll take that love to the grave.

    1. As a footnote, I also must say I enjoy Rumple and Gideon's scenes together because I think they really work with both the writing and performances, but I am CRINGING at Rumple and Belle's scenes together. Are we just supposed to forget all the abusive behavior from earlier in the season? Are we supposed to be happy that what Rumple said to Belle in 6x04 has been proven right?

      RUMPLE: You may not think that you need me, Belle, but you will. You forget whose child it is you're carrying. He will have a mark on his head by virtue of who he is, and if you want what's best for him... you will come back to me.

      BELLE: Threats won't make me love you again, Rumple.

      RUMPLE: No. But necessity will.

      What kind of a lesson is that!? I would have been fine if Belle tolerated Rumple for their son's sake, but to hug him and smile and say she knew there was a good man inside all along...gaaaaaaah!

    2. 1) Yes I do mean truly as purely. Rumple's not true evil, black hat through and through. No one on this show is, not even---as it turns out--the Black Fairy.

      2) Gideon and Rumple were fantastic together. I loved all their scenes. I actually had an entire note about Belle but deleted it (for some reason that made sense to me at 7am this morning during edit...). I'll post it here for you, though:
      Um, Belle?You claim that all this time you’ve known that there was a good man behind the beast and YET you turned into a shrill shrew and said there was no hope for him after he lied, manipulated, murdered and did all manner of other terrible things? But now that a vision of the past says Rumple was supposed to be a Savior suddenly you’re all lovey-dovey again? Eek.