Monday, May 15, 2017

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (6x21 and 6x22)

The end. It's how all good fairy tales finish their tales. The villain defeated, the lovers reunited, the world of chaos righted into a world of order; and they all lived happily ever after. The end. While it is true that OUAT has been renewed for a seventh season, in so many ways this year's finale "The Final Battle part 1 and part 2" felt like a series finale. It was designed to wrap up the story of Snow White, Prince Charming, their daughter and how she, a lost, lonely, orphan saved an entire people. What comes next is really anyone's guess. There's a new generation, a new storybook to open and explore. But for six years we've been a part of this story, this family and suddenly it's time to say goodbye. It feels...weird, to be perfectly honest. I know I'm pretty critical of OUAT and what I feel are some truly poor stories but, at the same time, they were my stories. I knew Emma; I knew Rumple and Snow and Regina. Not liking the stories presented doesn't mean that I don't have some sort of attachment to them. After all, I'm still here with my little reviews week after week, aren't I? Seeing so many of these characters leave--and knowing that next year is something I can't predict or seeing coming like I have in the past--is a strange sensation. Am I getting sentimental? I suppose I am. For the Charmings, then, one last time. Let's go!

Happy Endings 

If there has been one major through-line for the entirety of season six, a season that has jumped around from plot thread to plot thread more than other seasons before it, it was Emma Swan. Emma has always been at the center of the story as Savior, Mother, Daughter, and as just Emma, but this year she's come more into focus as large portions of the story were devoted to giving Emma her happy ending, pushing her past those final hurdles to self-actualization. I suppose it's appropriate then that this finale, this final hurrah for Emma Swan, is derivative of season one. Around and around and back home again, the circle of the heroes journey goes like meticulous clockwork. But before you can reach the final destination, it's important to look back from whence you came which is really what this season finale is; Emma Swan this is your life! Yes, there's some plot nonsense about the Black Fairy but this finale could easily swap in any old villain into this story because it's less about the actual villain and more about what she represents: isolation, loneliness, those things that Emma has been fighting for six years. In order to show how far Emma has really come, the writers take her--and us by extension--back to an inverted season one. Emma's cursed this time around, a new set of memories in which believing Henry about fairy tale characters, magic, and curses put her in the mental hospital. This new curse also has the neat effect of casting all her family members (except her son, tellingly) into another realm. Once again, like she was for the first twenty-eight years of her life, Emma is seemingly alone and cut off. Except, of course, she's not and never was, which you'd think the Black Fairy would note and remember given that Emma literally sang her way to togetherness last week but that's all of apiece with the (and here's that word again) haphazard approach to this season. Nothing quite gels the way it should even though the writers are reaching deep into their and our collective memory to make everything feel like a nice full circle back to season one. If there was one reaction I constantly had during this two hour finale, it was "huh?" Emma's belief keeps all the realms alive and active (but wasn't affected by the 28 years she didn't believe in anything or for the whole span of human history before Emma was born); only light can snuff out light and Gideon is apparently light enough to go up against the Savior; the Black Fairy's curse is broken with her death not by any true love's kiss and Emma is saved from her sword wound by true love's kiss even though she's no longer cursed! All of it was rushed and sloppy and really underwhelming but the intent behind it softens the blow a bit.

Snow White says it best (she often does) when she remarks that The Final Battle isn't a literal battle but it's a battle for Emma's soul. Both episodes hinge on one critical moment and it's not the moment Emma faces down Gideon and it's not the moment the final Curse is broken with the Black Fairy's (super easy) death. No, it's the moment Emma, in her red jacket, chooses to come back to Storybrooke and tells Henry that while she doesn't believe in fairy tales and magic and curses and saviors, she wants to be the person that does believe. That is some serious self-actualization right there. Emma could have easily left, lived in Boston forever, totally un-bothered by any of this weekly nonsense. She could have had that day off she lamented about back in season three's finale "Going Home." Emma would be none the wiser about what was going on in Storybrooke or any other realm that pops out of existence with her dying belief. If this season began with Emma lamenting being the Savior and learning about the fate of all Saviors and wanting to run from it, then it's absolutely fitting that it ends with Emma wanting to be the Savior, choosing that path that is hard and largely untrod upon that really makes her the Savior. So sloppy, haphazard, and frankly a little boring in places, yes, but fitting. A fitting end to Emma Swan. Her reward isn't glory or ascension or apotheosis. It's something much smaller, something much calmer, and something much more human. Emma is, after all, a human Savior. Her mythicness is concrete but she is first and foremost of this world; she's a new fairy tale, one that is grungy and dirty and a little bit sad in places. No, Emma's reward isn't to achieve godhood; it is, quite simply, to live. Emma gets to live a life she never thought she'd have. And, it's cliche and it's overwrought, but surely....surely to live would be an awfully big adventure.

All of this is to say that it's time to leave Emma aside. Her story is over, that book is closed (sort of literally there at the end). We're moving into a different territory and to borrow from one of my favorite franchises, welcome to OUAT: The Next Generation, staring Lucy Mills! Hey little girl, are you the new Savior or the new Author? The show didn't really make it clear, but I suppose that's the point. If it was clear I might not tune in. I don't know what to do with a lot of this, honestly. It's not surprising that the show is gong back to its roots with a little kid showing up at a door and demanding that the adult inside follow them. It's a new heroes journey (though, who's exactly?) and I'm sure it will follow much of the same pathways that Emma's hero journey followed. The new Savior has to save a realm, a people, the happy endings and there will be talk of true love and hope and belief. That's the nice thing about archetypes: change the characters, keep the story the same.  It's another call to adventure! Are you coming along?

Miscellaneous Notes on The Final Battle part 1 and part 2

--I suppose we need to discuss the elephant in the room, huh? OUAT has been renewed for a seventh season but with a massive cast shakeup. The actors and actresses who play Emma, Snow, Charming, Henry, Belle, and Zelena will not be returning for another year. This leaves Hook, Rumple and Regina as leading the series. I have committed myself to watching (and reviewing) OUAT until the (possibly bitter) end but for the record, I'm not sure this revamped and rebooted series is going to be the fresh start the writers and network are hoping for.

--“If she thinks she can rip this family apart…curses have never stopped us before.”

--The musical cues while Hook was walking around the giant's table were really cool.

--How does Emma have third person omniscient memories? She actually remembers seeing herself walk down the aisle!

--Holy horrible outfits, Aladdin and Jasmine! Wow those getups the costume department forced on to them are miserable.

--"Hello there, Mummy.”

--Sven is my very favorite character. More Sven. Always.

--“Truthfully? The beanstalk that fell on me gave me pause” (I will miss Snowing. I will miss them, miss them, miss them.)

--Belle’s cursed personality is a shut in. That actually makes loads of sense given that she’s famous for wanting “adventure in the great wide somewhere.”

--Belle and Rumple get a fresh start without having to actually talk through their issues! So many healthy relationships on this show.

--As is tradition, here my final thoughts on season 6B. It's really hard to grade this arc since the first several episodes were devoted to wrapping up last arc's dangling threads: Charming's father, the Evil Queen, Aladdin and Jasmine. The real story of 6B, Gideon and the Black Fairy, didn't get properly off the ground until episode 16 so, in effect, we only had four episodes of Black Fairy plot before the big musical episode and then the finale. That's simply not enough time to build a believable and coherent plot. Jamie Murray did good work as the Black Fairy, as did Giles Matthey with Gideon, but when you look back at the more well rounded villains, like Cora, the one thing the Black Fairy and Gideon didn't have was time. It's that haphazard approach I keep bringing up; if the Black Fairy is supposed to be the biggest and baddest evil in this universe, then she needed tobe built, explored, and fleshed out in more than just two flashbacks. I'm still not sure what her motivation for anything was; just because she's "evil" and Emma's good? How vague and asinine is that! Her reasoning can't even be rooted in her son, Rumple, because she severed him from his Savior destiny when he was only a few weeks old. On top of a frustrating villain, the magical MacGuffins really ran amok this time around. Every single week there was a new one, each more eye-roll worthy than the last, the worst being the True Love Flower that awoke Snow and Charming in the middle of the original Cursed years, retconning a large portion of not just season one but the entire premise of the show. I have my typical complaints about out of character and anti-feminist moments from the likes of Emma (who really took a turn toward the horrifying with each new terrible outfit and overly clingy moment); some squicky moments from Belle who goes back and forth in terms of attitude about her husband more than any sane (or well written) woman should. This isn't to say that there weren't some good pieces here and there, though. The musical does stand out as a big shake up and invigorated the show, if only for an hour. The actors are mostly still hitting it out of the park, especially Robert Carlyle as Rumple in any scene he had with Gideon. It was also nice to see a lot of returning characters, probably for the last time, like Archie, the dwarves, Tink, Malcolm, August and Gepetto.

Final Episode Ranking for S6B (lowest to highest):

12. "Awake" (6x17)
11. "A Wonderous Place" (6x15)
10. "Ill-Boding Patterns" (6x13)
9. "Where Bluebirds Fly" (6x18)
8. "Mother's Little Helper" (6x16)
7. "The Final Battle, part 1" (6x21)
6. "The Final Battle, part 2" (6x22)
5. "Tougher Than The Rest" (6x11)
4. "Page 23" (6x14)
3. "Murder Most Foul" (6x12)
2. "The Black Fairy" (6x19)
1. "The Song In Your Heart" (6x20)

Final Grade for S6B: C

--See you all in September!

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