Monday, April 30, 2012

Once Upon a Time: Mothers and Fathers

I got really behind in my recapping again, so this is going to be another multi-episode post as I cover The Stable Boy, The Stranger and The Return. These were episodes that dealt very heavily with parent-child relationships. Of course, there was some romance thrown into the mix, mainly with The Stable Boy as we finally got to see that Regina did actually experience True Love in her life. The other two episodes didn’t deal with romance much, aside from her trying to seduce David. I was surprised that he was so open to her manipulation up until the end there, but I guess he hasn’t really seen Regina at her worst yet.

Generally speaking, Regina’s behavior throughout the series has been deplorable even though so much of what she does is done with a smile and a cool demeanor. Still, I wasn’t surprised that if we went back far enough, we would find something to truly rouse our sympathy. As Sr. Mary Lou Kownacki said, “There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you heard their story.” Regina’s is a doozy. She came across as a perfectly pleasant person in the flashback, just frustrated by her mother’s machinations. She was a bit of a tomboy, and she demonstrated her bravery by saving Snow White and her independent spirit by plotting to run away with her secret love.

Bailee Madison, the young girl chosen to portray Snow White, was a perfect match for Ginnifer Goodwin. I was very impressed with the casting there. The look was exactly right, and she perfectly conveyed that innate sweetness that is so key to Snow White’s character. I had been very curious to see what Snow could have done that would have merited that kind of wrath without totally condemning her. I figured it must have been some kind of accident, or at least something that happened early enough in childhood that she wasn’t entirely responsible for it. This explanation satisfied me. Snow’s decision to confide in Regina’s mother, however well-intentioned, was partly responsible for the death of the man she loved.

I tend to be more engaged in the backstory than the present-day story, and that was particularly the case with The Stable Boy since I was so curious about this particular origin story. It was sweet to see the genuine bond between the young Regina and her cowed father, though of course it was sad as well, knowing what she would end up doing to him. Her mother was positively poisonous, and Barbara Hershey played that to the hilt. I really did feel completely sorry for Regina. It seemed fairly obvious to me following that conversation with Snow what was going to happen, but I still kept hoping that he would simply flee on his own rather than stick around to get murdered.

The whole situation with the king was very sad. Once again, he came across like a decent guy and certainly a very devoted father, but to just propose to a woman you’ve never met in hopes that she will take over the role of mother for your daughter… It’s just not the way to do things. Regina and Snow hit it off right away, and they could have been great pals if not for the small matter of Snow accidentally ruining her life. The king obviously didn’t have any romantic interest in her; he admired her bravery, but he wanted her for what she could do for Snow. Maybe he should’ve just hired her as a governess. At first, I thought Snow, feeling betrayed and disappointed, was just going to run off and snitch after finding out about Regina’s plans, but after her talk with Regina, it became clear that Snow was prepared to be self-sacrificing even at such a young age. It just all went horribly sour.

If Snow hadn’t told Regina about breaking her confidence, would she have found out, or might she have gone on for years without realizing that Snow told her secret? At what point did Snow come to realize the consequences of her actions? One would presume that she figured it out eventually, since she told James that she did ruin Regina’s life, though she may have simply been thinking about having lost control of the horse, which started all the trouble, though that wasn’t her fault. Really, her confession to Regina’s mother was barely her fault either. Can you truly blame a child that young for being coerced into giving information, especially when her reasons for doing so are so pure?

I guess what I’m wondering is how their relationship might have been different if Regina hadn’t realized that Snow broke her word. It seems to me that what’s mostly at play is misdirected anger. Regina is furious with herself because her decisions led to Daniel’s death every bit as much as Snow’s did, but Snow is an outward target. That’s how revenge seems to work; a person seems to get the twisted idea that removing the cause of their pain will remove the pain, almost as though it were a magic spell that could undo the tragic event. One would presume that at some point in the next few years, Regina killed her mother, but at the time of her marriage, she didn’t have the power to do that, so she focused all of her wrath on Snow, though it would seem that she kept it well hidden until after her husband’s death. She must have treated her with kindness during those years; was there genuine affection mingled in with the veiled malice?

I also wonder if Regina completely snapped at that moment or if it took several years for her to truly become the evil figure we see today. My guess is the latter, though that seed of bitterness took root right away. She had planned her life around the love of this one person, and with that anchor gone, she needed something else to live for. Unfortunately, instead of finding renewed purpose in what could have been the healing work of mothering Snow White, she seems to have played right into her mother’s hand and decided to focus on accumulating as much power as possible, though the power was more a means to an end than an actual goal. It was all in the service of revenge, which never provides any genuine satisfaction and has a way of festering and completely eating away at a person’s soul. Just look what happened to Sawyer and Ben. Lust for revenge almost destroyed them both. Regina is further gone than either of them, but could she still be brought back? Might Snow’s insistence on grace and forgiveness eventually crack that destructive shell?

After Regina, it was another Rumple episode, and I again got to marvel at Robert Carlyle’s brilliance and how exceptionally well the character is written. This week, we got a peek at how his relationship with his son Baelfire began to turn in the aftermath of the acquisition of his magical power. It reminded me very much, first off, of Lord of the Rings, same as his first centric episode did. I thought his son even looked a lot like a hobbit running around in the woods in that long cloak. Mainly, though, it was a demonstration of the evil effect that this power was having on him, even as he used it for worthy purposes. It was going to his head, and his desperation to protect his son was actually driving him away, much as Michael’s murderous act caused Walt to stop speaking to him. Instead of shunning him, however, Rumple’s son was determined to do whatever he could to get his old father back.

The scene in the beginning was tense and terrifying, and I was horrified with Rumple for turning that man into a snail and then crushing him, though it didn’t surprise me much, particularly given his conversation with Regina in Storybrooke. Baelfire seemed like a very upstanding youth, just as he did the first time, an innocent lad with a strong sense of honor. He hated to see his father inflicting pain on other people. Plus, everyone was avoiding him because of it. We’ve seen several situations here in which a parent is trying to do what’s best for a child and winds up making things much worse.

I liked the inclusion of the Blue Fairy and the magic bean, which did not grow into a beanstalk but instead created a magic vortex. Rumple very reluctantly agreed to leave the world of magic behind him, but when push came to shove, he couldn’t do it, and his son was left to face that unknown world on his own. When he resurfaces, I wonder how old he will be. Actually, you would think he wouldn’t be around anymore, since Rumple was on his own when Geppetto was a boy, and who knows how long that was after his own son left? If Mr. Gold knows so much, why couldn’t he see that? Then again, maybe it didn’t quite work that way.

The episode certainly encouraged us to think that August and Baelfire were one and the same. I fell for it just as fully as Rumple did, and I wanted it to be true because the depth of his remorse was so apparent and I figured this reunion could be just what was needed to bring back the good man buried inside that malevolence. Alas, however, it was not to be. I was left wondering whether August was “one of the good guys” or a villain somehow worse than Rumple. Either way, I felt very sorry for the Scottish baddie, and I certainly hope that a reunion, if not with his son than with a descendant, can be accomplished. Perhaps it could be rather like Ebenezer Scrooge embracing Fred. In any case, an outstanding episode all around, and I loved that Archie had a moment in the spotlight. It was nice to see Rumple actually reaching out for that kind of help and Archie so gently giving it.

Naturally, as soon as we found out who August wasn’t, we wanted to know who he was, and the show answered that question surprisingly quickly. I thought the flashback in The Stranger was centric to August, but actually, it was the flackback in The Return. Granted, Pinocchio was very young, and the flashbacks were largely more about Geppetto, but the boy was the focus. He was a sweet child, mischievous but really wanting to do the right thing. He called foul on Geppetto’s plan to send him through the cabinet first, but he wasn’t forceful enough to convince him it was the wrong course of action. Geppetto was too focused on saving his son to consider the greater ramifications.

How would things have been different if James and a pregnant Snow had entered the cabinet as planned? What if it had been Snow and Emma? That would have made a reunion between Snow and David more complicated since there would have been 30 years separating them, or if they’d found each other sooner, she would have aged while he stayed the same age. However, that wouldn’t have necessarily been a major problem. How might Emma have fared if she’d been prepared for this role from birth? She would have been loved and nurtured, and what seems fantastical to her now would instead seem quite believable. However, perhaps she would not have been equipped to face this nemesis if she hadn’t had the hard-luck childhood she did.

As for Pinocchio, it was certainly a lot to ask of such a young child to look after a newborn in a strange new world, but he seemed to take the responsibility very seriously, so it’s a shame he ended up leaving her to face life alone. Understandable, but sad nonetheless. Incidentally, I love that when he came out of the cabinet, he saw a plane overhead and he fell on the ground. It reminded me a lot of Jack in the pilot episode just after Oceanic 815 crashed. Meanwhile, he reminded me of John later as he tried to be the Man of Faith to Emma’s Man of Science, to no avail. It was very much the argument from the beginning of season two, and while Emma seems to be entertaining the possibility that it could be true, she does not feel up to the task that has been set for her. With only two episodes left in the season, will that change?

I found the relationship between Pinocchio and Geppetto very sweet, particularly at the end when they reconnected, and I loved the brotherly care Pinocchio demonstrated for Emma. I wanted to shake Geppetto during the flashbacks, since he seemed to be putting the whole realm at risk by refusing to accommodate the Blue Fairy’s wishes, and sending a small boy out on his own in the world doesn’t seem very good for him, either. It certainly did not show a lot of faith, and it seems the man devising a means by which the realm’s inhabitants might be saved ought to have a stronger belief than that. But everybody panics now and then, and he did have valid reasons for his trepidation. It’s hard to fault a father for wanting to do all he can to protect his son. Rumple and Geppetto have a point of commonality there.

I thought all three episodes were great, and I loved the parental theme that tied them together. Now Emma wants to take matters into her own hands and reclaim Henry, though kidnapping him and high-tailing it out of town does not seem like a good plan and certainly isn’t likely to help her in a custody battle. Maybe she half-believes Henry’s warning that nobody can leave Storybrooke – except the two of them (and August). Maybe she figured if they leave town, nobody can follow them. But I don’t think it would be that simple, and anyway, she would be evading her destiny, and look how miserable that made Jack. No, if Emma leaves Storybrooke, she and Henry won’t be gone for long. An epic battle is heating up…

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

“That’s the Trouble With Your World. Everyone Wants Some Magic Solution to Their Problems and Everyone Refuses to Believe in Magic.”

While Once Upon a Time has included references to Disney films such as 101 Dalmatians that don’t exactly fall under the umbrella of “fairy tales,” this episode marks the first time that the episode’s centric character came from a novel not often lumped in with these types of fantastical stories. It is fantastical, certainly; Alice in Wonderland is sheer trippiness. And I liked the way that they made Wonderland so very clearly distinct from the Fairy Tale world, accessible through a door in a strange room that reminded me of the Wood Between the Worlds in The Magician’s Nephew. I always found Wonderland a pretty sinister place, and unlike most magical realms, I never wished I could visit. Here, it most definitely has an evil quality about it.

Our hatter’s name in Jefferson, and curiously, he has that name in both incarnations. I’m not clear on exactly how it is that he knows who he is in the present day; is he just so insane by this point that he is one of the few townspeople uninhibited enough to know the truth? Is it the result of his having been displaced back in the world of Fairy Tale? He seems a decent fellow in the past, a bit surly but deeply devoted to his daughter Grace, who seems to have a very wise head on her young shoulders. In the present, he is driven by desperation to nefarious deeds. I wonder, if Emma had been as swayed by him as I thought she was, would it have made a difference? Would she have been able to create that magic hat?

Alice in Wonderland was, of course, a pretty formative text for LOST, which sprinkled references to the books throughout the series and even produced two episodes - White Rabbit and Through the Looking Glass - that specifically alluded to it. I loved the white rabbit reference in the episode, though of course, the toy turned out to be a dastardly way for Regina to get into his head. His head which, incidentally, later was removed from his body while he continued to speak freely. Weird and rather icky, but kinda cool as well. That trick with Regina’s father was interesting as well. We didn’t really see inside the box; was that his heart in there, meaning he lost his heart twice?

It was another rather dark episode. Of course, every episode has an element of that, but it seems the less focused on romance the episode is, the more it spreads out in gruesome directions. I really liked this, however, because of the emphasis on the importance of family. We saw how grimly determined Regina was to get her father back and how desperate Jefferson was to get his daughter back. Both were willing to throw others under the bus to accomplish their goals, though that’s par for the course for Regina, while Jefferson seems to be in a desperate measures sort of situation. On the other hand, he claimed he saved Mary Margaret’s life by stopping her from leaving Storybrooke, and there may have been truth in that as well, so it’s not clear how much bodily damage he would have caused either of them. Still, there were definitely times he seemed threatening.

My favorite part of the episode, though, was the focus on the depth of Emma and Mary Margaret’s friendship. Emma doesn’t quite believe yet that Mary Margaret is her mother, but it seems the thought has started to take hold of her a bit, and in any case, her most important friendship in Storybrooke has been with the sweet schoolteacher. The moment when she told Mary Margaret that she was her family was my favorite in the episode and one of my favorites in the series thus far. Mary Margaret is the first real friend Emma ever had, or so it would seem, and they complement one another so well. What a neat way to get to know your mother!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"Evil Doesn't Always Look Evil. Sometimes It's Staring Right at Us, and We Don't Even Realize It."

I never read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, but I know the book is an exploration of just how much potential for evil resides in people. Dad told me way back in the beginning that we would wind up hating Snow White before this was all over; while she’s still very much one of the good guys, for more of this flashback she was pretty darn unpleasant. Of course, she was also under a curse, but one that she sought out in the first place. Surely she wouldn’t have opted for it, though, if she’d realized what she would become. It seems to have sucked out not only her love for James but all of her love, period.

It was very interesting to see this vindictive Snow White. The introduction to her was a hoot, with her singing With a Smile and a Song from the Disney movie and appearing to be so sweet, then violently lunging after the bird in her company in an attempt to kill it. Certainly not the behavior we’re used to from this endearing princess. Grumpy, who I think at this point is probably tied with Jiminy for my favorite character, broke my heart in this episode. He was like Sam in Return of the King, stalwartly refusing to leave the side of his beloved friend despite the sinister madness that had overtaken him. All of the dwarves were so sweet in this episode, but Grumpy especially.

It was also great to see the return of Jiminy Cricket – who Snow White almost pulverized. In both realities, he was the one who snapped James/David out of a sort of stupor, but the effects were opposite of each other. In Fairy Tale, his quiet advice inspired James to take the arrow intended for the queen, thereby proving his love for Snow White with actions rather than words. In Storybrooke, however, he had a misleading flashback to Fairy Tale that left him with the impression that Mary Margaret truly had killed Kathryn. His faith, it seems, is not as strong as hers. Then again, there is an awful lot of evidence against her.

So, the heart actually is Kathryn’s. Regina certainly would seem to be the one behind it all, but there’s still more to discover there. For instance, where is the rest of her? And is Kathryn actually dead, or did Regina do a nifty heart-stealing trick like she did with the huntsman? But what purpose would she have for keeping her alive? If anyone saw her, that would immediately expose the truth of Heny’s theory. Doesn’t seem like a risk Regina would want to take. And maybe she couldn’t perform that spell in Storybrooke, anyway.

The rattling knife in the grate reminded me of Edgar Allen Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart. Creepy. I thought the conversation between August and Henry was interesting and reminded me of the Man of Science / Man of Faith LOST debate. I’m still not sure what to make of this guy. There’s something slightly unsettling about him. Why does he know so much? Did he write the book himself, and now he’s trying to course correct so his story ends the way he wanted it to? That would be very meta, introducing an odd philosophical layer reminding me of the novel Sophie’s World. Perhaps August is sort of the voice of Adam and Eddy, in the way I imagined Daniel – especially at his most frazzled – being the voice of Damon and Carlton as they tried to re-exert control over a story that seemed to be spiraling away from them.

This wasn’t really an episode that made my heart go pitter-pat, aside from Snow White’s awakening moment in Fairy Tale, but it was certainly less violent than last week’s. Seeing what Snow could become was initially a bit comical but ultimately disturbing. See what a lack of love can do to a person? And haven’t we learned by now how dangerous it is to enter into a bargain with Rumple? I figured that he must have wanted Snow’s hair for some sort of potion; now that he’s combined it with the one he got from James, what will he do with it? Whose lives will he wreak havoc on by causing the wrong people to fall in love with each other?

My favorite part of the episode, though, was definitely the dynamic between Grumpy, and to a lesser extent the other six dwarves, and Snow White. For folks who are not supposed to be able to feel love, they most certainly do. And friendship can be just as powerful as romance – sometimes ever more so. The reconciliation at the end was beautiful. Snow White has one heck of a potent posse.

Monday, March 12, 2012

"I Know You Say You Don’t Know What You Are, But Whatever It Is, I Gotta Say, I’m Impressed."

This week’s episode was Red-Handed, focusing on Red, who has been involved in things but pretty much on the sidelines thus far. This episode certainly revealed a lot more about her. She is both more vulnerable and more dangerous than I would have guessed. The conflict between her and her granny in Storybrooke felt very realistic, and in Fairy Tale, it provided the episode’s big twist.

As Once Upon a Time goes, this was a pretty violent episode. It certainly wasn’t at the level of Grimm, but a few scenes definitely made me a bit squeamish. Rampaging werewolves and hearts in boxes… blech! Given the situation the Graham was in, if that is Kathryn’s heart, it seems very possible that Katherine is still alive but Regina is yanking her around like a puppeteer. Did she just stash her someplace? Or was this a genuine murder? Obviously I don’t think that Mary Margaret had anything to do with it, but how did Regina manage to frame her?

Ruby has always struck me as a fairly saucy character, so it was interesting to see her so unsure of herself in this episode. Of course, I think that’s how it often is when a teenager runs away from home. Lots of defiance, but once they’re on their own, the world seems a lot scarier. I’m not entirely sure how old she is; perhaps she is in her early 20s, but I wouldn’t guess that she’s any older than that. My guess would be around 19.

Granny initially comes across as overbearing here, but I love the reconciliation at the end. That relationship was the most interesting part of the episode for me. Granny wanted to show Ruby that she trusted her to fill her shoes, but she was too gruff to betray her affection until Ruby went off to do some soul-searching. The brief separation seems to have done them both good. In Fairy Tale, her story was harrowing, and the consequences of her lack of forthrightness were tragic. She believed she was protecting Red by hiding her true nature from her, but all she was doing was allowing her to unwittingly be a monster.

I loved that her boyfriend’s name was Peter, surely a nod to Peter and the Wolf. I can’t imagine how awful it would be for Red to realize that her miscalculation about Peter’s identity and her own hidden animal nature led to his demise. It was a horrible scene. Presumably, since he died before the curse was cast, he’s gone for good, and this is one romance that won’t be allowed a happily ever after. Then again, James looked dead in that first episode, and all was not as it seemed, so there could still be a sliver of hope there.

I’m not exactly sure where in the timeline this story takes place, but Snow White is on the run already, so it’s in the fairly recent past. The scenes of the two of them walking through the snow were gorgeously Narnia-like (and Mary Margaret’s umbrella in Storybrooke in the woods also reminded me of Mr. Tumnus). I loved their cloaks, especially Snow White’s. There’s such a natural camaraderie between those two, and that extends to Storybrooke, while Emma is a tad more standoffish, which is just her nature. Still, Emma and Red make a good team as well, even though Red does ultimately decide that being deputy is not for her.

I’m not sure what to make of David’s temporary amnesia; maybe he’s the one whose heart was in the box. Which would, on some level, make sense, since Snow White did indeed steal his heart. But that wouldn’t explain what is going on with Kathryn or the bizarro magic possibly at play there.

All told, I didn’t find this episode quite as engaging as most, I suppose because it was more violent and action-oriented and ended on such a sour note. Plus, there was no Rumple to be found, to say nothing of poor Jiminy – though at least there was a reference to his dog. Still, it was a solid installment that revealed a lot about Red and gave me a shock or two.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Once Upon a Time: A Collection of Classic Fairy Tales

If you like the TV show, you should check out this Once Upon a Time book of Grimm's Fairy Tales, which includes excellent illustrations by Kevin Tong and an illuminating foreword by Adam Horowitz and Eddie Kitsis.  These stories might be more gruesome than you remember, but it's interesting to trace the ways they have changed over the years.  A great collection. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

"You Can Do Anything As Long As You Can Dream It."

Earlier this week, I mentioned to my brother that Grumpy was going to be the subject of the upcoming episode of Once Upon a Time, and I said that made me happy since he is my favorite part of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. “Well,” I clarified, “I really love Dopey, too. But Grumpy definitely has the best character arc.” Nathan laughed. “The only character arc,” he replied. Yes, I suppose that’s fair. No one else in the movie really changes; each of the other characters is steady, basically the same the first and last time we see them, but Grumpy is dynamic, morphing from a curmudgeonly crank into a considerate fellow with a heart full of love.

In Dreamy, he is similarly dynamic, and in Storybrooke, he makes a similar transformation. I still love the relationship between him and Snow White, but here they are hard-luck partners with a common goal of selling candles, and the real agent of change is a new character, a sweet, clumsy nun named Astrid.

The name Astrid holds one strong association for me, which is Astrid Lindgren, who wrote the Pippi Longstocking books. Astrid has a similar sort of boundless enthusiasm and cheerfully ungainly quality as Pippi, but she lacks a bit of her self-assurance. Still, she dares to dream, and Pippi is certainly a dreamer, not to mention a world traveler, something that Astrid would love to be. Grumpy’s real-world counterpart, meanwhile, is Leroy, which immediately calls to mind Jim Croce’s Leroy Brown. It seems that this Leroy is a comparably crusty town ne’er-do-well who is “meaner than a junkyard dog” – at least until he sees his true love and is illuminated.

Light played a huge role in this episode. There was the fairy dust, ground from diamonds to light the world. The very name of Astrid in her fairy form – Nova – calls to mind stars, and the twin ceremonies of the two worlds – the fireflies in the fairy tale realm and the candles in Storybrooke – serve as a profound moment of connection between these seemingly mismatched individuals. As soon as Nova mentioned the fireflies, I thought of the lantern scene in Tangled, and the association was equally strong with the candles. As my first viewing of that scene stands as one of my most liminal movie experiences ever, the similarity certainly stirred my soul.

I love the earthy practicality of Dreamy coupled with the flighty exuberance of Nova. They are both a couple of dreamers, even if they come from different and seemingly incompatible world. Air and underground, flying and mining… Intriguing opposites. But the gentle eagerness that emanates from Dreamy in the beginning truly does not seem to fit in his confined surroundings. I do love the camaraderie with his brothers, though. They make such a sweet group.

The dwarf origin story also fascinates me. I’ve never heard anything like it before – dwarfs hatching from eggs fully-grown and only male, being christened by having their names printed on axes, being incapable of falling in love. Granted, I can’t think of too many stories in which a dwarf does fall in love, but I always assumed that it was a possibility. This strict, regimented world seems too harsh, even if the dwarfs are built to enjoy it. It reminds me of the elves in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Maybe making toys is an elf’s typical trade, but shouldn’t there be freedom for those who break the mold to do something different?

Dreamy’s egg being sprinkled with fairy dust makes me think of Short Circuit. There are just rows and rows of the same thing, but one is different simply because an extraordinary event happened to him. It’s a higher order of living that he just happened to be blessed with, and it’s a gift to nurture, even if its fruition seems impossible. After all, doesn’t just about every romance on this show feel that way? All of these couples have major obstacles standing in the way of their happiness, but as Horowitz and Kitsis said, just as LOST was about redemption, Once Upon a Time is about hope. Yes, these people are flawed too, but it’s mostly about bad things happening to them for reasons beyond their control and their finding ways to keep the faith and combat despair against all odds.

We didn’t see Rumple or the queen in the fairy tale realm, which made it feel oddly tranquil this week; the only antagonists were characters who were more concerned about the good of the many than the good of the few, or the one, and as the respective leaders of their groups, who could blame them? They weren’t evil, just pragmatic. So while it was very sad to see Dreamy shrug off his dreams and leave Nova devastated, supposedly for her own good, it was a gentler sadness than we’ve seen in most of these backstories.

Meanwhile, back in Storybrooke, the connection between Leroy and Astrid was still incredibly sweet even though she was a nun and therefore off-limits. I wonder how common it is for nuns to fall in love and relinquish their vows? Not that she has done that, at least not yet, but it certainly seems like it could be headed that way. I thought that was a clever way of making her unavailable, and the connection between fairies as distributors of this sort of spiritual life force and nuns, who you might say serve a similar role, was neat. Just as there are no female dwarfs, I wonder, are there no male fairies? In essence, then, fairies and dwarfs each exist within a sort of monastic community. Incidentally, what does Mr. Gold have against nuns?

It was great to see Belle again in this episode, and her sweet but lovelorn advice to Dreamy really packed a punch. (Also, I cracked up over Dreamy's total cluelessness about Nova's heavy-handed firefly hint and Belle's immediate recognition of it as an invitation.)  From her dress to her state of mind, it would certainly seem that this meeting occurred post-Rumple, and presumably she is hiding out with the dwarfs. On the one hand, this makes sense, since she is underground and unlikely to be discovered by the queen’s goons in passing. The dwarfs, despite their no-nonsense demeanor, seem to be a rather altruistic lot, so I imagine they don’t mind harboring her. However, as a full-size beautiful woman among short bearded men, she is quite conspicuous. Is this really the best hiding spot, then? At least it’s good to know that she is not rotting away in a dungeon somewhere, though.

I didn’t catch any overt LOST references, though of course the sailboat reminded me of Desmond and I caught a whiff of John Locke’s defiance in Leroy’s comment about people always telling him what he can’t do. Henry didn’t have a role in this episode, but I didn’t miss him. I was thoroughly caught up in this love story, perhaps the sweetest one this show has given us yet. There’s such a sense of purity about both characters and their uncomplicated magnetism. Noreen, the gorgeous lament that Neil Byrne sings as a part of Celtic Thunder’s Heritage, seems a fitting way to describe Grumpy’s future state of mind, though at this point he’s merely hardening himself, convincing himself that the life everyone says he was born for is the life he wants. Later, the regret will pierce his armor. However, we’ve already seen the future, and he and Astrid are well on their way to at least a beautiful friendship.

They really are pairing everybody off rather neatly, aren’t they? I wonder if Archie gets somebody. My guess, however, is no. After all, he is ageless to an unusual degree, much like Richard, which makes it pretty hard to form romantic attachments, not that that matters in Storybrooke, where everyone is in suspended animation, and not that it stopped Rumple from falling for Belle. Perhaps that crossed his mind, however, as he thought of reasons why he was unsuited to be in a romantic relationship. Anyway, I would like to see more of the sadly neglected Archie, and I look forward to Henry’s return next week.

But I really loved this episode and its pairing of star-crossed and starry-eyed dreamers. Given the nautical bent of this episode, the lyrics to Eric Bogle’s Safe in the Harbour seem doubly fitting here, and a good way to close out on an optimistic note: “So when storm clouds come sailing across your blue ocean, hold fast to your dreaming for all that you're worth. For as long as there's dreamers, there will always be sailors bringing back their bright treasures from the corners of Earth.”

Monday, February 20, 2012

Despite Complications, Happier Possibilities Loom for Two Couples in What Happened to Frederick?

What Happened to Frederick? was an interesting episode, partly because the title referenced a character we had not yet met, partly because of the glaring absence of Rumplestiltskin (or Mr. Gold). What’s more, the queen was not directly involved in anything that happened in the fairy tale realm. However, she was intimately involved in the events that unfolded in Storybrooke.

I’ve been unsure what to think of Kathryn thus far in the series. She seemed like a nice enough person, but I wondered if she was either in cahoots with Regina or being played by her. It seems it was the latter and that Kathryn really is a perfectly decent person, and for that matter, so is Abigail, her fairy tale counterpart who hadn’t seemed very appealing up till that point. She came across as very haughty and none too pleased with having to marry James, but with our focus on Snow and James, we’re not thinking too much about the fact that this marriage is as unwanted by Abigail as it is by James. We ought to be sympathizing with groom and bride both.

In the fairy tale realm, there were two antagonists to contend with. One was the king who was so insistent upon this match in the first place. Alan Dale is so good at playing aristocratic dads wreaking havoc with their children’s lives. In this case, of course, James is not really his child but merely a last-minute replacement for the adoptive son that he lost. Thus, his only real concern for him is what he can do for him. There really is no affection attached.

The other antagonist was the siren in the water, and that was a creepy but powerful sequence rather reminiscent of the scene in Deathly Hallows in which Ron retrieves and then destroys the locket horcrux. Going into that water is an action sparking grave consequences, and it means putting his love and resolve to the test. I was rather hoping that the defeat of the siren could involve something other than flat-out violence in the end, but at least getting to the point of battle was more about head and heart than physical prowess.

It was nice to see James and Abigail united in mutual respect and sympathy for each other’s circumstances. Abigail wanted to free James from his obligation so that she would not have to marry him but also so that he could have a love that she was denied. James ended up turning the tables and undertaking a quest to restore her lost love. It was actually quite moving.

The dynamics between the two were not nearly so cordial in Storybrooke, where David’s cowardly half-confession led to heartbreak for all concerned. Kathryn really was a pitiable person here, just a decent woman who had married a man she cared about but for whom she felt no deep, visceral passion. I felt for her as she learned in the worst way that she had been lied to, and while I felt sorry for Mary Margaret too, especially during that school confrontation, I can’t really fault Kathryn for doing it. She had plenty of reason to be upset. Now that we know she has a different love interest, we can root for both her and Snow to have happiness, and there doesn’t need to be any conflict. So much neater. Though no doubt, Regina’s shenanigans will end up complicating matters.

It was nice to see that book again, and the way that Henry’s face lit up at the sight of it was so endearing. What is up with the stranger, though? What does he want? He seems shifty but not necessarily bad news. He certainly knows more than he is letting on, though. It will be interesting to see what his further involvement will be now that he has what he wanted.

All told, a good episode, and despite the rather alarming ending, it mostly seemed a hopeful episode as it offered a way out that not only allows happiness for James and Snow but also for Abigail and Frederick.

Monday, February 13, 2012

"Loving Someone You Can’t Be With Is a Terrible, Terrible Burden."

I'd been really looking forward to seeing another LOST alum on Once Upon a Time, and having it happen on my birthday, with the focus being on a fairy tale so near and dear to my heart, was especially cool.  Emilie de Ravin makes a great Belle, bringing the same sort of sweet innocence to the role that Claire had but also the spunk that is one of Belle's most appealing features.  She may not be a warrior princess, but she is far from a damsel in distress. Sometimes love takes real courage.

I never got around to writing about Fruit of the Poisonous Tree, the second of three episodes in a row in which the plot revolved around improbable romance. In the first, it’s two upright people separated from each other by their own honor and circumstances out of their control. The second and third involve people in love with the main villains of the series.

The Sidney episode included several nods to Aladdin, with a genie who yearned for freedom above all else. The introduction to Snow White’s father was great, and at first he seemed an absolute model of kindness and compassion, but I caught myself feeling sorry for the queen as he rhapsodized about his first wife without a word in favor of his second. Granted, we haven’t seen much to recommend her, but he did at least come across as insensitive and, later, a touch vindictive.

The key difference between the magic mirror storyline there and the Belle storyline in Skin Deep is that the first involved someone falling for someone outwardly beautiful and doing something ugly to prove his love, while the second involved someone falling for someone perceived as a monster and doing something beautiful. The genie betrayed the man who had granted his freedom, a cruel and cowardly act. Belle allowed herself to be taken prisoner for the sake of those she loved and then had the kindness and bravery to believe that her captor was capable of love and worthy of receiving it. A crucial difference.

I still think that Rumple is probably the more dangerous of the two villains. However, he also seems more layered than Regina, who, even in her seemingly compassionate moments, always seems to have sinister ulterior motives. She may have loved her father, but not enough for that to stop her from killing him. She claims to love Henry, but given the way he relates to her, it appears to be a toxic relationship. By contrast, both of the Rumple-centric backstories have shown him in a primarily sympathetic light.

Yes, he sent a shiver down my spine at the beginning with his giddy giggling when he offered to save the kingdom in exchange for Belle. But once he had her, aside from tossing her in the dungeon, he didn’t seem like all that unpleasant a person to have around. And it was apparent that both the remnants of his life with his son and of Belle’s brief time with him truly meant something to him. Was his power too important for him to give up? Did he merely not want to risk having his heart broken again? I suspect there is truth in both explanations.

I loved the way the episode incorporated elements of the Disney film. The best was Chip, turning the whimsical teacup into a symbol of the broken love between Rumple and Belle. Having Gaston turned into a rose was an amusing touch, and while I was obliged to feel a bit sorry for the guy, I’m sure whatever part of his arrogant consciousness remained intact relished being on display and admired for his beauty for the rest of his days. I thought it was neat that as a princess, Belle started out in her iconic gold ball gown, then once she started working for Rumple, she switched to the blue and white peasant dress. I also loved how her tumbling while opening the curtains and being caught by Rumple recalled both the Beast rescuing Belle from the wolves and unveiling the library to her. 

The only bit I wasn’t keen on was the story that Belle returned to her father and he banished her. Maurice is such a sweet guy, and I’ve never encountered a version of Beauty and the Beast in which the father is a jerk. But he didn’t seem like a jerk in the beginning, so I’m guessing the queen just made that part up and actually intercepted Belle and locked her away before she could get home.  Incidentally, I love that in Storybrooke the name of his business was Game of Thorns.  I don't watch Game of Thrones, but I loved the play on words.

It was an interesting choice to have Rumple be the beast this time out. On the one hand, we’ve been programmed to distrust him; on the other, we’ve already seen his humanity, and he certainly seems more redeemable than Regina, though truly turning him around seems like it would be a daunting task.

I’ve often heard Beauty and the Beast criticized for laying the groundwork for women remaining with and even seeking out abusive men.  That’s a challenging criticism, and I’m not sure how to respond to it because I believe that everyone does have good inside them and that there is great value in trying to draw that good out, even if it seems to everyone else and to that individual that there is no hope for renewal. On the other hand, a person should not put up with abuse. There has to be a middle ground of persisting with love in the face of resistance without being ruled by the cruelty of another.

I think Belle has always done a good job of walking that line, especially when you consider that she went initially as an act of love to save people she cared about. She didn’t just take the beast on as a project on a whim. She agreed to his terms out of love for her father and, in this case, the people of his kingdom, so it only made sense to try to find the good in her captor instead of living with him as an enemy.

It was interesting to me that we didn’t see Belle in Storybrooke until the very end. I suppose that was partly so that when the queen gave her spiel to Rumple about Belle jumping off the tower, we might believe her. The result, though, was that aside from Rumple’s palpable anguish and ferocious temper, the current storyline didn’t parallel the fairy tale one as neatly as many do. Instead, it focused more on other couples facing major challenges.

Cinderella’s prince found a way to show his overworked girlfriend how much he cared, while David dropped the ball. I just love Snow White in this show, especially when she’s Mary Margaret. Her pain over the unfair situation in which she and David have found themselves really cuts deep, especially since she is someone who so desperately wants to do the right thing. It’s hard to be in love on Valentine’s Day when that love cannot be returned, at least not wholeheartedly, and Mary Margaret’s sardonic observations had a deep resonance. Oh, and that David-giving-her-the-wrong-card thing? Totally called that.

It was really rather a bummer of an episode, but it was so compelling and still leaves the door open for restoration later on. As for the occasion, it was probably the most affecting Valentine’s Day episode I’ve seen since Flashes Before Your Eyes back in 2007. And, well, if you’re reading this blog, you probably know how that turned out. So it may look rather grim now, but I’m sure better things are on the horizon for Belle and Snow alike. And maybe there’s even hope for this show’s tortured Scotsman.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Catching Up With Once Upon a Time

I had such good intentions about blogging about Once Upon a Time, which, of all the new shows this season, is definitely the pick of the litter for me, though there are several others I enjoy.  It’s hard to stay motivated, though, especially when I’m not sure anybody’s really interested in what I have to say.  But I’m going to play catch-up here with some quick capsule reviews and then maybe try to get back on track. 

The Shepherd gives us Prince Charming’s backstory, and it’s quite the tragic tale.  A gentle shepherd with no greater wish than to find true love finds a destiny forced upon him thanks to the machinations of the ever-present Rumplestiltskin and a king played by our dear friend Alan Dale.   Dale, who always seems to play these overbearing fatherly types, is no more likable here than he was as Charles Widmore.  He’s used to being in control, and he has no qualms about yanking people around in order to achieve his goals.  Granted, a kingdom hangs in the balance, so stakes are high.  The moment in the episode that made me grin the most was Emma and Mary Margaret sharing some MacCutcheon whiskey back in Storybrooke.  Very nice tip of the hat to the guest star.

While Emma seems to be the primary protagonist, at least in Storybrooke, it seems so far that the love story at the heart of the series is Snow White and Prince Charming, her parents.  I just love Ginnifer Goodwin’s portrayal of Snow White / Mary Margaret.  Such sweetness, with a bit of feistiness as well.  Mary Margaret is so easy to sympathize with here, since, despite her most valiant efforts to resist, she has fallen in love with David, who is married to a woman he can’t remember.  He seems to return her affections, but it’s a frustrating balancing act as he keeps pulling back just as she begins to reconsider whether they could actually be meant for each other.  They are this show’s Penny and Desmond, and more heartbreak is to come. 

Loved the music in this one, the scenes between the James and his mother and the utter skeeziness of Rumplestiltskin.  Robert Carlyle is such a charismatic actor.  Dad finds him the most fascinating character in the bunch, and he really does have a mesmerizing quality about him.  You want to look away, but you just can’t…  Anyway, a solid episode to build on later.

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter was interesting but would have been better without the excessively spoilery previews.  We knew somebody was going to die, and it wasn’t much of a stretch to figure out that it would probably be the episode’s centric character, especially since he’s not exactly a major player in fairy tale lore.  The huntsman was sadly dispensable.  He was a likable enough fellow, and as is almost always the case with flashback episodes (Nikki and Paolo remain an especially glaring exception), his backstory made me like him more.  I liked his respect for the animals in the forest, his detached perspective on the world after having been raised in the wild. 

Snow White was wonderful too in the brief time we saw her.  Whether her note was a calculated ploy for the huntsman’s sympathy or a genuine attempt to allow her death to fulfill the queen’s lust for revenge is unclear but doesn’t really matter, I don’t think.  She’s savvier than most Snow Whites we’ve seen, but she retains a pure heart and genuine goodwill for those around her. 

I loved the interaction between Graham and Henry in this episode.  It was so much like Desmond, with his brain wonking out and informing him that something was just a little off, and the panic in his demeanor was just as pronounced.  But in that scene with Henry, the kid finally got to have someone taking him completely seriously, without a hint of judgment.  Somebody who truly believed that there might be something to his theory.  It was a beautiful moment.  Alas, it was one of Graham’s last, and we were left with several weeks to contemplate Emma’s anguish and Regina’s wrath as it became clear just how much the evil queen remembered.  Not really one of my favorite episodes, partly because I kinda predicted what would happen from the beginning, but still a potent cliffhanger.

Desperate Souls was fascinating because we finally got to see Rumplestiltskin’s backstory, and it really was not what I would have expected.  He seemed like a perfectly decent, albeit wimpy, guy – and who can blame him for the latter?  His Scottish brogue was even more pronounced as a commoner dreading his son’s impending inscription into the army. 

The backstory all felt very Lord of the Rings-ish to me, with a strong hint of Across the Sea, a much-maligned LOST episode I still view as exceptional.  Like Jacob, Rumple basically had a changing of the guard forced upon him, with the old keeper of the power tricking him into killing him.  However, it was his own decision to take the steps leading him to that point, and here he reminded me of Boromir, who so desperately yearned for the power of the Ring and was so convinced he would put it to good use.  What happened to Rumple once he gained that power seems a fair illustration of what might have happened to Boromir had he taken possession of the Ring.  It was sad and touching and frustrating to think that he was such a decent guy at one time.  Decenter than we have seen Regina thus far, though he still feels like the greater threat.

I wasn’t as engaged with the Storybrooke storyline, but it was still interesting to see the tactics that were used and what each candidate was willing to stoop to.  Emma came off very well here, rescuing her enemy, even if there did seem to be a moment of hesitation, and then bowing out when she realized the underhanded scheme Mr. Gold had used.  Of course, that was all part of his plan; like Smokey, he’s really adept at manipulating people.  You don’t want to wind up in his debt.  And yet everyone does.  The theme of choice this week felt very Jacobean to me.  It’s great to say you have free will, but some choices barely feel like a choice.  Still, you have to be responsible for your own decisions.

Responsibility was a big theme in True North as well.  This episode was a bit of an oddity because we had never encountered Hansel and Gretel before, so their story really only had loose ties to the rest of the tale.  Regina was the only overlapping character in the fairy tale world, and in Storybrooke, it was mostly there as another way of exploring the relationship between Emma and Henry, as well as letting her take on her first big case as official sheriff.  She really was on top of things with smelling a rat when she dropped those kids off, and her anguish at the thought of releasing them into a system that failed her rang true.

Of course, my LOST senses were tingling like crazy with that compass.  John Locke certainly would have sympathized with their plight as well.  It’s no fun to be shuffled around from foster home to foster home.  Neat, too, that it was a compass that allowed Emma to find their father.  And interesting that Mr. Gold helped her so willingly.  Maybe he still has a heart when it comes to children being with their parents?  One wonders what exactly happened to his son.  Did he run off?  Join the army out of spite?  Did they argue, and in the heart of anger and his uncontrollable new powers, might he have killed his own son by accident?  I suspect we’ll get back to that.

The cottage was very alluring, and the witch was horribly creepy.  It reminded me very much of the scene in Pan’s Labyrinth that so angered me.  Come on, you’ve been given very explicit instructions.  How hard is it to control yourself for a few minutes?  I don’t care how hungry you are.  Get a grip, kid!  The boy is a bit of a twerp.  But the girl is spirited and has a good head on her shoulders, and she’s the one holding them together.  I hate the thought of siblings being separated under any circumstance, so it was very nice to see their father step up.

While I’ve declared Archie Hopper my favorite character on the show, he’s being pretty underused.  My favorite of the regular players is Snow White, and really I like her just as much as Archie but it’s just more my style to latch onto someone who’s more in the background.  But in 7:15 A.M., she really broke my heart.  So incredibly painful to be that in love with someone and not be able to see any way that you can be with each other.  Prince Charming is honorable and trying to put the good of the kingdom above his own desires in the fairy tale realm and stand by his wife in Storybrooke, even though he feels no emotional connection to their previous life together.  He’s trying to do the right thing, and so is she, but it’s so hard, and I don’t blame her for wishing she could just forget the whole thing and move on.

But those two clearly have something special, and how often does true love come along?  Her decision in the fairy tale world to take the potion Rumple gave her was gut-wrenching, especially considering that he was on his way to find her.  How many obstacles will they have to overcome to be together?  We know it will happen, at least there, but it’s going to be very complicated.  I loved Snow White’s introduction to the dwarves and that it was Grumpy with whom she made her initial bond, since my favorite aspect of the Disney movie, along with Dopey’s endearing antics, is the way that Snow White’s sweetness slowly melts Grumpy’s cynical exterior.  It’s such a moving friendship.

Anyway, that episode just gutted me, in rather the same way Flashes Before Your Eyes did, even though David and Mary Margaret did get to steal a kiss in Storybrooke before the end, which I can’t feel 100 percent good about since he is still married.  It’s a messy business.  But I hope that means we have something like The Constant coming.  I suspect we do.