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.