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.