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.”