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…