Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Once Upon a Time Season One, Episode Two: The Thing You Love Most

This was an extremely interesting episode.  It was filled with commentary seldom scene on television, alongside some pretty normalized racial tropes.  Who knows, maybe the creator of this show intends to stretch Disney's version of what constitutes a fairytale.

Emma Swan decides to stay in Storybrooke because she is concerned for the mental health of her son Henry.  Regina Mills (Evil Queen) attempts to calm her fears and set her up by mentioning that Henry is in counseling.  When  Archie Hopper (Jiminy Cricket), Henry's psychiatrist,  the exchange is something I cannot ever remember seeing on television.
Emma: No, I'm here about Henry. Just tell me something, this fairytale obsession, what is causing it? I mean he thinks everyone is a character in his book, that's crazy.

Doctor: I hope you don't talk that way in front of him.  The word crazy is quite damaging. These stories they are his language...For the sake of the boy, be careful how you handle his belief system. Destroying his imagination could be damaging.
 Crazy as a pejorative is part of our everyday lexicon.  People think nothing of associating all sort of acts with being crazy without any sort of understanding of how this effects those who are neurologically atypical.  In Henry's case, though what he is talking about is far outside of the normal experience, we, that is the viewer, know that Henry is indeed correct. 

Outside of social justice circles, it is extremely rare to see such forthright consideration for the language that we use and the fact that terms that we have normalized have damaging consequences. Emma calling Henry's assertion that they are all fairytale characters crazy, was her was of dismissing him and it was reductive.  It is only later in the show that she learns to "speak Henry's language" and address his concerns respectfully.

In this episode we learn that the spell was not easy for the Evil Queen to cast.  When she was thwarted and Snow White was awakened by true love's kiss, she turned to Maleficent.  I was pleased to see Kristin Bauer, whom you may recognize as Pam from True Blood in that role.   Maleficent initially refuses to give the Evil Queen the spell, but she is defeated and the Queen takes the spell.  Maleficent tells her that there are some lines that even they should not cross but the Queen refuses to listen. Finally Maleficent tells her to go ahead and kill her. but the Evil Queen refuses claiming that Maleficent is the only friend that she has. I could not help but think that the Queen is lonely and isolated, yet revenge was so greatly desired by her, that she sacrificed her father. 

As with all fairy tales, the coding of Black and White is very obvious.  Snow White represents Whiteness with her name and her very pale skin, whereas; The Evil Queen is dark and dresses in black from head to toe. Black is the opposite of goodness and when Black moves beyond simply the colour of a garment to a person it means submissive.  Giancarlo Esposito, who you may recognize as Gustavo Fring from Breaking Bad, plays both the magic mirror and Sidney.  Thus far, he seems to exist simply to do her bidding.   As I mentioned in the first review, I did not expect to find many characters of colour on this show largely because these fary tales are based on Eurocentric myths, and seeing Esposito in this role does nothing to assuage this feeling.  He is a wonderful actor and yet he is reduced to a lowly servant and all of the characters that matter, or that drive the plot in any significant way are White.  Tokenism does not equal inclusion.

The only love relationship that we have seen thus far is between Snow White and Prince Charming, though in episode one, Geppetto did mention his now deceased wife.  What I would like to see is Once Upon a Time push the boundaries to modernize this fairytale. For this story to be truly captivating it needs to include historically marginalized bodies in real and meaningful ways.  I want to see GLBT characters and characters of colour that have a real role to play.  I want to see actual disabled characters and not just talk about ableist language, even though such a recognition is groundbreaking for television.  The question remains, how far are they willing to push this story to modernize it and make it inclusive?

I am very interested in Once Upon a Time, but I am still very wary at this point. The show has not really sold me on the idea that it intends to take this familiar tales and twist them into something new and relevant. Emma Swan makes a point of saying that she is not mother material and yet she almost instantly becomes maternal with Henry, thus reinforcing the idea that motherhood or the desire to parent is inherent in all women despite their protestations to the contrary. Emma may not be waiting for a prince charming to save her, but running down people in heels that she can barely walk in and having instant kiddie connections screams of gender performance to me.  Once Upon a Time needs to make up its mind about exactly what kind of show it wants to be.