Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Once Upon a Time, Season 3, Episode 1: The Heart of the Truest Believer

My things have changed since last season! Emma’s pregnant and giving birth – and screaming so intensely she can apparently knock out the electrics. Might want to get an electrician to look at that. The baby is born – it’s a boy – and the doctor realises that Emma doesn’t want to know the details because she’s giving him up for adoption. Ahh, flashback – they could have at least tried to make Emma look younger. She tearfully says she can’t be a mother

And we move to the present day Emma, Hook’s pirate ship and a terrible ocean storm as they navigate through the portal in their quest to rescue Henry (I’m going to restrain my desperate urge to ask why they want to. Really).  Everyone gets through in one piece (including the Charmings, alas). To Neverland.

Y’know, no matter how dramatically Hook says it, there’s no way “Neverland” can ever sound menacing.

Henry is being held captive by Tamara and Greg and he threatens them with the wrath of both of his mothers. Apparently Tamara and Greg want to destroy Neverland because it has super-duper magic- and they don’t ask their bosses any questions like how they leave a land they’re destroying before they get destroyed with it – because they believe in their cause (and they are not the brightest sparks out there).  This becomes more clear when Tamara tries to call their mysterious bosses and can’t. There could be a fancy magical reason – or it could be that their little walkie-talkie is full of sand, not batteries. As Henry points out, their whole not asking questions thing isn’t really working out for them.

Regina and Hook have a moment reflecting on being the villains, how villains don’t get happy endings and how that means their lives have been pretty wasted. Don’t worry guys, your character development is so completely and utterly random you could be freaking saints by the end of the series. Or randomly declare that you are, in fact, pretty pretty teapots, it would make as much sense.

And the charming family has a little chit-chat – Mary Margaret of the Wet Lettuce insists Emma shouldn’t blame herself about Neal and Henry to which Emma counters “I don’t – I blame you”. She blames listening to Mary Margaret and David who grew up in fairy tale where good always wins; furthermore, the whole trying to be parents thing is nice but David and Mary Margaret are the same age as Emma so pulling the older, wiser, advisor is silly. If Emma hadn’t broken the curse, she could have just been with Henry (well, not quite – since you had no legal right to be near him and it was only by breaking into fairytale land that completely suspended actual legal systems and made David de-facto leader for REASONS that suddenly made you magically Henry’s legitimate guardian. But, hey, you’re ranting at Mary Margaret of the Wet Lettuce, so far be it from me to nitpick).

The Charmings continue to be fluffy bunnies with their endless boundless optimism while Emma rants that their optimism is completely and utterly unfounded! And Gold throws in his opinion – he’s going to get Henry back because Emma will fail – because she doesn’t believe in magic until forced (and why should she have?), because she doesn’t believe in her parents (the Charmings of the Wet Lettuce?) or herself so she is doomed to fail. He mocks and derides her for constantly looking for evidence and never just believing stuff.

Is everyone seriously dogpiling Emma because she insists on logic and reasoning rather than believing shit and hoping it comes true?

Gold adds that Neverland is a place of wild imagination – and Emma doesn’t have that, before he magically disappears.

Back on land, Greg is still on message wanting to contact their employers while Tamara is having doubts. Greg warns her against Henry’s manipulation – please, Greg, your communicator had no batteries, her doubts are not unreasonable here. Made all the more apparent when a group of teenagers with clubs appear and introduce themselves as the Home Office.

See, this is why you really should research your employers first.

Henry correctly identifies them as the Lost Boys – and no, they don’t want to destroy magic, Greg and Tamara just seemed to believe absolutely anything they’re told. They want Henry and there’s no plan to send Tamara and Greg home – Greg smugly declares they won’t hand Henry over (ignoring the fact they’re out numbered 4 to one by people with big sticks and sharp things) and Peter Pan, the shadow monster, steals Greg’s shadow – this is apparently not healthy and Greg collapses to the floor, possibly dead. Tamara gets shot with an arrow which looks equally unhealthy and possibly dead – and Henry makes a run for it. Henry escapes when an ex-Lost Boy grabs him and helps hide him.

The boy is all despair and Henry proves he is Mary Margaret of the Wet Lettuce’s grandson with lots of “I promise everything will be ok”, uh-huh. However he is right when he says his family is different and them coming for him is considerably more likely than most of the boys kidnapped to Neverland. The fugitive Lost Boy is on Pan’s hitlist for stealing pixie dust (which doesn’t work – probably lack of happy thoughts there, grumpy), this exposition concludes when they decide to hide in the Echo Caves, the only place the Lost Boys can’t track them – I kind of think they should have been making a bee-line there.

Back on the ship, Emma exercises and Hook appears to give her Neal’s old sword (since Neal/Baelfire spent some time with Hook in Neverland after random portalling) and for Hook and Emma to build a little more of that sexual tension between them.

It also reminds who Neal is in time for him to wake up in the Enchanted Forest, ready for Mulan, Aurora and Phillip to question. Lots of random splutterings where they kind of learn Neal is Henry’s father (and from the Enchanted forest) and Aurora offers her Dream Walking abilities (hereby snarkily referred to as the power to Take To One’s Bed) to try and contact Mary Margaret or others in whichever world they’re in.

Aurora Takes to Her Bed while Mulan questions Neal – he was portaled to the Enchanted Forest because he was thinking about where he grew up when he thought he was dying. He starts to explain the Mulan movie to, well, Mulan when Aurora wakes up – her Taking To Her Bed was a failure. That leaves Neal with on choice – go check his father’s castle because there’s no way Rumplestiltskin hasn’t planned for this eventuality (he plans for everything). Of course that means telling Mulan & co that his dad is Rumplestiltskin.

Ion the way to the castle, Mulan is curious as to why Emma never mentioned Neal and he sums up what happened – ending with the clumsy Aesop of how you never find love if you fear rejection – which is slightly relevant to Mulan and her unrequited love for Phillip (if, y’know, Phillip weren’t married or betrothed or whatever).

Speaking of, Gold has reached the land of Neverland and finds the injured Tamara. With a bit of magic he heals her wound and makes the arrow disappear. She tells Gold that Henry ran and that Pan wants Henry and explains her huge, epic ignorance and how sorry she is for shooting Neal and sending him to a random world. Gold, not being the forgiving sort, rips out and crushes her heart. What, you didn’t really think she was going to live, did you? Have we been watching the same show?

Back to the boat and they’re under attack by mermaids (Hook: Prepare for attack! Regina: be more specific! I do like those two). Charming grabs a harpoon. Mary Margaret and Emma grab a fishing net and they battle for a little while until Regina loses her patience and drives the whole pack (school? Shoal?) off with fireballs and teleports the one Mary Margaret and Emma have captured onto the deck with a contemptuous flick of her wrist.

Hook and David aren’t happy having a completely helpless mermaid on the and Regina is more practical – they were attacked, she wants to know why. The mermaid blows a conchshell and calls it a warning – let her go or die. The group decide the best way to find out what that means is to bicker (and ye gods could Mary Margaret be any more of a Wet Lettuce?) . They bicker more and more and more as a storm rages up out of nowhere, Regina continually asking if she can kill the mermaid (everyone votes no – I vote on Regina’s side). Regina turns the mermaid to wood – and a huge wave appears.

Time for some more bickering which ends up with Regina and Mary Margaret coming to blows. Which in turn leads to David and Hook coming to blows. Emma makes a leap of logic that the storm is not caused by the mermaid – it’s caused by their own conflict. The more the group bickers and rages and fights, the worse the storm gets (I don’t know what you were worried about, Gold – Emma can make vast leaps of logic and imagination easily!)  She tries to call to the others but they ignore her – so she jumps over the side, shocking them into breaking up their fights in their worry over her

To save Emma, the bickering group is forced to work together in a classic after-school-specialish moral message about co-operation that couldn’t be shovelled on more thickly if the writers tried. David dives in and saves Emma and they all pull her to safety- and the Sun comes out in response to all the twee feelings

Back in the Enchanted forest, Mulan and Neal arrive at Rumplestiltskin’s castle and run into Robin Hood who has claimed the Dark One’s Castle (until Rumple returns anyway then he will run away like a sensible person. Well, assuming squatting in Rumple’s home is sensible). Robin is happy for them to look around but is sure that there’s nothing valuable there but Neal spots his dad’s walking stick. Rumplestiltskin bound many of his magical items to himself – or his bloodline – so they’d be useless to anyone else; Neal makes the point that while Rumplestiltskin may have been evil in many ways, family did matter to him (and look at the height marks on his stick for little growing up Neal, awwww). The stick reveals a hidden door.

In Neverland, Henry and fugitive Lost Boy are cornered at a cliff edge with nowhere to run. The ex-Lost Boy wants to give up, Henry, naturally doesn’t. Like Emma, he also decides to solve his problems by leaping off a high, lethal place, using the ex-Lost Boy’s pixie dust. And it’ll work for Henry because Henry believes! Um… sure – but couldn’t you sprinkle some on yourselves and test this belief BEFORE hurtling off a cliff? Of course, Henry doesn’t go splat – it works and they fly off in a cloud of green gas and really bad CGI.

Back to Gold – please kill something Gold, the level of twee is getting quite quite excessive. He sits on a rock and is greeted by the head of the Lost Boys – who recognises him (little nugget of joy – Gold has all of Rumplestiltskin’s affectations but he almost found them tiresome in this scene – his little finger twirl was impatient; I love that interweaving of Gold and Rumplestiltskin and how Gold may find the character wearing to maintain –or he’s just impatient and it’s “yes I know who I am, get on with it). Pan welcomes Rumplestiltskin – but they’re enemies if he’s there for Henry – Gold and Pan have apparently met before and Gold is quite content to be Pan’s enemy.  Apparently Gold doesn’t expect to survive – but he does question how many he’ll kill before dying. Before leaving the Lost Boy leader throws Gold a crude doll – Gold recognises it and it brings him to tears. I’m assuming it’s an old toy of Neal’s?

Especially since we then switch to Neal going through Gold’s cupboard o’ tricks, using a crystal ball to track Emma to Neverland.

Which leads us to Emma and the gang finally making landfall and Emma declaring that Gold is right they do have to believe – but not in magic, but in each other! At this point, a unicorn would actually vomit at the saccharine messages of this episode. Thankfully she pulls it back by saying no, they don’t need to be friends, there’s too much hate between them. But they need to co-operate and bring all their skills together – hero, villain or pirate (guess that makes you the villain Regina). And Emma’s skill? She’s a mother (she says this to Regina!) and she’s their leader (she says so) and they either help her get her son back (again said to Regina) or get out of the way.

Regina did not slap Emma for that line. I totally would have in her shoes.

Henry and Lost Boy land and Henry is happy that belief can make anything possible – time for some betrayal – ex-Lost Boy isn’t an ex – he’s Peter Pan himself! Oh, the shock! People actually lie! See, this is the problem of following Mary Margaret of the Wet Lettuce’s example. Peter begins an exposition speech about how it was easier to convince Tamara and Greg to hate than believe (did you catch that moral message? It was dropped with all the delicate subtlety of an anvil from a great height). He wants the Heart of the Truest Believer – which Henry proved when he jumped off the cliff. And now he belongs to Peter Pan

Isn’t “Truest Believer” a nice way of saying “Most Gullible?”

Once Upon a Time is a fairy tale – and yes it challenges some aspects of the fairy tales but some elements of the Disney versions remain (including the appalling treatment or erasure of anyone not straight and white) – that includes annoying fluffy axioms like believing in things with no indication it’s true, being excessively optimistic even when it means shutting your eyes to reality and just wishing on your stars and thinking happy thoughts and  - BLARGLE!

And could all this be better epitomised than Emma being confronted by the Charmings of the Wet Lettuce and Gold scolding her for being a silly silly thing who demands EVIDENCE and REASON. Oh silly you. And this whole episode is then dedicated to reinforcing that lesson! No thinking! Thinking is bad – just BELIEVE and you will make it so – logic and reason are silly!

There’s this edge of over-simplicity that is always there in Once Upon a Time that doesn’t quite work – because though it is based in fairy tales, it’s fairy tales brought to the modern, real world and real sensibilities. And when fluffy twee, simple thinking, complete erasure of grey meets reality, common sense and nuance the twee really shouldn’t win. (And can we run this whole "you've just got to believe" with what happened to Tamara and Greg - and even Henry and Peter Pan - contrast these more closely please!)

Tamara died. Who didn’t see that coming? I can’t say I’ll miss the character because Once Upon a Time doesn’t have nearly enough POC to support an undeveloped Black villain (and Greg and Tamara - especially Tamara - were terribly developed making them a clumsy plot device rather than actual villains) – but it’s that old choice “erasure or awful portrayal” which really shouldn’t be a choice. Especially since Lancelot and Billy makes for disproportionately large number of POC deaths (coupled with Sidney’s unexplained disappearance because Giancarlo Esposito got the hell out while the getting was good).

On the whole this episode was… not awful, but it was really heavy in the not-even-slightly subtle after-school special moral messages and I’ve already expressed my irritation with fairytale logic. Tamara’s death (and Mulan edging her way to become Neal’s sidekick) don’t fill me with great hope for the future of POC representation either – and any progress we had in the last episode towards acknowledging Regina’s motherhood is, again, undermined.

It’s the first episode of a new series, which means I am reserving judgement on a lot – I think that the plot will be more coherent this season than the mixed up mess of season 2 which is a major plus. But a lot of the old problems don’t seem to be being addressed and that’s already really clear in the first episode.