Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Once Upon a Time, Season 3, Episode 21 & 22: Snow Drifts & There's No Place Like Home

It’s the season finale – and that episode 21 and 22 together in one, long double episode.

So with such an epic finale – we start 18 years ago in a Boston Group home with a young Emma. Once Upon a Time, I will judge you if you clutter your finale with pointless fillet for unnecessary tweeness. You have Mary Margaret, you are already way over your twee quota. But no, it’s for ANGST! Because Emma watches a little girl get to go to a new home while she cries because she doesn’t have one.

Back to the present away from such mopey reminiscences, and Emma’s baby brother still doesn’t have a name because, traditionally, a new royal baby should be properly announced in a coronation ceremony. This is a great chance for Emma to snark, and a chance for me to point out that, unless they get back to the Enchanted Forest he’s going to be Prince of a tiny piece of Maine (and the US government may object) but, hey, let’s run with Royals in Exile. Having finally gathered some level of self-awareness and that, maybe, everyone gathering round to worship the Charmings isn’t fun, they’re going for a Pot Luck at Grannies. To celebrate their family togetherness

Hear that Emma and your evil plans to go back to New York? Let’s rub some salt in that wound – with Henry dropping in with his apartment hunting.

Regina and Robin are being all cute and relationshippy. And Rumple hides his dagger; just in time for Belle to come in worried sick about all the power she has holding his (unknown to her) fake dagger. They talk weddings and how much Rumple has totally changed, honest.

To Grannies and everyone is partying and Henry is reading the fairy tale of how Snow White and Charming met (as Emma puts it, it was by armed robbery) and Hook is bemused by Charming would pick Snow White over the daughter of King Midas (so am I Hook, so am I). Hook snarks about Emma wanting to get away from it all, which Emma quickly tries to silence. But Regina is no fool and demands an explanation. With her cards on the table, Emma leaves, followed by Hook.

David tries to reassure Henry – and then they all see the light reaching the sky out the window. Zelena’s time portal is open. They rush to the gaol and find Zelena missing and Regina unerringly fixates on the culprit – Rumple. Though he protests his innocence and Belle backs him because, of course, she has his dagger. What Rumple didn’t think of was CCTV – but he quickly changes the video to make it look like suicide not murder. With Zelena dead, Regina expositions, her pendant’s magic was unbound so fulfilled her last wish.

Clearly everyone needs to avoid the portal because time travel is dangerous.

Hook confronts Emma with good sense and a book of fairy tales and scoffing at her idea of safety. And if Emma is, as she claims, looking for home why not make it in Storybrooke and Emma finally reveals the truth. All these stories that everyone else is a part of isn’t her life – she was never a princess or anything else form the stories, she has no fairytale history. She also adds insight informed by her past – she ran away a lot and decided home was somewhere you missed when you left – she hasn’t missed anything yet

Major character development is shelved by her seeing the time portal and rushing off towards it. Emma ignores Hook’s good sense (she doesn’t have magic, so how can she close it) and ends up pulled in, Hook is saved by his hook, but, alas, him always wearing the same leather all the time has left it weak (and probably really smelly) so Emma’s grip just tears his sleeve. Hook follows her (“one of these days I’m going to stop chasing this woman.” Heh, not likely).

They arrive back in the Enchanted Forest – back when Snow White was still a wanted fugitive and Regina was the Evil Queen – probably because that was the story Emma was focused on in the book (which they have) when they went through. Just to drive home the culture shock, Emma makes a Back to the Future reference that, of course, goes right over Hook’s head.

They hide from the Evil Queen and her guards arriving (I like that Hook draws a line between the Evil Queen and Regina – and I like Emma snarking Regina’s wardrobe even if she does look awesome). Emma wants to intervene and save random peasants from the Evil Queen’s wrath but Hook reminds her that’s a bad idea. Instead they plan to find Rumplestiltskin.

Once Emma is dressed in more time appropriate clothing so she isn’t memorable and her mere presence doesn’t disrupt the time line. Which is exactly what happens when they hide at the side of the road when another Carriage arrives. Prince Charming and Princess Abigail – supposed to be ambushed by Snow White and robbed, instead Emma makes a noise and Snow White is spooked and leaves – Charming and Snow don’t meet.

Charming heads towards Midas’s golden castle and Snow pays Blackbeard to take her far away.

Hook and Emma go to the Dark One’s castle and Hook remembers, a little belatedly, that he and Rumplestiltskin have… a difficult history. And Rumple finds them before Hook remembers – reminding us that Emma has never actually seen Rumplestiltskin in his true form – only in his Gold persona. Emma quickly pulls out knowledge of Rumple’s son and the curse to convince him not to murder Hook – and that time travel has actually been achieved.

Oh it’s been so long since we saw Rumple like this, I forgot how creepy/awesome he was.

Rumple is quick enough to realise he can’t have future knowledge without throwing off the future in which he successfully sees his son. And then realises that Emma changing things may cause problems. To Rumple’s castle and brief meeting of Belle and Emma stumpling all over calling Rumplestiltskin his name and not Gold – and letting slip about Belle (Rumple: “first you tell me I let the pirate live then I fall for the help?”)

Emma tries to show Gold the book and where Snow and Charming (Prince James who is really David and it’s complicated) but it’s all blank – because they’ve changed things. They have to get Snow to steal Charming’s ring and get back on track again. That’s Hook’s and Emma’s job while Rumple works to open the portal again. Rumple shows them where Snow is – trying and failing to get passage on Blackbeard’s ship (she can’t afford it) so Hook suggests approaching her with a different pirate captain – himself.

Which means finding the current version of Hook and distracting him with Emma’s cleavage (as Emma points out, she’s his type. Poor Hook. And he’s jealous). While Hook goes to Snow with promise of using past Hook’s ship.

Isn’t it lucky Hook hasn’t changed clothes in 2 years?

Current Hook offers Snow passage if she can steal him the wedding ring. They manage to get Snow off the ship, but not Current Hook. There’s a bit of a dance around Past Hook and Current Hook before Current Hook punches Past Hook unconscious – normally the jealousy thing annoys me but this is kind of cute given he’s jealous of himself.

Rumple drops in to correct them and get them back on track – they can’t just wait outside the Ball, they have to go in and make sure Snow succeeds. Also, Emma’s running around in stolen clothes – that could change the future. He conjures clothes and glamour and invites so they can go to the Ball and help Snow. And yes, Emma gets a princess dress

What they don’t do is bother to set up their aliases before entering, leaving Hook spluttering and improvising before King Midas. Rumple is right – amateurs. They become Prince Charles and Princess Leia. Oh admit it, you laughed! Emma sees the brief joy of Balls and very much enjoys dancing (the others dancers conveniently changing to a simple waltz as opposed to their more complex one).

Emma’s joyous princess time is interrupted by the Evil Queen – and her soldiers. That’s got to be a faux pas. Of course she has been invited. Upstairs things seem to go to plan when Charming enters the room to find Snow stealing his ring – Snow bashes him in the face with a  box (not a rock, but close enough) and makes her escape while Abigail yells about Snow White. Emma and Hook intervene to stop an archer shooting her – but realise Snow dropped the ring (you had one job, Snow!) Emma has to catch up to Snow while Hook handles the guards.

But Emma is stopped by the guards for helping Snow escape – and is confronted by the Evil Queen (who is not amused to be called “Regina”).


Portland 2001, Emma and Neal having a cute moment in a fairground and we learn Emma got that “a home is somewhere you miss when you leave” from him

Back to the action. Emma is thrown in prison and learns from her cell mate they’re due to be executed tomorrow. And in the forest Charming lays a trap that catches Snow White in the net, they have their lovely snarking and him calling him Charming (this is before Snow White became so drippy) Which is when Hook (as Charles) arrives. He knows where the ring is – but it’s in Regina’s castle – which nicely helps recruit Snow and Charming to help get it back, getting Charming his ring and  Snow her freedom. Lots more snark between Snow and Charming.

After a  brief interlude in which Hook and Charming talk about how “Leia’s” parents should really be thrilled to have “Charles” in the family (heh), Snow recruits Red Riding Hood the werewolf to help distract the guards so they can free Emma. Except she’s already broken out with her cell mate:

Hook: “Swan, you’re depriving me of my dashing rescue.”

Emma: “Sorry, no-one saves me but me.”

Of course Hook notices the rescue – Emma protests she couldn’t leave her to die, but she’s changed the time line. But not nearly as much as Snow sneaking into the Evil Queen’s chamber to try and use some super dark fairy dust in her. Of course trying to out Black Magic the Evil Queen does not go well and Snow ends up imprisoned due to be executed. Regina burns Snow White at the stake.

Leaving Emma rather stunned and grieving. But then she realises she’s still there. If Snow were dead, she would have disappeared, never having been born. Which is when they’re bothered by a bug – which is exactly what that black fairy dust is supposed to turn the Evil Queen into. Snow White used it to escape. If they can turn her back – cue Blue Fairy!

Everything seems solved – except for the woman Emma rescued. They’re left with one choice (beyond killing her) to stop her fulfilling Hook’s worries (she gets drunk and rides a horse and kills a dwarf leaving only 6) they need to take her to the future with them. She naturally refuses unless they kidnap her. Emma’s quite willing for that to be the option.

Of course the next step on the charming adventure it to chase Snow to the Troll bridge where they save each other’s life – except this time Snow no longer has the dust she used the first time. But Snow needs no help – this is pre-drippy Snow – she bluffs the Trolls to save Charming. They’re back on track

The book returns to normal, it’s pictures restored.

And the Evil Queen is back on her Snow White hunting rampage, having being told by the trolls that she’s still alive – so Snow hasn’t faked her own death. That storyline is back on track too.

But, a problem. Rumple can’t open the portal – only those who went through it can open it again. And since Emma and Hook can’t use magic (he doesn’t give Emma chance to explain she could once before Zelena’s curse) it can’t be done. To preserve the future he takes a forgetting potion to make sure he doesn’t derail it – and he puts Emma and Hook in his deep dark vault, where he keeps the most dangerous and unstable of magic which even he fears.

Hook believes Emma could tap into magic but she doesn’t want to, not really – because not having magic makes it very easy for Emma to pretend to go to New York. But she’s had a complete change of heart – when she thought her mother was dead she was so hurt that it brought home what losing her would mean. More, when she hugged Snow in relief at seeing her alive, Snow was confused and showed no emotion – because at this time Snow doesn’t know Emma. That hurt Emma and she realised she’d been doing the same thing to Snow since the curse was broken. Storybrooke is home.

As she comes to the realisation, her magic flares to life and she can use the wand (Rumple’s purloined wand that can duplicate magic) to open the portal. Hook goes through with the kidnap victim – but Emma is grabbed by Rumple. He demands to know what happens when he finds his son – before he forgets he has to know. Emma tells him Baelfire forgives him – but Rumple knows there’s more. Emma tells him that Bael dies – he dies a hero to save them all. Rumple plans to change it but Emma cries, tells Rumple she loved Bael, but Rumple could make it worse – he died a hero, Rumple can’t take that from him.

Rumple drinks the potion and sends Emma through. Then is bemused about why he’s in the vault. The memory potion worked.

Back in the present, Emma leaves Hook to fill in the kidnap victim and rushes to see her family at Granny’s. Hugs and declarations that she definitely isn’t leaving. And she calls Mary Margaret and David “mom and dad”. Of course, everyone has great fun over “Princess Leia” when Emma tells the whole story.

And the baby is named Prince Neal. After Baelfire who saved them all (some excellent acting from Mr. Gold there).

Hook and Emma have a moment and Emma finally asks how Hook did escape the curse and cross worlds to find her – he ditched his crew, outsailed the curse (apparently his ship is faster without a crew?) and then bought a magic bean. He traded his ship for it – for her – which is a hugely major big deal of bigness. Emma kisses him.

More tweeness! Dr. Hopper (Jiminy Cricket) officiates Belle and Rumplestiltskin’s wedding. Both of which have epicly amazing vows while we get to see everyone happy around Storybrooke.

Hey it’s a fairy tale! It’s allowed to have a happy ending

Of course, it isn’t ending yet – and the newly kidnapped woman is in Granny’s and very worried when Regina walks in. Emma performs an introduction – Regina meet… Maid Marion.

Ah, hell. Can’t Regina catch a break?! Of course Robin is overjoyed… and Regina is devastated. And furious with Emma. She accuses Emma of being just like her mother – never thinking of consequences.

She adds that she hopes Emma didn’t bring anything else back… OMINOUS FORESHADOWING! To the portal, where a pot has come through with them from Rumple’s vault. A pot that opens and leaks blue goo into Zelena’s portal rune… forming into a woman in a blue dress, a blonde woman who uses ice magic and leaves a trail of frost behind her…

…why do I think Season 5 isn’t going to involve a cast-wide rendition of “let it go”?

My end reaction to this episode is “I don’t care, I loved it.” With a faint defensive hunch because I have this nagging feeling that I shouldn’t have. I mean, it had all the hallmarks of filler – but I liked it. I liked the nostalgia of it, I liked Rumple the gold-skinned monster, I liked Snow the non-soggy, I liked her and David actually having something resembling banter rather than giving the impression of 2 very bland blancmanges melting into each other. I liked this little visit down memory lane, it was fun and nostalgic and kind of silly and a real blast-back to what was.

And I think there was some pretty decent character development – or reinforcement rather – of Emma

While I remain very unimpressed by Emma’s “let’s go to New York” because of the disrespect and selfishness of it, I’m glad we got some decent exposition of why and why it makes sense. Emma wants a home, a home she never has – and Storybrooke is somewhere where she inherently doesn’t fit in. Even Henry has been brought up on Fairy Tales. She is the only real Earth person there, the only one not grounded in fairy tales and magic, the only one who reaches for a gun, not a sword – and the only one who had no experience of any of this 2 years ago. I’m glad it has finally reached this because it’s something that has been missing from Emma’s character as we’ve focused on all the action – Storybrooke is alien and foreign to Emma and she has had one epic learning curve to get where she is today. But when peace is restored, is it really that surprising that she would feel drawn back to the reality she’s used to? A reality she can actually engage? This couldn’t be better shown than pairing her with Hook, a man who has never had modern Earth memories or a non-fairytale existence (and really is past due freaking out over cars, planes et al).

And that’s before we consider the more basic conflict of Emma having lived in big cities and now living in rural Maine.

I liked her growth and realisation – and, yes, that she had to lose the thing she’s never had before before she truly understood how much she’d come to value it. Yes it’s cliché, but it’s also true and powerful

However, Regina knew why the time portal was open, instantly. Emma figured it out. Emma. Yet Rumplestiltskin didn’t consider this a possibility? SHENANIGANS! I call shenanigans!

But, Marion can crawl in a pit and die any day now. Please. We have a plot from the next season with the Frozen knock-off, we do not need yet another round of Regina dumping, we really don’t. Please let her catch a break once in a great while! And for the sake of my sanity and grey hairs do not have this send Regina back to Team Evil. Do not do not do not!

On to the season – I think it was shaky. I don’t think there was anything overly wrong with the overall plot in essence, but I think there was with the execution. Too much of this plot – especially in the Peter Pan days – relied far too much on hero passivity. Snow and Charming have a virtual motto of not doing anything and just hoping. I’ve come to really dislike their character for this eternal passivity while being fluffy and twee. I get it, they’re good people who believe in the power of positive thinking, hope et al – but they need to back that with some actual action. Especially since the “do nothing and hope” philosophy is starting to infect Emma. Why is good incapable of actually doing anything?

 I also think the writing has been shaky – particularly in trying to introduce Rumple and, especially, Regina to the good guy side we’ve had a lot of shenanigans played with their powers, instances where they’ve just chosen not to use their powers and times when they’ve been distracted rather dubiously. This is part of the problem of a redeemed villain – villains can be all powerful forces that seem impossible to beat; it’s difficult to have a hero who has all that power and retain any tension.

I think the Zelena storyline definitely pulled the series back from the rather dull, hot mess of the Peter Pan episodes (which I dub “Charmings wandering in a jungle bickering”). I think my overall sense is that this was a 22 episode season, but they had enough material for, maybe…. 15 episodes. So there was some stretching to fit.

Now let’s touch on the festering pustule that badly needs lancing - the inclusion of Once Upon a Time.

We have one regular POC on the cast – Regina. Let’s start with a positive - the first half of the season was awful to her, but the second did everything we actually wanted with her. It was an excellent redemption train, we moved away from the awful writing of her (where she frequently threw off bursts of cartoonish evil in a desperate attempt at character development), finally reinforced her motherhood, her love, her family, her power and her goodness. It was awesome. It was everything we could have wanted – and it DIDN’T NEED the terribleness that will come with Marian’s return.

But she is the one recurring POC this season. And this cast is huge, really really really huge. I mean, REALLY huge. Lots of main characters, lots of long term recurring side characters, lots of recurring minors and extras and we’re overwhelmingly White. Other than Regina we have the quickly dead Tamara, a briefly appearing Rapunzel (who could have been so much better if they weren’t a one off) and the very quickly disappearing Mulan

And yes let’s tackle Mulan. So, despite having that aforementioned cast of 10 squillion people, it took until the third episode of season 3 before Once Upon a Time deigned to acknowledge LGBT people exist. Sort of. See, Mulan’s whole “coming out” scene had that thread of ambiguity; Mulan could return and claim “oh, actually I loved Phillip, was going to tell Aurora but stopped when I realised she was pregnant” and it wouldn’t be a retcon. This could certainly have been built on in future episodes… except Mulan went away (apparently to join the Merry Men) and never ever returned. Ever. Even when the Merry Men came to Storybrooke. Mulan just vanished. This is not what inclusion looks like

Terrible inclusion is never excusable – but it is something that grows more galling the longer a series lasts and the larger their cast. And Once Upon a Time entering season 4 with the cast of a small town is on shaky ground.

The one strong element Once Upon a Time has is decently strong female characters largely because of the large number of them – and even if Mary Margaret gets all soggy, Emma is there and there’s Regina to step up, etc – it shows the basic truth that one of the best ways to represent marginalised people is with multiple, different, inclusions.