Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Once Upon a Time, Season 4, Episode 22 & 23: Operation Mongoose

In a great bait and switch we flash back… to 1966, our world, watching a television about a fantasy setting (ok I liked it, well done). Isaac the Author is trying to sell the TV – and having his sale usurped by his boss who wasn’t impressed by his terrible sales technique with added digs at his writing skills and dreams of being a writer.

Which makes him eager to meet a publisher when he gets an acceptance letter – except the publisher turns out to be the Sorcerer’s apprentice and the interview a test for the next Author (the last one died). Which (unsurprisingly) he passes. Time for the magical mystery tour and proof that Isaac believes in magic.

To the present and the whole good guy gang (and the Charmings who are, remember, evil terrible people who sacrifice small babies and need to be eaten by a dragon. Damn it, if Maleficent won’t do it can we ship in Daenerys?) are all despair over Gold and the Author getting together. But August thinks they should see the Sorcerer’s apprentice and shows them a picture – which Killian recognises.

He was trapped in the hat-box-of-magicy-doom by Killian while possessed by Gold, but Blue Fairy/Mother Superior can crack that lock (wait, there’s a load of fairy nuns in there isn’t there? If she can crack it why hasn’t she?). Using the apprentice’s Fangtasia broom she opens the box with shiny CGI

They rescue the apprentice (but not the Fairy nuns, but everyone cares about them as much as the Charmings care about innocent babies they sacrifice). The Apprentice has a plan – but Isaac back in his book (hey, I have a plan! You could stab him in the head? Maybe? Far easier than convoluted magical planning).

To Gold where Gold wonders what Isaac’s happy ending is (castle and power- which Isaac scoffs at preferring wealth in our world with modern technology. And yes, I take my hat off to his rejection of dysentery and a 40 year life expectancy of the Enchanted kingdom – nice to see someone challenge the idea of magical medieval kingdoms being happy fun time). He offers to make Gold forget his son to stop the pain – Gold refuses but he does want to edit his memories so that he can think he did right by his son. Utterly cowardly – but then, Gold has always been a coward.

The good guys (and the Charmings) split up to grab the book to imprison Isaac in and march on the pawn shop – just as Isaac finishes his new story.

The world changes and Henry is alone – everyone else is gone. The whole town is deserted.

With nowhere else to go, he drives out of town, trying to find people who may have seen his family (of course, he’s mistaken as a runaway because he is a kid driving around). He does find a copy of Isaac’s new book.

The book is immensely popular (Isaac, failed writer’s own happy ending) and he is hailed as a great author as he extols the virtues of his original book where the villains work, something different for a modern audience (hey, I like the little poke at the predictable tropes of fairy tale reworking – yes this episode is getting seriously meta). Of course his happy ending has a bit of a hiccough when he runs into Henry with his page and the key that can lock him up again (rather than a knife that can stab him in the head).

Henry’s family are all locked in his book – the original book (which looks a lot like Henry’s old book of fairy tales). They’re all in an alternate reality where they’re miserable – except Emma who isn’t there at all because you can’t have a Saviour in that world.

He also can’t bring them back – by writing his own happy ending he has destroyed his power as the Author. He’s also not impressed with Henry – the reason he isn’t also trapped is because he isn’t magical or from a magical world. He’s just a poor, innocent, helpless human boy. Henry’s not having that- and uses the key to enter Isaac’s book.

For the first time, Henry is in the magical worlds he’s always obsessed about – and he has a sword. Isaac followed him – or was also dragged in, and decides to kidnap Henry in revenge because he’s not thrilled about being trapped either. He also doesn’t want henry changing anything even though, as he’s already established, he despises these settings without modern comforts. His babbling does reveal that if Henry does succeed in giving a hero a happy ending he would completely destroy the book and derail Isaac’s writing (I suppose heroes no being happy is the underpinning point of his book)

But he’s also managed to pull them in right at the end of the book. Isaac just has to keep Henry busy until the bells ring signalling the end of the book. He then runs before the ogre attacks and prepares to eat Henry – before being stopped by the good and noble… Rumplestiltskin.

Henry is duly rescued – and he has a copy of Isaac’s book in his pocket to guide him as to what’s happening next. He follows the book direction past several traps to find Regina, the archer, and introduce himself. She’s not exactly convinced but she does believe that he believes (which means she thinks he’s delusional). But he has the book – but annoyed and upset that the book knows her future, Regina burns it; Henry only manages to save a page.

So Henry is left to wing it – which basically means convincing Regina to find Robin and have true love’s kiss. Cynical archer Regina is not sold on this plan since she hates Robin, her main competitor. She’s more interested in fleeing the kingdom to escape a queen who hates her for ruining her life – which she did (sounds like she’s stepped into Snow White’s shoes before they became so soggy).

Isaac, the inept author who doesn’t remember his own book ends up falling into the hands of the seven evil dwarfs who take him to be a Regina supporter and a traitor. To the palace and Evil Queen Snow White who looks considerably less soggy (but probably a lot less evil since this version may not want to sacrifice small children). She doesn’t rock the wardrobe nearly as well as Regina did.

Evil Snow calls her enslaved executioner, David (who has evil eyeliner! And works evil eyeliner as well. Oh he’s no Killian, but still) – but Isaac gets a reprieve by revealing a secret, he knows who Snow loved, David’s dead twin brother, James since they were both as cruel of each other (did they enjoy sacrificing small babies?) but Regina killed him leaving Snow to settle for his enslaved brother. The promise of being able to kill Regina (and Henry) works for Evil Snow

Regina ends up ambushed and making excuses for killing James while she was a child (so even their ages have been flipped in this retelling with James taking the place of Daniel). Before Snow can burn Regina (of course Snow has magic) Robin rescues her.

Much snark follows between the adversaries who never met before. He wants to step down as head of the Merry Men because he’s madly in love with Zelena, his fiancée. Regina is, of course, bitter and sad.

Henry catches up to tell Regina that Zelena and she have also swapped places (Regina is now the one abandoned as a baby). In between realising that the ending for the book is Zelena and Robin’s marriage, he also learns what happened to Emma, the Saviour – she’s been locked up years ago by Snow White (again with people not stabbing their enemies in the head).

Isaac’s next step is to go to the noble Rumple living his happy life with adoring wife Belle and their children. He uses knowledge of Baelfire to convince Rumple – trying to expose the fake memory of his son which Rumple can feel is false. He tells Rumple if he wants to keep his happy ending he has to kill Regina

This sets a whole lot of doubt in the “Light One’s” heart

Henry’s next move is to recruit Captain Hook – except Killian is just a deckhand in service to Captain Blackbeard. With Killian far too afraid to confront the captain, Henry knocks him out with convenient rigging so they can steal the ship.

To the island where, again, Henry has to plan their moves because Killian is a coward (and, to be fair, not even slightly invested in his mission – why is he even doing this?)

Henry finds Emma – and she recognises him. Part of her horrible non-happy ending is for her to know how bad everything is, how wrong it is, but be powerless to stop it – a really powerful and meaningful punishment for the Saviour whose whole life and role is about making things better. Of course Killian doesn’t remember her even if she remembers him (and makes him very uncomfortable).

Next problem – her guard was Lily, and she chases them in dragon form. Thankfully cannon beats dragon. (And Killian is allergic to rum… oh the pain that’s just cruel Rumple). While, back in the castle, Evil Snow kills a dwarf for failing, Emma teaches Killian how to fight, in a nicely gender-reversed guy-teaches-a-woman-how-to-do-x-with-lots-of-body-contact move. Uncertain Killian is surprisingly cute.

Evil Snow and her minions show up and Emma tries to appeal to her parents with the truth. Amazingly that doesn’t work. Killian offers to basically sacrifice himself while Emma runs to save Henry, which she does. But Killian beats David – he may be a coward but apparently this Killian still has real Killian’s muscle memory (which, I suppose, means he’s better with a sword than David). Unfortunately he postures way too much at Evil Snow (who doesn’t fry him for… reasons) and get stabbed by David.

Emma and Henry catch up with Regina and convincing her to pursue her happy ending (which, awesomely, she says and Emma acknowledges that her happy ending isn’t a man). She uses Killian’s recent death to convince Regina to reveal her true love to Robin – to take the chance she didn’t

To the Wedding – but Rumple the Light One is in the way – and dropping “dearies”.  Emma fights him while Regina runs to the wedding ceremony. Until Rumple resorts to magic and knows Emma out, leaving Henry to grab the sword.

Regina makes eye contact with Robin, now is the time to speak – but Rumple moves to behead Henry and Regina, instead, steps in the way to save her son. As she falls, mortally wounded, the church bells ring. The wedding party leaves and Robin hurries over, horrified when he sees Regina so badly wounded while Zelena whines about blood on her dress on her special day. Her envy and bitterness turns her skin green and she runs

Isaac decides to mock them and Emma punches him, knocking his writing supplies out of his hand. Isaac repeats that, because he’s not the author, he can’t change anything. Henry picks up his pen – we have a new author (and Henry was always perfect for the role). Using Regina’s blood as ink – a Light Saviour unlike the Dark Saviour of the real world. He writes a new ending

Thanks to the hero, Regina’s, sacrifice Isaac’s villainous work was undone.

To Storybrooke and lots of loving joyful reunions. Sappy awwwws all round.

Gold is all helpless and ill while Isaac runs for the hills. Leaving Gold to Belle and Isaac is intercepted by David and Mary Margaret who want an answer – why did Isaac want to make them hurt Maleficent (ye gods Charmings for one second accept some responsibility! If they’re not evil because of the Author then nor are ANY of the villains he has written). He rants about heroes always pushing him around – and Mary Margaret defines what villains do: try to make themselves happy at the expense of others (like, for example, kidnapping and sacrificing babies) though it just makes them more unhappy (aaaah this is why Mary Margaret and David aren’t villains? Because they’re not unhappy about their baby snatching?)

Henry looks over his books when the Apprentice appears to explain why he can’t bring his dad back from the dead and all about writing the Truth and resisting temptation. Henry snaps the quill – no-one should have that much power. The Apprentice is impressed.

In the pawn shop, Rumple is turning dark even as Belle protests he already HAD everything he wanted from the book: her love and happiness. But Rumple never believed it, he didn’t believe Belle could truly love the Dark One. He tells her to go with Will, but she doesn’t, she doesn’t love him. She wants to stay with him as he dies though he tells her to run – for soon only the Dark One will remain.

Everyone parties and is happy (except Zelena, still locked up) and Emma has forgiven her parents. And Lily approaches Emma  - she want to find her dad (her necklace is the only clue) but Maleficent doesn’t know who he is (having only seen him as a dragon… I guess?) She’s going to stay in Storybrooke to look

Belle warns them all about Rumple and the danger they face. The Apprentice steps up with the box-hat which they use to contain the Dark One – not Rumple, they take its power out of him, pulling the darkness from his heart (which becomes a gleaming white) and erasing his name from the dagger. He’s still unconscious though, recovering from centuries as the Dark One will be hard

Worse, the hat box overloads with evil power – and the power breaks free and possesses… the Apprentice. Ohhhh that’s not good. Really not good. Emma throws some light Saviour magic at him which exorcises the darkness out (good plan, since the Apprentice seemed to be pretty powerful even without the Dark One magic) and it escapes

The Apprentice expositions the darkness: way back in the past the Sorcerer battled the darkness. To defeat it he bound it to a human soul which could be controlled with the dagger, creating the Dark One but tethering the darkness. It’s now free and only the Sorcerer can stop it

The Sorcerer is Merlin.

The darkness pounces on… Regina. Of course it does. Can we please pick another punching bag?! (The Charmings are RIGHT THERE!) Emma refuses to have Regina’s happiness taken from her yet again and, despite the protests of Regina, the Charmings and Killian, she stabs the swirling darkness with the dagger

It swirls around the dagger and she and the darkness vanishes. Leaving only the dagger with “Emma Swan” engraved on it. She’s the new Dark One

Why is “stab him in the head until he stops twitching?” never a solution in these stories? And don’t claim moral outrage of the good guys, it will just make me bring up the baby sacrificing Charmings again and point out that locking someone up in a magical page for all eternity is hardly more merciful than a bit of head stabbing.

I don’t like how this episode worked with what was established before. The whole point of “villains get happy endings” was just that – villains got happy endings. Not that they became heroes and then got happy endings. That was, at least inferred, always on the cards – the villains could find their happy endings anyway so long as they actually turned away from villainy and pursued their happiness through good. This was constantly hinted at over and over as the true path to happiness in this world. I don’t like this because it also connects to the broken morality of this show in that heroes seem to be inherently heroic rather than heroic because of deeds and behaviour. His book would be broken by any hero getting their happy ending – but that only works if you classify Mary Margaret as a her EVEN WHEN she’s the Evil Queen or Rumplestiltskin as a villain EVEN WHEN he’s a noble ogre-slaying knight.

Ok we can argue that any hero in the book is a false hero because it’s just how the Author has written them – but isn’t that what the Author does? And it shakily adds to this season’s already shaky morality already established with Snow White and David doing what they did to Maleficent’s baby and the broken way everyone reacted to it. Again, there’s a sense that heroism is something inherently held by some people even when their deeds are pretty villainous which the Author’s world reinforces.

And we have to add to that broken morality- Rumple now has a glowing white heart because woo-woo. The dark heart has always been a sign of moral degradation on this show (though it doesn’t apply to baby stealing) – so, what, he’s magically absolved? No longer responsible? Forgiven? Purified?

But I did love the ending. I loved that it was Regina’s sacrifice for her son (upholding her motherhood) and not love of Robin (because, as she’s said before, while her happy ending INCLUDES Robin, it isn’t BECAUSE of Robin which is a wonderful and important distinction). I love that Henry is the author, because this is how the story began with Henry and his stories. This was always the core and the beginning of the whole season. It’s perfect.

I have to return to Regina’s happy ending because I do love that – and it has been a recurring theme from the last season as well and her embrace of white magic, again, for her son. This whole idea that her happy ending includes Robin but isn’t defined by Robin is an excellent point when true love (and by that, always heterosexual romantic love) defines fairy tales and their endings. And then we have Emma sacrificing herself for Regina, admitting that Regina has had her happiness snatched away too often, that this time she would NOT be the punching bag, that she had promised Regina happiness. Definitely powerful

Other decent things – Belle, I hate her choices and wanting Rumple, but I do like that she does reject Rumple handing her over to Will. Her wanting Rumple may be broken but it IS what she wants and what she chooses not what he decides is best for her.

Maleficent was toweringly awesome and I really hope we’ll be seeing more of her. I also liked both Cruella (time we got some non-angsty villainy here!) and Ursula had a decent, but limited, back story I appreciated.

I haven’t mentioned the first half of the season because I think all right thinking people agree that we should never ever speak of it again. Let us pretend the dreadful Frozen Fanfic never happened (just as last season we had the much better Zelena storyline following the terrible Peter Pan one). However, even the arc-that-we-should-let-go furthered this powerful sense of love and family that ISN’T limited to romantic heterosexual love interests which I really appreciate

What I don’t appreciate is the diversity of this show. Regina is the only recurring POC of any real prominence out of a REALLY vast cast. We had Ursula, but her power, presence and general impact on the story was the least of the four villains and while I really liked how her story ended, it also took her out of the main plot before she really got involved in it. She was a good character, but used too little. We had Marian… but even that turned out not to be the case because she was not only killed off, but retroactively killed off so she never, truly, existed. She didn’t just die, she was erased.

There were no LGBT characters, again, and the still-not-entirely-clarified-Mulan, despite being one of the Merry Men, has fallen into the plot hole never again to return, it seems.

With these limited or non-existent inclusions we really have to remember how VAST the cast is. Look at the Frozen cast, look at Emma, the Charmings, Lilly, the four villains, Regina, Isaac, the Apprentice, Zelena, Rumple, Belle, Killian, Henry – and these are just major, prominent characters not including the Blue Fairy, the dwarfs, Granny, the Merry Men, Roland, August…. Per IMBD this show has had 55 characters who have appeared in 6 episodes or more and a vanishingly small number of them are POC and only 1 has been hinted at as possibly-bisexual-but-maybe-not. That’s an appalling lack of even tokens, let alone sizeable inclusion. As the series continues (it has been renewed) and the cast grows, this is a problem that will only get more glaring.