Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time
Episode 12: In the Name of the Brother
By: Carlos Uribe

Once Upon a Time is a show about fairy tale characters who got sent to our reality, which has magic now.

Spoilers Ahoy!

Fairy Tale Story:

I’m not sure if “Fairy Tale” is the proper title for it since technically this takes place in a black-and-white world. It’s a world where magic is feeble and weak and science rule. This story follows Frankenstein’s journey. The first part of this story involves the mad doctor being kicked out of his father’s house because the idea of bringing back the dead is crazy.  There are suggestions of sibling rivalry between Dr. Frankenstein and his brother but this never actually comes up in the relationship between them. If anything, Dr. Frankenstein’s entire journey is about being appreciated. He wants to associate his name with life because of the great prestige it would bring. He would become a legend and people would see him as a valuable contribution to society. What does he want from his father? To accept his research as valuable and to have the same respect his dad gives to the doctor’s brother. When the brother disapproves of Dr. Frankenstein’s grave robbery, the doctor is all concerned about his brother’s opinion of him. Dr. Frankenstein is being driven by one thing: getting people to think he’s a great person. This certainly makes sense but it does simplify his character a bit too much.  The second half of the plot takes place after he had taken the heart from Regina and used it to revive his brother only for it to go terribly wrong.  The series does suggest that the brother might still be alive and therefore  he could be in Storybrooke.

Storybrooke Story:

This leads us into the Storybrooke story which has like a hundred problems. I don’t have the time to get into them all so let’s cover the three main ones: dropped moral line, fake drama, and forced character decisions. Let’s start with the fake drama since it relates to the fairy tale story kind-off. The guy who had driven into Storbrooke needed surgery in order to live. The town basically has one doctor: Dr. Whale. No, I’m serious; the fully-staffed hospital has exactly one doctor. It makes no sense but let’s move on. Dr. Whale is having a crisis in conscience ever since he failed to bring Daniel back to life. He’s drunk and he’s less concerned about saving the guy’s life because he hasn’t been able to cure death. He also views himself as a monster. This is all character drama that would make sense if Dr. Whale had given the impression that he cared what people thought about him. He might never have been a very well-developed character but he always acted like he could care less about people’s approvals. He doesn’t try to save the guy’s life until after he’s convinced by Ruby that being in Storybrooke gives them a chance to redeem themselves from just being a monster. Rubys speech was great and the resolution was nice but the entire crisis felt like it was manufactured to stall time. It was forced into the narrative rather than allowing it to organically develop. Maybe if we had seen Dr. Whale slowly getting worse then it might have made sense. Was it necessary? No-the plot would have worked better if Dr. Whale had to actually save the guy’s life throughout the episode but kept running into medical complications. It would have fit his new-found desire for approval as well.

At least his crisis was contained within one episode. Regina has been a villain whose been trying to rehabilitate her image by trying to be a better person. The whole murder scenario might have poisoned the townspeople against her but she still wants to be worthy of Henry. Cora enters her daughter’s life. Regina at first acts as the character we know when she points flaws into Cora’s plan and is more concerned with clearing up that she was framed. Then we get a scene where Cora talks to Regina. What happens? Regina not only decides to allow her mother back in but she goes back to being a villain who is willing to resort to dark magic to win her son back. This might have made sense at the end of the first season but it felt like it was completely taking away any character growth she had. If this is some kind of ploy to defeat her mother then it’ll be acceptable but right now it not only feels out-of-character but like Cora had just pushed a reset button on Regina. Why have valuable character development that makes someone interesting when you could revert them back to being a standard villain? Mr. Gold’s threat to ensure nothing happens the Belle might have been unnecessary but at least it didn’t break his character. It makes sense Belle’s amnesia would set him on a desperate search for his son and would actually move his character slightly back. Cora’s presence should have weakened Regina’s emotional strength but it shouldn’t have made any character development unnecessary. If Regina is playing Cora then all is forgiven but otherwise it’s extremely weak writing. That this might carry on to future episodes can be a good thing if Regina is simply acting or a bad thing if the show is sincere about completely regressing Regina.

The final problem with the Storybrooke story is that it glosses over the moral debate.  The guy who had driven into town might have seen magic. He poses a danger to the town and its inhabitants. He might turn them into a tourist attraction or a government agency might be sent to study them. It can ruin their lives. The idea of allowing him to succumb to his injuries is brought up but it’s quickly decided in favor of saving his life. This is the right thing to do but it’s so disappointing that the series wasn’t willing to either use this to create actual tension or explore the debate further. Granted this is a broadcast show so the heroes aren’t going to go anywhere near dark but then why bring up the debate at all? If you’re going to bring up the idea then at least explore it or use it. Explore it by having more debates or use it by having one of the characters try to sabotage the surgery. Easy fix.


In the Name of the Brother is an episode with a lot of problems. It ends on an effective cliff-hanger with the driver revealing that he actually did see magic, but what came before it was filled with out-of-character moments, faker drama, and it’s refusal to pursue an idea it brought up in any meaningful way. In fact, between the beginning and the end of the episode, it was largely just filler that doesn’t really hold to scrutiny.

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