Friday, April 26, 2013

Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time
Episode 19: Lacey
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!

I'm going to break with form here and talk about the episode as a whole rather than the split fairytale flashback and Storybrooke story.

Once Upon a Time can be a difficult show to watch because it uses the fairy tale hook as a crutch. The antagonists will openly admit that they have darkness in their hearts. This creates a drama that suggest that it's going to be black-and-white. You know who the bad guys are because they basically tell you. There is really no question on which side is good and that's basically going to stay true. The writers justify the one-dimensional morality of the characters because these are really fairy tale ones. Regina is the Evil Queen who brought them here. It makes sense that she would be an antagonist in the series but it makes less sense that she actually admits to being evil. It's very rare to find bad people who think they're bad in the real world. They think that they're the good guys in the story and that their actions were the right ones to take. They would have to be a certain kind of crazy in order to actually admit that they're being bad people on purpose. It really all comes up to a person's perspective. Regina might have been coined the Evil Queen by Snow but she shouldn't see herself that way. That's a more complex character than a Regina who talks about how being “good” has never gotten her anything so she decides to be “dark”. Now if the writers of Once Upon a Time just stuck with this simplistic point-of-view then they could create a fun, if campy, drama where the battle lines between good and evil are easily defined. The problem is that the writers are at war with this. They want to create compelling characters who learn from their mistakes. They want to add a bit of “gray” to their narrative. That was the whole point of David and Mary Margaret's love triangle with Katherine back in the first season. That's why Regina and Mr. Gold spent a significant time this season trying to improve themselves in order to impress the ones they love. They were actually growing as characters but that would mean removing the natural antagonists from the series. They might have become compelling but they didn't fit the story the writers were telling.

So the series hit the reset button with Regina. She started to relish being evil again. This was a disappointing turn for the character because she lost what had made her so interesting this season. This is one of the rare cases where a show will develop a character before reverting them back to their one-dimensional core. This episode decides to hit the reset button with Mr. Gold. He had been trying to be a good person in order to impress Belle and his son. These motivations made sense and his road of redemption was a pretty good one. Only this means that he won't be an antagonist so the writers had to take him back to his old self. Which is so frustrating because one-dimensional Mr. Gold isn't a very interesting character. He's just a villain who looks out for himself. I prefer the Mr. Gold that tries to be a better man. This is a major part where Once Upon a Time stumbles. It delivers outstanding character development before resetting the character. It makes the whole arc of them trying to be better people be a complete waste of time. It's not like they even learned anything. They're basically back to the people they used to be. Which brings me to Mary Margaret. A major plot point is supposed to be that her heart is becoming darker ever since she had Regina kill her mom. She might become evil. The question is-will she? Of course not. If Once Upon a Time has proved anything, it's that it's not going to matter. Now Snow White might become an antagonist for a small while but she'll eventually be back to her old self as if nothing happened. If Once Upon a Time proved anything it's that the writers shouldn't be trusted with having character arcs that matter. All of this would suggest that Lacey is a frustrating episode but I still found myself enjoying it.

This is because of two reasons. The first is the character of Belle. She's a character who is able to see the good in anybody. It's this ability that allows her to get close to Rumpelstilskin and ultimately win over his heart. She was able to get close because she didn't let his “darkness” stop her from getting to know the real him. In this episode, Regina is able to give Belle some of her memories back. By some, I mean the ones from Storybrooke. She now thinks that she's Lacey. Lacey is a character who likes to see the bad in people. She's basically the opposite of Belle. I thought that the two differing personalities was an interesting one and provided a nice contrast between the fairytale flashback and the Storybrooke story. In the flashback, she helped to reveal Mr. Gold's good side while in Storybrooke she allowed him to go dark again. Her sudden character departure is somewhat justified by the excuse although she really wasn't Lacey in the first season. She was stuck in that room after all. The second reason is because his regression at least made some sense. He had been trying to become a better person for Belle. He wants to make her fall in love with him again so that involves being bad. I mean he's not going to be winning any favors with his son but he might be able to get this version of Belle. Now obviously Belle's good side will eventually come out because that's the way this show works but at least the series is having some fun with Lacey.

Lacey is a good episode when taken on it's own. The contrast between Lacey and Belle was very well executed and Mr. Gold's regression made some sense. It could have been a little less on-the-nose with the dialogue. The problem is that it's not a good episode when taken in relation to the rest of Once Upon a Time. It basically means any character growth that Mr. Gold has made since the beginning of the season doesn't really matter. It adds to the impression that character arcs don't really amount to much as they will revert back to their old selves by the end. With that impression, it's really hard to care about them. Why should I care about a whole bunch of people who stay the same? The stakes involving the souls of the characters ring false and ultimately it makes the television drama completely pointless. This is because in the end the most important part of any show is it's characters. If they're ultimately in stasis then nothing that happens matters.

Other Notes:

I was going to make this a mini-review but then I realized I had too much to say about it.

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