Friday, May 17, 2013

Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time
Episode 22: And Straight On 'Til Morning
The Season Finale
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 like Once Upon a Time. I think it's a fun show with a neat premise. I like most of the characters and I generally enjoy the plot. I would call myself a fan of Once Upon a Time but that's basically as far as I would go. I'm not in love with this show. Why? Once Upon a Time is entertaining but it's far from good. The episodes are too inconsistent, the writing is generally very basic, the character arcs make no sense, and the narrative just jumps around from one place to another. It's a show with magic but it has placed no rules on it so that it basically becomes a basic plot convenience. The characters can go from being good to being bad based on where the writers need them to be at the time. It reminds me of what Heroes used to do but to a lesser extent. It's hard to take this series seriously when it comes to anything long-term because nothing matters in the end. Any character development might be aborted if the plot demands it. Three-dimensional characters can be reverted to their flat two-dimensional selves for the sake of the narrative. Any plot that adds interesting layers can easily be solved by magic when it starts to present problems for the writers. Any obstacles that our characters face are likewise solved too easily. There's a whole failsafe that can destroy Storybrooke? It only takes a couple minutes of Emma and Regina using magic to save the whole town and undo any natural damage the buildings were taking! The only rule that magic has is that it always has a price but this supposed limitation is so abstract and inconsistent in it's application that it basically usually amounts to nothing. The only time magic can't be used to solve the problems of the characters is when the writers demand it. The stakes in this show are weakened because it's hard to take them seriously when you know magic is going to save the day in the end. Magic is a good element to have but it can easily be abused to the point where it becomes detrimental. Having magic should not be an excuse to be lazy about writing characters out of their problems.

What happened in this finale? A lot of it actually and some of which I approve. I like how the flashback sequence basically helped develop the Hook and Baelfire relationship. The two develop a weird father-son bond until Baelfire learns that Hook was the pirate who ruined his life. He wants nothing to do with the pirate so Hook hands him over to the Lost Boys. It's a bit disappointing that Baelfire wasn't the boy they were looking for but it does leave a lot of potential for his eventual adventure back to our world. The big concern from the flashback ties into the modern day story but I'll tackle that in a minute. The flashbacks are usually an area of weakness from Once Upon a Time as they tend to be written with a black-and-white view of the world. You know who the bad guys and the good guys are and there's little question about whose going to win in the end. The dialogue very much belongs in a children's cartoon and the characters are usually two-dimensional. There are some exceptions as a few of the characters have actually become more layered due to the flashbacks but this is very inconsistent. Even when the flashback parts are good, they rarely ever exceed what's happening in Storybrooke. This is becoming more common towards the end of the second season but the flashbacks remain very overtheatrical. It should say a lot that the flashback is the only good part about the finale until the very end. It ruins it by revealing that the boy that the Peter Pan shadow is looking for happens to be Henry. It ties into the Storybrooke cliff-hanger but it's not one I'm looking forward to. This could turn out to be a good plot but I'm always skeptical when Henry is at the center of the plot since Jared Gilmore isn't the best child actor.

This brings us into the Storybrooke plot of the finale. The main plot has to do with stopping the failsafe. Regina claims there's no way to turn it off but she can delay it. The whole town will be able to escape through the magic beans and nobody has to die. Well that's not completely true since delaying the inevitable will take all of Regina's energy. She's sacrificing her life for the whole town. I'm sorry, but what? I understand Regina would want Henry to live but didn't she just try to steal a bean so she could take Henry into the Enchanted Forest? The whole reason that the failsafe is out there is because she was planning to use it to kill everyone! Why is she suddenly so interested in saving them? It makes no sense. Regina is basically back to trying to redeem herself because the writers demand it rather than coming from a place of character. There's also a big question I came up with that had to do with Emma. If it would take all of Regina's energy, why doesn't Emma just volunteer to help Regina? The two of them can delay the emerald until the other characters have the bean. They can jump into the portal as the two of them would still be alive. This actually does happen later in the episode when it's decided that instead of taking the portal into the other world, they'll throw the diamond into another world. The consequences? Nobody knows but it would probably wipe out the whole magical world. Mary Margaret’s great plan for redemption is too doom a whole world into oblivion just so that Regina doesn't have to die. Only they lose the one bean they have (plot demands there's only one bean for them) so Emma has to help Regina stop the diamond from destroying everything. How come she didn't do this in the beginning? Gah! Anyways, they manage to easily stop the town from destruction only to discover that Mary Margaret and Daniel are terrible grandparents because they easily allowed Henry to be kidnapped under their watch.

Who kidnaps them? Greg and Tamara because they changed their plans. Now remember how their whole mission is that they want to destroy magic? They had made that perfectly clear. They reveal they don't know who they work for but we basically find out that Peter Pan has been manipulating them into destroying magic. Wait, what? A magical being from a land of magic is trying to destroy magic in another world? This makes like no sense and I doubt the series has a good explanation out of this. Anyways, Greg and Tamara soon change their tune of music when they find out Henry is the boy that Peter Pan wants. They take a magical bean so they can use magic to travel into a world of magic. Once again, the characters whose whole deals were that they hated magic are now using it themselves so that a magic character can have a boy. The good news is that Hook decides that instead of leaving the world on his own, he's going to come back and help Storybrooke because Neal is dead. The flashback actually helped justify his one-hundredth alignment switch but I'm sure that he'll quickly become a bad guy next season. This is that kind of show. All of the characters, except Belle, board the ship to follow Greg and Tamara to Neverland. I guess I should be excited about this except I'm not. Magic is already a major problem on this show so I'm not sure taking these characters into a land full of magic is going to be any good. I don't mind that the show is resorting to a kidnapped Henry as the driving motive for the next season because we know him but I'm not convinced it's going to be a very good narrative because of Jared Gilmore. It's not like I believe Henry is in any real danger. In a show where magic can get the characters out of anything, I sincerely doubt Henry is going to be in any real danger from anybody. It's also doubtful that a broadcast network show is going to kill off a child. What a disappointing set-up for a third season.

Let's take a quick recap of how magic is used this week. The failsafe is a problem so two characters are able to shut it off just as the writers are ready to move on to the real-cliffhanger. Greg and Tamara are ready to destroy magic until they need it to kidnap a child. These two examples would be bad enough. One of them makes the whole plot pointless and cheapens the town's stakes. It only takes a couple of minutes of Emma and Regina using magic to stop the town's destruction? Talk about an easy obstacle! The second basically betrays who these characters are and what made their mission so promising in the first place. Their threat to magic is weakened and they basically go from being effective villains to plot devices in no time. The worst example of magic? One constant on this show is that crossing the barrier is bad. In the first season, the magic didn't allow any adult to leave. Henry (and Owen) are able to because their kids and are from this world but that's basically it. In the second season, the fairytale characters are stuck in the town because leaving it wipes their memories. Only two characters have crossed. That dwarf character and Belle. The latter was to set up a romantic obstacle between Gold and Belle before it became a way for the writers to introduce her Storybrooke counterpart, Lacey. Only they don't need this obstacle anymore since Lacey has fallen in love with Gold and because he needs her to perform a spell to cloak the town from any and all dangers. Belle has to stay behind from the ship because I guess the series needs one main character so that they can keep doing episodes in Storybrook or because Emilie de Ravin is getting demoted to recurring or has been fired. I have no idea but in order to accomplish this task she can't be Lacey but Belle. So what does the show do? The Blue Fairy manages to come up with a potion that awakens their memories all of a sudden. What a wonderful plot contrivance that comes out of nowhere to solve the whole barrier problem now that it's no longer necessary to have it! With all of the main characters (but Belle) going to Storybrooke, there's no reason to use the barrier to keep them where the action is. It's literally the writers giving Belle her memory back by basically stating “magic! Her memory is back!” without any work needed to be done by any of the characters we know. It's attempt use the excuse that the Blue Fairy was working on it this whole time is laughable because not once did she ask our heroes for help. This was a pretty big problem-this should have been a plot we should have occasionally checked up on.

This episode basically resolves most of the plots with a nice little bowtie. Hook trying to kill Rumplestilskin? Not anymore because he thinks Neal is dead and is willing to do anything to help out Baelfire's son. Regina being a villain? She's willing to help our heroes to save her son and also randomly give up her return to evil for no real reason. Belle's memory problem? Magic. The failsafe destroying Storybrooke? More magic. Greg and Tamara trying to destroy magic? They start to use it. This is all to build up to a season that's apparently going to take place in Neverland. I don't know but I'm not entirely excited about the next season. When character development and the narrative is all over the place and magic can solve anything, it's hard to take this show seriously. I'll still come back and review the third season (I'm 99% certain of that) but I'm going to go win with less expectations than I was going into the second season. If the writers are too lazy to properly resolve plots, pace their character development, and ensure their narrative is tight then why should I apply my standards of basic quality? I'm going to try to start reviewing the melodramatic, silly show that exists rather than the serious, quality drama that could have been. 'Cause I like Once Upon a Time. It's a lot of fun. It's just not very good.

Other Notes:

The failsafe apparently wouldn't affect people born on Earth. Henry would be the only character who would have survived it. Is his concern that everyone he knows is going to die? No-it's that he'll be all alone.

Michael Raymond-James (who plays Neal) has been promoted to series regular. In most shows, that would mean an added importance to the series and more screentime. Once Upon a Time has a bad habit of promoting actors (Eion Bailey-August, Meghan Ory-Ruby, Emilie de Ravin-Belle) and then promptly stops giving them a lot of screentime. Oh, and the episode technically ends with Neal being discovered by Aurora, Philip, and Mulan. So I guess it's time to check up on what happened with them and the wraith.

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