Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Reset Button at the Edge of Town

Review/Recap of Once Upon a Time 4.12 "Darkness At the Edge of Town" - SPOILERS!!!

Oh, Once - it is good to have you back in my life again.

One thing this show has always, always, always, ALWAYS excelled at is misdirection. And I mean that in a good way. Making you think you're going one way, but then you go somewhere completely different. I mean, how many story arcs have we gone where there's a villain who could have made a different choice, but they don't and that becomes their (ugh - can't believe I'm going to say this) undoing? Cora had choices to make, Peter Pan had choices to make, Zelena had choices to make - they all chose poorly.

Parallel this with the villains who have made good choices - Regina is the poster child for villain redemption, with Captain Hook at her heels as a close runner-up (and I characterize him as the runner up because he's had one less season to gain redemption - though maybe I should consider him as better at it, since he's done more in less time... but I digress). The Snow Queen even had redemption for a brief moment, before her chance to make amends resulted in her taking her own life to save everyone else (which was quite the change from the one-off baddies constantly choosing to stick with their terrible plans). Rumplestiltskin had his chance to be redeemed until he completely pissed it away at the end of Season 4A (obligatory DAMMIT RUMPLE!)

So with this new story arc of Heroes and Villains and the Queens of Darkness and villains getting happy endings - they're done hinting at all these parallels. This show is going to go full-bore into how these choices affect the outcome of which side you choose to embrace.

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday

After the complete and total bomb zone Storybrooke was after the events of the Frozen arc (Spell of Shattered Sight, Rumple's villainous bullshit, time behind the ice wall) - it was good to have a few little scenes at the start of this episode to kind of show what "normal life" ought to be in our favorite little quirky fairy tale town. Regina is dropping Henry off at the bus stop before resuming her post as the mayor of Storybrooke (PRAISE HEAVEN AND HALLELUJAH!) Mary Margaret is back to teaching school. Granny is tending Baby Baelfire (still not calling the kid what they named him), Emma's off to work as town sheriff - but not before meeting Killian for a morning coffee and a squee moment for us Captain Swan shippers. And Killian and Belle are working together to find a way to free the fairies/nuns from the Sorcerer's Hat that Killian helped imprison them in when he was under the control of Rumplestiltskin because Rumple had Killian's heart in his attache case.

You know - business as usual.

The Enemy of My Enemy

I really, really, really love that we got a scene with both Killian and Belle - given their past history, but also their past of being screwed over by Rumple. Thing is - Belle doesn't really have any friends in Storybrooke, since her story has always revolved around Rumple. And Killian still has an air of being an outsider in town, his relationship with Emma Swan, notwithstanding (probably has to do more with him not having been part of the original curse). So, it's good to see them both being friends with each other and working toward a common goal - which hints at things to come in the future (this being a premiere episode of sorts - it has to set up a lot of stuff after coming back off hiatus).

Speaking of Rumple - he's in New York mooching Top Ramen off Ursula in a dumpy apartment filled with fish. He's a cryptic bastard, as per usual, and still doesn't seem to have learned anything in his six week exile from Storybrooke. My advice to Ursula? Dump his sorry ass off on some curb and get on with your damn life, honey.

But then we wouldn't have a story, would we?

If She Doesn't Scare You

When the Queens of Darkness were introduced and Cruella de Vil was included, I kept thinking "How in the crap is she going to fit in?" The traditional character isn't magical at all - she just goes after puppies for fur coats. Now, the Once version does have magic - she has this green breath that can make living creatures do whatever she wants (and she chooses to use it on rottweilers in the Enchanted Forest. Ummm... 'kay?) - but where her appeal comes is in her personality and her confidence - which is FABULOUS. I know next to nothing about Victoria Smurfit outside of OUAT, but so far she is doing a pitch-perfect job as being this incredibly conceited, high-and-mighty, take no shit offa nobody, absolute queen of villainy. She's got just the right amount of over-the-top nuttiness and almost boredom that just makes this character work.

This really should have been a promo image for the premiere.
Modern-day Cruella is introduced in a way that totally makes sense for her character. She is losing her ostentatious mansion because her wealthy husband is being carted off in the most publicly humiliating way possible (someone called TMZ and the FBI showed up - it looks to be). She gets to keep one of her fur coats AND she's got The Car (you know the one I'm talking about). She even almost runs over an FBI agent when she tears out of the driveway, which means this is gonna be GOOD.

Life's Like a Novel With the End Ripped Out

Back in Storybrooke, Operation Mongoose is front-and-center, just like Emma promised Regina. Personally - my thoughts on the identity of the Author run thusly: I almost don't care about it. The show has made it very clear that it is a person's choices that determine what they become. Rumple even said as much to Regina at the end of the Frozen arc. Yet, now everyone is obsessed with this Author and think they're going to just find this person and flat-out DEMAND he/she/it/they rewrite the book.

And yet... and this might be kind of dumb, but just go with me... I harbor a secret hope that this is going to be Once's way of paying homage to Walt Disney. I thought this clear back at the Season 4 premiere when Rumple found the Sorcerer's Hat and there were those connections to Fantasia and The Sorcerer's Apprentice and how the Sorcerer in that movie is named Yen Sid and tradition holds that he was loosely based on Walt Disney, especially the disapproving look he gives his Apprentice - which is the same look he gave the animators at Disney Studios when they weren't doing as good a job as Walt knew they could. For Once Upon a Time to make Walt Disney a part of this universe in some tangential way would be brilliant beyond brilliant - given how much this show owes to the genius of Disney Studios for inspiration. Honestly - just how much fans of fairy tales in general owe Uncle Walt. Sure, we might have read or seen fairy tales anyway if Disney didn't have this great tradition of telling these beloved stories - but would it really be the same? Just think about it. Disney made these stories (and so many others) accessible and relatable to ordinary people. Whether you're a complete Disneyphile or just watch the movies to keep your kids entertained - you honestly cannot look me in the eye and say that Walt Disney didn't change the way stories are told - and that the company he started doesn't continue in that tradition even today. There is a reason movies like Frozen and Big Hero 6 get awards and accolades and people love them. There is one thing that Disney movies have (for the most part) that many others don't - and that is heart. Sure, other studios try to recreate that magic and some come close, but for some reason, Disney did it first and Disney does it best. So, to have a show that brings all these stories together (and, yes, not all of these are Disney, but enough of them are) pay tribute to the man himself would be fitting and glorious and I'm getting teary-eyed just thinking about it

(I'm not holding out too much hope for it - this is just pure speculation at this point and there's no guarantee that this is what they're going for. But it's nice to think about).

Song of the Lonely Mountain

Long story short - Belle and Killian come rushing in with a solution to the fairies-trapped-in-magic-hat problem. Regina does the thing, the fairies are freed. Yay! Except - someone didn't notice the evil blob of smoke that also got released, which turns into Chernabog (hey! Another Fantasia reference!) and that thing comes back to terrorize Storybrooke while everyone's at Granny's having a "Yay! We Saved The Fairy Nuns!" party

We're not in Arendelle anyomore
Regina and Emma scare off Cherny (that's what I'm calling it - it's not quite as cute as "Marshmallow" and I'm kind of missing my Frozen peeps right now), but they take off toward the town line to really get rid of the damn thing. Cherny almost destroys Emma's Bug (it breaks the windshield, which I suppose is the best we could have hoped for) and it tumbles beyond the town line and gets dusted.

Except Cruella and Ursula are there as well (Rumple's off hiding in the trees, presumably) and they call Regina using Rumple's phone - and this is where things get REALLY interesting, because the two Queens of Darkness tell Regina that they've reformed and they want to change and come to Storybrooke and be with the heroes.

Now - see how clever these writers are. Because through three-and-a-half seasons, this has been all about villains getting redemption and second chances and making good choices. And here we have two villains who are trying to get in the heroes' good graces by claiming to be redeemed and changed.

Now - how could this get any better in the storytelling department? Insinuate that Emma Swan - the Savior of Storybrooke, the product of True Love, the purveyor of the strongest light magic - could potentially be turned to evil. Like, go totally dark magic. I mean - we're all thinking "No way in HELL would that happen..." but we also did think that the was no going back for the Evil Queen and she ended last season actually using light magic. So if that door opens one way, conceivably, it could go the other.

Ohhhhhh boy...

Other Things I Liked/Noticed:
- Cruella calling Rumple "short stuff." Actually, any kind of snark she throws at Rumple is fantastic. More please.

- Fairy tale villains going for drive thru on the way to do villainous things. Best. Unexpectedly Hilarious. Thing. Ever!

- Regina incinerating Mary Margaret's bluebird painting in the mayor's office - and Emma not saying a word about it when she comes by to bring Regina lunch.

- Ursula correctly deducing that Belle was the one to banish Rumple. Oh, I am SO going to enjoy this half-season!

- "I suggest we go see what's killing property values this time." Oh, Regina - never change.

- Also - "Sea bitch"

- And, of course, all things Captain Swan. Killan and Emma holding hands when Regina was freeing the fairies from the hat, Emma cheering Killian up when he was feeling low about putting the fairies in the hat in the first place, all the little happy casual moments between the two of them - I AM HERE FOR ALL OF IT!

This was a solid start to this new story arc and I'm interested to see where it goes. Last fall, I had Frozen to be excited for and about and I wondered how Once was going to top that. I think they're off to a good beginning.

Besides - it's just good to be back writing about one of my favorite shows again.

Next Week: A return to pre-Curse Snow and Charming. *sigh* Well... if we must...

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