Wednesday, February 13, 2013

I don't want realism. I want magic!

I listen to CBC Radio every morning on the drive to work. This morning I heard stories about how the number of home grown Al Qaida members is growing, the persistence of nuclear testing in North Korea,  the underfunding of aboriginal education in Canada, and (my personal favourite) a woman who says she can’t marry her beau of 15 years because the owners of a Spadina Avenue bridal boutique took off in the middle of the night with the store contents, her dress included.

That’s not what this blog is about. In the words of the immortal Blanche DuBois, this morning, “I don’t want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic!”

Magic. What an apropos segue.

This morning I read Meredith Woerner’s post on io9 entitled “Once Upon A Time might be the most frustrating TV show I’ve ever watched”. Damn! She beat me to the punch. I vow from this day forward never to procrastinate writing and/or posting to my blog again. As Macbeth would say, from now on, “the very firstlings of my heart shall be the firstlings of my hand.” As a result of her post, I must change tack on mine.

I thought I might explode waiting out the three long weeks between  OUAT episodes. On second watch, I even grew to sort of like the subplot of the last episode as it was high time Dr. Whale got his backstory, though I still don’t understand what Rumplestiltskin was doing in 1800s Europe or why he wanted Frankenstein’s experiments to succeed. And while I admit Ruby and Whale might make a cute couple, I would much rather have learned more about Mr. Mendell, as well as seeing more Rumbelle interaction.

This week’s episode makes the third (to quote Ms. Woerner) of the most frustrating episodes I’ve ever watched.  I liked George Garcia, both in Lost and Alcatraz, but his role as “Tiny” the Giant seems forced.  Why grow “magic” beans if you have no use for them? If the purpose of the story is to introduce the stalk cutting to grow more beans so a portal back to Fairytaleland may be opened, isn’t there a better way? Secreted away in Mr. Gold’s safe, for example? And why return to Fairytaleland when it’s already been established that the kingdom and much of its surroundings is no more than wasteland?

Then there’s the matter of Regina. What happened to living a better life to prove to Henry she’s worthy of his affection? The whole time I watched the scene I thought, “this can’t be Regina; it’s Cora in disguise again.” I liked watching her struggle with her former self in an effort to change, though I realize now she can’t ever change, seeing as she’s a fairy tale character, drawn to power and…well…evil by design. The beauty of fairytales is the clear distinction between good and evil, the battle between the two, and that good always triumphs in the end. So while Regina had gained some headway into the gray, she must ultimately lose her battle as she is inherently evil.

On a brighter note, Hook, though still quite one dimensional, provided quite a bit of comic relief, coming on to everyone without a penis. Charming’s reaction to Hook’s advances on Snow were funny but exaggerated--when will the men of Storybrooke learn that if there’s one thing the women of Storybrooke don’t need it’s protection by Storybooke’s men?

Last on the discussion agenda is the story of Rumple’s search for Bae. In an earlier post I wrote that Gold had adopted his limp as an affectation to deceive people into believing he is weaker than he appears. Going by the way he limped through the metal detector, I’m guessing I was off base with that theory. I’m still holding tight to the theory that Bae is Neal—how else might the look of recognition on Emma’s face in the preview be explained?

I like the fish-out-of-water vibe of Rumple at the airport and on the plane. In her post, Woerner asks, “Why not a road trip?” given that New York is probably no more than eight hours’ drive from Maine. When you consider that a plane ride might cut their travel time by half at least, they would save eight hours on a round-trip. That’s almost a day. A day less for Rumple to be away from Belle. A day less for Henry to be out of Storybrooke (though I don’t understand why he needed to go along on their quest). A day less for Emma to leave her parents (still na├»ve to the ways of the outside world) to deal with Mr. Mandell and Hook and Cora in her absence. 

Time to put on my English Teacher’s Hat now. The one thing this episode does is to seal the deal regarding Rumple as a tragic hero. In a previous post I explained how Rumple was an example of a tragic hero. He had everything in Fairytaleland—wealth, power, respect (disguised fear, really). In Storybrooke, his insistence that nothing has changed with respect to his power has slowly led to his downfall. He lost Belle (again). Power has shifted to Sheriff Emma and her parents. And now, he’s lost his magic, non-existent outside of Storybrooke, and his control. Sitting on the plane, we are reminded of Rumplestiltskin the coward, with one difference—this time, Robert Carlyle allows Rumple’s nobility to show through.

Next week should prove interesting. According to online spoilers, the flashbacks take us to early in Rumple and Milha’s relationship. In one picture, Rumple sits on a bed cradling baby Bae in his arms. One can only imagine the thoughts racing through the man’s head, his hopes for the child, but mostly his fears. Losing Bae’s mother to a pirate, nearly losing him to the Ogre Wars and then finally losing him to another dimension, his fear of the perils of Fairytaleland, mistaken for cowardice, prove warranted.
 
Works Cited
Woerner, Meredith. Once Upon A Time might be the most frustrating TV show I’ve ever watched. io9 TV Recap. 11 Feb 2013. .13 Feb 2013.

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Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Anti-Hero


I love Dexter, be it reading Jeff Lindsay’s novels or watching the television series. It was weird at first, rooting for the bad guy, but the more I read/watched, the more I realized that “bad” had shades of grey. Lately, many shows feature protagonists who are more anti-hero than hero. Take ABC’s Once Upon a Time, for example. It’s no secret that my favourite character on that show is Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold, a man who killed his wife, chopped a man’s hand off, held a woman hostage, and beat an old man with his cane, twice. Through it all, I root for him. I feel the loss of his son, the anguish in his love affair with Belle, the plunging psyche as he picked up the remains of his prized possession, the chipped cup, from the hospital floor. Scandal is another example. Olivia and her team have murdered, stolen, and lied. Olivia herself is in an affair with a married man and was involved in rigging votes in the last presidential election. Is it wrong to want to see her and Fitz together? To want Fitz to remain blind to her conspiracy? To want Mellie to die in childbirth? To love Cyrus for calling off the gun for hire he’d paid to murder his own husband to keep the secret buried?

For two weeks now, I’ve been watching FX’s The Americans. The premise is intriguing: Russian spies carrying out covert missions while posing as the all American family. As I watched this week’s episode, I questioned my interest in the show. Talk about anti-heroes? Elizabeth and Phillip pose as heads of a nuclear family, living out the American Dream in their house in the suburbs with their son and daughter. Last week, they used their garage to store the spy that raped Elizabeth during her training in the trunk of their car. This week, Elizabeth poisoned an innocent college student and the two blackmailed his mother for the cure. Elizabeth played the nurse to the boy while Phillip beat up the uncle, broke his hand, strong-armed the mother, and nearly suffocated the boy to get what he wanted, which was for the mother to plant a bug in a politician’s office. As I watched, I thought, “How horrible. I don’t even think I like these characters.” Then Phillip sat in his car after suffocating the boy and nearly cried while Elizabeth consoled him. I won’t say I root for him as I do Dexter, but I think I watch to put together the glimpses of humanity. So long as the gruesome brutality is balanced with the humanity, I may continue to watch.

I am no stranger to television brutality. Shows like True Blood, Vampire Diaries, and Walking Dead are full of it, but the macabre is acceptable, almost expected, given that the characters are vampires and werewolves and hunters and zombies and just trying to survive. Shows like this don’t bother me much. What I find horrific is when the monsters are human, drawing blood for nothing more than the horror of it. Dexter, I understand. He witnessed his mother brutally murdered in front of him as a toddler. Dexter’s impulses are born of blood. He knows what he does is wrong. Unable to quash his compulsion, he has found a way to control it instead, killing only those who deserve to be killed. Not the same for Joe Carroll on Fox’s The Following, who gets others to kill for him a la Charles Manson. I can’t figure out why he does what he does other than the fact that he can. American Horror Story is another show that pushes the blood-soaked threshold, but it does so with a subtle irony and hidden horror stereotype allusions that elevate it from horrific bloodbath to interestingly compelling.

The line between good and evil has blurred for the traditional superhero types as well. Gone are the days in which the hero does good both in and out of their costumes, like Batman or Superman. Today’s heroes fall nothing short of human. This week’s Arrow, for example, showed Oliver brutalizing his own mother for answers. On Person of Interest, Detective Carter often bends and/or breaks the law to save Reese and Finch. Even the president of the United States is not exempt—this week’s Scandal saw Fitz murder Verna in her hospital bed to prevent the jury tampering secret from getting out. Gone are the days of good and evil, of black and white; welcome to the days of anti-heroism and shades of grey.  
 
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