My family’s interest in ABC’s Once Upon A Time began last November. Since then, the three of us have binged-watched our way through the first two-and-a-half seasons of the show. Last night, we found ourselves somewhere in the third season, still in Neverland, still trying to rescue Henry, still wary of the nefarious Peter Pan. But that’s pretty much the aesthetic of the entire show. As discussed in the link above, I watch the show because so much of it hits all of my personal sweet spots, that isn’t to say however, that the show isn’t without its frustrations. It’s one of the greatest deus ex machina shows of all time and it’s frickin’ ridiculous.
The Most Screwed Up Family Tree of All Time. This is Henry. He is the son of the nominal protagonist and the adopted son of the assumed antagonist. He is also the grandson of the Prince Charming and Snow White, the John Cena-esque more centers of the show. Oh, and his other grandfather is often referred to as “The Dark One”. What does this mean? This means that characters who are/should be mortal enemies spend more time bound in uneasy alliances at the behest of “what’s best for Henry.” They can’t just end the thing by killing each other because they all legitimately love Henry, and the death of any or all of them would emotionally scar him for life. They stay together for the kid, except when they don’t because of some selfish end or the other. In this way, Emma, Regina, Charming, Snow, Rumpelstiltskin, and Henry himself are neither likable nor unlikeable because their morality and motivation changes constantly to suit the situational crisis du jour.
RKOs Outta Nowhere! Bear with me. You may have stumbled across Vines just like this one while meandering through your social media platforms. For the uninitiated, the RKO is wrestler Randy Orton’s finisher. The general conceit is that Orton can hit the move “out of nowhere”; he can drop it at anytime, even like this. The Vines are a play on that concept. Randy Orton can sneak up on anyone in real life, then utterly destroy them. The irony, of course, is that the RKO doesn’t really come out of “nowhere,” as the wrestling ring is literally the one place where one would expect to see an RKO. What does this have to do with Once Upon a Time? Magic is the writers’ RKO.
Obviously, the show is set in a magical setting, so magic is not to be unexpected. The problem is that the magic of Once Upon a Time is simultaneously facile and complex; it easily solves a conflict in one episode, but is useless the next, primarily because the rules of magic are completely arbitrary. Now, I’d be able to suspend my disbelief if they foreshadowed it well, but they don’t. The show’s idea of foreshadowing is planting the seed two or three scenes ahead rather than two or three episodes ahead. It smacks of quick fixes.
We watched an episode titled “Ariel” last night, which Madison was stoked for because she got to see her favorite red-headed, scaled friend. It was first appearance in the series. Her back story (in a flashback) was told over the course of the episode, then she shows up in the last three minutes of the episode (because Regina whispered into a sea shell). “Mermaids can travel through realms,” Rumpelstiltskin says, and in a single sentence reveals both an entirely new concept previously never mentioned in the show and her entire purpose – a means to get off Neverland. Wow.
No other character embodies this kind of narrative trickery more than Peter Pan. Formerly portrayed by Disney as a heroic character, Once Upon a Time‘s Peter Pan is a cross between Voldemort, Kate McKinnon, and that one smug jerk you went to school with who didn’t have to study at all to make A’s and loved to let you know about it.
Season three has revolved around rescuing Henry from Peter Pan, saving people who have fallen to Pan and the Lost Boys, and also trying to figure out how to get out of Neverland (because no one can leave unless Pan lets them). I know, I should be happy that I’m getting another season of Lost. Pan has actually uttered dialogue like “after I reset the board” and “you know I make the rules of the game.” This whole season has been a metaphor for the experience of watching the show: Pan as the show writers and the protagonists as the audience. Wait – what’s happening now? Why is this important? But I thought that – Oh, so that’s not what’s happening now?
But Captain Hook, though! Season three’s breakout character is Captain Hook, played by a guy so handsome that Lynnette whoo-hoos nearly every single one of his appearances. Like many Rumpelstiltskin, he is a survivor and his relationships fluctuate depending on what’s best for him. But even he’s tangled in the gnarly branches of the Charming Family Tree! He was in love with Henry’s grandmother and kind of, sort of raised Henry’s father. So for now, he’s playing on the side of angels. I think I saw him on the other side in the Frozen episode in November. I am not surprised at all. But for now, he has what appears to be a sincere interest in Emma, creating a truly bizarre love triangle. It’s Emma, Hook, and his step-son…ish. It’s right up there with the whole Kate and Leopold debacle where – if you follow the plot – Liev Schreiber’s character was engaged in a long-term relationship with Meg Ryan’s Kate… who was probably his great-grandmother.
ANYWAY… my anger with the show and all of its aforementioned tomfoolery was negated by Lynnette. As we watched Emma (by the way, I’ve watched Jennifer Morrison traipse through the jungle all season wearing a dirty tank top and an I’m going to kick someone’s ass attitude for an entire season, and man if she doesn’t remind me of a younger, more attractive, less ripped Terminator 2 Linda Hamilton. Yeah, I said it.) rebuff Hook’s overture, Lynnette fawned over the Captain. “Aww, Hooky, I hook up witchu,” she said. And that about sums it up: the most sympathetic character in the entire show is a pirate rocking a hook, immaculately manicured stubble, and an accent that turns my wife (among others) into melted butter.