Once Upon a Time "Tallahassee" Review: No Honor Among Theives
So last week I got very angry at Once Upon a Time. I didn't grind my teeth so hard that my veneers flew out of my mouth like popping corn, but then again I don't have veneers. In the 500+ comments on my review, there was a singular refrain of, "Don't over-think this show. Enjoy it for what it is and don't question it."
Usually I turn red about the face and shout about "I like entertainment that engages my brain, not requires me to shut it off," etc. etc. But when faced with the choice of hate-watching a show or managing my expectations, this is actually very zen advice. As one Price Peterson pointed out to me, shows that make a big game of slooowly revealing some huge solution don't have a solution at the outset. They can buy time until their network decides to cancel/end them by throwing in provocative, hinty details, but they don't have any more of a destination than a rollercoaster. Lost strung people along for many years, keeping things interesting until it was time to call it quits, then provided an emotionally fulfilling ending. Battlestar Galactica, one of my all-time favorite series, sowed the seeds of a complex mystery early on but didn't stitch everything together until the writers got word they had only one more season. Would I take back the experience of watching BSG? Nope. However, let's put down the burden of two expectations before we go any further in trying to enjoy this show—pretenses that perhaps only I have been holding onto.
1. Network shows are not always made by passionate writers trying to tell a story despite the necessary evil that is a commercial filter. No, these writers are sophisticated admen who have the job of getting a larger commercial message (REMEMBER DISNEY PROPERTIES? BUY DISNEY PROPERTIES!) into a semi-cohesive story structure. So let's stop judging them on plot or meaning and start judging them on how dazzling their product is. No point in asking physics questions at a beauty pageant.
2. This show will lose points every time it tries to insinuate that there is a larger logic at play here than "let's get five or six seasons." The world is going to shift to accomodate whatever properties OUaT is told to highlight or characters it wants to give work to (Hi, Hurley!), and any little detail, moment, or insinuation of a larger, unifying story will get get my deepest contempt. "Look closely! What's that in Mr. Gold's shop?! Hint hint hint!" is just plain rude. (Speculate all you want in comments, though! This series as imagined by comments is frequently more fun and cohesive than as told by ABC.) At the end of the day, this is a show about character development, and to the extent they honor that they succeed in entertaining me.
Okay, so with that criteria in mind, last night's episode, "Tallahassee," was excellent. Seriously excellent! Sooo much character development. Aside from proving that Hook is a delightful erotic adventurer whose eyeliner can barely contain his sultry glances, we got a delightful backstory on teenage Emma.
Quick math: Emma was 28 at the start of the series, Henry is at least 10, so Emma here had to be no older than 18. And wearing specs! And stealing cars! And getting in Bonnie-and-Clyde relationships with homeless guys living in stolen cars! Gypsies, tramps, and thieves are just some of the things you could call these two, running in and out of hotel rooms to steal showers, making dirty love in dirty backseats, dreaming of moving to FLORIDA, obviously.
It was 2002 and that was what teens did back then: Live in parks and steal candy bars. Eff with the law. Look like they're in their thirties via hard living. Get really scared by "wanted" ads up in the post office. Decide to escape to Canada.
It was very cute. While Jennifer Morrison didn't quite convince me she was 18 (a miniskirt and corn rows would have helped), Emma did project a youthful joie de vivre we haven't seen her display since she got contacts. Unfortunately their crime spree-fueled relocation to Florida was cut short by a certain hardwood cock blocker who'd been lurking in the shadows all along.
In a continuation of a running theme of this show, August talked Neil—someone very much in love with his partner—into never seeing them again. (Previous examples: King George gets Snow to tell Charming she doesn't love him, Blue Fairy convinces Grumpy to dump clumsy fairy Amy Acker, Charming stands up Mary Margaret at the Toll Bridge, etc.)
That's right, why not make a life-altering decision based on a quick conversation with a total stranger? And why bother explaining your reasoning to your partner or talking it through with them? Noble people simply don't talk through the idea of abandoning their loved ones. Impeccable emotional logic!
August, who flat-out said he was stalking Emma, convinced Neil to leave what we are to assume was the most important relationship in his life, got him to agree to abandon Emma without so much as a parting text, and then presumably called in a sting on Emma. Thanks August! You deserve to become a spindly human marrionette, August. So how did August manage to get Neil to abandon Emma without so much as a backwards glance within five minutes of meeting him? Well, he showed Neil a [BLANK]. Do you care to speculate what [BLANK] was? Feel free, but I am confident the writers have no idea. They'll figure it out if and when they need to.
Neal also proved he is as dumb if not moreso than Emma, walking away from his lady love knowing some stranger was sending her to jail and then meeting August later to turn over a giant wad of cash. I think we all know Emma never got that cash because August is a bad bad boy who has a pricy antique typewriter addiction to feed and ASOS neck scarves to buy (by the bundle).
Meanwhile, in FTL, Aurora and Snow bonded over having gone through the sleeping curse. This was super endearing. I always suspected Snow White and Sleeping Beauty would have a ton to talk about (threadcount, bed sores, drymouth). How genuinely touching that Snow connected with Aurora and told her to take a nap while she stood guard. Of course, being the snip-haired rascal she is, Snow then punked Aurora by letting her roll around the ground in a nightmarish fever dream fit for about ten minutes before waking her up.
(For someone who hates sleeping, Aurora sure wears a lot of bedsheets!) A panicked Aurora described a haunting nightmare she'd had about a red room. So obviously, there's going to be a Jane Eyre dimension and I'm already excited about. Maybe they can get a cameo by Jeremy Sisto as Mr.Rochester! Or maybe it will be a 666 Park Avenue tie-in? Of course, Henry would have the same dream later in the episode, so it's kind of funny to imagine those two characters seeing each other in a dream and losing their minds. "A LITTLE BOY!" "A LADY WRAPPED UP IN A DUVET COVER!" etc.
So if the writers get stuck figuring how to get Snow and Emma out of FTL, I guess they can always dream-beam them across.
In a shockingly well CGI'd sequence, Emma retrieved the compass needed for, you know, portal-finding or whatever (don't care) and had a meaningful heart-to-heart with Lost alum Jorge Garcia. Did Jorge need to make a few mortgage payments and so contacted Kitsis & Horowitz, or is this giants/beanstalk sub plot tied to something more relevant, some more pressing property that needs reviving—like, say, Disney's upcoming movie adaptation of Broadway sensation Into the Woods?
Hook and Emma genuinely sizzled together, sex-magic wise, and I loved their conversations while they tiptoed around a Giant's savings account of solid gold ashtrays or whathaveyou. Hook very perceptively called out Emma's foster past based on a mere four-mile beanstalk climb. It's funny how one of Emma's defining traits is her burning hatred toward the foster system and parent abandonment—remember when she hissed, "At least we would have been together!" when Snow explained that she'd been trying to save Emma's life by putting her in the magic armoire?—yet she couldn't drop Henry off fast enough into the waiting arms of an unknown adoptive parent. "The foster system almost killed me! How fast can I sign over my baby?" Oh well, 18-year-olds, they make hasty decisions, forget to deep condition, etc.
Altogether, this week's episode was miles above (beanstalks above!) last week's. Who can resist Michael Raymond-James in any form? We finally got the backstory on Henry's dad (and it was a far cry from Emma's revisionist history about slippin' and slidin' on old pancakes with a firefighter), who if not actually Baelfire is just a regular ol' dude who believes in magic and mysticism and leavin’ his lady. JK he is obviously Neal Cassidy, a reference to the beat poet heavily featured in On the Road (hence all the Kerouac allusions the first time we met him). The Beat Generation is now a dimension, guys! That's just great. Is Disney going to buy distribution rights for the Kristen Stewart film that just came out? (Have they already?) Ear to the ground, mouseketeers!
So, in brief:
PRODUCT PLACEMENT: Four out of five stars (Into the Woods tie-in; Shadow of the Colossus shout-out—a Sony property but Sony and Disney are cozy; a heavily featured Swan “keychain” emblem necklace in Facebook banner ads from late 2011 through the current day)
CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: Four out of five stars (Snow and Aurora; Emma’s love story; and Emma and Hook’s budding chemistry—seriously enjoyable)
RAZZLE DAZZLE/KEEPING ME ENTERTAINED: Four out of five stars (The CGI was tremendous this episode, well done. I do love some shiny gold in the frame.)
ANNOYING REFERENCES TO BIGGER STORY: Negative four stars out of a possible five stars. (August’s Plot Coupon/placeholder in a box. Way to give yourselves a get-Emma-into-jail-free card, you jokesters.)
FINAL SCORE: Eight stars out of twenty!
But what did YOU think?
1. Is Disneyland selling copies of Snow's dress or merely putting them on display?
2. How did you feel about Lost's ending as it pertained to the rest of the series?
3. Would two Star War fans from different countires have more to talk about, probably, than a Winnie the Pooh-obsessed person and a Star Wars fan who grew up in the same town?
4. Why are we shocked when corporations buy properties we love with very defined identities, what is the fear there?
5. Do you think Africa via The Lion King will turn up as another dimension?
6. What Disney property is the red room an allusion to?
7. What did you think of this week's episode?
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