I didn’t quite understand why “The Tower” bothered me so much until I saw the promo for next week’s episode:
Uh, you catch that? “Never make a powerful woman maaaaad, because payback can be a real witch!”
Well, ummm, it’s more like she’s a WICKED woman, right? Or are we saying that just any powerful woman will turn on you like a demon scorned if you cross her? Or maybe all powerful women are necessarily evil? Try this phrase on for size: “Never make a powerful man mad, because payback can be a real witch!” Hmmmm. Doesn’t quite fit, does it?
It’s not just the fact that Once Upon a Time has been transparently using “witch” as a surrogate term for “bitch” in the last three episodes. It was hearing the Wicked Witch of the West labeled as a “powerful woman,” coupled with "The Tower"'s A-story, that sent my “Castration Anxiety” meter spinning—namely, Zelena stealing Charming’s sword. A sword is obviously the most textbook phallic symbol out there except for maybe towers, and then Regina underlined its significance as a symbol, as a totem of Charming’s “courage" (read: masculinity, virility, and so on). Dearies, I don’t have to dust off my Freud to decode the message here: Powerful women are out to emasculate you, dudes! And how did Zelena steal Charming’s “sword” ? By making Charming say his worst fears aloud: by making him emotionally vulnerable. Sheesh.
Granted I’m a paranoid conspiracy theorist typing from inside a tinfoil-covered refrigerator box in a back alleyway, but that reading makes a lot more sense than what "The Tower" baldly insisted that the story we'd just seen was about. (At what point will characters just start looking directly into camera and flow-charting each episode's story logic? Season 4, or next week?) And you have to admit, of all the magical knickknacks this show has hastily presented to serve shamelessly as plot devices, Night Root was the weakest. Even more transparent than the Cave of Secrets, y’all.
Night Root is an anti-anxiety med that makes you trip out, basically. You face your own fears (represented by yourself, except with your voice pitch-shifted and wearing a ghillie suit). You then have to say your fears to your Evil Self and then slay your Evil Self! And then your weapons turn up in Zelena’s purse? Oooooh guys I don’t know, I think we needed one more draft, writers. One more draft, my pretties, might have done the trick! Because unless you were trying to craft a super-obvious castration anxiety metaphor, then nothing about this A-story made sense.
It’s not Josh Dallas’s fault, he was fantastic as he always is when he gets his spotlight episodes. And I loved Rapunzel! Winningly played with the requisite doe-eyed innocence by Alexandra Metz. But why, why OUAT did you (A) center this thread so much on Charming when you had such a lovely guest star, and (B) turn Rapunzel into a confused allegory for overcoming self doubt?!?! Rapunzel is a gruesomely gritty story about puberty and parental possessiveness and the rebellion of adolescence but nope! For OUAT, Rapunzel is about that time your perfect brother died because you couldn’t even swim right so you took some bad Night Root and tweaked so hard you ended up at the top of an eight-story tower somehow and grew nine stories of split ends while being terrorized by your own drugged hallucinations for years. But guess what, that’s ultimately a heroic choice because we all know how EVIL powerful women are! Better a guilt-ridden agoraphobic shut-in than a bitch!
Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of moments in "The Tower" to enjoy once you’d successfully grayed out the “WHAT? NOPE” alert in your brain. For example, Emma in a ballgown! Stunning!!
Let’s be real, we’d waited three seasons for this and it did not disappoint. The whole Charming dream sequence was heartbreaking and lovely and then the transition into “creepy nursery” was pretty hilarious. You will never hear me complaining about an actor suspended horizontally on wires getting sucked into a wormhole. YES.
Charming woke from the dream to “news” that Snow was pregnant. Considering Snow is about 90 pounds and sporting a baby bump the size of a basketball, Charming’s Stable Stash must have been getting some mileage for him not to have noticed. He went out for an early morning tipple to steady his nerves, which was when Robin Hood came along and gave him the lowdown on Fairy-tale Zoloft. Pretty sure one of the Merrie Men is dealing pills. That was when Charming ran off to do roots/trip out/ save Rapunzel from a non-witch entity/confuse the living hell out of all of us.
Like always, Storybrooke’s storylines were far more compelling. We had Zelena sexily shaving a fluttery, manic Rumple’s face while telling him her daddy taught her how to do it. If Rumple turns out to be her dad, this scene was truly disturbing; if not, then who’s the father?! Humpty Dumpty? The ancient Roman god, Janus? Old sourpuss Mr. Wilson from Dennis the Menace? Remember: There are no limits! Literally any form of fiction that Disney can acquire the distribution rights for could potentially be another dimension.
Then Zelena raced off and shamed Belle for being both a spinster and a widow simultaneously, which made me cackle, and then stole some Night Root as part of her devious plan to nab Charming’s
Excalibur tool mighty shaft weapon. During her interview with the Charmings, Snow talked nervously about the baby bump that had literally sprung up overnight. And honestly, that is a kind of terrifying scenario: waking up nine months pregnant.
Across town and sauntering through the forest, Hook did not lose even one opportunity to needle Emma about dating an Evil Flying Monkey, which she was surprisingly humorless about. (Her grim-faced “I didn’t know” made me crack up because yeah, that’s the problem girl! You can’t even tell when you’re dating an Evil Flying Monkey! #MoreLikeStuporpower) This made Hook and Emma exploring the random Kansas farmhouse (complete with storm cellar) all the more enjoyable.
I ADORE this set, and the bike with the basket right out of Wizard of Oz was a thoughtful touch.
In a much warmer area of Storybrooke, Regina had an actual meaningful moment with Henry. She made a knowing remark about Storybrooke being one big family (quite literally the case) and grilled him about who Emma had dated in the last year.
That’s when David entered his fairy-tale 'shroom experience and, thinking he had spotted the
Bitch Witch herself, held a broadsword and a flip phone at the same time, providing as crystallized an image of the appeal of OUAT as I have ever seen. A flip phone and a sword! Aw man this show is like Game of Thrones at the mall, in the best way.
Having received his message, Hook tagged along with Emma and Regina to rush to David’s side, where they found that their prince had had his sword stolen and been knocked to his knees by a manifestation of his unconscious. It happens! Regina explained that the Wicked Witch now had his sword and then Emma and Regina and Hook and Charming marched down to the Kansas-style storm cellar where they saw Rumple’s spinning wheel. And then Charming painstakingly explained to the audience that the straw, plus the gold, plus the cage, plus the spinning wheel = Rumple is back. Thanks for the very necessary clarification! Maybe that was a studio note? Maybe the original script had them just going down into the cellar, seeing the spinning wheel, and giving each other the nod but then Disney was like, “EXPLAIN THAT THEY KNOW RUMPLE IS ALIVE FOR THE 8-YEAR-OLDS. JUST GO AHEAD AND THROW IN A LINE. A BULLET POINT IF YOU WILL. FOR THE 8-YEAR-OLDS AND EVERYBODY ELSE PLAYING DRINKING GAMES DURING THE SHOW.” I feel like OUAT's writers might get that kind of note quite often.
In the Fairy-Tale conclusion, Rapunzel—after defeating her fear via a makeover—returned to the family she had fled, and Snow was like, "Wow what a pretty young princess P.S. where the hell were you all last night?" Charming was all, “Babe, just roaming around the forest in a cold terror about being a father, NBD." And Snow was like, “Don’t worry—WE are going to be the best father ever.” And Charming smiled, gulped, and quietly imagined Hook standing on the deck of the Jolly Roger. Charming could almost hear the waves, he could almost smell the salt coming off that vast, open horizon as endless as opportunity that surrounded Hook on all sides.
... Who do you think is Zelena’s dad?
... Should we fear powerful women and their ceaseless efforts to snatch our swords?
... Is Snow getting progressively dumber?
... What are the telltale signs you are dating an Evil Flying Monkey?
... What was Hook doing all year (putting together a pleather trousseau for Emma/making out with a scarecrow dressed in her old peacoat)?