Sunday, November 25, 2012

Once Upon A Time "Into The Deep" Review

Once Upon a Time started promising tonight and devolved into a flaming pile of shit.

The use of 'flaming' is intentional because of the scenes set in the netherworld of poor CGI flames, yelling, and bad acting. The pace of "Into the Deep" was absolutely blistering, like an in-their-prime Bilbao in the Europa League against Manchester United last year (in the 90th minute, Bilbao streaked down the field while Man U struggled to catch up--they were an unforgettable European football team). Scenes connected and transitions were organic to the end of the previous scene, like Henry waking up from his sleep curse nap after Aurora told him who she was and with. Scenes mattered like they haven't before. A sense of urgency dominated the action--an urgency the first season of the show never cultivated or even tried to--and it carried two acts before the intrigue, excitement, adventure, dramatic stakes and emphatic displays of character growth and personal triumph, grinded to a halt.

Once Upon a Time seems like a show written by talented individuals who get distracted with all their playthings. With literally the entire Disney fairy tale characters available to insert into the show, which offers an opportunity to reinvent classic fairy tales for a 21st century audiences, the writing staff gets distracted. Season two, if anything, has been about showing off the writers creativity in reinventing Lancelot, Mulan, Frankenstein, Sleeping Beauty, and Captain Hook. Characters, like the evil Cora, grew from antagonists in a character's personal story to a grand villain whom Storybrooke will quake in fear in the presence of. Every episode introduced a new character, or reused the beats of a familiar character's previous fairyback, and Once was stuck in the mud. All the while characters are separated, with Snow and Emma in fairy tale land, and everyone else in Storybrooke. Snow and Emma disappeared for stretches. The urgent search for Snow and Emma disappeared so Belle could be saved from a mine car or Regina could experience similar feelings to the feelings we saw her experience two weeks before. Now it's episode eight and the writers decide to push the start button and finally push their major narrative forward.

"Into the Deep" had a riveting pace, but the poor writing significantly affected the story. The sleep curse is the laziest plot device the show's used since its uses of magic whenever the writers don't want to follow through on a story. Magic is problematic in genre shows (I wrote about this in the season one OUAT review). The sleep curse combines magic and nonsense to produce a completely ridiculous stew of personal relationships, conflicts, magic, urgency, and suspense. I understood the magic curse, but it was like listening to a rabid bearded man rambling on about the relationship between God and mathematics at a bus stop in Center City. Sure I'm going to follow the words but it still won't make any sense.

The cursed stand in a flaming room and yell for awhile. Only the cursed experience the flaming room, unless a sleeping powder magically transports the uncursed to the flaming room, thereby making the previously uncursed one cursed. The sleeping curse is serious because Goodwin and Dallas use serious voices to communicate the dangers of the flaming room, and Aurora and Henry woke from their cursed sleeps with burns along their arms. The flaming room's the lone place for two people from different worlds to converse and figure out what to do to get back to Storybrooke; the flaming room needs to be dangerous and an abyss because everything depends on it.

Snow and Charming inevitably enter the flaming red room to resolve the question of how she and Emma will return to Storybrooke. The plan for Charming to be cursed involves Gold and Regina, two former antagonists for him but who're now softened by love. Henry absolutely trusts Gold and Regina. The audience should trust Regina, too, because of the consistent writing for the character, and because of Parilla's altered Regina performance. Charming sleeps knowing the risks of possibly not waking up, but he's confident Snow's kiss in the red room will free him from the curse. The plan fails, though Charming informs Snow of how to defeat Cora and return to Storybrooke safely. Charming's stuck in the curse. Snow's going to return and wake him with a kiss, of course.

Meanwhile, characters are running away from other characters and villains are turning on each other only to turn right back and disclose what his or intentions are. Mulan's been as active as Fernando Llorente since her introduction. Once Aurora disappears, she's a lunatic. Mulan's behavior is consistent with her vow of protecting Aurora, but why must she run off with the compass (oh yeah, it's because nothing happens in this show without a goddamn chase scene). Cora betrays Hook; Hook betrays Cora; Hook and Cora agree to work together. Hook appeared to Aurora as her hero when he freed her from Cora's pit, but he took her heart and gave it to Cora in exchange for safe passage to Storybrooke where he'll avenge his lover's death by killing Rumplestiltskin. Aurora returns to the group just in time to lead them to Cora's trap, since her heart is in Cora's hand. The story advanced, but it's like Grand Theft Auto when every bridge is under construction so you just hang around, complete missions, or devise various public transit bus routes.

Conflicts and road blocks are integral elements to any story, whether it's a children's story about a duck who doesn't know how to swim or a story about a single day in Dublin in the year 1904. The roadblocks in "Into the Deep" were contrivances and convolutions, though. They were convenient and an example of the biggest issue any serialized network drama with a 22 episode order has, which is the episode order versus making the story last over those episodes without it dragging or consisting of filler. So, the end of "Into the Deep," with its twists and turns, felt forced rather than organic storytelling; it was another example of the show throwing shit at a wall because of the handsome pay that allows them to and the astounding number of viewers tuning in week after week to watch it. I'm specifically thinking of the penultimate episode of season one in which stuff happened because the finale was next week, and I feel the same as the winter finale looms for the show.

Other Thoughts:

-Once should use more of their budget on graphics and less on name actors.

-Rumple's story to Henry about his capture and imprisonment was well-done. Rumple's breakfast with Belle was interrupted by Regina, who told him about Cora's plans. Belle sat silently and gradually appearing more petrified. Emilie de Ravin played it nicely.

-You won't believe me, but I think "Into the Deep" is the best episode of the season. I won't ignore its flaws, though.

-Ron Underwood directed the episode. I didn't write the names of the writers down. This was their first credited episode.


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About The Foot

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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.