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Friday, November 4, 2011

Once Upon a Time: The One Where No One Knows What the Other Is Capable Of

Once Upon a Time
Episode 102
"The Thing You Love Most"

Morning class. Professor TV Watcher wants to apologize for not having this discussion during the recap of the Pilot … but honestly, I didn't know how serious to take this show at first.  Since it seems that Once is going to make an attempt at a somewhat fleshed out show mythology (honestly, I would expect nothing less from former writers of LOST), I've decided we need to discuss a few things before we go any further.  Well, really only one thing: The Monomyth (or "The Hero's Journey"). Anyone who is familiar with shows like LOST, knows that there is an undercurrent of The Hero's Journey which runs through the veins of such show. Once Upon a Time seems like it will be no different.  And this is a good thing. Whether you realize it or not, it’s in large part the Monomyth that makes you come back week after week and become invested in your hero(ine).  So, what is the Monomyth?

Well, I'm glad you asked. Read on for today’s lesson. 

In 1949, Joseph Campbell published a dense work of nonfiction entitled The Hero With a Thousand Faces (here is a link to a .PDF version that seems to read much better on my Nook than my computer), which has become the cornerstone for students and writers of mythological-based stories and provides a unified theory for understanding the greatest (and less than greatest) stories of our collective world civilization.  Writers and bloggers (I am looking at you T) have explained the Monomyth much better than I probably can but here is the skinny so that we can absorb some knowledge and carry it with us as we go through this past episode of Once Upon a Time and the rest of the series going forward.  Campbell wrote that a basic Hero’s Journey can be broken down into 3 distinct parts, which further break down in 17 sub-sections.  The three main parts of the story consist of Separation (or Departure), Initiation and Return.  Initiation deals with the hero’s trials and tribulations along the journey and culminates with the (i) apotheosis (the physical death and attaining a higher spiritual or deity like knowledge or existence) and (ii) the ultimate boon (the attainment of the point or goal of the journey; getting what you came to get or achieving what you came to achieve); this is the meat and potatoes of the adventure. The Return deals with the hero(ine)’s journey back from the extraordinary world to the ordinary world, with the boon in hand.  It begins with a refusal to return to the ordinary world (why would I want to go back after I have seen what I’ve seen and done what I’ve done) and ends with the mastery of two worlds (being comfortable with the physical existence at the same time as living with the spiritual gain) and a freedom to live a life in the moment, free from fear and other inhibitions.

At our current point in Once Upon a Time, we are not at these latter two stages; we are still in the first stage of Departure, or the Separation from the Ordinary World.  The Hero(ine)’s journey begins with a call to adventure, an event or events which signify the hero(ine)’s ordinary life (or “pale of his society” as Campbell writes) is about to change, whether they realize it yet or not. This moment is obvious in Once, it’s a combination of Rumplestiltskin’s prophecy and Henry’s knocking on Emma’s door.  The next section of Departure is the “refusal of the call”. As Henry’s explicitly mentions to Emma in this second episode, often when the call to adventure is made, the Hero(ine) refuses at first (and maybe at second and at third). At some point, either voluntarily or not, the Hero(ine) accepts. Which brings us to the third section of Departure, the arrival of supernatural help via a guide or mentor who often bestows some sort of talisman or artifact on the Hero(ine) which will prove beneficial later on (I think we see this role in Henry and Mary Margaret and the gifts bestowed as the Book and hope and various financial help (e.g., bail money), respectively).  I think Emma is still firmly between refusing the call, the arrival of supernatural aid, the fourth section, crossing of the first threshold and even the fifth section, the belly of the whale.  Crossing the first threshold is quite literally crossing into Storybrooke and the subsequent inability to leave via the wolf in the road and being arrested over and over.  Emma has firmly entered the “zone of magnified power” as Campbell writes. The fifth and final section of Departure is the belly of the whale.  Campbell understood this part of the journey as, “The devotee [Emma] at the moment of entry into a temple undergoes a metamorphosis. Once inside he may be said to have died to time and returned to the World Womb, the World Navel, the Earthly Paradise. Allegorically, then, the passage into a temple and the hero-dive through the jaws of the whale are identical adventures, both denoting in picture language, the life-centering, life-renewing act.”  What Campbell is saying that the belly of the whale represents the moment where the Hero(ine) gives herself over to the journey and opens herself up to the idea of undergoing a metamorphosis, a fundamental change. It is death and rebirth image, reborn into the life that the quest will require of you to achieve the ultimate boon.  Now, I think we saw  Emma concede this point after being framed up for stealing the files, then chopping down the apple tree, then calling Henry crazy and then making up with him and confessing that it was all necessary to throw Regina off the scent. But I am not sure that Emma believed that story herself so much as she was saying it for Henry’s benefit. 

The thing with the Hero’s Journey is that all of the stages can blend together, or come out of order or not even all be present.  There is some interpretation to be done as the story unfolds which I hope to do with you every week.  You will notice that I have been using “Hero(ine)” above; that’s a deliberate choice since its believed that the “Heroine’s Journey” differs from the Hero’s in ways relating to motivation and emotional tug strings in the Heroine’s Journey.  I feel like the writers of Once have seemingly cast Emma into a masculine concept of the Monomyth. Though no doubt, her journey is being fueled by a maternal call (one that Emma was probably not aware she even had) but I think this is just great color and uniqueness to the Campbell-esque Hero’s Journey.  From what I have read thus far, the Heroine’s Journey really separates after section 1 of Departure and will become more obvious if that’s what we’re dealing with when we get into Initiation (I should tell you that it seems to complete come apart from Campbell’s Hero’s Journey on the Return portion of the quest).  All of this being said, I did find the following quote from Campbell, made many years following the publication of The Hero With a Thousand Faces, interesting given the backdrop of our show: 
“All of the great mythologies and much of the mythic story-telling of the world are from the male point of view. When I was writing The Hero with a Thousand Faces and wanted to bring female heroes in, I had to go to the fairy tales [emphasis is my own]. These were told by women to children, you know, and you get a different perspective. It was the men who got involved in spinning most of the great myths. The women were too busy; they had too damn much to do to sit around thinking about stories. [...] In The Odyssey, you'll see three journeys. One is that of Telemachus, the son, going in quest of his father. The second is that of the father, Odysseus, becoming reconciled and related to the female principle in the sense of male-female relationship, rather than the male mastery of the female that was at the center of The Iliad. And the third is of Penelope herself, whose journey is [...] endurance. Out in Nantucket, you see all those cottages with the widow's walk up on the roof: when my husband comes back from the sea. Two journeys through space and one through time.”  As re-quoted by,
Here is a handy dandy chart from an anonymous user on Wikipedia's Hero's Journey page (and later redrawn by User: Slashme) if you’re really into where we are and where we are going:

I have written in a couple of different shows (namely, Terra Nova and Person of Interest) that I really dig the “recap of a show’s premise” as a feature of the opening.  Someone heard me as it seems that Once Upon a Time has adopted the same feature. Nice! It really makes it very easy to catch up

Enchanted Castle and Surrounding Areas

We pick up on the Evil Queen returning to her lair after Prince Charming throws his sword through her poofy shadow; seems the sword came with her and stuck in the wall?  The Queen’s confidantes seem to be a butler/man servant and the infamous magic mirror. When the Queen says she'll carry out her threat through the use of the “dark curse”, the peanut gallery starts hemming  and hawing about how she traded said curse away and swore she would never use it. Well, Queenie is going to get it back. She instructs Jeeves to bring her carriage around … she’s going to the Forbidden Fortress.

The Forbidden Fortress is home to Sleeping Beauty's Maleficent (played by Kristin Bauer, Pam of True Blood famer). If you’re a fairytale noob like TV Watcher, you’ll want to know that Maleficent is derived from the 1959 Walt Disney adaption of the evil fairy character from the classic story as told by Charles Perrault and then later by The Brothers Grimm.  Sleeping Beauty is really named Princess Aurora and Maleficent curses Aurora to die before her 16th birthday as punishment for not being invited to the her christening.  Over-reaction much?!?  One of Aurora’s fairy godmothers (Merryweather) is able to weaken the curse to only a slumber, not to be broken until someone lay’s true-love’s kiss upon her.  Of course, Aurora (renamed Briar Rose for a time) falls under the spell and goes to sleep.  And of course, her true prince eventually finds her and kisses her and everyone lives happily everafter.  You also should know she lives in a castle in the Forbidden Mountains and has a staff with an orb atop it from which she casts her spells.

Evil Queen and Maleficent are total frenemies, straight out of a Bravo Housewives show. The backstory here is that Maleficent traded the Queen her sleeping curse for Evil Queen’s “dark curse.” Maleficent is all, no backsies. You should get a pet, they're very comforting. Evil Queen’s only comfort is to be derived from making Snow White suffer. That seems like a narrow worldview not designed for maximum living and enjoyment, you know? Maleficent and Queen ramp up to a witch battle and then its on. The Queen gets Maleficent to make a move to save her pet which leaves her vulnerable to being trapped by a falling chandelier. Evil Queen wins and while she has Maleficent trapped, smashes her orb (of power) and retrieves the very literally written out on a small scroll, curse. Maleficent says that there are lines even they shouldn't cross and this curse will leave you with a void she'll never be able to fill. Evil Queen is all, No biggie. Toodles friend.

At a meeting of evil characters (including a prominent blind witch … from the Hansel and Gretel story, maybe?) in an evil clearing, the Queen tries to enact the dark curse. The ingredients feature, among other thing, the hair of those with the darkest souls around and the heart of her prized childhood stead. She issues a chilling, "Let my wrath be unleashed" but the curse kind of just fizzles out after a promising start.  Back at the evil castle, Jeeves is trying to protect the Queen but trying to dissuade her from continuing with the dark curse nonsense.  He tells her that revenge is a dark and lonely road from which there is no coming back. If she is committed though, she’ll have to go back to person that gave you the curse for a better explanation of the instructions in use and handling.  Heya Rumplestiltskin. Rumple is still in jail.  You know, you would think Prince Charming would have come jailors about the most prized prisoner in their castle?  Per normal Rumple rules, he’ll help out the Queen … for a price.  In the new land Queen is taking everyone too, he wants comfort, a good life. Also, should I ever ask you for something, anything … as long as I say "please", you'll have to do it (slightly better terms than Mira gave Josh on Terra Nova).  Since Queen doesn't think Rumple will remember this talk, she’s all, “Deal!”  Great. So, the heart you need for the curse must come from something far more precious than a stupid horse form your childhood. It must come from that which you love most.  Then he gives her the whole “with great power comes great sacrifice” trope.  How far are you willing to go Queen? “As far as it takes.”  The Evil Queen might chew the scenery a bit in this show but she is terrific at it!. Rumple is pragmatic about getting on to the good life and is all, “well don't waste our time, you know what you love. Go kill it.”

The Evil Queen returns to her lair and admits to the manservant that she’s feeling conflicted. I find her very watchable when she’s not screaming and threatening. “Daddy, I don't know what to do.” Wait, what?!?! TWIST! Manservant is Evil Queen’s dad.  All of a sudden, I do not like ServantDad’s chances of coming out of this one.  He tries to tell her (again) to move past the hate, we can be happy in a different life not driven by mad revenge fantasies.  Queen is pretty set though; she feels like Snow’s very existence mocks her and she must be punished. ServantDad says the price is too high … I’d be saying the same thing if I were in his shoes.  Sorry ServantDad but you gots to die.  The Queen just wants to be happy. At least she has the decency to cry as her ServantDad bleeds out from the belly wound she just inflicted on him.  Bye ServantDad. We hardly knew thee and you seemed like a good guy … despite the fact that you raised a megalomaniacal Witch daughter.

After another crack at the Dark Curse with the right kind of heart this time, Evil Queen visits her dad's grave … who’s name was Henry. The music wants us to think this is significant. While I agree it’s a little creepy, I’m not sure its much of a reveal.

Storybrooke, Maine

We pick up with a replay of the clock moving ahead to 8:16pm and then continuing to move forward to the next morning. I’d like to establish that Emma spends most of episode in thin white t-shirt with a black bra underneath and I find it very distracting the entire time.  Periodically, she further covers up with a sheet top that hides nothing.  Anyhoo, we see Regina pouring over the pages of the Book but everything dealing with Emma’s birth and on are ripped out.  Henry plays dumb and says he doesn’t know nothing about no missing pages.  As Regina rips into him about Emma and the Book and the evil they entail, she hears the bell tower chime and is chagrined. This leads her to bring a basket of enormous honey crip apples to Emma. She metaphors that honey crisp apples can weather any storm. Since Regina has threatened Emma twice in the last twelve hours, Emma is feeling pretty motivated to stick around. Regina drops that Henry is in therapy (file that away for a moment) and warns Emma, that "You have no idea what I am capable of."

Sidney (the Mirror from the other world) has published a front page "hatchet” story on Emma ... seemingly at Regina’s request though she wanted some thing more based in fact and real drama.  The story revolves around Emma's destruction of the historic “Welcome to Storybrooke” sign (which happened while she was avoiding the wolf).  Sidney couldn't really uncover any dirt on Emma; he did learn that she had Henry in Phoenix (which I found such a throwaway line, it makes me think it’ll be important later) 

At a local diner, Emma receives an unordered cup of hot chocolate with cinnamon which is her favorite.  She think Scruffy Sheriff Graham sent it over but it was really Henry who is sitting one booth behind Graham.  Henry invites Emma to walk him to school and this is where he lays out his plant, codename: Operation Cobra. Operation Cobra is designed to throw Regina off their trail so that she doesn’t impede Emma’s whole final war work. He also gives Emma some more backstory on the town; seems that no one has any clear memory or history, they’ve all been in a haze for years. Since Regina doesn’t know Emma’s true identity or her role in the overall Final War, Henry thinks they have a great advantage (I think he’s right).  Understatement of the year arrives when Henry tells Emma that it would be bad if Regina found out who she was. Uh duh! Henry gives Emma the missing pages from the end of Book to peruse so she can find more about who she is too.  Just don't let Regina see these pages.

After Henry runs off to class, Emma bitches to Mary Margaret about Regina and asks Mary Margaret who Henry thinks she is. When Mary Margaret responds “Snow White,” Emma gets a look of being freaked out at the implication that this is her mom. Oh yeah, by the way, where can I find Dr. Archie?   At Dr. Archie’s office, Archie basically hands over Henry's file to Emma without question or concern over HIPAA or other confidentiality issues.  He probably prescribes medical marijuana to stoners too.  He reasons that since Emma is so prominent in Henry’s life and story, she should know what he thinks.  Also, don't say he's crazy in front of him; he's using the Book to work out his (significant) issues.  Emma works out that since Henry’s been in therapy longer than he’s had the Book, his real problem in life is Regina.  Dr. Archie demurs with a “she's ... a complicated woman.” Nice save Archie! Emma leaves with the files and Archie IMMEDIATELY calls Regina.

We cut to Emma sexily half laying in bed reading the therapy files while wearing above the knee leather boots and aforementioned see through t-shirt. Who wears boots like that while lounging in bed reading medical files?  Anyway, next thing we know, Scruffy Sheriff is knocking her door and then arresting Emma for stealing the files from Dr. Archie.  Clearly, Regina set her up with the doctor’s assistance.. Sneaky Regina!  Regina doesn’t waste a minute before running off to Henrys class to let him know that Emma was arrested … Again. Henry is not impressed with his mom’s feeble attempts and just wants to go back to class.  Who does a bitch have to kill to get a kid’s respect, Regina obviously thinks to herself.

Back at the jail (at least this set is getting lots of use), Mary Margaret and Henry come to make bail for Emma. Mary Margaret trusts Emma … for some reason. Once out of jail, Emma heads right over to Regina’s compound chainsaws half Regina’s precious honey crisp apple tree. She is a walking felon. The chainsaw makes the scene effing awesome. She returns Regina’s earlier line that “You have no idea what I am capable of.” She also adds a badass, “Your move (the “bitch” is unspoken but clearly implied).”

Back at Granny’s B and B, Granny evicts Emma’s ass citing a city ordnance of not extending lodging to felons .. which the mayor’s office just called to remind her about.  Back at the apple tree massacre, Regina is telling Scruffy Sherriff Graham that she wants Emma arrested … again. Scruffy Sheriff pushes back, saying that arresting her won't get Regina what she wants; she’s just going to end up hurting Henry by escalating this wear with Emma.  Just as Emma discovers a boot on her car, Regina calls and invites her to a detente. Once there at the Mayor’s office, Regina allows Emma to open up her mouth and walk her foot right into when she calls Henry’s Book theory crazy … while he is eavesdropping in the door way. Regina knew Henry would show up just then … cause she's his mother and you Emma, are not.. “Your move (the “bitch” is still implied but unsaid). Emma tells Regina that she has no soul and asks her how she ended up this way. I’m sure it had something to do with the patricide in her former life. 

Emma goes to pay back Mary Margaret the bail money. Once there, Mary Margaret senses she needs to talk.  Nice moment when we find out Mary Margaret also puts cinnamon in her hot chocolate (funny, that thing usually skips a generation). Emma wants to know why Mary Margaret trusts her, basically sight unseen. Mary Margaret feels like they’ve met before (that’s not a great answer; I’ve met lots of people before that I wouldn’t bail out of jail). Emma thinks she shoud leave town, that her staying is only hurting Henry. Mary Margaret thinks the fact that Emma thinks she should leave is proof of why she should stay. She cares about Henry and who will protect him if Emma won’t?  Having some abandonment guilt Mary Margaret?

Dr. Archie and Henry are in therapy when Emma busts in and convinces Henry that her blabbing was all a part of the plan to throw the “Queen” off their scent. She says that she wanted to make Regina think she didn’t believe in the curse; “I told your mom what she needed to hear.”   Wasn’t that what Operation Cobra was all about?  Emma tosses the last pages from the Book into the fire because she agrees that they are dangerous. All the while, Dr. Archie is smiling in the background because he thinks this is brilliant therapy. Emma tells Henry that she’s here to help him and no curse can stop that. As she hugs him, she makes a face over his shoulder that doesn’t completely convince me that she’s moved on from the “refusing the call” but we’ll see. 

Wrap Ups! Mr. Gold (who you’ll remember is also Rumplestiltskin) finds Regina tending over her hurt apple tree.  She’s positively beaming but he totally buzzkills her good mood by informing her that Emma is still in town and was just seen strolling along with Henry. Mr. Gold is happy to fix the Emma problem … for a price. Regina is not interested in making any deals with him.  We learn that it was Mr. Gold that "procured" (what a creepy word choice) Henry for Regina.  He compliments Henry’s name (he’s a total name fetishist).  Regina is starting to sense there is more that Mr. Gold isn't saying and she pushes him on it.  She asks him if he’s maybe happy that Emma came to town; and maybe he knows who she is?  By the way, how did you find Henry, anyway (there’s another episode)? When she comes out and asks what he knows about Emma’s identity, he asks her, "Whatever are you implying?" Regina says that Mr. Gold knows exactly who Emma is so he better tell her what you know. Mr. Gold, in the creepiest line delivery of the episode, tells Regina, “I'm not going to answer you dear so I suggest you excuse me ... please.”

Oh snap, crackle and pop. Regina is ROCKED at the basic revelation that Mr. Gold knows exactly who he used to be (and I think spinning out who else might be able to sense their true nature?!?).

Sweet Dreams and Happy Endings until Next Time.

1 comment:

  1. Good work. I agree--Regina and Rumpy know what's going on.

    Some seem to think (wrongly, of course) that Regina is clueless.