Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Once Upon A Time In Oz

This entry will discuss—in full, spoilery detail—the plot of the second half of the third season of ABC's TV show Once Upon A Time. If you are behind or haven't seen it yet and don't want it spoiled, I encourage you not to read this entry just yet.
I admittedly have never been a big fan of Once Upon A Time. I cordially dislike crossing over fairy tales, and this is basically the entire driving point of the show. The main characters are Emma Swan, a woman who discovers her parents are none other than Snow White and Prince Charming, and the woman who adopted her abandoned son Henry is Regina, the Evil Queen. In Season 1, with the help of Rumplestiltskin, Regina cast a curse that sent the people of The Enchanted Forest (such as the Seven Dwarfs, Red Riding Hood, her grandmother, Gepetto, Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket, etc.) into a small town in Maine called Storybrooke. Throughout Season 1, no one in Storybrooke knows who they really are. Emma had previously been sent into our world as a baby, and revealed in Season 2 to have been helped out by Pinocchio throughout her life, even when she met up with Neal, who was actually Rumplestiltskin's son and Henry's father.

At the end of Season 1, everyone in Storybrooke gets their memories returned, and much of Season 2 builds on Cora, Regina's mother, who dies during the events of the Season. At the beginning of Season 3, our heroes (Emma, Neal, Snow White, Charming, Rumpletstiltskin and Regina) go to Neverland to rescue Henry from a wicked Peter Pan who turns out to be Rumplestiltskin's father. (Noticing a trend with the baddies here?) Peter Pan follows them back to Storybrooke to re-cast the curse, forcing Rumplestiltskin to kill them both and Regina to undo the curse to return everyone to the Enchanted Forest. Emma and Henry leave Storybrooke, forgetting that it existed, and start a new life in New York.

The two halves of Season 3 felt like two smaller seasons, each telling complete storylines in 11 episodes. The teaser for the second half revealed that the Wicked Witch of the West—depicted with green skin and red hair—would be the big bad of Season 3B.

Once Upon A Time is noted for how it reveals backstory alongside the main plot. So, throughout the first nine episodes of Season 3B, we discovered more about this take on the Wicked Witch, who they named Zelena.

Zelena was the daughter of Cora and a gardener who made her believe that he was a prince. After making her pregnant, Cora almost married the man who became Snow White's father until the woman who became Snow White's mother revealed that Cora was pregnant. After Zelena was born, Cora sent her off in a cyclone, and she ended up in Oz, adopted by a poor farmer and his wife who noticed that she seemed to have magic powers.

Zelena's adoptive mother died as she grew up, and her father finally revealed that she was adopted and had magic to her, and she went to see the Wizard in the Emerald City, who gave her the Silver Shoes to take her to the Enchanted Forest, where Rumplestiltskin taught her some magic, but made clear that Regina was the better of his two students. Becoming envious of Regina, Zelena's skin began to turn green. Returning to the Emerald City, she discovered the Wizard was a man from Kansas named Walsh who used tricks. Zelena transformed him into a flying monkey.

Zelena was approached by Glinda and invited to join a sisterhood of witches who would protect the Land of Oz. Zelena accepted, but when Dorothy arrived in Oz (not killing the Witch of the East and without Toto) and is taken in by Glinda and the other witches, Zelena became envious (and green) again and found a passage in the Book of Records (which also tells the future in this version) that suggests Dorothy will kill her. After threatening Dorothy with fire, Dorothy throws a bucket of water at her, making her "melt." Glinda takes Dorothy to the Emerald City where she receives the Silver Shoes to go home (no Scarecrow, Tin Man or Lion, since the Witches were supposed to represent Wisdom, Love, Courage and Innocence). After Dorothy is gone, Zelena reveals that it was all an act to get rid of Dorothy and banishes Glinda to the Enchanted Forest, where Zelena and her flying monkey go to confront Regina.

Finding Regina and her people gone due to the first Curse, Zelena took Snow White's castle. When the curse was ended and everyone returned to the Enchanted Forest, Regina confronted Zelena, who revealed that they were sisters. Neal and Belle resurrected Rumplestiltskin, the cost being Neal's life, but Rumplestiltskin absorbed him into his body, allowing them split into two unstable people at times, or remain as one mad being. (This show gets really weird.) He later told Snow White, Charming and Regina how to find Glinda, who told them what Zelena wants to do: create a spell to go back in time and prevent Cora from abandoning her. She also suggested that Emma is only one who can defeat Zelena.

Snow White decided that the only way to get Emma back would be to cast the curse again, but as they finish the curse, Zelena makes it so they won't remember casting the curse or why they did it or remember her. However, Rumplestiltskin has Neal send memory potion to Captain Hook so he can get Emma back to Storybrooke and make her remember.

Emma had been dating a man named Walsh, but when Hook showed up, he makes her drink the memory potion. When she told Walsh that she needed to go home, he turned violent and begins fighting Emma, turning into his Flying Monkey form. He got knocked out and fell to the street, disappearing just before impact. (In later episodes, Monkeys are dealt seemingly fatal blows and they disappear, leaving their fates unknown: is this how they die or are they transported elsewhere?)

Returning to Storybrooke, Emma found her parents and began looking for who had cast the curse. Zelena, no longer green in Storybrooke, claims to be a midwife and offers to help Snow White with her baby. After they discover that citzens have been transformed into Flying Monkeys, Charming, Emma and Hook began looking for the Witch, leading to Charming's sword getting taken: the symbol of his courage. Neal reappeared, but died in the woods, allowing Rumplestiltskin to regain his sanity and he warned Emma of Zelena.

Zelena and Regina dueled, Zelena intent on getting Regina's heart for the spell, but Regina had hidden it away, and later had Robin Hood safeguard it. Zelena cursed Hook's lips so that if they come into contact with Emma, they would remove her magic powers. They eventually realized that Regina's spell needs four ingredients, the fourth being Snow White's baby for innocence. Zelena had Rumplestiltskin stole Regina's heart, while Regina reconnecting with Henry and restoring his memory (with help from the Once Upon A Time book) broke Zelena's memory spell. Emma, unfortunately, was forced to revive Hook through mouth to mouth resuscitation after Zelena had him nearly drowned, taking away her powers.

Snow White shortly had her baby and Zelena takes it to cast her spell, using Rumplestiltskin's brain, Regina's heart, Charming's sword and the baby to open up a time portal. Regina, using light magic, managed to take Zelena's pendant before she could enter the time portal, thus closing it and restoring anyone who'd been transformed into a Flying Monkey. In jail, Regina offered an offer of redemption to Zelena, who was later killed by Rumplestiltskin, thus ending any connection to Oz the plot has had so far.

The 2-episode Season 3 finale had Hook and Emma enter a re-opened time portal, which led them into interrupting the first meeting of Snow White and Charming, creating a homage to Back to the Future that ends with Emma regaining her powers, a new resident being brought to Storybrooke who makes Regina mad at Emma (again), and setting up Season 4.

(Deep breath...)

Personally, I was underwhelmed. Oz of course has a rich lore that is ripe for a TV show with a budget big enough for passable CG effects to do wonders with, but Once Upon A Time doesn't do that. They go for popular stories, particularly ones made famous by Disney, even if they take their own twists. So there was no way they'd mine from anything but The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and even then, they only took a few elements from it.

Of course, they also took a few elements from Oz the Great and Powerful, using a similar (but simpler) Emerald City exterior and the Wizard literally being a shadow of James Franco. The interior of the Emerald City looked very impressive, and the Silver Shoes in their simplicity looked great, though I wasn't sold on them being really silver.

Of course their Wicked Witch was green, and this is, of course, due to her now being so iconic with that tint thanks to MGM's The Wizard of Oz, Wicked and Oz the Great and Powerful. (Teaser images said "WICKED is coming" or "WICKED always wins." It's almost a wonder the folks on the Broadway production didn't sue for using their title so liberally in advertising a similar production.) I was definitely not a fan of how Zelena's green skin clashed with her red hair ("Mmm, girl, that is not a good look.")

The changing of people into Flying Monkeys was rather odd, but what was really disturbing was that the main characters fight and attack the Monkeys with apparent aims to kill even after they know that the Monkeys are transformed people. It's not addressed until the next episode when everyone is apparently restored. (And then it's questionable: the only people we know who survived being a Flying Monkey are Little John, Aurora and Philip. What about Walsh?)

Finally, the overall writing. Once Upon A Time is not known for making a lot of sense. Literally all of the main characters are related somehow, and often plots are resolved with points that are nearly a deus ex machina. Storylines are often repetitive, and often, viewers find themselves cheering more for Regina or Rumplestiltskin rather than Snow White and her family.

Why am I against crossing over fairy tales? Because too often the writer gives in to making the stories too interconnected. I recently praised Namesake because although it has Alice's Wonderland exist alongside Oz, it is kept separate. The Captain Carrot crossover with Oz and Wonderland surprisingly had to create few new rules to make all three properties work and maintain their individual integrity. If you make Snow White have a best friend during her time as a scullery maid who happens to be Cinderella, you have two princes for these two who are not too far off, and the presence of so many kingdoms seems off. Now if you tie many more fairy tales to that, you begin to strain credibility. Even if what you write is pure fantasy, it should still make sense in its own world.

As I say, crossovers should only be done if there's a good story to tell that can be achieved by doing that crossover. Once Upon A Time had a good story mainly built around the Snow White story that tied in a few more by giving Snow White friends. But as the show goes on and new characters are introduced, the cast begins to get to be too large to handle. (I was particularly annoyed by Season 2, in which Aurora says she knows of a way to revive Prince Philip, which sounds like a cool plot, but we never got to see it.) And then it becomes clear that bringing in Rapunzel or Oz or Peter Pan is now not cleverly making them part of this world: it's a way to get viewers excited so they keep coming back.

And to an Oz fan, to have your favorite fairyland reduced to a mere viewership grab, that gets rather disappointing.


Sam A M said...

I may have had SOME things already spoiled for me recently, but I guess I better wait a few more months/weeks before I can read this . . .

Nuria "iluvendure" said...

you wrote a very successful comment really, I can only give you the reason with every word that you've written
Once upon a time is a failed series with a great concept, because the creators always take the easiest path. It's a shame, because there are good episodes, especially in the first season. While that the creator of the comic Fables looks really understand the legends and material (or at least, he seems to have done his homework, an investigation thoroughly the source of these stories) The creators of "Once" only want to exploit the most puerile and Cinematograph versions of stories, from the disney princesses or the Witch "green skin". "Once" is sinking in many ways, and it's as if the writers did not know they should do with that wonderful stuff they have, including tales of Oz.
Even, in a series that talks about true love, they have had the stupid idea of ​​breaking the legendary romance of Robin Hood and Maid Marian in a really stupid way, giving more importance to the true love of the "disney princesses" like Aurora and Ariel.
With Oz, they had a wide range of possibilities, but they surely will not know how to exploit "the goose that lays the golden eggs"