Friday, June 28, 2013

Once Upon a Time...Being a Pirate Was Superior to Lost Boyhood

Once Upon a Time Season 2 Episodes 21 and 22: "Second Star to the Right" & "And Straight on 'til Morning"

Episode 21 summary: In the fairybacks, Bae is transported to Edwardian England after being swallowed by the magic portal.  While stealing some food from a well-to-do house, he is caught by a young girl, who turns out to be Wendy Darling.  She hides him in the nursery and continues to bring him food until her parents find out.  When Bae reveals he is an orphan, however, the Darlings welcome into their home.

One night Wendy tells Bae of a shadow who had invited her to Neverland.  Bae warns her about magic, explaining how it destroyed his family, but Wendy is heedless of the warning.  She goes with the shadow to Neverland.  Returning the next morning, she describes a fanciful paradise, but also admits to Bae that he was right.  The shadow has only allowed her to return because it wants one of her brothers instead.

When the shadow arrives to claim his child that night, Bae offers himself.  As the two fly over Neverland, Bae strikes a match, causing the shadow to drop him in the ocean, where is rescued by Captain Hook and his men.

In the present, Emma and the gang head over to Regina's office, where they find the missing bean plant and a hacked computer.  Emma immediately believes the culprit of the hack to be Tamara, but Snow is still convinced her assumption is only out of jealousy.  Emma goes to Neal's hotel to ask about Tamara's whereabouts, and he tells her that Tamara is out jogging in the woods because she's preparing for a marathon.  Emma notices sand on the floor, and the two decide to search the beachfront.

While the two are walking the beach, they discuss their past, with Neal confessing that he felt so much guilt for abandoning Emma after August spoke to him that he couldn't convince himself to search for her.  At that point in the conversation, Tamara jogs by, explaining that she changed her route.

Meanwhile, Regina is being held prisoner in a seafood warehouse, where Greg and Tamara have been torturing her for information about Kurt.  They also explain that they are working for an organization intent on destroying magic and hope to do so with the diamond that is part of Regina's curse.

Snow and David stop by Rumpel's shop to ask for his help in finding Regina.  After asking "Lacey" to step out, he gives them one of Regina's tears collected in a bottle, explaining that if the user's tear is added to the mixture, the person will be able to see and feel whatever Regina sees and feels.  The Charmings leave, and Lacey steps back into the shop, revealing that she heard everything but doesn't mind.

Back at the loft, Snow uses the tear and is subjected to intense pain, as Regina is being given shock treatment by Greg during an interrogation.  Snow cannot concentrate on seeing the location because of the pain, but describes the smell of sardines. This information prompts Emma and Neal to search the seafood warehouse.

The four split up.  David and Snow find Greg, who is torturing Regina after she claims to have killed Kurt.  David shoots at him, but Greg flees.  Rather than pursue him, the two tend to Regina.  They call Emma and relay the information, causing Emma and Neal to be off-guard when Tamara attacks them.  A hurt and confused Neal learns that Emma was right, as Tamara explains how she had used Neal from the beginning.  She then shoots Neal, leading Emma to attack her in retaliation.  Tamara drops a magic bean and flees.  Emma tries to save Neal from the expanding hole, but he lets go as he confesses his love for her.

The episode ends with the Charmings and Regina at the flat, where David tries to comfort the grieving Emma.  However, there are more pressing matters, as Regina explains how the curse trigger has fallen into enemy hands.  At the same time, Tamara receives orders to use the trigger to destroy the town.

Episode 22 summary: In the fairybacks, Bae overhears Hook telling the other pirates about his quest for revenge against Rumpel.  Bae is already concerned about being rescued by pirates, but feels worse considering who the pirates are.  His feelings change after Hook and his men hide him from the Lost Boys who come to claim him.

Hook begins to teach Bae how to sail the ship, and the two bond, both having lost their fathers.  However, Bae sees a sketch of Milah and confronts Hook about it, revealing himself as her son.  Hook explains that it was Rumpel who actually killed her, but Bae demands to be returned to the Darlings, refusing to stay with the man who destroyed his family.  Hook tells him he can't do that, but reminds him the ship is his family now.  Bae still refuses.

The Lost Boys return for Bae, with Hook relinquishing him this time.  The Lost Boys later compare Bae to a drawing, saying he's not a match, but may live.  The drawing is of Henry.

In the present, Rumpel passes the park while Henry is on a swing and begins to magically fray the rope.  Before he can go too far, the Charmings arrive and explain what happened to Neal.  Rumpel blames himself for Neal's supposed demise, as he chose not to help the group.

The group returns to the loft, where Regina has been resting.  Soon after she wakes up, an explosion is heard (Greg and Tamara have destroyed the diamond somewhere in the dwarf mines).  Regina explains that she can slow down the resulting destruction of the town, but she cannot stop it.  Hook arrives, declaring his shifting allegiance, and is punched by David.  Everyone agrees to work together to save Storybrooke.  The group leaves, with Regina telling Henry she'll always love him.

David and Hook find Greg and Tamara in the mines as they are destroying evidence of their presence.  Greg drops the beans by accident, while Tamara aims her gun at David.  David catches up with her, but is attacked by Greg.  While the two escape, Hook reveals that he has one of the magic beans.

Rumpel notices a missing stein in his shop.  Leroy explains that the Blue Fairy has discovered a way of restoring people's memories, and the dwarves want to restore those of Sneezy before the town is destroyed so they can die together.  Leroy leaves some of the tincture with Rumpel for him to use on Belle.  Rumpel asks Lacey to drink from the chipped cup, which she does, and she regains her memories as Belle.

Regina and Emma find the diamond, and Regina begins channeling her energy into slowing down the trigger.  She explains to Emma that it cannot be stopped, the expectation being that she'll die to allow the others to escape Storybrooke.  She doesn't want to be remembered as the evil queen.

Emma runs to Granny's and alerts the group to what Regina is planning.  Snow reminds Emma of how they sent the wraith through a portal; they could, conceivably, do the same thing to the diamond with a magic bean.  Hook agrees to give up his bean, once he learns that Bae was Henry's father.  The group, sans Hook, return to the mine.  But when Emma tries to remove the bean from the bag Hook gave her, nothing is there.

Realizing that there is no way to stop the town from being destroyed, the Charmings gather together and embrace.  Henry runs over to Regina and hugs her, calling her a hero.  Emma joins Regina in trying to suppress the diamond's power, and somehow its energy rescinds inside and the town is saved.  As the group celebrates, Emma sees Henry's backpack abandoned on the ground.

The group goes to search for Henry and finds him in the clutches of Greg and Tamara.  The group pursues them to the docks, but Tamara throws a bean into the water and the three escape into it.  Just then, Hook and his ship return.  He announces a change of heart and offers his ship for the search.  Rumpel and Belle also arrive at the dock, and Rumpel and Hook decide to put aside their grudge in order to work to save Henry.  Belle wants to accompany them, but Rumpel asks her to stay in Storybrooke in order to protect it while he and the others are gone.  He gives her a cloaking spell to cast and bids her a fond farewell.  Hook throws the bean, and the ship sails into the portal.

Meanwhile, in the fairy tale realm, Mulan, Philip, and Aurora find Neal on a beach.

Thoughts: While completely different from Mr. Barrie's stories (both play and novel), I have to say I enjoyed Bae's Peter Pan storyline, especially his sacrifice for the Darling children.  For a character who has been ravaged by magic to the extent that Bae has, it fit his character incredibly well to try to save the other children from the perils of magic.

I also liked that it was the male love interest for once (Neal) who was injured/killed/obliterated.  Too often in fantasy and comics, the woman or the gay love interest are killed, maimed, or kidnapped in order for the hero to learn something.  Even Once has been guilty of this with Belle earlier in the season.  While I don't think a love interest of any gender or sexual orientation should ever be killed or injured in order for the protagonist to develop and mature, I did appreciate that it was the straight male who disappeared for once.

I am tremendously pleased that the writers finally allowed Regina to be heroic.  I'm also hopeful that this trend continues into the next season, as she joins the search for Henry.  However, the resolution of the destructive curse plot was lackluster and a total deus ex machina.   I don't think a force that powerful would be contained simply because a second person lent her power.  I'm not saying the writers should have killed everyone off, but this particular resolution seemed lazy.

Poor Belle is neglected again.  She's proven herself to be quite capable time and again, so I'm hoping the decision to leave her in Storybrooke isn't just so she can be written out of the plot.  If she's there to lead and defend the town, then I want to see it!  It's bad enough Ruby's been written out.  I would have liked to have seen the two of them work together to lead Storybrooke in Snow's and Rumpel's absence.

It was good to see Mulan and Aurora reintroduced to the series at the end.  I'm looking forward to their adventures next season.

I'm quite curious as to who Tamara and Greg might be working for.  Some sort of ARGUS type organization?  It seemed like the writers were implying they may be working for the shadow, but that doesn't seem to fit their motivation, given that the shadow is himself magic.  I'm sure more will be explained next season.

All in all, it was a good end to the season.  While I had some minor complaints and am somewhat worried about the new direction the show is taking, I enjoyed this season and look forward to the next.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sara's Library: The Suburb Beyond the Stars

The Suburb Beyond the Stars by M.T. Anderson
Book two of the Norumbegan quartet
Scholastic 2010

Summary from Goodreads: "Something very strange is happening in Vermont. It's not The Game of Sunken Places - Brian and Gregory have been through that before, and there's not supposed to be another Game until they say there's a Game. But still . . . when they go to visit a relative in the Vermont woods, they find many things are . . . off. Like, people aren't where they're supposed to be. And houses are everywhere. In fact, the houses seem to be taking over."

Review: First of all, this is a sequel to The Game of Sunken Places, which I never posted about here as I read it during (and for) library school.  While it certainly helps to read the first book in the series, enough of the plot from the previous book is recapped here for those who may not have read it.  It's been well over a year since I read the first one, and after the first couple of chapters, I had no problem following along.

In the first book, two boys from Boston, Brian and Gregory, go to Vermont to visit Gregory's relatives and end up playing a real-life game involving elves, trolls, and the like in order to help a race called the Norumbegans prevent another race, the Thusser, from invading.  Brian wins the game at the end of the first installment, and thus it now falls to him to prepare the next stage of the game.

And this is where our story begins.  Except that one of the robots for Brian's game tries to kill him and the fae creating the automatons is missing.  So Brian and Gregory return to Vermont to ask the advice of his cousin, Prudence, who was the previous winner before Brian.  But things are not what they seem in Vermont.  Prudence, too, is missing, and time seems to move at a changeable pace.  And a dead man is selling real estate.

Since Mr. Anderson is the author of one of my absolute favorite young adult novels (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation), I always tend to be a bit disappointed by his middle grade fare.  It's not that it's bad, by any means.  But one can easily tell that he finds it difficult to write for this age group, as opposed to his young adult works, where he doesn't have to reign himself in.

While the first book in the series was pretty standard fantasy, this second installment has some interesting horror elements, including people being absorbed into walls, a flying wraith-like creature, and a living home hungry for its occupants.  It's in these terror-driven scenes that Mr. Anderon's prose really shines here.  Younger readers may be disturbed by some of the imagery he describes, so be forewarned.

My only real complaint was with the structure of the chapters, most of which were between 4 and 10 pages. Nearly every chapter ended on a cliff-hanger, which was promptly resolved at the beginning of the next chapter.  I realize that this is a children's book, but I felt it would have been more successful had Mr. Anderson heightened the tension.

The third installment is available and promises to keep with the darker tone introduced here.  No announcement has yet been made about the final volume.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Once Upon a Time...How Do You Solve a Problem Like Regina?

Once Upon a Time Season 2 Episode 20: "The Evil Queen"
In the fairybacks, Regina is in pursuit of the fugitive Snow.  After a village refuses to give her any information about Snow's whereabouts, Regina orders her troops to raze it.

Back at her palace, she calls on Rumpel to teach her a shape-shifting spell.  Claiming that it would take too long to teach it to her, he instead offers to cast it for her.  She agrees to his bargain and is transformed into an innocuous peasant.  She hopes to find Snow and kill her, but is told by Rumpel that she cannot use magic as long as she is transformed.

In a town square, the villagers are burning an effigy of Regina.  She tries to convince them to stop, forgetting her disguise, and is taken for a madwoman.  As she is is taken to be beheaded, Snow appears and saves her, escorting Regina to her woodland hideout, where she tends to her wounds.

Regina questions why Snow would help her, and Snow related the story of how Regina saved her from the startled horse when she was a girl.  She never mentions who the woman who saved her was, however.  The two come upon the razed village, and Snow declares that Regina is irredeemable.  Regina retells the horse story, naming the woman as Regina, effectively revealing herself to Snow, who allows Regina to escape.

In the present, Tamara and Greg convince Hook to work with them by telling him that Rumpel is still alive, thus meaning Hook has yet to have his revenge.

David and Snow ponder what to do about Regina when and if the group returns to their homeworld.  They agree that Regina should be left behind to pay for her crimes.  A disguised Regina overhears the discussion, and the next day tells Henry what she overheard and shows him the beans.  She then relates information about the failsafe she built into the curse, telling Henry that the two of them will return to the homeworld, leaving the rest to die.  A disapproving Henry then has his mind wiped by his adoptive mother.

At Granny's Diner, Emma finds a list, which Tamara has dropped, noting the fairy tale characters and their Storybrooke counterparts.  She is certain this is proof that Tamara is the "her" working with Greg, but Snow thinks Emma is acting out of jealousy.  Worried that Henry might try to get his parents back together, Snow advises Emma to keep this distrust a secret, but Henry overhears the conversation and wants to help Emma. The two go to Neal's hotel room while he and  Tamara are both out, and Emma searches the room while Henry stands watch.  However, Neal shows up as Emma is trying to pull up a loose floorboard.  Nothing is found, and Emma tells Neal about the list, which he claims he made for Tamara to help her adjust to his being a fairy tale character.

Arriving at the bean field, David, Snow, and Leroy discover that the crop has been burned, eradicating their plans of returning home.

Hook goes to Regina's office to warn her about whatever Greg and Tamara are planning.  Since Hook had allied himself with Cora, Regina feels that she can trust him and tells him about the failsafe device for the curse.  The two go to the library, where they take the elevator to its unknown depths.  Noticing her mother's bracelet on Hook's person, Regina asks for it back, and he complies.

At the bottom, Regina pushes Hook into Maleficent's lair while she searches for the black diamond that is the trigger.  Hook arrives upstairs before Regina, which surprises her, and as she hands him the diamond, he reveals that he is still working with Greg and Tamara.  Regina tries to cast a spell, but the bracelet now inhibits her ability to cast magic.

This episode proves that the writers really have no idea if they want to redeem Regina or not.  Maybe they think it's entertaining to watch her waver back and forth between good and bad?  I think it's just poor writing.  Make a choice within her character and have her stick with it.  And if it's the wrong choice, at least let a good amount of time pass before rectifying it.

I like Regina.  Really, I do.  But she suffers from split-personality due to the writers on this show not knowing what they want to do with her.  She's still miles above the "good" characters, though.

The final events in the present day seemed a bit too convenient, especially Cora's bracelet being made into a magic inhibitor.  And the black diamond (also an integral part of DC continuity at the moment) seems like it might be a deus ex machina.  I am really hoping the characters don't get a total reboot because of this, as I will be angry.

Emma's suspicions of Tamara, while correct, do come off as nothing more than jealousy.  She needs more than just a hunch or her so-called super power if she wants to convince anyone other than Henry that Tamara is a shady character.  I imagine next episode she will find it, as there are only two left in the season.

Not Smash level bad, but not a good episode either.