Sunday, October 20, 2013

Once Upon a Time...With Just a Pinch of Pixie Dust

Once Upon a Time Season 3 Episode 3: "Quite a Common Fairy"
In the fairyback, Regina, newly married to Snow's father, leads a sorrowful existence.  While Rumpel instructs her to channel her anger into her magic, Regina instead thinks of suicide.  When a bannister falls away and Regina plummets to her death (deliberate or not), a fairy appears and rescues her.  The fairy, Tinkerbell, goes with Regina to a pub, where Regina talks about the problems in her life.  Tinkerbell, certain that all Regina needs is to find happiness again, promised to help her.  Upon returning to the fairies' dwelling, however, the Blue Fairy commands Tinkerbell to abandon the endeavor, claiming that Regina is beyond help and in the grasp of Cora and Rumpel.  This only serves to convince Tinkerbell all the more that Regina needs her help.

That night, Tinkerbell steals pixie dust from the fairies and goes to Regina's room, where she sprinkles it on her.  The two fly away, following a trail of green dust to Regina's soulmate.  The dust leads them to a tavern; Tinkerbell goes inside first to determine who the dust indicates, and returns to Regina, telling her to speak to the man with the lion tattoo on his arm.  Tinkerbell then flies away, leaving Regina to her future happiness.  However, Regina panics and runs away without ever entering the tavern, let alone speaking to the man.

Arriving back at the fairies' dwelling, Tinkerbell is chastised by the Blue Fairy, who is aware of all Tinkerbell did.  Tinkerbell argues that they were taught to believe in second chances, but the Blue Fairy counters that this was Tinkerbell's second chance before stripping her of her wings and magic.

In Neverland, the narrative is split between Henry and the group searching for him.  Henry is forced to play William Tell by Pan and his Lost Boys.  He expects to be the "victim," but instead is given a crossbow and told to fire the apple off another boy's head.  Instead, Henry fires at Pan, who catches the arrow.  Pan then explains that he's been waiting for Henry since he was born, as Henry is the only one with a strong enough belief in magic to restore it to the dying lands.  Henry argues that Emma is the savior, but Pan explains that she is only such for having birthed Henry, a child equally of light and darkness.  He then gives Henry a slip of paper, upon which is a drawing of Henry with the caption "The truest believer", seemingly drawn long before Henry was born.

As the group searches for Henry, they realize that his location on the map has changed, indicating that Pan's camp is on the move.  Hook suggests finding Tinkerbell, whom he has worked with in the past, and asking for her help.  All but Regina are in agreement.  Regina tries to convince Emma to combine their magic and attack Pan head-on, but Emma refuses, fearing for Henry's safety.  The group press on, with Regina hanging toward the back.  She drops her handkerchief, which is picked up by someone who apparently is tracking them.

Hook pulls David aside, and the two discuss his wound.  With only weeks to live at most, Hook advises David to tell Snow, but David does not, believing if they find Tinkerbell and her pixie dust that he will be cured.

Having reached Tinkerbell's home, Regina remains behind, stating that she's sure Tinkerbell will refuse to help if she knows Regina is with them.  As the rest of the group moves on, Regina waits on a log and is soon after knocked out with poppy dust by noneother than Tinkerbell.  Finding her house empty, the others return to find Regina missing, only her handkerchief left behind.

Tinkerbell holds Regina at spearpoint, demanding to know why she lied about the pixie dust failing to work all those years ago.  Regina admits that she was afraid to enter the tavern, and Tinkerbell explains that because of her she lost all of her magic.  Regina removes her own heart, showing Tinkerbell how black it has become.  She explains that if Tinkerbell kills her, Tink will be no different than her and her own heart will grow black.  But if Tinkerbell helps her to find Henry, she will be the good fairy she always wanted to be.  Tinkerbell returns Regina's heart, but refuses to help.  At that point, the others find them and convince Tinkerbell to help, although they are disappointed to learn that she is human.  As they resume their trek, Tinkerbell tells Regina that she didn't just ruin her own life by not entering the tavern but the life of the man with the lion tattoo, as well.

Meanwhile, in the Enchanted Forest, Neal searches madly for a magic device that can lead him to Neverland, certain that something has happened to Henry.  Robin Hood's band of Merry Men enter the room, along with Robin's son, Roland, and Neal realizes that Roland is the key to Neverland.  After convincing Robin that his plan will not endanger Roland in any way, Robin reluctantly agrees.  Robin, Neal, and Mulan hide behind various pieces of furniture, while Roland stands at the window and says, "I believe."  After nothing happens immediately, Neal asks Roland to say it again, but Robin reminds him that the deal was for him to say it only once.  Suddenly, the shadow appears to take Roland to Neverland.  Mulan stabs it and pulls Roland to safety, as Neal lunges at its foot and it taken to Neverland.

Robin invites Mulan to join his Merry Men, impressed by her tactical skill, but she says there is someone she must speak with first.  Remembering how Neal regretted not having told Emma he loved her, Mulan resolves to tell her special someone.  Returning to Aurora's palace, she says that there is something she must tell her; Aurora also tells her she has news to share.  Letting Aurora tell first, Mulan is stunned to learn that Aurora is pregnant.  Visibly upset, Mulan tells Aurora that she will be joining the Merry Men, rather than confessing her unrequited feelings.  Returning to Rumpel's castle, Mulan is welcomed by Robin, who is the man with the lion tattoo.

I was so glad that Regina received some much needed character development this episode!  It was a great move to explain her motivations for becoming a villain and her fears of remaining unloved and alone.  I felt this was something most people could relate to, and it really served to humanize Regina, who for so much of the series has been unjustly considered "evil."  The one thing this show consistently does well is to create sympathetic villains, characters who are truly grey.  I wish the same could be said of the heroes.

Speaking of which, the Blue Fairy demonstrates once again that good simply means self-righteous blowhard in the world of Once Upon a Time.  I found utterly ridiculous that Tinkerbell was chastised for attempting to help someone who quite obviously was in need of help simply because of said person's associates.  And, of course, for Tinkerbell to have been punished as she was just serves to emphasize that sometimes the real villains are those professing to do good.  Unfortunately, I think the writers are unaware of this since all of their supposed "good" characters are written in this way.

Tinkerbell, as she was portrayed in the fairybacks, is the closest example of true good yet to be seen on the show.  Someone who genuinely wants to help all people, regardless of their past deeds or associates.  And, while I enjoyed the jaded Tink in Neverland, I really hope that something along her journey inspires her to return to being the idealistic person she was.

I have seen numerous articles popping up about Mulan's sexuality, and while I applaud the portrayal of a character outside of hetero-normative behavior on a so-called family program, I think it was too easy to insert queerness into Mulan.  Perhaps it's even expected.  While other female characters on the show have shown battle prowess, none of them wore men's armor or served in the military, so there is already an expectation that Mulan is somehow "other."  And, yes, her appearance on the show is more feminine than that of the film, but we never see her in any other garb.  I think it would have sent a stronger message of acceptance to have outed an overtly feminine character, a princess type.  And it would be even more powerful to have her love returned.  While I enjoy drama as much as the next person, this smacked a bit too much of the tragic lesbian novels written in the mid-twentieth century.  This show has claimed time and again that everyone deserves a happy ending, even Rumpel, even Regina.  So what about Mulan?  I hope she finds her happy ending by series end, regardless of where her new lover falls on the spectrum.  Ideally, though, the person will not be a cis-man, as that would be back-pedaling, and Mulan deserves better.  Once outed, she should remain so.

My only real complaint with this episode was that, once again, the writers are rushing things by having Neal reach Neverland already.  While I'm excited to see what transpires with Neal returning to a place from which he fought so hard to escape, I wish the writers would pace themselves.  I don't want Henry to be rescued by mid-season and a new evil come forth, like last season with Cora and the mundies.  I know that mainstream audience's have terrible attention spans, and the producers and writers want the show to remain accessible to the lowest common denominator, but I think slowing down a tiny bit wouldn't be that detrimental to the audience-at-large and would be a great help to show.

I apologize if I sounded a bit ranty this week.  It was a good episode (one of the better ones without Rumpel), and I think it made a good deal of progress with some of the characters who typically don't get the attention they deserve.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Sara's Library: Perfume

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind
Original German edition: Diogenes 1985 
First US edition: Alfred Knopf 1987
Translated from German by John E. Woods
World Fantasy Award for Best Novel 1987
PEN Translation Prize 1987

Summary from Goodreads: "In the slums of eighteenth-century France, the infant Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with one sublime gift: an absolute sense of smell. As a boy, he lives to decipher the odors of Paris, and apprentices himself to a prominent perfumer who teaches him the ancient art of mixing precious oils and herbs. 

But Grenouille's genius is such that he is not satisfied to stop there, and he becomes obsessed with capturing the smells of objects such as brass doorknobs and frest-cut wood. Then one day he catches a hint of a scent that will drive him on an ever-more-terrifying quest to create the "ultimate perfume"—the scent of a beautiful young virgin."

While Perfume was awarded the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, it is not what one generally expects of fantasy.  There are no mythical beasts, no supernatural events, or the dealings of gods and men.  Instead, it reads much more like a fairy tale with only the vaguest hints that any of its events or characters are unlikely to exist in our reality.  Like a fairy tale, we suspend our disbelief and accept that in the world in which Grenouille dwells this is simply how things are.  Grenouille's superhuman sense of smell is likely the reason the work has cemented its place in the realm of the fantastic, as well as one scene near the end where a scent he has concocted completely overwhelms the will of those in its proximity.  Those two items aside, the novel reads like an historical mystery.

What made this such a notable work was definitely the strength of Mr. Suskind's descriptions.  With a protagonist who understands the world best through scent it was integral that the writing be able to convey a sense of olfactory image, and Mr. Suskind does a stunning job doing just that.  Whether describing fragrances and perfumes or stenches and odors, the prose truly brings Grenouille's world to life.  

With Grenouille portrayed as such a loner and outsider, it could be difficult for some to connect with the text; however, the dry humor and comic peripheral characters will keep most interested, if not the writing itself.  Although the story descends into rather grim territory (murdering virgin girls to create the perfect scent), the novel never feels like horror, instead often feeling as light as one of Grenouille's perfumes.

A genre-defying work showcasing tremendous writing, I must recommend Perfume to any with an interest in the fantastic, the dark, or the historical.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Once Upon a Time...Alone in the Wilderness

Once Upon a Time Season 3 Episode 2: "Lost Girl"

Rather than the four-way split between Emma and company, Henry, Neal, and Rumpel that we had in the opener, this week the narrative is split between Emm and Rumpel in the present, along with a fairyback involving Snow.

In the fairyback, Charming awakens Snow with true love's kiss, and the lovers soon after try to rally a group of villagers against Regina, but to no avail.  Regina offers Snow's group a chance to live happily in exile, confessing that she's been unable to kill Snow.  Snow wants to accept the offer, but Charming tries to persuade her not to.  Charming goes to Rumpel for a solution and is told of a magic sword that can be wielded only by a kingdom's true ruler.  Charming returns to Snow and convinces her to search for said sword with him.

The two find the mythical sword in the stone, and while Charming is unable to remove it, Snow is able to do so, proving that she is the rightful ruler of her kingdom.  The group return to the village, where Regina awaits her answer.  When Snow refuses the offer, Regina uses a spell to choke Grumpy; Snow, with newly discovered courage, uses the sword to free him, scratching Regina's cheek.  A stunned Regina promises that this means war.

Snow searches for Rumpel, wanting to pay whatever price Charming had agreed to in return for the sword.  Rumpel reveals that the sword cannot be Excalibur, which is still in Camelot, and leaves only the hilt in Snow's hand.  He then takes her mother's necklace as payment for wasting his time.  Snow returns to Charming, upset that he lied to her, but after he explains that it was the only way to convince her to stand up for her people, she forgives him.

In Neverland, the group travels through an overgrown jungle as they begin their search for Henry.  As the group reluctantly sets camp for the night, Emma wanders away, following the sound of rustling.  She meets Peter Pan, who gives her a map that he claims will show her the path to Henry.  However, the map is blank, which Emma points out to Pan.  He then explains that it will reveal itself to Emma only when she accepts her true identity and warns that no one else it to tamper with the map.  Emma returns to the group with the map, but after relating her history aloud to the map, nothing happens.  Regina then casts a tracking spell on the map, despite the others' protests.

As the group follows the map into the heart of the jungle (against Hook's better judgment), they are ambushed by Pan, who chides Emma for breaking the rules, and his Lost Boys.  During the battle, Charming is stabbed with poison, and Emma noticeably holds back from killing one of the boys.  Afterwards, Snow asks Emma why she didn't follow through, and she confesses that she saw herself in the boy.  She then relates how abandoned she felt as a child, always wondering why she had been placed in an orphanage.  Only when she admits to being an orphan does the map reveal Henry's location.  Pan reappears to congratulate Emma, but also to warn her that she truly will be an orphan before he is done with her.

Rumpel, meanwhile, cuts away his shadow and orders it to hide the Dark One's dagger where even he can't find it.  Afterward, he's surprised to discover Belle in the jungle.  Convinced that she's an illusion conjured up by Pan to spy on him, he begins to strangle her, while she pleads with him to stop, explaining that he conjured her himself.  He realizes that she is telling the truth, as she often fulfilled the role of his conscience, and he is struggling with whether to kill Henry and change his fate, or to save him and die.  Belle assures him he'll do the right thing, but only if he lets go of the past that's haunted him since childhood.  Rumpel was himself abandoned by his father and continued the circle of neglect by abandoning Bae.  Belle disappears, and Rumpel throws a straw doll made by his father over a cliff into the sea.  As he continues through the jungle, the doll hurtles back toward him; he burns the doll.  Again it finds its way back to him.  Realizing that he can't simply destroy his past, he pockets the doll.

This episode was a mixed bag for me.  The Neverland events were dramatic, but the fairyback seemed to be completely unnecessary.  Traditionally, the fairyback has involved events paralleling those the same character is facing in the present day.  Having a fairyback involving Snow coming to terms with being a ruler, while Emma comes to terms with being an orphan, was a bit of a stretch.  The events leading up to the battle between Snow and Regina have mostly been explored; I don't feel there's new territory left here.  And the current story arc belongs to Emma and to Rumpel.  Snow is a supporting member of this story, as far as I'm concerned.  Unless the fairyback serves to develop her character somehow, it's totally superfluous.  We would have been better served by a flashback of Emma's orphaned childhood, or even more of Neal's life in Neverland than the bit of Snow's history that we were given.

What this episode did correctly was demonstrate to the audience how both Emma's and Rumpel's childhoods have affected them, especially given their current location on Neverland.  Rumpel may not have said it aloud, but he's as much of an orphan and lost boy as Emma, if not more so, given how his past has haunted him and led him to make debatable life choices.

I especially enjoyed the symbolism behind the straw doll.  Despite Rumpel's best efforts to destroy the doll, he fails repeatedly, ultimately deciding to stuff it in his jacket pocket.  One's past, of course, cannot simply be destroyed or buried because it adversely affected one.  Rather, the past remains connected to an individual's every action, whether he's conscious of it or not.  The pocketing of the doll, then, is Rumpel's realization that he cannot escape his past, but instead must own it.

I hope that in future episodes the writers realize that fairybacks are only useful when adding depth to the characters.  Honestly, if they focused only on current events in Neverland, Storybrooke, and the Enchanted Forest, there would be more than enough story for one season.  Shifting the narrative to the past only serves to weaken the plot, or at least it did in this particular episode.  Neverland, being a place where unwanted children find themselves, provides a great opportunity to explore the damaged psyches of Emma and Rumpel.  Don't miss this opportunity, writers!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Dream Factory: Bluebeard

Director: Catherine Breillat
Original release date: Arte 2009 (France)
US theatrical release: Strand Releasing 2010
US DVD release date: Strand Releasing 2010
Streaming: Netflix
Not Rated

Summary from Seen That: "An adaptation of the classic tale of a wealthy aristocrat with a blue beard."

Review: The narrative of Perrault's fairy tale is set in 17th century France here, where two sisters, Anne and Marie-Catherine, have recently lost their father.  The tale continues in much the same way as the original, with the younger sister marrying Bluebeard and discovering his secret chamber of horrors.

The narrative is framed by two sisters in the 1950's, Marie-Anne and Catherine, reading the story aloud in an attic chamber.  The younger is rather sassy, and, despite the pleas of her elder sister to stop reading the tale, she continues to read, the end result of which is tragic.

The entire film is rather understated, the performances of the leads muted.  To be perfectly honest, nothing in particular jumps out or demands a second viewing in order to parse together some meaning.  The telling of this timeless tale is very straightforward; no non-linear storytelling or juxtaposition of narratives to clearly delineate perceived parallels.  Nearly every scene with the 1950's sisters clearly depicts them reading the tale, save one.  In said scene, Catherine has reached the point in the story where Marie-Catherine enters the forbidden room to find bloody corpses hanging from the ceiling.  But, rather than the scene portraying Marie-Catherine in the room, it is Catherine that we see.  And it is this scene alone that emphasizes the parallels between Marie-Catherine and Catherine, so that when both lead those they love to tragedy, we recognize their similarities.

For those interested in fairy tale adaptations, it's a serviceable film; however, I would not go out of my way to watch it.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Once Upon a the Eye of the Storm

Once Upon a Time Season 3 Episode 1: "The Heart of the Truest Believer"

At the end of season two, Henry had been whisked away to Neverland by Greg and Tamara; Neal had been shot and fell through a portal to the Enchanted Forest; and our gang of six was about to set sail on Hook's ship to rescue Henry.  In this first episode of season three, the narrative shifts between these three storylines, leaving the happenings in Storybrooke for future episodes.

The Lost Boys come to claim Henry very soon after the trio arrive in Neverland.  Tamara and Greg finally learn who they are working for and why, which results in feelings of betrayal on their part, and a battle with the Lost Boys that does not end well.  Henry flees into the jungle, where he meets a Lost Boy a bit older than him who claims to have escaped from Pan with some pixie dust, although he cannot get it to work.  The two spend the rest of the episode dodging the Lost Boys until Henry is forced to use the pixie dust when the two are trapped between a sea cliff and the pursuers.  With his belief in all things magical, Henry is able to fly away with the other boy, only to discover that the boy in question is Pan himself and this was all a set-up to test whether or not Henry was the "truest believer."

Neal wakes up on the shore of a beach in the Enchanted Forest, surrounded by Mulan, Aurora, and Philip.  At first they are distrustful of him, but when he reveals that he knows Emma and Snow, they relax.  Aurora offers to try to reach Snow through the dreamworld that linked the two worlds together, but cannot reach anyone.  Neal and Mulan then travel to Rumpel's castle, where Neal hopes to find something that may aid them in reaching Emma.  Once at Rumpel's castle, they meet Robin Hood, who has taken over the castle since the curse was first cast.  Much of the castle has been ransacked, but, using Rumpel's shepherd crook from his pre-magic days, Neal is able to unlock a secret passage through blood-magic.  Inside, he finds a crystal ball that reveals to him that the others have traveled to Neverland.

Meanwhile, Rumpel abandons the group to search for Henry on his own, stating that he won't be held back by the others' lack of belief.  Once on the island, he finds the site of the battle between the Lost Boys and Henry's kidnappers.  Despite a gravely injured Tamara's pleas for mercy, Rumpel removes her heart.  A Lost Boy delivers a message of welcome, though he warns Rumpel not to pursue Henry.  Rumpel replies that he knows he will die, but plans to kill as many Lost Boys as possible along the way.

Those remaining on the ship continually argue with each other, as mermaids attack the ship and call down a storm.  After capturing one of the mermaids, the group debates whether to kill her or let her go.  Regina turns the mermaid into a statue, resulting in yet more arguments among the group, as the storm worsens.  Emma dives overboard, realizing that only when the group puts aside their differences and works together will the storm let up.  The group works together to pull Emma back aboard and the ship is able to dock.  As the group sets foot upon Neverland, Emma cautions that they must all believe in each other if they are to succeed.

All in all, I felt this was a great premiere episode.  It didn't spend time recapping last season's events, instead hitting the ground running.  My only complaints are pretty minimal.  I feel that Greg and Tamara should either have been dealt with last season, or left to bemoan their present circumstances a bit longer.  Although both of their final scenes are pretty great.  I also feel the "big reveal" about Peter Pan should have been left for a later episode in order to build greater tension.  And it was annoying to see Regina shift to being the wicked witch yet again.  Why can't character development with her ever stick?
Speaking of waffling characters, I'm hopeful that Rumpel's decision to pursue Henry on his own stems from a desire to redeem himself, not preserve himself.  His conversation with the Lost Boy seems to indicate the former, as does Neal's line in the castle about family being important to Rumpel.  Of course, I hope his fate can somehow be changed, as a show without Rumpel would be quite different

While I didn't really care for Neal in previous seasons, I am really beginning to enjoy his character.  His banter with Mulan was quite amusing ("They even made a movie about you!"), and his concern for his family was far more relatable and more touching than any similar scene of David's (though I suspect this may be because the actor is more capable).  Of course, his scene in Rumpel's castle was my favorite of this episode, especially the bit about blood-magic.  I hope the writers continue to develop Neal into a likable character this season!

From what I've read about plans for this season, I am excited to see where the writers take everyone.  And if this episode is any indication, it will be a good season with plenty of real drama.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Sara's Library: Carrie

Carrie by Stephen King
Doubleday 1974

Summary from Goodreads: "The story of misfit high-school girl, Carrie White, who gradually discovers that she has telekinetic powers. Repressed by a domineering, ultra-religious mother and tormented by her peers at school, her efforts to fit in lead to a dramatic confrontation during the senior prom."

With the new film version coming out, I wanted to read Mr. King's first novel.  I have seen the 1976 film version directed by Brian De Palma countless times over the years, and while I was familiar with the story, the details are sufficiently different enough to make for an entertaining read.

Rather than being a waif as portrayed by Sissy Spacek, in the novel, Carrie is an overweight, acne-prone girl who would likely be tormented for those facts alone.  That she is the naive, painfully shy child of the local religious nut only exacerbates the teasing.  The teenage girls are depicted as relentlessly cruel; one dreads what might have befallen Carrie in today's viral YouTube culture.  

Only three characters are depicted with any sort of positivity: Sue, Miss Desjardin, and Tommy.  However, the two females both question their motivations, discovering that it is not altruism that drives them to help the unfortunate Carrie, leaving only Tommy as an unstained saintly martyr.

Throughout the narrative, articles from newspapers and academic papers about the prom night incident appear.  If someone avoided all pop cultural references to Carrie for the last thirty years, the end would still be somewhat anti-climatic with the heavy-handed foreshadowing present in these articles.  Honestly, I felt they came off as a bit pretentious and distanced the narrative too much from Carrie's perspective of events.  As an anti-bullying piece, it would have been strengthened had the focus been only Carrie, as the reader would have been able to feel her pain more keenly and thus better able to empathize with her.  

All in all, the story continues to resonate today.  I'm quite interested to see what the new Kimberly Pearce film does, considering the setting has been updated to the present and bullying has taken on an entirely new shape online.