Once Upon a Time! Why do you keep hitting yourself? More importantly, why do you keep hitting your AUDIENCE?
Look. I really like you, okay. Like, REALLY like you. I don’t want to break up. You fill an important place in my life, and you’re making fairy tales more seriously mainstream even with all your missteps. You’re doing valuable work.
We could be so much more together.
I mean, you do some stuff right. You employ Robert Carlyle. Brilliant decision on your part. You also sometimes manage to demonstrate just how thorny and nuanced fairy tales truly are! It’s not all Prince Charmings and True Love’s Kiss, but also hard work and blood and pain and betrayal and hard decisions. You prize cleverness and goodness, and show where wickedness can have genuinely good intentions or innocent beginnings. Props where props are due.
But you’ve gotta stop abusing my trust. Full stop. “The Outsider” and– more importantly– the character of Belle screams this in big sparkly letters:
(I will cut you with my literalness.)
Here are 5 things I’m gonna need you to cut the hell out, right now:
1. Your OTP of Belle/Captivity.
One of Belle’s key quotes from this series is “No one decides my fate but me.” This is terribly ironic, since she can’t seem to stay out of captivity. Her story begins in captivity, though her first captor has the decency to fall in love with her and set her free. Then she’s locked up by the Evil Queen in two different worlds, and freed only thanks to the intervention of a certain Mad Hatter. (Jefferson! You sexy bitch!) Next, her own father organized her kidnapping and imprisonment in a runaway mine car, since he thought mindwiping her was such a better fate than being in love with Rumpelstiltskin. (Wow. That’s quality parenting.) Then there was that time that Ruby shackled her in the library for her own good. ‘The Outsider” had her briefly trapped in an elevator, briefly cornered on a ship, and finally showed her capture by the Evil Queen back in FTL. And I missing any? Probably.
I would just really like an entire episode about Belle where she is not consigning herself into captivity, being threatened because of who she loves, being kidnapped, being locked up for her own good, or being aggressively told to stay out of things for her own good.
2. Your Allergy to Montages.
You know what can help a story that’s small due to time and budget constraints seem longer than it is? A montage. Trey Parker wrote a song about it and everything. In Once Upon a Time, we’re asked to believe that Belle and Rumpelstiltskin developed an entire relationship based on one fall from the curtains and incredibly brief repartee as Belle – well, there’s just no other way to say this. As Belle prunes a rose that used to be her former suitor to better fit him into a vase.
That’s just one example of the brief, slipshod storytelling OUAT has periodically asked us to swallow. Another? How about Belle tracking down the Yaoguai in a few brief hours, and then doing it all again with Mulan before the day was out? (Sorry, guys, last time I checked, actual people experienced with the actual woods beat book-learnin’ every time. Books are a great place to start, but nothing trumps experience in tracking. Which Mulan has tons of. This should have been adjusted to involve them having to work together rather than Belle just being more capable because of her book.)
Montage! Why the hell did neither of these situations call for a montage? For fucks’ sake, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast does the romance better! WITH A MONTAGE! And I would have liked Belle’s adventure to have lasted a few weeks, which tracking down a ravening fiery beast that is tricksy enough to hide for weeks from a skilled (former) member of the Chinese army seems to call for.
3. Your Supernatural Inconsistency.
So, Ruby. Werewolf, right? Very tragic back-story. Killed her boyfriend Peter. (Wow, that Russian story did NOT turn out like we thought.) Has to wear a red cloak to prevent herself from changing, which is okay, since it’s pretty bitchin’. (Red Riding Hood-lover here, trufax.) Learned control, lives with grandma (who doesn’t need no huntsman, no how), almost got killed by a mob a few episodes ago.
You know what she also did just a few episodes ago? She smelled a piece of clothing that Belle had been wearing, and successfully followed her fading scent across a number of streets before losing it.
She tracked Belle. A person relatively new in her life. By scent. In the middle of a small town.
So… why the fuck did she not realize the corpse in “The Cricket Game” (and, considering the funeral, in “The Outsider”) wasn’t Archie? I suppose you could argue that Cora disguised the corpse so thoroughly that she also replicated Archie’s scent, but. She didn’t even thoroughly disguise herself as Regina well enough to fool PONGO. Ruby was ACROSS THE STREET when Cora-as-Regina walked into Archie’s office. Intentionally letting Ruby see her. If she knows a werewolf is in town, paraded her disguise right in front of said werewolf, and yet couldn’t even entirely fool Pongo? I don’t feel comfortable buying she replicated all-things-Archie in the corpse.
This isn’t the only bit of supernatural inconsistency on the show, of course. Just the one that annoyed me here in “The Outsider.” Let’s not get lost in the finer points of heart-removal or the mind-boggling logistics of a child growing up in a cursed town where time didn’t move for anyone else.
4. Your Obsession With Snowing.
Okay, fine, your love story between Snow White and Prince Charming was the central focus of S1. You know what, though? You’ve beaten it to death. TO DEATH. I was sick and tired of Mary Margaret and David by the middle of the first season, and I’m not the only one. I actually snicker now when they invoke their “I will always find you” shtick Yes. You will. We know this. There’s no narrative tension there anymore. The series has grown so far beyond them, that it’d be nice for other interpersonal relationships to get more screen time. Like Belle and Rumpelstiltskin. Considering that relationship involves a man’s bitter struggle to redeem himself, I assure you that it’s infinitely more interesting than your two goody-goodies who are firmly entrenched as a couple.
Here, I’ll give you a list of relationships that need more screen time: Emma/August, Emma/Neal, Emma/Jefferson, Emma/Regina, Emma/Anyone, Regina/Anyone, Grumpy/Nova, Ruby/Archie, Ruby/Woods, Belle/Freedom, Belle/Rumpelstiltskin, Hook/Getting-Beaten-by-Things, Cora/Regret, etc. ad nauseam. (I am aware some of these relationships don’t exist. But they COULD.)
Hell, we don’t even have to spend the screen time on romantic relationships. There are plenty of parent-child relationships that desperately need the time. Here’s another list: Emma/Henry, Regina/Henry, Regina/Standing-Up-to-Cora, Jefferson/Grace, Geppetto/August, Belle/Moe, Snow White/Emma, Charming/Emma, and yeah.
Less time on Snowing, please, more time on anything else.
5. Your Habit of Fridging/Compromising Promising Heroines.
This is the most egregious fault, OUAT. Just. Look. You do know that Mulan joined the Chinese army and distinguished herself there, right? She had training? As a warrior? Also, she’s really remarkably clever. Yet so far, in OUAT, you’ve had her aver that she was Phillip’s best chance against the wraith and then do nothing once she found him but cling to Aurora and scream? Flat-out run away from ogres? At least she fought some undead. But then, in a flashback story with her fresh out of the army, you made her an abominable tracker and had her send a bookish adventurer on her own to deal with a rampaging demon. I don’t care if she was wounded! Mulan would have wrapped that fucking leg, and hobbled down there on a damn crutch if she had to. She was the one with martial training, and she would have been invaluable in directing Belle.
I know that’s not really fridging, so let’s move on to Belle. Belle was so promising. As arguably my favorite Disney “princess,” I’ve always valued her bookishness, compassion, and thirst for adventure. I had hopes that the show would develop her as more than Rumpelstiltskin’s chance at redemption, but a full-fledged character in her own right. Instead, we get flashes and hints that she is, but no meat. We don’t even get a good look at how the Rumbelle romance is actually developing. Instead, with the most screen time since she was last kidnapped, “The Outsider” gives us a taste of Belle’s glorious potential — only to rip it all away in a horribly literal way thanks to Hook and the accursed town line.
I’m sure it’s going to be reversed, and there’s the potential that we’ll see what Belle is really made of as she struggles back to herself. It’s equally likely that it’ll be broken with magic and very little effort on her part. But none of that matters here, because the character was compromised just to cause Rumpelstiltskin pain.
Oh well. At least Hook got hit by a car.
Once Upon a Time Are You Kidding Me? out.