Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Reason I Quit Watching Once Upon a Time

Well I'm in this place so I might as well. It's not the first time I've touched upon it but the primary reason why I quit watching Once Upon a Time was its binary view of good and evil which this season it's finally starting to write its way out of.

Up until season 4. Once Upon a Time actively tried to subvert the idea that the bad guys were the bad guys just because. Heck, the pilot threw down the gauntlet by having the sanest, most emotionally well-balanced character shown be the one whose name literally means evil.  Each of the major villains has an understandable reason for turning even if it doesn't excuse them from culpability for the horrible things they do.

Season 3 more or less is a redemption arc for Rumplestilskin and to a lesser extent Regina. It's a heavy lift but they get to the side of the angels.

 And then season 4 happens. 

The story of season four isn't actually that bad at least not the first half which acts basically a loose sequel to Frozen. 

But there is a b-story in the first half the becomes the foundation for the rest of season 4 and most of season 5.

And in order for the mechanics of that b-story to work. Magic has to work like the dark side as a slowly corrupting force.

That's not to say it wasn't there. In season 2 there is this throughline about getting Regina and to a lesser extent Rumpie over their addiction to magic. But I always took it as a metaphor. In this context Magic is basically a gun. They're walking around with a loaded pistol and the implied sometimes not so implied threat of violence.  And getting them to understand why that's wrong is an important part of getting them on the side of the angels. And it happens for the same reason for both of them. They don't like the fact that their children are afraid of them nor that they are right to be so. 

Then surprise! Nope none of that stuff really mattered at all. It was just all because they were mages. Rumplestiltskin didn't tragically make the choice to pursue power to protect his family from those who would do them harm while not realizing he was slowly becoming someone who would do his family harm.

It was all the magic's fault.

That's all regrettable but the point where it became ridiculous was with Emma Swan's turn to darkness which is what all of this was setting up.

For a really long time Once had the problem that its protagonist is the least interesting character of the show. I'm sorry she is. Emma Swan's role for at least the first three seasons is as an audience surrogate and as a character she's not much more than that.

Season four bends over backward to try to make her more interesting and the solution they hit upon is to make her evil.

Emma Swan has her issues. She has a pathway to the dark side. She tends to run away or at least attempt to run away from her problems. She feels some resentment towards her parents for not being around even if it wasn't their fault. But neither of those seems like it would be enough to force her to put on the black and those issues were more or less resolved by the end season 2. Emma's just not evil. Not even a little. She's hardly even mean. She's just Emma.

So in order to to get her there Once basically rewrites its own history in one of the most convoluted what the hell retcons I've ever seen largely to remove her choice in the matter. She's evil literally because the story forces to be. 

Which would be fine if her personality changed to reflect that at all.

It doesn't. At least not in a way that reveals how her character thinks. She does evil stuff but she does it more or less so the story can prove how evil she is now. She has no character motivation. Her actions don't get her any closer to her goals or desires. She's just doing stuff because the story literally told her to.

Furthermore, it actually undermines her Dark One powers.

Okay, let's back up. Rumplestilskin's origin story is that he ultimately became so desperate to have the power to fight against his tormentors that he sought out and acquired the powers of the show's version of the devil. And the guy who had the job before him explicitly tells him that he choose this. Nobody forced him into any of it. He may have had a slight push but ultimately his turn to darkness was on him. Which is sad undercurrent of his entire arc.

He IS the Dark One. It's not just the magic, it's not just the curse, it's him. If it wasn't the knife, it would be something else. And his best character moments always come when he accepts that. Emma does not have that. She's not dark. At all. Not even a little.

It was a bad choice but for a long time, the show wrapped itself around that bad choice so it touched EVERYTHING.

Remember how I said that Mels was the sanest and most down to earth member of the cast. Well, they retconned her backstory into a twisty pretzel.

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