weber_dubois22: (Beginnings)
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Once Upon a Time is not a series that I am at all in love with, but it’s one I can’t hate either. It has potential to be something great, but it doesn't try. On average, I think it’s an interesting take on Fairy Tale characters that has a marginally entertaining first season. But, like most concept series, it suffers from egregious problems in regards to pace, narrative and character development.

I can say this is true of both seasons, but the one thing I cannot blame S1 for is a lack of a goal. It knew where it wanted to go and what it wanted to do with the characters, however clumsily it got to that place. I could tell you what season one was about in a single sentence: “The Evil Queen of Snow White creates a curse that strands famous Fairy Tale in our world to achieve her happy ending”. There’s more to it, but that alone would spark interest in someone and get them to watch it.

Season two, on the other hand? It’s probably the finest example sequelitis and too much creative freedom without someone to rein it in with a leash and bullwhip. You cannot sum this shit up in a single sentence because that sentence loses its train of thought and runs through a field like Spaz of Jazz Jackrabbit 2 on a sugar rush. It is the epitome of the George Lucas Syndrome: all quantity, no quality and squandered ideas.

Snow and Emma in Fairy Tale Land
The season premiere began with the reaffirmation of the curse being broken by the power of Emma’s love for her son, Henry, and kicked off with exploration of what happened to Fairy Tale land in the aftermath of the curse. Surprisingly enough, there were still fairy tale characters in what is suggested to be an empty and “ravaged” land full of wraiths and whatnot. Mulan and Lancelot apparently lead the rag-tag group of people left behind by Regina’s curse and they do stuff. Emma and Snow White end up in Fairy Tale Land when attempting to get rid of the Wraith that was sent to kill Regina by Rumpelstiltskin. And from there, the entire arc of their being in Fairy Tale Land feels like a seasonal arc that’s treated like something shoved into a few episodes that aren't enough to sustain its presence.

There’s no real exploration into the world the fairy tale characters used to live in. No exploration into the characters that live as in it as it is as opposed to how it was. If anything, it’s treated like I’ve always suspected the writers regarded the world; a nuisance to spin their wheels in. They are so eager to the fuck out of FTL that I’ve often wondered why the hell they even came back to it in the first place. Their attempt to forge some mother/daughter bond between Emma and Snow White? That was a failed endeavor in and of itself. Getting Giant of the Beanstalk and Captain-that-can't-be-Hook into the core narrative to do nothing except give them an excuse to CGI a giant into an episode and drop shit on the guy who stole Hatter’s jacket? Wasted time, considering neither character contributes anything of worth to either the Real World or Fairy Tale narrative.

Romanticizing the Villain and the Deconstruction of the Belle of Stockholm
One of the things I thought made Rumpelstiltskin a great villain in the tale named after him, was that there was a great deal about how he was presented that likened him to the Devil. He was Satan personified beyond the guise of a snake, but greedy little creeper who wanted to steal this woman’s child and would’ve if she didn’t have herself a P.I. looking in on him. Granted, the end tends to conflict with how I would suspect the Devil would react to being defeated (throwing a hissy fit like a child because she knew his real name), but regardless, he was evil incarnate. Rumpelstiltskin in Once Upon a Time, however, is probably the finest example of apologist writing for an unrepentant bastard I’ve seen in my entire life. For all their attempts to create some emphatic character for you to feel sorry for, Rumpelstiltskin is a bastard pure and simple.

He can’t take a hint when his wife tells him she doesn’t love him and wants nothing to do with the life she lives with him; so he, as the “same and unimproved” 'Dark One', kills her when she chooses Captain-that-can't-be-Hook. He literally threatens harm upon any woman who so much as asserts her agency in the face of his sexism and misogynistic behavior and wants nothing to do with him. But instead of the writers realizing that he is by no means some misunderstood creature who just needs TLC, they constantly try to rationalize his shit with the vice versa (he’s a misunderstood monster who just needs some TLC). It’s the fault of the women he’s the way he is, instead of it being his fault. And the way they try to rationalize and apologize for it, is, of course, using Belle from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

The 1991/1990 Disney animated film has its share of problems that this series didn’t need to add to. Despite what BATB fans will argue, Belle and the Beast’s relationship reeks of Stockholm syndrome. It reeks of the sexist idea that if a woman puts up with verbal abuse (bellowing, snapping and demanding things of her) and physical abuse (threatening harm, without actually committing to it) she can change a man with deep seated emotional problems with her love. It suggests that a woman seeking to better self through self-education is a problem through a jaunty song in the opening sequence, that, yes, I know is presented in the negative. The only thing the film does right is present Gaston for the asshole he is, but Belle isn’t much better off with man-child Beast who isn’t much different until plot romance changes his demeanor. The difference between the Beast and the Rumpelstiltskin of this series, however? I can believe one is sorry of being an utter asshole despite disagreeing with the methods in which they used to illustrate that. The other? He is not sorry for his actions, but instead blames everyone but himself for his nature and has no intentions of changing his ways, but he will adjust your ass to suit his resolutions.

From the first Season and on, when I saw that they were attempting to recreate what society has effectively immortalized as some “wonderful love story” with Rumpelstiltskin and Belle-but-not-really, I became physically sick. Removing most of the factors of the animated film except the shell of a would-be epic love story between Belle and Beast and replacing it with Rumpelstiltskin? I could not believe they were really trying to purport that all he needed was a little TLC and “True Love’s Kiss” to change his ways. What the fuck. The fuck.

Belle has never been my favorite Disney Princess, but I could respect the character despite the problematic bullshit that surrounds the character. I could respect her. OUAT’s rendition of Belle, however, I have no such compulsions. Her character arc begins and ends with “No, Guys, seriously, abuse is okay if I can change him!” and while that’s barely a change from the Disney film, the lengths in which they’ve dragged Belle down into the series to justify her "battered wife" syndrome makes me ill.

There is nothing about Belle's character that could define her as a good character. Her character arc literally hinges on saving and forgiving the abusive-mentality of Rumpelstiltskin and later her father. She is portrayed a victim throughout her present appearance and for the sole purpose giving the Male characters in her life purpose. That's it. Her telling her father and Rumpelstiltskin off fails when the follow up still illustrates that she still wants to sympathize with and save Rumpelstiltskin and for all the shit he does all because he "tells her the truth". It's her father that gets the no sympathy and he's on the same damn boat as Rumpelstiltskin in regards to their behavior. Her "agency" is a fallacy that is forever connected to Rumpelstiltskin because that's all that her character presently amounts to.

This article illustrates the current problem with the characterization of Belle and, shit, the general premise behind Belle's relationship with "The Beast" in either the animated Disney film or this television series. It's the epitome of an abusive relationship that is allowed to become something more because the writers see the idea of a woman trying to change a man with problems as "romantic". She grows to sympathize with her verbal and physical abuser and that implies that one should stay with someone like that until they adjust their behavior to their liking. There is nothing romantic or great about Belle's relationship(s) with her male opposites, men who have control and rage issues that directly affect her on an emotional and mental level. Belle/Beast and Rumbelle are shit relationships that minimize an otherwise salvageable character.

Belle isn't a woman who "loves too much", she's a woman who can't emotionally distance herself from what she is aware is a PROBLEMATIC RELATIONSHIP that will do nothing for her in the long run. The fact that people keep viewing this through romanticism this makes me nauseous as fuck. I can’t respect or enjoy a character who won’t respect herself and get the fuck out.

Emma and Adventure’s in Babysitting Parenting
Once Upon a Time is no hallmark in regards the representation of parenting. It spends a great deal of its time trying to shame Emma for giving up her child and wanting no parts of his life. It also attempts to invalidate Regina’s motherhood because of her status as an adoptive mother; i.e., her stake as a mother doesn’t count because he isn’t her “blood relation” --- not so much her genocidal ways. It then proceeds to use Henry as the “Guilt Trip” device every time Emma tries to reinforce how much she wanted nothing to do with his upbringing and using absurdist ideas to make her feel bad for that. Mills vs. Emma is not a subplot I am by any means interested in, but once they introduce her ex into the matter, I became utterly weary of it. Firstly, I’ve never been interested in Emma’s past; they summed it up nicely in a sentence or two in the first season. The father is unimportant in the grand scheme of Emma’s sordid journey of becoming a mother to a boy who perhaps causes more trouble than he is actually worth for both herself and Regina. Yet, there’s an episode dedicated to presenting Neal as some romantic figure who eventually ditches her and whilst pregnant.

And considering the egregious male privilege and gaziness of most of the relationships in this series, it doesn’t surprise me that Neal (once he is made into some important figure in second season) and Henry are allowed to guilt trip and shame Emma for the decisions she’s made in regards how important she thought Neal was in the factor Henry and herself. The number of times Henry is allowed to make her feel bad for “lying to him” like it was some great Brutus betrayal about Neal, I had to reframe from turning my television off. I kept asking myself why she wasn’t boxing this kid’s ears in for questioning decisions she made based on what she thought were important to her emotional safety. Considering that Neal dumped her ass, she had every right to think of him irrelevant. But this is Once Upon a Time. if there’s anything I realize this show is totally for, it’s putting his male characters upon pedestals, reinforcing their importance and making their female characters look like idiots for pushing them away. Neal suddenly thinks after Lord knows how long, he has some right to make decisions in regards to Henry and herself; Emma never dismisses or argues against him, at least not any way that asserts her parental or maternal authority as more important than his.

The Agency Plot
The last six or seven episodes of the second season introduce some half-baked LOST plot to give their finale creditably, but it doesn't really. Tamara and Greg work for the unnamed organization out to destroy magic and cleanse the world of Fairy Tale characters, but the why of it all doesn’t matter so much. It’s an incredibly stupid subplot and one that does nothing except invalidate what little Credence they have for going this series from the get-go. Why does this plot exist? I can’t fathom it being anything other than some poor analogy for Heartless Peter Pan and his as of yet revealed Plan of Hoakiness to the third degree. Undoubtedly, this is probably all in the name of placing some kind of mystical Importance on Henry that will no doubt end in “White Savior” complex, as if this series didn’t suffer from that enough.

OUAT and People of Color
ABC and the production team behind Once Upon a Time could care less about People of Color and their particular representation on the show. They made that abundantly clear when the most POC I could count in the first episode of the series was eight Black characters and one Asian. They made that clear when killing the Fairy Godmother was described as “edgy” or “dark” by the writers instead of a waste of a character. “The Price of Gold” is my “trigger” whenever someone tries to dismiss race and representation of POC on this series as something unimportant. I literally see red because of that episode. It’s part of the reason I’ve stopped watching it on any proactive means and merely kept track of it through media or the occasional peek at an episode when it didn’t drive me into frothing rant mode. I literally had to stop watching before I broke something with my bear hands and forgot about it for a good while. Season two was only a few episodes into its tenure when it reinforced their “Don’t-give-a-fuckness” about POC when its newer POC characters that show up for a “representation quota” and poor characterization.

Regina Mills
Regina’s major arc seemed to be finding redemption in the face of her genocidal atrocities and abuses, all in the name of getting her flighty adoptive child, Henry, back. Then her arc became about rejecting her desire to use her magic when she got it back, which reeked of the “magic is a drug addiction” metaphor; then it became about reclaiming her magic and damning to hell any attempts to redeem herself in the eyes of the people who continue to damn her without thought of altering their tactics if they’re genuine about wanting her to change her ways. The narrative goes flashback on her to reveal more of what created her troubled mentality, but a lot of what happens with this character is as about as coherent as the season itself; which is not at all.

She never seems to have a concrete characterization or motivations. She’s either the tragic figure or the woman who tries to resist or fully embraces her “destiny” as someone who was royally screwed over by everyone who’s participated in her upbringing; or she’s the woman who wants to make amends but keeps forgetting no one is really interested in her redemption and she winds up making mistakes that push out further from that goal. The series is never certain about which character they want Regina to be, so they use all of them to the detriment of cohesion.

The most baffling thing for me, however, is “The Evil Queen”. The entire episode sets up a premise wherein she is completely unaware of why people side with Snow White instead of her, when previous characterization in the first season and hell, early on, seemed to make it abundantly clear she knew why. They perceived her as “evil” and saw Snow White as “good” and she didn’t give a fuck. Instead, in this episode she comes off like the Superman character Bizarro. She does not comprehend her wickedness and apparently doesn’t learn to until the end of the episode. I really can’t buy that a woman who was aware of her mother’s abusive mentality, doesn't realize that getting rid of everyone's precious virginal heroine by trying to kill her repeatedly won't have them hate her and not revel in it. At this point I find myself wishing they’d simply gone with Neil Gaimen’s version of Snow White and the Evil Queen (Snow, Glass, Apples).

Not only would have made for more interesting character study for both Snow White and Evil Queen, but it would’ve at least allowed me to buy into Snow White and Charming’s obtuse belief that they are good in comparison to Regina. (Again, I give the writers too much credit. I doubt they could pull that off). In the end they cap off her clumsy character redemption arc with a faux “season finale self-sacrifice” with this farce of an idea that “doing the right thing” one time absolves her of any sin she might’ve committed and top it all with a constant voice of wavering, the cinematic single tear down her face. This is, of course, all to get the characters on one side of the fence.

Like the proclamation “But, she’s not a real Princess”, the declaration, “Mulan is not a Fairy Tale Character” echoed across the internet like the ring of a bell when she was slated to appear. They aren’t wrong; by all accounts, the inclusion of Mulan is as backward as Frankenstein, and on top of that, problematic. Hua Mulan existed at some point and like Pocahontas, to include her in a fictional arena of fairy tale characters is trivializing her existence. That said, the excuse to use her is no doubt stemming from her status as a Disney Princess and the heroine of the 1999 film starring Ming Na Wen (actual Chinese actress) and B.D. Wong. In true, “all your Asians are interchangeable” fashion, they cast of Jamie Chung, a Korean-American actress, as the legendary heroine. What the fuck, Chinese actresses are not hard to find guys; try harder.

As one of the five Disney Princesses constructed outside of the typical parameters of her white predecessors (Jasmine, Kida, Tiana and Pocahontas being the others*), she was one character I never assumed you could sabotage unless you were really trying. And that would appear to be the case with “Mulan” in season two. She is introduced to audiences looking like a character that stepped out of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, her eyes the only visible human trait. Trailing behind Prince-you-can’t-be-Phillip of Sleeping Beauty, Mulan’s role within the series subtly declared in her silence and body language. (Hint: chauffeur.) When she is finally allowed to reveal her face, the series decides to play everyone’s favorite gender role card: “[But] you’re a girl!” with Mulan correcting Princess-you-can’t-be-Aurora with “Woman” as if that makes its usage any better.

Mulan’s entire reason for being in the season premiere of S2 is pine after a man who is by no means interested in her and be okay with that, because that’s a sign of true love in this show. (Nevermind that it’s always been the role of Woman of Color: to be strong in the face of pain or emotional rejection from their white peers to the point that she receives no comfort or chance to reaffirm her own tenderness or wants.) When Phillip is “killed”, Mulan’s new station in life is to protect the woman he loves with her life because it’s what Phillip would’ve done and anything Phillip wants, Mulan wants. Once Emma and Snow White appear in the decimated Fairy Tale Land, her secondary role is to reaffirm the series protagonist’s whiteness. It goes without saying that Mulan’s reason for being in OUAT was to create a platform in which its white super heroines could climb and receive the shallowest form of character development ever. Her authority as an experienced warrior/leader is undermined by the narrative’s need to put in the forefront bland-was-wonder bread Emma in the role of leader; Aurora learning to unlearn her spoiled and sheltered ways, and Snow White’s reclamation of her motherhood in relation to Emma. Mulan never really matters as her own person.

They literally cripple her so that not-really-Belle can look like a “strong female character” in one episode, undermining Mulan’s status as a proactive character in her own right. The decisions she makes feed directly into making her look silly or incapable of leadership. Her position as Lancelot’s second-in-command of the rag-tag survivors of FTL is ignored completely when they have the character herself nominate either Snow or Emma as their new leader. With a grand total of eleven(?) episodes, Mulan’s personality and presence can be summed up as such: "Stoic Person of Color". She’s just there to fill a quota. This speaks to OUAT’s inability to recognize that a “strong female character™” is more than a weapon and a frown that freezes her face into one expression.

Mulan was an established a character with a personality you could work with in either an ancient or modern period with little alteration. Instead of maintaining what was an otherwise nuanced character in the 1999 film, the original legend or the 2009 film, Hua Mulan, they undermine her in the name of their white characters and make her a nothing character.

Lancelot, at first, is another character in the quandary of “Not a fairy tale character”. But, considering the fictional nature of his character was that he was likely created by Chrétien de Troyes as the lustful love interest for Queen Guinevere in King Arthur mythology anyway, it’s not really splitting hairs. And by proxy, he was in Disney’s Sword and the Stone, because King Arthur, the round table and stuff. That said, the unfortunate part about Lancelot’s role in Once Upon a Time is that his casting was more gripping than his role in the series. It could’ve been an episode in and of itself, but I’d be giving the writers too much by assuming they could handle that meta without pulling some “false equivalence” bullshit out of their asses (hi, Bioshock Infinite).

For starters, every white entity within King Arthur’s fandom got real good and sour at the idea of casting Teen Wolf’s Sinqua Walls (a Black Man) as Lancelot, magically forgetting that BBC’s Merlin also cast a Man of Color in the role of the tragically defined knight (Santiago Cabrera, English-Chilean). But, I guess it doesn’t matter because some probably didn’t know Santiago was POC, just some good looking white guy with an exotic name. That particular series caught shit for doing the opposite of with Queen Guinevere when they cast Angel Coulby (a Biracial/Black Woman), so let’s not pretend it didn’t get its share of bull either. There was literally a Tumblr dispute that ended with one sour individual reporting several people because they disagreed with him on the “Lancelot shouldn’t be Black!” argument. Stay classy, white people.

Yet, for all the support the character got in the face all that racism, he ultimately amounts to nothing anyway. He contributes nothing to the single episode he appears in aside from something nice to look at. I really couldn’t tell you who Lancelot was outside of what’s typically prescribed to the Lancelot’s before him. His character as defined by OUAT is “heroic, smiles a lot”; he’s the leader of the “survivors” of FLT and he’s best friends with the self-absorbed Charming duo, Charming and Snow White.

Everything around him has the groundwork for a character that could be built into something, but in the end Lancelot as we know him in the present and ravaged Fairy Tale land was Cora Mills in disguise. A White Villain, who happens to be female, was mascaraing as a largely undermined Black Man. I feel so honored to have wasted forty minutes on that JJ Abrams surprise twist!

The real shame behind pumping audiences up for Lancelot and ultimately axing his character in the name of promoting Snow White and Emma to the status of leadership instead of Mulan (his right hand), is that there was so much mythos behind the character they could’ve used to build him up. It was apparent that they were already biting more than they could chew with the characters, so he died, as per-usual and his Blackness is just one component into that mess.

Complex or great Villains of Color are a commodity that’s hard to come by in any media. Unfortunately, Tamara doesn’t fit that bill. To say nothing of the mess that is currently Regina Mills at the present, Tamara is perhaps the biggest sign that writing team are just throwing shit out there because “twists!” and “secrets!” The last few episodes she’s appeared in have all been basically set up to create a new “Big Bad” in the form of Peter Pan or whoever in Neverland. It’s like watching Smallville all over again, only there’s no Lana Lang to reiterate “Secrets” and “Lies” to let you know, there’s some lying and secrets going on ‘round here.

Tamara, introduced as some guy’s finance, is completely oblivious to the nature of the town. Except, as turns out, she isn’t; Tamara is completely aware of the town’s nature and in its inhabitants and uses a never-explained weapon in the form of a Taser that takes out Fu-Man-Chew stereotypes (everyone thought was Mushu for some reason) and poorly animated wood figures otherwise known as Pinocchio.

Tamara is set up as a wronged character suffering from an illness. Of course she gets hers in the end and Pinocchio gets his just deserts, but in zero seconds flat, she’s transformed into a villain without proper motivation or goals set up beforehand. Without ever getting to know her, Tamara was made out into a deceiver and an altogether unfaithful woman. The fact that she’s Black really gives the racist OUAT fandom something to gnaw on in combination with their misogyny, also perpetuated in the series itself.

We’ve no idea what motivates her, unlike Greg Mendell (who’s looking for his dead father) to work the agency, we don’t even know why it was necessary for her to be shacked up with Emma’s ex. It certainly didn’t help her hide from Emma’s plot-convenience power that comes up when the writers need a get out of jail free card with their sloppy writing. She could’ve been some--- nevermind, Emma’s plot-convenience powers would’ve fucked everything up. The mystery surrounding Tamara and her involvement in this “agency” is by no means interesting; it also does not justify setting up a character and then sabotaging her like they did in the last two episodes.

I’m not one of those people who give the writer’s the benefit of the doubt and think they don’t realize what they’re doing with People of Color. They know what they’re doing and they don’t a give a fuck. They just don’t and at this point, I’m don’t care to care anymore. I commend anyone else who’d like to put up with their bullshit though; you’re going to need all the consolidation you can get.

Once Upon a Time is a below average series that has an otherwise interesting idea. But, with the creative team they got, the show is going to go nowhere and fast. Without some kind of voice of reason, they’re going to keep on doing and repeating the same mistakes. If Once Upon a Time wanted to use all of these Fairy Tale characters at once and use them in a manner in which they would benefit from a plot or narrative where their existence didn't hinge on mattering in relation to Regina, Cora, the Charmings or Rumpelstiltskin, then the series should've adopted a format akin to that of HBO's "Fairy Tales for Every Child". That way 22/21 forty two minute episodes could be dedicated to them completely with and maybe get revisited to expand them further.

As it stands, none of them are benefiting from on overarching plot of interconnected-ness.

*Romance is not the goal or overarching plot of the story, but the reward. She, like Tiana (sans Jasmine, Pocahontas and Kida), defeats her villain, and is tangled up in some serious problematic bullshit in regards to her race and the representation of her culture.


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People of Color in Disney

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