Why Didn’t We See These In November?

castleseason8CASTLE
Season 8, Episodes 15, 16 & 17 (Fidelis Ad Mortem)(Heartbreaker)(Death Wish)

8-15Well, there is a lot of angry viewers of this show at the moment, but I can’t say that I am really one of them. Disappointed? Not even that. Just tired.

Fidelis Ad Mortem finally brings to a close the “Castle and Beckett are pretending to be separated but secretly still seeing each other” story arc – only about ten episodes too late. That is truly the best thing that I can say about this episode. The writers really misjudged their audience and timing. The story arc was interesting, but it was too long. It was painful to watch the characters go about pretending to still be separated when they were secretly together, even moreso than when they were apart. Plus, the mood of the entire series darkened considerably over the course of this past season. It was still entertaining, but there was constant tension and unease. Thankfully, it is over after this episode. Things are back to normal, sort of.

8-16Heartbreaker is entirely devoted to Detective Esposito and his former love life. Apparently, once upon a time about ten years past, ladies’ man Esposito was engaged to and ready to settle down with a woman who turned out to be a criminal. While their relationship ended after he arrested her and she went to jail, he clearly never fully got over her. When she reappears as an important witness in a case, he turns into a lovesick puppy all over again. (That is understandable, since he never got any resolution to the relationship.) Luckily, Detective Ryan comes to his rescue and they solve the case. Furthermore, Esposito gets the resolution that he lacked before, and he parts with his wayward ex-fiancée on civil (dare I say, friendly?) terms this time.

Some reviewers disliked this new character development for Esposito, but I thought that it made a lot of sense. He was very nervous about getting serious with Lanie earlier in the series. He was often looking for a steady romantic relationship and to be a father figure. He played the field and acted like a ladies’ man because it was safer than getting his heart broken again. He was avoiding getting too vulnerable and close, even as much as he really did want to find someone to have a lasting relationship with. Having to break off an engagement, even for criminal reasons, is not easy. When a relationship is strong enough to reach engagement, there has usually been a lot of emotional investment made. It may be the right choice, but it is still extremely painful. It makes it harder to trust other romantic partners in the future. One is reluctant to make such a commitment again. Far better to invest emotionally elsewhere – in friends, family, colleagues, and community – until one finds the strength to make the same emotional investment again. From this perspective, the characterization of Esposito is right on.

That said, from an overall storytelling perspective, the writers just got our main characters fully back together, and suddenly, we get an episode entirely devoted to Esposito? Could they not have put this a few weeks ago, saving us the agony of watching Castle and Beckett pretend to be separated? Great episode, lousy timing. But then, that’s the nature of television.

8-17Finally, Death Wish returns the series to a classic Castle formula. It is whimsical and fun, and for the most part, Castle and Beckett are working together again to solve the case. The mystery centres on an artefact that may or may not be magical. Castle acts overly goofy at this prospect, but still manages to be entertaining and useful. They solve the case together and seem to have a lot of their old dynamic back.

Otherwise, the episode is ordinary. It is a classic caper with enough intrigue to make the viewers forget how implausible (or even ludicrous) the whole scenario is. The character that Castle is convinced is actually a genie is very annoying, but also enticing enough that we are willing to suspend our disbelief and wonder if she really is. All in all, it is a throwback to earlier seasons. It was a fun way to spend an hour on a Monday evening. It even ended with Det. Ryan and his wife Jenny safely having a baby boy to go with their daughter. Mysterious, funny, and sweetly sentimental!

Sadly, it doesn’t seem like it is going to last.

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Family Stories – A Meta-History

I first became interested in genealogy when I was a teenager – far younger than most genealogy enthusiasts.  My family history did not fit the usual mold for my region: while I was a European-Canadian, my ancestors had come to Canada long before 1900. Thus associating “family trees” with “immigration”, “the family farm”, and “Multicultural Day” was always embarrassing and annoying. I can only begin to imagine what it must be like for adoptees, children in the foster care system, or children who have painful family histories.

With a lot of help from my relatives, especially my grandmother, and after many long hours searching online (circa the year 2000), I discovered that a) I could indeed trace my ancestry out of Canada, albeit a lot longer than three or four generations; and b) I had lots of family farms to choose from, and a lot of varied immigration stories, none of which involved a train. I also learned that I had a very multicultural background, albeit still of the rather white European variety.

I had long been told that my relatives were United Empire Loyalists and Irish economic refugees, but through my research, I discovered that they were a mix of English, French, Dutch, German, Irish, and Scottish immigrants. (Countries not being quite the same as they are today, many of them would have identified themselves differently.) Some had come to the future United States in the 1600s and early 1700s, mostly settling into what is now the environs of New York City. Others came directly to what is now the province of New Brunswick – a mixture of economic refugees, disbanded soldiers, and colonizing enterprises.

Since first discovering this family history, I have continued to pursue further. I was always more interested in finding out how far back I could go than making everything neat and tidy. Furthermore, the more removed one is from the individuals in question, the more everything really just feels like a list of names and dates.

More recently, I have begun to wonder about the stories. There are little snippets throughout the records, but for the most part, there is nothing concrete beyond the mid-1800s, and family oral history only goes back so far. For every new piece of information, for every new name on a chart, there are more mysteries.

Here is where genealogy – and history, for that matter – is not science. It is often impossible to know for certain even what year a person was born (a hard fact), let alone what they ate for breakfast, and even less likely to know what they actually liked to eat for breakfast.

But it is possible indeed to speculate!

There are many questions that I know I will never have the answer to. How did the 35-year-old Prussian end up married to a 16-year-old Irishwoman? Why does the same woman seem to have four first names across several sources? How come I cannot find my great-great-great-grandmother on any census? What was it like to be an early immigrant to what would eventually be Canada? How many ways was the same name spelled?

Some of these questions can be answered with a lot of digging, but ultimately, most of them are educated guesses. Nonetheless, I can still tell my family stories. They might not be 100% accurate, but they will give back some life to the names & dates.

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In between television, book, and film posts, as well as rants, musings, and fiction, I will post more family stories.

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Love & Trust

season5titleONCE UPON A TIME
Season 5, Episodes 16 & 17 (Our Decay)(Her Handsome Hero)

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Love is responsible for many stupid decisions. Even the most intelligent and savvy people can turn into a puddle of soup over love. It is not a rational emotion – thankfully, or else the human race would not survive very long.

In both of these episodes, we get glimpses of relationships that are far from “happily ever after”. It isn’t that they are aren’t love, or even potentially true love, but that these relationships are handicapped by a lack of faith or trust.

In Our Decay, we learn what happened in the past between Hades and Zelena – namely, that Hades fell in love with Zelena and while she was dazzled and flattered, she was not really in love with him in return. As viewers, it is not clear whether Hades is indeed serious or manipulating her, so it is hardly surprising that Zelena doesn’t trust him! Zelena has spent her whole life feeling unwanted – her mother’s abandonment of her has defined her life. Even her stepmother’s love for her was not enough to sway her from her self-loathing and desire for revenge. Understandably, she is dubious that anyone could love her, even such a kindred spirit as Hades. In fact, because he is such a kindred spirit, she does not trust him because she would not trust herself in his situation. After all, he is a powerful immortal and Ruler of the Underworld. Her powers are no match for his, particularly in the present storyline, in which they are now in his own realm. Even as Hades tries to woo Zelena with promises of being his queen, she is still not entirely convinced that he isn’t just after her baby daughter. Also, what life would that leave for her daughter?

Hades does have a point – they are both flawed and despicable people and all that he has to offer her is a world of decay and things that are never quite right. But if she accepts him, they can share it together and have the potential for happiness. Zelena does not outright refuse him, but merely admits that she still cannot trust him and also that she needs to work on herself first. Hades, being immortal, seems to be content to wait for now. Like Zelena, the audience still can’t trust him yet.

But it is true that no relationship is perfect. Some things will never be quite right. Sometimes, the future seems overwhelmingly bleak, whether because of finances, health, or other circumstances. Love can alleviate that bleakness and help overcome hardships, but there must be trust. Zelena has neither faith nor trust in Hades – at least, not yet. If the Lord of the Underworld is serious about her, then they may indeed find happiness in the future. That could prove to be an interesting storyline indeed.

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In contrast, Her Handsome Hero focuses on Belle and her marriage to Rumplestiltskin – which has deteriorated because of a lack of trust entirely. Belle no longer trusts her husband, even as she does not want to see him killed. She still loves him, but she has realised that she will never be able to have a happy marriage with him. Her eyes have been opened. Her husband won’t change and she really does not want him to do so, because the man that she fell in love with is also addicted to power. She did not fall in love with the frightened coward. She wants to secure her child’s future and knows that Rumplestiltskin will help her (even as she does not like his methods), but whether they collaborate further beyond that remains to be seen. For now, they are functioning as cordial co-parents.

Like Hades, Rumplestiltskin would be happy to have both Belle and his power. Unfortunately, he treats her like a delicate object. Belle is a smart woman who is frequently rendered helpless and powerless by the men in her life. Her father, her ex-fiancé, and her husband all want her to simply do their bidding and treat her intelligence like a cute hobby. Reading is something that she is supposed to do when they are busy, or to help her find things that can help them – but only on their terms.

Belle is a very tragic character in this show. She is attracted to the darkness in Rumplestiltskin, but also the frightened little boy that needs to be nurtured – which is who Rumplestiltskin still is, behind all of the power and bravado. She cannot bring herself to leave him, even as he does nothing for her. He loves her, but only as an object – only what she can provide him. The only thing that he can provide is the dark magic and the deal-making ability to save their child from Hades. After she gets that, there are no guarantees on their marriage.

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*Note – The other characters have had some interesting adventures in these episodes as well, albeit sideplots. More on them in later weeks.

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Dealing With The Devil

season5titleONCE UPON A TIME
Season 5, Episodes 14 & 15 (Devil’s Due)(The Brothers Jones)

Er, I mean, dealing with Hades…

With all of the mythology, folklore, literature, and Disney stories that Once Upon a Time draws upon, and the rich history that all of it has absorbed from many cultures, it is no wonder that Hades and the Devil are confused with each other. In telling their story, the writers have made Hades (the god, not as a euphemism for the Underworld itself) not quite diabolic in of himself, but they are using the classic folkloric elements of the Devil character and transposing them onto him. Hades was not a trickster and the Underworld was not Hell. This version walks a fine line between Hades-as-god-of-the-Underworld and Hades-as-Devil. Likewise, the Underworld is somewhat hellish, but in many ways more of a mundane purgatory where one could reasonably remain for a long time with the hope of redemption.

Making deals with the Devil is a classic storytelling device, usually as a cautionary tale or as a way for a villain to get their comeuppance, but also used to explain characters who came across sudden good fortune, usually in spite of themselves, and did not seem to deserve it. In Devil’s Due, the former kind of deal is struck – by Rumplestiltskin, of all people – and he is faced with the consequence of his long ago actions. Hades, at his most diabolical, is looking to cash in on his contract. Rumplestiltskin may have regained his Dark One powers, but he now has to use them to do Hades’s bidding.

Hades also cashes in on his three blank tombstones, although Captain Hook adamantly refuses to choose names for them. Hades chooses the powerful women of party: Regina, Snow White, and Emma. To be fair, Regina and Snow White helped souls escape the Underworld through redemption, while Emma rescued Hook, and all three are much more dangerous to Hades than Prince Charming or Robin Hood. Unfortunately, that puts a damper on the heroes’ rescue plans, as Emma can’t bring Hook back to life and the women are now trapped in the Underworld. In essence, I suppose they are temporarily dead.

Milah is reunited with her former husband and gets to meet the mother of her grandson – whom is currently dating her ex-lover. Unfortunately, Rumplestiltskin sends Milah to the River of Lost Souls in order to protect himself, so whether she will be able to be redeemed is open-ended. Her unfinished business, as it turns out, is not to earn forgiveness from Baelfire. Since Baelfire/Neal had no unfinished business, he must have already forgiven her abandonment of him. What Milah’s actual unfinished business is remains to be seen, but even in the River of Lost Souls, there is hope.

As it turns out, Milah had even more reason to abandon her husband and son than initially thought. Her husband sold his second-born child (non-existent at the time) to Hades, by way of a wizard, in exchange for a potion that would heal Baelfire from a snakebite. His reasoning? They would just not have any more children. Feeling frustrated and taken for granted, Milah was all the more interested in the mysterious, handsome pirate at the tavern. She also would have wanted to make sure not to have any more children with Rumplestiltskin. The moral of the story? Don’t think you can outsmart the Devil. Rumplestiltskin realised that much too late.

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The Brothers Jones focuses on Captain Hook, who reunites with his long-dead older brother Liam. For his entire adult life, Hook has hero-worshipped his brother and felt that he could never measure up. In turn, that has led to him never believing himself worthy of having a future and being a good person.

As the heroes, now trapped in the Underworld, search for a way to defeat Hades (or at least, get an upper hand on him), Liam stealthily but actively sabotages their plans. As it turns out, he too made a deal with Hades long in the past, one that resulted in many deaths in turn for freedom and security for Liam and his little brother. That deal comes back to haunt him, especially as he still does not want his brother to find out. Hook is certainly not pleased when he does – his whole life was based on a lie. For even after Liam’s death, Hook continued to be haunted by his wonderful image of him. Since he could not measure up to the false image, he never bothered to try.

Some people put a heavy emphasis on self-image or the image that they present to others, to the point where saving face is almost more important than getting a job done. Others see it a virtue to “tell it like it is”. Neither are really virtuous. Self-image is important, as being too hard on oneself can result in not trying, as Hook ended up doing, while being overly proud of oneself can lead to thinking that it doesn’t matter how many people die if it means things will work out fine. Liam sees himself as a plucky hero who is rescuing his little brother and defeating the evil overlord captain. “Telling it like it is” can result in unnecessarily hurting people, adding further conflict to a situation rather than resolving it. (It also makes one look silly if it turns out that is isn’t like that at all.) Liam feels that Emma is unworthy of Hook because she is always considering what she wants – this, to the living woman who has descended to the Underworld to save the man that she loves. In fact, this is the first man that she has actively fought for. She has put aside selfishness. Not saving Hook would play into his self-image that he is unworthy of her love. Being dead is better for him only in the sense that he would be free to do nothing but wallow in self-pity. Liam liked his self-pitying brother only because he could then be the hero and rescue him. It takes him a very long time to realise that he ought to let his brother grow his own spine and save himself.

Henry also needs to figure out his role in the mission. Cruella and the Apprentice remind him that he is the Author. While Cruella tries to tempt him to use his power to save her, he hesitates and tells no one about the fact that the broken magic Quill is in the Underworld. As it turns out, that is a good idea – Liam is not able to sabotage that part of the mission! Henry finds the Quill, and reluctantly admits to his family that he could use it to find Hades’s weakness. All he has to do with re-copy the story. Furthermore, now that the heroes know about Cruella’s manipulations, they can protect Henry.

Hades, as it turns out, also has an image to protect. He has weaknesses that can be exploited. He is, after all, not a Devil. He does have a soul – that is connected in some way to Zelena…

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My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (2016)

MyBigFatGreekWedding2 (2016)

There is nothing like a family reunion! After fourteen years, the extended Portokalos clan from My Big Fat Greek Wedding was still as hilarious and relatable as ever.

Both films were written by and starring Nia Vardalos, who based the characters on her own relatives . While the story is about a Greek-American family, however, it transcends ethnicity. The first film was about being a second-generation immigrant (or first-generation, depending on how one counts these things – basically, the child of immigrants) and the trials of fitting in and building a future. It was also a classic romance, with Vardalos’s character of Toula meeting a non-Greek man and falling in love. Many viewers could relate to how their own loves lives did not necessarily meet with parental approval, and how the cultures of their spouse and that of their family clashed, and yet how they were also similar. While the film celebrated being Greek – and there were a lot of jokes specific to Greeks and Greek stereotypes, the ethnicity of choice could have just as easily been something else.

Even viewers whose families were not recent immigrants, such as myself, could relate to the family dynamics. Whether it was the big, loud, nosey extended family, or whether it was the meddling parents, or whether it was just the feeling of being weird and not fitting in with your neighbours, there was something that most of us could relate to. In fact, I had to most laugh at the exaggerated WASP-ness ofToula’s fiancé’s family! While anyone who knows my family would hardly consider us ‘toast’ (as in “bland and boring”), the stereotypes were otherwise very accurate. Ian’s family is small, quiet, high on conformity, kind and well-meaningly naïve in a way that unfortunately comes across as offensive. No wonder he is interested in becoming a part of Toula’s loud, close, and boisterous clan! He finally gets a chance to have siblings and a lot more cousins.

MyBigFatGreekWedding (2002)In My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, eighteen years have passed since Toula and Ian got married. They have a seventeen-year-old daughter, Paris, who is graduating high school. Meanwhile, the rest of the family have carried on with their lives – growing older, getting married, having children, and working at various family businesses. Meeting up with them again is like catching up with distant relatives after a long absence. We are excited to see them, but we have missed a lot. Unfortunately, Toula’s narration only can get us so far, and we do not get much of a chance to hear individual stories. For instance, we never learn why her cousin Nikki refers to herself as having had a wedding when she has no husband in sight, even in scenes where his presence would be logical. A throwaway line explaining that he was in the military, worked shiftwork at a mine, or that she was divorced, would have been appreciated. Also, we never hear about Toula’s older nephews who were already around in the first film – again, they likely were meant to be among the many extras, but a throwaway line mentioning their whereabouts would have been helpful. I can logically work out that young men in their late teens and early twenties would probably avoid the noisy family or have excuses such as work or college. Still, a line or two would have been helpful!

Instead, viewers would be forgiven for thinking that Paris is the oldest grandchild! She is the only girl in the immediate family – Toula’s older sister had six or seven boys (the younger ones being featured in this film) and her younger brother had four boys. This is, of course, the source for a lot of comedy, from jokes about Ian’s vegetarianism to how much the boys are like their grandfather to everyone being overly concerned with Paris’s marriage prospects. It is funny and relatable – Greek or not. Everyone has (or is) that one branch of the family that is a bit different than the rest.

The big wedding of the sequel is in fact Toula’s parents, who discover that the priest back in Greece did not sign their wedding certificate, so they have been living together for fifty years while not being officially married. Not as far-fetched as it might seem! Indeed, things like that happen relatively often. Usually, everyone gets a good laugh, and those involved either leave things the status quo or quickly remedy the situation. All that Gus and Maria Portokalos would have had to do would be to have their current priest conduct a short wedding ceremony after church and sign the certificate. Everyone, including Toula’s father Gus, assumed that would be the case.

But if that would be the case, the movie would have been entirely about Paris’s college choices and Toula and Ian rekindling their marriage after eighteen years of being Mom and Dad. That would have been interesting, but much too dramatic. No, this is a comedy!

Instead of simply calling the priest and having a wedding, Maria took the opportunity to re-evaluate her entirely life and the choices that she made. She insists on having her decidedly un-romantic husband propose to her, and then wants a fancy wedding. For half a century, she has felt taken for granted. Gus has treated her like a beloved employee, especially as he has grown older and more crotchety.

This film is about marriage and relationships: Gus and Maria realising their feelings for each other after fifty years; Ian and Toula re-evaluating how they relate to each other now that they are no longer full-time parents; and Paris embarking on romance and figuring out her place in the world. We get a lot of other comedic sketch scenes with various family members as well, and everyone seems to be doing fine. Moreso than the first film, there is something for everyone to relate to. In such a big extended family – even including Ian’s parents now – there are a wide range of personalities and life situations.

We can get caught up in the zoo factor of culture, but at heart, while we are all different, we are all very similar. We want love and acceptance. We are proud of our accomplishments. We want to succeed and our children to succeed, but most of all, we want to love and be loved. It is easy to take that love for granted when it isn’t new anymore and when we have grown so used to certain roles. But those roles aren’t set in stone. Toula’s grandmother, an elderly widow who speaks little English, is still carving out a role for herself and having fun with life. After all, she isn’t dead yet!

Despite negative reviews, this is a funny, thought-provoking, and heartwarming film. It was exactly what it advertised itself as – a family comedy with romance thrown in. It is not a “romantic comedy”, but a “domestic comedy with romance”. The first film was indeed a romance. However, we have moved on passed that now. This is about what happens after the wedding, about real love, and about being a part of a family, even if you don’t end up living on the same street.

MyBigFatGreekWedding2 (2016)

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Exiting on a Dark Note

Murdoch-8-Full-CastSEASON FINALE
MURDOCH MYSTERIES

Season 9, Episodes 16, 17, 18 & 19
(House of Industry)(Bl..dy H.ll)(From Buffalo With Love)(Cometh the Archer)

The writers of Murdoch Mysteries sure put the viewers through the emotional wringer this season! The last four episodes do not disappoint in this regard. High stakes drama, action, and suspense play out as all of our main characters find themselves in mortal peril at some point. We are also treated to some sweet, poignant romance; sumptuous lust; and horrifying possessiveness. Quaint, cozy detective stories, these are not!

9-16House of Industry, written by Maureen Jennings( the original author of the Murdoch Mysteries book series), picks up on the feeling of melancholy after the loss of Roland. Det. Murdoch and Dr. Ogden act very much as though their son had died – which he had, in a way. Despite numerous characters reassuring them that they did the right thing, they still feel terrible. The way in which the episode is written even leaves one to wonder if the couple will break up. Plenty of erstwhile happy marriages fall apart after the loss of a child. It is easy to get lost in one’s own grief.

Perhaps luckily, Dr. Ogden has a conference to go to and Murdoch has a case to solve, the latter of which soon turns deadly for our title character. They had some time apart to grieve in their own ways, while at the same time being able to throw themselves into their work. Murdoch goes undercover in a men’s workhouse. He is able to legitimately say that his wife left him (albeit only on a temporary business trip – but the other men don’t know that) and that another man is raising the son that he had.

Being undercover is freeing for Murdoch, but he soon uncovers a conspiracy that runs deeper than the murder of the week. It involves corruption among the police force, likely going all the way up to the Chief Constable. Murdoch manages to survive, but both he and Inspector Brackenreid become determined to weed out the dirty cops.

9-17In Bl..dy H.ll, Brackenreid takes centre stage as he attempts to get to the bottom of the corruption scandal. However, the Chief Constable seems to be constantly one step ahead of him for most of the episode, even making it appear as though it is Brackenreid who is the dirty cop. As a result, Brackenreid is forced to work in the City Records Office. Murdoch (along with his most trusted and loyal constables) attempt to solve the case despite being outright ordered not to, while Brackenreid finds evidence among the records to link up the corruption all the way to the city’s high offices. With the help of Alderman Hubbard, the criminals are brought to light and it is presumed that there will be a bit of a shake-up in the next municipal election.

Both of these episodes have as their theme that it is better to do what is right than what is safe or easy. The victim in House of Industry could have ignored the scandal and survived to write an engrossing article about workhouse conditions, but he did not. While his motives might have been primarily to get famous – especially at the start – he chose to keep at it when the situation became dangerous, even at the cost of his life. Murdoch did the same, and almost met the same fate. Meanwhile, the officers in Bl..dy H.ll outright defy their superiors in order to clean up the police force and prove their beloved Inspector innocent. While the latter episode retains an element of humour, particularly moreso than House of Industry, it is nonetheless bleak. We know things ought to turn out all right for our heroes in the end, but as far as the characters themselves are concerned, they might all be out of work soon with their reputations ruined. Such a predicament would have likely seem them buying train tickets out of Toronto in the hopes of securing a job –  Murdoch might have been returning to the workhouse for real.

9-18The most lighthearted episode of the bunch, From Buffalo With Love focuses on Constable Crabtree, who has been depressed all season since losing his fiancée. He has grown infatuated with Nina, a burlesque danger. As it turns out, she reciprocates his feelings! Even as he is compromising his career, and certainly compromising the case of the week, Crabtree embarks on a passionate romance with Nina. Unlike most women of the era, Nina is not looking for a husband, but merely for romance and companionship. This is initially to Crabtree’s chagrin, but he comes to accept and embrace her choices. Perhaps he is tired of having too high of expectations for his love life!

Their relationship is considered scandalous and Crabtree’s colleagues try to dissuade him from pursuing it further. Murdoch awkwardly tries to distract him with non-romantic excursions, while Brackenreid resorts to dire warnings and getting his wife to arrange a dinner party. Only Dr. Ogden is at all accepting and supportive. In our modern era, while friends and colleagues in such a situation might still be wary of Nina, their relationship would be more tolerated. Sure, no one would expect them to get married, or for the relationship to last much beyond another dinner party, but they would grit their teeth and smile, accepting Nina as “Crabtree’s girlfriend” for the present.

Unfortunately, the outcome of this relationship looks only to lead to more disappointment for Crabtree. He is very much the marrying kind. It ultimately doesn’t matter what era he is in for that! At the closing credits, he is still dating Nina. Will she be back next year? Will they go their separate ways, only for her to reappear with a baby? (A realistic Nina likely would not, but this is television, after all.) Will Crabtree be less depressed, at the very least?

9-19The season finale, Cometh the Archer, took the darkest, most suspenseful turn of the season. (Arguably, very few episodes of the series were as suspenseful.) It was both Murdoch and Dr. Ogden’s turns to be in mortal peril: Dr. Ogden is shot in the opening teaser scene and halfway through, Murdoch is drugged and kidnapped. An unfortunate constable is actually killed defending him – rather surprisingly, given that the actor has been in the background for the past eight years.

To keep from ruining the suspense, I will refrain from commenting on who the killer is and their motives. Their identity is key to the second half of the episode’s plot, however.

What I will say is that Murdoch is confronted with the serious choice about what he wants for the future (if he wants one at all – the whole “mortal peril” bit). At the start of the episode, he declares that he wants to build a home for his wife and adopt another child with her. He had got to the point where he had given up on the idea of children, but then Roland came along. Dr. Ogden is in agreement on both counts. However, Murdoch is faced with the possibility of losing his wife and the option for a biological child with another woman. While he loves his wife so much as to give over a pint of blood to her without question, there are those who would argue that he ought to find another wife to have children with. Biological children are seen as paramount – even viewers of the show want the couple to have a child, Dr. Ogden’s barrenness be d***ed. It seems that the default “happy ending” for a happy couple is a child – or indeed more than one. No matter how exciting a couple’s life is – even in the world of television shows, where characters’ lives are arguably much more exciting than the average person – apparently, their lives are incomplete without progeny.

Personally, I am all in favour of adoption, and I do not think that it is second-rate to having a biological child. For the purpose of telling a story on television, it is also much better to adopt than to have a child when the woman in question is one of the show’s lead characters, because one is not obligated to working in a pregnancy that ultimately sidelines the character. But I digress.

The season finale was cinematic and well-acted. I enjoyed it, despite being nervous for the outcome and surprised that they packed so much drama into the first half of the episode – I was shocked to check the clock and realise we were only 30 minutes into it! The suspense only mounted as the second half played out. It was a fitting end to the season. I cannot wait to see what the writers have in store for next year! Something to look forward to in the fall, indeed!

But let’s enjoy the spring and summer first!

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In the Underworld, Where We Set Our Scene

Dark-Swan-PosterONCE UPON A TIME
Season 5, Episodes 12 & 13 (Souls of the Departed)(Labor of Love)

5-12cIn what is proving so far to be the most intriguing story arc of the show, the second act of Once Upon a Time’s fifth season opens with our main characters (Emma, Regina, Snow White, Charming, Robin Hood, Rumpelstiltskin, and Henry) arriving in the Underworld to rescue Captain Hook. They are all still alive, which proves to be important later.

The Underworld looks like a red-tinted, disaster-ridden version of Storybrooke, at once familiar and strange. Dead characters reappear in evil counterparts to their living relatives: Prince James is the sheriff, Peter Pan runs the pawnshop, and Cora appears to occupy the mayor’s office. All of this, it turns out, is run by Hades – a vengeful, fickle, culturally-refined, and petty evil entity in the guise of a man. He is also seemingly immortal, so good luck defeating him!

We have come a long way since the first season, mucking around in childhood fairy tales and whimsically exploring the Enchanted Forest and Storybrooke. Not that the show has ever been childish or immature, but with this storyline, one could say that it has truly grown up. The Underworld, and all of its themes of atonement, salvation, redemption, and reconciliation, is not exactly an easy, lighthearted bedtime story. This isn’t “fun with fairy tales” anymore.

Souls of the Departed is the show’s 100th episode and is thus as much about nostalgia and celebration as it is about moving the plot forward, but it does not get bogged down in hidden references or discontinuity. After all, what better place to dwell on one’s past than the Underworld?

5-12The episode begins with a focus on Emma, as it did in the beginning five years ago, but soon shifts its focus to Regina, who has always been the show’s central character. (She shares the spotlight with either Emma or the Charmings, but she has been a more steady presence.) While the group splits up in their search for Hook, Regina meets up with her mother, who tries to convince her to leave (along with Robin and Henry – she is no longer heartless, after all) by threatening to send Regina’s father, Henry Sr., to Hell.

Yes, we delve into theology (sort of) in this season! In essence, the Underworld is Purgatory, with two ways out for souls trapped there: Heaven or Hell. Both locations are accessed the same way, hinting that they are either the same place, or that the fires of Hell guard Heaven. It appears that the fires destroy souls forever, rather than torture them eternally – not that I suppose it makes much difference to the story.

The main plot focuses on the war within Regina’s soul, still ongoing but radically changed from back in the Enchanted Forest prior to the casting of the Dark Curse, which we get to see again. This war is represented by her mother and father – the former wanting her to be happy at all costs, while the latter wanting her to do what is right. Henry Sr. is willing to brave hellfire if it means that Regina has truly repented and redeemed herself, no longer spiritually paralyzed under Cora’s influence. Unsurprisingly, Regina chooses to stay in the Underworld and help the others, proving that she can put others before herself, and Cora casts her husband into the pit of fire. But instead of being consumed, the gates of Heaven open up to him. Before leaving, he meets young Henry, thanking him for continuing to believe in Regina and look out for her once he no longer could. Both men find vindication in their faith.

As an aside, Hades was extremely angry with Cora for not convincing her daughter to leave the Underworld. Clearly, he sees Regina as his most formidable opponent among the heroes.

Upon realising that they can help other trapped souls, our main characters (except Rumpelstiltskin, who has his own agenda) decide to keep doing so, invoking further Hades’s wrath. Apparently, he doesn’t’ like “losing” souls. He must still be upset about the time that living-and-dead man came and took everyone out…

5-12bLabor of Love brings Hercules into the mix, both as a first love and mentor for Snow White in the past and as a help to the heroes in the present. Whether he is just a one-off character remains to be seen, but either way, his appearance was well-integrated into the story. The Greco-Roman myths fit well into the world of fairy tales, even moreso than Arthurian legend or recent literary works (Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, etc.), and the writers do not waste time trying to explain how they are there. Presumably, the real of Mount Olympus and the Greco-Roman gods is another realm within the worlds of the Enchanted Forest; perhaps Mount Olympus is the closest the show is going to show Heaven.

More important than Hercules himself is the effect that he has on Snow White, who has long felt that she is too much Mary-Margaret – the sweet, timid former schoolteacher-turned-mum – and not enough Snow White, the bandit queen who would do anything for her people, up to and including death. I suppose that age and motherhood would do that to a woman. Even though baby Neal is (hopefully) safe among the living and Emma is a fully-grown adult, Snow still puts them ahead of herself. She is more cautious, but it is easy to hide behind one’s children as excuses not to act when one should. In this episode, Snow comes to realise that that is what she has been doing. Regina has to be the one to call her out on how the Snow White that she knew did not come all of this way merely to give up. The woman who once wanted nothing more than to kill her now will not let her die.

As the episode ends, Hades has forced Hook to choose whom from among our heroes will die and remain in the Underworld in exchange for the souls that they help to escape. He hands him a chisel and three fresh tombstones…

I am very much interested in how they are going to get out of this adventure!

5-13

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