ONCE UPON A TIME
Season 3, Episode 14 (The Tower)
For some reason or another, whenever Prince Charming gets his own storyline, the episode falls a bit flat. Perhaps it is the nature of the character himself – dashing, heroic, charming, but not very deep-thinking. As he said in the second season, “Snow did the talking, I did the fighting.” Hence, Charming-centric episodes feature a lot of fight sequences that are appealing to watch, but lacking in plot-depth.
This episode primarily focuses on Charming’s insecurities regarding his family. He still believes that he failed Emma and worries that he will fail as a father again for a second time. No matter that he did what was the right and proper fatherly thing to do with Emma, his actions still left her abandoned. In Storybrooke, he is now more interested in solving the mystery of the flying monkeys and the new curse than he is in preparing for the birth of his and Snow’s second child. This is unsurprising since he barely remembers that his wife was pregnant and since the baby is safe inside his or her mother, while the townspeople are in real, immediate danger from the flying monkeys. He still wants to bond with Emma in their crimesolving capacity, causing a bit of friction with Captain Hook. I enjoyed the scenes with Charming, Emma, and Hook investigating. They make a good team, as does adding Emma into the mix.
Rapunzel was somewhat shoehorned into this episode. She functions as a plot device in Prince Charming’s character development. That is too bad in the sense that Rapunzel would have been a great princess to revisit in her own right, but with all of the characters being added onto the show, I am relieved that her storyline is short for now. Perhaps, if the series is renewed, they will revisit her at a later time.
The Wicked Witch is deliciously evil in this episode. She has Rumplestiltskin captive and shaves him with his own dagger to prove how powerful she is. She takes advantage of Snow’s fear and trustfulness, worming her way sweetly into the Charming household. She tries to get rid of Charming altogether and then, when he throws off her spell, she discreetly steals his sword.
Regina is the one who makes the connection between “lost sword” and “lost courage” – I would have thought lost manhood would be a more obvious metaphor, but Regina is bit more well-versed in dark magic than I am. So that brings us to the question: what does the Witch want with Prince Charming’s courage? Then the lightbulb went off – she appears to have a Rumplestiltskin who has lost his mind. Brain, courage…heart, home? Hmm, sounds like Regina and Emma and/or Snow are next on the Witch’s hit list…
Finally, I have to admit that I really like how the writers are handling the evolving character of Henry. At the start of the series, he was a ten-year-old boy and thus still cute and somewhat precocious. Now, however, he is twelve or thirteen. Teenagers on television shows are not cute anymore – what was once “precocious” is now “bratty” and since they tend to look and act more like adults, we adults tend to expect more of them and are startled when they still act childish. Having a character grow from child to teenager on a show is risky, but the writers had given themselves plenty to work with. Henry currently doesn’t remember Storybrooke (leading to a touching scene with Regina) and thus can conceivably spend time away from the main characters since he is not interested in solving any mysteries. He is old enough that he really does not need a babysitter, so when he is missing from scenes, there is no question of “who’s watching Henry” unless the characters specifically need to mention it, as they did this week. We can assume that he is just hanging out somewhere, reading or playing videogames. The writers have also created a character that is descended from both the light and the dark. Both his bratty and altruistic behaviour are completely within his character, and his self-centred worldview makes perfect sense given his age. If the series is renewed for another season or two, how his character continues to evolve would be great story fodder.
Season 7, Episode 16 (Kung Fu Crabtree)
In which the mystery of the threatening letters being sent to Dr. Ogden (purportedly from Gillies) is solved and she and Detective Murdoch reconcile, and also in which a door is left open for Dr. Grace and Constable Crabtree to resume their courtship.
The above resolution directly draws out the question of Dr. Ogden’s morality. Regardless of whether it is 1901 or 2014, she did have an affair while still married – even if estranged. She made little attempt to reconcile with her husband when he pointed out that their relationship was distant, but instead ran straight into Murdoch’s arms. Was this wrong? Did she simply make a mistake, and was she punished enough already? Does this question really matter, seeing as Dr. Garland is deceased and thus Dr. Ogden really ought to be able to move forward in her life? Regardless of the circumstances, she is now a widow and since her late husband never granted her a divorce (nor, apparently, altered his will), she is entitled to the rights and privileges of widowhood, including her late husband’s estate, and also to consider remarriage. Still, especially in 1901, this would be seen as having her cake and eating it too. Would she really think everyone would overlook the past?
Orientalism, or the fascination of Eastern culture by Westerners, is a major theme of this episode. In particular, food and martial arts are highlighted: Mrs. Brackenreid is suddenly enamoured with Chinese cuisine, while Crabtree is justifiably overcome with awe at the fighting skills of the Chinese suspects that he encounters. In keeping with the overall lightheartedness of this plotline, while Chinese culture is treated with respect, the Orientalism is mostly played for comedy. Nonetheless, it is historically accurate and I would argue not something relegated to the past either. Asian cuisine and martial arts remain quite popular!
On a darker historical note, the popular belief at the time was that the Western way was the right way, that “white” culture would civilise the rest of the world, and that assimilation into Anglo-Protestant culture was highly desired. Thus, this episode plays these beliefs straight (the characters generally take these assumption for granted), but subverts them in the storytelling. The “white guys with guns” do not save the day – they need saving themselves, in fact – and rather than helping to “civilise” China, our main characters are played by anti-Western forces. Rather than being portrayed as hapless victims, the foreigners are the ones pulling the wool over the constabulary’s eyes. They use simplistic scenarios and play with the Canadians’ lack of knowledge and understanding of Chinese history to gain their trust and cooperation. While one could take the message of “beware of foreigners” from this episode, the overall theme is “respect foreign cultures, do not be afraid to discover new things, and do not underestimate anyone.”
Season 6, Episode 19 (The Greater Good)
Finally, we are treated to a lighthearted-but-serious, family episode that is centred around the neglected character of Captain Gates. While Beckett and Castle are still running the show, Gates is present in the investigation and even opens herself up to Beckett regarding her family. It is a strong reminder that Gates is always presenting an exterior: she is a serious upholder of the law.
The theme of this week is the rights of the individual and the rule of law versus that of the so-called “greater good,” although whether that greater good is for the society, the country, or some other entity is rather murky. Captain Gates, like Detective Beckett, has always been a champion of the law. Her sister, on the other hand, is a federal lawyer who is much more focused on the greater good, willing to bend the law or suspend it altogether if it means taking down corporations, national security, or other considerations. This has led to a feud between the sisters. This week’s case turns out to involve one of said sister’s federal investigations.
While there are plenty of arguments on both sides, there is definitely still a clear definition of what is legal and what is illegal. Legality does not always follow morality and it is not inherently democratic. The law exists, in fact, to protect those who would otherwise be bullied by the majority. No matter how righteous one’s cause or how sympathetic one’s plight, furthering it through illegal means is still illegal. (Not that resorting to illegal means might not be necessary.) The victim of the week also believed in the rule of law and democracy, but he became disillusioned when he repeatedly found that playing by the rules apparently did not coincide with the American Dream.
Ultimately, justice prevails and the sisters are reconciled. Castle and Beckett can go back to whittling down their invitation list for their wedding.