onsdag 12 september 2018

Once Upon A Time final season: Operation Pearly Gates, the strange failure of Voodoo Queen and more

Finally, I have my season seven DVDs of Once Upon A Time, and am thus in full legal possession of the facts of what happens in it and can blog about it. Warning for spoilers ahead: as it's the very last Once season, I'm not even going to try to avoid them.

Simply put, I loved this season. Unlike many fans, I really enjoyed the change of setting, from picturesque Storybrooke to the big-city vibe of Hyperion Heights, a neighbourhood added to gritty Seattle as part of a new curse. Although the season didn't quite live up to my highest expectations, it's still the one I've enjoyed most since seasons one to three. As so often with Once, there are so many promising premises set up that it becomes difficult for the series to deliver on them. Nevertheless, you have to learn to appreciate what you get instead of spending too much time pondering how it could have been done even better.

It is a problem that Emma Swan's not in this season. Like Matthew in Downton Abbey, Emma really is the main character of seasons one to six, to whose story the stories of the other characters are tied. When Jennifer Morrison didn't renew her contract, therefore, the show - like Downton - was knocked slightly off-track, even if it did stomach the blow. Still, the whole concept of season seven being a "new chapter" and centering around Emma's now grown-up son Henry worked creditably, and would have felt completely natural had the show been allowed to continue for one or two seasons more, so there'd be more balance between the Emma and Henry part of the story. The absence (except for the final) of Snow White and Prince David aka Charming was less of a problem. Believe it or not, I actually like Snow and Charming even if they are heroes, but they hadn't had a decent story arc since season three (though at least David had a few good side adventures - poor Snow got practically nothing to work with). Knowing they were living out their happily ever after off-stage was more satisfying than watching them being forced into uninspiring plot lines by writers plainly more interested in villain fun.

And so on to said villain fun. As usual, I could go on the whole day long about Once stories and characters, and will have to restrict myself to one or two themes, concerning my favourite (reformed - yes, really!) villain duo Rumplestiltskin and Regina, aka the Evil Queen. They are both present and correct in this season, which means that to be honest, it's got everything I need.

Did season seven expand on the duo's story in a satisfying way, considering that the finale of season six seemed to provide the ideal cutting-off point for their stories as well as everyone else's? Yes, it did. I admit I rather liked the fact that Rumple got his happy ending at the end of season six while still being alive and kicking - I had expected that his story would end in his dying redemptively and was glad when it didn't. Except now, at the end of season seven, it does. However, taken all in all, it's worth it. A long and blissful life with the ones you love, then a happy afterlife, is the best ending anyone could wish for, and Rumple gets there, with the help of a redemption arc that's much better constructed than the bad-good-bad again-good again roller coaster of season six. Personally, I don't understand why immortals always end up wanting to die, but it is a truth universally acknowledged that they do, so fair dues. And somewhere I am a bit relieved about the whole afterlife business - remembering how the afterlife is organised in Once, one had reason to be a tad worried where Rumple's concerned.

Moreover, Rumple's storyline restored my faith in the pairing the fans call Rumbelle. I shipped Rumbelle as much as the next crazy Rumple fangirl in seasons one to three, but I spent most of seasons four to six wanting to choke the shilly-shallying, hectoring Belle, and the romance more or less limped to the finish line in season six with much of the fizz we'd seen in earlier seasons gone. However, the ultra-romantic and affecting episode Beauty in season seven revived the good old days of Rumbelle lovey-doveyness, and while a guilty part of me will always ship Golden Queen (ship name for Rumple and Regina, very unpopular with die-hard fans), it's hard to quarrel with a love interest whose benevolent influence gets one of the most hard-bitten of fairy-tale villains through the Pearly Gates.

As for Regina, I believe this season is the one - with the possible exception of season three - where she works best as a redeemed character. In season six, she often was the "weak tea" version her evil clone accused her of being, but here she is full of gutsiness and temperament while still being a force for good. One part of her story didn't work, though, and that was her love interest, Doctor Facilier.

Yes, you read that right. And I'm puzzled as to why I didn't like this romance, as I should be one of the few people who have no problem with the concept. I think Dr Facilier in Disney's Princess and the Frog is a great villain - actually I believe we haven't seen anything better villain-wise in animated Disney films since. In Once, Daniel Francis is a suitably suave Facilier, and I loved the way he was introduced in the episode Greenbacks. But him and Regina? I didn't buy it. I don't think it's just my bias talking when I say that there's more heat in one of Regina's "Aw, Reformed Rumple - how cute is that?" glances on her old friend/enemy/teacher/rival/crush than in all of the scenes between Regina and Facilier put together. It's a shame because a pairing between a reformed villain and a villain with no current plans for reform is an idea which could spark some interesting situations. Does Facilier fancy Regina as she is now or the Evil Queen? Is it an old Evil Queen part of Regina that's drawn to Facilier, or does she honestly think she can do a Belle on him? If the series had been renewed, my guess is that Facilier would have been kept on and built up as a Rumple surrogate - it might even have worked. As it was, when he is dispatched by an unreformed version of Rumplestiltskin from the Wish Realm just as he's mocking the original Rumple for going soft and becoming the worst version of himself - "Well, I find that really insulting. I mean, I'm the worst version of me" - I wasn't sorry at all but shamelessly cheering on the badass Rumple doppelganger.

Dearie me, I've run out of time and space for commenting on the Wish Realm, haven't I? As well as for bringing up the alternative (superior) version of Hook (this show loves doppelgangers), the wonderfully catty wicked stepsister Ivy/Drizella, the engaging new Alice in Wonderland and her romance with Robin (daughter of Robin Hood and the Wicked Witch of the West masquerading as Maid Marian - a plot line feasible only in Once), the Cinderella controversy, Zelena getting her happy ending with a surprisingly (given her usual taste in men) tame love interest... Ah, well, maybe another time.