Sunday, October 28, 2012

Once Upon a Time: "The Doctor"

We’ve run through many of our favourite fairy tales on Once Upon a Time now — many of them Disney, many of them Grimm. We’ve seen Jiminy Cricket and Pinocchio, Aurora, Snow White and Prince Charming and the Seven Dwarfs, Little Red Riding Hood, Rumpelstiltskin, Belle, Cinderella, Hansel & Gretel… and we’ve even moved to JM Barrie with Captain Hook, and Lewis Carroll with the Mad Hatter (though technically, both those properties were handled by Disney at some point as well).

What brings these worlds together is simple: they’re fairy tales, if we take “fairy tale” to mean a story in a world that’s not our own, where magic rules (and there are often queens and kings and flying dragons and castles).

So when Dr. Whale was introduced in Season 1, we all went to our collective knowledge and began working through any fish stories we could think of. Was he… the whale who swallowed Pinocchio? Was he… okay, I was fresh out of ideas with that one, frankly.

And then this week we finally discovered who he was: Victor Frankenstein, the scientist bent on discovering a way to bring the dead back to life. Why Whale? The director of the 1931 film Frankenstein, starring Boris Karloff as the monster, was directed by James Whale. And the only reason I know this is because of the elegant portrayal of the man in the film Gods and Monsters by Ian McKellen. Nice trick, Kitsis and Horowitz, nice trick indeed.

But the question becomes: can you really include Mary Shelley’s masterpiece in the genre of fairy tales? Clearly not: there’s no magic at work in this book; it’s all about science. The writers get around that by suggesting Frankenstein went to such lengths to procure a heart to bring his creature to life that he somehow came across the Mad Hatter (huh?) who proffered him a way over into a magical world (but… wait…) and he came over and met with Rumpelstiltskin (er…) and then tricked Regina into becoming evil, and got the magical heart (but… I thought…) and then headed back home to insert the heart into the corpse of his brother (brother? What did his brother have to do with this? The creature killed his brother… not…) and because of MAGIC, science prevailed.


I LOVE when the writers on OUAT take the fairy tales and turn them in on themselves, making us think one thing and then switching them. That Red Riding Hood was actually the wolf suddenly turns this innocent little tale into something quite sinister and Freudian, and we begin to think that maybe that’s what the story was telling us all along. Red Riding Hood just wanted to kill Granny, yo. Or that Belle was taken by Rumpelstiltskin — who was the “beast” in her story — and the tale is played out by crossing two of the fairy tales.

But there was something about incorporating Frankenstein into this that not only completely changes the original story by Shelley (a book that had absolutely nothing to do with magic) but brings someone from our world into that one, and just makes it rub together like sandpaper. It didn’t work.

I found the Mad Hatter jarring at first, as well. Last season we saw him trapped in Wonderland, where he stayed until he was zapped to Storybrooke where he was stuck in a little house by Regina, making hats all day long. He was a man torn apart by the loss of his daughter, something that happened in the fairy tale world of Wonderland (when Regina left him there) and carried over into Storybrooke. But in this episode he’s out and gallivanting around, acting like a bit of a jackass (but still very hot doing it… my daughter still disagrees with me on that assessment, “Mommy, STOP saying he’s handsome!!”) 

Of course, you don’t have to think about this long to realize if Regina is still young here, then this part of the Mad Hatter’s story actually preceded him becoming a father, and him being part of the plan to trick Regina into becoming evil actually turns his later incarceration into a form of karma: he created the monster, so to speak, and now he pays the price for it.

I do like the tie-in with Victor Frankenstein and who he was last season. He had a patient who was in a deathlike coma all season, and forgetting who he was, he didn’t realize he had the power to “raise the dead.” And ultimately, he WAS the doctor on watch when the dead arose and left the hospital.

Then again, that begs the question: if Victor is not ruled by magic, and is not part of the fairy tale world, then why is he in Storybrooke, and why were his memories taken from him, too? The writers would suggest that if you even pass through the storybook world, even briefly, then you’ll be stuck in Maine. But he was in that world and left.

Like Rumpelstiltskin’s son. 

Like Emma. 

Both had passed through the fairy tale world but weren’t actually physically there when the curse took effect. So… was Whale? Was he there? Or is this an inconsistency on the part of the writers?

I did love the little nod to Oz in this episode, though. Rumpelstiltskin has charged the Hatter with finding “the slippers” because he needs something that can travel from a magical world to a non-magical one. Clearly he’s referring to Dorothy’s ruby slippers, which took her from Oz to Kansas. I can’t wait until we actually do see Oz!

I’ve been enjoying this season of Once Upon a Time, by the way, even if I haven’t been very good about posting on it. My daughter and I watch it every Sunday night, and I think Lana Parilla is putting in a hell of a performance this year as Regina. (Her reaction to Daniel this week was incredible and almost had me in tears.) Though I will admit, two weeks ago when we followed Emma and Snow through the fairy tale world I wanted to throttle Emma for being SO STUPID at every turn. This week, thankfully, she redeemed herself.

I thought last week’s episode involving Captain Hook and Rumpelstiltskin’s wife was amazing. His story is becoming more and more fascinating, and is clearly the central story of the show. Robert Carlyle is putting in an equally stunning performance.

Next week: we go back to Emma’s pregnancy with Henry. We briefly saw a man at the beginning of this season who lived in an apartment building (remember he dropped his iPod off the balcony by accident?) who received a postcard saying “Broken.” I’ve suspected that man might be Rumpelstiltskin’s son, and in the preview for next week we see him with Emma. Could fans have been correct in thinking he’s the father of Henry? Hm…


Colleen/redeem147 said...

This isn't even the book Frankenstein - it's the Universal horror film version.

Who's next? James Bond?

How about Tarzan.

Rebecca T. said...

I understand what you're saying about mixing any story in, but personally it hasn't bothered me.

I actually thought that tonight we got the key - there are actually many "worlds" or "realms" and there are a few objects that allow people to pass between certain ones.

And I love that idea.

I do think that they are going to need to explain why certain people from certain worlds all ended up sucked into Storybrooke, but Regina also said something in tonight's episode about how she gathered all the people she needed. She needed the Mad Hatter because he might be able to create another portal. She needed Victor because he was the only man who might potentially be able to help with Daniel.

Still a lot of unanswered questions though for sure :)

Jess said...

If the bean took hook to Neverland, then would it not have taken Rumples some there?? Would that then make Peter Pan Rumples son? Peter being the fixation of Hook, who maybe finds out soon that Pan is Rumples son???

Colleen/redeem147 said...

Is Hook from JM Barrie's world? Will we soon meet the Admirable Crichton?

Is it not a show about fairy tales, but about every fictional story that Disney has the rights to?

Now I'm waiting for Mickey Mouse.

Nikki Stafford said...

Colleen: I agree it was the movie version (right down to the black and white at the end, which I'll admit I kind of loved). The tip-off is the name Whale, and the more subtle aspect is in the book, Frankenstein is a sympathetic character, whereas in the Hammer film, he's very over-the-top and played as a mad scientist. "It's aliiiiiive!!"

I think my main concern with opening it to Frankenstein is that they could use pretty much anyone now. Will Anne of Green Gables show up soon?

Maybe there's not a problem with that. Hard to say. I will say I'm still enjoying it immensely, so I hope my gripey post hasn't led anyone to think I'm abandoning ship. ;)

Austin Gorton said...

I saw a double feature of Whale's Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein at a theater this week; this episode made for a nice companion to that. :)

I think I'm okay with the inclusion of Frankenstein. The show made it clear he comes from another "realm" and doesn't coexist with the likes of Snow White and Prince Charming, and even made science vs. magic part of his interpretation.

We're more willing to accept the variations on the fairy tales (ie Rumpelstiltskin as Belle's Beast) because fairy tales have been told and retold for so long, with so many different interpretations. The story of Frankenstein is really no different; as others have said, there have been dozens of takes on the story. The only difference is that those takes have been largely in film and that there is a specific, documented author of the original tale (whereas a lot of the fairy tales, even the ones we attribute to the Brothers Grimm, are born of handed-down folk tales and legends). But both Peter Pan and Alice and Wonderland are similar in that regard.

So it doesn't really bother me. As Rebecca said, the show is basically creating a universe where all the fictional stories exist as "realms", some characters clumped together with others (I wouldn't be at all surprised if the other Universal monsters were in Frankenstein's realm) with one realm representing a non-magical, non-fantastical "real world" that gets glimpses of the other realms through fiction (like how in the old days, DC Comics suggested that the WWII adventures of heroes on Earth-2 were unknowingly observed and written as comic books by the writers on Earth-1).

Basically, it seems like the show is going down the road where any fictional characters are fair game, while, by virtue of the original premise and the main characters, the traditionally fairy tale characters will remain the focus. Tarzan? Bond? Mickey Mouse? Anne of Green Gables? Sherlock Holmes? Dracula? Bring 'em on, I say.

Or is this an inconsistency on the part of the writers?

I'm thinking we'll see in a future episode that Frankenstein was present in Fairy Tale Land for some reason when the curse was cast, which is why he got sent along (and why someone like Hook, who was presumably in the realm of Neverland, didn't get cast into Storybrooke).

I did love the little nod to Oz in this episode, though

Was the crystal ball the Hatter did procure a reference to something as well? I'm a bit hazy on my Oz-lore, but I didn't recognize the reference, if there was one.

wanted to throttle Emma for being SO STUPID at every turn.

This x100. I very much appreciated her being a bit more savvy and seeing through Hook this episode.

Nikki Stafford said...

See, when people like Teebore and Rebecca explain things, it makes me more sympathetic to the show. ;) This is why I love this blog. Now I'm actually hoping for Anne of Green Gables! ;)

As for the crystal ball, I'm wondering if it might be the one the Wicked Witch of the West left in the room with Dorothy - remember when Dorothy was trapped in the castle and the flying monkeys were outside her window and Dorothy could see Auntie Em in the crystal ball, walking around wringing her hands and shouting Dorothy's name? Perhaps it's a window to another world, like the mirrors on Fringe. Now, the ball on that was much bigger than this little one, which immediately made me think of the Orb of Thessulah on Buffy S2 and I thought, "They're... going to re-ensoul a vampire??" until he made the slippers comment. ;)

Austin Gorton said...

This is why I love this blog. Now I'm actually hoping for Anne of Green Gables!

Happy to help. :)

I'm wondering if it might be the one the Wicked Witch of the West left in the room with Dorothy

Ah, I like that! That way Rumpelstiltskin could presumably look for/watch Baelfire, even if he doesn't yet have the means to travel to the "real world". So it would still have some value to him even if it wasn't the slippers.

Dusk said...

I was OK with the inclusion of Frankenstein. I wasn't directly spun out of Mary Shelly's version right because otherwise Victor would be dead... The world we saw at the end reminded me of others like Van Helsing, the Wolfman etc. I see little different between OUAT using Victor and Buffy using Dracula personally.

If you read EW cover story last week then you know some of the characters they will or won't use e.g. Ariel in, Sherlock out.

Lana killed it last night.

How Victor (and Jefferson) got from their worlds to Storybrooke is still a dangling question.

Like Hook, but found his story with Rumpel to be predictable and Belle still seems pretty weak of a person IMO.

Loved Lady of the Lake especially the Snow/Emma moment at the end. Lancelot is also a bit out of the traditional "fairytale" ideal. Love how the writers kept taunting he and Snow had a secret Charming didn't know about, shippers were pissed, and it turns out it was that his mother sacrificed herslf for the baby that would be Emma.

Liked Charming's speech in We Are Both seems the writers picked up on the David hate from last year.

On the fence with Mulan right now, irritated by Aurora, but I don't hae either of them like a certain replacement girlfriend on Buffy's show.

Quarks said...

Here's an interesting fact: when I was very briefly attempting to keep a blog earlier this year, I was writing posts about the episodes of Once Upon A Time. This is what I had on a bullet point for '7:15 AM':

"-The weatherman’s name was Bill Godwin. Is there any significance to that? The best I could find on the Internet was that there was a William Godwin who was a journalist, political philosopher and novelist and he was also the father of Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. I can’t find anything to do with meteorology there, although it did make me wonder if Frankenstein will appear in this show at some point. I also discovered that he wrote a version of Jack and the Beanstalk, which perhaps makes slightly more sense for who he might be, as Jack did of course go up into the sky on the beanstalk and this could explain the meteorological connection."

kluu said...

I don't think Frankenstein was a good fit, either but it wasn't terrible. There only needs to be a bit more description of how it somehow fits. You might be able to make a case for Frankenstein being the first of the modern fairy tales along with things like Oz and Jules Verne.
Personally I was more put out by having Lancelot inserted into the story. I don't consider the Arthurian Legends to be fairy tales. but I guess it is a matter of opinion.

Fred said...

@ Teebore: Love your idea, LOL. Hey, if there are other realms for different fictional stories, is there one with Pac Man, or Mario? Seriously, where does it end? Might Gandalf make an appearance, or even "He who's name none dare pronounce"? While we're on a Disney franchise what about Captain Nemo? Or, if we're pushing Mary Shelley, why not H. G. Wells--any one for the invisible man. I'm with Nikki on this, I'm a little worried the writers might be pushing a little too hard for novelty's sake alone.

I think the use of Frankenstein is a foreshadowing of Regina's true love--Daddy. I know, sounds pretty Freudian, but she is seeing a psychiatrist. Maybe Henry, her adopted son, is Henry her father. Maybe the dead don't die, but are reincarnated souls (shades of Cloud Atlas). Granted, Rumpelstiltskin does say "Dead is dead," which sounds a lot like a line from LOST, but he says it with such conviction that we know it has to be broken. I've always felt the way to understand OUAT is to delve into Jungian analysis--perhaps Archie is a Jungian and not Freudian, as there seems to be a lot of archetypes running around.

Loved like-mother-like-daughter with the crypt of hearts glowing in their little boxes. And Regina's constant trips to Archie Hopper is more reminiscent of someone needing AA. Finally, when Victor gives his line about "science" at the end, I could sdistinctly hear in the back of my head Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me With Science."

Austin Gorton said...

@Fred: Seriously, where does it end?

With copyrights/licensing agreements. I mean, I doubt the Tolkien people/New Line Cinema or going to allow Gandalf to appear on the show.

But anything that's in the public domain, including stuff like Captain Nemo or HG Wells characters is probably fair game. And I'm okay with that. If they were good enough for Alan Moore, they're good enough for OUAT.

nd Regina's constant trips to Archie Hopper is more reminiscent of someone needing AA.

I saw that exactly the same way.