My Struggle

My Struggle 10×01

Spoiler-free overview:

Elation. That’s what I felt when I first stumbled across an article hinting that there might be more X-Files. I loved this show when it was on the air during its first run (and I do feel giddy saying first run because… now there’s more than one!!!). The X-Files was my first real fan-girl experience. My pre-teen self had never imagined a television show could mean so much, or be THAT COOL. Not like all the other little shows, the X-Files captured my imagination and dazzled my senses. That was 1996, yes I was late to the party but I caught up quickly.

After the second movie, it seemed a light had gone from this world because I was convinced there would never be any more X-Files. I had a hard time saying goodbye to Mulder and Scully, just the same as how finishing a series of novels can sometimes necessitate a mini-funeral. So yesterday, after an impatient wait since I pre-ordered my season pass on iTunes, I sat down and pressed play like a kid racing out of bed on Christmas morning.

And it was Christmas!! The tree was brightly lit and look at all those presents! (Yes I follow David Duchovny on Twitter…) Unlike my childhood Christmases though, I don’t mind sharing my new toy with 20 million other fans. In fact, I can’t wait to!

All the elements I expected to find were present and accounted for: mystery, tension between Mulder and Scully, humor, crazy theories, politics, nail-biting and always the little bit of ick. The X-Files was always rather self-aware and this trend has continued wonderfully. Familiar faces, familiar scenery- that good old thrill is back in town!

Performance of the night goes to: Gillian Anderson. See below the spoiler line for details.

Rating: 8/10. See below, but these two points are for a couple of minor things I noticed in an otherwise stellar pilot. Which it seems like this is. It’s a pilot and a welcome home all in one. It is exceedingly clear to me that a lot of love went into the writing and performance. Everyone’s affection for this work is shining through the screen and onto the viewers.

Here endeth the spoiler-free overview. Below there be dragons! Look here for what to expect from an episode review.

Scene 1: Mulder’s monologue

I have always been a fan of narration when it is well done. Mr. Duchovny does not disappoint. As reminders go, I can’t think of a better way to go about it. These photos, their badges, the fire. All of these are elements familiar to long time fans, but will also allow new fans to catch up with references in a very few seconds. When asked the question, how do you sum up ten years worth of drama and mystery, they gave us a perfect answer. Perspective.

In one neat and very simple shot, they gave us our reminder and our frame for the present: Mulder’s mental status. One minute to sum up ten years, I dare you to do better.

Scene 2: Are we being lied to?

With the history of their work on the X-Files neatly reviewed, Mulder moves on to describe the history of UFO sitings through a montage.

This gets us right back into that beautiful space of doubting the credibility of the protagonist as we always have for Mulder. He sounds like a crazy pants, but then again, he’s awfully smart and knows how to present evidence. What he’s saying can’t possibly be true, can it?

And we’ve played right into the hands of our writers. How much of what we just saw that looks like historical footage has anything to do with reality and how much of it was utterly made of for this television show? Before you write me off as a conspiracy nut, I’ll come right out and say it: I do not believe. But how to verify that? The writers have set us up to doubt what we hear and see in the news media, which is wonderful! And frightening at the same time.

So no, I don’t think we’ve been visited by aliens. Maybe there are alien life forms in the ‘Verse out there, but I listen to folks like Neil deGrasse Tyson for my news on that front, not Fox Mulder.

Even so, the whole point of this show is doubt. So please, shake my confidence in what I know, make me think about it and make me skeptical of what I read on the Internet.

Scene 3: Title Card

The musical theme we have been waiting for.

Seriously, why mess with perfection? I am SO glad they chose to leave this alone and not try to outthink themselves on this. These opening credits are elegantly simple and effective. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Scene 4: Two shakes

Enter flashback to New Mexico crash site. I love that this scene utilizes very little dialogue and just lets us feel the gravity of the doctor’s emotions: anxiety and trepidation.

Scene 5: Walter Skinner, Assistant Director, FBI

Scully’s day job: doctoring. She wasn’t expecting this phone call.

Scene 6: The aliens won’t let it happen.

My life has become a punch line.

So Scully is no longer living with Mulder, but is still willing to pass along the message from Skinner. I suppose this change in their status from that of the two of them waving at us from a rowboat may disappoint some of the shipper fans out there, but not me. I have always enjoyed their tumultuous dynamics and trust the writers to do this complicated relationship justice.

I do love how Mulder has duct taped his webcam… and how the tape is peeling up, probably from him rubbing it out of paranoia.

Why would I watch this jackass Scully?

Here’s where we get political. Nicely done.

I love that Fox has actually allowed the X-Files to flagrantly make fun of them. This is earned kudos toward a network I have less than tender feelings for. I also love that we are able to see Obama, for real, in the world of a TV show. These kinds of details lend a reality that comes close to creepy. That moment of cognitive dissonance: I thought I was suspending my disbelief because this is fiction. Oh wait, that bit right there, that’s not fiction, um… how am I going to separate fact from fiction when I don’t actually know the truth???

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I bought the ticket for this ride.

Yes I know this is fiction, that’s never been in question for a moment, but getting yanked back into reality in an unexpected moment does all kinds of fun things to my suspension of disbelief mechanism. It’s a thought experiment and an elegant one!

Scene 7: Uber?!

Ahhhh…. This scene is beautifully played by both of them. And lusciously written. I have so missed their little verbal dances. These understated interchanges are as deep emotionally as a full on sex scene in other programs, more so I would say for the sheer quantity of baggage the writers have to draw upon.

This is when dialogue distillation really works and the minimal style is so very shiny.

Gillian Anderson understands that eye magic secret more often seen with British actors. She knows that a scene gets sold with the eyes. Her naked appraisal of Mulder here gets her performance of the night.

She’s shot men for less provocation.

Scully, you shot me in the ass! Remind me, she did do that, did she not?

See, I thought we learned this one already, never get in the car, it always goes badly. Sorry. It just seems that no piece of fiction ever ends well by getting in the car with someone you don’t trust.

Scene 8: You’ll have to excuse him…

Scully isn’t thrilled to be called by her first name uninvited…

Mulder isn’t pleased about that either.

The X-Files are closed… we’ve moved on.

Poor Mulder. And how awkward! Scully however, has been around him long enough to shrug him off though. See what I mean about having faith in the writers? They’re still in love, it’s obvious. We’re going to get every inch of that fabulous tension served just how we like it: tense.

Mr. O’Malley proves his stripes to Mulder. The most evil conspiracy the world has ever known.

In yet another example of brilliant minimalist understatement, Scully blandly states: That’s quite an assertion.

Scene 9: Aliens couldn’t find this place…

And again with beautiful understatement: I am familiar with the syndrome…

Oh yes, Scully is familiar.

While this scene is exposition, we get by on tension and rich back story we are already familiar with if we are long time fans. I suppose new fans, getting this introduction for the first time, would wonder what Scully is squirming about.

It is weird to hear Mulder call Scully Dana. Hmm. I suspect he is making fun of O’Malley, but it could be his grasping at intimacy also. I’m not sure here.

Scene 10: For god’s sake, what have you done?

Flashback in which we see what we have come to expect from heartless G-men: shoot first examine the body later.

Scene 11: Maybe you do

Scully and Sveta get to know one another. The new audience isn’t privy to what we know for sure happened in the past which leaves them dependent on Scully’s interaction with Sveta to guess how much of what Sveta says is accurate.

For a returning fan, we likely believe Sveta much earlier.

It is nice to see Scully discomfited by Sveta’s frank analysis of her relations with Mulder and the existence of William. As an expository technique, getting that bit of history told to us by someone other than Mulder or Scully is a pretty powerful tool and well used.

Scene 12: A very rich man

Glue scene: a tiny scene that gives some vital piece of info; a snippet of often exposition that gets us from one scene to the next. Most glue scenes depend on snark, visual impressions or fast emotion for their forward momentum and this is no different.

No major plot movement happens in this scene. It’s just Mulder about to take a chopper ride with Mr. Rich and Curious. Whenever I see a scene like this, I always wonder just how necessary it is.

Of note, Mulder is not impressed by other people’s paranoia.

Scene 13: Faraday Cage

Mulder, and the audience, get a tour of the lab of awesome. An ARV.

I think we’re meant to doubt here, as Mulder touches the craft and it powers up, if it isn’t responding to his own warped DNA. We see a few minutes later that somebody has a controller,  but it is more telling that no one bats an eyelash at it powering up at his touch. Deliberate mislead though, effective.

We get to share Mulder’s fanboy moment and it is delightful.

Scene 14: Where he got element 115.

Mini-flashback so we know somebody studied the body.

Scene 15: Blood spatter!

If you look closely at Scene 6, the stain on her neck and scrubs is visible. Likely from having shot these scenes out of order back to back. Of note, no one wanders around with blood on themselves or their scrubs. Cleaning the goo off is a very high priority for healthcare workers. Blood dries, flakes and gets itchy in a short order on the skin. Nobody delays getting it off them a moment longer than they absolutely have to. Most especially if it is someone else’s.

Privacy laws broken here, Scully would lose her job for letting that dude snoop patient info.

O’Malley pries into Scully’s life, intrusively. This is exposition wrapped up in O’Malley’s-a-creep and it works.

I have never felt more alive.

I, like O’Malley, think Scully is lying here about it being unrelated to her previous work. It’s the bit about the syndrome being most commonly found among the Navaho.

It is nice to hear Scully not shy away from the truth about her former relationship with Mulder. Denial here would have been a mistake as it would be inconsistent with the evolution of Scully’s character. She has matured into the understanding someone can only embarrass her with the truth if she were to let them. Scully doesn’t feel shame or the need to hide this particular aspect of her past. In other words, privacy holds no value if she has no reason to hide, cannot be hurt by what she shares. That said, it seems a little un-Scully-like to just open up to a stranger, deflection would seem the more likely choice. Especially to one who splashes detritus all over the Internet. But maybe she’s just exhausted and doesn’t give a pig’s fart anymore what anyone else thinks and she just wants the dirt digger off her case.

I’m not sure about the look Scully gives O’Malley here. She can’t really be encouraging this creep, can she?

Scene 16: Hitchhiking

You always wondered if they weren’t lying to you too.

Mulder shows up on Sveta’s doorstep to question her about a behavior he saw during their previous interview. I appreciate this attention to detail. Mulder was well known for noticing details and being astute about human behavior. Nice consistency.

Sveta confirms what we suspected from Scully’s experience, this is a job done by humans.

Scene 17: Not the first date he’s opportunely interrupted.

Classic. Mulder calls Scully to vent some paranoid and crazy sounding ravings which may or may not be credible. He’s so susceptible to believing whatever comes along… but he’s right just often enough to leave room for doubt.

Can we pull over a second, I’ve gotta get out.

That little line of dialogue does a huge amount of work. Scully has had more than enough of this from him.

I love that she steps away from O’Malley’s intrusiveness, again. What I just can’t see is why she’d get in the car with him in the first place. He’s clearly got good reason to find her attractive, but what could Scully possibly see in that guy? Maybe a hook-up? Nah.

And still, she just can’t escape the sucking black hole that is Mulder. And maybe that’s why. Right there. There just has to be something out there for her other than Mulder, or so she wishes.

Poor Scully, she might have wanted a different life, tried to have one, but Mulder and their work have a gravitational pull away from which there is no escape velocity.

Scene 18: I’ve always looked out for you.

Thematic exposition…

The bromance between Mulder and Skinner has always been a charming one and it nicely rounds out this glue scene. We’ve now had our call to action.

And Mulder gives Skinner his number…

This scene is quite serious on first watch, but the second time through, it’s kind of hilarious.

Scene 19: Publicity stunt?

Or another intrusion?

Note: anyone who hollers for a nurse by the word, “nurse,” is considered a grade-A jerk. Scully would know her name and use it. And this nurse would resent being summoned and sent like a lackey.

The fact that Scully is waiting for a call, hoping for that call, from Mulder tells us quite a bit. Perhaps Scully wanted that publicity splash for her cause, distasteful as O’Malley is. We already know she still deeply cares for Mulder, regardless of time and circumstance.

Scene 20: Let me take that bullet.

Mulder’s informant was the doctor we saw in the flashbacks. Here we get another classic scene where Mulder meets with someone in the dead of night fishing for answers but fails to get them. Lots of exposition here, necessary as a reminder to existing fans and as an entrance for new ones.

Scene 21: You’re on fire.

I love this scene. Scully gives Mulder what-for to try to fish him out one last time. But she realizes there’s nothing she can do.

And she calls Tad O’Malley a charming ass. Phew! I was a little worried there for a moment. Scully is much to smart to be taken in by a load of crap like him.

This is such a beautiful scene. Mulder is clearly mentally ill, has been for as long as we’ve known him. Scully knows it, loves him anyway and wants to help. The problem with Mulder is that sometimes he’s right, which makes him that much more vulnerable to the next big whopper somebody feeds him. Being right doesn’t erase his mental illness. It feeds it.

He can’t step back, he chases his gut feelings. They say intuition is actually the brain recognizing a pattern beneath conscious awareness. Mulder is very good at this and so leans on this skill. But he does so too heavily and has bought large packs of lies over and over again because of it. He’s a capable investigator, but his desperation to find the truth, to believe and be sure on an emotional level has given his enemies what they need to lead him around on a merry chase.

He even knows this, he just told Skinner this.

But here he is, right back at square one.

So, is he right this time?

Or right enough to be taken in, yet again?

You know what you’re doing.

For her part, Scully is remarkable for her resiliency. Scully was perhaps my first, favorite and most important female role model because she’s damned tough. She’s been through hell and unlike Mulder, though perhaps this is because it started when she was already an adult, her mental health is more or less intact. I will admit though that this is debatable and I hope to see more evidence of her struggle as we progress. Still Scully is one tough cookie psychologically and I believe quite admirable for her ability to accept really hard things and let them roll off her instead of getting bogged down in the mire like Mulder.

Scene 22: The creep parked me in.

Mulder, what are you up to?

Sucked right back in again. Poor Scully!!

H-Bombs drew them here? Ok…

And now the punch line:

All of the hell going on in our world has been caused by the shadow government in possession of alien technology bent on world domination.

I think this is poking fun at every crackpot conspiracy nut out there, of course, but is, on a parallel track, provides a dire warning as to the precarious state of the world. We need to get our act together sooner than later, even if it isn’t aliens and shadow governments causing the world’s woes, something must change.

Scully elegantly and succinctly states her case.

Oh, and your test results came back negative. Wham, coffin nail in that theory.

Mulder doesn’t have a rebuttal, but he doesn’t believe it.

Neither does Sveta.

Scene 23: They got to her.

Montage/series of mini-scenes.

Sveta is gone.

The MIBs blow up the ARV.

Scully finishes surgery, but her surgical attire is improper because her hair is exposed. And she’d never leave someone else’s blood or body fluid stuck to her person in that manner.

O’Malley’s site goes dark.

Scully receives the second test results.

Scene 24: Somebody misspelled “wash me.”

Cue scary dark parking garage. At least it’s Mulder that sneaks up on her.

Venus Syndrome. Someone has to stop these sons of bitches. I do love hearing Scully curse.

This scene is poignant and capitalizes on a beautiful intimacy that can only be achieved between two people who know each other very well. And we the audience know them very well too.

Mulder comes to see Scully, it’s unclear if he wrote the wash-me message on her car or not, even though she walked out on him a scene ago, having debunked him. So she thought.

Still, that kind of a blow might have shattered, or at least enraged, a less tightly fused couple. But Mulder and Scully stand and speak directly without seeking to vent their frustrations at each other. How many pairs of people can truly do this? I haven’t seen many, it requires a deep trust indeed to be able to do this. Those two are an institution that cannot be divided by time or distance or anger or fear, even when they try it themselves.

When pondering the definition of true love, these two, and moments like this come to mind because I think of true love as the point in a relationship when one sees the other not as an other, but as an extension of the self with all the rights thereto.

It doesn’t matter what happens, these two function as one.

And this scene ends perfectly, Skinner.

Scene 26: Not again!!!

Sveta gets it. Too late, Scully.


Scene 27: How is this dude still alive??

They have reopened the X-Files.

What a wonderful surprise. Of all the creeps I loved to hate, this one was my favorite.


Rating: 8/10 stands. One of the two points lost was for Scully getting in the car and having drinks with that O’Malley bozo. The other is for the offensive treatment of the nurse in this episode. Teaching the public that that is how nurses are treated is repugnant.

I, for one, am very excited! This is a very solid first episode, a new pilot. A new beginning. This does feel like coming home to a house I once lived in but never thought I’d see again after moving away. I know where everything is, but a house is just a shell, anything could happen here.

Performance-wise I think we are in for a treat. Hollywood has this bad habit of casting young, really young… People get better at things through time and practice and since these two were both wonderful twenty years ago, I expect them to be amazing now. Besides which, the stories of the young are told all the time, I can’t wait to hear what Mulder and Scully have to say to us later. We’ve already been privy to some beautifully mature emotional scenes between them and the delicious complications provided to us by their past history I suspect will provide a richness seldom available in television. This is SUCH an opportunity!

This reboot leaks potential like the X-xon Valdez.

Check out my other projects!

I also write reviews and other articles for Once Upon A Time and Mozart in the Jungle. In addition, I’m studying Once fans. If you’re already a Once fan, read about the project here. You can also check out my Once related Gratitude Project.


Mozart in the Jungle: 1812

It is well known that I am a nerd. As such, here is a wonderful story:

I love music. I spent my childhood, and misspent, my college years learning and making music when maybe I could have put that energy into finding someone to love. Music is that important to me. At the epoch of interest, I was less than 13 years of age growing up in an undesirable town (I don’t care if that offends, they’re my feelings = TDB. I left town and am SO GLAD I did).

So there I was in middle school band class struggling with everyone else to learn the 1812 Overture. I played the trombone, yes tiny me. There’s long series of repeated notes that never made any sense to me musically. I could never pay attention long enough to figure out how many of them in a row there were… The passage never worked as a phrase. Until today.

You see, I’ve been having a mellow day off and decided to give Mozart in the Jungle a second chance, though it didn’t make much sense to me yesterday. Turns out the error was mine in that I accidentally started with Season 2 instead of the pilot. Oops. Today I started with the pilot and I have been charmed. Finally, a TV show with a sound track I actually want to sit through the credits for. And I do.

This happened: (Spoiler-well kinda, but not really) Rodrigo takes the orchestra on a field trip to a run-down neighborhood and they play the 1812 Overture. They get to the climax of the piece and churchbells go off, loudly. I got honest-to-gods chills, goosebumps as I watched and listened.

The reason for my affectation would be returning to that middle school band of mine. My podunk little town had just made itself a new train station in a scary neighborhood and we, less than 13 year olds, sat in the parking lot on a sunny Saturday afternoon surrounded by the crowd to do our best with the 1812 for the grand opening of said train station. And we were NOT good. As we were about midway through the piece trains started going by and blowing their whistles. They drowned us out, but we kept playing. No one gave up, no one. I still remember the disbelieving grin on our conductors face as we finished the piece to applause.

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 18.12.12

So, thanks Mozart in the Jungle, for that memory.

Come check out my other projects:

Want to help me study the magic of Once? Read about the study here.

Fan-art in the making! I’m in the midst of a Once-themed Gratitude Project. Take a look at my progress!

Part of the Magic: The Fan Experience We Create for Each Other

Part of the Magic: The Fan Experience We Create for Each Other

The passions of Once Upon A Time fans run deep and swift. The miracle of fiction allows us all to meet each other in a common place of interest and intrigue. A TV fandom, not unlike a kingdom, is an extensive network of people held together by a common theme, but, instead of a ruler at the center, it is a work of art. Yes, Once Upon A Time is somebody’s art project, a lot of somebodies actually.

The experience of the fan does not have to end with the fan’s solitary ingestion of the piece of art. In fact, the fan-created world surrounding the official Once offerings is rich and diverse. A marvel to behold. With the advent of the Internet, a global choir of fans are now all able to sing together in ways we never could before. Fan communities extend Once Upon A Time far beyond its TV boundaries. They create a space for fan participation.

We members of the fan community ARE a part of the making of Once Upon A Time even if we never see the set in person. Every time we hit the like button as a meme floats across our e-desk, every time we post a bit of snark, we are creating the experience of Once both for ourselves and for everyone who sees what we have done.

Once is not solely in the hands of its originators.

It is lovely that fans can participate as much or as little as they feel comfortable. Some fans just call their family members after they see an episode to discuss and that’s the end of it. They are content with that. Other fans pay large sums of money to fly across the country, the world?, in hopes of meeting their favorite star and mingling with the roiling hordes of others doing the same. Their smiles are, dare I say, fanatic. Imagine that we all have a filing cabinet in our brains labeled Once Upon A Time. Some folks have a single folder which contains only the episodes they have seen and their personal reactions. There are other folks who have moved on to needing a Dewey Decimal System for to catalogue their acquired memories.

This teeming ocean of fans is beautiful. A piece of fiction has inspired millions to conversation. And many others to much more than conversation. Once has given rise to a wellspring of fan creativity. What we may not realize is that fan sites, Facebook groups, blogs and Twitter groups don’t just bubble up from the earth by magic. All of the infrastructure is run by real people who put their time and effort into making something great for everyone to enjoy. A lot like Once itself.

I am certain that some content providers (folks who make the clever memes you like and the articles you share) have figured out how to get paid for their efforts. The popular press certainly has. But a huge chunk of the fan-made content (which I think is arguably better quality that most of the popular press) very likely do it only because they enjoy it. They give their time and efforts freely to the fans for little aside from the hope of perhaps attracting new fans to the show and, more personally, a smile, a thank you and maybe a few more hits.

Once is so much more than a TV show. Once provides a jumping off point for thoughts, hopes, friendships, discussions, projects, art, writing and much more that I am certain never to be able to list. The social value of Once is enormous!

In addition to the fans having relatively easy access to the stars through Twitter, following is just a click a way, the creators of the show can actually hear the fandom and its vacillating moods. Anyone can tweet, post, share or comment on anything that they want. And some of the stars seemingly spend quite a lot of time with their fans on Twitter. That means that our rumblings actually make it to the ears of those who provide us with the art we love.

We the fans have a mighty megaphone.

That begs the question: what message are we shouting at the people giving us this incredible gift? I hope that what is coming through the strongest is our message of passion and engagement. Someone said recently that the way to know your work is making a splash on the internet is to acquire some haters. At face value that seems like a dreadfully negative metric. But it isn’t. Think about how many millions of posts you scroll by, read or not, for the one comment you leave. Many people are quite busy out in the world so their time spent on a fan site or Facebook group is limited. If someone actually takes the time out of their day to tell you they don’t like what you did, you know that they are engaged enough, noticed you enough, to care deeply enough that they were willing to go so far as to disagree with you to your face.

Yes, there are trolls who make a profession out of crapping all over the Internet just to get attention. But that’s not most people. The mark of having made it is when someone leaves you a genuine note of dissent. It means they didn’t just scroll by or decide you weren’t worth their time. It means they are thinking about what you made.

That’s why I hope that the creators of Once, when they hear our pain over this character or that story arc, grin fiercely and know that they have engaged our passions. And we Oncers have SO much passion! But I also hope that they hear all the wonderful things we have to say. That they see all the fan-art, all the memes, the brilliant (and not, self included) articles we have written. That they know that Once is number six on the list of TV shows on with 40.7k stories. That says a lot! That says passion!

I hope you will join me in committing to creating a positive message of adoration and appreciation for our mighty megaphone. That doesn’t mean not expressing our angst, our concerns or even our doubts, but it does mean doing so from the frame gratitude for the enormous gift that is Once.

While on the subject of gratitude, I wish to express mine toward all of the administrators of our Facebook fan groups. There is a symbiotic relationship between content providers, like myself, and those who take the time and effort to run fan groups. They gather fans together and give the content providers a place to share their thoughts and feelings while the content providers give the fans a reason to stay in their groups by providing new material for discussion (good, bad, or otherwise). Neither would be half as neat without the other. Echo chambers are only fun for about five minutes. Ten if you’re a singer.

As a group member, I’m looking for articles because I love reading what other fans have to say. As a content provider, I love to write articles so it’s a nice trade relationship for me. I also love seeing fan-art, hearing theories and reading stories. These groups are such a wonderful way to  participate in Once Upon A Time.

As a way to a acknowledge my appreciation for these groups, I want to post a directory of those I belong to and where I post my content. It is essential to note that these groups are diverse in their foci, membership and rules. For example, some groups categorically will not allow any advertising for other groups in their feeds. This is understandable; so while I will share this article about fandom in all of my groups, the directory itself will be behind a link so as not to break anyone’s rules (I hope).


Dear Admins,

If this article does break your rules in a way I was clearly unable to figure out, I ask that you just remove the post and let me know so I can do better next time. I keep notes about specific or unusual rules and try my best to follow them. I’m not out to detract from your group, I just want to share my thoughts and provide your members with fun.

Most sincerely,

Barbara Mac

Come check out my Once projects:

Before you go, you can check out my research project! I have conducted a study of OUAT viewer preferences and you can check on my progress here. Yay for science!

Fan-art in the making! I’m in the midst of a Once-themed Gratitude Project. Take a look at my progress!

Once Upon A Time Fangroup Directory

Once Upon A Time Fangroup Directory

It is with great pleasure that I present to you the Once fan community I belong to on Facebook, and a few other links for your browsing pleasure. Being a part of these groups brings me great joy and I would encourage you to consider being a member of more than one. These groups all have different flavors and personalities, different wonders to offer. Some are spoiler groups on purpose and others are quite well policed and spoiler-free.

If you landed here and would like me to post my articles on your group, comment below with the name of your group (exactly as written!) and preferably a link. Upon admission, I will not only add your group to this directory but also add your group to my article distribution list. No need to be exclusively a Facebook group, if you host a site and want my articles, I’m game so long as my name and my link are on them. Delighted in fact. I’ll post your link here in return. Just let me know in the comments below.

Below I have listed with their links the groups I contribute to and to which I belong along with the number of members at the time I looked. A note about the size of a group. I have found that my experiences in larger or smaller groups are different, but not better or worse, necessarily. Size does not determine the quality of a group, its members and its content do. I am posting the number of members for interest and because I imagine some people look for smaller or larger groups to suit their needs.

General Facebook Fan Groups in the order of my joining them:

Once Upon A Time Fans 40.8k

Once Upon A Time: Heroes an Villains 2.2k

Once Upon a Time – ABC 16.4k

Once Upon A time Junkies 2.6k

Once Upon A Time Fan Community 2.2k

All Things Once Upon A Time 3.1k

Once Upon A Time- Oncers United 5.2k

Creative Oncers 880

The Hearts of the Truest Believers 11k

Once Upon a Time Addicts 12k

Once upon a time fans for ever 585

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Swan Song 5X11

Swan Song: 5X11

Overview: spoiler-free

Intense, exciting, heartbreaking, unexpected… a great list of adjectives which all describe Swan Song. You bet I cried, but I giggled and bounced in my chair too.

Performance of the night goes to: Robert Carlyle by a slender margin with Jennifer Morrison the obvious runner up. I debated about this a long time. Mr. Carlyle took home the goods for one expression: that of “not one more thing, I just can’t take one more thing.”

Rating: 7/10. While I loved this episode, there were some major flaws, some of which lead deep into the season and frankly into the show as a whole. See below the spoiler line.

Here endeth the spoiler-free overview, below their be dragons.

Scene 1: Storm Tossed

Opening Image: A ship, sails ragged, tossed by an alarming ocean.

Sounds about right for what’s to come.

So now we have met Hook’s father and had a glimpse into his childhood. At first glance, this is a charming father/son scene.

Problem though, if even a three masted ship could survive the storm shown in the opening image, a rowboat could not.

I am not sure how I feel about this repeated theme of parents abandoning their children in Once. Rumple’s father traded him for Neverland and nearly eternal youth. Hook’s father traded him for a row boat. Henry, of course, had neither parent for quite some time but under different circumstances. Both Snow White and Charming traded Emma for the hope of a broken curse in the distant future. Cora tossed out Zelena for a chance at power. Rumple let Baelfire be sucked away by a portal for power and Milah abandoned Baelfire for a pirate and adventure.

The results for these children vary greatly, but why is Once so stuck on this theme? Parenthood is critically important to how new people turn out when they become adults, sure. And being left behind is a common terror of children. The point has been well illustrated so far, the thematic material well served, so why go back to this well again?

Scene 2: The Rumplestiltskin we know and love.

I found this dialogue problematic. Hook didn’t take the dagger from Rumple. The Apprentice did. Then Emma did. Then Emma forced it on Hook. This is where Once runs into timeline trouble. If a fan is coming back after having missed an episode or two, or even just lost concentration at the wrong moment having seen all the episodes, this becomes literal, which it isn’t.

Hook actually means that he ended up with Rumple’s power, regardless of who possesses Excalibur or how he actually acquired it. He’s also be referring to having taken Rumple’s wife, all those years ago.

This scene is actually a bit of thematic exposition and foreshadowing thinly disguised as Hook taunting Rumple. This dialogue feels like as many call backs as possible shoved into too little space just for the purposes of setting up this episode. Most of it didn’t work as well as it could have.

And frankly, it remains to be seen whether Rumple loves his power more than his wife and dead son… I do doubt that that is true.

I absolutely love Rumple’s line though: Power is only as good as the one who wields it. Might be line of the night and that is quality foreshadowing. The rest is essentially a recapitulation and rather transparent at that. All of that said, I still enjoy watching Rumple and Hook go at it any chance I get. They are wonderful together and watching them posture is an exquisite pleasure.

Scene 3: Six, Dopey’s still a tree.

Walk and talk glue scene (a scene with no forward plot motion only providing some key information which holds the story together). I recognize expedience is necessary considering how much has to go into this episode to make it work, but this scene can be boiled down into not much: Emma’s gotta go stop Hook before everything goes to hell. (Forgive me!)

This scene works because the emotional stakes for Emma are so huge. Not the best glue scene we’ve seen this season, but functional.

Scene 4: Old habits die hard.

Zelena warms my heart. Ok, maybe the wrong turn of phrase there, but Rebecca Mader is delightfully unapologetic in her portrayal of Zelena’s delusions of righteousness.

This, could be considered a glue scene, but there is emotional forward momentum (rather than the rehash of the previous two scenes) and we get a little hint at what’s to come.

Also? Poor Regina!!! Robin comes out and says it, “You try and take my daughter from me!” Brrrrr. Left out in the cold again! Robin might not be as ready settle down with Regina as soon as many of us might like. Not from “us,” from “me.”

“What do you mean, we’ll be dead?”

I got awfully close to cheering for Zelena just now…

Scene 5: Behind you!

Teeny scene where the Charmings get gotten.

Scene 6: Dwarves in trouble.


Scene 7: Too late for that.

What did Nimue just do???

Check your wrists.

I could listen to Robert Carlyle all day. Even if he is describing Hell. This scene owes its intensity to him. While exposition, and a lot of it at that, we, like poor Henry, are quaking in our boots at Rumple’s fearsome description of the Underworld.

Giving a smidgen of the exposition to Henry was a great move for a couple of reasons, first, it breaks up what would otherwise be all but a monologue- not that Carlyle couldn’t execute that brilliantly- but scenes need motion and this provides it. Secondly, we get a tiny glimpse into Rumple’s grandfatherly pride in Henry. I think I can safely speak for everyone when I say that we would all like to see more of a relationship develop between Rumple and Henry, in whatever form it might take.

From a character standpoint, I appreciate that Rumple has found his internal strength again. We have spent quite a bit of time with him crying for one reason or another this season, which has been hard to watch. Not for any reason of Carlyle’s work, but because I find it painful to watch Rumple suffer in fear. Now we can see what Rumple can be when he realizes and embraces his inner resources. He’s scared here, but he’s not in a corner trembling as we’ve seen earlier. Rumple has remembered that power comes from the person, not the tool they wield. As he just told Hook.

Thanks Belle, for getting him to see that.

So, broken hearted and afraid, Rumple stands there and lectures them all on Hell. Then he goes to make his own preparations, bravely. How will this new (at long last understood) confidence effect him in future?

In spite of the fact that Rumple believes he’s going back to Hell, he chooses anger and determination instead of giving in to his fear. He provides leadership to a crowd of terrified heroes. Lovely evidence of heroic transformation.

Speaking of transformation, I love Rumple’s new coat with that leather collar. Nice touch, that reminder of his leather love from back in the Enchanted Forest.

Side note: the weather, you will notice, is perfectly hideous. Those were a couple of extremely wet and miserable November days here in the Pacific Northwest. That storm kept waking me up at night. Walking to work that morning was positively gross and I only had to be outside about forty minutes. They shot all night, I suspect. These folks work SO hard to bring us joy so for just a moment, I want to say that for all the critiquing I do, I am grateful for their hard work and I recognize their sacrifices. Working nights is bad, been there, done that. Working nights out in a storm like that one, oh ICK!

Scene 8: That’s a lot of Dark Ones!

“Marching through the mud, on a dark November night, our uniforms are soaked, our hair it looks a fright!” Ten points for anyone who can identify that reference.

Scene 9: Desperate appeal

Hook’s hip flask…

Robin, it turns out, was right. But Regina lies, she didn’t think she’d find him at the docks, she was skeptical of Robin’s suggestion a few scenes ago.

Hook rightly points out Regina’s sudden and personal form of address. “Bonnes mots” translates literally into “good words” in French. What I love most about this exchange is that Hook admits to wearing guyliner, which makes this a character choice and not just Once poking fun at its own makeup choices. Delightful!

Even better, Hook points out that even with all his evil plans, his past and future plans pale in comparison to Regina’s past deeds. Regina, remember, had no Dark Curse corrupting her. Just her mother… but that’s for another day.

Regina’s appeal works because of the rich history we know for both of these characters. Once has done such a marvelous job of giving us extensive back stories. I cannot think of another show in which we the audience know so much about the characters’ pasts. In this scene, Once reaps the benefits of all the time spent in the past because the audience can quickly grasp this shortcut/recapitulation about Regina’s issues and thus link into the next scene. This worked so much better than Scene 2 between Rumple and Hook, maybe because of the immediacy of the coming flashback.

Nicely done.

Side note the second on the same subject: we can see how hard it is to keep the actors dry in this scene with how much the rain is blowing around. I’m not sure how Lana Parrilla is not shivering head to toe through the entire scene. I know of no colder conditions than blowing November rain… (ok, yes there are the poles, and other snowy places… but wet and cold are FAR more miserable than just cold and snowy.)

Scene 10: Shut Up. Get in the carriage.

Hook’s wine goblet… link to the present with the hip flask. Great!

I’ve got the mettle for it love. Nice line.

Teasing and flirting are always fun. They make this little glue scene work.

Scene 11: So I hear we’re giving up.

Dinner at Granny’s… who’s gonna cook that? Granny might have other things she’d like to be doing. Excuse the snark.

This tender scene between Regina and Emma is beautifully played by both Lana Parrilla and Jennifer Morrison. Especially Morrison. My one wish is that we could have gotten a reaction shot of Regina when Emma tells her she’s on a suicide mission.

I love seeing the dark pragmatist in Regina’s eyes as she recalls that getting rid of the darkness requires someone’s death. We can see how this is far from Regina’s first hard choice and we can watch her armor snap into place. Parrilla’s execution of this is brilliant.

Scene 12: I knew there was a hero in there.

Hearing crickets in the dead of winter is very weird. We should be hearing rain for this night. I don’t know why they chose crickets for Belle’s entrance.

In the running for performance of the night, Carlyle knocks it out of the park in this scene.

It’s the small things, the little choices he makes. Rumple is pacing in the back room of his shop and fiddling with the potion out of nerves. These human tells that often get left out of performances, or cut in production, humanize Rumple and draw us closer to him, draw us into the scene.

What gets me is how layered this performance is. Carlyle is playing two sets of emotions simultaneously.

One: what he wants to show to Belle. Rumple is letting her go (again) and giving her the life she has always wanted. Like when he sent her to town for some straw, he expects never to see her again. So he gives her the car and says goodbye.

Two: how he feels about his impending trip to the underworld. Rumple is sending Belle out of harm’s way. He doesn’t want her to know that he is about to die and he is saying goodbye to her forever. He is sparing her, at least for now, the stress and pain of his death.

This performance works so well because of our unique perspective as the audience. We get to watch both of these goodbyes at the same time giving this scene incredible depth.

Another excellent choice was not to cut the moments of Rumple’s continued pacing and sobs after Belle leaves. They could have cut right to the moment where he looks at the bug on his wrist, but instead we get to feel Rumple’s (and our) heartbreak while we listen to him cry. I say listen because this is shot (mostly) at the back of his head. Though that is a little odd, it works to show us the confined space of his shop.

Pauses like this, non-action purely emotive moments are so often cut. Especially in a packed episode like this one. Giving us the time to take a moment with Rumple allows us to sink into his heartbreak. Contrary to the style of many large budget actiony flicks, the audience benefits from these pauses enormously. When the pacing slows down, we get a chance to sit with our emotions and with the emotions of the characters. The alternative whisks us away from scene to scene and can feel a bit like being dragged by the hair through a story instead of experiencing it with the characters, as happened in this scene. These pauses grant us a deeper connection.

This scene has a rawness to it that would have been lost if it had been cut, rather than filmed more or less continuously from Rumple waiting for Belle to Regina and Emma leaving the shop. Because this is all one scene, we feel the emotional strain on Rumple because he only has that little tiny moment between Belle’s departure and the arrival of SwanQueen to himself. And that is no time at all to deal with a broken heart and looming death. It is also for this tiny moment that he earned his performance of the night.

I can only imagine where Carlyle is emotionally as this is being shot. From letting Belle go to having to put on a brave face in front of Regina and Swan is such a brief moment for transition. As anyone who has ever had to pull themselves together knows, this is tough if not impossible when faced with emotions like these. If I remember correctly, the back of the shop is a sound stage while the front is actually a shop in Steveston. If we assume that is true, the time gap between these two scenes is significant, but Carlyle still must make it appear that no time has elapsed at all. Perhaps that means he goes through the previous scene in his mind all over again before walking through the curtain to “greet” SwanQueen.

I don’t know what the method is for acting a scene like this, but at least a part of the actor experiences what is happening. I imagine that with this scene, like the scene a year ago (our time) at the town line, the actors in question call on their own experiences to inform their performance. For me at least, that would involve reliving something quite painful indeed.

That gets me back to the word raw. Carlyle doesn’t shy away from the pain of this scene in the least, which means we don’t either.

As for the characters themselves, the scene is just as dense.

Rumple wasn’t sure Belle would even come and meet him and given what she starts to say to him when she does, she thought about not coming at all. Belle’s suspicion (Am I going somewhere?) has to hurt, she doesn’t trust him not to try to forced her to go wherever. It is wonderful to watch Belle trying to figure out what he is up to after it’s clear he’s not going to try hauling her off. She knows he’s hurting and she suspects something is up.

The moment he hugs her is important. Belle didn’t want to hug him, note the stiff posture and how she hesitates before putting her arms around him. As is right, when, in the past Belle hasn’t wanted Rumple to touch her, he’s backed off. But now he doesn’t abide by that rule. His need to hold her is so great that he is willing to cross a line he never has before and touch her against her will for his own sake.

I find it difficult to judge Rumple for this breech of etiquette because of the circumstances which he, and we, are aware of and Belle is not. I think, in part, he uses the hug to hide the cracks in his facade from her. Yeah… consent for touch is SO important, but I still can’t find it in me to say Rumple is wrong here.

Belle doesn’t quite know what to make of Rumple’s odd behavior, but she does hug him back. We can see the moment she believes him, after he gives her the car. She feels respected, like she’s been given a chance to care for herself and she feels like he finally paid attention to her needs. She can’t help the smile.

When she looks back at him from the door, as if to say “Are you sure?”, she smiles at his nod.  He’s finally cared for her needs before his own as he should have been doing all along. She is grateful, and she believes him.

Emotional bravery. That describes Rumple in this scene. This is, as far as he knows now, his last chance to love and care for his wife. And he does, magnificently. What a lovely parallel with Skin Deep. When Rumple leads with his heart, he gets it right. What’s more, is that we’ve seen this behavior from Rumple even while he was the Dark One. He’s given her more than one library.

And poor Rumple!!!

We get a nice SwanQueen moment here while Rumple is in the back getting Excalibur. Regina’s dread is palpable. Emma is just resigned.

Listen closely here: Excalibur was always destined for the hands of a true hero.

When we get to the end of the episode, think back on what Rumple says here.

On first pass, I felt Rumple’s comment about Emma’s bravery was itself an act of bravery. He’s never been so open about his feelings with either of them and we can see the surprise on Regina’s face.

I have to admit, I wonder why Rumple was honest a moment later. He says Emma’s plan might not work, that Excalibur chooses whom it finds worthy and it chooses its miracles. Perhaps a moment of self doubt? See the end of the episode.

And finally! Regina gets the invite to Granny’s she’s always wanted. This is lovely. Emma says she needs to be with her family and asks Regina along. SwanQueen!!

Scene 13: Pirates ain’t welcome here.

Princess Bride Reference: Dread Pirate Roberts… it seems we are at an impasse.

Thanks Regina for saving the day on that one!

Quite a nice little comic relief scene much needed after the previous with the tiny glue detail we needed to make the scene worthwhile: father!

Scene 14: Cheeky.

I love Zelena.

The withered knob of that sad old man….

Who else can’t believe they said that on Once??? LOL! In the running for line of the night.

Another runner up: somewhere over the rainbow!!!

Regina dispatches Zelena handily with a wee tornado. So perfect.

I hope we aren’t actually losing Zelena for too long though, she’s such a great foil for Regina.

Scene 15: Belle leaves town.

Rumple lurks, even with a pure heart, that guy lurks like a pro.

Scene 16: What would Emma have done if Regina had agreed to come with her to Granny’s?

Would she have left the note with Regina and trusted her to give it to everyone else later?

Scene 17: Speaking of lurking…

Hook is keeping tabs on Emma. Not sure on the necessity of this scene except perhaps to provide a more smooth transition to the following scene.

Scene 18: about more lurking.

It is nice to see that leather coat back, though I am not certain Colin O’Donoghue is happy to be wearing it, heavy as it is.

Also, timeline police needed. It is unclear now just how many centuries Hook and Rumple have been around. I have heard estimates that Rumple is at or near his third century, which wouldn’t work for Hook’s father’s claim to have left Hook as a child nearly a century ago.

Also, how do you fall in love with someone who is asleep?

Quick question: where is Killian’s brother Liam II now? Is he possibly in Storybrooke? A friend of Henry’s maybe?

Scene 19: Now you care what happens to me?

See, now Emma says, “The thing you spent centuries trying to destroy.”

Timeline help!!!

Emma’s attempted murder of Hook here surprised me. I was not expecting that.

This bit with Hook using a glamor to become Henry lost one whole point for this episode. Not only is Emma much smarter than this, Emma acting like a victim is out of character for her. Emma is in charge and takes crap from no one. She would not have let Hook push her around.

Scene 20: Suicide note.

It reads:

I’m sorry but I can’t let you all pay for my mistake. Deep down, you know I’m right. So please, promise me you’ll move on and find happiness and help Henry grow into the best man he can be. That’s enough for me. To die knowing the family I always wanted is safe. I love you all forever.

Gotta say, Henry, you left Neal right there next to the Dark One… Henry should have grabbed Neal and backed away. It looks like Jared Gilmore felt unsure about that, I wonder what was written.

Scene 21: Where are the dwarves??

So this is really it.

Yes, the SS Purgatory.

Nice line that.

Regina calls Hook on his crap, again. What kind of man do you want to be?

Scene 22: Braver than we think.

Did Liam II see Hook? Would he recognize him?

You’re just not worth it.

Poor Hook, he has even more in common with Rumple than we knew. They’ve both knifed their fathers to death. Only one of them was under a curse at the time… just saying.

Scene 23: Yes, I can.

You have to let me go.

What do I even say about this scene? Sad doesn’t cover it.

Morrison is in the running for performance of the night for this scene.

And I can say, that yes, I definitely cried here.

But I really don’t want to say too much more because this scene, at its core, is a simple one and speaks for itself.

Props to Gilmore for his reaction shots. He’s young, in reality, to experience something like that first hand. Yes, he knows it isn’t real and they all probably went for beer afterwards, except Gilmore doesn’t get any beer, but he did have to be there in the moment in his mind in order to perform in that scene. I think that might potentially be a lot for a young mind to handle.

Scene 24: After

If I was crying a scene ago, I was crying more when the put the sheet over Hook’s face.

I do wish there hadn’t been a scene break here though. It took me away from the moment and I would have benefited from the falling action as we did with Rumple after Belle left. If not for the scene break, this would have worked that way.

Scene 25: All night drinking.

The blowing leaves are a wonderful transition. And I love this pretty shot at dawn after a stormy night with the sky all rained out. I will say that dawn on that day didn’t look like that here, it rained all day too. Yes I realize that the entire episode wasn’t filmed on the same night, but I suspended my disbelief.

Rumple sounds a bit plastered when he yells, “Get out, we’re closed!”

I couldn’t believe my eyes. That Rumbelle kiss I’ve been waiting for? Oh yeah. I didn’t see that coming. I was certain that we wouldn’t see Belle again, maybe not for the rest of the season.

I was giggling for all I was worth. I felt that kiss to my toes!

Which means it was worth the wait.

Scene 26: Whispers

Emma didn’t sleep that night either. But now what?

At that moment I knew. I knew what the whispers meant. Excalibur wasn’t gone.

Then this cut.

Scene 27: At least somebody’s happy.

Thank you Once for being explicit (ish) about what happened between Belle and Rumple after that kiss. We don’t get a heck of a lot of spicy scenes in Once, unfortunately, but at least we know that they happen even if off camera.

Anyway, getting back to the point about the whispers. I said aloud at that scene cut, “Oh no!!”

Also, as if it wasn’t clear enough already, what kind of idiot isn’t still naked in bed with his wife while she sleeps???

And Rumple gets a text from Emma.

Scene 28: The Darkest One

NO!!! Rumple!!! Argh!!!

And look at that thing. Dang.

Oh, and I totally called it. He grabbed power when in dire straights.

Now that we’re over it a little, let’s set the record straight.

Rumple didn’t kill Hook. Rumple didn’t intend to kill Emma. Rumple wasn’t even certain his plan would work, per his comment about Excalibur choosing its miracles. Rumple planned on telling no one about his power, which means he had intended to continue being the good man Belle deserved.

Rumple’s intention was to take advantage of a situation not of his making to salvage what was left of his lot in life. He had lost Belle, she was gone. His heart was in tatters and he had lost his power. He was either going to die if Hook succeeded, or maybe, Excalibur willing, get his powers back. And then some.

Rumple also said that Excalibur belongs in the hands of a true hero, which at that moment he considered himself to be, and with good reason, slight of hand aside. Now he has (half of?) Excalibur for his tether. Could Rumple, now that he has been heroically transformed by his wife, be the hero Merlin was talking about, the one person who might be capable of using this power for good?

I suspect that that pure heart of his, tarnished surely by this deed but hey, and Belle will help him reign in the darkness. However, if the decision were left in my hands, I’d make him struggle with it.

About what Emma said regarding betraying everyone… I’d say the only person Rumple set out to betray was Emma herself because he did intend for her sacrifice to be for naught. Or rather for his gain. But Rumple had nothing to do with Hook’s sacrifice or Emma’s decision to run Hook through. Rumple didn’t kill Hook, Arthur did, back in Camelot.

Question: if the dagger is whispering, where is the other half of Excalibur?

Things are as they should be.

Rumple now has the combined power of every Dark One who ever lived.

I love listening to Carlyle narrate. This little montage gave us the falling action we needed after Emma ran Hook through. This pulls us back from our emotional flailing about and back into the narrative. I just love the satisfaction oozing out of Carlyle with this scene. Rumple has it all, his wife, his power-plus- and he gets to engage in a favorite past time: taunting.

Does Emma still hear the dagger because she was once infected with the darkness? Or do the effects of that infection still linger? It gives me a perhaps perverse sense of satisfaction to watch Emma lunge at Rumple in an attempt to kill him because that action says to me that while Emma may not be the Dark One anymore, we haven’t see the last of Dark Emma. Rumple couldn’t resist the temptation of the darkness while being the Dark One or after. I do not think Emma will just flip on a dime back to being the righteous Savior we knew. This is to the good, I think.

And Emma makes the same mistake Hook made, and she makes it again. She threatens Rumple’s marriage. That didn’t go well for Hook last season. And if Rumple needed any impetus to screw Emma over, the little incident with Merida trying to kill his wife would certainly give Rumple a reason for revenge.

Let’s keep in mind that Rumple was comatose for all of the happy little trip to Camelot. It’s tough to blame Rumple for Emma’s bad decisions made while she was the Dark One. He did not choose to give her the darkness. She took that herself, for a start. Though twisted and mutilated by dark influences, he tried to contain the damage the Dark One could cause by having Isaac write them all a little alterverse. It also bares keeping in mind that Isaac wrote that, not Rumple, for his own ends. He just did Rumple a favor by giving him a good life.

As many wrong decisions as Rumple has made, he did not remove the darkness from himself or set it free. He tried to contain it and spent the majority of his lifetime atoning for mistakes, though he has continued to make them. Rumple, realizing he could not even protect Belle as he wanted sent her away many times for love. He is not to blame for the consequences of Camelot. Not by any stretch. Unless becoming the Dark One to protect Baelfire from the war can be considered an act born of darkness. I thought not.

Scene 29: You’re going to Hell?

Wait a second… Gold didn’t trick Killian. Back the blame train up a parsec Miss Swan.

Rumple hoped to trick Emma. Hook, minus the Dark One, seemingly would have died from Excalibur’s scratch curtesy of Arthur.

Somebody was going to die, Hook just kinda did double duty and it was NOT Rumple’s fault.

Again, Rumple took advantage of a situation to save his own hide. He was not aiming for Hook and not even certain it would work.

Poor Emma, but… I’m doing this right?

Really? Hook should have died in Camelot, he asked her to let him go. She didn’t and screwed him over by making him the Dark One. What makes her think that cheating the Underworld out of its rightful denizen is right? She’s just scheming to assuage her own broken heart.

Now before anyone gets upset… I doubt I’d personally do any better on the decision making front at this point and I think going to the Underworld is a great writing decision. But I don’t think Emma deciding again to cheat death is a “right” as in moral decision.

Hook has made the decision to die twice. That is HIS right, Emma.

She’s not giving in to love, she’s giving in to selfishness.

No, before you ask, I don’t want Hook dead. I like him! And I like him and Emma together as a couple. But let’s call a spade a spade.

Scene 30: Do it.

This final scene left me with several questions.

First: why would either of Henry’s moms agree to taking him to the Underworld?

Second: why does Rumple use the dagger to provide a blood sample when any blade will do, and also, why cut the palm of a hand (then not just heal it by magic) when it makes much more sense to cut somewhere less mobile and easier to heal up?

Third: now everyone in Storybrooke knows Rumple’s the Dark One again making Emma’s threat to Belle rather an empty one.

Forth: why does Rumple go with them? He doesn’t have to. He could open the portal and he could have just sent them on their way with a blood sample. Even more than that, since Emma didn’t keep her end of the deal (by keeping Belle in the dark) Rumple doesn’t have to hold up his end either.

Lastly, “I will always find you,” belongs to the Charmings. Emma’s appropriation of it comes off cheesy to me.


Closing impressions: In spite of all my whinging toward the end, I did love this episode. Still, the 7/10 rating stands for the following problems:

There are a few mechanisms, when used in story telling, that bug me. Here is one of them. The reset button. I always hated sitcoms of the 1990s because nothing ever changed, ever evolved. It is also a problem with episodic dramas and procedurals of the same era. (I cannot comment on the modern versions much because I don’t watch sitcoms and avoid procedurals if I can find something better to watch.) I don’t like stories to be too chunkified. Pressing the reset button is a cop out of having to deal with real change and difficult character situations. Once has now done this twice in one episode. Emma is no longer the Dark One and Rumple has been restored as the singular dark badass we first met.

I say this, and yet this was my hoped for outcome even so. I had a hard time with Emma being infected with darkness and an even harder time seeing Rumple without his quiet, confident and competent power behind him. But life has consequences. There is no reset button. So this mechanism yanks me away from my ability to suspend my disbelief and perceive, at least while I am watching, that Once is real. Cardinal sin: do not yank me out of the daydream!!!

That said, I love that they didn’t shy away from killing Hook and lots went right this arc! But looking back at two major flaws that are rubbing me wrong are the memory wipe and this reset button business.

A third is a have my cake and eat it too dilemma. For a moment, Belle took strong independent steps toward living her own life, standing on her own two feet. But that only lasted about twenty minutes, screen time. As much as I whined in nearly all of these reviews about the lack of Rumbelle kisses, the need for Belle to truly become more than just Rumple’s Achilles heel won out in the end. They had an obvious opportunity here to let Belle’s story cross the midseason arc boundary and give her the chance to grow on her own. But they didn’t take it.

Now she’s just been screwed by Rumple, again. Literally and figuratively. Though I also cannot say that I wasn’t delighted by that scene. I have to wonder if these choices were motivated by factors external to the show, which they well could be. This would not be the first adaptation show writers have ever made for the same reason.

Looking back over these past eleven episodes I really have to say we have seen some delicious bits of writing, some splashes of genius and brilliant story telling. Compared with what else is available on television right now, Once is a rare opportunity for wonder and enjoyment. For me at least, most of the rest of what I have sampled is decidedly lackluster by comparison.

To give Season 5A an over all rating, I’d say 7.5/10. These missing points are for the issues mentioned above. I use Season 1 as my benchmark, what 10/10 looks like in the Once universe, because that was what drew me to this show with its imagination and heart.

What Once needs now, in my never-has-been-humble opinion is an over arching direction. Seasons One and Two had that: the promise of the premise. Fairytale characters in our world who don’t know who they are. Season 1, they figure it out. Season 2, they interact more with our world. But now? We have directionality only in half season chunks at a time without so much as a compass heading for the future. One of the reasons Battlestar Galactica 2003 worked so well was its ever present framework of finding Earth. With that basic and vague compass heading, the audience stayed tethered through a few rough side journeys and even some rather questionable love trapezoids, dare I say so. Once needs a compass heading, something for the fans to hold on to which makes it possible to ignore human mistakes in storytelling that happen in all shows because we can look over the horizon to the greater promise.

I can’t wait for more and I can’t leave off without saying that no matter how I critique this show and point out its flaws, I do love this show. Once has been a huge impetus for personal growth and exploration and I can’t remember the last time a TV show did that for me. Maybe Buffy the Vampire Slayer came close.

Come check out my Once projects:

Before you go, you can check out my research project! I have conducted a study of OUAT viewer preferences and you can check on my progress here. Yay for science!

Fan-art in the making! I’m in the midst of a Once-themed Gratitude Project. Take a look at my progress!

Ring a Belle?

Expressing Gratitude Through Fan-Art!

This project is now complete! This post remains for posterity and completeness but please come and see the finished work here.

The internet is alive with passions but which voices get heard? I want those who make Once Upon A Time to know I appreciate their work and that Once makes me happy. So I will use my passions to express my gratitude. It is with great excitement and anticipation that I announce the beginnings of my latest gratitude project!

It would be no fun at all to merely describe the project and then post its completion, so I won’t do that. The point, after all, is the process. Instead, I’ll journal my progress here. Vaguely. This way, I will have a record of my journey and will get to watch the evolution of this project, succeed or fail.

Here we go!

Mid December 2015: I hatched this idea about two weeks before Christmas. I was working on my Once Upon A Time Season 5A Awards project and enjoying that process -making the image manipulations- when I realized that I was having a blast doing it. And that I make other kinds of art than just digital and pumpkin based.

I soon realized that I could go so much further than simply making a piece of art. I could show you how I went about it. I could share the journey.

Late December 2015: I ordered these

Ingredients: filming equipment
Ingredients: filming equipment

and started writing music. The writing went relatively well. The performance, not so much.

1 January 2016: I have been practicing and improving- the typical result of practice and effort. I began writing basic script ideas and formalizing the Gratitude Project Description.

2 January 2016: I took a trip to a bead store and several other craft stores with a friend. We encouraged each other’s creative endeavors. I consulted a friend about the desirable gauge and karat of gold wire and I acquired these for experimentation:

Ingredients: copper-ish wire and wooden beads.
Ingredients: copper-ish wire and wooden beads.

In the evening, I drafted the formal Gratitude Project Description write up.

3 January 2016: I have now published the Gratitude Project Description and spent some frustration on my blog’s menu system. I have outgrown the bounds of this template but was unable find a better one for free. And I refuse to risk losing the extensive amount of menu work I have done. While I appreciate WordPress, it does have its limitations. But! As of today, this project will be documented here.

Note: the ratio of wire to finished chain is about 6:1. Tension is important for even stitching. Safety note- be sure to wear glasses so as not to scratch eyeballs with flicking wire.IMG_1402

7 January 2015: Today I worked on imagining. Imagining thoroughly is indispensable for art. A half-baked idea turns into a disappointing project. It is impossible to make something exactly which is ill-defined in the first place. I worked on my ability to understand shapes in three dimensions and on drawing, not a strong skill of mine, but essential for imagining. I also began filming in earnest. My new equipment is exceeding expectations.

30 January 2016

Thank you universe!!

Today I went to visit a friend in her new home. She moved to a neighborhood I used to frequent for work and adventure when I was in college but it had been months since I had set foot there for any reason as I live a city and a bridge or two away. We had a wonderful visit. The neighborhood has changed, gentrified, substantially in the past sixteen years and as we walked through the streets, I realized that while I used to know my way around, I was totally dependent on my friend because I was lost. I dimly wondered, and lamented because it simply couldn’t be so, if my favorite fabric store had survived the surge in high rise apartment buildings and sprouting of trendy restaurants.

My friend and I made the effort to frequent a tea house, but it was closed so we opted to keep walking until we achieved our original mission, a bowl of pho for lunch. We snooped in shops along the way and she took me to see a library where she used to work which has a green roof. It’s so cool. After pho we took the long way back to her house as the day was pleasant and good for walking.

Lo and behold, there between yet another high-rise under construction and a recently completed one, was my fabric store.

When I was living in the dorms, a college friend and I decided we simply had to have cloaks. Lord of the Rings was rising in the east and stalking the university district with a billowing cloak at night was too much for my teenage brain to pass up, hers too. So, in one of our early adventures in a new city, we searched for a fabric store, found the nearest one and then figured out how to bus it there.

Poor as many college students, we opted for reject fabric on the one-dollar-a-yard or less rack in the back of the store. We were SO happy. My memory fails me as to how we got these sewn while living in dorm rooms, maybe we did it at my then boyfriend’s apartment, but I can’t remember anymore. It’s also possible we didn’t sew these cloaks until sophomore year when we lived in our own apartment together. But at doesn’t matter.

The point is in the present day when myself and my (other) friend decided to go in and visit this fabric store only because I was telling her about my good memories of it from college. We went in. We were immediately attracted to the coloring books for adults on display, though we didn’t buy them.

I only walked to the back of the store because I wanted to see what had become of my beloved sale rack. There, unassuming on a shelf sat this:

The Teacup
The Teacup

I stared and exclaimed to my friend. I just couldn’t believe it! How could I possibly get so lucky? I have been struggling with this project because I cannot touch and hold the actual teacup in question. Sight alone simply could not tell me how it was made, what it is like to hold, how much it weighs and a million other little details that I was certain never to have the answers to because, after all, it isn’t like Once is going to send me the cup for my edification.

Yes I know that there are copies available for sale, but from the pictures I have seen, they are not the same exact design.

But this is. This cup is mass produced, wholesale I assume, for decoration by whomever and for use as film props, clearly. I believe this is made with a couple of moulds, but I can’t be certain. These are not thrown by hand, that much is obvious. The original model for the mould might have been a thrown piece, in fact it seems likely. The image transfer is different and this is ever so slightly different from the original seen in Skin Deep, but the body and design of the cup are the same. The handle has a few subtle differences, but this is the teacup.

Learning a form is a very interesting challenge. In order to make something, anything, the first step is to imagine it completely, thoroughly. This is a challenging process. My teacher this quarter has shifted the dynamic of the class toward the didactic such that she has set us a series of challenges designed to improve our skill and artistry. This is a wonderful thing, of course, but I have been long used to just making whatever I want in this unstructured time during which I only made use of my teacher for insight and help on whatever I had in mind. It’s been years since the basic classes which were structured.

My teacher is, I hope, not offended that I’ve got this project and am only peripherally listening and following along with her plan. She has said this is no problem to her and I’m not the only student on her own trajectory, so I am not just being disrespectful. However, she did suggest that we all pick an artist and try to emulate something that interests us, not to sell or anything like that, just to figure out how it was made and then acquire those skills. This part of the class is clearly in line with my work. So, another thing I am learning from this gratitude project is how to make something specific rather than something that generally fits what I had in mind.

It’s all in the ability to imagine and then execute.

I picked up the cup and felt a rush of jubilation and excitement. All the things I had been wondering about came in to my mind in a rush of tactile information. I could finally look at it from all the angles I need to. I now know how thick the walls should be. More than anything, I know the actual size of the prop. People’s hand sizes vary so scale is hard to appreciate exactly from a photograph. I no longer have to. I know how it should fit in my hands.

I was probably giggling and I was definitely smiling. The answer to MANY of my stumbling blocks so far in this process was in my hands, and I never in a million years thought it would be.

Of course I turned it over, how much was I going to have to pay to take this home? I sure as hell wasn’t leaving it in the store, so how much was this rather tacky looking teacup going to set me back?

Ten bucks the tag on the bottom said. Ok, that’s expensive for a mass produced teacup, but it wouldn’t break the bank.

Then I had to choose a print pattern. I didn’t like any of them and the certainly weren’t the chipped cup, which actually looks elegant with its simple cobalt carbonate brush work design. I picked the least cheesy print and held it like long lost pet, or an heirloom from a beloved relative.

We wandered the store for a little while more and I ran my fingers over every aspect of the cup learning what I had been so frustrated by not knowing only two days ago. I held it carefully, determined that I would not allow this cup to come to harm before I so much as got it home to really study it in detail.

When it finally came time to pay, delightfully it was half off. I paid a whopping five bucks for a huge amount of happiness.

Afterwards, my friend and I were discussing how to do vacations right and not have to even leave the city. Day trips to be exact. We talked about how the ability to wander with out a plan is seemingly a rare thing among our friends and how planning everything out ahead of time can feel like such a burden. The art of wandering yields amazing pleasantness and exploration. She quoted Winnie the Pooh.

I explained an assignment from a college psych class called the Vision Quest. The rules are simple: do not plan, leave the house, do not come back for at least four hours, wander, expect to find meaning somewhere and embrace it when it happens. I told her what a wonderful time I had had doing the assignment and I was thinking about the serendipity of finding the cup while wandering. This isn’t magic or religion, it is simply noticing the things in life that matter and being open to experience.

If we had been worried about going a certain way, or getting a certain thing done, I would not have brought up my memories and then taken us into the store to indulge them. But plans, such as they were, were loose ones which allowed for deviation and made room for experience. Meaning is found by noticing life as it happens and being willing to accept our feelings about it.

That and blind ass luck, which this was.

I bought the cup at Jo-Ann Fabric, by the way, if you want a tacky teacup of your own.

For clarity’s sake, I am not making a cup. I am not simply (ha, ha) making a copy of a film prop. I am making what the film prop inspired me to make, so you’ll just have to wait and see what I come up with. After all, the what is much less important than the journey, the collecting of neat experiences like this one.

18 February 2016


What a productive day! I confess disappointment because the first drafts were still in the kiln and it was too hot to unload when I arrived. Next week, then, to see what works, and what doesn’t. Today however I was able to put my newly fabricated handles on two of my pots and how fabulous that, turned on its side, the handle of the chipped cup looks like a graceful R. I am getting more and more excited about this project and I am getting better as a potter in leaps and bounds. I can nearly approximate the cup now and I learned a little more today which will help me get just a little bit closer to my goals. It takes one half pound of clay to make the teacup part at the proper thickness and dimension and I only need a curved object, not a hemispherical one, to make the out-poaching parts of the cup. I am getting so close to being ready to making my final products.

Someone asked me today how many of these I plan to make. The answer? As many as it takes until I get it right. Which means until I love what I make. I am experiencing such a lovely explosion of ideas of what to do with these and how to alter the surface and glaze designs. I’ve also decided that I need a bowl sized chipped teacup just for my own personal use at home. Because it would make me happy. Oh yes, and I have spent the day being happy. This is working!

Please come and see the now completed project!!

Before you go, you can check out my research project! I have conducted a study of OUAT viewer preferences and you can check on my progress here. Yay for science!

The Gratitude Project and Its Origins

The Gratitude Project and its Origins

If cultivating a habit of writing gratitudes every day can change something so foundational as our thought patterns, what could engaging in purposeful demonstrations of gratitude do? [Reference: 21 Days for Happiness] [Here is my completed Gratitude Project]

With that thought in mind, I will use myself for this experiment. I have found that habitually writing my gratitudes has indeed changed me. For me, the most tangible proof of this is the state of my neutral mood, my default mode. Before explaining this further, a little more background is necessary.

I suffered a serious and life altering injury nearly five years ago and as you might expect from such a description, my recovery has been a long one. In fact, it is predicted to last me to the end of my days. I lost my livelihood and had to learn an entirely new discipline, in fact, there was doubt I would ever get off the very couch upon which I am writing this. My injury was bad. Really bad. Most of my disabilities are now invisible to casual acquaintance, but I can’t always hide them. Some only appear in certain situations and others I struggle with every moment. I fell a very long way from my previous ability status.

To be clear, I am not pursuing your empathy on this subject, only giving a clear point of reference. A point of origin for my ideas.

As you may imagine, a loss as I have -albeit vaguely- described above comes with many consequences. As careers go, my former one was demanding cognitively and physically. And I loved it. Deeply loved it. Most people I know do not say that about their jobs, but I did, with regularity. I worked a great deal of overtime because I wanted to be at work. In many ways, you could say I lost a love when I lost that career. Thus I endured the duel heartbreak of losing my purpose in this world and (I thought at the time) the ability to find a new one in one fell swoop.

I do not bandy the word depression around lightly because it is a diagnosis and I shudder to misuse the term. I beg my readers not to apply the term liberally to my descriptions of my mental status surrounding my injury. Have there been periods of time over the past five years when I have been clinically depressed? Maybe. But I think it is much more useful to avoid the label in favor of explication and understanding the mechanisms of my emotions. Simply, I do not want the word depression to be used as a mental short-cut, a laziness and oversimplification of what I have learned as a result of this journey.

It is quite true that my sadness in the beginning and a good part of the middle of the story reached significance and impacted my ability to take on my challenges, but it had another function too. It is my considered understanding and personal opinion that emotions serve a purpose. For me, my brain produced sadness to keep me from over reaching my capabilities. My brain forces me to do what is necessary to heal. Now, when I notice a seemingly exaggerated sadness, I know it is a signal that my body needs rest and a time-out. My unprofessional opinion on the matter is that this sadness is not pathology, it’s a signal. And an important one.

That’s why I don’t want to use the label depression for my episodes of sadness and low energy. I suspect clinical depression is something else, something whose edges I have sniffed, but I do not believe I have ever been truly submerged, embedded long term, as they say.

So why, if I am seemingly so contented to allow, understand and use my bluer moods, am I so invested in cultivating happiness?

Because, in short, I want to be happy. These two ends are not mutually exclusive, not a cognitive dissonance of mine.

I spoke earlier of a neutral mood, a default, maybe even to be described as what happens between moods. I’m referring to the resting state between moments of stronger, even if not extreme, emotional conditions. The mood that happens while doing mundane tasks like walking or dishes or in moments of idleness.

Left untended, where do your thoughts go?

In the harder moments of this recovery, my thoughts were not positive without distraction, effort and at times outright attempts to trick my brain into doing something, anything, other than being miserable about my condition. My neutral wasn’t neutral, it was negative.

I don’t want that from life, no matter my situation, that is not how I want to live. So how, how do I, unable to change what is unchangeable by me, make happiness?

The first step was realizing that I could. That I do have a lever over my own thoughts, emotions, my mental landscape. Without the need to ignore my problems, I could still make room for other things, happier things, if I took the trouble to do so. There’s much more space in my mind that I realized when I was allowing myself only to see the horrible.

I must thank a friend of mine, whom I will not name without permission, because she planted this seed in my head. Her story isn’t that dissimilar from my own and she found this piece of wisdom somewhere and had the wherewithal to apply it and then tell me about it. At the top of this article, I gave a reference to a TED talk which set the ball rolling. I will in no way pretend that the link between gratitude and happiness is my invention or discovery, it is only something I stumbled upon and then embraced with both arms. Further disclosure, ACT (Acceptance, Commitment Therapy) and whole acres of other psychotherapy have brought me to where I am now. I will take credit, however, for applying what has been given to me. And I will claim that I did in fact come up with the idea of a gratitude project on my own with the above described foundational knowledge. My models (below), interventions if you want to call them that, are also my own invention.

The basic concept of a gratitude project is this: if thinking and writing about gratitudes can bring about a change in thought pattern toward the positive end of the spectrum, doing something about that gratitude could cause a pattern of pursuing happiness by creating it in the moment, establishing a pattern of positive and goal directed action, and perhaps, resulting in an increased sense of confidence via accomplishment.

The model looks like this:

I can.

I will.

I am.

I can: noticing current capabilities and believing in them. Take stock of what is possible. Everyone has limits on their capabilities, but accomplishment stems from stringing those capabilities together effectively to achieve something that would otherwise exceed a particular capability on its own. For example: at first, walking to the mailbox with a cane was the extent of my physical ability for one day, but I am also creative.

I will: planning to achieve a greater goal based on those capabilities. In order to expand my ability to walk, I cultivated a habit of pacing while talking on the phone. Yes, I believe I even fell down while on the phone at least once. That’s ok.

I am: noticing the present moment while acting on a plan. “I am” happens more or less by accident. Now I walk for miles to and from work (after a LOT of hard work and therapies over the years). I am still a fall risk in certain situations, and probably always will be, but I’ve been daydreaming about trying to ski again. In essence, steps one and two are really step three, but there’s no step three without steps one and two. Achievement happens while in the process of trying.

With the recipe for getting stuff done explicit, what constitutes a Gratitude Project?

True gratitude is the essential foundation of the project which means that a definition of gratitude is necessary. Gratitude is always a positive emotion, but other things can masquerade as gratitude, complaining being chief among them. For example, “I am grateful for the sunshine today,” is gratitude where “I’m grateful it didn’t rain today,” is actually grousing about rain, even if on other days. It’s negative. It follows that a gratitude project must stem from gratefulness for a positive experience of some kind.


  1. The project must stem from gratitude resulting from a positive life event or situation.
  2. The project can be aimed at another person or people, but this is somewhat flexible.
  3. The project must require action aside from thought.
  4. The project must require planning.
  5. The project must require effort.
  6. The project must originate emotionally from the desire to express gratitude and not from the desire to acquire something from someone else. Expectations must be non-selfish in nature.*
  7. The project cannot be an obligation or punishment imposed by society, or any individual person, including the self. A gratitude project can never be a homework assignment, for example. It can be a suggestion, though, so long as it is in no way pressured or coerced. Gratitude must be given freely or it is not gratitude.

*Non-selfish meaning not a social bribe or payment for goods or services.

About motivation. Getting down to brass tacks, it could be argued that deciding to do a gratitude project because I want to generate my own happiness is a selfish motive. But let us not confuse selfishness with self cultivation. It is about me but here’s the news: that’s ok. Self interest is not necessarily selfishness any more than self-care is a failure of altruism. Selfishness hurts other people, but self cultivation does not. The self is important and left un-nurtured, cannot nurture others. Gratitude isn’t a contract, but rather it, wonderfully, nurtures both ways. Put another way, happiness is a dish best shared and gratitude is a main course at that banquet.

Do the project with the expectation of getting nothing at all in return from the recipient. The actions generated by the project and expressing/experiencing gratitude are the points of the endeavor. That said, hoping to delight someone else, or hoping for a positive outcome in general, does not defeat the purpose of the project. It isn’t selfishness to hope for a good result, whatever that may be, so long as the project isn’t used as currency or relief from guilt.

There are many potential side effects to doing a gratitude project, many possible positive outcomes. Some of them might include learning, creativity and possibly even teamwork. Working on a gratitude project together with someone else might strengthen a friendship, or improve family dynamics. Hoping for these outcomes does not defeat the purpose of the project. Remember that the purpose of the project is to promote a pattern of positive, goal-directed behavior and confidence via accomplishment with the added bonus of noticing happiness along the way. This is ultimately self-cultivating, but these attributes make gratitude no less genuine.

I am afraid that it is impossible to escape the need for a disclaimer. I have designed the above intervention for myself, for the purposes of my own healing, happiness and well being. In point of fact, writing this article, designing this intervention and publishing it are all mechanisms which generate happiness in me. That said, I will not take responsibility for the health or happiness of anyone else for any reason as I have no license to lean upon and little formal education on the subject. While I may have extensive experiential understanding of the subject matter, I am in no way equipped to make recommendations for other people. I am the guinea pig in this experiment and choose to make it public. I have submitted no human subjects description to any governing body for approval.

If you choose to try this for yourself it is, therefore, entirely at your own risk.

If you do, I would passionately love to hear about it and beg you to comment below describing your projects and experiences with them.

Lastly, uncomfortably, this is my work. My intellectual property. Though this clause may perhaps not be a formal copyright (but it might be and I just don’t know it), I will ask that you not take my ideas as your own and make money from them. That’s shameful. If you do decide to do that, the shame is yours and I will always know that. If, however, you think these are good ideas and want to approach me about helping me publish them more broadly, I would welcome that and most definitely want to talk to you. Comment below and I’ll get back to you.

Update! I have now completed my gratitude project and you can see it here! I’m very proud of this work.

Before you go, you can check out my research project! I have conducted a study of OUAT viewer preferences and you can check on my progress here. Yay for science!