Monday, March 23, 2015
Where have all the Villains gone, OUAT?
Spoilers ahoy for OUAT 4.16 "Poor Unfortunate Souls"
All fairy tales have expanded origins in ABC's hit show, and "The Little Mermaid" is no exception. In last night's episode, we were treated to an Ursula/Hook flashback, where a young Ursula is no octopus, but the original "little mermaid," right down to that beautiful singing voice captured in a shell, and a sea king father (although her daddy is Poseidon, not Triton, which sort of makes her Ariel's aunt by Greek mythology rules).
Young Ursula is charming, thanks to excellent casting and great costuming, and overall the episode is a good one, with both Ursula's backstory and the Storybrooke present-day being enjoyable watches. However, there is a pretty big weakness, and that is that Ursula is never given a chance to truly be a villain. Sure, she's labeled as one, we see her hooking up with bad people, and we see her declaring to daddy dearest that she's going to terrorize the ocean... but we never see her do anything evil. And all it takes is a bit of good deeds by Hook and an apology from her dad and she's joyfully singing her way back to the ocean.
Is OUAT taking their "every villain has an understandable and relatable backstory and with the right motivation they'll all turn good again" theme too far? How can we take their villains seriously when we haven't had a true baddie since Pan? Zelena and Ingrid were evil only to a point, with true repentance at the end, and we always could understand their motivations and sympathize with them. So far we've seen backstories for Maleficent and Ursula that has us rooting for them far more than fearing them. When are we going to get a Cora level baddie again?
And no, I don't mean "turn Gold evil to fill the void." Gold must repent, truly repent, and prove himself worthy of Belle with true humility and honesty. Even if it takes another four seasons.
That said, despite wimping out on Ursula's villain-cred entirely, the episode gives us good moments, giving us a really nice Ariel cameo as well as some great August stuff. Furthermore it nicely upped the stakes by pointing out that if Killian is a villain, he's due to lose his happy ending and thus, Emma - and also that Gold is planning to fill Emma's heart with darkness so that the author can have control over writing the story once more and give all the baddies happy endings.
I have mixed feelings about this season's theme as a whole. Ariel says that evil never gets a happy ending because it goes about it the wrong way. But Hook points out that Regina didn't get her happy ending even when she reformed, which we now find out is because the author is no longer in control. In real life, of course, God is always in control, but while he wants what is best for us, we live in a fallen world and the truth is we're never guaranteed a happy life here on earth, no matter how many good deeds we do. It's our heavenly home that we're looking forwards to finding our happy ending in. Which makes it rather difficult to parse out the theology of a show based on fairy tales which (mostly so far) have their origins in a Christian worldview.
We'll see if I have anything more coherent to elaborate on when the season winds up and we see how they actually resolve this theme.