Around the Water Cooler: “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland” – Officially Canceled + Series Recap (MAJOR SPOILERS)

THE SPECS:

Who:  “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland,” aired on network TV, specifically on ABC, fall and spring Thursdays, this season, at 8:00 PM.

What: “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland,” a spin-off, of sorts, of flagship series “Once Upon a Time.” This fantasy series focuses on Alice, of Wonderland fame, and the love story between her and Cyrus, who seems to be the genie from Aladdin.  So far, none of the characters previously appeared in Once Upon a Time.

SYNOPSIS

Alice (Sophie Lowe) returned from her initial adventure in Wonderland having been gone “a long time” in the real world.  Though she tries to explain to her father where she has been, her father, predictably, does not believe her and thinks Alice is making the whole story up.  To prove that she is being honest, she somehow finds her way back to Wonderland as a teenager with the hopes of snaring the White Rabbit (voiced by John Lithgow), so she can show her father that talking animals do exist.  On her return trip, however, she meets Cyrus, a genie in a bottle, while on the run from the Red Queen’s card guards.  The two instantly fall in love; Alice frees the Genie from his bottle somehow, and they gallivant across the realms, until the Red Queen catches up with them and throws Cyrus over a cliff and seemingly into the Boiling Seas. Believing her true love to be deceased, Alice finds her way back to the real world, only to be incarcerated in an asylum, as doctors attempt to convince her that she has been a lying little minx the whole time and offer to perform some kind of lobotomy-looking operation to extract that silly imagination of hers once and for all.  Luckily, the Knave of Hearts and the White Rabbit have heard (through well planted information) that Cyrus is alive; they spring Alice from the joint and portal her on over to Wonderland, promising to ally with her and search for the missing genie. Unfortunately, the White Rabbit is coerced into working for the Red Queen, who is, in turn, working for none other than Jafar (Naveen Andrews, Lost), the evil sorcerer from Aladdin.  Jafar is after the genie and the wishes he grants; the Red Queen sees fit to stop Alice in her tracks once and for all; and all the poor girl wants is to be reunited with her one and only true love.

When: The series finale aired on ABC, Thursday, April 3, 2014, at 8:00 PM.

Where: The show is set in a fictionalized universe at an unidentified time.  Though Alice herself appears to hail from London, she also wears a corset.  Yet, Wonderland, like some of the other storybook settings such as Never Land, is a separate world from the Real World and from other storybook places, and most of the action transpires there.

Why: Once Upon a Time is one of my favorite shows, currently and quite possibly of all time.  “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” is one of my favorite books.  It seemed like a no-brainer, really.

How – as in How’s It Going? (Thoughts)

As the primary TV viewing season rounds to a close and as new season schedules are announced by the networks, they have been making sweeping and swift final decisions regarding what stays and what goes, i.e. what is renewed for another season and what is canceled.  Because the purpose of this blog is to be more editorial about particular shows this viewer watches rather than a major entertainment news outlet to report scoops, spoilers, and other television-related sound bytes (for now), this blogger will report the cancellations and reviews as I have time to write about them.

ABC, approximately two weeks ago, canceled Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, among others, though the writing was on the wall for this limited-run, spin-off series from almost the beginning. This viewer rated the pilot of this program 3.5 stars, meaning that the show was generally entertaining, though this viewer saw several actual flaws in execution and/or pitfalls in the premise.  The review of the pilot can be read here.

What began as a rocky start for Once Upon a Time in Wonderland (OUAT:W for short) actually ended up being a fairly interesting run with a cute, satisfying conclusion, even though some of the the show’s larger problems plagued it from premiere to finale.  What can be said for certain is that this spin-off experiment was not as successful as the flagship series that gave birth to it, either in ratings or in sheer entertainment value, which this viewer believes has more to do with the writing and arrangement of the story than anything else. Even the worst of the CGI was abandoned by the end of the series and was reserved only for certain characters or events, rendering it much more effective than in the pilot and first couple of episodes.  The real faults of this show, however, were the motivation for Jafar’s magical pursuits, which was tantamount to the world’s worst daddy issues, and waiting to reveal the Queen of Hearts’ back story because, as it turns out, Alice and Cyrus’ “twue wuv” was not nearly as compelling as the “twue wuv” between the Knave of Hearts (Michael Socha), formerly known as Will Scarlett of Robin Hood’s Merry Men, and the Queen of Hearts (Emma Rigby), formerly known as Anastasia.

The Series Recap

Of course, Cyrus (Peter Gadiot) is alive, having been saved from extinction at the hands of the Queen and retained as captive by Jafar, along with a mysterious old man who turned out to be the former sultan of Agrabbah. For the viewer learns early that Jafar was an illegitimate son of the sultan, and though Jafar yearned for his father’s love, the sultan was unwilling to award such love of its own accord.  The sultan (Brian George) is kind of a jerk, preferring to drown his young son in his wash basin rather than acknowledge his existence and writing it off as Jafar’s responsibility to “earn his love,” which lent some sympathy for Jafar’s character flaws.   Yet, Jafar’s quest for revenge ultimately rang a little silly.  He wanted to change the “rules of magic:” 1) magic cannot be used to bring someone back from the dead; 2) magic cannot be used to force someone to fall in love; and 3) magic cannot be used to change the past (viewers might recall Disney’s Aladdin genie, voiced by Robin Williams, explaining these three rules in the 1993 film).  By the finale, Jafar reveals that he wants to make his father love him only to murder him, to feel the pang of betrayal at the hands of one he loves as Jafar did when the sultan ordered his death so many years ago, when Jafar was the young boy who loved his father unconditionally and wanted his father to reciprocate that love with equal measure and without caveat.

So, in order to enact this plan, Jafar comes to the home of Amara (Zuleika Robinson, Lost), a mother of Agrabbah who lost her sons and who chose to learn the ways of magic to bring them back to her.  Jafar is a natural at learning magic, but his thirst for revenge consumes him and becomes a thirst for unadulterated power.  He eventually betrays Amara, turning the powerful sorceress into the snake staff that accompanied him wherever he went.  What is revealed later, however, is that Amara is the mother of Cyrus.  She once was dying; in order that loyal son Cyrus and his brothers might save her, they traveled to the Well of Wishes, a secret magical spring accessible only by traversing through red doors locked by riddle.  When Cyrus went to retrieve some of the magical waters, the Well Spirit warned him that he was not granted use of the waters, as he could not change the fates. When Cyrus took the water anyway, he and his brothers were able to save their mother but at a steep cost.  The Well Spirit appeared in Agrabbah and forced the three brothers to “serve others” as genies, trapped inside bottles and doomed to grant wishes for eternity in penance for taking what was not given to them.

Jafar did not appear to know of the family connection, but he sought out the three genies, as he believed the wishes they possessed would aid him in casting a spell that would change the laws of magic for him and would enable him to break the three forbidden rules.  How he ended up in Wonderland and how Cyrus’ bottle ended up in Wonderland, this viewer is still not sure.  Jafar was able to make quick work of finding Cyrus’ brothers’ bottles, though, which he has on hand from the series beginning, and the first half of the series is spent in Jafar’s pursuit of the third.  He does so by allying with the Queen of Hearts, who was taught magic by none other than Cora (Barbara Hershey), the mother of Evil Queen Regina and Wicked Witch Zelena from the original Once Upon a Time.  The Red Queen also managed to marry the benevolent King of Hearts, only to covet his power and enjoy her rule and riches in the end, mainly by the seductive advice of her adopted mother-figure and tutor, Cora, who saw something of herself in the young Red Queen.

It seems the Queen was once Anastasia, a destitute peasant girl from ye Merry Olde England, or perhaps ye Merry Olde Enchanted Forest, and she was in love with master thief Will Scarlett, who was really earning a name for himself in Robin Hood’s band.  Somehow, however, Anastasia discovered a way to open a portal, and Will, so in love with the sprightly Anastasia was he, that he agreed to jump into the portal with his love to begin a new life together.  Thereafter, they found themselves in Wonderland, just as poor as they were in Sherwood Forest.  Will was still an expert thief, and they managed to steal a fine booty from time to time, which they squirreled away into their caravan hidden deep in the woods, but Anastasia, once she and Will conned their way into a royal ball, caught the eye of the King.  This girl then saw a chance to abandon being hungry and living a life of thievery and destitution; she forsook Will and agreed to marry the King, who granted her riches, power, and the chance to learn magic later in life (though the King, we learn later, frowned upon magic). Will was truly heartbroken, and when he encountered Cora, after Anastasia listened to the wily witch’s seductive claims about the power of magic (Cora smarting from her own disappointment at Regina), he begged her to remove his heart.  She warned him about the perils of living without a heart; she spoke from personal experience, after all.  Yet, he insisted, and once she handed him the glowing, beating thing, he stored it away and chose to care about nothing.  That is, until he encountered Alice.

Alice’s times in Wonderland were happy, but her returns from this special realm were not.  As a child, she met the White Rabbit and battled the Queen and the Jabberwocky and lived to tell the tale, but when she did so to her father, he did not believe her, choosing instead to relegate the entire experience to flights of his willful daughter’s imagination.  During Alice’s second visit to Wonderland – which she undertook to find proof of talking animals and fanciful places like Wonderland, so that her dad would finally believe her – while fleeing from the Queen’s guards, she happened to find Cyrus’ genie bottle, and with it, Cyrus, in the Queen’s rose garden. Love at first sight bloomed, and Alice and Cyrus’ love transcended the ages and became the stuff of fairy tales and legends, unstoppable, even by death – Westley from The Princess Bride would be proud.  When Alice returned home, however, having been gone a long time, traveling the realms, embarking upon great adventures and seeings of sights, and enjoying Cyrus’ company until the Red Queen seemingly throws him off a cliff into the Boiling Seas, her father can’t believe it’s really her. What’s more, he’s remarried and has had another child, a half sister for Alice.  Her stepmother is by the book and not prone to nonsense and flights of imagination, and Alice’s return upsets the somewhat rigid balance in the home, particularly since her father had grieved her disappearance as her death.  In addition, her stepmother convinces her father that Alice might be somewhat insane, as she has been filling her sister’s head with stories about visiting a magical land with talking white rabbits and a genie with whom she fell in love.

As a result, Alice is sent to an institution by her father in a betrayal that follows her for a long time. That is, until the White Rabbit and Will bust her out in service to the Red Queen, who is in service to Jafar, as Alice holds the three wishes given to her by Cyrus, per the rules of his discovery as genie.  She never made these wishes, saving them for when she finds her love again, believing him wholeheartedly, by the will of their love, to be alive; she plans to use one of the wishes to free Cyrus from his bottle.  Yet, as long she holds the wishes, Cyrus and his bottle belong to her, which means Jafar cannot appropriate Cyrus or his wishes for his spell.  Of course, Queen Anastasia is interested in this alliance only insofar as Alice has been a nuisance to her, reeking havoc as a child in Wonderland and turning all of her subjects against her, though she really did that herself, with her quickness to remove heads and use magic to enact her whims, such as by turning subjects to stone.

So, in the first half of the series, Jafar uses the Red Queen to find Alice, who, in turn with the help of her apparent friends Will and the White Rabbit, seeks her genie, who, in turn, is being held by Jafar. Jafar wants Alice to use her three wishes, the Red Queen wants Alice to die, the White Rabbit is working for the Red Queen because she has threatened his wife and children, and Will is helping the Red Queen because he doesn’t care about anything without his heart, and Anastasia holds it, meaning she has control of him, until Alice manages to take possession of the heart in one of her gambits against the Queen.  Then, he follows everything Alice says and becomes her staunchest ally.

Yet, Red Queen Anastasia ultimately realizes she loves Will, and that she made a mistake, electing the emptiness of power and wealth over their own fairy tale love.  Will manages to take hold of the genie after Alice is forced to use her three wishes, but with his last wish, he ends up turning himself into a genie by wishing for Cyrus’ freedom.  After Will’s young friend Lizard has a go with Genie Will first and confesses her tragic crush on him, Jafar finds both and murders the poor girl, stealing away the bottle for himself.

In one of the episodes, Jafar attempts to catch Alice off guard by kidnapping her father from England.  In this episode, Alice and her father reach a new level of understanding, since he has no choice but to believe Alice’s tales of Wonderland now.  He even meets the talking White Rabbit.  Alice saves her father through a leap of faith, and his apologies are profuse and profound, as he professes his love for her.

In the second half of the series, Jafar unleashes the Jabberwocky, who, in this version of the tale, is a flexible lady-monster with the capability to read fears and turn them against people  Jafar does so in the hopes of ensnaring Anastasia and Alice.  In the meantime, Cyrus, with the help of a compass given to him by the Caterpillar (voiced by Iggy Pop), resolves to find his mother and brothers.  The compass shows the location of what one’s heart desires most – it’s very much like the compass in Pirates of the Caribbean, but, hey, that’s a Disney property too.  In a battle with Jafar, Alice and Cyrus manage to disarm Jafar of his staff and discover that the staff is Amara.

In the meantime, Anastasia returns to her castle with the hopes of saving Will, now in Jafar’s hands. The plan is foiled, however, as Jafar sics the Jabberwocky on her, and her true fears are revealed. In addition, Jafar has found Will’s heart and shoves it back into his chest.  In a climactic scene in which the Jabberwocky reveals Anastasia’s true fears, in which she believes that Will could never return the love she has for him with all that she has done, and Will’s undying love for her despite all of her misdeeds, Jafar ultimately kills Anastasia in Will’s presence.  It seems his revenge is complete.

Yet, Alice and Cyrus cannot be counted out.  They manage to free Amara from the staff and also return to the castle with the aim of freeing Cyrus’ brothers, but Jafar finds the heroes first.  He zaps Cyrus and poses an ultimatum to Amara: help him change the laws of magic, or watch her children and Alice die.

The Series Finale

Amara, a practical woman, agrees to help with the spell, which ultimately grants her the same strength of sorcery that it does Jafar.  He achieves his wish of ultimate power.  First, he forces his deadbeat dad to love him.  Then, he magically drowns him.  Next, he revives Anastasia and forces her to love him, which he dangles in front of the destitute Will, who is still trapped by the curse of being a genie.  In the meantime, Amara saves her son with her now potent sorcery, and Alice and Cyrus run toward the Well of Wishes with Amara, with the plan of returning the water that Cyrus stole, except that they learn from the White Rabbit that Jafar has amassed an army of what are ultimately zombies with the intention of destroying Alice.  Alice, with the help of the Rabbit and his wife (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg), amass a second army of rabbits and Wonderland residents, and Alice offers them a rousing speech about fighting for the ones they love and for Wonderland, now threatened by a powerful Jafar.  The battle, unfortunately, results in Alice’s capture.

Jafar threatens Alice, as he wants the return of Amara.  He blusters that he will break the third rule of magic and change the past, so that Alice would never have met Cyrus, but Alice doesn’t budge, opining again that her and Cyrus’ true love is real and stronger than any magic.  She also reminds Jafar that he will never experience genuine love, and that those he forced to love him by magic, such as Anastasia, are living a lie. When soldiers in Jafar’s army reveal Cyrus and Amara’s location, Jafar is off to confront them at the Well of Wishes.

Amara freely gives her life back to the Well Spirit, pleading with Cyrus to let her go.  He agrees, recognizing his mistake from so many years ago.  Amara disappears as water, just as Jafar appears.  He puzzles as to the riddle behind the Well and magically draws the puddle of water from Cyrus’ hands that was once his mother. Alice appears, then, having been released by Anastasia, who was drawn to Will by a play of words and the seduction of true love.  One kiss from true love Will, and she remembers who she is and how much she does not actually love Jafar.  She unties Alice in time for Alice to appear at the Well of Wishes, though Alice realizes that Jafar, who makes the water in his hands disappear, has spearheaded his own undoing. The Well Spirit chastises Jafar for taking that which was not given and bestows him with the curse of the genie.  He is encased in his own bottle, which undoes all of his magic.

Cyrus’ brothers are free, but Anastasia dies once more.  The Well Spirit, however, in an act of benevolence, gives Cyrus water to revive her, suggesting that fate has taken the life of the Red Queen but not of Anastasia. Wonderland is saved, and so are the relationships of Alice and Cyrus and Will and Anastasia.  Alice and Cyrus marry and remain in England; Will and Anastasia marry and return to Wonderland as its rulers. Alice’s father is pleased at her happiness, and the whole family seems okay with the White Rabbit officiating the wedding.  Alice and Will share a loving goodbye as the best friends they are, and, some years later, Alice tells her tales of Wonderland to her and Cyrus’ daughter, as they have a tea party in an English garden.

In the end…

The writers crafted a fun story with a few twists on the tales of Alice in Wonderland and Aladdin. The genius of the limited-run concept behind this series signifies that the thirteen episodes produced and aired were self contained.  There was an option for renewal, if the series was successful, but without renewal, the series stood on its own.  To that end, it’s worth the watch, should it crop up on streaming services in the future, as there is a beginning, middle, and satisfying end to this story.

Yet, OUAT:W was still a flawed vehicle.  Sophie Lowe and Peter Gadiot, as well as Michael Socha, offered generally winning if marginally adequate performances as their respective characters, as did Emma Rigby, once she relaxed her overly regal Queen of Hearts persona; Alice and Anastasia were delightfully earnest if ultimately one-dimensional; the genie was charming if flat; and Will Scarlett was cheeky and charming if somewhat unconvincing until he watched his love die.  Naveen Andrews still meandered around a slightly less than menacing Jafar, a villain who could not be taken too seriously, particularly in lieu of his wounded, jilted son scenes.  Though he is still a handsome man, his performance was a mixed bag, waffling between taking itself too seriously and something extraordinarily cartoon-like, even painfully tongue-in-cheek at times, whether by his choice or by instruction of the episode directors.  The scariest of all the villains was, in fact, the Jabberwocky, given that the actress behind the performance expertly played the mystery of her character and combined it with a sinister edge that rendered her character entirely unpredictable and disturbing.

It still bothers this viewer that Agrabbah and Wonderland intermingled at all.  I still have no idea why or, perhaps, do not remember clearly (even despite the fact that so much else was memorable) how Jafar and/or Genie Cyrus even ended up in Wonderland to begin with; this is a minor gripe, but this piece of the story should have been spelled out better or in a more memorable fashion, since the existence of these two characters in a show about Wonderland is the impetus for the entire story.

What’s more, since Alice and Cyrus were reunited mid-series, the episodes establishing Will and Anastasia’s relationship as well as Will and Alice’s friendship might have serviced the show and its ratings better if they were introduced earlier in the season.  In the end, despite the fact the Queen of Hearts/Red Queen was ultimately a caricature, an illusion put on by a woman who was trying to be something that she was not, the woman who became her was a flawed individual with whom another flawed individual was very much in love. That story was more interesting, more compelling, and more sympathetic, in the end, than Alice’s quest to find Cyrus; knowing the genie was alive so early also meant that their fate/destiny was entirely predictable, even formulaic and heavily derivative of The Princess Bride.  Alice’s friendship with Will was more compelling, even, than Alice’s love for her genie.  Perhaps, the organization of the story as it aired helped to bolster sympathy and compelling qualities for Alice and Will’s relationship as well as Will and Anastasia’s relationship; yet, the show was at its most interesting when threats to these dynamics emerged, which didn’t occur until after the Red Queen’s back story was revealed halfway into the series.

Ultimately, the series accomplished what the writers/producers no doubt set out to do with it, but the execution was messy and not as titillating or as effective as the original Once Upon a Time (which can be messy in its own right).  This viewer is still glad that ABC and the Once creators tried this experiment, though exploring new realms might better be saved for the flagship series in the end – though that’s another topic of lengthy discussion for another entry.

PARTING SHOTS

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland is an entertaining enough show to appease fans of the original Once Upon a Time, and I would recommend watching it if it appeared on a service like Netflix because it is self-contained and ends in a satisfying, even precious way.  This viewer was correct in surmising it unlikely that a wider audience would find this show of its own accord, and given the shaky execution of the spin-off, in the end, even several core Once fans probably drifted away.  Thus, OUAT:W can be summarized as good idea and good effort but not good enough to warrant renewal.

THE FUTURE OF THE SHOW:

Canceled!  The entire series, produced to the tune of thirteen episodes, aired fully and ended in April 2014. Yet, as noted above, it is self-contained, as it was designed to be a limited-run with an option to renew that was not exercised. Thus, if it appeals to you, gentle viewer, it is worth the watch, since the whole story is told within those thirteen episodes.

Around the Water Cooler: “Intelligence” – Officially Canceled + Series Recap (SPOILERS)

Who:  “Intelligence,” aired on network TV, specifically on CBS, winter 2014 Mondays at 10:00 PM.

What: “Intelligence,” a science fiction action drama set in the near future, in which a federal intelligence agent, played by Josh Holloway (Lost), has been implanted with technology that allows him to function like a computer, interacting with other computer and microchip-based equipment for the instant retrieval of information, except that his human intelligence further augments this experimental technology and possibly provides an evolved consciousness and/or set of abilities beyond the initial implantation.

SYNOPSIS

Gabriel (Holloway) has been implanted with highly experimental technology, which allows him, a trained intelligence agent, to extrapolate and retrieve information at the speed of a computer, provided that his implant can interact with other computer-based technology in his vicinity.  In addition, his human imagination, emotions, and thought patterns add unforeseen dimension to these abilities.  Marg Helgenberger (CSI) plays Lillian Strand, Gabriel’s commanding officer, who places the protection of this asset – Gabriel and his technology – at highest priority.  She hires former secret service agent Riley Neal (Meghan Ory, Once Upon a Time) to protect the skeptical Gabriel, while spies from America’s competing foreign powers, such as China, vie to purloin the technology.  In the premiere, the technology’s inventor, Dr. Cassidy, (John Billingsley) is kidnapped, and he is coerced into placing a faulty prototype in a Chinese national; however, the prototype does not work, and Lillian soon discovers that the Chinese national is “off the grid,” such that she must strike a deal to save the lives of everyone involved.

When: The series finale aired on CBS, Monday, March 31, 2014, at 10:00 PM.

Where: The show is set in an unknown metropolis, though it is heavily implied that the fictional intelligence agency for which the central character works is in Washington DC.

Why: It’s science fiction, it features the deliciously yummy Sawyer from Lost in an equally charismatic and roguishly charming role, and it boasts an interesting premise, which could either blossom into intelligent (snicker) storytelling or fall into a formulaic weekly action formula that does not distinguish itself after all.  My hopes about the show were tempered and cautious at best, but I love Josh Holloway so much, I decided to give it a look.

How – as in How’s It Going? (Thoughts)

As the primary TV viewing season rounds to a close and as new season schedules are announced by the networks, they have been making sweeping and swift final decisions regarding what stays and what goes, i.e. what is renewed for another season and what is canceled.  Because the purpose of this blog is to be more editorial about particular shows this viewer watches rather than a major entertainment news outlet to report scoops, spoilers, and other television-related sound bytes (for now), this blogger will report the cancellations and reviews as I have time to write about them.

CBS, approximately two weeks ago, canceled Intelligence, among others.  This viewer rated the pilot of this program four stars, meaning that the show generally appeared to be intriguing, though this viewer saw potential pitfalls in the premise.  The review of the pilot can be read here.

Intelligence, owing to a competent ensemble cast and a sophisticated science fiction premise that did not pander to the viewer, promised so much potential, so much depth of story and emotion to be mined from a state-of-the-art microchip planted in main character Gabriel’s head, but the writers and producers meted out the story in a parceled, terror-of-the-week format that ultimately proved to be a disservice to the show’s potential for longevity.  In other words, legitimate chances for fascinating, intriguing, sweeping story arcs with philosophical and emotional implications for characters and viewers alike were possible and existed but were either squandered outright, or the writers procrastinated too long in introducing some of the overarching concepts that would follow Gabriel and his support team at US Cyber Command into the field with his fancy, computerized brain to protect and maintain.  The result, this viewer would surmise, is that the show had trouble retaining loyal viewers, ultimately leading to lower (and dropping) ratings that prompted CBS, arguably the most successful of the major networks right now, to cancel a show that might have survived on a different network.

For this viewer, several missteps by the writers caused me to lose some interest in what might happen to Gabriel and/or Riley and/or the team at CyberComm early in the show’s only season; I watched all thirteen produced episodes but only with casual attention, until the final two episodes of the series. First, while Mr. Holloway brandishes his particular charms and affability well throughout the thirteen produced episodes, his Sawyer-like wisecracks – since he seemed to be playing a less angry version of the same character – and simple country-bred charms ended up ultimately one-note and without nuance or variation. True, I would enjoy watching him all day based on his looks alone, but, in the end, I wanted, as would likely any reasonable viewer, for his character to grapple harder with his circumstances, grappling which only began to percolate in what is now the series finale; Mei Chen, the Chinese national who received Dr. Cassidy’s duplicate microchip in the pilot, suggested that Gabriel was superior to “humans,” and the double agent at CyberComm further barbed that the program governing the chip was named “Clockwork” based on a nineteenth century tale where a man becomes a robot or a thing not human when he adds machinery to his body.  In fact, none of the ensemble characters were provided much depth or back story, with the possible exception of Lillian Strand, and that’s only because her father is a high ranking intelligence official (played by Peter Coyote), from whom she seeks ongoing approval but who clearly has a double agenda of his own.

Sadly, even Holloway and Ory’s snappy chemistry became pedestrian and flat in the hands of writers who couldn’t capitalize on a spark reminiscent of Tracy and Hepburn (or maybe Astaire and Rogers) that floated effortlessly between these two actors.  While platonic partners, the fact that they traded casual barbs in an entertainingly easy way was not used often enough as comic relief; they were always so focused on preventing and/or undoing some terrorist or foreign threat to computers all around the country, and then Riley would reassure Gabriel, or vice versa, that their sometimes gray actions were acceptable, even though the world itself is not so black and white.  I think the most disappointing part about this show is that the creators did not take enough risks, when the mere premise of the program created several springboard opportunities for them to do just that.  Even if Gabriel and Riley never became romantic, their friendship was still largely superficial, brought about by Riley’s job/duty and the adrenaline-based situations in which they found themselves.  Aside from sharing a beer, frequently at the end of episodes, the most in-depth conversations that presumably brought them closer were hinted at but rarely shown in a satisfying manner to the viewer.

What’s more, even the “cyber rendering” that Gabriel could do with the chip, in which he visualizes scenarios and extrapolates further details based upon programming algorithms and processes in the chip itself, was often used in a manner that screamed “Deus Ex Machina.”  Gabriel’s accessing the chip, frequently in the tightest of spots, felt too contrived and convenient at times, which undercut the tension of a show ultimately about spy warfare between national governments.

The biggest flaw this viewer noted in the pilot was how the program could sustain itself over time. In the pilot, Gabriel’s personal stake and reason for volunteering for the “Clockwork” program was to find his wife/girlfriend, a double agent for a foreign power who he was led to believe had died. He found her, and she jumped out of the window in the second episode of the series.  At that point, she was clearly gone, and yet, the time he spent grieving for her was minimal at best, quite a contrast from his obvious desperation to find her, against all odds, in the pilot.  Sure, Riley acknowledged his loss verbally and encouraged him to take a breather and process the grim reality that he watched his once-alive wife plummet to her death, but number one asset Gabriel kept on chugging, and each episode thereafter explored sometimes interesting but mostly unrelated cases, either on American or purportedly foreign soil.  Once that piece of the story centered on Gabriel’s wife was effectively nullified, there was no connective tissue between individual episodes except for the sporadic reappearances of Mei Chen, and an ongoing turf war between CyberComm and the CIA (headed up by Lance Reddick, Lost, Fringe).  The last two episodes of the series witnessed Gabriel targeted for assassination, along with Mei Chen, as part of a larger agenda propagated by the Iranian government and a sleeper cell embedded at the highest levels of the American government. Gabriel gets shot in the penultimate episode and is framed for the murder of a high ranking official, but he seeks shelter and safety at his mother’s house; only then, in the surprising chemistry between Holloway and the actress playing his mom, is the viewer allowed some true glimpse into the back story underlying Gabriel’s character and his involvement in the Clockwork initiative.

The truth is, the writers had started to offer some jumping off points for longevity – particularly Gabriel’s struggle to accept and/or define and redefine his humanity, and Lillian’s precarious position as the daughter of a corrupt intelligence official in either the State or the Justice Department and the leader of this division that houses Gabriel – as the season evolved.  The intrigue didn’t really begin until this series ending subplot emerged, however, which was tantamount to disjointed exposition that arrived too little, too late.  The writers really should have taken more time to explore the characters, elongated the search for Gabriel’s wife, or rendered the hunt for Gabriel by elements within the American government as a season long arc, broken up only at intervals by the stronger “cases of the week.”  Sadly, hindsight is 20/20, and Intelligence could not survive the vicious ax of cancellation.

The finale provides minimal satisfaction, as there is a cliffhanger moment between Mr. Strand and Mei Chen.  In the end, this viewer would be hard pressed to recommend this show on the merit of its only season, as it fails to sustain the novelty and intrigue of its premise and becomes somewhat formulaic, even as the writers clearly struggled to find that formula, particularly when the foundation and premise were so original to start.

I’m not sure why writers these days are shying away from serial arcs, even in procedural shows, which Intelligence marginally became.  Shows like Bones, which balance elements of both case-of-the-week and overarching story, tend to last the longest.  The trick is to find the balance that works best for the show at hand.  Intelligence and its writers simply did not find that balance in time.

PARTING SHOTS

Intelligence likely deserved to be canceled because the writers could not capitalize on its truly intriguing pilot premise in a way that demanded loyal viewing over the long haul.  It was a nice idea, but they couldn’t pull it off in the end, which presents a cautionary tale to anyone aiming for a program with similar ideas.

Also, at times, Intelligence channeled Person of Interest a little too closely, a show which appears on the same network; the Machine on this show was Gabriel, and the operation was legitimate, but sometimes, music, pacing, and cinematography felt very similar to the sister show.  Furthermore, the opening credits were far too long and too wordy, with Marg Helgenberger explaining in voice over (and, perhaps, this was pandering a bit) the Clockwork program and Gabriel’s abilities with the chip at length. They could have saved two minutes by eliminating that opening sequence altogether.

Ok, I’m done.  This viewer is a bit frustrated by the outcome of this show.  Squandered potential is disappointing.

THE FUTURE OF THE SHOW:

Canceled!  The entire series, produced to the tune of thirteen episodes, aired fully and ended in March 2014.  If it appears on a streaming service like Netflix, watch at your own risk, given the observations above.

Around the Water Cooler: “Dracula” – Officially Canceled

THE SPECS:

Who:  “Dracula,” aired on network TV, specifically on NBC, Fall 2014 Fridays at 10:00 PM.

What: “Dracula,” a historical supernatural/fantasy series based upon the infamous titular vampire and his reanimation in Victorian England.

SYNOPSIS

A professor named Van Helsing reanimates the wasted corpse of Dracula (Rhys Meyers), entombed in wooden stakes and silver. Dracula, posing as an American industrialist named Alexander Grayson in Victorian London, seeks vengeance against something called the Order of the Dragons, members of which also happen to control industrial interests in London.  Meanwhile, he encounters the doppelganger of his former wife, who was murdered by the Order prior to Dracula’s encasement in a vampire-proof coffin. This new iteration of his long dead wife, Mina, draws his interest while, in the meantime, he slaughters haughtier members of the Order in order to bring his vengeful interests to the forefront.

When: The series finale aired on NBC, Friday, January 24, 2014, at 10:00 PM.

Where: The show is set in London, England, in the year 1896.

Why: I continue to enjoy shows centered on vampires, though the character of Dracula has always been somewhat of a mixed bag for me, depending upon the portrayal and vehicle.  For example, I enjoy the Dracula on Buffy the Vampire Slayer but only tolerate Gary Oldman’s Dracula (given the fact that the film surrounding him is somewhat mediocre).  My interest and intrigue were  piqued when I learned that King Henry VIII himself, the charismatic Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, would be playing the enigmatic vampire.  The thought of it and ensuing expectations were too much to pass up.

How – as in How’s It Going? (Thoughts)

As the primary TV viewing season rounds to a close and as new season schedules are announced by the networks, they have been making sweeping and swift final decisions regarding what stays and what goes, i.e. what is renewed for another season and what is canceled.  Because the purpose of this blog is to be more editorial about particular shows this viewer watches rather than a major entertainment news outlet to report scoops, spoilers, and other television-related sound bytes (for now), this blogger will report the cancellations and reviews as I have time to write about them.

NBC, approximately two weeks ago, finally canceled freshman horror drama Dracula, among others.  The (now) series recap and this viewer’s verdict can be read here.

Unfortunately, the writing was on the wall for this show some months ago, as the ratings were, overall, pretty abysmal.  The time slot didn’t help, as it aired Fridays at 10:00 PM, even though it was paired with successful cult favorite Grimm, and even though the production values were high, including breathtaking art direction and costumes.  Thus, the show was, no doubt, expensive to produce, though it was visually stunning.

This viewer enjoyed the series in the end, but I think what made it enjoyable, beyond its visual pastiche, took too long to develop.  The story meandered along Alexander Grayson’s (the vampire’s human identity) quest to walk in sunlight and to overtake his enemies via industrial warfare rather than straightforward vampire violence.  These qualities lent a certain sophistication to the storytelling, but anyone watching television on Friday at 10:00 PM was probably not seeking sophistication.  They were probably hoping for a bit more gore.

At least, Dracula was full of soft core sexiness, capitalizing on the intense attraction between Grayson and Mina, the doppelganger of his deceased wife, as well as the lusty appetites of Lady Jayne Wetherby.   This viewer believes that the true heart of the series, other than Rhys Meyers’ substantial charisma and intensity of performance, was the illicit romance angle: the scandalous, torrid affair between Grayson and Lady Wetherby, the vampire hunter who is unaware that she is in love with a vampire; Grayson’s pursuit of Mina; and Mina’s best friend, Lucy’s, illicit feelings for her best lady friend.  Plus, Mina nurses graphic dreams about Mr. Grayson.  The love pentagon that was created was probably the most interesting part of the story, even if the vampire/sex angle is the guiltiest part of this pleasure.

The (now) series finale wrapped up several story lines in a satisfying way, including a dramatic reveal of Dracula’s true identity to Lady Jayne and, subsequently, her death, as the ambitious vampire hunter confronted her foe with whom she had shared a sweaty bed for much of the series. Plus, Mina and Dracula/Grayson succumbed to their attraction, after Dracula sired Lucy into a vampire, and Jonathan Harker, Mina’s erstwhile fiance, thirsted for revenge against Grayson, which Van Helsing was only too happy to nurture.  These tantalizing threads provided some closure while fraying just enough to entice viewers to watch a hoped for second season that, now, will never come; it’s a credit to the writers that they moved the story past Grayson’s more mundane pursuits toward something meatier, with a closer parallel to Bram Stoker’s original novel.

Hopefully, Jonathan Rhys Meyers will find his way to some size screen, small or big, soon in another project befitting his talents; this viewer never tires of watching him because of his commitment to his performances and because of his sheer, unadulterated charisma, which oozes from every pore of his considerable good looks. Sadly, the Peacock was not willing to give this series another chance; yet, since NBC has been struggling with several bad decisions of late, canceling Dracula probably ranks among the least of them.

PARTING SHOTS

Despite the attempts of the show’s creators to indulge in vampire mythos at its finest, NBC never truly gave the series a chance past the full season order, burying a program with a charismatic lead actor and sumptuous production vales because of its more high minded storytelling aims, without really giving it the marketing or the chance to shine on other nights, as it ultimately deserved in the end.  In truth, Dracula would probably have benefited more from airing on a cable network or even a premium channel, where the sex, violence, and language could have been revved up, and where viewers may have flocked more readily to and appreciated better the sophisticated depiction of Bram Stoker’s legendary vampire.

THE FUTURE OF THE SHOW:

Canceled!  The entire series, produced to the tune of ten episodes, aired fully and ended in January 2014.  Perhaps it will appear on a streaming service such as Netflix.  This viewer would still recommend watching it; it’s a well wrought guilty pleasure and a good fix for any vampire lover, with some measure of finality and satisfaction in its now series finale.

Around the Water Cooler: “Revenge,” The Season 3 Finale and Recap (MAJOR SPOILERS)

THE SPECS:

Who: “Revenge” airs on network TV, specifically on ABC, fall/winter Sundays at 9:00 PM and, during this season, spring Sundays at 10:00 PM.

What: “Revenge,” a serial drama in which a young woman, born Amanda Clarke (Emily Van Camp), engages in a high stakes vendetta against the morally corrupt and financially endowed family who framed her father for an act of terrorism, leading to his imprisonment and ultimately to his death (for a more detailed Synopsis, read here: http://www.aceshowbiz.com/tv/revenge/summary.html).

When: The Season 3 finale aired on Sunday, May 12, 2014, on ABC at 10:00 PM.

Where: The show is primarily set in New York State, in Montauk and the Hamptons where these affluent people reside, though sometimes the action travels to the city, specifically Manhattan, when the show’s business-types need a place to work.

Why: I initially passed on this show, but the buzz surrounding it was overwhelming, particularly from trusted TV critics, including Michael Ausiello and writers at TV Guide, as well as from trusted friends. While I don’t normally go in for soapy thrillers that hearken to the days of Dynasty and DallasRevenge layers hints of those old prime-time soap operas with the high octane thrill of 24The result is equal parts addicting and frustrating at times, particularly, as in this viewer’s humble opinion, the writing of the show continues to deteriorate.  I caught up on season 1 thanks to Netflix and began watching the show regularly at the start of season 2.

How – as in How’s It Going? (THOUGHTS…at present)

Well, color this viewer pleasantly surprised.  With a bleak outlook at the start of Revenge’s third season, this blogger was not certain that this program would remain as interesting or engaging as it has become.  Whether the producers and writers knew they were circling a story drain, whether they feared being on the proverbial “bubble” of cancellation (though, if it happened, it wasn’t for long), or whether this season was part of their storytelling plans all along, the landscape of the show, about a hurt young, doting daughter, who saw her father framed for mass murder and learned of his death, with the singular purpose of seeking revenge against those who conspired to concoct this frame-up, has entirely changed.  Emily Thorne, or Emily Grayson, or Amanda Clarke, has won.  Or has she?  Did she achieve revenge, or did she cause more harm than good and all for nothing?  That was where the season finale left the audience, along with two deaths and a surprisingly still-alive person that was believed to be dead.  In fact, this character’s death informs Emily’s entire reason for being, and his reappearance essentially reboots the direction of the show.

Yet, I’m getting ahead of myself here.  Let’s back up.  And beware: this entry contains major spoilers as I attempt to summarize the season that was.  You have been forewarned.

The season began with the traditional nod to a mid-season cliffhanger, in which the audience sees Emily being shot, point blank.  As with the other seasons of Revenge, the first half of the season sets the stage for that cliffhanger; the second half traverses the aftermath.  You should know: Emily lives.  Or, more aptly, Emily survives.  It’s not easy for her, though, and the cost is great.

At the end of the second season, Emily’s long-lost childhood friend and love, Jack Porter–having found out who she really was and how she became involved in the death of who Jack believed was Amanda Clarke, who was also his wife and the mother of his baby son Carl–with disgust and the utmost hurt, gave Emily an ultimatum: finish her vendetta by the end of the summer, or he would announce her secret to the world.  Because Emily’s latent love for Jack and regret for Amanda’s death consumed her, she agreed.

We also found out in the beginning of the season that Aidan Matheson (Barry Sloane), who we thought was a spurned lover, was secretly still working with Emily to enact her vendetta, though this relationship could be classified as very much “on again/off again” for the duration of the season.  Though the public saw them as a former item, Aidan infiltrated the Grayson household in the first half of the season by offering his services to Victoria; he proposed using his talents to restore her fortune, since Conrad’s machinations and their subsequent bitter divorce(s) left her bankrupt, as well as providing information at well timed intervals about Emily Thorne, who was engaged again to Daniel. In addition, Victoria Grayson (Madeleine Stowe) reunited with the son she gave up for adoption prior to becoming involved with Conrad Grayson (Henry Czerny), Patrick (Justin Hartley), and he became her stalwart ally against the rest of her family, who felt they couldn’t trust her.  When the season began, Emily and Daniel Grayson had reconciled and were on track to marry again, much to Victoria’s outspoken chagrin.  Charlotte Grayson couldn’t stand to be around any of her family, Emily included, preferring instead to play auntie to Carl and to help Jack through his grief.

Jack spent most of the season, however, in a serious relationship with Margaux LeMarchal, the daughter of a French media mogul and the editor of budding society and culture magazine “Voulez,” after being introduced to each other by Charlotte through the LeMarchal connection to her family, including Daniel and Margaux’s possible childhood dalliance.  While these two lovebirds seemed mismatched, their initial relationship was actually sort of sweet; however, Margaux wooed Daniel, who began the season on the outs with his father Conrad, to become part of the magazine, since Daniel was looking for a new job and new independence without the availability of his trust fund in advance of his wedding to Emily, as he had sided with his mother against his father.  Daniel’s position at the magazine left Jack feeling threatened for much of the season, as Daniel and Margaux had unmistakable chemistry, though they were strictly platonic in the beginning.

Emily set her sights on one of Conrad’s former business partners turned priest in the second episode.  While she successfully convinced this man, through her and Nolan’s machinations, to fork over the truth about the plane crash for which her father David was framed and to convince Conrad to do the same to atone for his sins, it seemed, momentarily, that Conrad was not above taking him out to keep his secrets.  At this point, Conrad and Emily both began to question their individual morality.  Conrad, facing death after being misdiagnosed with Huntington’s Disease, realized that he was on a highway to hell, while Emily began to see the shades of gray in her vengeful plans and the collateral damages she was racking up in her quest to topple the Graysons.

What’s more, Nolan accidentally finds himself in a hot and steamy affair with Patrick, who, we find out later in the season, left a first wife because he is gay.  This placed Nolan in somewhat of a double agent role, as he nursed genuine feelings for Patrick while conspiring with Emily to use Patrick against Victoria.   Ultimately, this backfired for him, as Patrick was most loyal to his new-found bio-mom, and as Victoria was not above using the relationship Patrick shared with Nolan to orchestrate schemes against Emily.

Of course, Emily had her share of potshots before the big take-down.  There was that time she had a staged row with Aidan at a costume fete conveniently hosted by Nolan, wherein she was able to announce to all of the Hamptons’ society that the Graysons were bankrupt, even though Margaux wormed her way into that party on Jack’s arm with the hope of making Nolan Ross her new cover story, against the wishes of new partner Daniel.  Charlotte was none too happy by Emily’s behavior, finding her (unbeknownst to her) sister a bit too much like her mom, which was an uncannily spot-on observation for the show’s most superfluous character (sorry).

Conrad’s possible involvement in the priest’s death, by the by, was really just a red herring.  Patrick cut the man’s brake line, killing the to-be confessional priest or so Emily hoped.  Conrad survived with luck only, as Patrick was really aiming to take out this man, who he knew had hurt his mom so much.  Patrick confessed to his mom, and Charlotte took the heat for her half-brother at Victoria’s behest, knowing that Conrad’s soft spot for Charlotte would help him to overlook whatever feeble excuse she offered, as opposed to his ire at the mere thought of Patrick and his existence.  Oh, and PS, that diagnosis of Huntington’s Disease for Conrad, which provided a not-so-convenient exit from the governor’s mansion?  Fake and all part of Emily’s plan, which was tantamount to failure at this point; however she tainted his blood to begin with, she was able to undo it when she decided it was all for naught.  Not to mention the fact that Aidan tried to blame Jack for tampering with the brakes for no other reason than he was jealous of Emily’s relationship with Daniel, which was also fake.  At least, by the fourth episode of the season, Jack was starting to offer to help Emily and Nolan, which happened quite frequently throughout the season, rather than remaining determined to be angry at her.  In fact, he served as Emily’s Jiminy Cricket more often than not, to the extent that any sense of conscience could be her guide.

By the fifth episode, Daniel and Emily’s shaky reconciliation became even shakier when Daniel basically booted Emily for not supporting him and for not being truthful with him.  This episode is worth mentioning singularly because it basically became a meta-commentary on the state of the show in general.  As this viewer noted at season’s start, Revenge was basically in a wash/rinse/repeat holding pattern.  Emily targets someone with her poised red marker; she and Nolan (or some combination of third party helpers) conspire behind the scenes; Victoria waggles her rich fingers menacingly in someone’s direction, most likely Emily’s; and some romantic entanglement finds some superficial fruition for a fleeting moment before it all goes to hell in an episode or two.  What Emily wrestled with this season in the wake of her namesake’s death and Jack’s subsequent betrayal was how her vendetta consumed her beyond the capacity to feel real human emotion, something that Golden Boy Daniel, possibly the most sensitive of the Grayson clan, really began to notice.  Though Emily was able to mend the crumbling fence with a few well placed observations and advice of Nolan, given his not-as-functional-as-he-thinks relationship with Patrick, Emily was able to take down some of her armor in order to reel Danny back in, though at this stage of the game, it was too little, too late.  Aidan remained a morally ambiguous and ultimately selfish fellow, having thrown all his weight behind framing Jack for the car accident in order to protect his love for Emily, though that relationship isn’t healthy either.  Two broken people with nothing but anger between them?

In the next few episodes, Vicky, determined to derail Daniel and Emily’s pending nuptials, with the help of Charlotte, puts Daniel in touch with Sarah, a poor girl with dreams of becoming a baker who was the love of Daniel’s life until Vicky ran her off too, believing that the middle class Sarah was after Daniel’s riches and nothing more. Well, more aptly, she was paid off, as she was in the car that Danny crashed while driving drunk shortly before the series began.  Seems mama Vicky can compromise her lagging ethics when it suits her, though – after all, she continues to keep the secret of David Clarke’s death and the real reason behind it, though she has professed for several seasons now that she loved him.  She blessed Charlotte’s efforts from the wings, as Charlotte also believed that Emily was no good for her brother, and she helped Daniel and Sarah find each other again.  Daniel found in Sarah the love and passion he shared with her during their teenage romance and felt himself pulled even further away from Emily.  Charlotte was even able to help Sarah get a job at the Stowaway working for Jack.  It seemed the plan to derail the marriage train between Emily and Daniel was in full swing, mostly controlled by Charlotte, but Emily was not willing to give up what she perceived to be her best “in” as far as infiltrating the Grayson empire.  So, like any good soap opera heroine, she did what any self-respecting spurned fiancee would do: she faked a pregnancy.

Of course, just before that, Jack and Nolan had a meeting of the minds and confessed to each other that they knew Emily’s secret.  Nolan also had a bit of a “come to Jesus” moment with himself in episode six, and with Emily, by calling her out on the fact that she takes nearly everyone involved in her schemes for granted.  Nolan also had to confront the fact that his loneliness, as an intelligent, eccentric, bisexual man, informs poor decisions on his part.  The three friends worked on their relationship throughout the season.

Aidan managed to regenerate some of the lost fortune for the Graysons, not to mention the fact that assets were released, I don’t remember how.  Nolan tried to seek revenge on a publicist hired by the Graysons who shamed Nolan in the press, leading to estrangement between him and his actual father, a man who did not understand his son or his lifestyle. His revenge wasn’t fatal; he opted to ruin her but stopped short of violence.  The seventh episode was meant, I think, to contrast the steadfast, loyal, and lonely Nolan with the single-minded Emily, who doesn’t consider the collateral damage.  He’s a far more sympathetic character, after all.

Who is not a sympathetic character ever: Lydia Davis, Conrad’s erstwhile paramour, believed to be dead after a plummet out of a window sometime in an earlier season. She randomly shows up in the eighth episode of the season, strutting before former bestie Victoria and flirting her way back into Conrad’s bedroom.  What’s more, she’s still bandying about that photograph of Emily, then going by her real name (Amanda Clarke) and a brunette, stalking the Graysons as a caterer/waitress at a society function some years before she appeared in the Hamptons posing as a millionairess.  In fact, she’s willing to run to Margaux and Voulez to air the Graysons’ dirty laundry and Emily’s dirty little secret, despite Vicky’s best attempts at reconciling with her ex-husband’s lover.  The first half of Revenge was all over the place; this viewer was prepared to write a mid-season recap, but the mere cheesy daytime soap quality of what was formerly a high octane drama full of twists and turns left me a little speechless for a time.  The fake pregnancy angle was particularly desperate and cheap, but the reemergence of a thoroughly unlikable character for whatever reason felt a little too by-the-book and overreaching.

By episode nine, Sarah essentially left Daniel, refusing to be the “other woman” in light of the “baby” and encouraging him to go through with the wedding.  In the meantime, Aiden, feeling very confident that he pleased his vengeful paramour, proposed to Emily, and Victoria vowed not to attend the wedding of Daniel and Emily, since no one still believed her about Emily being a liar and a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  Not that Vicky has much room to talk.

So, Daniel and Emily, after much hoopla and obstacles, get married, and Emily Thorne legitimately becomes Emily Grayson.  And when the celebration/reception moves to the Graysons’ yacht, Victoria finally confronts Emily, having been shown the photograph possessed by Lydia, accusing her of lies.  The lie that hits hardest, and what Emily cops to, is that she faked her pregnancy to lure Daniel back from Sarah, which Daniel overhears as he prepares to come on deck.  Drunk and in despair at the thought of being trapped in marriage to Emily, he does what all good, blue-blooded people do.  He finds a gun and shoots her, right in front of his mother.  Emily was planning to frame Victoria and possibly orchestrate an accident aboard this yacht; she did not see this turn of events, and neither did we.  Emily falls overboard, and Victoria promptly moves to do whatever she can to cover up her son’s deed.  And the mid-season finale comes to a close.

When next we find Emily, or more aptly, when Aidan finally finds Emily, she has some sort of trauma-related amnesia.  She remembers Aidan but not much else, and, floating in the water, she begs Aidan to run away with her, despite her intense internal bleeding.  Nolan was behind the times, believing everything had gone according to plan, but when he realized that Emily had been transported to the hospital with gunshots in her abdomen, he set to business, while the Graysons spun their web of lies at the police station.  Victoria cons her way into convincing hospital staff into allowing Emily to be cared for “at home,” at Grayson Manor, right before Nolan successfully guides Emily through the suppression of most of her Grayson-related memories.  The horrors don’t stop there.

Emily is nursed at home by Niko, who, as it turns out, is Takeda’s daughter, on a mission of vengeance herself.  In fact, she is attempting to hunt down the assassin of her dad, who, as loyal viewers might remember, happens to be Aidan circa season two.  What’s even more complicated? While Emily pushes Aidan away, it seems Aidan has some romantic past with Niko, resulting in some hot and heavy make-out sessions between the two.  Aidan is not my favorite, but this pickle in which he finds himself – well, he made that bed.

To add insult to injury, Patrick finds the safe in Nolan’s house that contains some of Emily’s personal effects, including the box with the double infinity symbol on it, where she keeps some of the evidence and her most precious mementos of her father.  Patrick, who is as shifty as his real mom, tells Vicky about the safe, which, coupled with the revelation about the fake pregnancy, starts Victoria on the hunt of her lifetime, a more committed, more vicious goose chase with Emily as her prey.  She is determined, and it lasts throughout the second half of the season, to expose whatever truth Emily is hiding.  To start her vicious agenda, she tells the doctors at the hospital after the gunshots pierce Emily’s reproductive organs to do what they can to save her life at the expense of being able to have children in the future.  This blow leaves Emily crippled with indecision and pain unlike anything she has yet experienced save the death of her father, and it takes Niko revealing her true identity and a good, solid, Takeda-taught wallop to motivate Emily to get back on track.

In the end, Victoria’s cruel decision, even if courted by Emily’s own actions, also served to rejuvenate her vendetta, and she resolved to, as long as she remained under the Graysons’ roof, be the biggest pain in the ass for Victoria and Daniel that she could be.  She admits as much when she reveals, before their conniving eyes and ears, that she remembers the fact that Daniel shot her, and that revealing that secret to the press could be devastating to the reputation they’ve tried to hard to rebuild, particularly as Daniel moves forward with his plans for Voulez.

Speaking of the magazine, while Margaux battles her French father from across an ocean, determined to prove herself as a woman in a male dominated industry (and family), Conrad sidles in and begins to take steps to assume control of the mag while schmoozing with Pascal, Margaux’s father.  It seems the Graysons and the LeMarchals are old business rivals.  Publicly, Conrad sidesteps into the magazine and effectively corners Margaux into booting Daniel, all the while promising to Pascal that he will help to orchestrate a reunion with Victoria.  It seems, long before Vicky met Conrad Grayson, she was a young art student in Paris, taken in by the charms of an up and coming publisher named Pascal.

Prior to that clandestine reunion, however, original prodigal son Patrick used Grayson connections and Nolan’s technical prowess to track down his biological father, who, as it turns out, raped Victoria, which is how Patrick came into being and why she gave him up for adoption in the first place.  Patrick’s barely contained rage at this man, who has a wife and children of his own, results in Patrick inviting the man to Vicky’s art house under the guise of potentially performing contractor work.  Yet, Victoria realizes what Patrick is doing and enters the scene in the hopes of stopping him from doing something heinously unwise, but the trauma of remembering the episode causes her to falter, the rapist to get feisty, and Patrick to get retaliatory.  He slams his bio-dad down on the hard floor, effectively killing him.  At this point, Victoria resolves to set fire to her precious art dealership and encourages Patrick to accept an opportunity abroad, to get him away from the Hamptons and potential suspicion concerning the death of his father.  Nolan and Vicky share a moment – they agree that Patrick is too good for this world, but that’s a viewpoint this viewer does not share.

Oh, and as the bile volleyed back and forth between Daniel and Emily and Emily and Victoria, Emily pretends to make good on her threat.  She calls a press conference to name her shooter – and points the finger at Lydia Davis.  Conrad believes that his on/off again lover could not shirk her manipulative ways, and Lydia is carted off to prison.  Good riddance, I say.  Also, as Daniel openly flaunts his relationship with Sarah at Emily, even allowing the latter to catch he and Sarah in bed together, Emily lobs one back by tracking down Sarah’s mom, who does not approve of Daniel and Sarah’s reunion.  The appearance of Sarah’s mother effectively and eventually convinces her to break off her relationship with Daniel, serving to further solidify his enmity against Emily and to finally unite him with his mother.

What’s more, Niko discovers a bloodstained katana under Aidan’s bed, further confirming to her tearful rage that Aidan offed Takeda.  Oh, and Jack tries to buy a house, so that he and Margaux can move in together, but that never comes to fruition because Margaux is too concerned about Conrad, her father, and her magazine.  As if we couldn’t see that one coming, but this blogger digresses.

It seems that Emily started having blackouts after her accident, periods when she does things that she doesn’t remember later.  One thing: she is the one who planted the katana under Aidan’s bed for Niko to find.  It seems her subconscious, possibly a psychotic self-identity on par with the problems suffered by her biological mother, is more jealous of Aidan and Niko than she cares to admit.  She also lures Stevie Grayson, Conrad’s first wife, to the Hamptons as her divorce lawyer. Stevie comes with a few secrets, though.  First, it seems she’s a recovering/ed alcoholic.  Second, it seems she had an affair with Carl the First, Jack’s father.  Third, it seems Stevie is Jack’s real mother, since she tells Jack as much.  As a result of this bombshell, the two spend a few episodes getting reacquainted while Emily works her marionettes of Stevie and Conrad from her shadowy sideline; plus, apparently Stevie is the actual owner of Grayson Manor due to some prenuptial agreement and this and that.  To be honest, this viewer didn’t pay much attention to this subplot, and it was largely irrelevant in the end.

Another thing that Emily With a Blackout does: schmoozes with Conrad, possibly seductively, though that seems too convenient, even for this messy show.  It appears, however, that she is using some of her feminine wiles to ply Conrad against Victoria, not that he needs much help.

Right around episode 14, Conrad secures a position for Charlotte at Voulez (yawn).  In addition, when Niko confronts Aidan, it doesn’t go so well for her.  She dies as ignominiously as she appeared, and shaky Aidan emerges triumphant once again.

Stevie pays for Jack’s new house with guilt money and jousts with Vicky over Grayson Manor, though ultimately she forks it over to Conrad in the end, as Conrad is working some weird magic of his own.  Daniel sends a private investigator after Emily, which catches her smooching Aidan. Daniel believes this revelation will give him his annulment, and he enjoys being smug about it for a minute.  Nolan also makes a new infinity box, since Emily allowed the wooden one to be commandeered by Patrick to give to Victoria, with evidence planted by Emily designed to lead Victoria away from David Clarke and toward the idea that Emily is solely after the Graysons’ fortune.  Nolan’s box is metal and requires Emily’s fingerprint to open.  Fancy.

Emily counters Daniel’s P.I. by taking control of the divorce situation and releasing the medical records showing that she had never been pregnant to the press, which gave the Graysons an easy out for the divorce and allowed her to escape the Manor once and for all.  Pascal visits New York in an effort to rekindle that old spark between him and Victoria while his put-upon daughter vies for his affection and approval.  In so doing, Emily discovers that Pascal is connected to the scandal surrounding her father, because everybody on this show is seemingly, while Conrad proposes merger of his and Pascal’s once rival companies; in the meantime, Pascal proposes that Victoria and Pascal orchestrate their own merger, if you’re picking up what I’m putting down.

Stevie senses a kindred spirit in Emily without guessing the truth and offers to help Emily, despite Jack’s mostly hollow protests, since he helps Nolan steal some evidence from Victoria’s lawyers’ law firm.  And an old prison buddy named Javier shows up at Nolan’s door with big dreams and a house monitor on his ankle.  He helps finagle the theft from the law firm and also has this alarming new social media application that presents a virtual self and what that person likes or dislikes as a means to recommend hot new clubs and hot dog stands or whatever that person wants to know about what s/he doesn’t know about him/herself.  Or something.  Nolan offers to help Javier launch this new platform, as long as he retains creative control, but Javier meets Charlotte, and they become a strange romantic item; I guess Charlotte’s type is “much poorer than her.”  Charlotte steers Javier away from Nolan and toward Daniel and Margaux, who appropriate the application launch as a convenient partner project to Voulez.  By the way, when Conrad’s merger idea doesn’t materialize, he suddenly announces his departure from the magazine, allowing Daniel to maneuver back into his old job.

This maneuver proves to be a threat to Jack, who is already threatened by the fact that his French girlfriend is the ultimate career woman, with no interest or time to play house.  Furthermore, Daniel doesn’t trust Jack, what with his closeness to Emily and Nolan and all.  Daniel’s well placed words and Jack’s increasingly jealous behavior effectively drive a wedge between Jack and Margaux, and that relationship disintegrate.  It’s really for the better…they had nothing in common!

Before that fizzle, Emily attempts to sizzle by throwing a charity event that, somehow, includes an invitation to the Graysons, though what Emily is really after is information from Pascal.  Yet, Pascal is not fooled by Emily’s wily seductions, still favoring Ice Queen Vicky, and tries to play Emily while Emily tries to play him.  He also buys his daughter’s fervently passionate suggestion that she be given Voulez and without Conrad after Daniel plays turncoat and suggests that Conrad is in bad with Interpol.  Of course, who isn’t Conrad in bad with?  That was bad grammar, but the gist is there. So, it was Margaux and Daniel at the mag; Pascal bagging Victoria, who fondly remembers their affair and agrees to try again; and Conrad manipulating his first wife out of the deed to Grayson Manor, which he gives to Pascal, who gives it to Victoria, leaving Stevie yearning for brown liquor and escape.  Jack thinks that her departure is well advised and accompanies her back to California.

Emily, unsuccessful with Pascal, decides to search out Aidan, who is off in the Caribbean, drowning his sorrows about both Emily and Niko.  She says she still loves him and wants him to be a part of the big plot.  He throws a tantrum but is eventually won over; after all, Emily is his one true love, or so he thinks.  Though he does suggest he’s no Nolan: can’t push him away and expect him to come crawling back, he blusters.  Except he does crawl back.  As I write this, I find myself despising Aidan quite a bit.  Though he reunites with his mother in England for an episode to discuss the death of his sister, the life of his father, and the existence of a man who knows about David Clarke, according to sleazy author Mason Treadwell, and the moment with his mom is quite touching and gives him some closure and appeasement of his anger. Emily subsequently breaks Mason out of prison with Aidan’s help.  I swear I can’t make this stuff up.

Vicky tries to set a trap for Emily, and while Emily is wise to her games, Victoria does start connecting the dots in the last four episodes of the season.  First, she figures out, with her own photograph and marker, that Emily is targeting people related to David Clarke.  Victoria also agrees to marry Pascal, who apparently can’t live without her ever again.

Yet, unexpected things begin to happen.  First, Charlotte starts to receive letters from an unknown source, and the handwriting looks remarkably similar to David Clarke’s.  What’s more, Jack flies off to investigate and finds an empty cabin with a ring once belonging to Mr. Clarke, though Victoria, in a separate scene, talks to someone who admits to staging the cabin to make it seem as if David is still alive; however, the letters are not part of the scheme, and no one can figure out who is writing them.

Second, Emily decides to up her game and stages a kidnapping of her bio-sister, Charlotte, after torpedoing Javier’s application at Voulez and causing Danny to throw him out on his behind, even as he crawls back to Nolan with his tail between his legs.  Aidan does the dirty deed, and Emily poses as a homeland security agent to notify Conrad that Charlotte has been kidnapped.  Nolan runs the tech, while Aidan pretends to roughhouse poor Charlotte, as Emily watches from behind a two-way mirror.  This was after Conrad confronts Pascal about the leaked letter that Pascal seemingly wrote to David Clarke and pushes him head-on into the very active propeller of an airplane prepared to fly Pascal and Victoria to France.  Conrad professes that Pascal’s death was an accident, but neither Victoria nor Margaux, who was just starting to enjoy a relationship of mutual respect with her father, believes Conrad, with his slimy and somewhat maniacal record.  Though the police investigate and find no evidence that Conrad was involved, particularly since the pilot was paid off by Conrad, Victoria’s grief and misery toward full force toward her hatred for Emily, and Daniel comforts Margaux.

Jack, on the other hand, sniffs out the location of Emily, Aidan, and Nolan and nearly loses his head when he sees that Charlotte has been kidnapped.  While Emily solicits Aidan and Nolan’s help elsewhere, Jack’s guilty conscience plays right into her plans.  He dresses up as the kidnapper and helps to free Charlotte, without realizing that Nolan has fitted her with a camera.  Jack leaves Charlotte on the beach not far from her house, and when Charlotte finds Conrad at home, only to reveal that the kidnappers told her all about his actions in framing and murdering her actual father, David Clarke, Conrad becomes feisty and threatens his adopted daughter’s life while admitting his crimes on camera.  Nolan conveniently hacks the feed inside the manor and pipes it to waiting press and media, and Conrad’s confession is played on fictional news outlets around the world.  He is sent to prison, while Charlotte is left in a state of confused trauma; Emily appears before Conrad to let him realize that she was behind it all, though he does not seem to put two and two together about her real identity, unlike his ex-wife.

Finally…The Season Finale

Victoria, after three years, connects the dots – or, more appropriately, the red X’s.  Emily Thorne is really Amanda Clarke.  When Emily tries to involve the psychiatrist who claimed her father suffered a psychotic break, leading to his alleged terrorist activities, it becomes clear that Victoria got to her first.  Aidan poses as a patient in a quest to help convince the psychiatrist to help Emily, but after Emily leaves, the psychiatrist invites Victoria into her office.  “He’s all yours,” she announces. As it turns out, the psychiatrist laced his water with poison; Vicky finishes the job with a pillow to his struggling-for-breath mouth.  RIP Aidan Matheson.

When Emily finds Aidan, she is beside herself with grief, anger, and rage.  Yet, she can’t be stopped now.  Next, we see Emily digging a grave, and Victoria coming up behind her.  Victoria nails it: the doting daughter of David Clarke would be the only person with so much motive for deeds done.  In an epic confrontation, in which neither woman backs down, Emily spews at Vicky all the vitriol she has bottled up for years, while Victoria resumes her place as key villain of the piece and attempts to defend her actions by suggesting that Emily is just as bad as she is.  So, Emily does the only sensible thing she can do: she whacks Vicky across the face with the shovel she was using to disturb the earth around “Amanda Clarke’s” grave, where the real Emily Thorne and former Mrs. Porter, now deceased, is buried.

In the meantime, Conrad’s time in prison is short.  Though he is threatened by guards for show, his escape is paid for by, what he believes to be, the many allies he thinks he still has. Yet, as Conrad walks out of prison, unscathed, and hikes down a dark, night-filled road expecting to meet a driver that will take him away, the person who emerges from the car is someone no one could possibly be expecting: David Clarke himself.  And, to make good his new lease on life, he stabs Conrad in the heart with a knife.  RIP Conrad Grayson.

What’s more, Gideon LeMarchal, Margaux’s brother, arrives in the Hamptons, secretly hoping to make a bid for the magazine that his father gave away to his sister, or so he hints to old buddy Daniel, but in reality, Gideon harbors revenge plans of his own.  He teams up with like-minded Nolan and somehow gets Daniel drunk on absinthe and into bed with some random girl who happens to be dead.  Why?  That much hasn’t been explained, beyond a deep seated hatred that Gideon claims to have for Daniel.

The piece d’resistance?  Given Victoria’s murderous impulses, Emily is able to sway the sellout psychiatrist back to her side long enough to sign Vicky into an institution, straight-jacketed, raving that Emily Thorne is really Amanda Clarke.  Emily explains to the presiding physicians that she found Victoria, babbling this nonsense while digging up Amanda’s grave.  Thus, Vicky has been committed, as Emily, unbeknownst that her father is alive, strolls down the flickering corridors of the nuthouse, smugly satisfied that though she is alone, her vendetta has been realized.

Except that her dad is alive! Also, Charlotte, at Jack’s comforting touch, and suddenly remembers the kidnapper who left her on the beach as opposed to the one who actually kidnapped her (Aidan). So, she calls the cops, and Jack is hauled off to jail, just when he and Emily are starting to have some sort of understanding, or, at least, a softer side to their ongoing relationship.

At the start of the season, this viewer noted that Revenge was in serious danger of becoming a mockery of itself, feeling very one-note.  Emily Thorne, the alias for Amanda Clarke, and her vendetta ultimately created more harm than good – the victim became as reprehensible as the perpetrators in this little play, and now, the reason for all of these deplorable machinations on Emily’s part has effectively become null and void with the reappearance of his father, who may not be the saintly man of her memories, even if his “eye for an eye” stabbing of Conrad may have been justifiable in the land of television drama.  What’s more, this season was truly an uneven affair, starting off with all sorts of missteps, only to culminate in six really good episodes that effectively rebooted the series, though possibly in a “too little, too late” fashion.  I’m glad that everyone (with the exception of Charlotte) finally knows Emily’s secret, but this viewer is a bit concerned that one of the show’s best villains, Conrad, may be dead, and that the motivation for the main character’s entire reason for being was really a non-motivation all along.  Where does the series go from here? While the last two episodes of the season were largely satisfying, this viewer does not see Revenge maintaining its expert balance of sudsy nighttime soap opera and high octane action drama if the vendetta is really over. Also, what’s Emily or Charlotte going to do when they find out their father is alive?

We have a season four to find out.  Let’s hope the writers take this new lease on longevity and really do something good with it – and let’s hope the network considers a shorter overall season, as Revenge would no doubt benefit from a trimming of the fat.  Twenty-two episodes leave too much room for inconsistent writers to set a myriad of unresolved and/or anticlimactic stages, even though most of the ensemble is doing their level best to work with the material, with the possible exception of Christa Allen (Charlotte), as she probably cannot be redeemed from a performance standpoint, as seems unable to deliver her lines like a real person (sorry again).

Questions, Impressions, and Future Considerations

Old Questions

1) I think the creators of this show have concocted their own “Who shot JR?” or “Who shot Mr. Burns?” scenario.  The primary question is “Who will shoot Emily/Amanda?”  Of course, the bigger question is does she really deserve it?  After all, haven’t her antics placed her at the same level as the Graysons?  How would her father look upon her if he were alive?

Answer: Daniel shot her, and, no, she probably didn’t deserve to be shot, but she did fake a pregnancy, and that got Daniel sore when it lured him away from twue wuv Sarah.  It’s not nice, but it’s understandable from his perspective.  As to the second half of the question, since David Clarke IS alive, we’ll have to wait and see just what he thinks of Emily’s efforts, trials, and tribulations that she has done in his name.

2) I think Jack’s reaction is spot on.  I want Emily to have that love she so desperately seeks in Jack, but Jack is a good man, and it can’t really be said that Emily is a good woman. She may have her reasons, but her tactics have created destruction, though not necessarily loss of life, which is where she, Conrad, and Victoria differ.  Still, since Jack may be the character with the best of intentions and the purest of hearts, is it fair or right for her to want him or to expect him to want her back?  And should the viewer sympathize with her plight?

Answer: Emily is the antihero of the piece, and the writers, much to the credit of their uneven if single-minded storytelling, have developed sympathizing with Emily as a viewer choice.  Jack clearly loves her, and she clearly loves him, but his morals/ethics and her actual deeds are separated by the chasm of a lifetime of experiences that neither shares with the other.  The show wants us to cheer for them as a couple, but somehow, I don’t see how it could happen given everything that has transpired to date.

3) Victoria is deliciously evil – but her world view is so askew, that I still cheer for Emily’s quest against her.  Particularly since she seems to be beyond redemption.

Answer: Emily is definitely the lesser of two evils, to the extent that she is evil at all. Vicky wins the villain crown; though she has had a hard life, with rape and poverty and other things to survive and move past, she crossed the threshold of being despicable a long time ago, regardless of how much she professes to have loved Emily’s father.

4) Declan, Jack’s younger brother’s death in season 2, was a blow.  Jack is a broken man, and Charlotte’s relationship to him is going to present an interesting dynamic, given all they have in common.

Answer: Meh.  It wasn’t that interesting in the end.  And now Charlotte believes that Jack kidnapped her.  Soap operas.

5) Will Emily reveal her secret to her biological sister Charlotte this season?  I think she should.

Answer: She hasn’t yet.  That bombshell seems likely next season.  I don’t think the show’s creators can hold out any longer on that front.

6) What is Patrick’s endgame?  I don’t believe he is present purely for re-connection with his mom.  I’m not even convinced he’s the Patrick that she gave birth to and gave up for adoption.

Answer: Patrick is really Victoria’s son, and he really did just want to reconnect with mom, so much so that he committed murder – twice – for her this season.  In the end, however, his character was mostly superfluous, and he’s left to Italy without so much as as second thought by his once doting mother, who is now in a mental institution.  Maybe he’ll come back to break her out.

7) Nolan continues to be the comic relief and promiscuously bisexual.  Now that he’s broke, however, what part will he have to play?  And really…doesn’t it seem like he and Patrick are flirting?!

Answer:  Um…they were doing much more than flirting.  And he wasn’t that broke. Emily set him up, and Nolan’s pretty smart.  Apparently, he was able to stash some of his own assets, and he is still the ever-present, technologically savvy sidekick, loyal to Emily even as he constantly acts as her conscience for some of her more radical decisions and deeds.

8) I must admit, I was convinced that Aidan was out for revenge against Emily – but now that he’s on her side, what does he want?  Something to do?  Is he holding out hope that Emily will be his one true love in the end?

Answer: In the end, I think Aidan was really all about loving Emily, but his shades of gray were even murkier than Emily’s.  He was a broken man, having lost his dad and his sister, and he never really recovered from these losses.  He took Takeda’s teachings to their most extreme and paid the price, including the ultimate price for his unwavering allegiance to Emily (and Barry Sloane’s new fall show premiering on ABC next season).

9) This show is messy.  Most soap operas are, but this show and its story lines are particularly messy.

Answer: I stand by this.  It’s one of the messiest shows on television, but a guilty pleasure is a guilty pleasure.

New Questions

1) Is Conrad really dead?!  I mean, he seemed pretty stabbed and all, but this is Revenge.  Not even David Clarke is really dead, so forgive the question.

2) How did David Clarke survive, and what’s he been doing all this time?  Has he any idea what Emily/Amanda has been up to?  Does he still have feelings for Victoria? Does he truly know about Charlotte, and was he writing those letters?  And what’s he going to do now that he’s reappeared? That’s the biggest question of all.

3) Is Emily/Amanda going to find out that her father is really alive?  What will that do to her, given everything that has happened and everything that she has done in the past three seasons?

4) Is Victoria really going to stay institutionalized next season?  If she gets out, how will she retaliate against Emily?  Will she even try?

5) Jack released Charlotte, and she was blindfolded.  How can there be any evidence to land him in jail?  He can’t possibly stay there for long.

6) Now that Aidan’s gone, and Margaux is mourning Pascal while flirting with Daniel, does this mean that Jack and Emily are free to explore their childhood affections for each other?

7) Do we even care about Daniel anymore or the fact that Gideon LeMarchal is after him?  Daniel is kind of a tool, even if he had a right to be mad after finding out that Emily lied to him for three years.

8) What will Nolan do when he finds out that his mentor and champion is alive?

9) Is David Clarke really a good guy, as we’ve been led to believe?  Or, was he a convenient patsy because he is actually more morally ambiguous, given Victoria’s past allusions to a side of David that others didn’t really see?

PARTING SHOTS

As this viewer opined before, Revenge started off as a thrilling, addicting, impossibly voyeuristic guilty pleasure that brought the lives of the rich and wealthy into a world of intrigue, greed, and corruption. Emily was a sympathetic character with, at least, a pure motive – to avenge the death and reputation of her beloved father.  Yet, her journey has rendered her character as morally ambiguous as the rest of them, and now, that motive has been rendered cloudy and moot with the emergence of her believed-to-be-dead father, very much alive and feeling kind of vengeful, apparently, himself.  Also, can a show called Revenge be interesting if the key “revenge” has been executed?  The potential new direction for the series could be very satisfying or even more messy and contrived than the past two seasons have been.  This viewer will tune in next season to find out, with the hope that the solid final two episodes of the third season provide a stable launch pad for a whole new and engaging story line for this program.

LOOKING AHEAD:

Revenge was renewed for a fourth season and will return to ABC in fall 2014.  The show is officially on hiatus.  Until fall, Revengeheads!

Around the Water Cooler: “Once Upon A Time,” the Season 3 Finale and Winter/Spring Recap (MAJOR SPOILERS)

THE SPECS:

Who: “Once Upon a Time” airs on network TV, specifically on ABC, fall/winter/spring Sundays at 8:00 PM.

What: “Once Upon a Time,” a fantasy drama wherein storybook and fairy tale characters are not only real but are living in this world, away from their enchanted kingdoms and worlds beyond reality, and how they all interrelate (for a more detailed Synopsis, read here: http://www.aceshowbiz.com/tv/once_upon_a_time/summary.html).

When: The Season 3 finale aired on Sunday, May 12, 2014, on ABC at 8:00 PM.

Where: The show is set in fictional Storybrooke, Maine, as well as in “The Enchanted Forest,” the fairy tale kingdom from where most of the main characters originate. The action takes place primarily in present day, though there are flashbacks to the characters’ past lives, before they were whisked away to Storybrooke via curse wrought by the Evil Queen Regina (Lana Parilla) and before they were made run-of-the-mill real world residents with serious bouts of amnesia.

Why: Two primary reasons: one, I love fantasy and fairy tales, and the Disney network green-lit a live action serial television program about fairy tale characters that they would probably own the rights to, if the characters weren’t already public domain.  Two, the creators are Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, two of the head writers of Lost. Whatever else may be said about the latter program, I don’t think anyone could argue that Lost wasn’t well written.  Once boasted some whopper ingredients that promised to result in an explosive and tantalizing mixture of story possibilities; the show has done nothing but live up to that expectation and then some.

How – as in How’s It Going? (THOUGHTS…at present)

For a recap of the first half of the season, including a comprehensive look at December’s mid-season finale, click here.

Well, we’ve been to Oz and back, and now it looks as if we’re going to get a little Frozen.  And this viewer doesn’t know how she feels about it.

The second half of the third season of Once Upon a Time can best be described as “squandered potential.”  After a first half meditating almost exclusively on Never Land and the convoluted family tree surrounding young Henry (Jared S. Gilmore), the second half of the season took a brilliant mid-season finale and endless possibilities for storybook (ahem) potential and became a somewhat boring affair that ended on a satisfying if less than riveting cliffhanger, with little story cohesion in the process.  What’s more, the Once production team apparently got in bed with the unerring capitalists behind the network and decided to introduce a timely – and chilly – villain for next season, in the most exploitative way possible.

In some ways, season 3 of Once felt like season 3 of Lost all over again, only backwards.  The bad first half of the third season of Lost led to the cliffhanger of all time (“We have to go back!”) in a progressively better second half of that season. For Once, a decently harrowing first half, with at least some startling revelations despite a prolonged visit with Peter Pan – the man-turned-teen good-for-nothing dad of Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle) – landed with an anticlimactic thud, despite a fun season finale that finally gave Emma (Jennifer Morrison) the chance to experience and understand the former world of her parents, Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas).  In fact, the Back to the Future parallel stopped being a subtle reference and became an all-out homage in the finale, when Emma found herself back in time and interfering with the first chance meeting of her parents.  It was Marty meets Lorraine and George all over again, and even Emma remarked, so obviously meta and cheeky in the clunkiest bit of dialogue in the finale, that she did not want to be the Marty McFly of the situation, much to Hook’s (Colin O’Donaghue) befuddlement. There was even a dance involved, though it wasn’t exactly called “Enchantment Under the Sea” – or “Fish Under the Sea” for that matter.

Let’s back up, though.  As of the mid-season finale, bratty Peter Pan, aka Rumpel’s dad, met his demise at the hand of his son, who stabbed him with the Dark One’s blade, puncturing his father’s heart through his own shoulder in a brave and loving sacrifice to save those he loved. Rumpel and his selfish father disappeared from the streets of Storybrooke, though, unfortunately, Pan had unleashed another version of Regina’s curse;  the town of Storybrooke was doomed to fade into non-existence.  All the fairy tale characters would be whisked back to their former lands.  Emma and Henry were encouraged to run by all involved, with Regina casting a spell that would wipe their memories of Storybrooke and all who lived there clean.  As green smoke enveloped the sleepy, magical Maine town of Storybrooke, Emma and Henry drove in Emma’s yellow Volkswagen Beetle away from the town they had called home and set up shop in New York City.  There they lived a year, believing that they had always been together, content to enjoy waffles and hot cocoa with cinnamon, and life was good.  Henry was well adjusted and happy; Emma was dating a man she believed would propose to her.

Hook subsequently shows up at Emma’s door in his best Doctor Emmett Brown manner.  Though he tries, unsuccessfully, to jog her suspicious and forgotten memory with a kiss, Emma, not knowing who he is, threatens to call the cops.  She slams the door in his face, just as he says: “Your family is in trouble!  You have to save them!”

Yet, the pirate also known as Killian is not easily dissuaded, being as in love with Emma as he is.  He manages to finagle his way into Emma’s life and to convince Emma to drink a vial of potion that allows her to recover her memories after her boyfriend turns out to be a flying monkey.  Once Emma is able to remember who she is, though Henry is still under the spell, Hook informs her that her parents and the denizens of Storybrooke need her help.  After all – she is the savior and the product of true love.  If anyone can save everyone, it’s Emma.  She’s done it loads of times before, right?

Emma, Hook, and Henry – who Emma informs is taking a road trip with them and will be out of school for a while, much to his suspicious cheer – head back to Maine.  There, they find that Storybrooke has flawlessly reappeared, and most of its citizens have returned as well.  They find Emma’s parents, but Snow/Mary Margaret is quite pregnant.  What’s worse, none of the Storybrooke residents can remember their year in the Enchanted Forest, and they don’t know how they got back, either.  What’s more, people are disappearing here and there, becoming what are identified to be more flying monkeys.

Regina is excited by the prospect of seeing Henry again, but he doesn’t remember her.  Emma allows them to spend time together but warns everyone that it will be tough to convince Henry of the truth, particularly since their year in New York was so good, so safe, and so free from fairy tale magic.  In secret, however, Emma simply hopes that once they’ve solved the mystery of the disappearing/reappearing village, Emma and Henry can return to that life in New York City, out of the way of magic, of being the savior, and of all of the confusing heartache she has experienced for three years.

The Charmings, Emma, and Regina start to piece together clues, as flashbacks show the viewer some glimpses of the return of the fairy tale characters to the Enchanted Forest.  Coinciding with this detective hunt is the appearance of Zelena (Rebecca Mader), who interviews as a possible midwife for Snow White.  The viewer soon learns that Zelena is none other than the Wicked Witch of the West from the Land of Oz.  The revelations don’t stop there, however.

Revelation #1 – Zelena, i.e. the Wicked Witch, is Regina’s half sister, the daughter of Cora and a gardener and cad who pretended to be a secret prince to woo Cora to bed.

In fact, Zelena finds this out and makes it her mission to exact revenge.  The viewer learns over several episodes that Zelena, who was more of a natural at learning magic than her sister, and who is the elder of the two, resents her mother for abandoning her in the Enchanted Forest, only to be picked up by a tornado and carried away to Oz.  Her adoptive father didn’t love her, and Rumpel, who found her and taught her to wield her powerful magical gift, didn’t love her either, despite her obsessively romantic leanings toward him.  Her quest for the entire second half of the season was to execute a spell that would allow her to go back in time and reclaim the life she never had, with her mother, with Rumpel, and away from everyone who ever crossed her path and caused her heartache.

Revelation #2 – Rumpelstiltskin is alive!  But at a cost!

In flashback, the viewer learns that Belle (Emilie de Ravin) and Baelfire (Michael Raymond James) decide to search for the Dark One’s spirit in order to aid them against Zelena and/or to piece together how Regina’s Evil Queen castle was taken over with a magical force field surrounding it. Baelfire, on advice from Lumiere – the candlestick from Beauty and the Beast and a purported prisoner in Rumpel’s castle – believes he can bring his father back from the dead if he is able to find the Dark One’s dagger, which sheathes the magical spirit.  Unfortunately, Lumiere is enslaved by Zelena’s magic, leading Baelfire to free his father’s spirit at a cost: Rumpel can’t rise from the dead without a sacrifice, i.e. Baelfire’s death.  Rumpel can’t let his son go again without a fight, and so, he magics his son’s soul into his own body, stuffing Rumpel’s outward shell with Bae’s spirit in addition to his own.  This causes Rumpel to go a bit crazy, leaving room for Zelena to snag the dagger and to take control of the Dark One and, therefore, Rumpel.  The viewer learns that in the return to Storybrooke, she stores Rumpel in a cage in a storm shelter on her property on the outskirts of town, waiting for the moment to unleash him on the Storybrooke residents, but Baelfire emerges from his dad and sacrifices himself, so that his dad can regain his faculties and defeat Zelena.  Bae, also known as Neal, dies in a heartbroken Emma’s arms to help his dad save the town.  Both Rumpel and Emma are beside themselves with grief; the rest of Storybrooke soon follows when he is laid to rest during an outdoor funeral.

Revelation #3 – Regina finds her true love in two places.

Regina spends the entire second half of the season playing the role of good guy, and it earns her just rewards.  First, Regina teams up with Emma to root out Zelena’s identity.  Second, she and Snow seem to make amends when Regina attempts to summon the spirit of Cora to learn the truth about Zelena, and her mother terrorizes her from beyond the grave in a vain attempt to keep the secret of her sister and her sister’s father’s identities.  Regina’s capacity to love grows, however, with her attempts to reconnect to Henry – it’s her kiss on his forehead that helps to break the spell clouding Henry’s memories, rather than Emma’s.  Also, after Tinkerbell’s helpful hints in the first half of the season, Regina’s heart literally ends up in the hands of Robin Hood for protection; the two met in the enchanted forest as Evil Queen and Robber of the Rich, but in Storybrooke, flirtation turns into love, and Robin aims to do everything he can to protect Regina’s physical heart outside of her chest – from Cora, from Zelena, and from herself.

Revelation #4 – Emma is blessed with light magic.

Her role as the savior includes the infusion of light magic, a product of her being the child of true love.  This means that she is the only formidable threat to Zelena, who traffics exclusively in Dark Magic.  Regina, as a result, takes Emma under her wing as Rumpel did for her, and Emma is a quick study.  Unfortunately, Zelena knows of the threat Emma poses, owing to a tip off from Glinda, the Good Witch back in Oz.  The Wicked Witch kidnaps Hook and poisons his actual lips with a spell that will remove Emma’s magic if he kisses her, which she orders him to do lest she harm Emma and Henry.  Hook reluctantly agrees, though he does everything he can to stave off stealing what he’s always wanted. When Hook is embattled with a flying monkey and the Wicked Witch’s magic, he is knocked unconscious, seemingly dead or at the brink of death.  Emma saves him with a little CPR, but her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation results in the loss of her magic, at least initially.

Revelation #5 – Snow and Charming recast the curse to stop Zelena.

Snow and Charming also spoke to Glinda after Regina’s confrontations with her half sister and learned that only light magic, the product of true love, could stop the Wicked Witch.  Snow and Charming then realized that they would have to get Storybrooke back in order to get to Emma, whose magic was the key.  As Regina reminded them, however, the curse required a sacrifice of the heart of the person the curse-caster loves most; the Queen sacrificed her father, Henry’s, heart to enact the curse the first time.  Charming, whose courage and bravery were already removed by Zelena’s spell when he attempted to save Rapunzel in an earlier flashback episode, volunteered for the sacrifice, so that Snow could cast the curse.  Regina removes his heart and gives it to Snow, who reluctantly crumbles it into the cauldron of curse-casting brew.  Charming crumples and dies, but Snow believes that her heart can be torn into two halves, one half being placed in Charming, as her love is “strong enough for both” of them.  Doubtful, Regina removes Snow’s heart at her request, breaks it in half, and replaces each half into Snow and Charming.  Charming revives, as purple smoke billows out of the cauldron.

Revelation #6 – Zelena is beyond redemption.

The viewer learns that Zelena’s Wicked Witch is green due to the unbridled jealousy she harbors given her life of abandonment and neglect at the hands of her adoptive parents, particularly her father.  When she learns of her true origins, her sole mission becomes to learn magic powerful enough to time travel backward and to prevent her mother from giving her up, which also would result in Regina not being born.  In order to cast this curse, she needs several ingredients: a brain, a heart (which she gets from her sister), courage (which she gets from Charming), and Snow and Charming’s baby-to-be.

Yet, she could have been a good and loving witch.  Back in Oz, Glinda invited the budding young witch to be part of a Witch’s Council, which included the Witches of the East and North (Glinda is Southern in this tale).  The Witch’s Council oversees Oz and its denizens, but a prophecy existed indicating that one of the Council might be pure evil and would be overturned by an innocent from the West who is brought to the land of Oz by tornado.  Initially, Glinda believes the innocent to be Zelena, until that pesky Dorothy comes around.  Zelena identifies herself as evil, Dorothy as the hero of the prophecy, and her fate to be sealed.  She confronts young Dorothy, who throws a bucket of water on her.  Zelena melts for show; Glinda takes Dorothy to see the Wizard of Oz, who is really Zelena’s Monkey Captain.  Though Dorothy gets home with the help of some silver slippers (staying with L. Frank Baum’s novel over the film version, apparently), Zelena threatens Glinda as does anyone who would challenge her.

In Storybrooke, Snow and Charming have a baby boy, but Zelena manages to get past a magic-less Emma to kidnap him for her spell with the help of the Dark One’s dagger and Rumpel’s enslaved powers.  Emma reasons that she is not the only one capable of light magic: Regina has achieved enough goodness and love to break the spell over Henry; it’s possible she can turn her powers toward good.  Henry tells his adoptive mom that he believes in her, and, together with Robin Hood’s proclamations of love, it’s enough to get Regina believing in herself.  She confronts Zelena with the help of Emma, Hook, and Robin Hood by diverting the Dark One’s magic.  They foil the plot, stop the spell, save the baby, and jail Zelena, the green pendant, i.e. the source of her power, becoming part of Regina’s vault collection.

Rumpel is not easily quelled, however.  After a show in which he gives his dagger seemingly over to Belle, entrusting her with mastery over him and his dark impulses, the viewer learns that Rumpel pulled a switcheroo and gave Belle a fake.  He kept the real one, so that he could sneak into the jail and dispose of Zelena himself, mostly in repayment for the death of Baelfire.

And so…the Season Finale…

Emma is ready to flee back to New York City, though Henry clearly wants to stay.  Yet, she resists, remembering her time in foster care and searching for permanence, despite her rational self reminding her that her parents did not mean to abandon her.  As Snow and Charming gather the town at Granny’s for an impromptu “coronation,” at which the announcement of the new baby’s name would occur, Emma leaves for a breath of fresh air when her secret desire to leave again is unearthed, and Hook follows her, just as the portal to the past that Zelena was ready to open actually opens.  It seems, when Rumpel shuffled Zelena off from the mortal coil, her magic lost its tether and, therefore, its control, even to the pendant stored away in Regina’s vault.  A great column of orange light pierces the sky, catching Emma’s attention as Hook attempts to convince her that home is where her family is, though Emma opines that home is the place you leave and end up missing the most.  Emma and Hook go to check things out and end up getting sucked into the portal, where they appear in the past, on the day that a very forlorn Prince Charming is set to marry Midas’ starchy daughter.

Though Hook warns against changing the past, their presence sets into motion the most Back to the Future of events.  As Emma and Hook hide out of sight, Emma’s inadvertent crushing of a twig, brought on by the fact that she isn’t used to wearing corsets and cloaks, distracts her mother, up in a tree and aiming to rob the prince’s carriage with arrow and bow.  Snow falls out of the tree, the carriage stops, the Prince surveys the scene, but Snow is too caught off guard to steal the pouch with the ring that would become a symbol of their love and marriage.  The Prince and his bride-to-be drive off, and Snow runs toward the seashore with intentions of escape from the Evil Queen’s earnest search for her.  Suddenly, Emma is very much Marty McFly, forced to make her parents meet after mucking up what was supposed to be their destined introduction.

The next two hours are squarely Once Upon a Time’s very obvious nod to the film it keeps overtly referencing.  Emma and Hook must find Snow and convince her to steal the ring over which she and Charming must bond and fall in love.  This involves Hook convincing Emma to flirt with the past version of himself, only to find himself jealous of himself; Hook stealing aboard the Jolly Roger and Mr. Smee noticing he’s a bit off; Hook punching himself in the face when a very drunk past-Hook carries Emma aboard the ship with the hopes of a midnight rendezvous and espousing that he would likely forget the encounter because he would blame it on the rum; Hook and Emma crashing the Prince’s engagement ball with the help of Rumpelstiltskin, who is convinced to help them when Emma informs him that he will find Baelfire one day; Emma identifying herself as “Princess Leia” and Hook as “Prince Charles” while under magical disguise courtesy of Rumpel; Snow botching the robbery and dropping the ring; Snow deciding to use the dark fairy dust she had been carrying on Regina, only to court execution, until she uses the dark fairy dust on herself to escape death but to not have the dust available for the trolls when they threaten Charming; Emma being relieved when Snow is transformed back from a ladybug and hugging her, only to realize that her mother doesn’t know who she is; and Snow tricking the trolls on the troll bridge into believing she still had that fairy dust, only to right the course of true love in the end when the trolls, who are never very bright, fall for Snow’s ruse.  What’s more, the Wizard of Oz comes full circle when Rumpel, who was supposed to be helping Emma to reopen the portal to the future, informs her that only the person who used the portal can reopen it.  With the help of a magic wand, and Emma realizing that there’s no place like Storybrooke, her true home and the place she’s left and finds herself missing (thanks to past advice from Baelfire), as well as her family, including her mother and father, Emma regains her magic and manages to open the portal.  Rumpel at first tries to hold her back to find out what happens to Baelfire, holding a potion that would cause him to forget all he learned; Emma tearfully tells him that Bae died to protect Rumpel, Emma, and all the denizens of the Enchanted Forest and pleads with Rumpel not to let that sacrifice be in vain.  Rumpel, glimmers of hope still flickering, lets Emma go and drinks the potion (not without saying “what the hell am I doing in here?” when he finds himself in the vault to which he transported Hook and Emma for safe keeping).

Emma and Hook return to Storybrooke in Christmas Present, and the first thing that happens is that Emma finds her parents and calls them each “Mom and Dad” for the first time, vowing to remain in Storybrooke with Henry and the rest of her family.  Snow and Charming name Emma’s baby brother (and Henry’s baby uncle) Neal in honor of Baelfire, which catches Rumpel for a visible heart-string tug.  Rumpel marries Belle, despite the Dark One dagger he still has hidden, with the help of Dr. Hopper/Jiminy Cricket.  Emma learns of when Hook sacrificed the Jolly Roger to save her (and to help Ariel), and she gives him quite a kiss.  Regina and Robin Hood are happy, and Emma even appears in the Once Upon a Time storybook that Snow gave to Henry at the start of the series, though as both Princess Leia and as the Savior.

Yet, two wrinkles emerge.  First, while in the past, Emma saved a woman locked up by the Evil Queen, pending execution for opposing her in defense of then-fugitive Snow White.  In order not to further dilute the timeline, Hook and Emma agree that this woman should be brought with them to future Storybrooke, as she should have died by all rights but for Emma’s penchant for saving lives. When Regina and Robin Hood enter Granny’s diner with Robin Hood’s young son, the saved woman initially recoils, until Emma convinces Regina to talk to her and persuade her of Regina’s new-found goodness. When the woman emerges from the crowd, Robin Hood calls out “Marian?!”  It seems the young woman is Maid Marian, the mother of Robin’s young son.  Regina watches as her hopes of true love crumble, wither, and turn to ash, and she rounds on Emma, accusing her of being exactly like her mother and threatening possible revenge.

In the meantime, the portal opened by Zelena’s untethered magic somehow becomes active again. The final shots of the season are of what is unmistakably Elsa, from Disney’s recent film Frozen, icily materializing from the glowing embers.  Why or how that happens – we don’t know.  All we know at this point is that Regina is unhappy and possibly hurtling toward an evil heart again and may be joined by magical commercialism in her quest.

And so the third season of Once lands with a thud.  After a promising mid-season finale that could have traveled in so many different directions, with so many story possibilities, the writers chose first to fracture the fairy tale of The Wizard of Oz and did so by casting another Lost alumnus, with a far less effective and competent result, as this viewer never enjoyed Mader’s Wicked Witch. Second, they chose to kill off Baelfire, the key to most of the story lines in seasons two and three, and Rumpelstiltskin’s entire reason for being who he is, effectively ending the love triangle with the most interest (and this viewer’s personal horse in that race).  Third, while reintroducing Maid Marian into the mix adds a certain amount of intrigue, particularly given Regina’s tenuous hold on good feelings and intentions, making Elsa a random new character so soon after Frozen’s successful run in theaters makes this viewer start to gag at the Disney business model yet again.

At the end of my mid-season review, I proffered that there is nothing like Once on TV right now, and that is still true, but I think by repeatedly suggesting that it is firing on all cylinders, I may have jinxed it a bit.  A few of those cylinders started to overheat this third season, based on this viewer’s observations of the second half of the season. True, this viewer was disappointed by where the story ultimately went, hoping instead for action set almost entirely in The Enchanted Forest or even New York rather than a quick and initially unexplained reemergence of cursed Storybrooke.  I was ready to accept the direction the audience was provided in the end, given that characters like Emma and Regina reached important evolutionary milestones, such as Emma’s acceptance of her parents, same-aged though they are, and Regina’s real strides away from evil.  I’m even happy that Rumpelstiltskin lives, though I loved Baelfire and still hope for a magical resurrection there.  Yet, the entire third season really lacked the intrigue and impact of the freshman and sophomore seasons, by spending too much time in Never Land and by squandering the emotional impact of the mid-season finale.  As a result, the major revelations of the entire season began to feel forced, artificial, or lacking finesse in presentation (i.e. clunky) as they were revealed.

I love this show, and I don’t mean to keep comparing it to Lost; however, given the fact that the creators and executive producers keep casting Lost alumni and seem to be following the pattern of their previous show, I can’t help it.  Elsa could very well be Nikki and Paolo.  What saved Lost was putting an end date on the series and forcing the writers to map out the story arc far ahead, even if the series finale and sixth and last season were controversial in how they were ultimately executed. Since the writers here overlap in significant ways, and the show’s creators hail from that prior show, they may need similar boundaries to regain some story focus.

The performances are still good; the visual effects are a bit of a mixed bag; and Henry is less annoying than he used to be (his voice is changing, so that helps).  Yet, Once might be suffering a hangover from the intoxication of its initial success story-wise.  This viewer will keep watching but with trepidation.  After all, there are so many story worlds to mine out there – they could have waited a season or two before introducing Elsa the Frozen.

Questions, Impressions, and Future Considerations

Old Questions

1) The show never addressed what the Shadow actually was or where it actually came from, and now it’s destroyed.  We know it’s evil, but why did it exist to begin with?  What was Never Land really, in the end?

Answer: The show dropped this answer like a rock off a cliff.  We left Never Land, Pan died, and the Shadow lived, but as what, I guess we’ll never know.

2) So, how are the Storybrooke residents faring now?  What does the Enchanted Forest look like, having never been cursed, since the revocation of the curse caused the effects to blip out of existence?  Or, is the Forest still destroyed as an after-effect, and do our characters remember everything (Hook certainly does)?  What has happened to our beloved characters in the eleven years of the lost memory and/or the one year since Storybrooke was no more?

Answer: The Enchanted Forest went back to normal, as if the curse had never been cast.  The characters remembered their lives in Storybrooke when they were in the Enchanted Forest, but due to the recasting of the curse, they forgot their year in the Enchanted Forest.  See above for what happened to our characters.

3) What will happen when she sees these guys again?  Hook’s risky kiss might have damaged his quest for love a bit, but Emma finding these men again should be interesting.  What will fate reveal?

Answer: Though Emma loves both men, fate voted for Hook.  Baelfire sacrificed himself to save his father and, therefore, Storybrooke, Emma, and Henry.  Hook got the girl in the end.  Yay?

4) The biggest question of all: how will Emma and Henry get into that Enchanted Forest, and what will happen to convince them that they are related to heretofore fictional characters?

Answer: Henry didn’t get to go at all, and Emma only got to visit the past Enchanted Forest at the end of the season.  Emma drank a potion provided by Hook to allow her to remember.  Regina’s true love kiss for her son allowed Henry to regain his memories.

5) Is Rumpelstiltskin aka Mr. Gold really dead?  I hope not!

Answer: Nope.  He lives, by sacrifice of his son.  Poetically tragic.

New Questions

1) Is Regina really going to go full-on evil again because Robin found Marian?  And how will that affect her relationship with Emma, Henry, and the Charmings?

2) Is Robin really going to forget his love for Regina just because Marian is around again?

3) Will Belle find the Dark One’s dagger?  She seems to know Mr. Gold’s shop better than he does. And what will finding the dagger do to them if she does find it?

4) Is baby Neal magical like his sister?

5) Elsa?  Really?  I vote no.  Oh, sorry, question: what the hell does she want, and how the hell did she come through that portal?  And most importantly: why did she come through that portal?

6) Is Henry magical?  Did Emma and Baelfire have true love, ever?

7) Is the fourth season of Once going to be good or predictably mediocre, now that so many story lines have been resolved and the only inspiration the creators could find was from a movie that is six months old?  PS: Sellouts.

PARTING SHOTS

While the Lost alums learned lessons from their prior job by keeping the audience guessing and knowing when to provide the key answers at the key times without it becoming frustrating or a story too big to rein in by the time all is said and done, it feels like they’ve shot their full clip in this last uneven and disjointed season. Creatively, the tone and hodgepodge of story sources, such as The Wizard of Oz and Frozen, render the whole proceeding as if the producers are reaching and may be a bit too in bed with the network heads (or maybe the latter is a bit too controlling of the property).  While the third season of Once offered some exceptional episodes, particularly the mid-season finale, the quality of the season overall did not live up to that of the first two seasons.  The back half of the third season leaves this viewer with a growing sense of apprehension and trepidation over the future of the show, though for now, faith reigns supreme, as I will tune in for season 4.

LOOKING AHEAD:

Once Upon a Time was renewed last week for a fourth season, which will premiere in Fall 2014 on ABC.  The show is officially on hiatus.  Until Fall, Once fans!

Around the Water Cooler: “Star-Crossed” – Officially Canceled

Who:  “Star Crossed,” currently airs on network TV, specifically the CW, Mondays at 8:00 PM.

What: “Star Crossed,” a science fiction romance depicting an Earth of the not-too-distant future on which crashes a host of refugee aliens called “Atrians” who seek asylum and shelter from their home planet.  The Earth population does not welcome them with open arms, however, and they are forced to co-exist by being relegated to a “sector” to live, except for a group of teenagers who are permitted under armed guard to attend a local high school.  One of the aliens and one of the humans instantly connect due to having met as children, but societal prejudices reign supreme.

SYNOPSIS

In September 2014, a spaceship crash lands outside Baton Rouge, and the survivors are met with hostility by American military and law enforcement.  They are rounded up and herded into a camp called the “Sector,” where they are forced to live.  Roman, as a child, is able to hide temporarily in the shed of Emery, a young girl whose father works for the government.  Emery watches, however, as soldiers come to take Roman, shooting him in the process and leading her to believe he has died.

In September 2024, Emery (Aimee Teegarden) is attending her senior year of high school, after having been previously and semi-permanently living in a hospital ward due to having an acute auto-immune disorder. Somehow, she was cured and is able to attend her first semester along with the Atrians, who are being allowed to integrate, one might say, for the very first time too.  While her welcome is inauspicious, the Atrians are challenged by anti-alien protests and bullied by many students inside the school.  Yet, Roman (Matt Lanter), now grown, catches sight of the kind, shy girl who fed and sheltered him when he was young.  While the Atrians have trouble adjusting to high school – and more trouble than the average American teen – Emery finds herself instantly accepted, yet she is immediately drawn to Roman, as he is to her.  This bond is strengthened when Emery and her friend Julia (Malese Jow, The Vampire Diaries), her friend from the hospital who is sick with the same disorder, sneak into the forbidden Sector looking for an alien herb believed to have curative properties. Roman helps Emery to escape; Emery returns the favor when confrontations between humans and Atrians reach fever pitch.  It seems the two are “star crossed” in love and in life, doomed to an attraction that can only bring them difficulty in the end, though Roman, at least for now, is willing to take the risk and subvert the taboos.

When: The series premiered on the CW, Monday, February 16, 2014, at 8:00 PM.

Where: The show is set in what appears to be Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Why: As a lover of all science fiction, I was intrigued by the premise of the show, even though it seemed to combine Roswell with Romeo and Juliet.  I had no high expectations, however, as the teen angst quotient had potential to be rather high with this one, for better or for worse.

How – as in How’s It Going? (THOUGHTS…at present)

As May sweeps round to a close and “up fronts,” when the new season’s schedules are announced by each of the major networks, are poised to begin, the networks have been making sweeping and swift final decisions regarding what stays and what goes, i.e. what is renewed for another season and what is canceled.  Because the purpose of this blog is to be more editorial about particular shows this viewer watches rather than a major entertainment news outlet to report scoops, spoilers, and other television-related sound bytes (for now), this blogger will report the cancellations and reviews as I have time to write about them.

Yesterday, the CW canceled mid-season freshman science fiction drama Star-Crossed, among others.  Behind on the show given life/blog balancing issues (hey, I’m new at this!), this viewer has watched six episodes of the original thirteen ordered; twelve have aired.  The original review of the pilot can be found here.

This viewer rated the pilot three stars, meaning there was some things I liked, and some things I didn’t.  What I generally liked: the character of Roman and the performance of the actor portraying him, i.e. Matt Lanter; the visual effects, sparingly used but stunning; and the character of Julia, portrayed by Malese Jow.  What I generally didn’t like: the painfully pedantic parallel to prejudice and bigotry as historically and presently relevant in this country; the adult actors as a whole; the lead actress, Aimee Teegarden, and her portrayal of “star-crossed” lover Emery; and the overly hormonal and angst-ridden teenager/first world problem undercurrent of the story, target audience and airing network aside.

Three stars typically calls for a six episode trial, so, to that end, this viewer accomplished watching the three-star trial number of episodes.  Unfortunately, my opinions didn’t really improve, though they didn’t deteriorate, either.  Star-Crossed is a largely predictable affair, with requisite tropes, including plucky best friend, obstacle love triangle, the forbidden love underlying the title, and an ongoing battle between prejudiced humans and aliens alike.  This viewer believes the story offered true potential, but the dialogue writing was somewhat lackluster, and the performances covered such a wide range of engaging to wooden, never more clearly than between the two leads.  It was difficult for me to get excited about watching it; it was such a derivative combination of science fiction influences as well as saccharine and formulaic romance.  Still, I hope Matt Lanter can find a new project; he’s a handsome, charismatic, and talented actor.

The now series finale is scheduled to air Monday, May 12, 2014, at 8:00 PM on the CW.  While there will no doubt be some disappointed fans out there, this viewer is going to cut losses and stop watching the program, for among the six episodes that I have watched, the pattern was the same: Emery and Roman look longingly at each other; Roman spurs her attempts at communication for her “safety;” Emery seeks solace with the son of the leaders of the Red Hawks, the anti-alien answer to the Ku Klux Klan, who also happens to have feelings for her; violence brews between the Red Hawks and the “Trags,” the Atrians’ answer to modern terrorism/revolutionaries seeking to better the plight of their people; and so it goes and so on.  Like I previously suggested, the story had potential, but as this viewer has encountered no real loose ends in the six episodes I’ve seen (other than whether the star-crossed lovers can acknowledge and consummate their forbidden love), I will save time, stop watching, and remove it from the blog’s watch list.

PARTING SHOTS

Fluctuating to generally poor ratings couldn’t buoy the drowning potential of Star-Crossed, despite the CW’s generally forgiving nature where ratings are concerned, as it continues to stand up to the other four networks.  Sadly, it wasn’t the best offering out there, either, as middling production qualities met unrealized story possibility.  RIP Star-Crossed. I won’t miss you too much, but I’m sure others will.

THE FUTURE OF THE SHOW:

Canceled!  After six episodes, this viewer has officially stopped watching and removed it from the watch list.  One episode remains and will air on Monday, May 12, 2014, at 8:00 PM.

Around the Water Cooler (and Breaking): “Crisis” – Officially Canceled

Who:  “Crisis,” aired on network TV, specifically on NBC, Sundays at 10:00 PM.

What: “Crisis,” a hostage drama wherein the children of the most powerful and influential leaders of the United States and even the world, including the president’s son, are kidnapped, and each of the powerful parents are approached by the kidnappers for different reasons.  The show follows the kidnapped children, the FBI and Secret Service as they conduct the manhunt, and the mastermind of the kidnapping.

SYNOPSIS

Washington’s elite teenagers attend a fictional private school.  While on a field trip, their bus is hijacked; one of the Secret Service agents inexplicably shoots his partner, Agent Finley (Lance Gross); and the children are taken, blindfolded, to a secure location.  As it turns out, one of the trip chaperons, Francis Gibson (Dermot Mulroney), poorer student Beth Ann’s father and seemingly an unassuming spineless type, is masterminding  the whole affair for unknown reasons and is taking it in turn to contact each of the parents, including Amber’s mom Meg (Anderson), the CEO of a powerful multi-million dollar corporation, to force them to do extreme things in the hopes of seeing their children again. Fortunately, Meg’s sister, Agent Susie Dunn (Rachael Taylor), is an FBI agent and also Amber’s real mother, and she has been assigned to meet with her estranged sister and the other parents to solve the crisis, before the kidnappers cause harm to any of the children, including the president’s son.

When: The series premiered on NBC, Sunday, March 16, 2014, at 10:00 PM.

Where: The action is primarily set in Washington DC and surrounds.

Why: Honestly, as I watch this program, I’m not quite sure what enticed me to it other than Gillian Anderson.  The erstwhile Scully features prominently in this show, though other projects she has done have not interested me.  Otherwise, this program doesn’t fit my usual cup of tea.  Oh well – I’m expanding my horizons, perhaps.

How – as in How’s It Going? (THOUGHTS…at present)

As May sweeps round to a close and “up fronts,” when the new season’s schedules are announced by each of the major networks, are poised to begin, the networks have been making sweeping and swift final decisions regarding what stays and what goes, i.e. what is renewed for another season and what is canceled.  Because the purpose of this blog is to be more editorial about particular shows this viewer watches rather than a major entertainment news outlet to report scoops, spoilers, and other television-related sound bytes (for now), this blogger will report the cancellations and reviews as I have time to write about them.

First up, within the hour, NBC canceled its two mid-season freshman dramas, one of which is Crisis. Seeing as how I’m a one-woman writer here, balancing life/work with my couch potato aspirations, this viewer was behind on this program, catching only the first two episodes, including the pilot, within the last two weeks.  The original review of the pilot can be found here.

Frankly, that’s all this viewer has managed to watch.  After assigning an abysmal 2.5 star rating to the pilot, this viewer committed only to a four-episode trial in the offing.  Thank you, NBC, for relieving this viewer of the need to continue watching.  Though the writing was on the wall when NBC yanked Crisis from upcoming Sunday airing schedules.

Crisis was dubbed a “limited series,” meaning only thirteen episodes were ordered, and that there was an option to renew.  Thus, the show’s creators likely operated within the expectation that it could only last one season, theoretically creating the story with some amount of closure by season’s end.  To date, eight episodes have aired.

This viewer didn’t really enjoy the pilot or second episode.  While the concept – a high stakes ransom game, where there are multiple rich and powerful parties in a desperate position to use their influence to take extreme measures and to force unusually dangerous things to happen – was interesting and promised some suspenseful story potential, the first two episodes (at least) suffered from predominantly poor acting, particularly by the younger performers; poor script writing; and poor episodic directing, including shoddy camera work.  What should have been a tense, heart-pounding affair with creepy back story turned out to be movie of the week in feel and tone.  I proffered in my pilot review that it could have worked better as a film.  Perhaps, even a miniseries might have worked for this concept, forcing the story-makers to pack more action and intensity into a smaller serving.

Chatter from the web suggests that the series “got better” as it progressed, and there is some (small) legitimate disappointment concerning its cancellation.  Unfortunately, this viewer is not going to take the time to find out.  This Crisis was a hollow affair two episodes in – despite the presence of our favorite Scully, Gillian Anderson – with unsympathetic characters and rough shod presentation; if it did get better, there was already an obvious flaw with such a slow and uneven start demanding time and patience to observe improvement.  This viewer sensed the potential of boredom and didn’t regard what was viewed as the pinnacle of excitement.

There is no word yet on if/when the rest of the non-aired season will air.  Because it was classified as a “limited series,” it will probably enjoy a DVD/streaming release with the full season published, if nothing else.

PARTING SHOTS

This viewer was unable to recommend Crisis while reviewing the pilot beyond its first two episodes – or to force myself to watch another episode when its cancellation was imminent – so the news comes as really no surprise.  Despite Ms. Anderson’s star power, Crisis could best be classified as a “nice idea; didn’t quite pull it off.”  Even if it did get better several episodes down the line, there is too much on television to entice that kind of patience without at least a glimmer of hope.  Sorry, Crisis fans; you’re more patient than I am.

THE FUTURE OF THE SHOW:

Canceled!  After two episodes, this viewer has officially stopped watching and removed it from the watch list.  For the June end of season report, if there is an announcement regarding the rest of the season’s non-aired episodes, I will include that information in that entry.