Dear “Grey’s Anatomy,” Sincerely Me: Why I Jumped the Shark After the 10th Season (SPOILERS)

THE SPECS:

Who: “Grey’s Anatomy” currently airs on network TV, specifically on ABC, Thursdays at 8:00 PM.

What: “Grey’s Anatomy,” a medical drama narrated by central character Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) that meditates on the journey to becoming a doctor–and a good doctor at that–as well as on the web of personal and professional relationships in a hospital. The hospital in this show is currently called “Grey Sloane Memorial” (for a more detailed Synopsis, read here:http://www.aceshowbiz.com/tv/grey_s_anatomy/summary.html).

When: The show is currently airing its 12th season, which premiered on September 24, 2015.

Where: The show is set in Seattle, Washington, at the aforementioned fictitious hospital, which has gone through several name changes since the series began.

Why: I initially passed on this show when it first aired, being typically uninterested in medical dramas (I ignored ER and similar shows for most of their runs).  However, two co-worker friends of mine and a couple of other friends in my life pretty much peer pressured me into watching this show due to all of the then-described “ridiculously hot doctors” populating the cast.  When my mom bought the first two seasons on DVD, I devoured them and became a convert at or around the season 3 premiere.  I have stuck with it, for better (Post-It Note weddings) and for worse (Izzy and her fling with the ghost of Denny), since then.

Dear Grey’s Anatomy – or, more appropriately, Shonda Rimes,

I didn’t want to watch you at first.  They made me.  They all made me.  Mostly women and some men encouraged it too.  They made me watch this show.  Well, they presented some relatively convincing persuasive points as to why I should be watching this show. They said, “Hot men! McDreamy! McSteamy! McMack!”  No, you’re right, they didn’t say the last one.  The eye candy comprised the primary argument of persuasion, though.  The hot men alone were worth it, they said. It’s not just a medical drama, they said.  The medicine is really kind of secondary, they said.  Or something to that effect.

Thus, I felt considerable peer pressure to watch this show, the likes of which I had only ever periodically before experienced.  The same peer pressure convinced me to check out Buffy, so I thought maybe I should listen to that peer pressure – cave, in other words.  Peer pressure had been right before.  Buffy remains one of my all time favorite shows, after all, though I watched nearly all of it in syndication, after its primary run had ended.

I watched Grey’s first two seasons very quickly after borrowing my mother’s DVDs.  She had become somewhat obsessed too, so I figured there must be something to this program.  I quickly came to realize that all of those “they” people were right. Hot men!  Patrick Dempsey, Justin Chambers, Eric Dane, etc.  They were worth tuning in, without question.  I mean, just look at Dempsey’s hair. His hair alone is worth a sneak peek and a channel surf every week.  Oh, Derek!  Plus, the fictional drama, though ultimately centered in a hospital, was fairly compelling.  And the non-fictional drama that became the show’s backdrop didn’t pick up until several seasons had aired. Katherine Heigl hadn’t become annoying yet.  Isaiah Washington hadn’t yet made public homophobic slurs against T.R. Knight (oh…George…).  Life in the wards and halls of the hospital formerly known as Seattle Grace made for bona fide addictive television.  What’s more, I even followed Kate Walsh, playing Dr. Addison Montgomery then Shepherd, to Private Practice and watched that entire series.

But: things started to happen as the seasons wore on and progressed.  I started to grow to understand some things about this show. Though Shonda and company have written some fairly interesting story situations for our ever evolving carousel of characters, some hard truths began to seep into the proceedings and color my otherwise hitherto unquestioned enjoyment of this long-running series. These truths became self-evident: not all seasons of Grey’s Anatomy are created equal, and that became only more true as the seasons approached double digits in number.  In fact, the story threads seemed so repetitive and uninspired to me, from episode to episode and from year to year, that I made a decision – right around the time Lexie and Mark exited stage left to the great surgical wing in the sky.  I decided to quit this show, once and for all, when my favorite character, and favorite actress on the show portraying that character, left it. Because I knew it was only a matter of time.  Because I knew she, who had something of a film career before this program became popular, would no doubt want to explore other acting options after a time.  I mean, how long could Grey’s Anatomy really last? Is it actually that popular?  Of course, the answer is yes, as the show continues to pull in tens of millions of viewers each week.

Then, without surprise, it actually happened.  Sandra Oh, the favorite in question, decided, intelligently, that she wanted to do something different after ten seasons.  So, too, did her character, Cristina Yang, choosing to join her former love Burke and run the cardio research wing of a cutting edge hospital in Europe.  And with that, my interest in Grey’s Anatomy stopped, cleanly and without regret.  I made like the Fonz and jumped the shark, water skis in tow.

Let’s face it – Grey’s is this decade’s answer to ER.  Why are medical dramas so long-lasting?  I tuned into that latter program on occasion, but it never held my attention for more than a season or two at a time, and I could not fathom sticking with it for 15 or however many seasons the pioneering medical drama ultimately lasted.  I realized that I also could not do the same for Grey’s, which promised to recycle similar tropes and expect viewers to foster loyalty with an ever changing roster of new characters – though I did not know what made me believe that Oh’s departure would end my involvement in the show, since I’m most prone to sticking with shows, no matter how much of a downhill slide they might be on, until their grisly ends.  Why wouldn’t I do the same for a drama that netted some Emmy nominations and wins in its heyday and allowed for some actors to create some high profile careers, until they self-sabotaged via various inflammatory public comments in an age of paparazzi and viral social media fan reaction?

First, there is the fact of that ever evolving carousel of characters.  Aside from the mainstay of Dr. Meredith Grey – and, really, if Ellen Pompeo leaves, the network should consider ending the show because it is named after her character and relies most often upon her narration – most of the original cast have moved on. Knight left on the heels of Washington’s inappropriate remark; George died. Washington was somewhat dismissed from the show because of that remark; his character, Burke, left Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) at the altar.  Katherine Heigl made like an ungrateful child and ran for the door, while her character, Izzy, disappeared without a trace. Mark Sloane (Dane) and Lexie Grey (Chyler Leigh), add-ons after the first season, also met fatal ends thanks to a plane crash in inclement weather.  Interns come and go. Residents come and go.  Attending physicians come and go.  It’s like a real hospital as far as turnover, but for long-term loyalty for viewers and fans who started from the beginning, trying to replace some actors with others doesn’t help to cultivate said loyalty.

Case in point: one of the elements I loved most about Grey’s was the “twisted sister” dynamic between Meredith and Cristina.  They were two driven female best friends in the medical profession, dedicated and passionate about their craft, but with ambition that tended to substitute for and sublimate other human condition commonalities, such as interpersonal finesse. They are good doctors, even if they are works in progress as women and as human beings, and their faults and failings are similar but different, allowing them to be each other’s “person” in that heartfelt, non-“gross” way.  I’m sure post-Cristina Grey’s is all fine and good, but I can’t even bring myself to watch the show without this dynamic because it fueled so many of the dramatic devices used by the show’s writers and producers.  It was a perfect juxtaposition: Yang, the career-driven woman less concerned with family; Grey, the career-driven woman more concerned with family, given her own dysfunctional upbringing following in the footsteps of an equally career-driven mother who failed Meredith in all of the important ways.  There were many more facets of this lifelong friendship to explore, and for me, the heart of Grey’s was this friendship.  Without it, a show with lackluster and diminishing storytelling potential, given the roads it has traveled so far and with the years it has on it, would fall flat, since so many characters reacted to this dynamic and did so more than other relationships and situations on the series.

Second, Grey Sloane Memorial is not exactly like a real hospital; this hospital has experienced more catastrophic tragedies than any other hospital in the nation, real or fake.  It’s a wonder that the hospital hasn’t been splashed over the national news within its fictitious world for the audience to see more often. Bombs, plane crashes, boat crashes, doctors hallucinating relationships with ghosts; Grey’s Anatomy has subjected its character doctors to more than the usual share of medical trauma, leaving many of them patients or corpses themselves.  It got to be so much – typically for season-end cliffhangers or ratings sweeps weeks – that the character of Cristina actually made tongue-in-cheek meta jokes about it, scripted and filmed, in prior seasons.  Rimes and company have relied too heavily on these devices.  Last I checked, Richard had been electrocuted and was recovering after the fallout of a wicked storm and ensuing power outage.  How many more catastrophes can one hospital take?  It’s a wonder it’s still open or standing!  As I watched over the years, I felt myself less angst-driven by these dramatic devices and more induced to groans that yet another such incident was being depicted.  It strained credulity; it hampered suspension of disbelief.

Third, so many of these characters have slept with each other.  Are real on-call rooms typically so easy to get a quickie in?  In order to keep the “will they or won’t they” aspect of many of the active relationships alive, the writers have had to kill off characters or divorce them or drive them into forced catastrophes that severely affect their relationships.  Last I saw, Yang and Owen had sort of given up, and Callie and Arizona were trying to recover from the fact that Arizona had cheated on Callie, when suffering the loss of her leg in a plane crash strained their relationship.  What I heard but had not seen (because I did not watch any of the eleventh season) is that McDreamy himself, Dr. Derek Shepherd, also died.  The central love affair to the show is no more. I don’t care how it happened or why.  I don’t even care if the situation has forced the writers to reinvent the wheel.  This bold move, no doubt driven by Dempsey’s need to also leave the show, presumes that the characters remaining are well developed enough to entice viewers to continue watching.  Or, that the hospital itself is the real character while the people who staff it are only incidental. Perhaps, the only character that matters is Meredith Grey.  Unfortunately, I never liked her enough by herself; I liked the people around her, who made her better, more.

It’s fiction, and I get that it’s all a story.  It seems like it’s a never-ending story, though. What is the endgame?  How far am I supposed to follow these characters, particularly with so few of the original cast left: other than Meredith, only Alex, Richard, and Bailey remain.  Everyone else joined the show after the first season, and none of the original characters offered story lines that held my interest at the end of season 10.  I think Alex was becoming a “butt doctor,” and Meredith and Derek were fighting over Derek possibly doing work for the President of the United States.  I can’t even remember what Bailey was doing because none of the story lines left a significant enough impression on me.  Maybe she had some interpersonal struggle with Richard – it’s all so convoluted in my memory.

In short, I couldn’t bring myself to keep going with this drama because it’s not a story I see having a true and natural end.  Shonda and her team of writers do a good job of manipulating emotions when watching any of the shows she’s produced, but Grey’s is limping along, still watched by millions but with less of the impact and interest it sustained in its earlier seasons.  I feel like it’s forced, like it’s well past its prime, and that it’s been on longer than it should ever have been.  And without Cristina, I am hard pressed to find a new favorite character because none of the characters in service engage me the way she did.

So, you see, Grey’s Anatomy and Shonda Rimes, I must necessarily break up with you. I would say it’s not you, it’s me, but I would still mean it’s you.  There’s just no passion anymore, no drive.  You are stuck in a rut, and I couldn’t see any possibility of shaking up the routine in a way that would have left me feeling satisfied.  Our relationship was lifeless and, therefore, meaningless.  Believe me, I considered my options carefully: I don’t like breaking up with shows before they’re finished and do so rarely – the last time I ended my relationship with a program before its series finale was with Desperate Housewives, and I never looked back.  At the same time, there are so many other fish on the airwaves these days, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to ask that you live up to some higher expectations, and that I be free to go when you fail to do so.  Others may still find you an attractive way to spend their Thursday evenings and may even still be compelled by Meredith, Alex, Richard, Bailey, Jackson, April, Callie, Arizona, and all of the new interns that keep running through the place, but I just don’t. Feelings change, unfortunately.  We can still be friends, though.  I ain’t mad at’cha.  I’m just…over you.

In fact, any lingering questions I had about story lines and character arcs have sort of fizzled and died on the vine.  I don’t care enough to find out the answers.  I’m ready to move on with my life.  I hope you can do the same.

As a result, COUCH POTATOES UNITE! will no longer cover Grey’s Anatomy in either blog or podcast form.  BUT! If you have any interest in seeing the show be covered, feel free to send an email to couchpotatoesunitepodcast@gmail.com, or message me via the Facebook page, and express whether or not you would like to write blog articles or moderate a podcast focused on Grey’s Anatomy.  We are always looking for new participants and into expanding our operation.  For now, unfortunately, this is the last blog entry on CPU! related to this show.  Sorry, Grey’s Anatomy, Shonda Rimes, ABC, et al.  The only chance of us getting back together is if someone I know convinces me…and no one I know still watches this show.

Sincerely,

Kylie
The Chief Couch Potato

PARTING SHOTS

Grey’s Anatomy used to be compelling television, but the decline in quality since the earlier seasons is unmistakable.  Sandra Oh left; her dynamic with all the rest of the characters typically provided impetus for story, so this viewer saw no reason to continue watching and donned the water skis and leather jacket.  I still implore ABC and Shondaland to end this one while it’s still going strong, so that it doesn’t flounder and deteriorate to mediocrity or worse like others of its creed – though that descent is apparent as I type this (season 11 aside, as I’ve watched none of it).

LOOKING AHEAD:

Grey’s Anatomy was automatically ordered for a full season, given the fact that it remains a ratings juggernaut.  Season 12 currently airs Thursdays at 8:00 PM on ABC.

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Pilots, Premieres, and First Looks – “Red Band Society” (Canceled)

Who:  “Red Band Society,” aired on network TV, specifically on FOX, during the 2014-2015 season.

What: “Red Band Society,” a drama following teenage patients in a hospital’s pediatric terminal ward, with the head nurse played by Octavia Spencer (The Help).

When: The series premiered on FOX, Wednesday, September 17, 2014.  The series finale aired on February 7, 2015, after only one season of thirteen episodes.

Where: The show is set in Los Angeles, California.

Why: I picked up this show when shopping for pilots during the 2014-2015 TV season (a yearly ritual for this viewer and this blog, no matter how far behind I am).  I said:

The show is produced by Steven Spielberg, features the irrepressible Octavia Spencer (The Help), and explores an all too real subsection of society that defies normal social situations because it’s self-contained in a hospital.  The trailer was well put together, and so now I’m intrigued.”

What this means is that the trailer sold me on the show, despite the fact that the show is set in a hospital and features a prominent cast of teens.  The trailer did its job.  The pilot, however, did not – at least, not for me.

I also elected to still give the show a look despite its cancellation because a) I seemed to be fairly certain when I picked it up based upon the strength of the trailer, and b) Fox was the canceling network. Fox is a cancel-happy network.  No, they will never live down Firefly.

How – as in How Was It?

The pilot/premiere rating scale:

***** – I HAVE TO WATCH EVERYTHING.  HOLY SMOKES!

**** – Well, it certainly seems intriguing.  I’m going to keep watching, but I see possible pitfalls in the premise.

*** – I will give it six episodes and see what happens.  There are things I like, and things I don’t.  We’ll see which “things” are allowed to flourish.

** – I will give it three episodes.  Chances are, I’m mainly bored, but there is some intrigue or fascination that could hold it together.  No matter how unlikely.

* – Pass on this one, guys.  It’s a snoozer/not funny/not interesting/not my cup of tea… there are too many options to waste time on this one.

Red Band Society = *1/2 (ouch)

SYNOPSIS

Charlie Hutchison (Griffin Gluck) is a comatose patient, but he has the ability to see others like him, others confined to the terminal ward of Ocean Park hospital:  Emma (Clara Bravo) is anorexic; Leo (Charlie Rowe) is an amputee and former cancer patient in rehab; Jordi (Nolan Sotillo) is a new/recent cancer patient; and Dash (Astro) is a patient with cystic fibrosis.  Charlie also sees Kara (Zoe Levin), a cheerleader whose full social life is dramatically upended when an enlarged heart forces her admittance to the hospital. Charlie tells us about life in the ward, overseen by no-nonsense head nurse Dena (Spencer), and about the patients, teenagers who just want to be like other teenagers but are prevented from living normal lives because of the inevitability of their early deaths. Somehow these teens find a way to survive and to cope, particularly when Leo inducts them into their own special club, the Red Band Society, based upon the red bracelets worn by terminal patients.

THOUGHTS

This viewer does not know what was expected when I picked up the show.  I am not offended by teen dramas; I watch a fair few shows that have historically (or currently) aired on the CW.  The trailer for Red Band Society seemed to stylistically paint one portrait of how the show would progress and transpire, but the pilot lacked the same stylistic overtone or did not strike the notes presented by the teaser – granted, the latter was only a teaser, but in this case, the marketing may have oversold the virtues of the product. This viewer, however, expected more of a balance between the adult and teen characters, and the pilot almost exclusively focused on the teens.  What’s more, it recycled tropes so often used in teen dramas, primarily in the social constructs of the “outside,” as in outside the hospital.  Kara, for example, is described as the “Queen Bee;” of course, as Queen Bees so frequently learn at various stages of life, she’s not the “Queen Bee” in the ward, despite her rebellious spirit, black widow sense of flirtatiousness, and estimations to the contrary. What’s a teen drama without a Queen Bee, though?  Someone has to be the villain, no matter how overused the trope may be.

Red Band Society sets the stage early on: this story is about how the patients’ lives are different inside the ward versus outside the hospital.  Their lives are different, and they, as people, are the same but different from people who don’t have to live in hospitals.  Despite being confined, they have struggles and angst.  They have joys and sorrows.  They have hormones and new loves.  On top of these pieces, though, the show invites us to remember, as if we could forget, that these young characters are dying or getting better or struggling against remission.  They have more to cope with than the average teen, in case you didn’t understand this when I started this paragraph.

While this is all fine and good, this sort of pedantic, in-your-face perspective can easily be gleaned from the trailer and brief written synopses published before the pilot aired. The pilot, however, failed to establish a direction, a purpose, for the younger group.  It failed to integrate our adult and younger characters, beyond some caring commentary from the hospital personnel or some stern looks from Dena toward the more antic-driven characters like Dash, until she enjoys a private, pity-filled smile about those antics behind relevant characters’ backs.  Mostly, this viewer was completely turned off by all of the younger characters with the exception of Charlie, because he was in a coma and providing all of the hand-holding narration except during a dream sequence or two, and Leo, because he is the oldest and possibly the wisest and certainly the most experienced at living in this type of situation.  The pilot did nothing to establish why we should care for any of these children, in a fictional sense, other than to say: “hey, they’re here dying, and that’s really bad!”  The idea of the “Red Band Society” is kind of neat, using the bracelets as a symbol of the characters’ shared plights. Then again, it’s also kind of the sad version of The Babysitters Club; thus, I realize that I may have developed some inherent prejudices almost from the get-go because I may not be in the target audience for this show – and that’s okay, if the target audience felt some sort of connection to this program’s premise that I missed.

Unfortunately, the show failed to nab that target audience, and ratings did not sustain. For my money, the program had two fatal flaws: most of the younger actors were annoying at best and not always competent in their performances (again with the exceptions of Gluck and Rowe), and the pilot was slow and not well plotted.  It lacked direction.  It did not tell us anything beyond a loose premise focused upon dying kids who have the same teenage tendencies that healthy kids do. So, if the idea was to attract members of the Glee audience, the pre-teen and teen set, it was kind of a bummer, despite its serious subject matter, because the show lacked any galvanizing characters for which to root or despise or any issues to which to relate.  There might have been a villain in Kara, but anyone could see she was really just rebelling and acting out against her two moms and her plight of life’s essential unfairness. Even Spencer, a gifted actress especially deft at being sassy when called upon, was sort of clipped in this first episode. For adults, then, what is the draw? Unless one finds his/herself already a fan of any of the actors in the piece. The whole set-up did not leave this viewer wanting more – either the writers failed to adapt this property in an interesting way (as it is a French import given the American/English wash), the producers failed to establish a clear vision and lay some necessary groundwork in the first episode, or the pilot director failed to set a tone that would entice viewers to keep watching.  Coupled with a mixed bag of early performances, this viewer cannot blame Fox for canceling the show.

There may be a passionate cult fan-base out there – indeed, they attempted to save the show with the usual petitions and fan campaigns, since nothing can fire up the American public as much as the cancellation of a television program. Perhaps, the show got better as it went on, as so often they do; I have to believe there is a realism about this program that some found refreshing.  Unfortunately, I could tell that this show was not going to be my cup of tea because I don’t watch teen dramas, especially those created for the sake of being about teens and their dramas.  I also typically shy away from medical dramas because they permeate the television lineups.  I look for the story and how well that story is told; finding no real cohesive one here and being rather bored, unfortunately, by the pilot, I chose not to watch more than one episode. Had I not checked into the show after its cancellation (over the summer, in fact), I might have rated the pilot two stars if watched while the show was still airing and then given it a couple more chances, but I couldn’t bring myself to watch another episode, knowing there were so many others I wanted to try to watch.  This viewer didn’t see it as worth it, and that reaction, I think, is telling.

It’s not that Red Band Society was a bad idea, and the pilot itself did not overtly offend this viewer.  There was some nice camera work and good shots; decent cinematography; and the adult actors offered able performances if not electrifying ones. It was nice to see Wilson Cruz again, as this viewer still remembers his tenure on My So-Called Life, when he acted in a far better written teen drama.  Instead, it all comes down to execution in a way that would influence viewers to stick with the show.  The pilot did not have not this quality even if subsequent episodes might have, and the pilot is critical to establishing that ratings foothold and to grabbing viewers’ attentions enough to want to pursue subsequent episodes.  It was a nice idea in theory; however, in execution, it did not have the broad appeal to ensure its survival.  It certain did not entice me, and I’m more patient than most, which means that, sadly, Red Band Society was dead on arrival upon this viewer’s first watch.

RECOMMENDATION

Red Band Society is recommended to fans of typical teen dramas, such as Beverly Hills 90210 or Dawson’s Creek, or maybe Party of Five or Degrassi because the teens’ issues are actually legit, credible, realistic, and less soapy. The difference is that this drama is set in a hospital, and the teens are critically ill.  Also, this show isn’t 10-20 years old, but hey, maybe this viewer has lost touch, since I’m not exactly a teen anymore.

THE FUTURE OF THE SHOW:

Canceled!  Red Band Society was canceled after its first season due to low ratings.  The entire first season is available for purchase via Amazon/Prime.

Around the Water Cooler: “Once Upon a Time” – The Podcast Panel’s Reaction to the Season 5 Premiere (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 5 premiere aired on Sunday, September 27, 2015, 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 season 4, as provided by our lovely podcast panel of Eddie, Kristen, Amie (and me), read here and here!

After such an eventful fourth season, and with the airing of the fifth season premiere of our beloved show, our podcast panel wanted to weigh in about that premiere and what they think it means for the season to come.  With this post, you will get to put faces to name with our Once Upon a Time podcast panel and read the panel’s instant reactions and predictions stemming from the premiere.  Do you agree with them?  Or, do you have your own thoughts?  Comment below!

And never fear, the panel will return to podcast form following the mid-season finale of OUAT, which will air in or around December 2015.  For now, here are our immediate thoughts:

Eddie

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The Season 5 premiere of Once inspired many questions and created many new possibilities for our beloved story. Of course, we now know that Emma (Jennifer Morrison) is the Dark One, or, more accurately, the Dark One in training. When the episode started, I found it very interesting that Emma was herself, the same Emma we met and have come to know and grown to love, at the moment she was starting to transform. I thought she would look different from the start, but her change, which has been teased in the season previews, did not come until later in the episode, at which point, she definitely looked more evil. I also found it very interesting that Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle) became Emma’s mentor, even if he was only in her head. This whole episode raised many new questions that I am excited to try to answer.

I am glad that Zelena (Rebecca Mader), who is one of my favorite characters and though she doesn’t have full freedom, is doing more than sitting and rotting in a padded cell. I personally feel that for Regina (Lana Parilla) to finally get her happy ending, it must start with her sister. I predict that Regina and Zelena are somehow going to have to work together, which I believe may be a necessary ingredient for Regina’s happy ending.

Last but not least, with regard to Hook (Colin O’Donaghue), I feel that this season is a “make it or break it” season for the character. Hook, although not one of the original characters to start the series, is beginning to lack as a character in my opinion. I could see him taking his own life to save Emma for some reason. Only time will tell.

Whatever happens, I am excited to keep watching and to see where this season goes. Until the podcast panel next meets, I will see you in Camelot.

Eddie’s Questions

1) With Lancelot back on the show, will we have a love triangle?

2) Camelot, traditionally, is a land of LOVE. Will someone fall in love? Perhaps, Henry will find a love interest.

3) Henry is still the writer of the book. What is he going to have to write to help Emma – will he have to accept his Author powers to help his mom?

4) I also thought it was interesting, when we did see Emma finally all dressed as the Dark One, that she resembled someone familiar: the Snow Queen from the Frozen arc. Did the writers do this because they were so closely related, or is there going to be another family connection happening between Emma and the Snow Queen?  Will Elizabeth Mitchell return?

Amie

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Oh, boy!  OUAT is off to a great start and has some serious potential for Season 5!  OUAT has a way of integrating storylines in a fairly seamless and logical way – yet there is still so much intrigue! Where to begin?

I enjoyed the tie in (so far) to Camelot and Excalibur! Yet, it left us thinking: well, what’s next?  It gave us a lot without giving us much information at all!  How did the dagger come from the sword?  Who was that man in the cinema?  What happened in those six weeks??  We had a chance to peek at Camelot before being thrown back, quite literally, into Storybrooke.  I hope we return via flashbacks or something.  And what happened to Merida?  I know nothing about that particularly story, but she seemed quick to trust Emma again, despite the whole “heart outside of her chest” incident.  I’m on the fence about her story line but will hang in there, as more is yet to come I’m sure.

Though Gold is no longer The Dark One, die hard Rumple fans like myself, I expect, were happy to see the Crocodile again, even if he was unconscious/part of Emma’s subconscious.  Showing Emma’s personal struggle of fighting off the Evil was a powerful choice by the producers/writers.  It’s a journey that fascinates me, though I return to the key question: “What the hell happened in Camelot?!”

For the first time in the series, Hook kind of annoyed me.  I see and appreciate how much stronger the Charmings’ (Ginnifer Goodwin; Josh Dallas) character actions and decisions were in this episode, but Hook seems to have lost his edge a bit.  I am chalking that up to his desperate need to save Emma.  On the other hand, we do see that Regina continues to be a serious bad-ass, even when Zelena makes her escape.  Regina always finds a way to be a few steps ahead, even if it’s only a slight advantage.  The way the portal was opened is a perfect example of this! Also, flying Granny’s to Camelot via the tornado… Brilliant!  What an homage to The Wizard of Oz, and yet, it still felt appropriate.

Finally, at the end of the episode, Emma IS the Dark One.  How did she become this way, and how did she get the dagger from Regina?  The moment when Emma gave the dagger to Regina was awesome! I love me some Regina, man!  Somehow, though, Dark Swan got the dagger back from Regina, and I await the episodes that explain why, how, and when.  When Emma said, “You failed,” it gave me chills, left me wanting MORE, and thinking, “The next episode is seven days away?! How am I going to wait that long to find out more?” A good story will always leave the audience wanting more.

I also wonder if Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) ever has “what if” moments, regarding the pen and his new role as the Author, such as, “What if I never broke the pen. Would I be able to rewrite the story?”  I wish OUAT would show his personal struggle with these kinds of decisions.  For a teenage boy, he seems rather resolute on everything he does.  Perhaps, his resolute spirit is part of what makes Henry so special, but we never see him interact with other children; there were other kids in Storybrooke, after all, but that is another discussion for another time.

So far…so good! I am excited for Episode 2!

Amie’s Questions

1) How did the dagger come from the sword?

2) Who was that man in the cinema?

3) What happened in those six weeks with King Arthur, Merida, Emma, and all the rest?

4) How did Emma become the Dark One, and how did she get the dagger from Regina?

5) What’s next for Storybrooke?

Kristen

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First things first: throughout the first 55 minutes of the premiere, I was pretty happy with how the story line was progressing and was looking forward to seeing more of the Enchanted Forest/Camelot this season. Then, all of a sudden, it’s six weeks later, and our Storybrooke search and rescue crew has lost their memories of recent events – AGAIN! Personally, I think it’s a little too soon to use this device a second time. It’s only been a year and a half since Zelena used it during season 3B. C’mon guys – surely you can think of something more creative? (Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, I’m talking to you!)

In a slightly interesting twist, not only have we traveled between worlds in episode 5.01, but we have also traveled back in time. We have been transported to the Camelot section of the Enchanted Forest back before Regina cast the first curse that set this whole series in motion. The proof? Lancelot is alive and well. If you remember all the way back to season two, Emma and Snow encountered Lancelot in the small section of the Enchanted Forest that was unaffected by the original curse; however, Lancelot had been killed previously, and the Lancelot we saw was actually Cora using a Lancelot glamour spell.

Camelot itself was first popularized in 12th century French romances and has since become synonymous with love and romance. Will some of our Storybrooke favorites find new/renewed love in this magical place during their brief six-week stay? It’s been confirmed by the show runners/producers that Henry will experience his first crush – my money is that it will be on a young Camelot maiden. Will we see the famed King Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot love triangle? Will Hook’s love for Emma be enough to save her from the darkness? While their love may be a part of her salvation from the darkness, I’m not entirely sold that it’s the only thing that will save her. Merlin will definitely play a large part in this.

Speaking of the darkness, I’m intrigued by the fact that the dagger is the missing end of Excalibur – a sword, legend has it, to have magical powers of its own. Will joining the two pieces together remove the darkness from Emma, and eliminate the need for a Dark One, for good? I’m sure Merlin will explain why the sword was broken in two later on this season, but I’m guessing it could be to keep Arthur from using the darkness during his reign. Something just seems a little off about that guy…

Regarding where I think things are headed, I believe we’ll still be seeing some Camelot flashbacks, as well as what’s happening in present day Storybrooke, just as we did back in season one – and personally, I’m happy that OUAT is getting back to its roots a bit. I don’t think that the members of the Storybrooke gang were the only ones transported back to the real world; I have a feeling that some members of Camelot made the trip as well…and there might be some repercussions, as they were obviously transported for a reason. I’m also suspecting that the premiere won’t be the only time we see Merida; I’m sure we’ll get a check-in later to see how her mission to save her brothers turned out.

Final thought: did anyone else notice that Camelot bears a striking resemblance to Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany? (Fun fact: Walt Disney and his Imagineers used Neushwanstein Castle as the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Disneyland.)

Kristen’s Questions

1) Will some of our Storybrooke favorites find new/renewed love in Camelot during their brief six-week stay?

2) Will we see the famed King Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot love triangle?

3) Will Hook’s love for Emma be enough to save her from the darkness?

4) Will joining the two pieces – the broken hilt of Excalibur and the Dark One’s dagger – remove the darkness from Emma and eliminate the need for a Dark One, for good?

Kylie

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I echo many of the others’ sentiments, which is convenient because I am editing and assembling them for this post (a moderator’s job is never done). While I initially loved the set-up of the whole episode, beginning with Emma’s not-quite transformation to full Dark One and showing her struggle to overcome the pull of the Dark One’s shadow, even I knew that this struggle would be temporary, because Dark Swan has been teased for some months, lack of eyebrows and all.  Yet, I did not expect the writers to immediately jettison us back to Storybrooke with a six-week memory loss with which to contend.  My immediate reactions sound much like Amie’s and Kristen’s: what the hell happened in Camelot? Why are we using this memory loss device AGAIN – of course, readers of this blog and listeners of the podcast might remember that I have been the most vocal opponent of how the writers handled season 3B, with a brilliant mid-season finale showing the evaporation of Storybrooke as Emma and Henry drove away only to find everyone back in Storybrooke, with a wicked case of amnesia, in the very next episode? It felt cheap then, and it feels cheap now, though this time, it did not negate the brilliance and impact of an epic mid-season finale immediately preceding it.  I expect, as all of the panelists have surmised, that flashbacks will give us some glimpse into those missing six weeks, but I was especially looking forward to spending some quality time in the Enchanted Forest and in Camelot.  I wanted the story shift to show the plot proper in the Enchanted Forest, with maybe flash forwards (like Lost) into the Storybrooke that we found at the end of the premiere, with Emma as the fully fledged Dark One.  Maybe I am being too cynical, and the next episodes will strike a narrative balance between the two realms, but the season 3B resolution felt like such a mishandling of the plot and was such a disappointment.  Also, I lived through Lost.  I have trust issues with Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz by default.

I thought it was neat how the Blue Fairy/Mother Superior handed Belle a rose, like in Beauty and the Beast, to track whether Rumple, in his comatose state, was still alive. It was a nice callback, and these little details and other Easter eggs help me to continue loving the show.  I was less impressed with the infusion of Merida.  I am an avid Pixar fan and love Brave, but her introduction felt shoehorned into the proceedings. I hope Kristen is right, and that we’ll see more of her as time marches on, though I appreciated that Merida’s story on the show picked up after the events of Brave.  I also love how the show’s creators reproduced the wisp; the quest to catch the wisp left me wanting to re-watch the movie.

Like Amie, I also thought the tornado portal and connection to the Wizard of Oz was very cool.  The discussion about Regina having moved too over the line toward light magic to make the special wand work was a bit convoluted.  I believe that she is now more good than evil, but I hope and really believe that she hasn’t lost all of her bite, particularly since, unlike Eddie, I find the Zelena character to be too maddening to be likable. I hope Regina’s edge remains sharp around her sister, and that her transformation is not complete.  Maybe Eddie is right, and Regina’s full conversion to “hero” will center around her sister, though I think her participation in saving Emma from evil will be more key. I still question the validity of Zelena’s pregnancy.

I also found it interesting that Hook specifically asked Henry to use his Author powers to help his mom, and that Henry made special mention of the fact that he broke the pen.  I remain hopeful that the Author side of Henry is not lost on this narrative cop out – it feels too convenient, almost as if the writers don’t want to plod headlong into the use of the device only to write themselves in circles or to render an easy escape for any situation in future.  It’s a lot of power, sure, but as we know from Spider Man, with great power comes great responsibility, and I think Henry is capable of not being tempted by the power.  He has the heart of the true believer and the combined experiences of his messy family tree to act as his tethers.  I think his temptation toward the use of that power would be a brilliant juxtaposition to the struggle of his bio mom – maybe that’s too heady for prime time television, but this possibility immediately jumped out at me.

Lastly, I enjoy that both Eddie and Amie were a bit put off by Hook in this episode.  He did become rather intense and sappy, but I think the writers made the Emma/Hook relationship a bit too easy by killing off Baelfire, and despite Emma’s initial wishy-washyness about Hook, she seemed to cave too easily.  I don’t think they will ultimately kill off Hook; after all, Colin O’Donaghue has proven to be quite the draw for the show, with lady fans and certain male fans alike.  Still, I hope Hook and his own dark side are not neutered by his desperation to save Emma.  He still has quite a dark side with which to contend; I would love his struggle to also dovetail Emma’s.  The temptation and ultimate seduction of Emma, the so-called Savior, to the dark side provides an interesting mirror for so many of our characters – I hope the writers do not similarly waste this opportunity.  By the way, was Hook there when everyone awoke in Granny’s after returning to Storybrooke with amnesia?

Ultimately, I am the most interested in finding out what happened during the missing six weeks.  I also want someone to take charge of the dagger that is not Emma – perhaps, that arc will be saved for the second half of this season.  As we alluded to in our last podcast, the possibility of different characters having control of Emma as the Dark One is too tantalizing not to wonder about. I further want the writers not to fear spending time in the Enchanted Forest; I mean, is the end of our series going to leave all our characters in the real world?  What will happen to all of their stories, then?  These questions also reinvigorate the importance of not abandoning the Author conceit. Henry’s role is not gone or lost just because he broke the pen, no matter what he may say; he, at least, must preserve his family’s legacy, since they’re all so content to stay in this world and not be the fairy tale characters they are (or, since the writers are so content to render them that way). Of course, I am not advocating for the end of the series, but we’re probably in the latter half of the series run at this point.  I hope the writers are giving thought to these continuity issues as they move forward.

For now, I’m eager for episode two and any glimpse as to what happened.  I also wonder what sort of terror Emma is going to introduce into Storybrooke now – how will her Dark One be different from Rumple’s?  Also, how many petals are left on that rose? I will definitely tune in to find out – and not just because we’ll be returning to podcast this show later in the season!

Collective Questions (including Kylie’s questions), Impressions, and Future Considerations

Old Questions

1) Is baby Neal magical like his sister?

Answer: At this time, baby Neal’s “specialness,” if it exists, is still unknown.

2) How did Will Scarlett (Michael Socha), aka the Knave from Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, end up in Storybrooke and without Anastasia, the former Red Queen? And how did he and Belle decide to hook up?

Answer: As discussed in previous podcasts, the show failed to provide an adequate explanation for this development.  There is still hope that the writers will revisit this topic, and that Emma Rigby will find a way to a guest spot on the show.

3) Will Rumpel and Belle ever reconcile?

Answer: They haven’t really reconciled yet, but Belle is definitely concerned for his well being, as she was worried about leaving him in a coma, prompting the Blue Fairy/Mother Superior to give her the rose.

New(ish) Questions from the end of Season Four

1) What’s going to happen now that Emma is the Dark One?  What we will she do? How will her descent into darkness affect the other characters, including her son (Henry) and her parents (Snow and Charming)?  Will they be able to save her?  And when?

2) Where did Maleficient go by the end of the season?  Will we see more of her?  Will she be involved in the arc to save Emma?  Will she reconnect with her daughter Lily in a more meaningful way?

3) Will there be other evil Queens in our future?  The writers/producers have teased a trip to Camelot next season and are casting King Arthur and Queen Guinevere as well as Merlin.  Will they be good as we have traditionally known these characters to be? Or, will they be evil?

4) Is Merlin evil?  Is Merlin a dragon?  Is Merlin Lily’s father?  If not, who is Lily’s father?! Who else could be a dragon?  Or, is Maleficient kinky for dragons?

5) Will others get a hold of the dagger to control Emma as the Dark One?  What will happen, and who might be tempted to use Emma for evil purposes as opposed to good ones?  Will Hook get a hold of the dagger?  Will Henry?  Will Regina?  Will Rumple?

6) Will Emma and Regina go head to head in what are tantamount to switched places, with Emma as the Dark One and “villain” and Regina as the “hero,” in an epic battle of magic?

7) Is Zelena really pregnant?  And how is she going to complicate matters, either with Regina and Robin or with everyone else, next season?  Will Robin succumb to his nearly stubborn sense of honor with respect to Zelena and the baby, provided that Zelena is really pregnant?  If she is pregnant, is the baby really Robin Hood’s?

8) Will Lily still seek revenge against the Charmings?  Or, will she turn good now that Emma is evil?  Will Lily try to save Emma, or will she let Emma assume the “evil” role in favor of having a better life?  Doesn’t that really make her evil in the end (or not necessarily all good…more human)?

9) Is Rumple out of the woods?  Did “preserving” him save him from death?

10) Will the Once writers/producers provide a better, more detailed explanation for why Will Scarlett is on the flagship series and with Belle?  Will they provide a more significant flashback to explain why he and Anastasia are not together anymore? Would Emma Rigby be available to reprise her role of Anastasia?

11) Will a new Savior emerge now that Emma is the Dark One?

12) Will Snow and Charming be redeemed, particularly in Emma’s or Lily’s or Maleficient’s or Regina’s eyes, if they are able to save their daughter?

13) Will Henry get a new pen? Will he have to act as The Author anyway?  Will his role as the Author figure into redeeming/saving Emma?

14) Will Henry ever straddle the line of good and evil?

15) Henry’s a teenager now.  Will he meet a love interest?  He’s aging like Walt on Lost. Does he ever interact with kids his own age, rather than just his slightly dysfunctional family?

16) What Knights of the Round Table will we see in Camelot, if any?

17) Will the Camelot/Dark Emma layers be crammed into a half season, or will the writers percolate these plots throughout the whole of next season?  The panel votes for the latter scenario.

PARTING SHOTS

The podcast panelists were predominantly intrigued by the events of the fifth season premiere but are still confronted by many of the same questions and reactions we faced at the end of the fourth season.  In addition, most of the panel reacted cautiously if not outright negatively to the fact that our core characters have lost memories again, and that we will not be given a more direct depiction of events in the Enchanted Forest realm.  Yet, all remain hopeful that the story will be meted out in an interesting way that provides a good payoff for the device in the end, and that we will be given important answers to many of our questions as the season progresses.  If nothing else, all seemed genuinely positive toward Emma’s transformation and what possibilities this character shift provides for our story.

LOOKING AHEAD:

Once Upon a Time airs Sundays on ABC at 8:00 PM.  Until next time and next podcast, which will likely record in January 2016!