Last week, after the airing of Once Upon a Time’s “Kansas,” I started my usual drill – put on the ole subtext goggles, re-watch, dissect, sigh at such wasted potential. As I started noting my thoughts – like how ridiculous it was that Regina was being tossed around again, or how Emma lost her magic because she was forced to put her lips to Hook’s when, if she had just used her magic on Zelena right then and there, it would have stopped Hook from drowning, Rumpel would have been freed, and everyone would have been spared Zelena’s uncontested walk-through of the hospital, or how Regina required a pep talk to face her sister again, though she was the only hope, and actually uttered the words “I don’t think I can survive round three with my sister,” when she knew the price was Henry – it occurred to me, as it has many times throughout this season, that watching this show has become a chore, and writing about it has become something I dread.
The Writing Was on the Wall
To be fair, I cannot say I was snookered by the early premise, or promise, of this show. In fact, I spent the first few episodes wondering why I was watching it at all, because it was just jumping along, introducing secondary characters who were uninteresting, and, as it has turned out, completely pointless.
Then, the subtext commenced, not just with a Still Small Voice, but with an echoing shout, and, though off and on, it only grew from there, showing the story of two women growing closer together, and I was caught in the web of that hatred-turns-to-love potential, that rare female-female interaction of any variety, and, yes, although I knew from the get-go it would never happen, of that ridiculous, childlike hope of a happy ending that looked like my own experience.
The reality is that Once is, and has always been, a weak show with occasional bright moments and one consistent bright spot. So, I continued to consume.
It was like eating the entire sloppy enchilada just for a taste of the barely-detectable onions.
The Gay Slight
For those who have spent their entire lives with stories that reflected their own, or that they could dream of as their own, being told again and again for mass-consumption, it is difficult to grasp the longing for characters with whom one can truly identify. So, I cannot blame those young ‘shippers when they repeatedly ask the same question about a beautiful relationship between two women that appears in fiction –
Will this ever happen?
99.9% of the time, the answer is no, but still we cling to that 0.1% with all the enjoyment of popular culture we can maintain in a mainstream world that so often fails to recognize us. Even in their own characters.
There is hope, though, and there is delusion. For those who watch Once and enjoy SwanQueen for what it is, more power to your popcorn. For those who watch believing there is a real chance you are going to see what you want in the end, I strongly believe you’re only prolonging your disappointment. As much as I am on your side, as much as I would love to see an intricately told story of a love that grows between two women, as much as I too have seen it in the writing and wonder what in the hell Regina and Emma are supposed to be to each other if they are not everything to each other, I also feel it is not our decision to make. Creators hold the rights to the endings of their stories, and it is wrong to think otherwise.
And, though I find the love that is supposed to be between some of these other pairings weak and forced, I know many viewers do not. They have goggles of their own, and those goggles see Regina and Robin Hood as having formed a bond so romantic and intense over the course of a few interactions that they believe Regina truly wronged by the loss of her new love.
Those goggles are in far more ample supply than our collective subtext goggles, I’m afraid, so, when it comes to throwing a man and woman together for the sake of a storyline, well-developed or not, the majority of the viewership is always going to be behind it.
My problem, as a gay viewer, is not with SwanQueen and all that wasted potential. It is not with what the Once creative team will never do, but with what they chose to do.
In response to the press from some vocal SwanQueen fans, they responded that they wanted to be inclusive, but wanted it to be organic, to fit the story.
It, quite honestly, could have been.
By the time this was said, Once had already introduced Mulan and Aurora, and, while, as I have already stated, Mulan was my last choice for a gay character, the relationship that had been built between Mulan and Aurora at least had substance. It had the potential to be worthwhile.
Apparently, inclusiveness by Once standards, however, meant sending the gay girl to tell the woman she loved that she loved her, only to be told by the woman she loved that she was expecting a child with the man she loved, and then to have said gay girl walk off never to be seen again.
After this, four distinct groups of viewers emerged:
1 – The ones who were absolutely convinced what they saw wasn’t what they saw, and that Mulan was going to tell Aurora that she too was in love with Phillip, thereby confirming the love triangle for Phillip’s affections they believed had happened once before.
2 – The ones who praised Once for including a gay character. For approximately 15 seconds.
3 – The tiny one, of which, at times, it felt I was the sole member, who would have preferred not to be included at all, if inclusion meant being the sad girl in love with the straight princess and then sent to the sidelines to suffer.
4 – The ones who thought Mulan’s affections for Aurora were entirely out of the blue, and that it only happened because those awful gays had demanded to be included in a family show and the creators did it to shut the loud ones up.
While Mulan’s love for Aurora wasn’t at all out of the blue, as for the intention of the creators, I hate to say it, but I think I have to agree with the bigots.
A Story Without an Ending
A lot can be forgiven of an epic story with a slow build to a well-executed climax.
Little can be forgiven of a story that meanders, that hasn’t a clue where it intends to go, and that lies to itself about how it is getting there.
Because, while I agree wholeheartedly with people who say to stop arguing with creators on social networks, when they say that a TV show, or a book series, should be crafted as the story demands and in accordance with the creators’ intentions, not the viewers’ or readers’, I am starting to feel that Once Upon a Time is crafted by exactly what the viewers want to see.
Or what Disney does.
Two scenes into the two-hour finale, there were two references to Disney properties. And those were only the first two. Then, they dropped all pretense and went straight for Disney’s hottest current property. Which means, in the middle of the season, the creators and writers of Once still had no idea where the story was going to go.
That, and lifting from a hot property in the hopes of bringing up paltry ratings for such an expensive show, is simply inexcusable from a creative standpoint.
So, for those going forward into season four, I wish you the most pleasant ride it can possibly be. As for me, I declare three seasons enough time to devote to a show that has finally stopped pretending it isn’t the world’s longest infomercial.