Occasionally fans of Greetings from Storybrooke write in with great reactions that just end up being a little too long to make it into the episode. We got one like that this week from our constant listener Michael Lucero, who is starting to doubt the direction of the show! Take it away, Michael:
Congratulations on reaching your fiftieth episode mark!!
I have to say, I enjoyed your podcast episode on “Save Henry” far more than I enjoyed the episode itself. I know mine will likely be a minority opinion, but the more I think about this episode the less I find myself liking it. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I find myself realizing that the specific weaknesses in it all underline the specific weaknesses I’ve seen in the show as a whole, but until now have managed to overlook.
For example, the lack of consistent character development, and the writers’ inability to make any development stick or have any permanent effect. Here in this very episode, we have Regina in the past learning to be, or begin to be, a good mother. Insofar as this episode goes, that’s great. Really good story. But when you think about this in the context of the series, it’s amazingly inconsistent. How was Regina on the road to becoming such a thoughtful, dedicated, and (at least somewhat) selfless mother like we saw her beginning to be in “Save Henry”, and yet someone who Emma could tell did not truly care about Henry in the first few episodes of the show? You could argue that she saw Emma as a threat and so lost sight of Henry’s well-being, but Henry seemed genuinely unhappy and seemed to see himself as unloved. So either the show is inconsistent, or the development Regina underwent in this flashback just didn’t stick at all.
Similarly, we’ve been shown Regina beginning to move toward redemption this season, just as she did in the early episodes of season two. Like then, it isn’t seeming to stick, since she no longer regrets anything bad she’s done. And let’s not forget, she’s done some truly horrible things. It wasn’t just the curse. I’m not holding these things against her. I want her to move on, to find redemption. But feeling no remorse is the wrong way to go, and it seems that she ricochets back to evil either whenever it suits her own personal needs, or whenever it suits the needs of the writers (probably the latter is more correct). Regina as a character has basically not underwent any lasting character development, except maybe for moving on from Daniel and deciding (in the present, but not in the past) that she really does want to be a good mother to Henry after all. I feel like I’m just not supposed to notice inconsistencies like this, or treat them like they don’t matter. Which I’m entirely willing and prepared to do in terms of plot inconsistencies or continuity errors. But character development?
I also feel that the memory potion was an extremely cheap move, from a story-telling perspective. It’s a classic cop-out and a great example of lazy writing, wanting to explore dramatic moments that don’t fit with continuity, and shoe-horning them in by sheer force. I mean, when does it end? Will we find that Rumpel knew Henry was going to be his downfall after all, and made himself forget? Or that Regina knew her curse would eventually fail and that Rumpel was using her the whole time, and made herself forget just to satisfy her resentment in the short term? These sound ridiculous, but how are they qualitatively different from what we just saw in “Save Henry”?
Similarly, I’m kind of bothered by the moral implications of “Save Henry”. Okay, Regina is making some good decisions in the flashback, learning to think more selflessly about Henry and not only about herself. That’s great. That’s definite progress. But even if you ignore the character arc inconsistencies, I have a problem with the way this progress is being framed in the larger story. Again, Regina has done some pretty horrible things. She’s killed entire villages just to make a point, she’s expressed regret for not being able to inflict more suffering, she’s shown that not even her own family are important to her enough that she would draw the line at killing them in order to fulfil her own lust for vengeance. Again, I’m not being a Regina hater here. I want her to do well. Some of my favorite kinds of stories are ones with corrupt and evil characters finding redemption and atoning for their decisions. I find stories like that to be powerfully moving, and from a storytelling perspective, you have to make your characters really evil for a story like that to work. That’s fine. But Regina’s atonement so far has consisted in the fact that (for a moment in the past, and so far right now in the present moment) she really loves Henry and wants the best for him. So…that’s it? That’s supposed to be Regina’s atonement? I’m not trying to downplay the value of that, because there is real, meaningful value in it. But that’s all? You might say that we just haven’t seen all of Regina’s story yet, and there’s more to come. But I think the writers and actors portrayed her “I have no regrets” moment as a triumphant one, one we’re supposed to cheer for, rather than something we should consider a warning sign. So the lesson at the end of the day is, you can be as horrible of a monster as you want, inflict as much suffering as you want, and as long as you love a child, you’re good. Perhaps I’m being overly simplistic, but I do feel that this is the moral message of “Save Henry”.
I know it’s pretty sudden, but I’m starting to question whether I still want to watch Once. Oh, I’ll give it at least till the end of the midseason finale, just to see how things play out. But I’ll reserve judgment till then as to whether or not I want to continue on from there. I may possibly sound more bitter than I really am about all this. In fact I’m not bitter at all, just trying to be honestly critical. Like I said, I’m willing to forgive a lot, and have always enjoyed shows with plot weaknesses a lot more than most of my friends who watch the same shows. But I don’t think it’s unfair or uncharitable to expect that character arcs at least should be consistent, or at the very least meaningful. And I don’t personally find it meaningful when a character has a deeply powerful experience in one episode and yet seems to have entirely forgotten how it so dramatically changed them in a later story.
Sorry for the extreme length of this letter, and I know you probably won’t be able to use it for the podcast. But I did want to express these thoughts to someone, and GFS is one of my favorite sources of Once discussion out there. Keep up the great work, and I look forward to hearing the next episode.