Welcome back, my geeky darlings! The new fall television lineups are finally starting, and I sincerely hope that you are thoroughly enjoying your new and returning entertainments fixes! As you should know by now, (BF) Geek Girls is designed as a safe space for exploring new ideas and celebrating the fan-person experience. Anyone who has ever been accused of being a fake geek knows just how discouraging a fandom in general and the fans individually can be; but today I want to talk about something very difficult that has come up recently… How do you, either as a die-hard fan or a newcomer to a particular fandom, express your dissatisfaction when your show (or other medium) starts going in directions that you don’t like? To this I say, there is a difference between critically examining the show and pointing out its flaws/trouble spots and simply being negative or destructively critical. It’s a hard line to walk, but you can be frustrated or fed up with the way things are progressing without your arguments/critique devolving into a demand for fan service. Remember, this show may be your chosen form of entertainment, but you as the audience do not control how things play out. As always, I recommend that if you can no longer enjoy the thing, it might be time to let the thing go…
Fair warning here: I have followed Once Upon A Time from the very first episode, and I became actively involved in the fandom toward the end of the premiere run of the second season. I consider myself a faithful, die-hard fan of this show; to date, it is the only show/film that I have written fan fiction for. I am also a Captain Swan shipper. As this is my only real example of fandom participation to work from, I know that I will probably say something that will upset certain people within the entire fandom. So, please know that I am not trying to stir up trouble or in any way invalidate what people read into and love about the show. I cannot please and placate everybody, but please know that no malice is intended.
Disclaimer done! Okay… So, here’s my issue with Once Upon A Time as it is currently being run: the writing has become abysmal. Hellishly bad, one might even be tempted to punnily say given the Underworld storyline we were just forced to endure. I know that the writers and producers of the show are fallible human beings, therefore capable of making mistakes, but I also know that the collective team members are all incredibly talented; they have written better storylines in the past, dealt with accidents and mishaps which they have had to write around, and still managed to produce brilliant work. Let me get into some specifics of where I see the writing going awry…
First, and most importantly, the writers have apparently lost their focus on their characters, writing to serve the story arc and the plot. The problem with this, in part, lies with the format they ran for the last three years—dividing the season into two “pods” of 11-12 episodes. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with splitting the show this way, it has led to the stunting of the main characters’ emotional development. In season one, the main story line was the conflict between Emma and Regina over parenting Henry, the flip side of this being the lingering question over whether or not Henry really was crazy. The secondary, or B-story, of each episode was then focused on introducing the audience to one of the fairy tale characters who populated Storybrooke, both their current cursed self and their past in the Enchanted Forest; this character’s tale usually had some link to what was happening in the A-story. It was relatively neat and tidy, but it remained true to the basic premise of the show: these are the fairytale characters you think you know.
All through season one, we watched Emma Swan realize that she was needed and wanted by her son; there was progress and there was regression, but slowly, she was opening herself up to the possibility of being loved and loving others. Her guardedness initially made sense, based on what the writers revealed about her character in Emma’s dialogues (especially with Mary Margaret)…
But by the start of season two, and even as early as the later episodes of season one, things began to become a little more tangled. The first plot and character complication came with the introduction of Belle and the reveal of Rumplestilskin as the beast to her beauty. It fell perfectly within the “not your classic Disney version” spin and was an utter stroke of genius, especially when it seemed to end in tragedy (as many of the original fairytales do). But in deciding to run with the characters and spin out a romance, the writers painted themselves into a particularly tough corner: how do you take the Dark One, the theoretical baddest of the bad, and make him a romantic hero? If Rumplestiltskin could commit to redeeming himself and rejecting evil, then it should work.
Unfortunately, in sticking to the idea that Rumple is a magic addict and that he will consistently choose power over the people he cares for, then he is incapable of change. In writing terms, he is a flat character. I think that Robert Carlyle does a fabulous job portraying Rumple, but the character’s refusal to become a better man for either of his sons or the woman he loves—even after he is literally given a clean slate and had the Darkness purged from his soul—makes it difficult for me to sympathize with him. Further, the fact that he continued to lie to Belle and Baelfire/Neal, pretending to commit to a life without magic (or at least, to being an upstanding citizen and no longer holding a grudge/planning revenge against a certain pirate captain), makes him a toxic individual. So long as he could not or cannot live without magic—and, despite his shiny new heart and heroic deed in saving Belle in 5A, choosing to reabsorb the entity/power of the Dark One pretty much seals the deal on him not being able to give it up—he will not be a good person to be around, let alone be married to.
And this is totally fine. Some characters, like some people, simply always resist change, and as a writer, you need to reflect that in your writing. But it is the people/characters connected to that flat individual who next present a problem. Within the Disney canon, Belle is the smart princess—something that the Once writers were keen to keep in their depiction of her. However, her continued allegiance to Rumplestiltskin in the face of all she learned about him, including the fact that he ripped out and crushed the heart of his first wife for daring to leave him and be happy, either reveals her as a twisted individual herself or makes her commitment to forgiving and forgetting appear positively suicidal. It also made Neal’s refusal to accept his father’s death as final, despite the fact that he canonically abhors magic, into a fool’s errand of the highest order. Again, not every character or person can be or should be dynamic, but willfully ignoring the established traits and characteristics just to serve the story makes for bad writing.
Which segues nicely into the next topic: ret con, or deliberately backtracking or altering “facts in evidence” after you have already committed to a statement, character, or plot. Going back a bit to season one, we learned several things about Emma’s romantic past: first, her ex-boyfriend and Henry’s father was not a good guy; second, by her own report, Emma had had an affair with a married man and it had not ended well; and third, presumably after both of these experiences, she stuck to having one night stands whenever she felt the need/desire to have sex. We then learn in season two that Neal was not just “not good”, he actually let Emma go to jail for his crime; the audience knows that he did this in collusion with Pinocchio/August before she does, and we know that she was pregnant while in jail and had to give up their son, which he also finds out later. And yet, despite this epic level of betrayal, the writers allow both Neal and Henry to punish Emma for her refusal to tell Neal about Henry’s existence and for the lie Emma told Henry in season one about his father being a heroic, dead firefighter. But this isn’t where things have gotten sticky just yet.
The story of Emma and Neal’s relationship, as well as her romantic future and life of extra-legal activities, has become further tangled by the inclusion of flashbacks for both of their lives. There is plenty to work with, but the largest elephant in the room has to be the fact that though consensual, Neal committed statutory rape when he slept with Emma. In the pilot episode, which premiered in 2011, it is Emma’s 28th birthday; Henry, according to all reports is 10 years old. In the flashbacks for ‘Tallahassee’, the date is listed as 2001; unfortunately, these dates do not add up when you consider several other facts in evidence. I actually did some calculations on this and posted it as a meta on Tumblr many moons ago; I will include this at the end of the post for those interested in the breakdown of when Emma would have gotten pregnant in order to have her court records sealed on account of her status as a minor. Suffice to say, the writers simply threw together several facts—the sealing of court records, the length of Emma’s prison sentence, etc.—but then forgot to do due diligence on a real world timeline or confirm basic information that could be accessed on a county website.
Another issue with the timeline, which has come to light very recently, is how unrealistic it is. Now, I know that this is a fantasy show, but given that large portions of it take place in The Land Without Magic, there have to be some real world considerations. Given that much of Emma’s history has yet to be revealed, I will admit that I and much of the fandom made many assumptions about her unrecorded life. For example: when exactly did she become a bailbonds person? Because we are rational human beings, we turned to the evidence presented to us. There was a mention in 1.04 that Emma stayed in Tallahassee for two years after getting out of jail; Regina mentions it as fact, which means that Emma did not use a fake name. We (using the collective, fandom plural) assumed that this meant that Emma had straightened out relatively quickly after her stint in jail. It seems plausible that she kept her nose clean, possibly learning the trade thanks to her own brush with the law and striving to right the wrongs committed by other nefarious criminals against their family members and loved ones.
However, in 5.20, she is found (almost by accident) while travelling in Maine and looking for information about her biological parents and arrested for skipping out on her bail from Phoenix (presumably in 2002, if she was arrested in 2001)… So, despite not using a false name on any workplace documentation or on an apartment lease, not a single bailbondsman found her and collected on her in seven years? Is she that good or are the authorities just that inept? Further, her flashbacks deny a real world timeline by having her go from on the run in 2009, to starting out as a bailbonds person in 2010, and then being a successful one by late 2011 when Henry shows up at her door. This does not make sense from a legal standpoint, as she would undoubtedly need to serve time for violating her parole and to legally pay back the bonds company’s expenses in catching her, etc.; also, as she committed her crimes under her legal name, Emma Swan, her parole violation would definitely be on her criminal record (which Regina does not mention in season one as part of her smear campaign), but it would also mean that any attempt to work for any part of the legal system so soon after being arrested would meet with failure. She could conceivably work as a bailbonds person if her record were only juvenile, or after the lapse of several years. But the timeline does not allow for that.
It’s not that Emma’s flashbacks didn’t make sense per se; it’s that they don’t make sense in context with what we know, what we have previously been told in canon, or what we have been lead to believe about Emma’s character. Given how long it took her to drop her “armor” and overcome her emotional walls for Killian, I would have expected those flashbacks to come almost immediately after she gave up hope on Neal reuniting with her in Tallahassee, which, if we assume that she skipped out on her bail immediately after being released from jail, would have happened when she was 19-20 (not in 2009, when she is 26 and only two years previous to the events of the pilot episode). The situation itself, with her imprinting on the Bailbonds person Chloe like that, makes sense but only if Emma were at a much younger, impressionable age. Personally, I think that the writers chose to alter the timing of these events in order to make Neal look better—as if by making Emma’s redemption take so long, it theoretically lessens the onus on what Neal did to her.
The penultimate problem they have created by continually going back and arbitrarily changing or tweaking events in the past (Emma’s past in particular) is doubt in their reliability as showrunners (or narrators, if you will). Whether retroactively inserting more events set during Belle’s time as Rumple’s servant (which has been done multiple times in seasons 3 and 4), or recklessly ignoring legal and temporal realities, they have built inconsistency into the foundations of their universe and characters. In a word, the audience’s trust in them has been violated, making it difficult to accept or credit their assertions about the show, both off camera and in canon, as truthful or legitimate. This is a huge problem when it comes to the future of the show, because it opens up the possibility that previous statements of fact can be ignored.
(Here’s where I will step on toes). I know that there are plenty of other ships on the show, but one of the most vocal segments of the fandom are the Swan Queen shippers. (For those not in the know, these people perceive and desire a romantic relationship between Emma Swan and Regina Mills/The Evil Queen). Almost from the beginning, these people have seen the dramatic tension between Emma and Regina as being sexual, rather than antagonistic; further, they have collectively demanded that the creators of the show acknowledge this as having been purposely established and to give the audience the pay-off by having the two women become sexual partners. However, during their San Diego Comic Con panel in 2013 (just as season 3 started filming), the creators and showrunners Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis both responded to a fan question by stating that they had never intended for Emma and Regina to be romantically or sexually attracted to each other and that it would not happen in the show.
Yet over the last three years, the Swan Queen shippers have not given up. Any Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook mention of Emma Swan or Regina Mills—both of whom are canonically heterosexual—being in the same air space as any of the other characters is immediately met with a hue and cry. People who ship Captain Swan (the pairing of Emma Swan and Captain Hook/Killian Jones) and Outlaw Queen (the pairing of Regina Mills with Robin Hood, who was confirmed in show canon as Regina’s soul mate) are regularly treated to anonymous hate mail or have their Tumblr metas or gif sets scathingly bashed. Any positive mention of Killian Jones is met with vitriolic diatribes about his misogyny, criminality, etc. Anything posted on social media by Lana Parilla, who portrays the Evil Queen, or anything she mentions in her interviews is taken as gospel truth, especially when she plays up the tension between her character and Emma (or, most memorably, reads from explicit Swan Queen fan fics).
And my purpose here is not to bash any particular ship or actress, but I think that these shippers in particular negatively demonstrate a few fundamentally important considerations about the whole geeking experience:
- You do not control what happens in the show, the writers do. I may have spent a goodly while here just outlining where, in my opinion, the writers have made some errors in judgment, but that doesn’t mean that I simply ignore what they have said and what has happened in the show. Or worse, that I immediate take to social media to start a hate campaign. Am I happy with the show’s direction at this moment? I have to say, unequivocally, no. My issue is not with the story itself, but primarily with the lack of emotional development and progress in the characters—after 5 whole seasons, Emma should not be starting at square one all over again, being emotionally distant and lying/keeping secrets from her family. She should have learned from her previous lessons—especially after becoming the Dark One and the events in Camelot and immediately after; the fact that she is regressing means that either she herself is a flat character, or the writers are stuck in their own emotional rut. Some would argue that her deception is necessary to create dramatic tension, but there are plenty of other options. However I feel about any of this, the show does not belong to me nor am I being paid to write it, so,
- If you don’t like the direction of the show, stop watching. Especially with a show like Once, this can be difficult to do. Like I said, I have watched since season one and have been involved in the fandom for three years now; I’ve invested a lot of time and emotional energy into the show, so simply letting sounds painful and difficult. But as the episodes go on, I am spending more time complaining about the show than raving about it. I don’t want to fill my life with negativity and negative emotions, because there’s plenty of that already out there in the world. I also don’t want to diminish anyone else’s enjoyment of the show, but if I continue to watch and not find enjoyment myself, odds are good that I’m eventually going to voice my frustrations with the show and in the process make someone who IS a happy viewer become frustrated with my inability to enjoy it, or convert them to my state of dissatisfaction. (I am definitely teetering on the edge of removing myself from the Once fandom, so this is not an easy place to be in or an easy decision to come to.)
- If you don’t like the direction of the show, dedicated fan or not, do not spread hate to the creators, to the actors, to the crew, or to the other fans. This has been a huge problem in the Once fandom across ships. Absolutely nothing excuses or condones the kind of vicious behavior I have seen over the last few years. Manners and common courtesy dictate that you do not send death threats to people who are doing their jobs in order to bring you quality entertainment. You don’t have to watch the show, and you certainly do not have the right to demand anything from the people who are making it happen. I can certainly express my opinion that the writing recently has been lackluster and the hope that they improve it, especially because I know from previous writing in previous seasons that they can do better, but that is only one opinion of one viewer. The writers and creators obviously cannot please every single fan, or even a single, united segment of the fandom on every single episode (to do so would be catastrophic to any sort of coherent narrative). But obviously enough people are still watching regularly and are completely (or mostly) satisfied with how the overall show is progressing. Also, just because a person does not ship your ship, they are not automatically a despicable, vile excuse for humanity; they are a person, with their own life experiences which inform why they ship what they ship. Treat everyone with respect.
- Boycott boycotts. The worst emotion that can be directed at you is not hate, but apathy. If you are vocal in your protests about your ship not being canon, you are giving energy (and publicity) to the show. If you are slut-shaming one of the actresses via Twitter, you are giving energy (and publicity) to the show. If you are sharing gossip and spreading rumors about one of the actors or couples on the set, you are giving energy (and publicity) to the show. Adamantly and viciously declaring that you and your fellow shippers are going to boycott the show? Any guesses as to what it actually does? That’s right, you’ve just given them free publicity. Pointing out that there is a problem does not actually fix the problem, just like your mechanic telling you that your car has an oil leak is not the same as him finding and fixing it. All you do when you complain or boycott is get yourself worked up or upset, while wasting time and energy on something that doesn’t bring you joy or enrich your life. If you really want to make a difference, stop giving the show your ratings certainly, but also stop giving them a space in your mind and your social media.
I know that the example was very specific, but as I said it was the one I knew best. The whole reason for geeking is to have fun and be awesome together. There’s enough divisiveness and hate in the real world, so we shouldn’t let it ruin the things we are passionate about. Remember to geek long and prosper!—J.J.
*As promised above, my calculations and conclusions about the timeline for Emma’s pregnancy and Henry’s birthday; this has bearing on the sexual relationship between Neal and Emma, and its legality. In episode 2.06, Neal’s date of birth is listed on his wanted poster (this is, naturally, an approximation since he was in Neverland for about 200 years and lived in the Enchanted Forest until he was at least 14). Also included, the full text of the wanted poster, as found on Once Upon A Time wiki.
Okay, now I know that I have written about this subject before, so bear with me. I actually pulled up a calendar for the years in question. Now, we know that there is some conflicting information about how old Henry is exactly. Adam and Eddy have both been quoted as saying that less than a year has passed since Emma came to Storybrooke (at the end of season two). So…
Fact #1: Emma’s birthday is October 22, 1983. We know this from several episodes, primarily 1.01— Rumple specifically states that she will return on her 28th birthday, and the show began in 2011; the morning edition of the Daily Mirror that is seen in this episode is dated Oct. 23, meaning Emma arrived in town at some time before Midnight then night before (23-1= 22). This is corroborated in 2.17 (Welcome to Storybrooke); even if she and August arrived at a different time of year/season as measured in the Enchanted Forest, there are and were at the time several tests to determine exactly how old she was when she arrived. Thus, in The Land Without Magic, her birthday was determined to be October 22, 1983.
Fact #2: We DO NOT know Henry’s precise birthday. In 1.01, he says to Emma, “Ten years ago, did you give a baby up for adoption? That was me.” So, at the time of Emma’s 28th birthday, Henry was AT LEAST ten years old; additionally, because kids have a tendency to round up to the nearest half-year (and this is strictly for argument’s sake), we know that he could theoretically be as old as 10 years and 5 months. If he is in fact MORE than 10 years (but less than 10 and a half), it would explain why he and others later refer to him as being 11 (2.14; the birth scene in 3.01 which happens “eleven years ago” but does not give us a definitive date).
IF HENRY AND EMMA SHARE THE SAME BIRTHDAY, then he is exactly 10 years old on October 22, 2011. This means that he was born on Monday, October 22, 2001. And, if there were zero complications, and Henry had a perfect 40-week gestation period (meaning that he was born exactly at 9 months), then Henry was conceived on Monday, January 15, 2001. This would mean that Emma and Neal are together, as partners in crime and sexual partners, for a month or less.
IF, HOWEVER, we go with the theory that Henry is at maximum 10 years and 5 months old when he meets Emma on 10/22/11, and further account for a perfect 40-week gestation period, then Henry was born on Monday, June 11, 2001 and conceived on Monday, September 4, 2000. This would adequately account for Emma continuing to be a minor and a ward of the state throughout her entire jail time served.
Fact #3: Henry’s birthday lies at some point between June 11 and October 22, 2001. And he was conceived at some point between Sept. 4, 2000 and Jan. 15, 2001.
Further, if less than a year has elapsed since Emma came to Storybrooke (3.04, Hook tells David that he “won’t live to see summer,” yet Valentine’s day has already passed- -in 1.12, “Skin Deep”) and all of the episodes since 1.13 represent 1 whole day, AND IF 1.13 happens one week (7 days) after 1.12,THEN, Henry was abducted on March 24, 2012.This means that if time in Neverland and time in the Land Without Magic continues to progress at the same speed (as, from all appearances it has been doing so), then by this next episode 3.09 “Save Henry,” it will be April 2, 2012. [These calculations account for the fact that 2012 was a Leap Year.] This means that everyone except Emma and Henry are swept back to the Enchanted Forest in early April 2012, and Killian Jones arrives in New York to fetch them in early April 2013. Therefore, he is close to his 12th birthday by the time he is reunited with the entirety of his family at the end of episode 3.12.
Fact #4: Emma’s court records are sealed, which means that she was legally a minor and still considered a ward of the state for the entire duration of her sentence, which was 11 months. This comes despite the fact that she was old enough to appeal for emancipation (as young as 14 in some states), but that her petition would doubtless have been denied given her record of running away from group and foster homes.
Based on this, on the exact day that Emma began her jail sentence, she would have been 17 years and 1 month old. Even accounting for time already served, which could range from a few days to several months, she would still be 17 years and 1 month at the moment of incarceration. This means that she and Neal actually met in the waning months of 2000, and not 2001 as stated in the flashback title cards of 2.06 and 3.22 (Because Emma’s 17 years and 1-month mark is November 22, 2000, this is the absolute last day by which she could have been arrested and incarcerated for stealing the watches.
Fact #5: Text of the wanted poster gives Neal’s age in 2001 (the date erroneously given in 2.06 and again in the 3.22 flashback) as more than four-and-a-half years older than Emma’s. Source: http://onceuponatime.wikia.com/wiki/Tallahassee. This makes him 22-years old before and immediately after Emma turns 18, which makes their relationship firmly fall into the category of statutory rape.
WANTED FOR GRAND LARCENY
|Date of birth: March 23, 1977
Place of birth: New Jersey
Height: 5′ 9″
Weight: 170 pounds
Scars and Marks: Neal Cassidy has a scar on his left arm from a knife wound
Remarks: Neal Cassidy may be in possession of stolen firearms