The beauty of Once Upon a Time has always been the sheer exuberance with which the show leaps into the world of imagination. While lesser dramas might tremble or cringe in the face of say, a prolonged storyline featuring the main characters from Disney’s Frozen, Once managed it with aplomb. It’s a universe where almost anything is impossible because of the passion of the actors, the fairy-tale belief in love and magic above all else, and the unflagging surety that storytelling can make anything possible.
That’s why it wasn’t just easy to learn of Cruella DeVille’s origins this week, it was delightful. The puppy murdering madwoman rewritten as a Flowers In The Attic-type troubled youth who uses her wiles to snare the magical author in bestowing her with animal-commanding powers? I will take it! I will take it and cackle my way to the bank because that noise is the sort of brilliance that we’ve come to expect from a show like Once.
But, as Gold often says in his cloying scaly way, magic has a price. And, so it was, that we the gentle viewers knew that if we were going to get an episode rife with so much campy goodness, we were also going to be forced to choke down something that did not taste nearly as bueno. I am, of course, talking about the author himself, his role in Cruella’s rise to power, and his continuing part as Loser ex Machina in the Once universe.
The show has a not just one Achilles’ heel, but seven or eighteen (which, admittedly, is a lot of feet). Most of these weak spots come courtesy of creators Horowitz and Kitsis. It’s rare that I call out writer-creators in such a blatant way, but I kind of feel that when you write in an author character onto your own show you are inviting criticism and you need to be prepare for it. The way the author, Isaac, is painted on the show only serves to underline its existing problems. Isaac falls for Cruella and doesn’t see through her, in fact, he reveals his gifts to her and she uses them against him. We are supposed to see this dude as tragic and good, ruined by his own soft heart. But here’s the thing, it isn’t his heart that’s undone him: It’s his arrogance. I don’t care how cute a butt is, you don’t show that butt that you have the key to change her reality and explain to her that her world is a fictive construct and then get toot-hurt when she tries to abscond with yours powers.
Stan Lee and the inventor of the chocolate chip cookie both said it best: With great power comes great responsibility. Isaac makes it clear that he has been gifted with the responsibility of controlling an entire series of universes! And I’m supposed to feel badly for him when a skirt distracts him and he blows it trying to demonstrate that he’s all powerful? HOOEY. Thankfully, my ire at the shows’ creators insistence that they are the victims and not just tiny men with god-complexes was tempered by watching Cruella try to use a phone. I could happily watch an entire spin-off where Once characters do shit with their smartphones.