Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Snow White's Heart of Darkness

I watch Once Upon a Time on ABC.  If you're not familiar, its premise is that all the characters from the fairy tales we all know wind up in our world, in a town called Storybrooke, Maine.  In the first part of the season, they were all under a curse, and they didn't remember who they really are.  They just lived in this weird little town where time stood still.  And then someone came and broke the curse.  Now, we're dealing with these magical characters living in our world, more or less, but magic has come back to Storybrooke, and they're all trying to deal with it.

Until a very recent episode, there were two main villains on the show: Regina, the Wicked Queen from Snow White fame, and Regina's mother, Cora.  I couldn't stand Cora not because she was evil, but because her teeth bugged the crap out of me.  My husband's a dentist, and every time Cora would appear for the first time in an episode, I'd ask him if there weren't anything any dentist, orthodontist, or plastic surgeon could do to fix Cora's mouth.  She had straight teeth, but evidence of early buck-toothedness and an overbite.  In other words, I'm guessing the actress that played Cora could at one time eat corn off the cob through a chain-link fence.  She could have been a good character, and I would have hated her, just because of the way she held her mouth.

I'm like that.

Anyway, during this whole show, I've been irritated at how stupid the "good guys" are, because in true fairy-tale hero fashion, they insist on maintaining the high road, even if it means letting a really bad baddy go free.  I've used the word "pussy" to describe Prince Charming/David.  I didn't used to like that word.  But the dude's a huge pussy.  The character demonstrated the apex of his testicular fortitude when he was lying in the Storybrooke hospital in a coma.

During the entire run of the show so far, Regina and Cora have, in one way or another, tried to kill off Snow White. Snow White has had many opportunities to get both the baddies, but lets them go because she believes in the goodness in them.  I've thought all along that Snow White's real name ought to be "Stone Dumb" for this.

Finally, Snow White went against Prince Charming's urgings to continue just wimping out (or the way he put it, taking the high road), and tricked Regina into killing her mother Cora.  And then, after that brilliant show of backbone, Snow White went into a depressive molt and went slinking to Regina, begging the Wicked Queen (or in "our" world, the Mayor of Storybrooke) to just kill her already, and get it over with.  Because Regina's main desire in life is to kill Snow White, followed by regaining custody of her adopted son (Snow White's grandson). 

Regina plunges her hand into Snow White's chest and pulls out her glowing fairy-tale-looking heart- on this show, the hearts of fairy tale characters aren't the messy, blood-pumping things we're familiar with. And the characters can live even with their hearts out of their bodies.  But if the heart gets crushed, the character dies.  For real.  So anyway, there Regina has Snow White's heart, and she looks it all over and starts laughing and shows Snow the black spot on her heart, apparently earned by tricking Regina into killing her own mother.  Then Regina plunges the heart back into Snow White's chest and says she's going to let the heart turn all the way black, because once the darkness creeps into a heart, it just spreads until the whole heart is black.  And off goes Snow White, all blubbery because now she has a black spot on her heart.

Okay.  This is what always irritated me about fairy tales.  The good guys were always good, all the time, and the bad guys were always bad with no redeeming qualities.  On this show, they're a little more interesting.  Slightly more interesting.  The bad guys usually show some redeeming quality, some capacity for good, and the good guys--- well, they're still mostly one-dimensional and paralyzed by their fear of doing something even a little bad, even for a good reason.

Take Snow White and Cora.  As it turned out, Cora's been on a vendetta against Snow White since before she was even born.  And Cora didn't hesitate to kill anyone who got in her way.  Or anyone she didn't like that day.  Or just because she was bored.  If Snow White and her band of heroes weren't so lily-livered and squeamish about stooping to conquer, Cora's run on the show would have been two episodes, tops.  And Regina would have been eliminated nearly as quickly, because the bad guys are always giving the good guys opportunities that the good guys are too afraid to take.

Snow White and Prince Pussy need to get a grip about this heart of darkness thing. Everyone has light and dark in them, even they, themselves.  The trick is to acknowledge the darkness and not be afraid of it.  Use it like a tool.  The baddies do the flipside of this.  They use their light as a tool to manipulate the good guys into letting them off again and again and again, in the hopes of redemption. 

I like a good story of redemption as much as the next girl, but let's be honest.  To stem some of the carnage on the show (Disney-fied carnage, but carnage nonetheless), Cora needed to go.  The excuse that she acted the way she did because she took out her own heart years ago isn't reason enough to give her a Prince Charming pardon, and the fact that she seemed so much warmer and friendlier in the seconds after it was put back in and before she died can be called poignant or it can be called justice, since maybe in those moments, her heart made her realize just how much she'd hurt everyone around her.  If she were allowed to die without her heart, and without her conscience, it would have been a death without suffering a little bit for what she'd done.

It's ridiculous that Snow White curled up into a little ball over what she did.  Even in fairy tale terms, she's in the middle of a war.  Cora was pretty unstoppable, what with all the good guys cowering and rolling to her.  In taking her out, Snow White saved many more good characters than the one bad character.  And really, why was she so guilty about taking out that really, really bad character the way she did, when the whole thing that set off Regina against her in the first place was that Regina was in love with a stablehand, but Cora would have nothing to do with it.  Snow knew Regina was looking to run off with the stablehand and Regina warned her not to tell anyone.  Snow turned around and told Cora, because she trusted that Cora wanted Regina to be happy and the stablehand made her happy, and that was a miscalculation that cost the stablehand his life (at Cora's own hand, right in front of Regina).  That was an innocent that lost his life as a direct consequence of Snow White's inability to keep a secret and just let her future stepmother run off.  But Snow bounced back from that one pretty easily.

That's the trouble with fairytale princesses.  They could save themselves, but they're too busy wringing their hands, waiting for someone to come rescue them.  They're waiting for someone else to come do their dirty work for them. For once, one of them took matters into her own hands.  She might be a little less Snow White now, but she became a whole lot more interesting.  Now she just needs to get a grip and maybe slap some of the spinelessness out of Charming.

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