Black Mirror Mini-Binge: A Beginner’s Guide To Entering The Void

Cross posted on Agony Booth.com

With a series title based on the black, yet translucent, and sometimes eerily sinister-looking, screen that stares back at you from your sleeping smart phone or tablet, the British-based television anthology Black Mirror has slowly (but surely) garnered cult status, since its UK debut back in 2011. Touted by many as a modern-day Twilight Zone for Technophobes, Black Mirror’s standalone, but thematically related, episodes sagely (and often savagely) tackle the inane nuances of modern day conveniences, while, at the same time, contemplating the various ways in which said conveniences could potentially lead to the catastrophic downfall of society as we know it. Needless to say, it’s not uncommon to finish watching an episode of Black Mirror, and feel just the slightest bit like slitting your own wrist, because the vision of the future it presents is so gosh darn bleak.


This is not to say that Black Mirror is a bad series. On the contrary, most of the time, it’s a pretty friggin awesome one. In fact, on numerous occasions, I’ve found myself utterly spellbound by a particular episode’s creative insightfulness, not to mention the sheer delicious terror it induced in me while watching. On just as many occasions, topics presented during the episode have sparked spirited, sometimes very angry, conversations among my friends regarding various forms of social media and modern technology and their inherent downsides.


And yet, Black Mirror is certainly not for everybody, nor is it appropriate for all occasions. As such, it’s not the kind of show for which I’d advocate binging all four seasons of the series (comprising just 13 episodes in total) in a single sitting. That would likely be way too intense, even for the toughest, most mentally stable, of television viewers among us.


No . . . Black Mirror is most definitely the kind of show best absorbed in moderation, much like fine wine, double fudge brownies, sex, and the Home Shopping Network (if viewed while feeling particularly insomniatic and thus vulnerable to cheap advertising ploys).


Fear not, television fanatics and eclectic cult series connoisseurs! I have a relatively risk-free solution to the Black Mirror Conundrum. For those planning to embark upon a steady diet of Black Mirror, I propose the following fail-safe Introductory Mini-Binge. It’s only three episodes long. Just enough to whet your appetite, and get you used to Black Mirror’s unique flavor, without immediately sending you into uber-depressive strait-jacket territory. Let’s explore, shall we?


Recommendation #1: The Entire History of You: Series 1, Episode 3


Sites like Facebook and Instagram, even the photo cache on your cell phone, have made millions of dollars by capitalizing on the rose-colored world of human nostalgia. Not too long ago, a trip down memory lane required flipping through the pages of a carefully cultivated photo album or heavily autographed yearbook, rewinding a lovingly shot, albeit slightly amateur, home video, or retrieving the plastic key that unlocks the childish scrawl adorning a long unopened diary.


Now, you’ve got Facebook creepily combining with music all your digital photos, in order to create a “Your Year in Review” montage. Anyone with an internet connection could probably find at least one of your baby pictures online, if they looked hard enough. And your own cell phone exists as a constant daily reminder of that ill-advised drunken selfie you and your friends took in the public restroom of a gross dive bar in Hell’s Kitchen at 3 a.m. that one hazy Saturday night.


In the Entire History of You, Black Mirror takes this unsettling-if-you-really-think-about-it concept one step further. It contemplates a computer chip in your brain that records everything you see and hear for purposes of instant (and, if you aren’t careful) obsessive repeat viewing. Anyone who has ever said or done something stupid, and then aggressively punished themselves for it, by replaying said stupid actions or words over and over again, ad nauseum, each time finding a new and improved reason for self-loathing, could probably imagine the egregious self-harm they could inflict upon themselves, if given the opportunity to actually re-watch in unfiltered HD-TV full color, their own darkest moments.

The reverse could be problematic too. I could imagine after a particularly shitty day, it would be rather tempting to get lost for days in the vortex of that awesome summer you had junior year of college, where every day was sun-filled, and every night was a party (or, at least it seemed that way at the time).
Picture a successful young professional, who gets home from a bad day at work to find a strange man in his house, who may, or may not, be schtupping his wife on the regular. You could imagine how dangerous this particular type of technology could be in the hands of such an emotionally volatile man, both for himself and those around him.


Yes, the view of future society painted by the Entire History of You is a pretty ugly one. But it’s one that will definitely make you think about the unspoken benefits of selective memory, forgetfulness, and plain old outright ignorance, specifically, the ways in which, those, seemingly negative qualities of human nature could, in some ways, save us all from our own ever-approaching insanity. (Fun Fact: Robert Downey Jr. actually optioned this episode for a full-length film . . . another solid reason to check it out, if the above hasn’t succeeded in swaying you.)


Recommendation #2: Fifteen Million Merits, Series 1, Episode 2


For better or worse, reality television has become a mainstay of prime-time television viewing. And why the heck not? It’s cheap to produce. It’s mind numbingly addictive to watch. And it’s oddly refreshing in its emphasis on real, flawed, “average” individuals, competing for your attention, as opposed to the beautiful airbrushed heartthrobs and starlets of television yesteryear . . . the ones who seemed genetically pre-designed to make us all feel so gosh darn inadequate.


Fifteen Million Merits is a not-so-subtle commentary on reality television, as well as our society’s increasing reliance on using avatars and “virtual selves,” to carry out our own personal fantasies in a pixelated online world, without the “hassle” of having to getting out of our pajamas and actually leave our homes.


While the Entire History of You takes place in the not-so-distant future, inside a world that looks suspiciously like our own, Fifteen Million Merits contemplates a universe that’s a bit farther removed, and yet not entirely incomprehensible, especially in light of our society’s current trajectory toward an increased living out of our lives online.


In this alternate version of our world, men and women live entirely through their avatars, working and exercising compulsively, not to better themselves, but to buy shinier duds, and better opportunities for the computerized creatures designed to represent them the digital world.


Our main character in this story, Bing, has grown surprisingly complacent with this new unreal world. We watch him in the first few minutes of the episode, simply sleepwalking through the virtual annoyances of his daily life. But then, he meets Sybil from Downton Abbey, and promptly falls in love with her. (As men do!). After that, all bets are off.


Fifteen Million Merits is fascinating in its deft, and surprisingly believable, world building, excoriating in its commentary on modern media and its compulsive need to appeal to the lowest common denominator, and horrifying, when you recognize how close to real life the world painted in this episode happens to be. In short, it’s a can’t miss hour of television for any burgeoning viewer.

Recommendation #3: San Junipero, Series 3, Episode 4


Since my first two Black Mirror episode introductory picks were admittedly pretty darn dark, I figure it’s time to lighten things up a bit, with what may very well be Black Mirror’s most optimistic, heart-warming, surprisingly pro-technology, episodic feature to date. If the Entire History of You’s underlying purpose is to warn viewers of the dangers of nostalgia and living in the past, San Junipero exists as its idealistic counterpoint. This episode, which takes place, almost entirely in a glossy, almost-too-perfect, embodiment of 1980’s California, views both nostalgia and memory as a circuitous route toward eternal happiness, love, second chances, and, yes, immortality.


Shy, bookish Yorkie, a child of the 80’s, never had the chance to experience much in life. That is until she enters the virtual world of San Junipero, enters a dance club filled with strangers, and encounters the effervescent, free-spirited, Kelly, a wild child, who is hiding secrets of her own.


This surprisingly fun-filled, oddly “happy,” installment of the Black Mirror franchise has a little twist in it, one that I won’t spoil for you here, thought the more observant of you will likely catch on to it, within the episode’s first fifteen minutes. Suffice it to say, this episode has a heck of a lot more heart than most Black Mirror installments, and it’s certainly a good deal more optimistic. Yet, despite its deceptively simplistic, lighthearted, nature, San Junipero has a lot of intelligent things to say about the nature of mortality, love, relationships, and the legacies we create for ourselves and one another just by following our dreams and giving in to our own desires.

If Entire History of You and Fifteen Million Merits left you feeling super depressed and wary of the future of humanity, this third Black Mirror pick will ensure that you can wake up tomorrow, fully capable of getting out of bed, and maybe even put an extra spring in your step as you do it.

So, there you have it, my top three picks for a healthy introduction into the dangerously addictive world of the Black Mirror. Are you ready to dive into the void?

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ONCE UPON A TIME RECAP: I Dream of Genie

Cross posted at Agony Booth.com

emma-and-henrys-alternate-reality-once-upon-a-time-season-6-epis

EMMA: “Of course, this Alt-World is real, Henry! What would make you think it is fake?” Henry: “Well, we are standing in front of a Green Screen . . .”

This week on Once, Emma gets “wished” into an alt-world, where her hair and makeup are better, but everything else about her is way worse. Also, Aladdin becomes everyone’s b*tch; the Evil Queen unleashes her inner reptile; and everyone who thought Belle’s kid was super creepy, and most likely The Worst, gets to say “I TOLD YOU SO!”

It’s the last Once recap of 2016, Fairytale Fans! Let’s do this!

Sword-of Good News

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In a quest to determine the true owner of the Sword That Will “Kill” Emma Swan (but not destroy that sword, mind you, because the plot requires it to remain in play, at least until the end of the season), Emma, Regina and Hook have a run-in with the Evil Queen in front of Robin Hood’s grave, because “foreshadowing.” There, Evil Queen literally taunts Emma with “your mama” jokes. And this makes Emma so mad that she stabs the Evil Queen in the face with her own death sword. (Talk about Anger Management Issues!)

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When it is plot convenient for them to be treated as such, Regina and Evil Queen are treated as the same person. This means that when Evil Queen gets stabbed in the face, Regina should also bleed. But when Emma stabs Evil Queen with her death sword, for some reason, Regina’s face is still as beautifully Botoxed and pore free as it was pre-Evil Queen Face Stabbing.

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Based on this impromptu experiment, Emma determines that she CAN actually kill the Evil Queen, without killing Regina too! And this would be fabulous, and extremely relevant, news, if the Evil Queen wasn’t rendered a complete non-entity by the end of the episode . . .Oh well! Better luck next McGuffin!

Wish-Y Washy

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When Emma tells the rest of her family that she’s going to use her own Death Sword to kill the Evil Queen, at night, out in the street, thereby basically mimicking the exact circumstances of the vision she had, in which she died at the end, her son Henry is the only one that thinks this is incredibly shitty idea. (Unless you happen to be watching a show geared toward eight-year olds, it’s generally a bad sign when the smartest character on the show isn’t even old enough to shave.)

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Ignoring Henry’s rather logical and intellectually sound warnings, Emma heads off with Hook, Daddy Charming, and her Future Death Sword to tempt fate, recreate her death scene from her vision, and maybe, but probably not, succeed in killing the Evil Queen. While they are en route, Princess Jasmine screams out frantically for help from inside Granny’s diner. It turns out that the Evil Queen has her very loosely tied up in a chair. And when I say “loosely,” I mean to say that, those Chinese Handcuffs we all used to play with as kids are probably more difficult to get out of than the Evil Queen’s half-assed chair knot.

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Nonetheless, Jasmine dutifully stays put like the good, not too bright, hostage that she is. And so, the Evil Queen promptly steals the genie lamp from Jasmine, summons New Genie Aladdin from it, and makes her first wish: that Emma Swan’s erstwhile wish never to become the Savior be granted. So thoughtful, that Evil Queen! Someone get this lady a Humanitarian Award!

Since, Emma Swan originally became the Savior, upon being shipped off to modern times from fairytale land, no-longer-the-Savior-Emma is instead portaled to an Alt World, in which she instead actually grew up in fairytale land with her super rich parents, a la Ivanka Trump.

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In order to rescue Emma from Alt-World, Regina conveniently uses the “Evil Queen and I are technically the same person” card (which appears to be working again, after the whole Death Sword glitch thing), so that she can be whisked to the exact same World.

Princess Emma: The New Disney Heroine that Feminism Forgot

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To say Alt-World is weird, and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense as a viable alternate timeline, is a complete understatement. For one thing, Emma’s parents, the Charmings, are super old. (This part actually, does make sense, because while time stopped in Storybrooke during Emma’s first 28-years of life, in Alt-World, time continued normally, thus rendering Charming and Snow at least 28-years older than they currently are in Storybrooke).

What doesn’t make sense, is how nobody else in Alt World aged one iota. I let this slide, when it came to the dwarves, because, perhaps, dwarves don’t age like humans do. However, this fact particularly disturbed me, when it came to Granny, who, had she aged in real time, would have been roughly 110 in Alt World. And yet, there she was, looking not a day over 85! (Then again, maybe Granny is actually a dwarf, and nobody told me. Is that true? Did I miss a plot point somewhere?)

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Also in Alt World, Princess Emma somehow still met, boned, and ultimately married Baelfire / Neal (who was a knight in Alt World?), resulting in her giving birth to erstwhile fairytale author Henry.

And what I’m still trying to wrap my head around is how all that could have happened, seeing as Neal had left fairytale land, and was actually in Neverland around the time “the original curse occurred.” If there is someone out there with a way better understanding of the timeline logistics of this show, who could explain to me how this could be possible, by all means, chime in.

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When Regina shows up in Alt World, everyone is super frightened, because they assume that she’s the Evil Queen, (who, in this timeline, Charming and Snow White defeated and banished from the kingdom pre-first curse), who is now back to enact her revenge, and rightfully so! Alt-World Emma is concerned too, but she’s too busy singing showtunes, and picking flowers in the forest, to really give the whole thing much thought or concern. This is because, apparently, had Charming and Snow White actually had the opportunity to raise Emma from birth, they would have turned her into a pampered prissy simpleton, incapable of defending herself. Sorry Baby Neal! This is most likely going to be you in 28-years!

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It looks like Regina has her work cut out for her, if she wants Emma to remember who the heck she is, and get the two of them back to Storybrooke in one piece. Did I mention, the episode is only half over at this point?

A Charming Failure

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Meanwhile, back in Storybrooke, the B team is proving themselves to be even more useless than Regina in their attempts to rescue Emma from Alt World. First Charming tries to take the genie lamp from the Evil Queen, so he can wish Emma back home. But instead, he just wishes that the Evil Queen will “get what she deserves.” It’sa super vague, and dangerously objective wish, one that anyone who has ever read a fairytale, let alone starred in one, would know not to use under any circumstances whatsoever.

Not surprisingly, Charming’s wish accomplishes precisely nothing in either defeating the Evil Queen, nor in getting Emma back. So, Charming returns the Genie Lamp to Jasmine, since she’s most likely boning the guy inside it, after all. And when Jasmine offers to use her first wish (She does have three, I might add) to wake up the Sleeping Snow White, and break the curse that prevents the pair from being awake at the same time. Charming’s response is, “Meh, I don’t really need her anyway. You guys do what you gotta do.”

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And so, Jasmine and Aladdin wish themselves to Agrabah, taking with them, the gang’s seemingly best chance at getting Emma back from Alt World and/or waking Snow from a potentially eternal slumber. GO TEAM!

Robin Hood-winked

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Regina, for her part, is fairing slightly better in Alt-World, as she seeks a captive Rumpelstiltskin’s help in awakening the currently completely useless Emma’s memories of her life as the Bad Ass Savior. Rumpel gamely suggests that Regina do her best Evil Queen impersonation, in order to scare Emma into turning heroic again. He even offers Regina a bean that will open a portal to get her back to Storybrooke with Emma, in exchange for his freedom from captivity. Regina accepts this deal, because making deals with the Dark One always ends so well for everyone on this show!

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Dressed in her Evil Queen finery, Regina puts on a Super Sassy Show at Henry’s knighthood ceremony, even going so far as to kidnap Charming and Snow White, because that should really piss off Princess Emma. Right?

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Wrong! Prissy Emma responds to Regina’s Evil Queen’s taunts by . . . wimpily giving the Evil Queen the key to the city, in exchange for her parents’ lives. Yikes! Growing up with the elderly Charmings in Alt-World has made Princess Emma super soft. Regina is going to have to up the ante, if she wants Bad Ass Savior Emma back.

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And so as the Evil Queen, Regina KILLS THE CHARMINGS by thoughtlessly crushing their hearts in her bare hands. (This version of them is old and fake anyway. Plus, they clearly did a crappy job raising their kid, and, therefore, don’t deserve to live.)

Does the death of Princess’ Emma’s parents snap her back into action? Nope, it just makes her sit on the floor and cry like a total b*tch. Knight Henry though, he’s ready to kill Regina / Evil Queen. And worse, he’s going to do it with the all-powerful Emma Death Sword, which somehow made it to the Alt World along with Emma.

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Now, while Regina would gladly kill the Fake Charmings, she can’t bring herself to kill Fake Henry. So, instead she just stands there, and awaits her demise. And THIS . . . THIS is what finally causes Emma to snap out of her Wishy-Washy stupor and return to herself. She uses her magic to freeze Fake Henry just in the nick of time, and, in doing so, saves Regina’s life and the fake version of her son’s soul.

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Then, Regina and Emma head to meet with Fake Rumpel, pick up the portal bean and prepare to go home. So, of course, just as the two are about to enter the portal, Regina comes upon Fake Robin Hood, who is alive in this fake timeline, and conveniently about to rob them. Not willing to pass up time with her sweetie, even a fake version of him, Regina lets the portal close, and with it, her and Emma’s only chance to get home and kill the Evil Queen.

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No worries. The Evil Queen is about to disappear as a problem anyway, at least temporarily.

Blue Fairy, You Had One Job!

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Meanwhile, back in Storybrooke, Rumpel uses some magic hair to attempt to track down his newborn child. Understandably he is super disturbed to find out that the kid completely off the grid. Predictably, Rumple comes to Belle with this conundrum. Shortly thereafter, the two learn from a thoroughly beaten-up Blue Fairy, that Fairy Lame-Mother was able to care for Baby Gideon, for all of two minutes, before she lost him to the Ultimate Evil. Great job, Blue Fairy!

In worse news, Rumpel’s mom, the Black Fairy, was apparently the one who kidnapped Gideon. And this means either that she’s going to eat him, or he’s going to turn evil. Maybe she’s going to turn him evil, then eat him?

Anywhoo, a man in a black cape, who looks suspiciously like the guy who kills Emma in her vision, appears from a portal, and promptly turns the Evil Queen into a snake in a cage, because, why not?

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He then removes his hood, revealing himself to Belle and Rumpel, as Gideon, their “son”, a.k.a. the same creepy guy who kept hitting on Belle in her dreams, and convincing her to give the baby version of him away to the useless Blue Fairy.

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And this just goes to show you that you should never trust a guy with a bad Julius Caesar haircut, who haunts your dreams, and claims to be your son, but still hits on you like he’s your boyfriend / your stalker. Words to live by. Trust me, I know from experience!

Until next March 2017, Oncers!

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Once Upon a Time Recap: Baby Mama Drama

Cross Posted at Agony Booth.com

birth-giving

This week on Once, Belle’s “baby” keeps haunting her dreams, while not so subtly hitting on her, and no one is supposed to think that’s weird. Aladdin becomes a Genie, and moves into a lamp, which I guess beats his prior job of living in a cave and being unemployed. Emma finds the sword that will eventually be used to “kill her,” but doesn’t even consider destroying it, because we still need to drag out this storyline for another few months. Meanwhile, in the past, we meet Rumpel’s mommy, and she’s precisely as awful as you imagined her to be.

Let’s get on with it, shall we?

Baby-and-Switch

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Once Upon a Time, Rumpel was holding Belle hostage in his castle (a.k.a the golden years of their relationship). One day he brings home a baby he kidnapped, turns to Belle and says, “Whatever you do, please don’t try to save this baby from me,” knowing full well that Belle will do exactly that. Using reverse psychology, i.e. the oldest trick in the book, Rumpel then tricks Belle into translating a fairy incantation he will need to call upon the baby-eating Black Fairy.

Belle, who has grown pretty attached to the kidnapped baby (probably, because it hasn’t cried or pooped in days, and, therefore, is likely some form of robot baby), feels super bad about the part she unwittingly played in it maybe becoming some evil fairy’s Lean Cuisine.

And so, Belle follows Rumpel into the forest where he uses the robot baby to summon the baby-eating Black Fairy. As it turns out, the baby-eating Black Fairy is Rumpel’s MOM! Rumpel didn’t really want the baby to be eaten! He just wants to know why his mother decided to abandon him, when she could have just eaten him, like she does all the other babies in town!

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See guys? Rumpel’s really a good guy! He just has Mommy Issues! And that should totally excuse him for all the terrible stuff he’s done over the past six years!

Anywhoo, baby-eating Black Fairy doesn’t seem to have a really good reason as to why she abandoned, rather than ate, Rumpel. (Maybe all the glitter on his baby face would have caused her indigestion!) This gives Rumpel a major case of the sads. No one likes to be rejected by their parents, even if being rejected could potentially save them from having their arms chewed off.

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The good news that came from all this was that the kidnapped robot baby never got eaten either! So, Belle got to return him (or her?) to its rightful owners. And they all lived happily ever after . . . except for Rumpel, who was sad, and his mom, who was still hungry, and Belle, who was still being held hostage . . . So, basically only the kidnapped robot baby and his (or her) parents lived happily ever after.

I’m a Genie in the Bottle, Baby!

Meanwhile, in present day, Jasmine and Aladdin want to use the Genie lamp they found to return to Agrabah and save it from Jafar and other assorted Bad Stuff. But when they shake it, they find that there is no Genie in it, which means they totally got ripped off, and should return it for a full refund. But then, Aladdin says, “Hey, what the heck? I’m broke and homeless, and just got suckered into owning a Genie-less lamp. The least I can do is use it as a rent free apartment and a job opportunity.”

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And so Aladdin becomes a Genie, which means that the next person who gets that lamp is also going to be getting a raw deal. Robin Williams this guy most definitely is not. I mean unless the owner is wishing for someone who can alternate between twelve accents in a single sentence, they are probably out of luck.

The Sister Act

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Rumpel tells the Evil Queen that she wants to keep boning him, she has to kill her sister, the Wicked Witch, first. As, we’ve previously established, the Evil Queen is super horny, and, therefore, sees this as a small price to pay for some nookie. So, the Evil Queen goes to the Wicked Witch’s house to murder her, but instructs the Witch to put down her daughter first. (See? The Evil Queen isn’t a TOTAL monster. Then again, maybe she just plans on feeding the Wicked Witch’s kid to the baby-eating Black Fairy.)

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Right when the Evil Queen is about to murder the Wicked Witch, Regina stops her, using their shared heart as leverage. When the Wicked Witch thanks Regina for saving her life, Regina responds, “I didn’t do it for you. I did it because I’m a ‘good person’ now. And being a good person gives me the right to occasionally be a self-righteous prick, and save people’s lives, just to prove how much better I am then them. I still hate your guts though, so toodles.”

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The Sword and the Boning

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While in Rumpel’s shop to help Belle find the squid ink she believes will protect her from Rumpel (more on that in a bit), Emma and Hook come upon a sword with a red jewel in it that makes Emma’s carpal tunnel and death hallucinations act up really bad. Emma eventually figures out that this is because the sword with the red jewel in it was the one she was stabbed with in her “vision.”

“We should totally have this sword destroyed,” says Hook. “If we do, then we will know that at least one part of your vision won’t come true. And maybe your fate will be changed, and your life will be saved.”

(Or, at least, that’s what Hook would have said if he had a brain in that sexy head of his.)

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Instead, Emma and Hook decide to take the instrument of her death home with them, so that she can sleep with it next to her on her bedside table every night, making it super easy and convenient for her killer to take it and use it on her. (Because Emma Swan is nothing if not thoughtful and generous with those who wish her dead.)

Now, for the main storyline of the hour . . .

Belle’s Baby . . . He’s Not Just the Creepy Stalker Guy in Her Dreams Anymore

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Belle’s fear that Rumpel will speed up her birth, so he can use the Magical Un-Savior scissors on the pair’s son, so the baby will love his daddy more or something, is confirmed when Rumpel turns a young Asian nun into an old Asian nun, and sends her to Belle as a warning . . . also, I think, as an advertisement for moisture cream and Botox.

As Belle researches a magic spell that will protect her and her unborn child from Rumpel and his Magical Un-Savior scissors, her future “son” Morpheus (who I am growing more and more convinced isn’t actually her son, but rather just some guy who has a mommy fetish and a really creepy crush on Belle) keeps dragging her into his “dream world” to remind her to keep him away from Rumpel (Is that what the cool kids are calling sex nowadays? Dream World? Come on, you can tell me!).

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Of course, being an annoying Dream World guy, Morpheus never actually tells Belle what she has to do to win this Game of Keep Away. Instead, he just keeps cryptically telling her that “she knows what to do.” (For you guys out there who are reading this, all 1.5 of you, this is basically like when your girlfriend or wife is mad at you for some reason, but rather than telling you what it is, just continues to insist that “you know what you did!” It’s totally The Worst, am I right? And this is coming from a woman!)

Rumpel runs into Belle at some point during all of this, and insists that he will never give up on trying to get back his son. Take it to court, buster! Then, Belle leaves and goes to Granny’s Diner, where SOMEONE has laced her tea with quick birthing magic. So, Belle immediately goes into labor.

The nice thing about Quick Birthing Magic, is that it makes labor super easy. So Belle gives birth in about two minutes, without even messing up her makeup or her hair. She’s basically like, “Ow, ow . . .oh, there’s my baby.” Quick Birthing Magic also ensures that the baby is born completely clean with nary a drop of blood, placenta, or guts on his forehead.

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Remind me again why Belle was so against this happening? Has Quick Birthing Magic been FDA approved yet? Because I’m willing to bet this drug could make a fortune!

Belle, who believes her baby will never be safe if he’s in Storybrooke with her, gives her child to Blue Fairy to care for “temporarily,” (i.e. until he can come back next season as a surly 15-year old, played by a sexy 25-year old). Belle names the baby Gideon, after a character from her favorite childhood fairytale, and sends him on his way. (Wait, I thought the baby’s name was Morpheus! I told you Creepy Dream Guy was a liar!)

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Rumpel arrives shortly after the super speedy and clean birthing has taken place, and is heartbroken that he missed a chance to see his son in his baby form, because the kid is probably going to be ten years old in about three minutes. Belle refuses to tell Rumpel the name of his child, which is kind of cruel. But, in her defense, she may still be confused as to whether his name is Gideon or Morpheus.

Rumpel goes back to his shop to find the Evil Queen gloating. It turns out it was SHE and not him, who dosed Belle with Quick Birthing Magic, in order to put another nail in the coffin of their already deader than dead relationship. “Nice to see Belle left your kid with a fairy, because they totally make the best moms. I mean, look how good YOU turned out,” Evil Queen muses, which is awful, but also kind of hilarious.

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Now, Rumpel is super mad at Evil Queen and they are enemies again, which means that their inevitable next Hate Sex scene is probably going to burn my retinas.

Until next time, Oncers!

 

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Binge or No? – Netflix’s 3%

Cross-posted at Agony Booth.com

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Though it may have been ever-so-slightly overshadowed by a certain other Netflix series whose name may or may not rhyme with Shmilmore Shmirls, November 25th brought with it the debut of 3%, an eight-episode Brazilian series that may not be quite as innovative as it believes itself to be but that doesn’t make it any less engaging or timely.

Imagine a world where the economic elite build a wall to keep out the lower economic classes, and then take it one step further, by putting an entire island’s length between a small percentage of rich privileged folks, and the poor underprivileged masses who make up the societal majority. Crazy, right? Unfortunately, not in this day and age.

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At first blush (and second, and third), 3% is a dystopian young adult fantasy, the likes of which you’ve seen before in countless successful novel trilogies and films. The premise is simple: at some point in the not-so-distant future, society alters itself in some way that it believes will increase the peace among the people. So, a group of young attractive folks of varied social backgrounds and dubious moral compositions, must compete with one another, to prove they are worthy of living in the upper echelons of this new society.

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What’s refreshing (albeit, a bit frightening) about 3%’s view of future dystopian society, is that, unlike some of its predecessor’s visions (A society based on individuals’ possession of singular random personality traits? HUH? A society based on the fact that rich people, with terrible taste in clothing, get their kicks out of watching poor teenagers murder one another? WHAT?), this series’ premise actually seems fairly plausible.

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In short, this is a future society based, at least ostensibly, solely on merit. Every year, all the 20 year olds in the poor part of the world (“the Inland”) compete with one another in a series of mental, physical, psychological, emotional, and team-building tests known as “the Process.” Those who score in the top three percent on those tests get to join the world of the elite on an island referred to as “the Offshore.”

I even liked how the tests involved in “the Process” actually required some intelligence, leadership, and cooperative thinking, and weren’t just about people beating the crap out of one another . . .

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This is not to say that I think the fictional society created in 3% is a good idea. In fact, the series takes great pains to show you that it is not. Specifically, like any form of society premised upon separating the haves from the have-nots, it breeds corruption among those in power. It also seems to reward those most capable of deception, manipulation, and, at times, out-right violence, at the expense of those individuals who are honest and more docile.

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And, of course, like many series involving a dystopian society, this one includes a rebellious faction, hell-bent on overthrowing the current status quo, in exchange something “better.” In the 3%, these folks are referred to as “the Cause.”

But unlike some of the more simplistic dystopian stories, 3% is a bit less black-and-white in how it views its society. In fact, the arguable main villain of the story, Ezequiel, the person responsible for creating and running the process whereby the 3% are ultimately selected, is easily the most complex, multi-faceted, and interesting character in the series. Likewise, the members of “the Cause,” the would- be heroes of a tale like this, are shown to have some dubious, less than noble, motivations of their own, for doing the things they do.

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Character is something the 3% offers in abundance. There are some juicy intriguing characters here, ones that don’t fall into the pat stereotypes that tend to pervade this particular genre. The episodes are structured in the now-familiar format made popular by the TV series, Lost. Namely, each character (at least the important ones) get their own “centric” episode, which flashes back to key moments of their past, before whisking them back to the present in the Process, thereby illuminating how their experiences in the former, dictate or inform their actions in the latter.

climbing

To keep you entertained and guessing, the series also offers some clever twists along the way. Some of which you will guess quite easily, early on, even before the characters do. Others may genuinely surprise you.

One of the things I enjoyed, particularly about the earlier episodes of the series was the fact that, since I didn’t know any of these actors and I wasn’t reading a book about them told from a first-person perspective, I was never entirely sure which participants in the Process would be eliminated in a particular episode. In fact, more than once, a character I thought would be important to the story suffered an early elimination and became a complete non-entity.

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I would be remiss not to mention that the actors in 3% speak in Brazilian Portuguese. So, if that’s not your first language, some adjustments will have to be made before beginning the series on Netflix. A number of dubbing options, including English, are available. But the message boards are informing me that the English dubbing kind of sucks. Therefore, I recommend watching 3% as I did, in its native tongue, with your chosen language as subtitles. I promise it won’t detract from your viewing pleasure.

Another caveat: Given the heavy amount of exposition generally required for the world-building of dystopian series’ like this one, I found the first episode of 3% to be a bit slow-moving, and some of the dialogue involved in it to be unnatural, at best, and clichéd, at worst. If you feel as I did after watching episode 1, I recommend trying episode 2, anyway. It gets better.

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In Summation: The 3% offers up many of the structural, thematic, and narrative devices you’ve come to expect from dystopian young adult stories. However, it’s use of a plausible premise that will have you and your friends debating the merits of a sociological oligarchy based on merit, complex characters, and clever plotting overrides some of its more clichéd aspects for an entertaining and intelligent viewing experience . . . provided you’ve selected the proper subtitle settings prior to viewing.

FINAL ANSWER: BINGE IT!

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ONCE UPON A TIME Recap: Stuck in the Mirror with You (S6: Ep 8)

Cross posted at Agonybooth.com

funny

Last week on Once, while I was in Spain, the Evil Queen cast a curse on Snow White and Prince Charming, so that they could never be awake at the same time. Specifically, every time one member of the happy couple tried to suck face with the other, the mere act of face sucking would cause that person to fall into a coma. (You may have experienced something similar when trying to kiss someone with morning mouth.) Also while I was in Spain, someone was elected President of the United States, whose name was most certainly not next to the bubble I darkened on my absentee ballot . . . thus proving that bad things happen everywhere when I leave the country . . .

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This week on Once, I was back in the country, so Henry saved his moms from the mirror they were trapped in, without darkening his soul. AND he got Violet to admit that she still has the hots for him, despite the fact that their honeymoon period is totes over. Balance is hereby restored. You’re welcome. Now, if I could just fix that OTHER matter . . .

Anyway, on to the review . . .

A Kiss Before Snoring

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Because making the best of a bad situation is kind of Prince Charming’s and Snow White’s thing, they decide to equitably divide their shared life in half, so that each gets a chance to take care of their perpetually newborn son, and bond with the rest of Storybrooke, while the other snoozes under the Evil Queen’s curse. Though to be honest, it’s not entirely clear to me how the time schedule works.

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Does one person get nights and the other get days? Because that wouldn’t be entirely fair. Maybe they alternate days, and actually both sleep at nights, which would be more fair, but seems wasteful, in the sense that the couple should maximize their waking hours, in order to figure out a way to break the curse. (Like for example, Emma, their child, and also their true love, could wake both of her parents with true love’s kiss simultaneously. I mean, wouldn’t that be an obvious first thing to at least try? Maybe if they didn’t spend so much time sleeping and leaving one another cute notes and videos, they could have figured that out by now.)

Maybe I spend way too much time thinking about the nocturnal habits of a fictional couple . . .

Anyway, we get an idea of what life under a shared sleeping curse is like for the Charmings through a cute montage of the perpetually half-comatose couple to the tune of Colours by Donovan, which could just as easily double as a particularly weepy cell phone commercial.

At some point during all this Verizon-approved adorableness, Snow looks in a mirror and realizes, she REALLY needs to lose that awful haircut. Just kidding! She realizes the Evil Queen is watching her through the mirror and angrily shatters it, which coincidentally, is also a great way of dealing with a bad haircut, you can’t immediately correct. If you can’t see it, it’s easier to pretend it isn’t there.

The Mirror Has Two Faces

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Snow White’s aggressive encounter with her bedroom mirror gives Regina the idea to enchant one and use it to entrap the Evil Queen. The only problem with this plan is that Regina and the Evil Queen sort-of / kind of share a brain. And, much like with Snow and Charming’s sleeping curse, only one of the pair seems capable of using it at any given time. This was Evil Queen’s turn at having a brain, so she beat Regina to the punch, switching Regina’s enchanted mirror for a plain one.

So, when Emma and Regina, using Henry as bait, lure the Evil Queen to the beach to entrap her in the mirror, the Evil Queen turns the tables and traps Emma and Regina in the mirror prison instead!

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So that the rest of Storybrooke won’t immediately become wise to the switcheroo, the Evil Queen masquerades as Regina. She also leaves a fake message on Hook’s cell phone from Emma, in which the faux-Savior claims she’s out of town searching for help to break her parent’s sleeping curse. After that though, Regina seemingly gains control of the Shared Brain. As a result, Evil Queen does a terrible job at masquerading as her better half, fooling absolutely NO ONE!

Oh Henry!

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Hook immediately becomes suspicious of Faux-Regina, when Emma fails to answer any of Hook’s twelve phone calls inquiring as to her whereabouts. Ahh, the wonders of modern technology, and the power it has to make even the most masculine of guyliner-wearing boys extremely needy. However, it’s Henry who determines with absolute certainty that Faux-Regina is actually the Evil Queen, when the latter chooses a black tie for Henry to wear to the upcoming dance (Regina would have totally opted for red.), and bitches about the teen’s posture. (Regina thinks slouching is sexy.)

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Now, that he knows his moms are in danger, Henry graciously backs out of going to the dance with Violet, and proceeds to shout at every mirror he comes upon like a raving lunatic, hoping to connect with his parents. This scene, if you think about it, could also serve as a Verizon commercial. Granted, it’s not a sweet sappy one like what Snow and Charming were filming earlier. It’s more like those old school “Can you hear me now,” ones from that guy that eventually jumped ship and switched to Sprint.

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Don’t Wake the Dragon

While stuck in Mirror Prison, the Real Regina and Emma come upon this guy, the Dragon, who magically appears on the show whenever the gang need “mystical” advice from a wise elderly Asian man who talks like Yoda from Star Wars. Not-Yoda tells the pair that they can get out of Mirror Prison, if they repair the conveniently located cracked mirror inside the prison. Oddly enough, Dragon hasn’t used this plan to free himself from Mirror Prison for Reasons.

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Real Regina and Emma start rebuilding the mirror, only to learn that Not-Yoda the Dragon is actually being controlled by the Evil Queen herself, who is holding the Dragon’s heart in her hands. The Evil Queen promptly turns Not-Yoda the Not-Dragon from a wise elderly Asian man into a Bad CGI version of an actual, fire breathing, Savior and Mayor-eating Dragon. So, now Real Regina and Emma are totally screwed. Or are they?

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Oh Henry 2: Electric Boogalo

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Hoping to make Henry evil just like her, the Evil Queen gives Henry a magical hammer she procured from Gold, while they were sucking face earlier in the episode. (Yuck!) The Evil Queen explains that if Henry uses the hammer to squish Dragon’s heart, the Dragon will die, and Emma and Regina will live. Henry tells the Evil Queen not to Darth Vader him into taking an innocent life. It’s a solid metaphor, if ever there was one . . . especially since I made a Yoda reference earlier in the recap, and I like to make everything in this show about me. Except, personally, Henry always struck me more as a Chewbacca type, than Luke Skywalker.

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Anyway, Henry refuses to kill the Dragon. Instead, he uses the hammer to smash through the mirror, freeing Emma and Regina, while leaving Not-Yoda unharmed, if still in his fire-breathing CGI form. It’s a Big Win for Team Good Guys. Even Hook, who hasn’t done anything during the episode but leave incessant phone calls on Emma’s voicemail, gets in on the action, by making empty threats to decapitate the Evil Queen while looking very sexy, because that’s kind of his thing.

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In other good news, Henry attempts to make it up to Violet for skipping out on the school dance, by making his own private party for her at Granny’s. (Oh Henry, you dirty dog, you! Maybe some of the Evil Queen’s Darth Vadering worked after all, if you catch my drift.) At the “dance” for two, Violet admits to Henry that even though she’s been avoiding him like the plague for half a season, she still likes him. In fact, the only reason she’s been treating him like he has an incurable and highly contagious case of the cooties for weeks is . . . wait for it . . . she’s really stressed about school.

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Now, in my personal experience, that’s a “let him down gently” excuse, if ever I’ve heard one. But here in Storybrooke it’s apparently totally legit, and so Henry’s thrilled. As far as the little guy is concerned, he’s going to be hammering Violet’s nail really soon! (See what I did there . . . with the hammer . . . because earlier in the episode . . . oh never mind!)

In Aggressively Abusive Relationship News . . .

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Nothing says loving like handcuffs, false imprisonment, threats of violence and egregious stalking, am I right? Fearing for her and her unborn child’s safety from an increasingly Lifetime Movie Bad Boyfriend-esque Rumpelstiltskin, Belle forms an unholy alliance with Zelena, in the hopes that the latter can make a portal into which Belle can escape into another realm prior to giving birth. In order to make the portal though, Zelena needs a magic wand, which, unfortunately is in Rumpel’s pawn shop, because where else would it be? Zelena and Belle hire Aladdin to break in and steal the wand for them, which he does, if only so that his character can squeeze out just a wee bit more relevance to this season’s plot than he’d have otherwise.

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While in Rump’s shop, the ambiguously accented thief also manages to steal a lamp he claims will help he and Jasmine save the kingdom of Agrabah. Or will it?

Unfortunately, minutes before Zelena can use the spell to make the portal, Rumpel appears at her home and slaps a gold House Arrest bracelet on Belle. Now, Rump will know where Belle is at all times, regardless of realm.

 

Then, just in case the old “If I can’t have her, no realm can,” line doesn’t render Rumpel enough of a bad boyfriend cliché, he promptly turns to Belle’s frenemy, Zelena, and starts strangling her. After all, violence against women is always a primo characteristic for the romantic male leads on family friendly television shows!

OUAT-Rumple

[Sidenote: Honestly, apart from indicating that this entire season has been a bad dream, I’m not sure how the writers of this show have Rumpel come back from this, and still be seen as a viable candidate for Belle’s heart, without sending a scarily bad message to young women about the kind of men they should be hoping to date in the future.]

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Interestingly enough, Rumpel’s actions against Zelena actually end up hurting Rumpel himself. This is because, apparently, the Wicked Witch cast a spell to ensure that, anytime the Dark One attempts to hurt her, only he will experience the pain. Basically, this is the magical adult version of “I’m rubber, your glue, whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you.”

Do you guys remember that gem of a phrase from your childhoods? No? Damn, I’m old.

This makes Rumpel mad, so he goes over to his new girlfriend Evil Queen, who also happens to be Zelena’s sister, and asks her to KILL Zelena for him.

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What a swell guy! Why on Earth would Belle want to let a stud like this slip away?

Until next time, Oncers . . .

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ONCE UPON A TIME RECAP: The Passion of the Pop Tart

Cross Posted at Agony Booth.com!

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“Back on the Jolly Roger, this is what my crew members liked to call foreplay.”

This week on Once, Captain Hook learns that, contrary to popular belief, the best way to make friends and influence people is not by taking their Pop Tarts and murdering their dads. Also this week, the Evil Queen develops a southern accent for some inexplicable reason, and reconnects with an old flame. Oh, and Belle gets an ultrasound . . .

It’s a very wet, but not particularly wild, episode. So, let’s get to it. Shall we?

We all live in a blue-ish submarine . . .

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Once upon a time, Captain Nemo kidnaps Captain Hook from the Jolly Roger and forces him onto his submarine, the Nautilus. Nemo does this, apparently, because he has this magical object aboard his ship that acts as a GPS for Man Pain. And nobody has more Man Pain than the guy with the hook for a hand.

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Captain Nemo, an expert on all things vengeance, believes that its super unhealthy for Captain Hook to spend his life seeking revenge against Rumpel for murdering his side piece (who also happened to be Rumpel’s wife). More healthy? Stomping around under the sea in a scuba suit, while trying to avoid being eaten by a giant CGI octopus.

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(And this is why you shouldn’t take advice from a guy who shares his name with an adorable cartoon fish with a really bad sense of direction.)

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Like all the other guest star characters this season, Captain Nemo has been searching for a key to the Land of Untold Stories . . . a place where he can go to avoid having to face all the people he was a dick to in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

Helping Nemo to find this key is his first mate, Liam, a guy whose Man Pain Sonar apparently was bleating just as loud as Hook’s, after the murder of his father left him an orphan at a young age.

Hook, Nemo and Liam eventually find the key. Shortly thereafter, though, Hook figures out that Liam is actually his baby brother. This means that Hook is the reason for Liam’s Man Pain, because HE KILLED BOTH THEIR DAD’S! (What a friggin coincidence, right? Of all the Man Pain Submarines 20,000 leagues under the sea, Hook and Liam both ended up on this one!)

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Having never been much for confrontations, unless he’s the one starting them, Hook attempts to make a hasty exit from the Nautilus. Unfortunately, Nemo finds Hook before he can do this. Nemo, bless his heart, truly believes that Big Bro and Little Bro can hash out the whole Dead Dad / Orphan for Life thing over milk and animal crackers. But Liam, upon overhearing Hook’s true identity has other ideas. He wants to KILL HOOK BIG TIME!

A scuffle ensues between the Brothers Man Pain. And Nemo, who dumbly puts himself in the center of the fracas ends up mortally stabbed.

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This gives Liam extra incentive to hightail Nemo to the Land of Untold Stories, so the latter won’t die. It also gives Hook the incentive to get the eff out of there!

Leggo My Pop Tart!

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Though Henry never seemed to have any issue with his mother dating Hook before, this week, he exhibits some plot-convenient “Mom’s New Man is Trying to Be My Dad” angst, when the pirate tosses Henry’s Pop Tart in the trash, and tells him to eat grapefruit and fish for breakfast instead. (Ew?)

Nobody gets in between Henry and his Pop Tarts! Nobody!

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This Pop Tart is pissed!

Evil Queen, who seems to have the same Magical Man Pain GPS system as Captain Nemo, appears out of nowhere to take advantage of this new crack in the otherwise perfect fairytale family unit.

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Under the guise of familial concern, the Queen reveals to Henry the “Cut of Your Savior-Ness” scissors that Hook was supposed to destroy for Emma, but instead kept poorly hidden in his tool box. (Because Hook is kind of a tool. A sexy tool, mind you. But a tool, nonetheless.)

An enraged Henry then takes the “Cut Your Savior-Ness” scissors himself, planning to finish the job his mother had initially assigned to her boyfriend. Hook finds the teen seconds before he can flush the darn things into the sea. And that’s when the pair get kidnapped by, you guessed it, a blue submarine!

This time, Liam, not Nemo, is piloting the submarine, since the Magical Time Stopper of being in the Land of Untold Stories is no longer around to prevent Nemo’s mortal chest wound from running its course. And you don’t need a Man Pain GPS to tell that this brother is PISSED with a capital P at Captain Hook!

Knowing that Liam only wants to kill Hook, not Henry, and believing there only to be one scuba suit aboard the Nautilus (even though there were at least three just minutes earlier in the episode). Hook gallantly offers Henry the escape hatch back to Storybrooke, while the pirate remains to take his death medicine. (Hope Henry knows how to scuba!)

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Fortunately for Hook, Henry must have a Man Pain GPS too, because he only appears to escape the Nautilus, only to return at the exact moment when Liam is about to murder Hook, thereby saving his new father figure’s life. All together now: AWWWWWW!

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You see, apparently, Henry DOES actually consider Hook to be part of his family . . . he just happens to be a part of the family that steals pop tarts and scissors, and has terrible taste in breakfast foods.

Back in Storybrooke, Liam is rushed to the hospital for the injuries he suffered during his ill-fated attempt to murder his big brother. It is there that Liam is united with another patient at the hospital: Nemo. Apparently, in Storybrooke, mortal chest wounds don’t have to be so mortal after all. Anything, for the sake of a happy ending!

Also in Storybrooke, Henry and Hook, having decided to be a Big Happy Family Again, finally drop the “Cut Your Savior-ness” scissors into the sea togeteher. It’s a slightly better hiding spot than inside Hook’s tool box. But not good enough that those scissors don’t find themselves in the wrong hands by the end of the episode . . .

Speaking of wrong hands . . .

Kiss-Tastrophe

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This week hasn’t been a really great one for the Evil Queen. Not only did she fail to drive a permanent wedge between Hook and Henry by taking advantage of the latter’s undying devotion to sugary breakfast foods. She also lost her captive, Jiminey Cricket, to her better half’s employment of the oldest trick in the book: the “oh look over there, it’s a bird” distraction technique.

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I would have expected better from the lady who imprisoned an entire cast of characters in a twenty-eight year daily reenactment of the movie Groundhog Day . . .

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But things start looking up for the Evil Queen when she retrieves the “Cut Your Saviorness Off” scissors from their crappy hiding place at the not-so-bottom of the sea, and offers them to Rumpel (who wants to use them to cut off Belle’s being pissed off at him . . . or something), in exchange for some Evil Queen / Dark One tonsil hockey . . .

Also in this scene, the Evil Queen reveals her true motivation for the season. It is . . . wait for it . . . to rip out Snow White’s heart.

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Ugh! Again! This has been the Evil Queen’s motivation for six seasons. Get a new hobby lady! Just don’t let that hobby be making out with Rumpel, because that was really gross to watch . . .

It should be noted that the Evil Queen inexplicably decided to sport a Southern accent throughout this episode, despite illustrating no evidence of actually being Southern at any other point in her life. Perhaps, she was taking a page out of the Aladdin School of Accents and Acting Playbook, just to spice things up a bit.

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Speaking of Aladdin, Emma convinces him not to run away from his girlfriend, just because he was a total coward and cut off his saviorness. Emma is sure that Jasmine will like Aladdin anyway. (I mean, it’s not like he cut off his p$%@s . . .) Aladdin offers to help Jasmine save the kingdom of Agrabah from total destruction. But Jasmine tells Aladdin he can’t . . . because the kingdom has already been destroyed.

What a bad boyfriend that Aladdin turned out to be! Not only is he Sans-Saviorness, he can never be bothered to be on time!

In other bad boyfriend news, Belle has a slight change of heart after seeing her first ultrasound, and decides to share a photograph of the blessed event with Rumpel. Of course, while she’s slipping the photo under the door of his shop, the Dark One is busy contracting mouth herpes from the Evil Queen.

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With boyfriends like this in Storybrooke, it’s amazing that the female characters haven’t all decided to become lesbians . . .

 

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Fangirls Fall Guide to 2016: Books Edition

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Hello Fangirls! Welcome to our fourth and final edition of the Fangirls Fall Guide, which has been presented to you by Fabulous Fangirl Extraordinaire Amy over at Imaginary Men.Net and moi, obviously. So far this month we’ve dished about television shows we obsess over, movies we adore, music (and podcasts) we can’t survive without and the websites and apps that keep us shamelessly clicking our days away.

We’re super excited to talk to you about our favorite books of the year— for reasons that will become clear very soon! As always, this adorable fan-tastic puppy will be cross-posted for your viewing pleasure at at ImaginaryMen.Net, so let’s get to it!

Amy’s Picks

Snarky Goes to Hollywood by Julie Kushner: Start with one caustic college student with a vengeful chip on her shoulder…Add a suddenly studly childhood friend with a secret agenda…Mix in a hot, flirty, sometimes shirtless veterinarian…Sprinkle with some fabulous drag queen neighbors…Toss with an estranged father and evil superstar stepmother… Combine with a computer genius sidekick…Fold in clever pop culture references and observations on celebrity worship culture…garnish with adorable little doggies…

This is the recipe Julie blends together for her seventh novel “Snarky Goes to Hollywood” the smart, sassy, funny story of Snarky Esther Silverberg a, you guessed it, snarky girl whose parents named her after a TV character from a cheesy sitcom in their youth. But that’s not the worst thing her parents did to her—they divorced when her father invoked the rules of “The List” when he met the real “Snarky”—the actress who played the character on the beloved sitcom, and had an affair with her after first getting her mother’s permission to have a one night stand (as anyone who has ever watched “Friends” knows – there is “The Freebie List” of celebrities you are allowed to sleep with should you ever be given the opportunity).

Now in her first summer after college, Snarky has decided to get retribution on the woman she blames not only for her name but for her ruining her childhood, her family and her life, so she moves to LA for the summer with her best childhood friend Moody planning to destroy the life and reputation of the former TV Snarky, her stepmother Stephanie Andrews.

snarkyWhat seems like just a crazy tale of a girl on a revenge spree is quickly turned on its head when Snarky and Moody’s formerly platonic relationship starts setting off sparks (which may have something to do with Moody’s recent development of a six-pack!) When she’s not sparring with her best friend/possible romantic partner Snarky is locking lips with her sexy new boss Dr. Max the local veterinarian and Moody’s nemesis (did somebody say “love triangle”?) All the while Snarky and her work buddy/retaliation expert Groot work to bring down the impeccably curated life of glamorous Stephanie and by extension, Snarky’s father who abandoned her.

Julie’s writing is deft and fun while weaving some serious issues among the twists and turns in her protagonist’s journey: family ties and disappointments, challenged friendships and sexual awakenings, making choices and living with consequences. “Snarky Goes to Hollywood” is more than just a revenge tale but a unique look at one girl’s journey from a broken childhood to a sardonic young adult with plenty of hot boys, cute dogs, covert plans and pop culture in-jokes that keep the reader entertained along the way. Since Julie has whipped together this delightful concoction you should really have a taste!

Party of One by Dave Holmes: In the late 90s I was bit by the Boy Band Bug and religiously watched TRL and voted for Backstreet Boys videos like my very life depended on it. Oh, and I was in my late 20s, decidedly NOT the target demo for TRL. I became a huge Fangirl for Dave Holmes who sometimes hosted the show and would make me laugh over his excitement over Kevin Richardson’s eyebrows and one particularly enthusiastic Britney Spears back-up dancer. So when I heard Dave wrote a memoir I couldn’t wait to read it because his humor and pop culture savvy are so in line with my own. “Party of One” did not disappoint starting with the very first paragraph of the intro:

Of all the epic stories, both factual and fictional, that we have passed down through history, I identify most strongly with the journey of the Bee Girl in Blind Melon’s “No Rain” video.

BOOM. I was in. Dave’s memoir is about growing up knowing he was different and his struggles to find his own place to fit. It wasn’t just that he was gay—but gay and arty in a sporty mid-western family. His fevered interest in music and knowledge of bands set him apart in the various communities he moved through. And of course, being gay didn’t help in the pre-gay-marriage-is-legal era.

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My actual much tagged copy

Each chapter is titled after a song to form a playlist of his life story which is a clever device that will make you run to your iTunes going “Oh I FORGOT about that one!” I laughed so many times reading this and marked so many pages that I loved. It reminded me that since his MTV days I would like to be Dave Holmes Best Friend—or at the very least a casual acquaintance who can chat with him about 90210 plots (Chapter 10: The Man Who Sold the World), our shared appreciation for Robbie Williams (Chapter 12: Wannabe) and the cheesy joy of 1970s entertainment (Interlude: Seven Pieces of Pop Culture That Prevented Me from Leading a Normal Life).

I Know What I’m Doing and Other Lies I Tell Myself by Jen Kirkman: I work in a library and part of my job involves flipping through each book to check pagination, illustrations, etc. When I worked on “I Know What I’m Doing…” I happened to land on Jen’s list of all the warning bells she ignored when she got married and soon after that she was divorced. It sounded so eerily like my own wedding day red flags that I also ignored that I had to check the cover that I hadjen-kirkman not somehow, mysteriously written this book.

Like Dave, Jen is in my age bracket so a lot of her issues, complaints and desires often mirrored my own which again, made me eager to befriend her so we could discuss dumb boys from our post-divorce dating lives (Chapter 16: The Relationship Remodeler), feeling immature teen girl feelings as a mature adult woman (Chapter 9: Jen Cougar Mellencamp) and the joys of New Year’s Eve at home (Chapter 15: Dropping the Ball).

Jen is a stand-up comedian, a feminist and good writer. She is funny without trying to shock you but sharp enough that you’ll punch your fist in the air when she lands a particularly satisfying smack-down about something. Her comedy is confessional which means she does not mind embarrassing herself which makes this book feel like you are giggling with a girlfriend over an after work glass of wine and a generous cheese platter.

Julie’s Picks

The Fangirl Files: True Tales and Tips from the Fandom Frontlines by Amy H. Johnson: I already gushed a bit about how awesome and fun Amy’s memoir is at the beginning of this blog series. But for those of you who haven’t loaded it into your Kindle library yet, here are a few more tidbits that could make “The Fangirl Files” one of the coolest books you will read all year.amy-j-fangirl-cover-only

– This woman has lived! Haven’t used all your vacation days yet this year? Travel the world with Amy as she waves her Fangirl flag proudly in pursuit of her favorite rock legend, movie stars, and television protagonists. So many of us imagine booking that trip, seeing that show, going back stage to get that coveted autograph. But Amy has done these things many times over and lived to tell the tale. Her dedication and fearlessness should be an inspiration to us all.

– Nostalgia is a beautiful thing: Whatever your age, no matter what you are into, we tend to mark our lives by the things that surrounded us when we were engaged in what will eventually become our most memorable moments. What was the first movie you ever saw in theaters? What song was playing when you experienced your first kiss or when you lost your virginity? What television series finale did all of your middle school friends just have to watch and analyze obsessively the next day at school? What rock star headlined the first concert you attended?

Amy understands this phenomenon instinctively and uses it to tell her life story thus far.  It’s a story punctuated by great music, excellent movies, moody musicians, and dreamy film and television stars. Whether or not her favorites are the same as yours, rest assured, her tales will bring you back to times that will remind you of the simple pleasures in life.

– Feminism and Friendship: Ladies, we are living in a great time. A time when opportunities to explore, experience and succeed are available to us in ways they have never been before. Through Fangirling, Amy found herself and her passion for life. It gave her confidence, independence and a sense of purpose. It also gave her a network of amazing friends to experience all of this awesomeness right alongside of her! And who couldn’t use a little bit of that right about now?

So, what are you waiting for? Get Amy’s memoir in paperback or Kindle right now, and see if you have what it takes to be a true Fangirl!

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda: I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not usually a big fan of mystery novels. I find that they often sacrifice strong character development for clichéd twists, artificial red herrings, and a surprise ending that is generally more hollow and derivative than shocking. missing-girls

That is not at all how I felt about “All the Missing Girls” by Megan Miranda. The characters were complex and well developed. The narrator was relatable and smart. The dual timeline story kept me guessing from page 1 to page “Please tell your Kindle how much you liked this book.” Speaking of a dual timeline story, the chief narrative of “All the Missing Girls” travels from BACKWARDS TO FORWARDS, which is exactly how I like to read novels! Spoilers first, actual plot trajectory second! It’s like that movie Memento, only the main characters are younger, hotter, and ride way more small-town ferris wheels!

So, if you are looking for a fast, fun, multiple murder mystery, with great characters, a few twists you won’t guess ahead of time, and a unique, expertly executed, non-linear timeline, make this the next addition to your Fall 2016 To Be Read book pile.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner: As you might have already gleaned from some of my picks, I’m an unapologetic diehard fan of all things young adult: whether it’s books, television shows or movies, if they feature characters of high school age, navigating the wide world of high school and the unbearably frustrating journey toward adulthood, I’m in 100%. By this point in my life, I’ve read pretty much every type of young adult novel out there . . . which is weird, because I didn’t even particularly like high school all that much.

serpentBut whether you like young adult books or not, I’d recommend “The Serpent King”, because it’s just a damn good book. It’s well written. It’s poignant. It’s hopeful, but in a realistic and honest way that doesn’t undermine some of the harsher things it’s trying to say about small impoverished towns and the often limited opportunities available to people who grow up within them.

Nothing irks me more than a young adult book where all the teens sound like 55-year olds, or, worse, professional stand-up comedians / sitcom stars, custom tailored with zingy one-liners for every situation. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen here. Dill, Travis and Lydia are three very unique characters hailing from a wide range of different backgrounds, despite their neighboring addresses. But Zentner is able to make each of their narrative voices feel, not only distinct from one another, but genuine as three flawed teenagers struggling to overcome a small-minded town that, for one reason or another, has already written each of them off in some way. Reading narration from real likable teens who are just as awkward, at times inarticulate and bumbling as I was at that age (and sometimes still am) was just super refreshing.

Oh, and it will make you blubber like a baby, so keep that box of Kleenex handy.

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer: Generally speaking, I tend to be a bit loath to pick up a memoir, because I often find them to be a tad self-aggrandizing and/or self-indulgent. Too many times I’ve been burned by a memoir where the author downplays his or her own flaws and portrays him or herself as a victim of others’ shortcomings. That said, I actually read two memoirs this year that I genuinely enjoyed (see Fangirl Files above), both of which went a long way toward altering, or at least softening, my anti-memoir stance.

schumer

When I first heard Amy Schumer wrote a memoir, my first thought was, “300 pages of booze and penis jokes, with a smattering of awkward sexual experiences thrown in for good measure.” And though that’s not the type of book I typically rush to grab, at the time, I had just come down from reading a super dark and depressing novel, and booze and penis jokes seemed to me like a real nice change of pace.

And there are a lot of booze and penis jokes / hilariously awkward sexual experiences thrown into this book; I’m not going to lie. But what surprised me was how insightful, genuine, and honest Amy was throughout the memoir, and how much she reminded me of myself in some of the chapters…except, you know, I’m not famous or the least bit talented in the art of acting / standup comedy.

Like me, and, perhaps many of you bookworms out there, Amy is actually an introvert, a revelation that shocked me more than perhaps even the juicier personal tidbits she offers up in this tome. She also battles the same type of insecurities we all have toward her weight and personal appearance, despite appearing on television as this uber confident super woman. I liked that Amy is open and honest with herself and readers aabout her flaws and shortcomings, throughout the novel. Plus, I was genuinely touched by her recounting of some of her experiences with her father, who suffers from M.S.

I also feel like a lot of women can learn a thing or two from Amy’s experiences with rape and domestic abuse. The fact that a strong, confident and successful woman is being open about the fact that she found herself in an abusive relationship goes a long way toward fighting the stigmatization of domestic abuse victims as weak and passive people. And that may help others suffering in similar relationships seek the courage to remove themselves from these dangerous situations or at least seek help.

In short, even if, like me, you hate memoirs, read Amy Schumer’s. Come for the booze and penis jokes, stay for the honesty, humility and important insights.

And there you have it—all our picks for fans and Fangirls alike! We hope you enjoyed and found some things that you can’t wait to read/watch/listen to and let us know what you’re into this season in the comments!

For more check out Amy’s book The Fangirl Files: True Tales and Tips from the Fandom Frontlines and Julie’s novels on Amazon.

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