I REALLY did not like “Lacey,” last night’s episode of ABC’s Once Upon a Time. This post is my attempt to articulate the main reasons for my distaste, and will include examining concepts of good and evil, calling out sexism, and good old fashioned observation of continuity issues.
So, let’s talk about Lacey, Belle’s curse personality, who, with a little help from Regina, asserted herself towards the beginning of the episode. For most of the episode, all we know about her is that she likes to hang out in a bar (which is supposedly sketchy and which has not appeared on the show before), drinks quite a bit, has fashion preferences that are different from Belle’s, and is very sexually confident around men. And apparently all this is horrifying to everyone who knows and loves Belle. Now, I’m not saying they don’t have a right to mourn the absence of the person they care about, but that isn’t what happens in the episode. The reaction goes beyond you’re-not-Belle-and-I-miss-her and into ugh-you-drunken-skank-your-existence-offends-me. Which is not OK.
Let me start with the big obvious ARE YOU KIDDING ME about the main characters’ reaction to Lacey: everyone from Rumplestiltskin to Granny judges Lacey’s wardrobe as too revealing. I don’t think they SAID the word “slutty,” but it was definitely implied. Let me show you why that is ridiculous, even if we assume (which I DON’T) that a “slutty” outfit is something upon which a woman should be judged.
OK, yes, her bra is showing. Big frickin’ deal. She’s wearing jeans with that top. Even if it WERE automatically a bad thing for a woman to wear revealing clothing (and that’s a whole separate post right there), this outfit hardly fits the bill. Plus, it actually shows LESS cleavage than Belle’s outfits from when she was still herself back in the Enchanted Forest.
Storybrooke Belle preferred dresses/top-and-skirt combos that were usually sleeveless and often came up to her neck and went down to her knees.
My point in showing all this is that, sexist standards about women’s clothing aside, it makes very little sense for other characters to make assumptions about Lacey’s difference from Belle based purely on her wardrobe, because it really isn’t that much of a change.
On the other hand, when we consider the often subtle ways in which we are taught to judge one another based on clothing, perhaps a twisted sort of logic is detectable. Women very much get the short end of the stick in area. When men are judged by their clothing, the judgment usually relates to economics, occupation, status, interests. When women are judged by their clothing, the judgment usually relates to sex: how much do they have with whom, how sexually available and attractive they are at that moment.
This is what is at play, if somewhat incoherently, when the writers have other characters comment on Lacey’s “new” wardrobe. This, and the assumed connection between a woman’s sexual choices and her moral standing. Lacey’s behavior throughout the episode suggests that she is indeed seeking a sexual encounter, and the writers assume that both other characters and the viewers will, just from that information, know exactly what kind of person Lacey is, and how she is different from Belle.
This is one of the things that has really bothered me about season 2 of Once Upon a Time: the writers have been slowly but surely reducing the moral complexity of every single character, erasing the shades of grey, and thus making the plot and the characters both less interesting and less believable. This stands in stark contrast to season 1, in which every episode revealed more layers in various characters, showing us that the “good guys” were deeply flawed, and that even the baddest of the “bad guys” had a virtue or two tucked away, as well as a reason other than pure evil for nearly everything they did. This has not been the case for much of season 2.
Take Rumplestiltskin, for example. In season 1 he was an unpredictable, complex character who, by the time we the audience meet him, had assumed the mask of a mad, giggling hobgoblin centuries ago. The mask fit him like a second skin, but it wasn’t who he was, not truly, not yet. He had done, and continued to do, terrible things, and repeatedly hardened himself against doubt and conscience. However, we were shown enough of his past to understand why he did what he did, how he came to be as he was, and to think to ourselves, “There but for the grace of God. . .” On the other hand, in “Lacey” and elsewhere in season 2, the manic giggling goblin is, abruptly, not a mask put on to disconcert others and amuse Rumplestiltskin, but who he is through-and-through. He has no virtue within himself, wanting Belle back not for her own sake, but for the goodness he thinks she will give him (another sexist trope that needs a post all its own). This is not the complicated what-will-you-do-next-you-bastard man who quickly became my favorite character in season 1. This is a flat villain who we know will fail in his latest endeavor to obtain goodness before he even begins.
Rumplestiltskin is not the only character who has been thus flattened by season 2′s increasingly black-and-white portrayal of morality and humanity. This brings me back to Lacey and Belle, and the final reason this episode annoyed the crap out of me. In season 1, it was clear that each character’s curse personality was very similar to their true self. The main difference was usually that some key virtue, which allowed them to keep their vices in check, was missing, as well as their memories and, often, most significant relationships. Thus, Mary Margaret is kind and gentle and deeply invested in cultivating virtue in herself and others, but she lacks Snow White’s self-confidence. Ruby is independent and free-spirited, but she lacks Red’s certainty that she belongs and is loved anyway. David wants everyone to be happy, but he lacks much of Charming’s courage and conviction. I’m sure you get the idea.
In light of this, Lacey’s personality makes no sense whatsoever. Belle is kind and compassionate, very intelligent, and has a quiet and nonviolent courage that means she will always stand up for what she believes to be right and interpose herself between others and harm, but she does not strike out with swords or other weapons. Because this show bases it’s characters off of the Disney princess versions, the part of Belle that is indispensable is her intelligence and love of books. This means the absent virtue for her curse personality, Lacey, should be either her kindness and compassion or her courage. If the former, Lacey would be a heartless academic type, perhaps a librarian who guards her books like a dragon its treasure and cares more for them than for people, always ready with a scathing remark whenever she encounters any intelligence lesser than her own. If the absent virtue were courage, on the other hand, she would basically be Mary from the part of It’s a Wonderful Life when George sees what the world was like without him. Painfully shy, friendless, withdrawn into the world of books, only venturing forth when absolutely necessary. Both of these would have been fitting curse personalities for Belle, and neither is what actually showed up when Lacey asserted herself.
Instead, we got the person I described in the second paragraph, who also, we find out at the end of the episode, is turned on by rage-fueled violence. It is at the point where Lacey stands watching eagerly, approving, while Rumplestiltskin viciously beats a man she had earlier been making out with, that it becomes clear that she is simply a plot device. Apparently, the writers decided that maintaining continuity, logic, and human decency did not matter; all that mattered was creating a situation in which Rumplestiltskin would both lose some of his little remaining incentive to behave well and gain someone who encouraged him to let his worse instincts have free rein. In other words, someone who would erase a few more shades of grey from the show.
And that’s why “Lacey” was a terrible episode.