Content Warning: This blog includes discussions of sexual assault and rape.
Once Upon A Time is no stranger to adaptional villainy as I have discussed in the past and an offshoot of this is character mashups, i.e. taking two characters and combining them into one. One of the earliest examples is making a Genie, the Magic Mirror.
In my opinion, the best example is the reveal that Peter Pan is the Pied Piper.
These two character mashups made sense but the one I am looking at today left me scratching my head and somewhat angry. Anyone who has followed my blog for quite some time knows that I am a huge fan of Rapunzel, she isn’t just my favorite Disney Princess, she’s also my favorite Disney character. I had always wanted her to appear on Once Upon A Time and well, she did in a flashback story mostly as a passive character for Prince Charming to learn that he can be a good father.
I should have been happy with what I got as the final season introduced new takes on characters we had seen before including Rapunzel but we don’t learn that she’s Rapunzel as we first meet her as Lady Tremaine, pictured here: my reaction.
I tried to convince myself that this evil Rapunzel had nothing to do with my favorite movie but then the Floating Lights show up as a plot point.
This would have been exciting if Rapunzel wasn’t a villain. Before I get to the usual categories, I would like to bring up how gross I find this decision. Lady Tremaine is an abusive mother figure and Rapunzel is a victim of another abusive mother figure.
There are so many things wrong with making Rapunzel and Lady Tremaine, the same character. On a surface level, this feels like an insult to Tangled fans that had been hoping to see elements of that movie brought into the show. Going beyond that, turning Rapunzel into an abusive mother figure just feels like a gross misunderstanding of the character. Yes, the OUAT characters aren’t a direct one-for-one adaption (except maybe the Frozen characters) and changes will be made but if you are going to pull from a movie that people like, I would hope that you would treat it with a modicum of respect.
I do know that I am sounding like an angry Rapunzel fanboy and that isn’t wrong but as I said, there was a sense of betrayal with this decision. Even beyond that, I don’t think it makes sense if you’ll recall when I looked at The Grand Duke, I mentioned one of the biggest questions that have to be asked when looking at these types of villains is: does it make sense?
And in my opinion, no it doesn’t. I don’t understand how one can look at Rapunzel and say that she’d be a good villain. I’ve gone about how much my love of the show’s villainous Peter Pan before but let’s look at another example, the show also did an evil King Arthur.
The execution is abysmal but the idea makes sense as you could see how the power of Excalibur could corrupt someone. Whereas with Rapunzel as I said this decision doesn’t make sense and to me it sends a dangerous message someone that who is abused will become an abuser themselves. This seems to be something of a repeating trend for Tangled media. The book, Mother Knows Best by Serena Valentino delves into Gothel’s origins and shows that she had an abusive mother and that book seems to imply that’s why she ended up being so abusive towards Rapunzel.
Even the third season of the Tangled tv show kind of delves into this by having a character turn evil after learning Gothel was her biological mom but I’ll discuss that next year. To say that being a Tangled fan is hard is an understatement with a lot of the expanded media. I may not like what Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure did to a fan-favorite character, but I think what Once Upon a Time did is so much worse.
If I am, to be honest, there is a part of me that wants to stop the blog right here considering how angry this made me. But I won’t as I want to be fair and will try not to let my biases get in the way.
While I am not a fan of Rapunzel being a villain on this show, I will admit that Gabrielle Anwar puts in a good performance of what the show asked of her. The show asked Anwar to play a form of Rapunzel that life had broken and beaten down time and again. It seems as though the show was trying to apply its core lesson to Rapunzel’s character arc throughout the show.
This is my favorite lesson from OUAT but by the time of the final season, it is something that the audience was tired of seeing play out time and again. While the show may not have used these exact words in season seven but the theme of the message was there with Rapunzel and Drizella.
Much like with Drizella, we first see Rapunzel as her cursed counterpart Victora Belfry in the Land Without Magic and we are led to believe that she is going to be the main villain of the season as they seem to be trying to have her emulate Regina’s role as mayor of Storybrooke in the first season but they decided to go bigger and have her be a real estate investor. And that’s one of her first crimes, attempting to gentrify Hyperion Heights.
Now before I get to the first time we see Rapunzel as Rapunzel, I want to bring up something else that is again just rather gross. The first time that we see Rapunzel in a flashback, it isn’t Rapunzel but rather Mothel Gothel pretending to be Rapunzel. This would be okay except that Captain Hook goes into the tower looking for something and Rapunzel and Hook sleep together and have sex.
Once Upon A Time likes to present itself as a family show but then it dabbled into what the fandom has dubbed magic rape four times with three of the victims being male and three of the assaulters getting a redemption arc. Former io9 contributor and host of the podcast, Once Upon A Timing, Beth Elderkin wrote about this during the airing of season seven.
Hook did not give consent to have sex with Mother Gothel, he gave consent to have sex with Rapunzel.
And as Beth points out this exact plot line had been done before when Zelena aka The Wicked Witch disguised herself as Maid Marian and slept with Robin Hood to become pregnant.
This just feels rather gross and unneeded for the story OUAT wanted to tell. And as Princess Weekes from The Mary Sue highlighted:
….each time it has happened, it has been a female rapist and a male victim, with the man never dealing with the rape or assault.
Something that Princess Weekes doesn’t touch upon but I know myself and many others were uncomfortable with is both of the babies conceived via rape ended up as a couple and were the show’s only prominent lesbian couple. Oh and Zelena is one of the assaulters they redeem and she named her baby after her victim.
That left an ick factor with the couple. Why am I bringing all of this up in this blog when it doesn’t involve the real Rapunzel? Well, because it shows how dirty the show did its characters and I felt I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t talk about this. It goes beyond just being a sense of betrayal as a fan but a sense of mistreating the characters and the audience. At the very least, these episodes could have had a trigger warning but they didn’t even consider that which would have been the bare minimum. Now, that I’ve talked about this, let’s move on to Rapunzel’s actual first appearance.
In a nod to the actual fairy tale, Rapunzel is seen taking vegetables from a witch’s garden to feed her family including her ailing husband Marcus. The witch happens to be Gothel. Instead of saying she’ll come and take one of Rapunzel’s children as Anatasia and Drizella at this point are of walking age and seem to be tweens, she locks Rapunzel in a magical tower where she remains for six years.
The show giving a nod to the actual fairy tale is a nice touch.
“Fine!” said the witch. “Here’s the deal. Go ahead – take all the lettuce you want. Your wife will have a baby girl. And when she does, the baby will be mine!”
“What?!” said the carpenter. “I would never agree to that!”
“You already did!” said the witch. And she laughed an evil laugh.
I will give the show that as a nice touch as this traumatic event came to shape who Rapunzel would become as it broke her as she was locked in the tower from her family for six years. Okay, I see what the show was going for but even if we only compare this Rapunzel to the movie Rapunzel, I just don’t know. Consider that Rapunzel in the movie was locked away for eighteen years of her life and never knew her family and that didn’t break her.
I hope this doesn’t sound like me blaming the show’s version of Rapunzel for what happened to her but whether the show realizes it or not, audiences are going to compare them to the ones they know and for most of the audience, I have to imagine that they were most familiar with the one played by Mandy Moore. The only thing I can conclude is that this version of Rapunzel was broken because she knew she had a family whereas the animated one did not.
This does admittedly sound rather flimsy but it’s the best I can think of. Alright, let’s move on to personality.
She’s a broken and cruel woman who much like her daughter was shaped into the woman she became by the events she endured. This is what Gothel wanted as she wanted to break Rapunzel down as part of a test that Rapunzel supposedly failed. This comes to fruition when Rapunzel finally escapes the tower and finds out her husband has remarried and this is where the Cinderella part of the story comes in.
This is something that I’ll come back to when looking at the relationship with Ella but Rapunzel tries to be a good person and Ella’s mother Cecelia never harbors any ill will towards Rapunzel but Rapunzel views Cecelia and Rapunzel as having replaced her.
However, this is just looking at the past and what shaped her. We also need to see how she acted as Victoria and to that end, she wears a coat of power that keeps everyone at a distance. This makes her cold and uncaring towards those that love her. This makes her so cruel and reprehensible.
Relationship with Ella
Again, this ties back to how season seven is attempting to ape season one with Lucy in the role of her father being a child that knows the truth of fairy tale characters living in our world and having an evil parental figure that is attempting to keep her from breaking the curse.
We discussed this a bit when looking at Drizella in the last entry but Rapunzel is so consumed by the daughter that she lost that she has made it her life’s mission to bring Anatasia back to life and she does succeed but at a cost. We will discuss this in a few categories but this desire to save the daughter that she lost causes her to push the daughters she has to the wayside. It’s already expected with her being Lady Tremaine that she’d treat Ella like crap and she does but Drizella’s relationship with her mother isn’t much better. Consider Drizella was motivated to cast the curse that brought everyone to the Land Without Magic as a way to make her mother suffer as that is what drove her. Another aspect that I didn’t discuss is that Drizella let her mother keep the memories of her old life but made her think she cast the curse as a way of saving Anatasia.
I know I haven’t been using this category this month but I have to highlight this as it’s just so stupid. In the episode, “Greenbacks” Victoria has raised the rent on the apartment that Jacinda and her roommate Sabine (acutally Tiana) are staying in. And they decide to use a chicken restaurant that Jacinda works at to make and sell benigents. Victoria ends up calling someone that works for her and says this.
Ralph, I have a job for you. You know that place that sells beignets? Wreck it.
On the surface, this is probably just a simple nod to a then-recent Disney film, and considering Once is a fairy tale/fantasy show, they couldn’t exactly work Wreck-It Ralph into the story but the idea that this was included and implies Wreck-It Ralph works for Lady Tremaine is just so absurd that I can’t help but laugh at this idea. Thinking about how this guy is muscle for Cinderella’s Stepmother is just so dumb that it comes back around to being ironically great.
Thankfully, the show makes the smart decision of never showing Ralph on-screen but we do see the damage he caused.
Just the fact that he caused this much damage is a lot to take in.
Most Evil Deed
There are quite a few options I could go with from killing The Prince and placing the blame on Ella or keeping Gothel locked up in Belfry Tower as retrbution for what happened to her in the Tower all those years ago. But no, I have to go with her taking the belief and life of her granddaughter to resurrect Anatasia. She was willing to sacrifice the life of a young child to save the life of her daughter.
While she succeeds in bringing her daughter back to life, her daughter is unhappy when she learns that her mother took the life and belief of another young girl to accomplish this goal. This goes back to how much what she has wanted has blinded her to her actions all these years.
For one last time, both Tremaine women are tricked by Gothel as Drizella brings an amulet to a greenhouse to perform a spell that will bring Lucy back to life. Gothel starts to drain the life of Drizella and Drizella blames her mother believing that she knew this was the plan all along.
Her mother admits that she knew nothing of this and finally admits that she should have been there for the daughter she still had and in her last moments, she takes Drizella’s place and lets Gothel drain her life to bring Lucy back to life.
It’s a nice sentiment but part of me feels as though, it’s too little too late for what she put her family through and how much pain she has caused people.
Is Rapunzel Tremaine A Good Villain?
Not particularly, I get the idea of making her a sympathetic villain but I have two thoughts on that. I don’t think Lady Tremaine works as a sympathetic type. Most versions of the story present her as truly cruel and evil to the point that you want to see her taken down. The reason making Drizella sympathetic worked is because it’s not too far off from how the Perrault story presented one of the Stepsisters being nice. It’s not a one-for-one but it works better. And also even if you wanted a sympathetic backstory for Lady Tremaine, the show didn’t need to go the character mashup route. It has done this before quite well with arguably the most popular character, Regina showing her as a sympathetic young girl before she became The Evil Queen. Making Rapunzel and Lady Tremaine the same character is just a baffling choice that doesn’t make much sense to me in terms of how to introduce this character into the story.
This ends our look at the live-action Cinderella villains. I hope that you have enjoyed this series as this was quite fun to do. Now, considering I’m going on vacation next month and this series was a lot of work, I’m going to take the month of December off. Peace.