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December 19, 2018

'Once Upon a Time' recap: 'Darkness on the Edge of Town'

Superhero franchises tend to follow a familiar, tried-and-true pattern. They launch with origin stories catalyzed by personal tragedy; they feature love interests who are pert and plucky and not granted very much screen time; they increasingly focus on quests to snatch an All-Powerful Glowing Thingie from the bad guy who wants to use it to take over the world, at least if they take place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They also tend to make one assumption as they age: The more villains that can be crammed into a sequel, the better.

Often, but not always, this is a strategy that reaches its apotheosis in the franchise’s threequel. Spider-Man 3 didn’t think Harry Osborn breaking bad would be enough to sustain an entire story, so it also threw in Venom and Sandman for good measure. (The movie was not very good.) X-Men: The Last Stand crammed in a whole legion of brand-new bad guys, including The Juggernaut, Multiple Man, and Quill. (Everyone involved with X-Men likes to pretend this movie never happened.) The Dark Knight Rises couldn’t make do with Bane and a semi-evil Catwoman alone, so it tossed Talia al Ghul into the mix as well. (Nobody liked the movie as much as The Dark Knight.) Superman III provided a shaky blueprint for all of those films, mucking things up by forcing the Man of Steel to contend with not only the villainous Ross Webster, but also his own evil double. (It wasn’t as poorly received as Superman IV, but it didn’t exactly garner rave reviews.) Other franchises—think The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Iron Man 2—play the Too Many Villains card earlier, usually to just as mixed results; still more franchises don’t really go nuts until the fourquel (i.e. Batman and Robin, which is a mess for many reasons, but mostly because the titular heroes have to contend with Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy and Bane and a Batsuit with nipples).

But despite all those cautionary tales, Villain Creep continues to plague cinemas—maybe because franchises naturally tend toward excess as they age, maybe because a good bad guy is often more fun to watch than a good good guy… so it naturally follows that two good bad guys should be twice as fun. Mostly, though, Villain Creep probably persists because storytellers worry that sequels won’t pack the same punch as their predecessors unless they raise the stakes, and adding multiple antagonists is the easiest way to up a story’s ante.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that, after multiple arcs that have focused on taking down one major baddie—Cora, Peter Pan, Zelena, the Snow Queen—Once Upon a Time too has decided that a single Big Bad (in addition to shades of grey like Regina, Rumplestiltskin, and Hook) just won’t do. Enter season 4B’s trio of terror: Kristin Bauer von Stratten’s Maleficent, Merrin Dungey’s Ursula, and Victoria Smurfit’s Cruella de Vil.

On one hand, it’s exciting to see the show get back to its roots by introducing characters from stories older than the year 2013. On the other, Once has never exactly suffered from a dearth of characters, and it seems like it’ll be impossible to give each of these ladies the attention they deserve when they’re all constantly fighting against one another—not to mention the billions of other personalities already in Once’s Disney vault—for screen time.

We’ll put an evil pin in that thought for now, though—because tonight’s midseason premiere is all about simply getting its wicked ducks in a row, poised for future mayhem. The fairyback explains how the Mistress of All Evil, a mysteriously be-legged sea witch, and a Gatsby theme party reject came to know each other in the first place; the present-day story line focuses on how two of them find their way to Storybrooke. And naturally, both plotlines hinge on string-pulling courtesy of Once’s chief meddler: Rumplestiltskin.

The Dark One is, of course, the one who first calls Cruella, Maleficent, and Ursula together for a Random Villain Caucus. (Timeline nerds: This fairyback apparently takes place earlier than episode 411’s fairyback.) As Rumple reveals, he needs their particular set of skills to help him secure a dark curse. What’s in it for them? He promises said curse will help each of the three ladies achieve their own personal happy endings. (If you drank every time someone said “happy endings” tonight, I’m assuming you’re reading this recap from a hospital bed.) As of now, it’s unclear whether the hex they’re stealing is the same Dark Curse Regina will eventually use to create Storybrooke—didn’t Rumple create that one himself?—but either way, the spell is currently being hidden deep below Hogwarts in the Cave of Wonders inside of a place called Bald Mountain, guarded by a series of “lethal magic obstacles.”

Those obstacles, in order, are: some bugs that Cruella disperses via magical halitosis (sick superpower, De Vil), a ring of dragon fire Maleficent sucks up with her staff, and… a short distance. (Ursula foils that one by reaching across it with one of her tentacles.) Um, maybe “lethal” means something different in the Enchanted Forest than it does here. Also, Rump: You, uh, couldn’t just do any of this yourself?

There is, however, one more thing protecting the curse Ursula has just handed over to Rump: the Chernabog, a.k.a. the winged hellspawn first introduced in this utterly traumatizing Fantasia segment.

Fun fact: According to the Disney wiki, Walt himself thought this guy was “the most horrible Disney villain.” How horrible? “If all the Disney villains held a contest to see which was the most truly, purely, evil, Chernabog would just throw them into the fires of hell.” Now I’m a little bummed Once didn’t keep him around longer, revealing in three episodes or so that Chern’s only aggressive because of his strained relationship with his father. In this scenario, his father is Shere Khan.

NEXT: Evil takes the front door

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'Once Upon a Time' recap: 'Darkness on the Edge of Town'

PureLife Organic in Cotton Exchange expanding distribution

Victoria Chavez, owner of PureLife Organic, displays PureLife products in her shop located at the Cotton Exchange in Wilmington. Chavez uses recipes passed down from her grandmother to make herbal remedies and has started selling to stores around the country.

Buy PhotoPhoto by Mike Spencer

Published: Saturday, December 27, 2014 at 8:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 26, 2014 at 8:33 p.m.

When Victoria Chavez fell ill as a child, a visit to her grandmother’s house trumped sitting in a waiting room.

“Every time I got sick, she used to pull out this little box of herbs or literally go to her backyard and start picking out the herbs and plants,” Chavez said.

Herbalism – using natural products for medicinal purposes – would years later become the basis for PureLife Organic, Chavez’s store at 317 N. Front St. in the Cotton Exchange. While Wilmingtonians have been trying out her skin care products and herbal tinctures for years, customers up and down the East Coast are beginning to see the PureLife label on the shelves of their local health food stores.

In 2013, Chavez began wholesaling some of her products, handmade in Wilmington since she opened shop in 2007. Products in her Miracle Skin Relief line of balms, soap, shampoo and ointment ship out to stores in Maryland, Virginia, Florida and elsewhere, as do a variety of her tinctures.

Chavez stresses that the tinctures are not traditional medicine or FDA-reviewed. Some are based on her grandmother’s recipes or of Chavez’s own creation. Her migraine tonic contains feverfew and peppermint, while “Tummy Bitters” is made with chamomile and ginger, among other plants.

“I tell (customers), ‘I’m not your doctor,’?” she said. “I’m here to make you feel more comfortable. … I’m not here to cure, treat or diagnose a problem, and if you keep on being sick, you need to see a doctor.”

Wholesale broker Megan Schlicht said in the year and half she’s worked with Chavez, they’ve gotten PureLife products into nearly 10 shops, such as Salud Healthy Pantry in the wealthy Fairfax County, Va., community. Chavez said another broker sells to Florida stores with plans to expand to Georgia.

“Our independents around here, they like to support small businesses like themselves, and especially support local,” said Schlicht, who operates out of Baltimore and West Virginia. “You set up appointments and go in and present the product. We have to kind of look at their shelf space and what else they’re selling. … Luckily her product is something that’s more widely accepted everywhere because everybody’s going to get bug bites or poison ivy or scratches.” Schlicht said in the coming year she’ll be negotiating to get PureLife goods into East Coast chain stores, such as MOM’s Organic Market with locations in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

For Chavez, getting calls from customers states away can be surreal. Most of her products were designed with Wilmington in mind – she created “Brain Formula” after a customer who attended Cape Fear Community College asked for an alternative to chugging Red Bulls to stay focused.

“It’s just weird because I’m used to seeing everybody face to face, knowing them, talking to them,” she said. “But it’s nice to see that the stores that carry my product – they believe in my product just as much as I do.”

Cammie Bellamy: 910-343-2339

On Twitter: @cammiebellamy

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PureLife Organic in Cotton Exchange expanding distribution

A murderous itch on campus: Serial killing becomes an elective

A murderous itch on campus: Serial killing becomes an elective

By Jack Shea
May 6, 2013


Photo by Lynn Christoffers

Fresh off the press: the author checks out her new book.

“Poison Ivy” by Cynthia Riggs, paperback, 247 pages, copyright Cynthia Riggs 2013, $16.95 from Cleaveland House Books. Available at Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven, at Edgartown Books, on Kindle, at Amazon, and at Island libraries.

“Poison Ivy” is the latest in an engaging series of mannerly murder mysteries, 11 in all, by West Tisbury’s Cynthia Riggs.

The novels are set on Martha’s Vineyard and feature Victoria Trumbull, a 92-year old West Tisbury poet, deputy sheriff, and amateur sleuth. How can this be: a 92-year old poet as the super-sleuth? Well, every definition of fiction I’ve seen includes the phrase “willing suspension of disbelief.” And that’s what happens here.

If you’ve read the Victoria Trumbull set, you understand how it happens. Mrs. Trumbull — Mrs. T to her friends — does that for the yarn. She uses the advantages of world wisdom and experience provided by her age to become a quietly powerful central figure in the novel. She operates seamlessly within normal physical limitations that 90 years of living exacts on us. And this being the Island, there is no shortage of strong backs to do the heavy lifting that occurs in a murder mystery.

Ms. Riggs has got that suspension of disbelief thing down. “Poison Ivy” trundles out a fanciful plotline that features just mountains of bodies found at Ivy Green, a three-building local college established 10 years ago somewhere just north of Franklin Street in Vineyard Haven.

Mrs. Trumbull has been brought on as an adjunct professor of poetry by Thackery Wilson, the dean and founder of Ivy Green. Mrs. Trumbull arrives on a late summer day for orientation. Discovery of a decomposing body in a lecture hall, unused during the summer, gives the term “orientation” a whole new meaning. And we’re off on a tale of uncontrolled ego, uncontrollable weather, and a clear view of life on this Island.

Ivy Green is Dean Wilson’s life passion. He’s built it hand over hand and defends it from the disdain of an off-Island oversight board of academics who missed the brass ring of success but perfected the arrogant part. Dean Wilson has a wicked big problem because, quick as you can say “Holmes Hole Road,” we are treated to the discovery of 10 more bodies of tenured professors on the campus grounds. Turns out nobody missed them. Several have been tenured underground long enough to have earned a sabbatical. And we begin a layered story so well done that readers will settle in and integrate comfortably with the cast.

Ms. Riggs has written a central character she believes in because she lived with her. Mrs. Trumbull is drawn from the character and personality of Ms. Riggs’s mother, Island poet Dionis Coffin Riggs, who lived to the age of 98 and was actively participating in her life until the end. Island author Tom Dresser includes Dionis Coffin Riggs’s story in his new book, “Women of Martha’s Vineyard.” In it, he quotes Ms. Riggs’s story of canoeing regularly with her mother on Tisbury Great Pond until six months before her death.

Ms. Riggs’s depiction of wacky, off-beat Island characters and Island venues is spot-on. A sort of Greek chorus of Islanders appears in front of Alley’s General Store from time to time, Red Man in cheek, to pass on the latest gossip on the investigation. As we know, the speed at which gossip travels here is breathtaking.

Ms. Riggs gets this Island. You might expect that, given she’s the 13th generation of her family to live here. But it’s the “mud of the place,” as Islander Susanna Sturgis called it in her debut novel of that name several years ago. Ms. Riggs’s locals convey an understanding that the laws of nature govern islands such as ours, where the citizens fight to protect the land and to protect themselves from the sea.

Her characters often seem bemused as they compare the often harsh reality of their world with the concerns that press off-Islanders. In “Poison Ivy,” academic tenure is the concern that drives the main plot and a significant subplot. Ms. Riggs did the research on real-world tenure practices bizarre enough to make the Mafia look gracious. Good stuff.

I’m thinking that this is a book with hidden threads that Islanders will see, but it also allows non-residents to better insight about two questions all us wash-ashores have asked: Who are these people, and what makes this place tick?

One other question: Why couldn’t there be a college here? We’ve got the firepower to teach — and tenure is no problem.

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A murderous itch on campus: Serial killing becomes an elective

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