The Broken Kingdom 5X04

The Broken Kingdom 5×04

Overview: spoiler-free

The Broken Kingdom: unlike any other episode of Once and marvelous. Does it seem to anyone else that Once is getting serious? Taking itself more seriously and putting its money where it’s mouth is? How can I reward this enough? They broke from the usual mold and hauled us by our hair into their story. The best writers write what the audience needs, not what audience wants. This is what I mean by getting paid for our patience and suspending our ids.

I was so swept along by this episode that by the time I thought we had reached the midpoint in the episode, we had actually nearly reached the end. Not the structural midpoint of the story, but the temporal one. I was that immersed.

Performance of the week goes to: Colin O’Donoghue for heartthrob worthy work as a romantic lead. We want to trust our dashing pirate. This was a close race here, though, and I probably only gave it to O’Donoghue due to compelling thematic material. Otherwise, Robert Carlyle’s work creeping me out is certainly noteworthy, as is his effective exposition-arguably harder to pull off than romance. But I’m a softy and follow my heart, so, by a hair, the ten points are for Hook.

Overall Rating: 9/10 for a little itty-bitty chicken out at the end which I will discuss below the spoiler line.

Here endeth the spoiler-free overview. Below there be dragons!

Scene 1: Follow your heart

The kids in this scene do a great job and this is a solid piece of back story for Arthur. We now know that Arthur grew up bullied but had a genuine friendship with Guinevere. Kay might have been a jerk, but we still don’t know much about how young Arthur conducted himself with his peers.

Theories: Maybe Arthur began letting his future grandeur go to his head the moment Merlin told him of Excalibur and thus began his later habit of not treating others well.

Theory: I’m just curious… We only think Merlin is trapped in a tree because Arthur says he is. Arthur says Merlin spoke to him from the tree, giving him the prophecy. How do we know Merlin is really in that tree and that it wasn’t someone posing as Merlin to corrupt Arthur who spoke to him? Merlin could be anywhere and the sword in the stone could have been designed to drive Arthur away from the light by way of obsession.

Scene 2: In which Arthur takes office based on deceit.

Did Merlin speak half the truth or is Arthur too ambitious/greedy to understand that a sword does not make a leader? The broken sword could have been presented as an emblem of the new Camelot and the people would have been proud of a past that no longer plagued them. The broken sword would have just been a figurehead of what they had achieved. But Arthur couldn’t see that.

I am already deeply engaged at this point with the episode because I want to know how and when Arthur got corrupted. I was expecting to cut away to Storybrooke in scene 2, but that didn’t happen. The first structural surprise!

Theories: Did hearing the prophecy as a child start a life-long obsession that twisted his mind away from actually being a good leader, a good person? It is tough to believe that child Arthur, upon hearing the prophecy was already so single-mindedly selfish and determined. For me at least, a few bullies wouldn’t tip over that applecart believably, there had to be something more.

Merlin’s motivations (if Merlin is the voice from the tree) are growing more and more suspect.

Scene 3: Camelot’s dirty little secret- which is only dirty because Arthur is obsessed.

A brooding Arthur summoned David to enlist his help with his obsession. I smell manipulation. David is afraid here because he doesn’t want to spill the beans, but he still trusts Arthur. Poor David. Arthur either really thinks he can destroy the darkness with a whole Excalibur, or he has other plans for Excalibur but figures he can rope David in with this.

I suspect that Arthur can sense the darkness swirling around him, but not that it IS him. Maybe subconsciously Arthur knows his obsession is darkness but is going about excising it the wrong way.

Scene 4: Sweet Sound

And now we know what Emma does all night as a sleepless Dark One. Does she think she can perhaps snare Rumple, DO (Dark One) in one of those?

I get the feeling that Rumple, DO is doing more to Emma in this scene than suggest they investigate the whispers. I think he is beginning to assert control. Her eyes widen after he speaks and she moves almost like a puppet when she gets out of her chair.

Am I the only one who thinks Rumple, DO is only getting creepier as time goes by? Carlyle just keeps pushing him toward being truly frightening. I wonder if he feels he can go further with Rumple, DO because he has Rumple to contrast with. He has rightly said that a good villain doesn’t truly alienate the audience from the actor, or move them toward disliking the character so intensely that they no longer want to see that character. But the risks with Rumple, DO being creepy and terrifying are just not the same as if this was the Rumple we all love, or if we had lost Rumple entirely.

We have a certain affection for Rumple which we don’t have for Rumple, DO which perhaps frees Carlyle to push the evil envelope. Rumple, DO gives me chills in this scene. He very nearly looks directly into the camera and it feels like he’s looking into my living room. Carlyle is seriously intense. We feel the pressure on Emma’s mind and start squirming ourselves.

Emma is having a tough time resisting him and I just love his giggle when she goes so far as to try to blast him with magic.

And nearly took out Hook.

I have to say I am not a fan of convenience artificial tensions like these. This is a much used, by Once, deus ex machina. Hook had no reason that we know of to be there and the scene could have maintained its momentum focused on Emma’s being rattled by Rumple, DO.

But, since they didn’t go that route, we get to see Rumple, DO lurking like only Carlyle can lurk.

Scene 5: Star Struck.

Emma looks like she’s going to barf and Hook wasn’t listening. Yes Emma told him exactly what was wrong seconds ago…

I have a particular fondness for Caring-Hook. His line, “Come on love, let’s sail away,” is tender and well delivered.

Credit were credit is due. Ms. Goodwin does shrill and pissed off nicely. David giving Mary Margaret a lecture on not believing everything she hears is just rich. Goodwin and Dallas get into it here and it is delightful.

But more delightful is when they notice that Regina is still there. Again, nobody does comic relief like Parrilla does. She turns away into her cloud of purple smoke… don’t mind me.

Nothing deals with thematic material quite like a believable fight. I wasn’t sure that this would really work, but it did. We get at David’s feelings of inadequacy and his gullibility in one fell swoop while dealing with Mary Margaret’s tendency to trust her gut more than she should. This scene is well executed.

Scene 6: Arthur is an awful husband

Here Arthur acts like an addict those closest to him are left to pick up the pieces and make excuses for him.

Whomever is doing choreography work for Once has a habit of doing a nice job. These dances are foreign to us and yet also familiar.

We really feel for Guinevere here because Arthur lies to her face about her being the most precious thing he has.

Scene 7: We need to talk

Words to never write into a script. Ever, no matter how tempting. Just no.

And David defies Mary Margaret. Gullible David…

Glad you told me…

Scene 8: I will finish this damned quest

This scene could have been cheesy, but because of Joana Metrass’s performance, it had immediacy instead.

Scene 9: Guinevere has a potty mouth!

Icky, black, oily goo! And then a beautiful spiral staircase

And then the appearance of the Darkness. But wait, I thought it was in Rumple at this time?

What doesn’t make sense about this scene is that the Vault of the Dark One is lined with torches which can vanquish its guard dog. What? You’d think this would be the darkest place in all the realms, but no, it looks borderline cozy with all those torches and soft light.

It would have been more believable had they brought, say the Unquenchable Flame with them to light their way and that banished the Darkness.

For my money, I am glad to see Guinevere initiate mischief.

Scene 10: Don’t tell my wife

What did Lancelot do other than get kissed by a queen?

Ha ha! Nice try David.

Scene 11: Something to hide

Mary Margaret defied David too. Some fight!

Scene 12: There’s this girl…

Way to ask for a date Henry. Nicodemus? Nice name for a horse. Hmm. Nicodemus fills my heart with dread due to the Dresden Files. This may or may not be a Dresden Files reference depending on the disposition of the horse… But, Nicodemus could be another reference entirely.

Great line: he straight up lied to my face and I’m the Dark One.

Ands Rumple, DO lurks. Like a pro.

Also: too bad you don’t have the Jolly Roger shrunk in your pocket right now? That might be the best take-me-now line I have ever heard.

Scene 13: It does if you still love her.

Please stop using vocal fry, Ms. Goodwin…

Scene 14: A portal in the Vault of the Dark One

Merlin’s gauntlet. Now Rumple has told us he thinks Merlin is stuck in a tree. That probably means he is. We also now know that the Isle of Avalon exists in this world.

Of note, the sculptural structure holding the dagger is a nice representation of the Darkness. I’d have that in my living room.

Rumple’s perceptions? Or his ability to see the future? Either way, Carlyle executes this exposition handily as always.

Scene 15: Where does that portal lead??

Why should Snow let Lancelot deal with the the dagger?

Oh and by the way, Arthur just admitted to being an evil schmuck.

Scene 16: Fond and Evil Farewells

That guy is lost to obsession. Poor Guinevere!

The spare use of music in this scene is VERY effective.

Here is the magic of this episode and the writing up till this point. We don’t know Arthur and Guinevere very well yet but this scene is deeply compelling anyway. Our patience has been hugely paid off. After the title card, I had forgotten entirely that we had not jumped into Storybrooke once in this entire episode until it surprised me at the very end. Staying in the past was a brilliant move and assertive. This as what we needed to sink into the story they are telling us. No coaxing here, a clenched fisted drag by the hair into the story we NEEDED to hear instead of what we are anxiously waiting for in Storybrooke present.

We will get paid for all of this exposition. We just received our down payment with the revelation of the depth of Arthur’s corruption. There is little more evil in this world or the realms of imagination than abrogating the free will of another. And Arthur just did that for convenience, greed, obsession and fear. He just effectively killed his wife, what made her special, and he feels he’s just won.

A reveal like this one is so worth the price of admission. This deed seems something darker than even Rumple would do. Yes he manipulated Regina into cursing everyone to forget themselves and live in misery -and has countless murders to his name-, but this is a step beyond that slight of hand and into mind magic which somehow even seems worse than taking a heart. Though, it is a definite thought experiment to figure out which acts are more evil… Is an evil-off in order?

Regardless, Arthur just entered the same circle as some of the darkest villains we have known to date. And his motives are my book, are far less noble. Regina wanted revenge, not noble, but at least she had actually been wronged by someone if her reaction was misdirected. Rumple made a mistake and was trying to find his son, for love. Noble, if his means were undeniably evil. But Arthur? He’s pissed off because the sword he was promised is only half a sword. That’s not even close to a justification for the evil we just witnessed.

Scene 17: Here.

And we know that Arthur plans on killing and controlling with a lust for power perhaps rivaling Rumple’s own. Nice guy.

And, SURPRISE!

Snow and Charming actually double crossed Arthur.

And Arthur is actually shocked that David would side with his wife over Arthur. Sad, sad man. He’s confused the good of Camelot with his own ambitions and greed.

The fight was real.

Scene 18: The pony is smarter than the pirate…

Well, yes…. but.

Stop talking to the demon in your head. Get on the horse.

Oh thank you O’Donoghue for that. Well delivered. Of note, Morrison had mentioned that she was the only one who hadn’t managed to ride a horse yet and she really wanted to. Now she gets paid too.

Scene 19: Granny’s meatloaf cutting tool

I love Arthur’s smirk here. But then Ms. Goodwin falls back on her unfortunate standby: vocal fry… please, find something else.

Poor Lancelot!

Hoping you can help?

Oh no!!!

Scene 20: The cell the rats prefer…

Now we know Merida also had a mishap with Arthur.

Scene 21: Outlive a cockroach

And the line of the night goes to!! Regina. Again.

Does Regina smell a rat here?

Scene 22: pay day!!!

In a field of flowers we get paid for all our heartache for the entire first chunk of the season with regards to these two. And Emma get’s what she asked Hook for a few scenes back.

What a beautiful scene.

Here’s the deal folks. Those scenes are only beautiful and touching and wonderful and warm and fuzzy and, and, and, IF and only IF you have paid in advance.

Magic ALWAYS comes with a price. Emotional magic is no different. If we had this scene every week, there would be no show due to eye-rolling and gagging on sweetness.

But, because we have paid our emotional dues, this is satisfying in a very deep way. We have missed these two and getting to see them here gives us hope. What this show is all about.

Scene 23: Now we come back to Storybrooke in the last two minutes and thirty seconds

Emma is remembering the scene we just saw, nice link with the flower.

Now we know something important about Rumple: he can be held, trussed up by rope. No magic.

Nice reversal here, how many people begged him to stop being such a bastard? How many, including his wife, did he listen to when he had his own agenda in mind? Poor Rumple.

Theory: and the thing to sharpen him up is… Belle? Threaten what he cares about. I stick to my long game theory here that Emma will eventually sic Rumple on Arthur, but in the mean time, she needs him to have a change of heart.

Scene 24: Turns out she’ll use Merida to get there.

Merida will make Rumple brave.

I’d pay to see that.

Oh wait. That’s exactly what I am doing with my iTunes season pass. Perfect.

Now, the one little issue might not even be one but… I wonder if they could have kept us in the past and given us a similar cliff hanger in the past to truly maintain cohesion with this episode and make it truly unique. I haven’t figured out how yet and I’m not even convinced it would have been better if they had. It’s just a thought.

This episode is what we have been waiting for from Once. A sit down, shut up and buckle your seatbelt episode with major pay days. I’m still waiting for my Rumbelle kiss though… Poor Belle and Rumple have been on the receiving end of the stick for quite a while. Maybe they will get paid next week? I hope so!

Don’t forget to help me study the magic of Once here! Read about the study here.

Siege Perilous 5X03

Siege Perilous 5X03

Overview: spoiler-free

While this episode was definitely expositiony, those elements were well entrenched emotionally. Performance of the week goes to Colin O’Donoghue for his work showing us Hook’s inner conflict over Emma. He and Morrison have excellent chemistry even as drastically altered versions of their characters. Together they give us their pain and it transfers neatly from screen to heart.

Thematically, our characters had a rough episode which kept me engaged. While this wasn’t the get out your hanky episode, there were captivating moments that have stuck with me. That said, points definitely earned for a quite fun and creative action scene. I may be in the minority here, but for me a downer episode is just as wonderful as an upper. If a TV show can get my tears, I know it’s doing its job.

My interest in Arthur is building. I am so pleased that this is true because I never truly managed to care much for the Frozen cast and just wished they’d get out of the way of the story. This start to the season is miles better than last, even with the overused curse plot device. I know I’ve said it before, but this season has so much emotional potential I am not even sure how they will do it all justice. But I hope they do.

Overall Rating: 8/10 with the missing two points being primarily for a minor lack of cohesion and a bit too much exposition.

Here endeth the spoiler-free overview, below there be dragons!

Scene 1: Whistlin’ Dwarves

I, for one, am quite pleased to be seeing more of the dwarves. Emma’s brazen theft of Happy’s axe comes with more evil glee from Morrison, whom I suspect is enjoying the change of pace. I wonder if this experience playing an antagonist character will change her future career choices in favor of darker roles. This switch seems to me like the chance of a career, a chance to prove proficiency on both sides of the coin. Maybe Morrison will have a more broad range of options after Once than she otherwise would have had.

Scene 2: Occasional moments of genius

Research in Merlin’s tower and David is useless. Well not useless, he’s being a parent which is great to see because it is usually Mary Margaret carrying the baby. Who is how old now??? It seems like he should be older.

The dynamic between the four researchers is delightful. Regina cracks the whip and blows off Mary Margaret, Belle tells her to quit being unrealistic and then covers for their lack of progress when Arthur barges in wondering what’s taking them so long.

Giving Belle the genuine appreciation of a scholar for magic is a smart character choice. The writers could have gone the route that Belle resents magic for all it has done to damage Rumple and everyone around him. With the more pragmatic view point, Belle demonstrates the open mindedness and curiosity consistent with someone of her intelligence.

Oh THANK YOU for the Bewitched reference!

Theory: Arthur bursts in as David is agreeing with Regina. How much did he overhear? It seems likely he may have heard Regina say she is pretending to be the Savior. Now that we know he has the same goal with regards to Excalibur that Emma does, I am beginning to wonder if there might have been a temporary alliance between Arthur and Emma during these six weeks. Might he have tried to make a deal with the Dark One? She has Excalibur now, it would certainly be no surprise if she tricked it away from him. Otherwise, she may have simply written its Storybrooke whereabouts into the curse.

Costuming: Amazing work, yet again. Specifically, Belle and Regina’s style of gown. Regina has had, mostly, astoundingly excellent fortune in the FTL (fairytale land) costuming department, but Belle has suffered some rather serious costuming woes in the past. Short-shorts and tights in a snowstorm? Heels in the woods (seriously, what’s wrong with being short???). It is great to see a Belle costume that makes sense and that green is a complimentary color choice for de Ravin.

I can’t leave this scene without mentioning my appreciation for Belle’s suggestion of sampling the tree and Regina’s rejection. Parrilla executes laugh lines like few others.

Scene 3: Halt Thief! oh wait…

In which Arthur begins his pandering to David. Poor gullible David! We can see his brow wrinkle, “gosh this is unexpected,” but he doesn’t get as far as “this is suspect.”

Scene 4: We’ve been violated!

Best cover up for otherwise boring exposition. Thank you Grumpy, yet again. And then Regina passes the buck. Nice. And David BS’s Grumpy. Also great.

Bravo Josh Dallas. David is losing his marbles and Dallas sells it. We can feel his desperate parent and we can feel his really bad day at work that just keeps getting piled higher and deeper. Everyone’s got a problem and they want David to solve it.

Even now, Arthur threatens all of Storybrooke, but poor David is too, shall we be kind and say optimistic, to see it. He can’t tell the difference between dwarf bluster and problem.

Scene 5: Have you thought about kissing it out?

Now we know what Emma wanted the axe for. And, I sense, importantly, we now know that nothing cuts through magic. Except a kiss.

This is a brilliant piece of exposition. The dialogue is prettying straight forward, but from Carlyle’s mouth it has tension, movement, humor, creepiness and fun. You want exposition done right, here’s your scene. Thanks Rumple, DO (Dark One), I’m getting to like you more and more. We’re all leaning forward wanting to know who the hero is.

Even with Rumple, DO’s creepy-comedic personality, the essential fun of the character comes out loud and clear. That Carlyle remains convincing as this outrageous character seems like magic to me. How can I take Rumple, DO seriously? And yet I do, he’s not a caricature or a thin veneer. Even as far out of the affective norm as he is, he is as believable to me as anyone I know in my real life. Not sure what that says about me. But! It certainly speak well of Mr. Carlyle.

Scene 6: A spot of tea

What a nauseating line. Please give Robin something decent to say. Please.

However, Regina calling out Zelena’s victim mentality works. It is absurd, but this is the first time (ok the second, but that was faint) I have felt true sympathy for Zelena in this situation. She is soundly screwed unless Regina makes a colossal mistake. Zelena’s plan to get the Author to write her happy ending along with Rumple’s only worked out for a little while. Now she’s rather up a creek. The Regina I know and loves shines through while she threatens (promises) to make sure Zelena is miserable/dead. As I have mentioned before, we can’t lose pragmatist Regina without losing the character all together.

Note: I wonder if Zelena made another escape attempt we don’t know about yet.

Scene 7: Shiny Toys

Arthur: Oh never mind a out killing my friend, he wasn’t that great anyway…

Definitely not evil.

Theory: Describing Lancelot’s chair, the seat for the knight with the purest heart who will go on the most sacred quests, as perilous doesn’t seem far off. This concept is a lovely tip-off that Arthur, perhaps in his rage over his wife, dispatched the purest heart for selfish reasons. Did Arthur fall from grace, or has he always been a shade toward the nasty?

Arthur snapping at a glowering squire tells us something important about him which we will have confirmed later.

Scene 8: The reliquary

Arthur berates his squire, again. David hatches a plan.

Scene 9: Robin grosses out Hook

Line of the evening goes to the Robin/Hook exchange here. This gets to the promise of the premise where fairytales and modernity collide. Hilarious.

I am not sure what to make of Robin smirking at Hook as Hook gets the message from Granny. Might be conspiratorial, or even cynical/pejorative.

Scene 10: The beautiful Lady Washington

Or a really good mock up. I hear they built a barge because they couldn’t keep her in Storybrooke for all of their filming needs. This shot doesn’t look like a barge to me, but how would I know?

Hook- It’s not funny…

Emma- Well I thought it was hilarious, but I guess from your perspective…

Just how much of Emma is left to us? Hook tries desperately to find out in this scene. Could there possibly be enough of his love left to give it a go?

I really wanted to believe Emma here. That maybe she really does want to reconnect with Hook. That maybe there is as much left of her as their was of Rumple while he was the Dark One. Rumple loved Belle and went to great lengths to protect her and stay with her (he, with Isaac, constructed an alterverse solely for the purpose of trying to be a good man for Belle). Could Emma do the same, feel the same?

Scene 11: Going into the dark with a creep…

Now why don’t I believe that Guinevere is all goodness and light? We get a good first look at jerk-Arthur. But the comment about the two ton table and humility worked very well. Nice line.

Now a word about that torch: the Unquenchable Flame. Anyone else notice that it looks like a skeletal hand hanging on for dear life? Whose hand is that? I’m convinced that’s somebody’s hand. Death holds out an eternal hope for light? Interesting metaphorical playground with that prop. Yet another example of fine work and making what could have been an ordinary object into something that will run its mile. A little like a certain teacup we know. If they choose to go for it.

Scene 12: Homage to the 10th Kingdom?

I hope so. I’d love to see Acorn the dwarf make an appearance in Once.

Sure David, turn your back on the dude who doesn’t fight you to take the risk. He’s not up to something and he’s CERTAINLY not buttering you up… Creepy beacon.

PS: taking giant leaping steps across an unstable surface is not the way to get there safely. But poor David isn’t known for his towering intellect.

Scene 13: In which Belle pulls off exposition. Again.

Does anyone else think it is hilarious that Rumple turned Gaston into a rose and now is represented by a rose himself? Just desserts I guess? Belle won’t be pruning this one.

Now we know Belle found a healing spell. Note, Emma took Killian to the Jolly Roger before this scene. So how did she know about that particular spell? What are Emma’s spying methods? She might have known the spell from Rumple, DO, but spying seems the more likely explanation. Occam’s Razor works in the real world, ish, does it work here?

Scene 14: Doc’tober-fest

I do appreciate David fooling people here, occasionally he manages to use his noggin.

Scene 15: Speeding Horse Chase

Mud-on-the-camera-truck-versus-horse-joust. ’nuff said.

Almost. Seriously fun scene. I’m not a fan of vehicular destruction of nature, but at least they weren’t doing this in a forest. Also, a joust like that with no armor would have likely killed the squire, even with armor this is highly questionable. I prefer my violence to have realistic consequences for the human body.

Scene 16: Retrieving the Shroom

Points for Lord of the Rings Dead Marshes reference. Don’t follow the lights! Oh, Arthur is holding the light…

Scene 17: I’m better.

I see things clearly. What did she hear in her head before she said that?

And she baits him. Then turns her head toward the blade. She has truly embraced being the Dark One when swords are no longer frightening even a little.

I absolutely love finally getting Hook, and the writers, come right out and say that Rumple was not in fact being a coward that day on the deck of Hook’s ship. That Hook knows it too shows us how far he has come.

That you isn’t here! And he thinks about kissing her anyway. Awwwww.

I loved you. Oh poor Emma! That tiny smidgen that might have have been nearer the surface of the darkness just got drowned because Hook is terrified of her. He doesn’t have Belle’s courage.

Oh ouch!

Colin O’Donoghue gets props here. We can feel how badly Hook wants to believe and how afraid he is because of O’Donoghue solid performance. I’ve had a hard time with his yelling and frustrations these past few episodes most likely because I am morning the loss of the charismatic, charming and disarming reformed Hook we have been getting to know and love. His regression to his pirate emotional skill set has been nearly as hard to take as the loss of Savior Emma. My heart aches for Hook in this scene because O’Donoghue sells it.

Scene 18: After all that…

It’s gone and poor David just can’t get anything right. His poor ego!!

It is a cute bromance in this moment here, soaking wet and miserable.

Interesting that David’s costume here looks a lot like the shroom he was trying to steal. Once we know more about the shroom and what they plan to use it for, maybe this metaphor will come to light.

And yes, Arthur is busily brainwashing this poor fool.

Scene 19: Betrayed by those closest to us

What’s this? Now we know for sure that Arthur hoodwinked David. That final look Arthur gives David… does Arthur have his memories??? He looks nervous here. Of course it is impossible to tell by looking with an actor, we can only go by what they are intending to show us because they are so skilled at emoting what they are supposed to that the normal human tells are absent from performances by virtue of the performance itself being a kind of lie. The really good ones can give us multilayered and conflicting emotional tells like we see in real life, but that’s rare. The subtleties of lies are lost mostly to the medium of the screen.

Scene 20: David, you did it?

But they don’t ask the most important question, why was it in the reliquary?

Scene 21: Totally overblown armor, but awesome!

David, go sit in the sucker’s chair.

Oh poor David!!!

Charming uses the Tudor Rose for a coat of arms. Hmmm.

Theory: Oh, not dead?? Lancelot? Or a manifestation of someone else? Merlin?

And he tells us Arthur is a schmuck.

Scene 22: Thief! Liar!

Oh yes, think of my kingdom first… that couldn’t possibly be a cover for screwing someone else for expedience.

Scene 23: Waco, Storybrooke?

Poor Griff.

Arthur, what do you hold dear?

Oh yes. Arthur plans to overthrow the Charming faction and install a ruthless dictatorship. This is shudder worthy. Manipulating weak minded people is SO evil!!

Theory: Wait a moment… that’s not what death from viper poison looks like. That looks like what happens when Zelena transports.

Scene 24: Hook Wants Something Stolen and Belle Owes Granny for Some China

I can see an emerging friendship between Hook and Hood. Hood might be a worthy accomplice if he doesn’t succumb to midday drunkenness…

Nothing can ever go right for poor Belle. Rumple almost bought the farm, but no. And then. Well.  Where is he? Poor Belle!

The symmetry between this scene and the scene in Skin Deep where Rumple drops everything and races down the stairs to greet Belle is how we know he’s in love. We know Belle is still in love because she dashes out leaving a forgotten sandwich and some broken pottery in her wake. And dashing in heels is no easy feat. More on the travesty of Belle’s high heels and other wardrobe woes in an upcoming article.

Her WTF face says it all.

Scene 25: He doesn’t look too good.

There is something charmingly self-deprecating about Rumple, DO providing commentary about Rumple. I have to say, I am enjoying getting to see Rumple, DO routinely and I do hope that continues. I know I was severe on the idea of Rumple, DO as Dark One tour guide, but having him around seems worth the price.

For just a moment, and with Rumple, DO saying the word “stroke” at just the right time, I wondered if Emma was going to kill Rumple right here, but then I remembered that this little part of the scene takes place in the past, though the very recent past.

Here is the first time since her acceptance of the darkness we here Emma defy Rumple, DO even a little. She says, “Quiet,” but that sounds like it took effort.

Emma says she worked hard to get this sword. I am still curious as to exactly how she got ahold of the exact spell Belle found.

25 B: Where the hell is he?

25 C: First words, what do you want from me, I’m not the Dark One anymore.

He’s showing evidence of his anxious prior self. And Rumple, DO is gleeful.

And the rolls reverse. Emma is now the predator/puppet master and Rumple is going to dance to her tune.

I absolutely love the childlike ecstatic expression on Rumple, DO when Emma looks to him for validation. And it gets even better when Rumple follows her gaze to an empty space and Excalibur. Does Rumple guess that Emma is seeing the Dark One?? Did he ever seen Zoso in like manner?

And that expression! Talk about a closing image.

Theories: Now. What does Emma mean by the purest that ever lived? Emma needs a hero. Rumple, DO thinks Rumple’s blank slate heart is just the ticket. How will Emma make Rumple into a hero? He’ll need some motivation because I doubt a heart-rip-puppet-job will satisfy the conditions set forth for the person who can draw Excalibur from the stone. Assuming that Merlin set forth some parameters that weren’t linked to only one specific person, that the sword is meant for a great leader as opposed to only Arthur as would make sense if anyone else can withdraw the sword like Emma clearly thinks is possible. Rumple will need to meet those qualifications. And then some if the purest hero that ever lived is to be taken seriously.

I suspect Arthur fell hard off the bandwagon of good sometime after drawing Excalibur. Of course that is also assuming that Merlin and his Apprentice are actually forces for good, which seems likely with the evidence we have, but not proven. So, if Merlin intended the sword for a great leader of the forces of good, Emma could sic Rumple on Arthur and set him on the path toward hero-land by blaming the curse debacle and whatever other convenient ills she chooses to make up, or actually happened during the six weeks, on the wayward Arthur.

Arthur wants to restore Excalibur, same thing the Dark One wants, but Emma doesn’t have to tell Rumple that. She only needs to convince Rumple that Arthur’s up to no good, thus giving Rumple a legitimately good cause to fight for. The Dark One should be able to handily manipulate Rumple if it has any competence at all, but at the same time, Rumple’s been living with it for a very long time and should be able to spot such a ploy. We shall see.

Don’t forget to help me study the magic of Once here! Read about the study here.

10 Reasons You Should Watch Once Upon A Time

I fell in love with Once Upon A Time when Rumplestiltskin blew up a fairy. I resisted for literally years because I figured it was a cheese-ball, cheap costume drama. Netflix kept telling me I would like it, but I didn’t reach for Once until I had run out of every other adult-seeming option on Netflix in the course of a serious couch-bound injury. I wish I’d listened to the wise Netflix-bot MUCH sooner.

It was one very sunny summer evening when I was lonely, miserable and figuring things just couldn’t get any worse by my trying this probably campy and lame series. I could always turn it off, after all. And there she was. The Evil Queen told Snow White and Prince Charming she was coming for their happiness. Yes, I smiled when I met Emma and she bagged her baddy, but it was Regina who kept me in my chair. I’ve seen a million procedurals and I might have sat through another, but this was different.

This was my childhood love of magic wrapped up in a sparkling package of adult snark.

This is what I had been missing, looking for, for so many years. Urban fantasy is the ultimate genre allowing goofy, smart play with the supernatural and the grit of our gnarly world. After that tragic attempt to bring the Dresden Files into live action, I figured Buffy would be the last of the Mohicans considering the unending sea of procedurals and sitcoms clogging the airways since Buffy went the way of the dinosaur.

Sure there were a few attempts, and I tried many of them, but here’s the secret: if the world is too dark and the characters too miserable, unlikeable/reprehensibly awful or just plain recycled, I have no reason to come back. My TV land destination vacations need to be places I actually want to go. Sometimes a place I want to go really means people I care about, no matter how bleak the landscape/spacescape (Battlestar Galactica: 2003, Breaking Bad), as much as it means visiting a world that is interesting, if a little (a lot?) broken. In short, I need a reason to come back and Once gave me that and then some.

Getting back to Rumplestiltskin, when he blew up that fairy I knew I was home. I sat up and thought, “Who is that, he’s marvelous!” Only after looking him up did I recognize him from Trainspotting and Angela’s Ashes. Once Upon A Time attracted serious talent in Robert Carlyle and he is not alone. If I fell in love with Once for Rumple, it was Lana Parrilla‘s Regina who hooked my attention initially and, along with -obviously- Carlyle, has kept it since.

Here is why Once Upon A Time deserves your attention. You should go catch up on Netflix this weekend because:

10. Once is FUN

If fulminating fairies weren’t enough to convince you of this show’s sarcastic sense of humor, wait until you meet the dwarves. Replete with witty dialogue, Rumplestiltskin and Regina’s one-liners will alternately have you chortling or cringing. Once has a ongoing subtext of gags and self-aware jesting. Though Once is not a dramedy, you won’t lack for laughs.

9. Once is imaginative

When you have finished brushing up on the classic fairytale canon, Once will inspire you to do just that, you’ll be treated to a lush forest of alternate explanations and motivations for your favorite characters. What you think you know will lead you right into the writers’ hands providing the set up for the most rare and marvelous of treasures: the genuine surprise.

8: Once has more in common with a book than typical TV

Events really have consequences, far reaching and life altering consequences for the denizens of the Once universe. Unlike so many TV shows, both past and present, there are very few stand alone episodes in which the characters wrap up a problem with a neat bow by the end of the episode but in which little actually changes. Enjoy Once like you would a really great book. Watch in order and expect the beginning episode (chapter), and all the intervening ones, to be relevant to the later ones. Once demonstrates real character growth and evolution. It illustrates proof of change.

7. Once rewards cultural literacy and exploration

Once draws on a vast reservoir of tales extending back hundreds of years. The fairytales you read to your kids? They feed your experiences with Once. That humanities/literature class you accidentally took in high school? Useful all of a sudden as you start forming theories about Once and guessing ahead. New neural connections are forming in your brain, you are getting smarter, emotionally and cognitively (forgive me, I couldn’t help but point that out). See if you don’t look up that half remembered tale from long ago and have an “Ah ha!” moment. Google is waiting for you.

6. Once provides positive role models

Finally! Characters that are written as if the writers actually know real people in their lives!! The “evil” characters have human, relatable motivations. Wait. I thought this was about positive role models. It is! In addition to providing realistically written women and men, a central theme of Once is the question “How do we treat those around us who are troubled?” Do we forgive them, help them? Or do we shun, ignore and drive them away? To go even further, Once takes on sexism head on in the smartest way I have yet seen on TV: writing unapologetically tough and smart female leaders. I know Reginas and Emmas in my real life- don’t ask me which of them I take after the most. These are not the token, reluctant, unselfaware and selectively strong female characters of TV past. No, their struggles are like the struggles of people I know, like my struggles. They make mistakes, they have knockdown drag outs and they have the range of human emotions. They are not hyper-feminized. Once women are a breath of fresh air.

But let’s not forget the men, while we’re talking about the damaging effects of exaggerated gendering. Once has a range of male characters not limited to the narrow range of hyper-masculine emotions. Everybody cries, not just the women. Everybody throws punches, not just the men. Everyone has moments of strength and toughness just as they all have moments to deal with their bad decisions, fears and desperations. It is almost as if Once is writing roles for humans instead of WOMEN and MEN with a no man’s land in between the two. Thank you Once for giving a new generation permission to be Regina with her fireballs and/or the tender parent we see in many of the men.

5. Once has adult depth while remaining accessible to families

Once reminds me of Star Trek with this quality. You can sit down with your ten-year-old to watch Once. You won’t be bored by kid-glove superficiality and your child won’t be exposed to graphic adult themes like they would with say, Game of Thrones (this is not a criticism of GOT). Tired themes of sex and violent crime have been given a rest and you and your child can have meaningful discussions about what makes a character good or bad and why they should have sympathy for Mr. Gold. You can chat with your friends about the dangers of righteousness and whether the Blue Fairy is actually a positive force in the universe, or not. Who deserves a second chance? Who doesn’t?

4. Because Robert Carlyle

Speaking of Mr. Gold… if seeing the height of the craft, what depths acting can truly reach, matters to you, Robert Carlyle is a reason to watch Once. Dare I say, he routinely gives arthouse performances not commonly seen (though the renaissance of TV writing is attracting more and more talent these days, as it should) in main stream television. Carlyle is special, you’ll see. Though he plays a dark character, he is the light of this show. His Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold is a television treasure the likes of which I have not previously scene. It is easy to imagine what the run of the mill bad guy, we’ve seen enough examples elsewhere, would have been like in this role. Probably interesting, but we’ve been there done that. But Carlyle’s Rumple demonstrates a voluminous imagination and deep understanding of human nature, specifically the human nature of marginalized people. Falling for the romantic hero is easy and obvious, but when you find yourself falling for the bad guy because you can see his worth, his shiny special personness? That experience might make you question how you conduct yourself toward such people in the future. Carlyle’s scholarship on the subject of “difficult” people brings Rumple/Gold’s humanity to the forefront and makes it impossible to ignore.

3. Once is beautifully written

The world of Once is a huge place. The richness of detail this show provides is mind boggling, in the best way. The writers of Once are weaving a tapestry for us with every thread a unique and vibrant hue. If you’ve ever tried to write a story beyond ten thousand words or so, you know that keeping track of everything is crucial. Strangely, and yet not, the audience keeps track of everything as expertly as they do the intricacies of their own lives. Why? Because we care. Because the writers made us care.

A few general things are abundantly clear. The writers very purposefully and methodically explore their thematic material and bring us along for the ride. This complex system of people and motivations is still moving forward five years later, an accomplishment by any standard. The show as a whole remains accessible. Like any great book series, call backs and references allow the audience to keep the past straight and relevant to the current moment. This is a great piece of writing.

That said, nothing is perfect so when you find one of those moments, just ignore it. You’ll be rewarded for it.

2. Once is culturally attuned

In this age of growing technological separation between people, this show focuses on family and the connections between people. Our communities. The motivation of most characters, heroes or not, is establishing or repairing connection to another, be that someone they lost or someone they hope to gain. For most, their Happy Ending involves integration with others. The most painful moments the writers show us are those of isolation and exclusion reminding us exquisitely that the people in our lives are the what is most important. There is no scene in Granny’s where everyone is ignoring each other with their heads down in their cell phones.

  1. Once is about hope

The single most important reason to watch Once Upon A Time is because this show is about hope. This piggybacks on the topic of cultural immediacy. So much of TV is dystopian, graphically violent and spends time glorifying drugs, crime and treating other people badly. (I liked Breaking Bad too, I’m not judging.) This is not Once. Not to say that Once is all unicorns and rainbows, it certainly isn’t, but it’s focus is not on the next novel way it can shock you with something really awful.

Once sets its sights instead on the pursuit of the ever illusive Happy Ending. It explores the idea that happiness is possible for everyone and shows us effective ways to find happiness just as it illustrates catastrophic, train-wreck mishaps on the way to finding happiness. The fairytale platform allows us breathing room between the thematic material and our own lives. Difficult subject matter can be made easier to digest with an indirect approach. Distance lets themes percolate in the background until the audience is ready to either except or reject them.

Once is special, stands out from the crowd of mainstream TV because it has the audacity to hope (forgive me), something everyone can relate to. Watch Once because it’s delightful, funny and great entertainment, even when it makes you cry. Most importantly, go catch up on Once on Netflix because it is a shining source of positivity in the world and the more of that, the better.

Are you already a Once Fan? Come check out my Once projects:

Help me study the magic of Once here with this survey: Once Upon A Time Viewer Preferences. Read about the study here!

Fan-art in the making! I have finished a Once-themed Gratitude Project. Come and see! You can also take a look back at my process!

Episode Review Guide

Episode reviews will all follow the same general format: a spoiler-free overview followed by a scene-by-scene analysis.

The overview will include general impressions, performance notes and very general structural or thematic notes without specific examples from the episode. The overview is designed to be a safe read for anyone who hasn’t seen the episode in question. It may not be safe for anyone a season or more behind the current season even though it won’t call out episode specifics. The overview may include general discussion of past season’s major story arcs, though the aim is a more narrow focus.

The analysis portion of the article will include the nitty gritty details of the episode and most definitely will spoil things for anyone who has not yet seen it. Topics will include thematic discussions, structure, flow, blocking, performance notes, favorite quotes, scene rewrites, theories and more. I will attempt to label theories as such so that anyone who doesn’t want those can skip them.

Note: Discussion is encouraged in the comments section, but please NO SPOILERS for future episodes! If I find spoilers, I will do my best to delete them promptly so they don’t ruin it for everyone else. Spoiling stuff is just bad manners so be a good net citizen and only leave the good stuff in your wake.

Don’t forget to help me study the magic of Once here! Read about the study here.

The Price 5X02

The Price 5X02

Overview: spoiler-free

They had me from the opening image. I smiled and I was still smiling by the title card. My Once Upon A Time is back! But for one scene, I stayed engaged the entire episode. There are a few ways I measure the enthralling power of an episode: giggles, tears and talking back to the TV. No tears this time, but plenty of giggling and talking back.

My favorite part about this episode was its direct engagement with the thematic material: how do you love someone who has gone astray? Regina’s crisis of faith regarding her new role in town came in a close second, though it was the A story for this episode. That’s not surprising for me as a viewer though, I am often more interested in the B story because it is often the love story and I am a hopeless romantic.

As I have come to expect from Once, this episode is brimming with pithy dialogue and brilliant performances. I know I called out Jennifer Morrison last time, but she just keeps on shining. The sheer amount of thought and effort she is putting into this new flavor of Emma is obvious and commendable, to say the least. I wonder if she didn’t take a page from Robert Carlyle about movement and affect. She’s had plenty of time to watch him successfully differentiate between Mr. Gold in Storybrooke and Rumple (in many time periods) in the Enchanted Forest. I love what appears to me to be an allusion to The Black Swan movie/ballet. Emma’s movements remind me of ballet and this adds depth and interest on the screen in a way I had only begun to appreciate with Rumple. It seems that most actors just don’t put this kind of effort into movement, or, Once gives us a unique opportunity for our actors to play characters on the same show which allows us to compare. I am going to have to start comparing actors across their work to see if they do this. I love it.

I want to also call out Lee Aren, Grumpy, because he is also a delight to watch. Before moving on, I want to nod to Robert Carlyle for his narration at the end of the episode. I could listen to that guy narrate forever. Would he like to audition for the role of my inner monologue? If I could pick a voice for my own thoughts other than my own, how amazing would that be?

With regards to last week’s difficulties, I wonder if these two episodes, shown together as one, would have made a cohesive whole. Or at least if this would have assisted with the disjointed feeling of the premiere. Maybe this is a pitfall of being a hybrid instead of a continuous flow show (see this discussion of TV structures). The Price flowed in the hybrid style Once has accustomed us to, both moving on from the end of the last episode and having a contained story of its own. I definitely found the pacing more comfortable, did not feel rushed, this time.

Overall, 8/10. I loved the thematic exploration and performances. They writers treated us to some moments of genuine cuteness and wit. The missing two points are for the scene that didn’t quite work which I will discuss in detail below.

Here endeth the spoiler free overview. Below there be dragons!

Scene 1: I cannot overstate how much I love the opening image. Sneezy turned to stone hurtling toward the town line atop the dwarf van. I am not sure I have ever seen a better opening image for anything. It states so clearly: we’re screwed.

The dwarves game of not-it is so cute. Poor Dopey! This scene makes me want to look back to see if Dopey has ever spoken. Here’s Lee Aren’s moment in the sun. He gives us the thematic material in a nut shell and sets up the episode brilliantly with, “Who’s gonna save us if we stay? You?”

Notice that Dopey doesn’t see Storybrooke when he turns back toward the town line and waves.

Five of eight original dwarves now, it’s not looking good for dwarven kind.

Theories: Emma figured out Merlin’s predicament and thought it would be HILARIOUS to serve it up to anyone who crosses the town line in her new curse. (I still haven’t forgiven the repeated use of this plot device, but I’ll let you know if I do.)

Well that’s new. Thanks Regina, we’re delighted that at least something is different about this overused plot device.

Scene 2: Entering Camelot

The introduction of Guinevere seemed a bit over done to me and the whole body scan, woman is measured by her looks nonsense is frown worthy. I can’t help but wonder though if Guinevere loves Arthur in this incarnation. Or if either, or rather which of, them is evil. I don’t trust them, especially her

I absolutely love Regina’s silencing of Zelena. And Leroy telling Granny what he thinks of her catering got the giggle. 

Note to self, Merlin’s been MIA for a decade.

Scene 3: Merlin the Tree

Hook says it in one. And now we know that what happens when someone crosses the town line is what happened to Merlin.

Theory: the question is, who did Merlin? Could Merlin have had a magical mishap and done himself? Or, timeline research required, did Rumple do this when he retrieved the Gauntlet? It isn’t clear how long Regina kept Belle in the tower before the curse. We only know she kept her there until the curse.

It would make sense if Rumple trapped him because then Emma, through the memories of the Dark Ones, would know the same magic for her curse. If it is her curse and if it is the same curse Regina and Snow cast. That we know of, Emma isn’t missing the person she loves most when everyone arrives back in Storybrooke last episode.

The way Arthur reacts to the mention of the Dark One is in NO way suspicious, not at all…

I do absolutely love the “Savior, please stand up,” moment of awkward. Regina daggering Emma is nice too, it lets us know that she is most definitely still Regina. No matter how far toward the side of good she has come, she is still willing to do reprehensible things (abrogating the free will of another to grease social wheels) to get the job done. Personally, I do not ever want to see Regina get as far to the good as the sickly sweet Snow White/Mary Margaret. But, she does give Emma a nice longing and sad look.

Again, fanning the SwanQueen fires without making it canon. Fun.

Scene 4: if the afflicted wants it

I wish to commend Emilie de Ravin here for her fine work. This little scene is a bit of thematic exposition which she delivers with grace and emotion. Belle finally gets to rub her moral high ground all over the other heroes’ noses. She saw Rumple with compassion from nearly the beginning of her acquaintance with him and no one else has ever made such an effort. Now they are seeing her perspective instead of sneering at her for her lousy choice in True Love.

For me this holds the promise of the entire season emotionally. This hugely important concept has, I believe, that much oomph behind it. If they really go for it.

Scene 5: Say my name three times

My heart aches for Henry here. This is the second recent summoning of a Dark One near a body of water. The last one was Belle/Regina summoning Rumple at the well. I wonder what it is about looking into a body of water that makes people think of summoning.

And more ouch. More stunning work by Jennifer Morrison when Henry pulls his hand away. It is exciting to see Henry starting to really grasp at adulthood, though heartbreaking in this scene. He reaches out to his mom with an apology and blames himself for her affliction.

And then that brilliant throwback to Season 1 with “Get away from my son!”

Henry knows in that moment he has lost a good chance he had to reconnect.

Theory: Emma says here she built the curse and that she erased their memories. She doesn’t say she cast it. I think she didn’t.

Then she gives us the test of continuity in this show: Emma says she built the curse without a savior. But in Skin Deep,Season 1×12, Regina says True Love’s curse can break any curse. Time will tell here. And whose True Love?

Like Henry, Regina is trying to step up. Henry believes in her, but he has as the heart of the Truest Believer, which in my book means he’s susceptible to trickery, optimism and naïveté. I think there’s a big difference between self confidence (and confidence in others) and blind faith. I hope Once takes him in the direction of confidence, a little like Belle.

Every time Emma sends a snide remark Regina’s way my heart grows light. Regina is getting her comeuppance for an awful lot of sharp tongued remarks. Love it.

Scene 6: Of Trees and Tacos

A bit of delightful dwarf dialogue here. I wonder where they are going with their pick axes, to dig up Dopey? This is some of the pithy dialogue I absolutely love.

And then we get down to some of the promise of the premise action: fairytales in our world. King Arthur riding down Main Street delivers on the promise made so long ago to get the two worlds to collide.

Too bad about how it was shot. They missed a chance to use a low angle shot of the horses baring down on the unsuspecting dwarves and giving us the wide view of the incongruity. Something tells me they were prevented from doing this by some practical problem because usually Once doesn’t miss the opportunity for a money shot like that one.

Scene 7: Not what we had in mind.

Exposition…

And suddenly a king is taking orders from Charming after his show of pomposity with the dwarves?

All of that is redeemed with Regina’s offhand comment about hand waving and killing of toy soldiers. I know the Regina I love and miss is still in there. Ok, I said it. I miss Evil Regina. If she goes too far toward good, I am going to be an unhappy customer.

Scene 8: Worst transitional dialogue….

I cannot think of any reason Regina needed to say that during our CGI fly-by. It might have worked better had she and Emma been seen rummaging through Merlin’s stuff while Regina made some snide comment about how if Merlin weren’t such a lousy housekeeper she might have an easier time helping him.

Then Emma answers, then it will make more sense when she says, “Now you’re talking to me?”

But then we get that marvelous, “Shut up and listen.”

And Regina gets a taste of power, which she likes and doesn’t hide. Even though Regina is more hero now than not, I must give the writers great props for not making her a sugar glazed version of her prior self. She’s still Regina who likes power and isn’t afraid to wield it to get what she wants, though now she thinks a little harder before hurting someone for convenience.

Props again to Morrison for the brilliant automaton-esque response to Regina’s unintended use of the dagger. Parrilla and Morrison have phenomenal one screen chemistry together and their friendship now, a genuine (in canon) caring for one another, is as convincing as their animosity was in the first season. They really do work well together.

I might also take the opportunity to point out that the lead for this episode has switched into Parrilla’s lap and she bares it with grace and excellence as always. Regina comes across with a beautiful polish and is someone I am always glad to see on screen. I can’t say the same for the entire cast, but if Regina is up to bat, things will go well.

Scene 9: REI Apocalypse

That Emma’s opinion matters at all to Regina tells us just how much Emma means to Regina. Her crisis of faith here, illustrated brilliantly by her inattention, let’s us know how deeply Emma has rattled her. It wasn’t that long ago that Regina didn’t give a damn what Emma thought. Now she matters to her.

Regina is quite right, forgiveness is one thing, but being accepted as leader is another.

This amazing snippet of thematic material is very culturally relevant and important to our modern times. Are we ready to be led by a woman? What I love most is that Regina never hesitates to take command even though she is unsure anyone has confidence in her. Her perception of their lack of faith doesn’t even phase her. It does not occur to her that she could let that influence her path.

Fiction so often portrays women as requiring external validation before acting, of not having strong inner motivations of their own. Here, even doubting whether she can succeed, Regina knows what she has to do and is doing it anyway. She’s not waiting for someone else to pat her on the head, she’s making plans and moving forward and doing it regardless of her own doubt, and everyone else’s. Sure she seeks comfort from those she loves, but she is not reluctant to lead as so many fictional women have been written. (A mistake made in Buffy, who requires constant cajoling to lead because she spends a lot of time whining about poor her and being depressed over boys.) Arguably, Regina has as much boy trouble as Buffy ever did, but we don’t hear a lot of real whining out of Regina.

Scene 10: Where’s my pointy?

I have serious questions about Arthur and Guinevere’s relationship. I find them both creepy.

Scene 11: Hood-Snatching

Behind you Robin!!!

I just love little Roland. Cute as a bug. I also love the little switch here: no damsel calling for her knight, but Robin Hood calling for his sorcerer while being abducted by the gnarly monster.

Guess we found out what Emma doesn’t think Regina can handle.

Of note, monster of the week is a weak device, but this episode had a heck of a lot of other things going on which make it more of a A- plot and thus, in my book, forgivable.

Scene 12: By thy cute yellow Bug, Dark One I summon thee

I wonder if his summoning had to do with him touching something important belonging to Emma, or just calling her name and wanting to see her.

Since the point of this scene is the magical transport, I’m going to treat this as one scene.

I am wondering how much of Emma is really left. Emma knew what she was getting in to when she took on the curse and she embraced the power anyway. Rumple got tricked into taking it and then, I would guess, got overthrown for a time by the Dark One. If Emma embraced the Dark One, how much deeper does it have its hooks set in her? She seems like the Dark One wearing an Emma shell. Belle just told us that the darkness snatched Rumple forever when he pulled away from True Love’s Kiss and Emma just failed that litmus test with Hook. That means she wants the curse AND she knew what she was getting into, unlike Rumple who was a victim of desperation and trickery. I wonder if Emma will be a shade even darker than Rumple was.

What Emma says about no one accepting her for who she is now reminds me of what a drug addict would say. They don’t recognize the problem and feel maligned for having made a choice in their lives that others find reprehensible. They think they have it in hand, that they are choosing to use, perhaps, instead of what other see which is that they are lost to the influence of the drugs. That the drugs are using them instead of the other way around.

In I this case, I very much feel that the Dark One has subverted Emma completely and that she is right, this is who she is now. I think that if Hook really wants to save Emma, the Emma he remembers, he will need to take a page or two from Belle’s playbook and learn to love and encourage someone who is deeply in trouble but can no longer recognize it.

Belle sees something worthwhile in Rumple, so she keeps trying to help him be his best, or at least better self. At times she succeeds, at times she doesn’t, but she knows what she’s in for-as she said last season. I truthfully don’t think Hook has come far enough out of his own villainy, or is frankly smart enough, to steer Emma like Belle steers Rumple.

He’s angry and scared, but not yet able to see what opportunities he has to win Emma’s trust, never mind trusting her.

We see evidence of the extent to which Emma has been subverted by the Dark One when Hook rejects her. For the tiniest second we see hurt, but then the Dark One starts plotting as Emma looks toward the door thinking of her next move.

Scene 13: The Hard Way

Please, can we see more Regina with double fisted fireballs?

I have to say, Regina is right to be skeptical of the Charming’s ability to deal with the Hood-napping monster. She gets her ass handed to her and they tell her they’ll keep Robin from harm? Yeah right. I didn’t buy this at all.

Scene 14: Flattery…

Can anyone else say it with me?

Too good to be true.

Scene 15: Wardrobe help

Cora would have made absolutely sure of Regina’s competence in all facets of privileged life, including dancing. This scene is hilarious, heartwarming and wonderful, but not terribly believable.

I wonder how they might have gotten to the thematic material without the prop of dancing lessons. Yes Regina feels insecure about her transition from Evil Queen to Savior and, as mentioned, this scene was cute, but I think the writer’s could have found a more in character way to get to both places.

Maybe just a slight alteration:

Regina: I’m not going to the ball tonight, I’ll babysit.

Charming: Why not? You have to.

Regina: My mother tried to teach me to dance, it’s the one thing she finally gave up on. I’m hopelessly incompetent.

Snow: Robin isn’t going to care, you’re making up excuses. You can tell us the truth.

Regina: I’m ex-evil…

Wardrobe fun…

Charming: I recall your mother. Did it ever occur to you that you couldn’t learn to dance because it was your mother making you? Just relax.

They dance.

Just a little rewrite that seems a little more in character to me.

I do love Doc’s vexed expression with Regina’s evil gown. Admittedly, I don’t have many opportunities to genuinely complement Goodwin’s performances, but here, she sold the “little less evil” line quite nicely and I enjoyed it.

Scene 16: Prom Night

Touching mother/daughter bonding moment.

Scene 17: Presented at the Ball

Is it just me or does Hook look a hair wind-blown? I love Emma’s response to his attempt to compliment her.

Props to de Ravin for being effective even while being window dressing. She’s not paying attention to what is going on around her, she’s cradling that rose and projecting Belle’s loneliness loudly enough for me to notice even though it isn’t her scene. She could have chosen to stand and watch like everyone else, but de Ravin lets us know clearly that Belle’s mind is elsewhere.

Scene 18: You Son of A Bitch

This is my favorite scene in this episode. I have long wondered about Regina and Rumple’s shared past, the nature of their teacher/student relationship. Rumple said in Heroes and Villains that he cares for Regina. Regina now, when faced with pain and fear, goes to see Rumple for solace. Solace gained through insults and fist shaking, but the tears tell us how much she wants Rumple’s help and that she remembers going to him for courage/encouragement in the past. She wants her former mentor to help her, to give her advice.

And I think, she’s worried about him, though she’d never admit it. She cares for him too.

Since she can’t get help from the person she most wants it from, she goes to the next best person: his wife.

From Belle’s expression here, I think she may have overheard Regina’s tears, if not some of what she said. Belle’s compassion does her credit, but I find it unlikely given the rather recent heart theft and manipulation…

Scene 19: Belle schools Regina

While I like that Belle gets to put her book smarts to good use, she has become the go-to for magical theory exposition. Not a terrible choice, but Giles (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) suffered some role limitations because of that. The writers need to explain a magic thing and need some lines for an actor, oh yeah, we’ve got someone smart to explain the world for us, let’s use that person.

That’s ok, but I sincerely hope that Belle doesn’t fall victim to the same trap. I implore the writers to write Belle as the fully fleshed out character she has the potential to be rather than forgetting to write arcs for her because she’s one-stop-shopping for exposition.

As mentioned moments ago, seeing affection between Belle and Regina is weird, dare I say verging on uncharacteristic. We haven’t seen Regina so much as mumble an apology for using Belle to get Rumple last season but Regina reaches out and touches Belle’s hand with gratitude, if not affection, for helping her understand the Fury problem. Belle then grabs Regina’s arm and they hold each other for a moment as Belle finishes her explication.

This scene between them is warm, caring, compassionate and going both directions. I hope they explain this change in the weather between these two characters. It might be that both are drawn together because their loved ones are in mortal peril and maybe that Belle and Regina are bonding over their mutual concern for Rumple. But I’m not sure that’s enough to excuse prior heart-snatching activities.

Ms. de Ravin deserves a moment of attention for her performance here as well. We can sense Belle coming into her own as a leader she guides Regina through what she has discovered. Her emphasis is on key without being overblown as so many “someone’s gonna die” pronouncements tend to be during exposition. It would have been easy to go too far in this scene, but Belle’s calm gives a weight to the scene no raised voice ever could.

Side note: When the writers started giving her real and deep moments of emotion last year, she stepped right up: the Well and that tiny fraction of a look she gave Rumple after he returned her heart were show stopping performances. It proved to me that I was right to blame the writers for the face-palm worthy Family Business last year in which Belle was written so far from the woman we met in Skin Deep that she was hardly recognizable.

Belle is such a rich opportunity independent of Rumple and I hope the writers don’t miss this.

One more note on this scene: we are learning more about the price of magic and this, along with Rumple telling us he’s in magic debt past his eyeballs, implies that Rumple wasn’t just being a jerk and demanding prices. Perhaps, now that we know there is an underworld, a place dead people go, the Underworld is the source of magic and the lending institution which, of course, charges interest.

Scene 20: The Belle of the Ball

I do hope they develop the Belle/Leroy friendship further. It’s a good one. Also, I really wish they’d let us see de Ravin dance. She was a dancer before becoming an actor and it would have been a wonderful opportunity to show her off.

Instead, the scene shifts, call it 20b, and we see her sulking over the rose in its frosted glass.

Humble Henry… ? Very cute scene. I am certain the fan community is cheering that Henry finally gets a chance at love.

The scene stopping moment here actually goes to Sean McGuire. He, instead of being in step with the dance, has chosen to make out with Regina. His cheeky grin over being behind and then trying to get then caught up to the other dancers is so perfect. I have to wonder if that was improvisation at least in part because I was so sucked into the moment that it truly appeared spontaneous.

Music choice: Regina and Perceval dancing without us big able to hear their music is awkward. I think it would have been much creepier if they hadn’t yanked us away from the ball with the change in music at this point.

Scene 21: Step up, Regina!

Second favorite scene: Emma gives Regina what she has long deserved. Emma is right, Regina frequently looks for someone else to blame for her problems.

Morrison brilliantly delivers another important thematic line for us: no good or bad versions of ourselves, it is just me.

I sense much more to come on this topic in the future and I am looking forward to it. This brings us back to the idea of the addict. The addict is still a person.

I think Regina is hoping to appeal to the friendship she and Emma had worked so hard to forge but the impact of reality dawns on Regina as she backs away and Emma slams the door in her face. Now that have roles dramatically reversed between these two, Regina has to face the truth that her friend is very far away from the person Emma is now.

Scene 22: I am asking you

And so for the love of her friend, for her friend’s love, Emma goes dark.

Emma with flowers and a white dress steps into the light after True Love’s Kiss. Oh oops, it didn’t work. Guess the darkness got her. The only question now is how’s she going to hide a gold and scaly hand from her buddies?

Scene 23: The Barge of the Underworld

Ooo! Who’s the hooded figure on the barge?

Here’s the scene that didn’t work.

Yes, Regina goes to take Robin’s place in the Underworld. That makes sense. But the rest of them deciding to go along for the ride? This scene reminded me of lemmings following one another off a cliff. I can see Mary Margaret pitching in for Regina, and David won’t let Mary Margaret go anywhere without him, but the others? I just didn’t buy it.

I am also not a fan of overt moralizing. Emma telling her parents directly that she shouldn’t have held a grudge was a gag-able moment last season and this was another such moment. Thematic material and moralizing need to be dressed up before they can go to the dance. They can’t be naked.

Leroy’s line wasn’t needed at all. We all got the point that Regina was willing to do what it takes to protect Storybrooke without that explicit statement.

24: Victory Parties and Uncouth Pirates

Hook resolves not to give up on Emma and Belle, again, supports someone who has tried to kill her multiple times. Belle’s kind of incredible.

Now the person left out isn’t Regina… it’s Emma.

Scene 25: Fessing up

Or not… Regina keeps lying by omission to Arthur.

Scene 26: Down a Knight

Arthur wants to get the dagger. Evil much? Hmmm.

Scene 27: Feeling left out?

Rumple DO’s gesture here leads me to believe that he, and not Emma, is in the driver’s seat.

Mr. Carlyle’s monologue is at once creepy and comforting at the same time. Rumple, DO makes us feel nostalgia. Does the Dark One feel that? I can never say enough about Carlyle’s performance but that monologue let us picture Rumple, DO’s expressions, flourishes and mannerisms even though we couldn’t see him. I was taken into the place of being Emma hearing Rumple, DO say this to me and I saw him in my mind. That kind of evocation with voice alone is awesome, in the true sense of filled with awe.

And now we know that Rumple, DO wants Emma to do what Arthur wanted to do, restore Excalibur.

Fin

Definitely a good episode. Lots to love. I find it very interesting that this episode had more scenes than the last but felt more cohesive. That indicates that the length of the scenes has less to do with chop than the transitions and content. Here, well executed, last week. definitely less so.

I am delighted to see Rumple, DO appear in Storybrooke. I fell in love with this show because of Rumplestiltskin blowing up a fairy godmother so getting to see, more or less, that Rumple routinely will be an absolute treat. Though I can’t imagine Mr. Carlyle likes the makeup sessions.

The shear potential for grown-up themes, depth of plot and emotional flavors Once has just set up for us are nothing short of delicious. I am hoping that Once can attract the attention of more serious drama fans, which it likely lost with the Frozen debacle. This show is worth the price of admission and can continue to be brilliant. This focus on the main cast is exactly what this show has been needing and the effort being put forth on this tale is obvious and apparent.

Onward with gleeful anticipation.

Don’t forget to help me study the magic of Once here! Read about the study here.

The Dark Swan 5X01

Once Upon A Time: The Dark Swan 

Overview- spoiler free

I found myself giggling in anticipation and so happy to see my fictional friends after the summer break. When it comes to moments of brilliance, my expectations were met deliciously. I just want to hug Rumple whenever I see him. He delights me. It seems that the purveyors of Emmys owe Robert Carlyle some attention. And then some.

On the subject of performances, Jennifer Morrison sold her unease with her new situation. She nailed that greasy feeling of queasy unsettledness appearing rather nauseated most of the episode. She brought me into the moment and I was right there with her with my guts twisted up, terrified and uncertain about how to proceed. She makes a great protagonist now, just as she did in Season 1. While we are busy singing Robert Carlyle and Lana Parrilla’s praises, I think sometimes Jennifer Morrison gets over looked. She has consistently carried the burden of the lead around whom the rest of the Once universe swirls. That is a ton of work and she does it, and does it well. She should have her name first on the credits. The lady is solid.

Story-wise, three quarters of the episode worked well. But then what happened?

When I finished watching I was frowning and wondering how the writers came to some of the conclusions they did. Not because I was confused, I wasn’t, but I was definitely questioning some of the writing decisions. My thoughts while I was watching the last quarter of the episode went along the lines of “slow down” and “take a breath, I’ll still be here in three episodes.” I wondered if I had habituated to Game of Thrones pacing over the summer, but I came to the conclusion that the scenes were really that short. It felt chopped up, even in the first three quarters where at least it felt cohesive, if not smooth.

Exposition is hard. This episode had the feel of an enormous effort to get as many foundational pieces in place as possible before taking a deep dive into story. For me, that is a problem. If I notice exposition is going on, that’s detrimental to my experience as a viewer. I should be so absorbed in the story that the ground work is all but invisible. I am also a believer in telling the audience as little as possible to keep them along for the ride, but not in the know. Emma doesn’t know what is happening to her, not in any kind of detail. I would prefer to avoid spoon feeding if possible. This episode just cries out to be told over the course of about three episodes. I desperately wanted to spend more time with just about every situation as it came up.  This brings us into the details and choices about story telling.

Overall, the promise of this season outweighs the klutzy start. The sheer potential to take us on the ride of our lives is there, if they execute. Emotionally, these characters all have an enormous amount of work to do. The opportunity for mystery and exploration is definitely there. This season is poised for greatness in spite of a little over-exposition. I am not sure how a show could have a more solid foundation going into a new season because of the major delivery of the previous one. Season 4B left us in an ideal space to take the next leap with these characters. Once has more than earned my patience, so I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Rating: 6/10

Here endeth the spoiler-free review. Below there be dragons!

For an in depth review, a chronological scene-by-scene look should do the job. I like to look at form and structure as well as writing choices. Themes, plot theories and performance notes are all fair game too.

Scene 1- Emma’s trip to the movies

I just loved McKenna Grace who played little Emma. I felt her childhood movie food envy keenly and was reminded of a similar childhood experience. Except I didn’t steal any chocolate. Our movie attendant is creepy! And I wonder if he’s Merlin. While I have at times lamented the collusion with Disney, Frozen pandering comes to mind, I do love having access to references like this one, The Sword in the Stone. Because of Disneyfication, these references aren’t awkward or impossible.

Scene 2: Fairytale Land (FTL) Arthur becomes king

I love me a good chopper horse chase! This location is breathtakingly beautiful and worth the expense to show it off. The subsequent lagoon looks like Neverland’s beach where Hook and Pan meet as well as where Rumple and Regina and Rumple and Baelfire do a few scenes.

Seeds of dissent in Camelot! I predict politics. To me, this is an example of good functioning exposition in which a few words, about three lines let us know a huge amount about the state of Camelot and Merlin’s relationship to it. Speaking of moments of brilliance, Sir K (Does that stand for something?) falls victim to a classic blunder: ignoring a wizard. “Your turn,” cracked me up.

Back to excellent exposition, the reveal of Excalibur and the Dark One’s dagger being cut from the same cloth (ruby hilt and all) gets the award. This moment got a giggle from me and sent my mind in many directions. This is one of the mysteries I am most looking forward to uncovering.

One more note about Camelot before moving into the next scene. We don’t, at this point, know when Arthur pulled Excalibur from the stone. This could be happening in the past, as we are led to believe by the fact that most of the time, FTL scenes are flashbacks.

Scene 3- Scene of the crime, Emma became the Dark One, now what?

I dearly appreciate Regina telling off Mary Margaret for her unfounded optimism. This show has needed some self-awareness to do with the intellectual shortcomings of both Charmings, though at least with David, Zelena and Cruella have taken care of that oversight. I want to give Josh Dallas props for the moment David realizes that Emma can’t answer the summons. He sold grieving dad masterfully.

A note on spoon feeding the audience: we don’t need it. We knew when Emma didn’t appear that she couldn’t. We didn’t need Hook/Regina to tell us why.

Scene 4- Vault of the Dark One, FTL

I just love the black oily goo effect.

Carlyle makes me smile every time. I am thrilled to get to see yet another character out of him. The Dark One has been within Rumplestiltskin nearly all the time we’ve known him, but this is the first glimpse of the entity we get to see on its own. That part I like, especially if it means we get to see the Dark One wearing a Rumple mask, which is what this is, essentially. The implications of this reveal are many indeed.

We can now draw several conclusions, or at least, several things seem very likely:

1. Rumple had (will he still?) access to the memories of ALL the Dark Ones before him negating a lot of basic magical research I had thought he had been required to do in order to know as much as he does.

2. At least in the beginning, the Dark One acts as a voice in the head of its latest meat-sack as opposed to my prior theory which was that the darkness twisted and corrupted the barer more subtly- clouding perceptions, darkening moods, influencing decisions, stoking anger. I suspect though, that once the new Dark One accepts the power, the darkness might work exactly that way. I hope we get an answer to this. I had thought of it as a more sinister version of the corruption that comes naturally with power if the person doesn’t take care not to become corrupt.

3. Rumple is a scholar in his own right. He used all those memories toward his own ends to further his knowledge of magic, but he also continued to study and to teach, motivated as he was by the need to find Baelfire. He likely furthered the science (can I say that?) of magic greatly with that foundation.

4. That implies that Emma will know everything about Rumple, everything he knows (knew?) and has the potential to be even more of a pain in the ass. She may have all of his memories during his tenure as Dark One.

5. She might not be able to take advantage of it though because she lacks Rumple’s shrewd wit. I expect the damage a Dark One can do is limited by their own capacities as, though I don’t know for sure, I doubt Zoso was much of a scholar. And what about Gorgon the Invincible? Perhaps not a ton of research done during that era.

Now for the part I don’t like. Again with the spoon feeding. The Dark One in a Rumple mask makes it easier for the audience to see into Emma’s head, but we don’t need to be told explicitly that it will be Emma’s (our) guide. We are quite capable of seeing that for ourselves. This is also an overused device. Bring the audience into a novel situation by making the situation novel to one of the characters and providing a teacher. It is convenient and easy, but not I think, the best way.

I would have better enjoyed seeing Rumple, DO continually to creep Emma out, trick her into using magic and generally corrupting her without the guise of teacher. This dark being seems like it would be more likely to bully/manipulate Emma into its clutches than take her, and us, by the hand.

Scene 5: Hook makes demands

I appreciate that Regina fails to be able to use the Apprentice’s wand. (And Rumple passed out in the corner.) This failure gives us tangible evidence of Regina’s growth into a hero. I am not saying Regina couldn’t find her way back into the clutches of bad/selfish/easy decisions, but as ways to illustrate change go, this was a good one.

I must admit that Hook being such a jerk in these few scenes really bugged me. That usually means that it was effective. It isn’t just Emma who is threatened by darkness, but Hook too. I do think the “your Majesty,” bit is going too far with the dialogue especially when he goes on to talk about Emma’s belief that an evil queen could be good. Since Hook doesn’t think of Regina as “your Majesty,” it might have worked a little better delivered sarcastically.

Scene 6: Emma Darth Vader’s a peddler

I like the implication that the darkness takes advantage of Emma’s subconscious frustrations, inclinations. It is using her emotions against her, as I theorized above.

Scene 7: Rumbelle isn’t dead!

Somehow they found the time to evict the Apprentice from Rumple’s shop and make Rumple more comfortable. I found this scene heartwarming. Of all the love stories Once has told us, this one speaks to me the most. Perhaps because it is hard earned. Writing love is easy when both characters are written to suit one another and they are good people. But this? Belle discovers something worthwhile in a damaged human being, offers said human a way out of the darkness. She shows compassion in the face of difficulty instead of taking the lazy way out and waiting for a Prince Charming to come along.

The Belle/Rumple love story resonated with those that wonder if love is possible for them, for whatever reason. “If the Dark One can love and find love, so can I,” so to speak. The message is clear, you don’t have to be perfect to be loved and to love in return. The hope generated by this love story cannot be overstated. And I am sure I am not alone in having had my heart broken in Heroes and Villains last year. This scene, and Rumple’s changed (reformed???) heart, give us hope for these two people.

The other delightful thing about this scene is obviously the rose. I am with Rumple in thinking of Blue as a “righteous flea” because of her tendency toward black and white thinking, but this is a nice gesture and maybe a hint that she might being experiencing a moment of growth here. If Blue can begin to see the value in people who have had trouble in their lives, there might be hope for her. Up until now, she seemed only to help people she likes, people who are good enough, hero enough, for her taste.

I have heard rumblings that folks think Blue is evil. I don’t think that is the case, but I do think she is a very well done illustration of how damaging righteousness can be.

Scene 8: The price of Wicked help

Rebecca Mader is quite marvelous. I find Zelena revolting and a lot of fun. This scene is SO short, but cutting away and sparing us a rehash is worth it in this case.

Scene 9: Just Ask

And now we know how to go poof. Emma he been begging Regina to teach her and now she knows. What I love most about that scene-lette was how swept away I became by Carlyle’s performance. He asked Emma, us, to do a visualization exercise and I totally fell for it. It is amazing how susceptible we, I?, are to the invitation to imagine. In moments like this, at least for me, the suspension of disbelief becomes something more, something participatory. My conscious and aware mind goes to sleep long enough that I believe I am in the story and have a moment of genuine surprise when I wake up again later. This bit of magic only happens for me with truly engaging performances. Thank you Mr. Carlyle and Ms. Morrison! I stepped right into Emma’s head and was in the narrative.

Ideally, this should happen the moment I sit down to watch and not resolve until the episode is over. Sometimes that happens, but not this time.

Just as Rumple, DO is about to send Emma after the Whisp we see him start to touch her arm, but the next camera angle we get shows him with a hovering palm near her arm. Oops. We don’t yet know if he’s tangible to her or not.

Scene 10: Quite a mess.

I like Zelena’s perspective on her pregnancy. For her, this is her chance at a happy ending, to get the love she has been missing. That Robin tries to appeal to a sense of cosmic justice to get Zelena to help shows us how little he understands her. I would have thought he would know that wouldn’t work. Regina’s little eye-roll doesn’t bode well for the health of her relationship with Robin if she thinks he’s an idiot.

It is interesting that Zelena can figure out how the wand works by touching it, without access to her magic. What is her source of knowledge and why doesn’t Regina have it? Is it just a power differential?

Scene 11: Magical Love Tap

There was elegance in the introduction of Merida. With just a few words, we learn quite a bit about her personality, which Disney references we can expect to hear more about later and in spite of another accidental use of magic, Emma continues to try resisting the darkness.

Scene 12: Hook’s Rebellion

Henry has claimed his adulthood!! Good for him, now he’s going to need to figure out what that means.

Scene 13: Beating Canadian Shrubbery

As exposition goes, this is ok, but not great. Emma would ask Merida what her rush is and Merida would tell her. Loved the bit about men not thinking women can lead. Any chance to jab sexism where it hurts is a great opportunity in my book.

This does use the walk and talk technique to keep the scene moving instead of relying on emotion. An emotional scene drier would arguably be a better choice if at all possible. This scene falls under the exposition is hard category.

Scene 14: Strange bedfellows

Nothing like Rumple, DO appearing in your bed to startle a person half to death, eh? Poor Emma. I personally love the salacious blocking choice here. The suggestion of unwanted intimacy with the Dark One is eloquent. He wants in and she can’t get away and is trying to resist. Not a nice or pretty metaphor, but apt.

Rumple, DO is priceless in this scene, he prattles on about spinning, knitting and all the terrible things Emma is going to do. This is so reminiscent of a mind that just won’t shut up and let you go to sleep. Interesting to know that Dark Ones don’t need sleep. We’ve seen Rumple sleep before, dream before, so I have to wonder if he learned to sleep out of boredom or what exactly. Or plot hole?

I found this one of the strongest scenes this episode.

Scene 15: The Cuckoo’s Nest

I wonder if Henry is starting to display some ‘Stiltskin genes with his willingness to trick and cheat his way around rules. Inspiring. Of course, he couldn’t possibly have gotten any of that from his mother Regina.

I also love that Zelena didn’t bat an eyelash over cutting off her own arm to be rid of the cuff as opposed to Rumple, who really was afraid.

Scene 16: Hook = Moron!

The best part of this scene wasn’t actually Regina saying what has needed saying for several seasons now, it was Belle’s amazing eye-roll. I wonder if that was scripted or if they simply caught Emilie doing that and put it in. I suspect the latter.

I wasn’t a fan of the blocking in this scene though. The Charmings and Belle standing behind Regina looked like Pips singing back up.

Of note, Regina might not know it in the moment, but she also called Henry a moron.

Scene 17: Hoodwinking

I liked the Good Night Moon reference.

Scene 18: Hijacking a tornado

While I believed Zelena’s motivations, here’s an instance of a villain spilling their guts in a way no villain worth her salt would bother with. We benefit from knowing, but realistically, Zelena would have told Regina where she could stick it and to hand over the wand or Forest dies.

I do love how Regina looks over her shoulder at Hook, when telling Zelena she’s not stupid.

Scene 19: You don’t really mean that.

I love the moment we can see in Rumple, DO’s eyes when he knows he’s got her.

Scene 20: Accent’s a bit much, no?

That line makes me wonder if it’s Carlyle’s embellishment or if it was written. My guess in written, but he sells it. Of course. I do like the circular filming they do at the Hill of Stones.

Scene 21: Granny’s To-Go

Between securing the condiments and the dwarves, there were some lovely lines in this scene.

I think the decision to take Granny’s in the twister was brilliant. What a fun idea.

Scene 22: What are you waiting for?

Morrison did a wonderful job selling Emma’s slide toward temptation at Rumple, DO’s behest. This scene makes use of that circular set again, which usually doesn’t work twice in a row, but makes good sense for this scene, which is really an extension of her last one, so perhaps it gives continuity where the interjection of flying Granny’s might have otherwise been too much of a disruption.

I personally am looking forward to Emma’s first murder as the Dark One. I figured Merida was too important for it to happen here (I’m sad to be right because that would have been a bit of dark realism) but Emma killing to get what she wants will change her and I wonder what her tipping point will be. How will she fall into darkness and embrace the Dark One?

The arrival of the cavalry just in the nick of time is a bet deus ex machina for my taste, but par for the course.

Mary Margaret/Snow White shows a rare sign of intelligence here but Hook is too much of a softy to let her do what should have been done.

I love how they managed the beginning of the merge between Rumple, DO and Emma. It reminds me of how people act when someone else is using their heart to control them.

Scene 23:

I didn’t buy Merida having her heart nearly crushed leading her to decide on a course of mercy toward her rival clans. Suddenly being charitable toward the weirdo that almost killed you is quite unlikely. I would have just run like hell the second Emma was in Hook’s arms.

This lovely SwanQueen moment is just another log on that fire. I am a huge fan of the long-earned friendship between Regina and Emma. I am also a fan of the tradition of using Slash Goggles (projecting a romantic relationship onto characters where there isn’t one in canon) to satisfy perceived gaps. The roll of fan fiction is to give the fans a space to let their imaginations run free. Shows like this one inspire people, and the imagined SwanQueen romance is an example of how a show lives outside itself in the minds and hearts of the fans. I think some of these scenes are shot specifically with that in mind.

Scene 24: Granny’s FTL branch

And Granny. Here we see Emma perceive a potential threat before everyone else. Using Dark One powers without consciously resisting. And now we know that Arthur is in fact in this time and not in a flashback.

This for me is where things started to go off the rails. Too much accomplished in a short amount of time. Cohesion started to break down here.

I do wonder if Arthur is evil. He just seems too accommodating. Prophecy about the Dark One coming to Camelot and he just welcomes them with a smile?

Scene 25: Fanfare

Big beautiful CGI set, they walk across a bridge to music and no one says anything. This is awkward.

Scene 26: The Dreaded Six Weeks Later

Sneezy for sheriff is amusing, granted.

And again with the memory stuff??? Really???

I had assured myself this was a device they couldn’t possibly use again. Surely not… I groaned aloud at this one. Not only had the episode cohesion just fallen apart, they did not come up with a new way to tell us a story. This device is old. It was plausible once in the very beginning. It even worked for Regina to give Emma and Henry new memories for New York.

But using the same device in a season premier for a show which desperately needed a ratings boost seems a questionable at best decision.

I do LOVE the Emma Dark One with the change in hair and costume. And turning Sneezy to stone made me very happy indeed. First murder? I don’t think so, but we’ll see.

Rising music and fade to black.

I think I could have forgiven/ignored the choppiness and even the rough ending except for the memory business. Of course it all might make the very best sense in the world once we know exactly what happened in Camelot, but Once needed its fans not to groan aloud at its season premiere. I know I am not alone with this complaint.

Now that I’ve taken that in depth look, I can see how much that exit misstep colored my thoughts on the episode. I liked the majority of it, but that final impression is acting like a sea anchor at this point. I still have very high hopes for this season and for the show going forward, but I really hope the writers take note of how over use of a device can sour an experience.

That said, I cannot wait to see Dark One Emma roll over Storybrooke. I am very much anticipating her interactions with Rumple, once he’s done snoozing, and even curious about how she and Lily will get on. And what about Belle? If Emma has all of Rumple’s memories, how will she feel about Belle? With so many amazing questions and possibilities, I am heartily looking forward to this season.

Don’t forget to help me study the magic of Once here! Read about the study here.

Happiness and Television

I love TV. Some of the people I know would say this is a sign of weakness, or at the very least, a character flaw. It is not.

For your reference, I am a thirty-something with a couple of degrees from a major university. One in a science (how I make my living) and the other in a literature (how I make the rest of me happy). I don’t think it’s necessary, or even wise, to be anything other than open about my nerdy tendencies. I like my garden. I misspent my youth getting musically educated. I am more frank than I am humble, flaw or not. Someday I’ll write fiction and publish it in some media or other. As soon as I make it happen, anyway. I’ve had some very tough knocks in my life, by any standard, and like everyone else, I am always bouncing back.

Now, let’s talk about TV and why I love it.

To be clear, I don’t love all TV. As with everything else in my life, I am PICKY about how I spend my time. I like what I like and if you like something else, then you should go write about how much you love that. Maybe you’ll convince me to give it a try. My opinions don’t mean you’re wrong, but they definitely mean I am right. Wink.

I probably fell in love with TV because of Captain Picard. My young self likely saw in him what I hoped to someday be. No, I have lots of hair and I want it to stay that way. But like with all my TV heroes since, he inspired me to go in a certain direction, to be something more than I was at that moment.

Stories have always been a hugely important part of my life, both writing my own and ingesting what other people write. From the time I could read well, I read a lot, to the point of getting in trouble over homework because I would rather be curled up with my book than doing whatever homework was due. My time with my Legos was spent telling their stories. I had a whole kingdom full of characters which I brought to life on a small table in my bedroom.

I contend with the skeptics that say TV can’t compare with books right here and now. Scripted dramatic television IS the written word. It just so happens to be brought to life by actors, as opposed to Lego figures and my fingers. These stories are someone’s artwork, someone’s dreams, someone’s fantasies which they share with us, just like books. One of my teachers once said that a piece of writing is the finger print of the author.

I will also dispute that TV categorically rots the mind. I tell you that my mind has gotten a truly staggering amount of thinking done because of what I watch on TV. I am not a passive viewer, as is clear by the fact that I am spending my precious spare time to write about TV, and my imagination feeds my whole life. Anyone who says daydreaming is a waste of time is wrong. WAY wrong. My creativity, of which daydreaming is the root, makes me a good scientist and it makes me a good person, or at least an interesting one. I hope.

I won’t go so far as to say that there isn’t mind rotting TV out there, because there is. And, from my vantage point, those shores are seemingly vast. I will make plain that I consider soap operas to be denizens of said shore, and anything else I don’t like. That said, it seems to me that if someone says watching TV will cause me mind rot, I would do well to question their TV watching choices rather than my own. I know what is worth my time and what is not.

While we are on the subject of worth my time, why write about TV? I have a couple of motivations. The first is that the kinds of articles I want to read about my shows don’t float across my e-desk. I haven’t found where in the mainstream media folks are having more than surfacey-soundbite discussions about whether they liked an episode or not. What I really miss from college were the hours spent talking about stories, how they work, their impact, how they evoked the emotions they made us feel. Surely someone outside of film school wants to have this chat.

Reason number two: I am worried that the shows I love could die off because of the shift in how viewers access TV. I am referring to the fact that viewers are cutting the cord in droves and moving toward getting their TV solely from internet sources like Hulu and Netflix. I myself buy my TV from iTunes and Amazon in addition to using services like Hulu and Netflix. If ratings continue to depend on the population of viewers making appointments to watch TV, ratings will only drop in the demographics who are making the switch. My generation and younger. that means that shows aimed at my demographic will suffer.

Once the networks cave, are forced to acknowledge the Internet, and count every viewer who paid for their content, this threat will theoretically disappear. But for now, even though I pay for my TV shows, I don’t count toward their ratings. That means that the lives of my shows depend on other people doing what I am not willing to do: pay the cable company and make an appointment for specific times to watch TV.

I don’t know how to fix this problem, but if we make enough noise, maybe progress can be made.

My intention with this blog is to write reviews for my favorite TV shows- write the change you want to see. I am particularly interested in the mechanics of writing and how they affect whether an audience responds favorably to the material or not. Structure is hugely important to the success of a story and, ideally, is largely invisible unless the audience wants to see it. Like me, and maybe you. I’m also interested in blocking and directorial choices, performances and even lighting. Before diving into a specific show and episode, I figure defining my terms is in order.

I’m totally making this up, by the way, no textbook is guiding my words.

Since my primary area of interest is in scripted dramas, I will ignore categories such as situational comedies, competition shows, sports casting and “reality” TV. Scripted dramatic television these days seems to fall roughly into three camps (that I’ve thought of so far, I reserve the right to add more).

Episodic- a viewer can sit down to most episodes and have them make sense because they stand alone with the exception of the occasional two, but at most three, episode arcs. Some of these include a theme for the entire season which typically gets expressed in around five scattered episodes, but these tend to stick to the basic formula of the stand alone. Many of the procedural crime dramas use this as did Star Trek.

Continuous Flow- examples of these include Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Battlestar Galactica: 2003 and Lost. I call these out by name because, as you can see, these shows are not one genre. The continuous flow style starts at point A and each episode picks up more or less where the previous one left off. You cannot jump in the middle of these without frustration. These have a book/chapter feel to me.

Hybrids- Once Upon A Time is one of these, as is Stargate: Universe I believe. While definitely not built on a series of stand-alones, after Season 1, Once has operated in two hemisphere like parts per season which work together, though in sequence as opposed to simultaneously, clearly. The first half of the season has a double whammy job of setting up not only its own mini-conclusion, but also must scaffold the second half, which spends a good deal of (more satisfying) time paying off earlier work. In addition to the two hemisphere system, Once uses some Continuous Flow and Episodic story telling tools. It tends to let an episode focus on a character, or pair of characters -Episodic- but the B story line of the episode will usually carry the major arc of the hemisphere, if not the season arc as well like a Continuous Flow show.

Which TV shows I end up reviewing will reveal my preferences clearly, but I cannot say that all do not have their merits. Growing up on Star Trek, in many of its iterations, the Episodic style established my TV paradigm. But, I remember how excited I would get when there would be the occasional two-parter. I wondered my TV couldn’t be more like the movies or better yet like books. I wanted to spend more time with the characters I loved.

We can see a clear evolution beginning to change the TV landscape as we look at late Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and definitely with The X-Files. Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel took another definite step in that direction while remaining primarily episodic. It wasn’t until Battlestar Galactica: 2003 that I got my first taste of how wonderful Continuous Flow could really be. BSG felt like reading a book, what I had always wanted. There were few standalone episodes and the show took a deep dive into its characters: a dream come true.

So is there a winner? How could I say? I know people who complain bitterly about shows which are not strictly episodic because they can’t come as go as they please and still understand what is happening. Then again there’s me, who is in it for the long haul and thinks TV should get as close to being a visual book as possible. If TV were never episodic in nature, I’d be a happy camper. I want my TV to be comparable with the finest literature I can lay my hands on. And I think it can be. With Battlestar Galactica: 2003 and Breaking Bad blazing that trail, I have hope that others will follow.

With the groundwork now laid out, let’s go look in depth at some TV shows.

Further Study: see this article in the New York Times for an elegant discussion on film/TV and taste.