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.

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