Thank You Once Upon A Time

There must be a way to tell those who work on Once Upon A Time how much their art means to me. Not that I am alone in having these sentiments. Here are a few simple memes I have made for sharing far and wide. Which is your favorite? Tweet the creators of Once and show them you love their work!

So, Once, thank you.

(These are large image files, please be patient if they take time to load!)

Before you go, you can check out my research project! I have conducted a study of OUAT viewer preferences and you can check on my progress here. Yay for science!

The Bear King 5X09

The Bear King: 5X09

Overview: spoiler-free

A very different experience from the previous episode. Almost like this episode doesn’t belong in this season stylistically. Still, there is room for love here. See Once and the Currency of Pain for more about this episode. Most of my reaction to the double header came in fact from the ending of this episode as I describe below the spoiler line.

Performance of the night goes to Amy Manson for that lovely final scene. The reason to watch this episode is that final scene. Can’t really say more here.

Overall rating: 6/10. I took off big time points for overt and explicit telling of thematic material. Otherwise known as moralizing. Thematic material should always be shown. This is a HUGE flaw that a writer should never ever fall into, but seems to happen occasionally in Once. It happened several times this episode. It grieves me to post a less than glowing report for Once, but my integrity would be suspect if I didn’t tell it as I see it. And I can’t have that.

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

Scene 1: Where do you want to go?

Opening Image: Camelot under blue skies. We can see the difference between the two episodes clearly from just their opening images. Last episode was about darkness. This one is not.

Wound licking and stung pride. The uneasy partnership between Zelena and Arthur continues.

Scene 2: Wish you were here.

Here’s a nice example of shown exposition. We now know what happened after Brave and we got an excuse to have a character speaking their thoughts aloud, which is rarely plausible. Unless you write yourself a character who chronically talks to themselves.

Scene 3: Never agree to an open ended price. Not ever.

That’s Once’s very own moral of the story.

From the appearance of the contract, I thought for a moment that the witch was Rumplestiltskin masquerading.

Must say, I don’t like the rather sudden tonal switchback that happens in this scene. Fergus breaks into the witches home and threatens her, then, after all the intense music, meekly asks for help. Artificial tension is a cheap trick and it isn’t even terribly funny, the only way to excuse a device like this in my book. This, to me is camp, and not in a good way.

The Witch, I must point out, gives and excellent performance in this scene. She’s a treasure I hope to see more of. And, I really like her style of magic. Less hand waving, more chemistry. No less glee.

Scene 4: Pay up

I love how Merida is leaning on her elbows on her throne while her mother is sitting up, eager. We don’t know enough about her yet to explain this posture, but it tells us she is not terribly impressed with the presenter, or perhaps the entire ceremony. Something she wants over with??

Except to get through the door. Ha, ha. I really like this lady.

And she charges interest.

I can’t say this witch is evil, per se, she just strikes me as if she’s playing a truly magnificent joke on Merida, payment for spites past?

Scene 5: Whereisit???

It seems like this episode has just adopted the format of a procedural: find the killer, save the day. I do, after all, watch Once to get away from procedurals.

Scene 6: Cat-calls…

Never ok.

A note about bows. That’s what’s called a recurve. And no functional bow has a string that loose. Just a thought. At least she doesn’t dry fire it, I was afraid she would. That can shatter the bow and leave the archer full of very unpleasant splinters. At the least.

I do love this reveal of Mulan, who kicks Merida’s arse. Deservedly. At least Merida laughs.

Here’s some of that explicit thematic exposition that should never happen. Mulan says straight up that she’s going to teach her to fight with honor. There’s no reason this can’t be buried in subtext or demonstrated later in the episode. There’re plenty of fights that happen in which Mulan could have shown Merida what was what.

Scene 7: So much better with a sword than Charming

And some more naked thematic material. This scene is a prime reason for the loss of points.

Mulan has fallen off the wagon. I am delighted to see her, by the way.

Scene 8:  No one out-witches me!

More barging in… Rude much?

Might be line of the night: Tell me or you go bobbing for eye of newt!

I like to call these glue scenes: a scene in which vital information is presented but little to no action occurs. This one is saved by Rebecca Mader‘s vinegar.

Scene 9: Ineffective glue scene, naked thematic material. ARGH!!!

Merida finds the cloak bit and Mulan whines. If you can write such a line for Zelena a scene ago, this could have gone MUCH better.

Scene 10: Smarter, not harder.

At least here, we are in student mode so there is some reason for Mulan to be explicit about thematic material.

Scene 11: Terrible ruler.

Definitely following procedural format…

Largely exposition with a thematic reveal.

Merida’s performance here is admirable.

Scene 12: Why not? You have.

Merida has a crisis of faith and gives up on herself. Mulan, seeing a mirror to her own situation, is pulled up also by trying to help her friend.

See, here’s where it works. They didn’t need all that naked thematic material earlier. We saw Mulan being dishonest with those dudes in the tavern over whiskey. We already know that’s not who we remember her to be from the time we’ve already spent with her. In that scene, Merida needed to frown at her and ask her why she’s picking bar fights. Mulan could snarl, “Drop it.” Or something more clever. Next scene, Mulan tells Merida to ignore the sexist boys, they lack honor, and to not use violence when words and leadership are called for. That’s honor and would have served the same purpose. No nudity problems at all. Way more interesting and thematically dense.

Hence the loss of points.

What happened in this episode?? Why such clumsy missteps?

Great line from Mulan: Those lords can’t even find the pointy end of their spears!

Side note, this is how to mount a tall horse without flashing the camera. Lower the stirrup.

Scene 13: Advice from Dad

For me this is the turning point in this episode. Here we have a truly and deeply relatable moment. Who hasn’t asked Dad for advice? This scene drips subtext in steaming fat drops. It works so well because we know in this scene what Fergus knows, and what Merida knows.

We can also relate to Fergus here, who hasn’t wished they had way better advice for themselves when they are considering doing something iffy?

I stopped groaning about this episode here, at the midpoint and started paying attention.

Scene 14: Barge or sneak?

YAY!!!!! Ruby!

Did Mulan just give the woman on top of her a steamy look? Oo!

Scene 15: Girl in wolf’s clothing

Jamie Chung did a great job with this rather heartrending moment.

I don’t mind this walk and talk because we have missed Ruby so very much. I really want to know what happened to her.

Scene 16: Strangely satisfying

For a scene which is about one third rehash, it works VERY well.

I do love what Mary Margaret says here about doing what makes you happy. That’s obviously a theme near and dear to my heart. My heart also soared at the mention of Tiny and the bean fields. We haven’t seen him in a while and I really enjoyed him too.

Scene 17: Mulan remembers who she is

A nice little glue scene which works because it has emotional motion forward.

Scene 18: Sniff him out.

I don’t have too much respect for Merida’s (the writer’s) decision to dangle a crown in order to make someone do what they should do anyway. MacIntosh should have been sent to go save the kingdom for nothing more than honor and glory. No bribe required. Finding a bobble isn’t proof of ability to lead.

Scene 19: Dad put you up to it.

Talk about a stinging betrayal. Dad says he believes in you, then pulls crap like this.

Ouch.

Scene 20: Bagpipes in the morning

I love that sound. I also love that we get to see a pitched battle on Once. This is really rare.

I am pleased so far that Once hasn’t reduced Scottish culture to a savage caricature.  Pipes were instruments of war and not once has Once pulled that tired honking bagpipes gag. I get so tired of people being told to hate the sound of bagpipes. Yes, they are loud, and sure they’re tough to tune. But it’s like telling people that opera is terrible. If people expect to hate something, they are less likely to make their own opinions.

Bagpipes are a wonderfully unique instrument and beautiful to hear when well played. Don’t be a sheep, make up your own mind about whether you like their sound or not. Stepping off the soap box now.

Not knowing what was coming, I found this speech stirring even if I thought the reaction to it was compelled by magic. Upon later review, it is a stirring speech, all by itself, but the mislead here is brilliant.

Scene 21: Not going to miss this

Oh Arthur, you are really a gross dude. Grave robbing is only good in video games.

Scene 22: Not what we thought.

That doesn’t belong to you.

This is a nice reveal and emotionally charged. Merida thought her dad was a cheating scoundrel, now she knows differently.

Scene 23: I blame you!

Nice bit of swashbuckling.

Scene 24: How do you like it now, witch?

Teamwork pays off and Ruby gets her payback.

Scene 25: Sleeping on the job

Those good for nothing lords decided to come through after all.

Yes, being willing to make a sacrifice for the good of your subjects is good leadership. Bribing your subjects to do what they should do anyway is not.

Got to be careful kneeling in a kilt.

Scene 26: Satisfied customers

I do very much like the witch. She works for herself and keeps her bargains. So she turned Ruby into a lapdog, but we don’t really know why.

But, again with the naked thematic material. We don’t need to be told that the witch showed Merida what leadership is. Oh please. We already figured that out.

Here’s where Once needs to make a decision and stick with it. Children need that kind of thing to be more overt. Adults don’t. I surely hope they decide to spend their time, our time, making adult worthy fiction because I just don’t find children’s programming interesting very often.

Scene 27: Yes, I think that disqualifies you.

It wouldn’t be honorable for me to keep this.

NO NO NO.

Do not write lines like that.

All Mulan has to say is: “Here. And thanks.”

We all know what for!!

But, Ruby’s invitation to get Mulan to quit wallowing and frankly the rest of this little gal chat moment are nicely executed.

Scene 28: Don’t waste that!!

Also, I would have thought drinking it would have been the ticket to seeing the dead.

I’ll be honest here. This episode needs a lot of help. But this last scene had me in tears for quite some time. You can read more about why in Once and the Currency of Pain.

This scene has a universal quality that touches so deeply. It reaches out to something fundamental, to what it means to be human. It means we miss the dead, and what we wouldn’t give for some ale. We all hope that our parents, grandparents, teachers et cetera, would be proud of us and we want so badly to hear them say it to us, just one more time. It is beautifully performed and even frank in its thematic material, it works because it is wearing the disguise of something that can never happen in real life.

It is for this scene that Manson gets performance of the night.

Who do you wish was still here?

Fin.

You can tell I had a tough time with this episode. It ran hot and cold to me. I loved seeing Merida, Mulan and Ruby together on adventure. That was great. I really loved Merida’s chat with her dad. Also great. I’m just not sure how all that naked thematic material made it out of the editing room though. Yikes!!

This seems to be this seasons Family Business. Oy.

Ah well, can’t hit it out of the park every time and there’s been quite a bit of that recently.

Before you go, you can check out my research project! I have conducted a study of OUAT viewer preferences and you can check on my progress here. Yay for science!

Birth 5X08

Birth: 5X08

Overview: spoiler-free

What a ride. After Birth (the episode, awkward!!), I sat still for quite a few minutes even though I knew I had another episode available and waiting on iTunes for me. I needed a moment to settle down. I don’t envy those who watched it live because they didn’t get that processing time. Please see Once and the Currency of Pain for more in that subject.

But on to the overview. Talk about unexpected. I delight in Once’s ability to really, genuinely surprise me. As you’ve probably gathered by now, I pay close attention to how fiction works so surprises tend to be fairly rare for me when watching movies and most television. But I have to hand it to Once. I did not see this one coming, not even close!!!

Performance of the week goes to Jennifer Morrison by the skin of her teeth. Robert Carlyle is our runner up tonight because his scene is exposition, and that’s probably the only reason. He gives a dazzling performance even while delivering to us a reminder of something we’ve seen before. How much harder is it to make a rehash sparkle than to just open the floodgates in a dramatic scene? But Morrison is something special and earned this distinction, as you will see below.

Rating: 9/10. Pacing is an issue, increasingly so it seems. I really want to slow down and spend some time with these characters, with these emotions. Things need to soak in. In one scene we get this, but the rest feels like running a race. Watching this episode made me feel emotionally out of breath. Thrilling, yes, but I need to linger with all of this.

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

Scene 1: Liar, liar.

Opening image: truck headlights in the gloom. This is a promising start and metaphorically lovely.

It is nice to see Hook and Robin working together with David. I have high hopes for a friendship between Robin and Hook. It would be a good use of both of these characters.

Scene 2: Friend?

Arthur and Guinevere both know something about Nimue. And yet they only go after Arthur. How short sighted. I wonder how Arthur justifies to himself calling David friend while he does a good deal of sneaking behind his back. Arthur’s moral fiber is already a known quantity, but how did he fall into such disrepair since the hopeful child of years ago?

David needs to work on his gun pointing skills, no wonder Arthur decided to run. Even not knowing much about guns, David is telegraphing his uncertainty about shooting Arthur and fails to intimidate.

Scene 2a: He’s getting away!

Where’s Robin during this chase?

Speaking of telegraphing, I wonder if the trip hazard would have been a little less predictable if they had only showed us the log the instant Arthur tripped. But the low angle camera from the log as he approached gave it away for me in a way I don’t think I needed. Besides which, I was thinking about them tripping from the second they started running because tent stakes, ropes and darkness are a hazard any camper knows all too well.

But, lesson here Hook, never pause to gloat over your fallen enemy if they aren’t dead or unconscious. It goes badly. Every time.

Strange how Hook doesn’t think his hook can block a sword strike, though we’ve seen him do it before. Also, how about Emma’s spying techniques? She shows up in the knick of time, we don’t actually know how she keeps such close tabs on Hook.

I do love the obsessed gleam in Arthur’s eyes here, before Emma swats him into a tree. Crumpled heap much?

Yes, you should apologize Hook. I realize you have your limitations, but what you said on that ship was PAINFUL.

Hook’s demonstration that he is beginning to understand the curse is crucial to the ending of this episode, for Hook and for us.

I have a special affection for Hook. This guy was happy following his brother and then he had to step into shoes he wasn’t ready for, a chronic and seemingly repeating pattern in his life. Hook  always seems just a little out of his depth. His confidence exceeds his skill set over and over again. He taunts and bullies a lame spinner who had the courage to ask him to do the right thing on the deck of his ship. He then looses everything when that same spinner comes back as the Dark One to get him to answer for his crime. He loses his love and ends up the guest of Peter Pan for the next few hundred years. Later he goes back after the Dark One unsuccessfully (on multiple occasions) nearly to his demise, only luck saves this guy. And Belle. Among more recent foolhardy endeavors, he tries to manipulate Rumple, the master manipulator, to get his hand back. Talk about bringing a toy hook to a gun fight… Again Belle steps in and is the only reason Hook is still sucking down oxygen.

It shouldn’t be a great surprise, then, that it takes him some time to figure out what Belle figured out in short order: the nature of the Dark One’s curse. Yes, Emma is still in there, just like the good man Rumple used to be is not entirely gone. Corruption and distortion though, are in progress.

Hook has decided, now that he understands, to go after what matters to him: Emma. Perhaps this is why I adore Hook as I do. He is singly focused and persistent in his aim no matter the odds and no matter how far outclassed he is. This tenacity, when coupled with a big heart (which he had to work hard to find after having lost it for a good long while), makes Hook truly endearing. And it’s good advice too. Persistence will get a person far in this life.

I can only imagine the depths of Emma’s pain here. She was counting on Hook to love her even as the Dark One and that day on his ship, he couldn’t accept her. And then she tells us she’s doing it for him.

Dun, dun DUN!!! What happened in Camelot???

I still haven’t forgiven the memory wipe… but they are using that device for everything it is worth.  It must have been a difficult decision to decide to reuse something knowing (to the extent of having Mary Margaret say explicitly) that the audience was going to groan. I think Once is counting on our patience and forgiveness here, that it will all be worth it. Sounds like what Emma just told Hook.

Scene 3: Title card = who’s that???

The throwback to Season 1 with that key is wonderful.

Exposition… Arthur has your family, yadda yadda, surrender or else.

Props to Jared Gilmore and Beverly Elliot for holding so still during that long speech of Merlin’s.

Scene 4: Not important anymore.

Now I know David is a few crayons short of a full box, but what Arthur knows about Nimue seems OBVIOUSLY important and it seems equally obvious that he does know something. Frankly, letting Hook interrogate Arthur a while longer might have been helpful. But insulting Arthur’s pride definitely felt smug.

I appreciate that Once is consistent in writing David’s lack of wit, going so far as to get Cruella to insult him explicitly about it. “If only your wits matched your looks…”

Well, we can’t have everything now can we. And Josh Dallas does a great job with his charge.

Mary Margaret, surprisingly, says something insightful. It might not be Emma anymore. We just saw the evidence Hook did, but Mary Margaret has very good reason to doubt that Emma hasn’t been completely subverted by the darkness. After all, they all saw Rumple’s black heart and know what was happening to him. They don’t know that Emma didn’t drown entirely. Except Hook, now, because he has evidence to the contrary.

I feel bad for Regina here, too. She gave up on Emma and she’s defending against that hurt with a classic show of Evil Queen bravado. She gives a very logical rebuttal to Hook’s emotional argument, which of course doesn’t work, but pragmatically speaking, Regina has the right of it.

And we get our Emma back.

Scene 5: Atonement

This shot of the old cash register and Rumple’s hand (wedding ring) with that snow globe is drenched in subtext and metaphor. Rumple is taking a trip to the past in his mind. I didn’t fully appreciate this tiny shot before, but it seems hugely important to this scene now.

He and Belle have been back in the shop for maybe five minutes since they left Emma’s place. But they’re not talking, not doing something else less G-rated either. This is the first moment Rumple has had to consider what has befallen him, his past and what to do next. He isn’t sure. He’s taking a deep dive into memory here. I haven’t figured out the significance of the snow globe aside from it representing memories though it is a call back to the Snow Queen. The scene continues in this vein with lovely symmetry between Carlyle’s performance and the thematic material at hand.

Just as we would expect, Hook barges into the shop demanding the Crocodile give him answers.

Oh Hook…

But it is that amazing look of anguish on Rumple’s face that makes this scene sing. We see in this tiny fraction of a moment how much that little name calling hurts the man Rumple is now. This is regret, deep and searing. Rumple murmurs, “Haven’t you heard? I’m not that man anymore.”

(It would be fair to point out that we shouldn’t assume we know what Rumple regrets. He might regret not being the Crocodile anymore though it is more likely that he is regretting any number of heinous acts he committed while he was the Crocodile.)

This look, and it is SO brief, sells what he is about to tell Hook. Want to know what Emma is up to? Figure out what she’s atoning for.

I do love that Belle waits for Rumple to be willing to talk to Hook before lowering the crossbow. If Hook had been there to hurt Rumple, I suspect Belle would have shot him.

The interaction and flow of this scene go miles toward showing us what his happening in Rumple’s head. He didn’t sneer at Hook for his multiple insults and barbs and he just gave him the information. No deals, no coercion, no threats. Not even any reluctance.

Instead we see shame when Hook jabs at him about the cleverness of Dark Ones who can fake real change. Rumple’s in pain right now, a lot of pain.

Now Hook, here, is actually taking a leap of faith. In spite of his rudeness, bluster really, he is taking a chance that Rumple, even after everything, might help him. He’s suspicious of him, rightfully so, but hopeful.

Hook needs to believe that Rumple has changed. That is Hook’s only hope of getting his Emma back. If Rumple is still as dark as he was, well… Hook’s out of luck. So he goes to test the waters.

As for Rumple and Belle, they have so much work to do I suspect neither of them knows where to start and they really haven’t managed to get out of duck and cover mode long enough to even think about it yet. Hence the crossbow greeting.

Talk about a hugely thematically dense scene. Wow!!

Where’s Gold’s eye make up??

Stolen Snowglobe Once Season 5 Birth
Stolen Snowglobe

Scene 6: A tiny scene in which Hook steps outside Gold’s shop, shouts, talks to himself and apparently, steals the snow globe. Didn’t notice that on the first pass.

Scene 7: I need to use one last time…

I just can’t get over Carlyle’s brilliance in this scene. Rumple, DO (Dark One) is so juicy. Mocking is definitely Rumple, DO’s color. His imitation, mockery, of Merlin is sincerely priceless. It drips derision. What I find so hilarious is that Carlyle doesn’t just execute a flawless imitation of Merlin’s rather sophisticated accent, though we all know he’s capable. Instead he chooses a lower class accent, was that almost Cockney??? My one regret would be that the camera is focused on Emma while he does this. Could we have seen them both in focus for this and just been allowed to ping-pong our eyes back and forth between them?

“Well prove it then, dearie.” Honestly, this sounds tonally, straight out of Mrs. Doubtfire.

We have this tiny little scene of, let’s face it, exposition, but this might be scene of the night and performance of the night in one. Mr. Carlyle shows us his incredible range not only in this scene, but when compared to his previous scene as well. It is hard to believe that Rumple is played by the same man as Rumple, DO. They are so different. In fact, this may be the most brilliant piece of exposition I have scene, maybe ever. And it is all for Carlyle’s performance. Somehow, I can sense Carlyle’s enjoyment of his work even through the mask of Rumple, DO. This scene has a playful quality and Carlyle’s eyes light up, contacts and all.

I can’t leave this scene without expressing my adoration over how Emma jumps (as do we) at Rumple, DO’s, “LIGHT IT!!!”

He yells and I have to wonder if Morrison was really startled. She recovered quickly enough to respond, but it almost seems like this might be a case of Carlyle making an unexpected choice with his lines which scares Morrison for real. This scene is cut together, but Morrison’s startlement could easily be from take one in which she was genuinely surprised.

Henry’s line, “I’ve got something to show you,” isn’t needed. He could have just said, “Here,” waited, and then gone on to describe the project.

Scene 8: What are you going to do?

I wonder about the merit of splitting this scene into chunks. All that is accomplished here is a bit of posturing. Could we have cut from Emma and Henry directly to Zelena? Yes, Zelena threatening Emma gives a nice link between the two scenes, but is that really necessary?

Scene 9: Never accept onion rings from the Dark One… like candy from strangers, but worse.

I love that Zelena is reading Hansel and Gretel to her fetus but with a distinctly different intonation from what we all heard as children. You can tell how much Gretel deserves to go in that oven… Thanks Rebecca Mader, this is wonderful.

Also, “Steady on!”

How charmingly British of her.

Please don’t ever let me wake up somewhere with Nurse Ratched looking in on me!

9b: Don’t just stare.

Aside from any excuse to see Nurse Ratched (Ingrid Torrance), marvelous that one, this reveal is nicely done.

Side note: we need a little timeline help. She’s only 2 months pregnant? So much has happened since Heroes and Villains that this timeline believability is stretched to the max. At times, Once moves forward in time less quickly than even 24. I believe we had an episode or two where time only moved forward (in Storybrooke) by about 5 minutes.

There’s a bit of a secret handshake that goes on between TV shows and viewers. It’s a sort of unwritten agreement in which a season of TV encompasses about a year in real life. The seasons kinda sorta match up and everyone ages more or less on schedule. Once has broken that little rule and has been stretching believability intensely. This works for adults and prop babies, but not for Jared Gilmore, whom is growing by leaps and bounds.

Scene 10: The hard way.

I find it fascinating that Emma says here she doesn’t need forgiveness. See later this episode how she really, really needs forgiveness.

Props to Morrison for letting us see that tiny piece of the Emma we remember when Hook tells her he changed for her.

And to Colin O’Donoghue for his dashing romantic hero moment when Hook tells Emma he loves her no matter what she did.

This scene, while thematic exposition, packs an emotional punch. This kind of stuff just can’t be rushed, and we got the time we needed here.

Scene 11: A view of the ocean.

Oh wow. O’Donoghue can emote with one eye closed and the other stuffed in a telescope. That is an awkward position for a face, and yet we know exactly what Hook is feeling in this moment.

Emma says, “Almost there, almost,” and we see hope in her eyes for the first time since she took on the curse. I believed, in that moment, that maybe she really hadn’t fallen, that she wasn’t that far gone.

Then this.

What did you DO???

Scene 12: Shut up!

Yes, they gave Robin another sappy line and Zelena nails him for it. Thank the gods!

Awesome, Sean Maguire, splendid. That look Robin gives Whale: revolted! Oh yes, that worked.

And then Whale puts on a glove before offering a handshake. Oh ICK! What a creepy, sleazy toad.

Fabulous interchange between Regina and Whale. Hilarious and some much needed comic relief ahead of what’s coming.

Scene 13: Who should I execute first?

The ribbon used to make Zelena fast to a tree looks like the dagger and Excalibur in design. Nice touch.

And Regina gives Emma a saucy, pleased look.

I find it interesting that Emma doesn’t differentiate Regina from the rest of her family. Same as Hook. Though Robin is there too. I am not sure how far Emma’s adoptive feelings extend, but the sentiment is a nice one.

Emma’s little duel with Merlin looks good. I have had reason to gripe about grainy special effects (green room groans), but lately, their technique with the appearance of magic has been spot on.

One thing that just doesn’t sit right about this scene: Emma can’t have planned for Hook to shimmy out of his hook ahead of time. That means that this victory is luck. The Dark One lays moaning on the ground and luck saves the day? I am sure she planned to manipulate Merlin into fighting the will of Excalibur, but if that was her end strategy, it wasn’t terribly fool proof.

Also, if Arthur can just rip those ribbons, Zelena shouldn’t have had too much trouble. Worse, Emma just stares as Arthur escapes while Hook stands there instead of giving him a good kick in the face. Which he should have done.

Scratching with the wrong hand. There are other mistakes not to be made with a hook for an appendage. O’Donoghue is in his element quipping and making eyes at the object of his affection. I do love watching him do this.

Rising music and CaptainSwan cuddling. Victory scenes don’t get much more warm and fuzzy than that.

Scene 14: Hook’s left hook.

Mini- exposition/transitional scene. That quip was necessary for us to be willing to put up with what we needed to know. These little scenes are annoying to write. There is a critical element that the audience needs to know to glue the pieces of the story together, but it is still a scene where nothing happens. The writers did a great job with this one though and I loved that cute moment between Hook and Henry.

Scene 15: You can’t lie to me

Regina loves her friend. This is such a big step for her and she says as much. Regina says she deeply knows Emma and admits how hard earned this was. This scene is heart wrenching. True to character, pragmatist Regina goes after the best lever she can find to save Emma. The dagger.

And I think she would have gotten there too, if not for pesky meddlesome Charmings and a certain intruding pirate.

Yes, it is wrong to abrogate the free will of another, but I have a hard time saying Regina was wrong in this scene. This action comes from a place of love, compassion and desperation. Regina can’t lose Emma. She is her only true friend. Little moments like this one show us that the Regina we met in Season 1 is still the Regina we are looking at now. This is a case of believable change because we can still see Regina’s baser instincts coming to the surface in trying times.

Emma gives Hook the dirty look, not Regina. Important, that.

Scene 16: It’s a Girl!!

16b: Poor Regina!!

16c: Two telling things about this scene.

One, Robin says “I” have a daughter. Not “we” have a daughter. I think this is the reason Regina hesitates when she approaches Robin. That one little statement puts Regina on notice that no matter how close she thought she was with Robin, he does not consider this her child.

Ouch!

Zelena can’t help but get in that little barb.

And Emma throws Whale into a wall for no real reason, just because. I always have a flicker of guilt over finding violence funny, but that was hilarious.

I like the billowing sheets left behind after Emma poofs Zelena away.

Scene 17: Smarter than Arthur

Of course Emma chains Hook by the ankle.

Mader brilliantly plays Zelena’s conflicting emotions here: she’s understandably upset about being separated from her newborn, but she admires Emma for this darkness. She just can’t help herself. Lovely!

Now we know. Emma has lost it. She’s been planning a murder. I still don’t think it’s her first. Maybe she did Merlin. I had hoped against the evidence that she was still fighting the darkness as in Camelot. But it has seeped deeply into her and it colors her thoughts. Just like Rumple.

At this point, I thought that Emma’s plan would be the biggest reveal for this episode. Joke’s on me.

Scene 18: The future is nothing to be afraid of. No foreshadowing here, nuh-uh.

Awwwww.

Do I need to say more about this scene?

Oh yes, I love Hook’s replacement for that leather jacket he had in Season 2. Mid 18th Century fashion is just about my favorite. The long coat with skirting and tight pants, looks great on men and women alike. Oh yeah. 

Scene 19: No one hurts my sister but me

Oh please, Mary Margaret. What do you think Regina is going to do?

To be fair, I’m sure it crossed Regina’s mind to do nothing and just solve a whole lot of problems. I suspect this is more about Emma than Zelena.

Scene 20: Boy Toy

Making a deal with Zelena.

Foreshadowing. Oh zounds, that’s some foreshadowing.

“You’ve got magic?”- Zelena

“No, my hook does.”- Hook

Hmmm.

Scene 21: Why she gave me the dagger.

Oh gag. Mary Margaret is really intolerable. I want to see Regina make her stand back.

“This is not the way, Miss Swan, and you know it.”

Perhaps the line of the night, only to be topped by:

“Well, start acting like Emma again and we’ll talk.”

What the heck did Emma just do with Excalibur???

Scene 22: Hope she doesn’t find you first.

This is another glue scene. Necessary for continuity, but nothing happens. No real problem with that, but it does make me wonder every time I see a scene like this how they might have disguised it a little better.

Scene 23: Stabbed with a set of garden sheers.

I told Emma she needed to trim that nasty vine she’s got out back.

Now talk about effective show versus tell. My adoration for Mader continues to grow. The lady is effective, end of story.

Speaking of effective, this scene transition is nicely done.

Scene 24: Our future is now

Emma’s final step into the dark? I’m still holding out for a murder, but we shall see.

I was holding my breath in this scene even though I know Hook survives. Somehow, in the moment I was wondering if Once was finally going to kill someone in a painful, splashy way such as this. And I was hoping for it. Not because I want Hook to die, I assure you I don’t, but because I wanted that grit of reality which Once shies away from at times. A lot of times.

Yes, they gave us a beautiful death for Baelfire. But I am starting to be a believer in poking the audience where it hurts when it is appropriate to do so. Game of Thrones has proven to me that it is possible to continue to tell a compelling story even if you kill your characters, even kill a lot of your characters. That would hurt. That would hurt a lot for Once. But a meaningful, plot driven death is a beautiful thing.

But Hook survives this scene.

Note about Morrison: fabulous performance. She’s got chops and no mistake.

Scene 25: Not enough for me.

Same note for Morrison here. After much deliberation, Morrison gets performance of the night by a nose for this scene. This got tears from me. It is clear to me that Morrison was deep in that moment herself and consequently so was Emma and so were we. Well earned, Ms. Morrison, well earned.

I admire Hook’s bravery here. Gallantry in the positive form of that word. He knows himself and here he listens to himself as he should have done many times before. He is right to refuse the darkness.

But I am not sure that it is only the darkness in Emma that makes her do this.

Scene 26: Too late.

Notice that the magic coming out of Merlin is indeed dark magic.

Scene 27: Final step?

After Hook disappears, Emma transforms into what we have seen in Storybrooke of the Dark Swan.

Truth, I didn’t notice that until this rewatching of the scene. I was so focused on the emotion of what just happened that I utterly missed this visual cue. I think that might be because I have habituated to seeing Emma this way in Storybrooke and this scene is quite short.

Note: what happen to the golden scales we saw on her hand early this season???

Scene 28: Birth

Speaking of special effects that I love, this is one of them.

Scene 29: I did not have a choice

Great transition back to the present, by the by.

Glamor spell. It makes sense now why Hook might have recognized the markings on Excalibur and spoke up before Belle when they first discovered it in the stone in Emma’s basement. Perhaps a part of him felt drawn to it, even then.

How could you do this to me? Well, Hook, she’s the Dark One.

Theory: Upon the return of his memories, Hook turns on Emma within seconds. A few explanations come to mind. First, he succumbed to the darkness before leaving Camelot which means it has returned to his conscious mind now. Though he has had, for now, no change in appearance. The second explanation is that the rage over Emma’s betrayal tipped him over right then and there. Emma just made him the thing he hates the most. A crocodile.

Also, I am glad they decided to keep Zelena, she’s a first class baddy. Nice work, consistently, Mader.

Fin.

Wow! Am I right? That one hurt. What will Hook and Zelena cook up for Emma? Regina and the Charmings are right outside the door and we still don’t know what that glowing light around Emma’s house does. Also, we’re going to have to have a conversation about snow globes.

What impresses me most about this episode is that I in no way ever expected Hook to end up a Dark One. The convolutions of this storyline keep twining around each other and winding all over the place. It reminds me of walking a labyrinth. I keep thinking we are headed toward the center, and then we come around another corner and are taken somewhere else entirely. I love it!

Before you go, you can check out my research project! I have conducted a study of OUAT viewer preferences and you can check on my progress here. Yay for science!

11 Reasons to Be Grateful for Once Upon a Time

11 Reasons to Be Grateful for Once Upon a Time

Once matters.

It matters in ways I never imagined it would that first sunny summer evening when I sat down with Netflix to watch the pilot. Within two scenes I knew that this show had been written for me. Someone had asked the all important question: what does this world need most? Hope. I was sitting in my living-room with only the company of the pain of serious and debilitating injury and the loneliness that comes from being home bound. But then Prince Charming was charging across a lake on that gorgeous horse.

It was like he came for me in my own glass coffin, the one made up of the windows in my house, and he said, “I will always find you.”

As I healed, and continue to heal, I have come to embrace gratitude as an essential tenant of making happiness a reality. I made this blog as an investment in my happiness and hopefully to make other people happy too. Purposeful engagement with what we have to be grateful for brings those things into the forefront of our minds. Gratitude changes the focus away from what is wrong and toward what is right. I have begun to believe that gratitude is indeed a primary ingredient required to Make Happiness.

With that in mind, I think it is high time I told everyone who works SO hard to make Once Upon a Time that I am grateful for their work. Here is why Once matters so much to me.

I am grateful for Once because:

  1. Once lifted me up and away from my sorrows that summer evening. Suddenly, in a life consisting of little aside from pain and therapies (also known as pain), I had something amazing to look forward to. My mind had a place to go filled with imagination, love, creativity, an Evil Queen and a giggling imp.
  2. Once gave me homework. Because of Once, I started digging in my memories from childhood and wondering which fairytale was my favorite. I believe the first fairytale I looked up was Rumplestiltskin because my dim memories were not enough to satisfy. Because of Once I set out to acquire a copy of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast as I came to realize it was my favorite fairytale.
  3. While on the subject of homework, because of Robert Carlyle‘s exquisite performances as Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold, I looked him up too. It was only then that I realized that I knew him from some of his previous work: Trainspotting and Angela’s Ashes. Trainspotting was terrifying and gave me nightmares as a teenager, and it terrified me again. Delightfully. Someday I will have a better grasp on Scottish so that I can understand more than sixty percent of the dialogue. *shrug*
  4. I am grateful to Mr. Carlyle personally for his bravery demonstrated in a career spent often playing downtrodden, broken, forgotten, and cast aside characters. What he gives of himself in these performances is breathtaking and beautiful (and/or terrifying as mentioned). That said, spending time with the quirky Hamish MacBeth is a pleasure indeed. His Rush is gritty and fresh. My questions about people like Rush (yes I know real people in my life who are much like him) inspired me to think deeply about them. Frankly, Mr. Carlyle reminded me why I have a literary degree and now he’s got me using it! I cannot say enough good about this man, or overstate my gratitude.
  5. Once makes me laugh. I was definitely short on laughs and smiles that first evening. That evening felt like being marooned on a sailing ship at sea in dead calm waters under sweltering heat. Once felt like a gust of emotional wind that started me moving forward again. I was laughing and smiling for real, and it had been a while.
  6. Once makes me cry. Why am I grateful for tears?? Like many fans, I am deeply engaged with these characters and this story. It is a living breathing part of my life. When it hurts, I hurt. But this, my friends, is a reward. Explosions and car chases are cheap thrills, don’t last and mean largely nothing much past the moment they happen. I’m a lady with expensive tastes. Engagement with a piece of fiction is much like the homework you did when you were a kid in school. The more you put into it, the more you get out. The writers have poured their hearts into this work, as have the actors and everyone else who works on the show. When I pour my heart in, I get to see what they are trying to show me. And when it is painful, it is a beautiful pain, it is a relatable pain, a pain that reflects our human connection. Emotional responses like these require investment and are thus, emotionally expensive. Experiencing pain through fiction reminds us, when it happens in real life, that we are not alone. So if I’m crying over Once, I know I am not the only one.
  7. Once has been an integral part of my therapies and my road to recovery. Without getting into much detail about what happened to me, Once helped me begin reading again. Once inspired fan fiction authors to take to the Internet and share their joys. This allowed me to read for pleasure instead of only for therapy. I will share a secret with you though, find what makes you happy and figure out how to make that into whatever therapy you need. When we enjoy doing something that is hard for us, we’re way more likely to keep doing it.
  8. Even better than helping me read, Once helped me begin writing after such a long pause. Once broke my heart in mid Season 4 and amid the leftover puddle of goo, the desire to write remerged from its long slumber. I began writing about Once nearly a year ago now because it hurt so good!
  9. This resurgence of writing is so important to my recovery. While I am, after years on the couch, able to work nearly full time, very little energy is left over for anything else. But Once inspires me to write. So, instead of being a passive couch potato after work each night, I am working on this blog. A little at a time, ever so slowly, my capacity for life is increasing because of Once.
  10. Once gave me this blog. Because of this blog, I have reached out to the online fan communities and begun using a Once as a bridge toward a certification I am studying for as required for my work. I am a budding scientist and have a lot to learn (no that process doesn’t end with college). Because of Once, I have designed a research study and will use it to practice the statistical and analytic skills I need to learn for work ahead of that big hairy certification test. You can help me with that here!
  11. Last, and I think most importantly, I am grateful to Once because it is giving me hope. It gives me hope because through efforts here on this blog, I am gaining skills I need for my future. I have a pathway forward because I have a safe place to practice and play with science. Once gives me hope for love too, because if a disabled Dark One can find love, surely a disabled scientist (who’s a heck of a lot nicer, sorry Rumple but darling, you’re prickly!) can too. Once inspires me to keep trying.

So thank you, writers of Once. I am certain you get an out pouring of grief from the fan community every time you cause their favorite character pain and cause tears, but I’m certain you know what that strong emotion means. It means we love your work. Fiction is such a powerful tool and you wield it well.

I live in the Pacific Northwest and I know what the weather is like. Actors of Once, stay warm, dry and healthy. We know how hard you work, and I know what being out in the rain in November is like. You bring the light to our eyes and make it real for us. You inspire us. Your work is important. Art always is. Thank you!

And the crew, let us not forget everyone whose faces we can’t see and whose words we can’t hear. Your love of this work is what makes it all hang together, as a tapestry. If the writers are the image and the actors the hues, you are the fiber holding everything together. Thank you.

We are each of us personally touched by Once, that’s why my 11 gratitudes above are grounded in my personal experiences. Why are you grateful for Once? Use the Twitter button below to tweet this at them with your own gratitude attached. Of course, I’d love it if you’d comment here so I can see your gratitudes too, but tweeting the creators your gratitudes is WAY more important. Let’s flood their Twitter feeds with gratitude, so share this with every Oncer you know!

How can you use gratitude to make happiness in your life? Here’s the Ted talk that inspired me.

Before you go, you can check out my research project! I have conducted a study of OUAT viewer preferences and you can check on my progress here. Yay for science!

OutlawQueen

OutlawQueen

In this ‘ship is the essence of Once’s hope message. Forgiveness is one of Once’s more potent themes and there aren’t many people in the world who need more forgiveness than the Evil Queen. Hope for change, belief that it is possible for everyone- OutlawQueen is how Once shows us what can be. *Spoiler Alert! This article assumes current knowledge of the show.*

Robin Hood isn’t one to judge, after all, he was a thief. Robin shares a quality with Belle, that of seeing past exteriors. Regina made vigorous attempts to blow him off many times even with the interference of Tinkerbell. But the special mix of Regina’s reforming heart and Robin’s clear vision made this ‘ship possible.

While Once gave us some beautiful flirtation and that delicious metaphor about getting Regina’s heart back from Zelena, this is yet another example of the meaning in a relationship being demonstrated through the pain of its loss.

Pieces of My Heart OUAT Season 4 Heroes and Villains
Pieces of Our Hearts

Heroes and Villains was a hell of an episode. Regina, giving us proof of how far she has come from her days as the Evil Queen lets go of Robin to save his wife. Pieces of our hearts, and hers, were littering the pavement when she tore up the page (not) from the Storybook. Poor Regina just can’t get a break no matter what she does. That moment was a doozy.

Here, however is where we get down to the risks involved with having so many characters and so many plot lines to service. Something typically gets dropped. I am afraid that this relationship might be it. Thus far in Season 5 Robin has been little more than a pair of arms around Regina and someone for her to protect. It is possible now, after Birth, that his importance may grow enough to allow this relationship to flourish. I certainly hope so. Regina is such a rich character and she deserves the same amount of richness in her partner.

I don’t want to see this ‘ship go in the same direction as Snowing because there is so much raw potential in the current dynamic surrounding Zelena that shouldn’t be allowed to go to waste. I really hope they pay off the set up they gave us with Regina’s inability to have children and now needing to decide how to handle parenting with Robin. That has to sting and I can’t imagine Once won’t give us tension between Robin and Regina on this subject.

OutlawQueen has a save our ‘ship flag above its head right now. The writers must start giving Robin lines more interesting than, “How ’bout a spot of tea?” if this ‘ship is to retain our investment.

Back to Once in Love.

Before you go, you can check out my research project! I have conducted a study of OUAT viewer preferences and you can check on my progress here. Yay for science!

Snowing

Snowing

I think of Snowing as the original Once ‘ship. Once’s opening image, pilot episode, is Charming racing across a lake to kiss Snow White awake, then they get married.

After that truly heart warming opening image, Once shows us how they got to that point. I absolutely love the tale Once spins of how they met. The dialogue is pert and she clocks him with a rock… Talk about a rough start! But Josh Dallas and Ginnifer Goodwin have a chemistry that won’t quit. They even have their own catch phrase, “I will always find you.” It is for these two that we first knew Once would be about love and hope.

Even their troubles back in Storybrooke were brilliantly executed. The writers took excellent advantage of what the curse would mean for these two. The feeling of “off” from their fairytale selves came through loud and clear and we all groaned in pain when David gave Mary Margaret the wrong Valentine. Oh get it right for once David! But of course he can’t while he’s cursed.

Snowing has a steadiness that is a place to lean when there is turbulence elsewhere in the romantic waters. It seems that Snowing will remain a solid couple even if they are sometimes separated by shenanigans. They are definitely the Mom and Dad ship and a consistent place to look for comfort.

Next to OutlawQueen.

Back to Once in Love.

Before you go, you can check out my research project! I have conducted a study of OUAT viewer preferences and you can check on my progress here. Yay for science!

SwanQueen

SwanQueen

Regard between Emma and Regina has grown slowly over the years into something lovely indeed. When we are speaking about unlikely love stories, this one fits neatly into that category. It also fits in the category of made up by the fans. This is not a canon ‘ship but it is so important to the fans that it is the most written about ‘ship by a landslide, per our little table. In the tradition of fan fiction, it is often the case that romances that don’t actually exist on the screen are celebrated and loved by the fan community off the screen. I invite you to put on your rose tinted glasses and come with me. This will be fun, I promise. *Spoiler Alert! The discussion below assumes knowledge of the show to date.*

Neither Emma nor Regina have had many friends in their lives. True friends, the kind you call at 3am when the world is falling down. They begin their journey sniping over Henry but as time goes by, Emma reaches out to Regina, enticing her to leave the darkness behind. It takes a lot of doing for Emma to win Regina over, to convince her that she has her best interests at heart. This mostly takes the form of bonding over a common goal, saving their son.

When Emma recognizes Regina’s capacity to love Henry, she has a way in, though pushback from Regina is ferocious at times. With Henry as the seed, compassion grows between them, a slender thread to begin, but it is woven into a thick rope by the time we get to the present season.

Regina gives up the thing she loves most to save the town from Pan’s curse proving to Emma that she is capable of reform and that she truly loves Henry. One of my favorite moments between these two occurs when Emma brings Henry back to Storybrooke a year later and she sees Regina’s pain over Henry not knowing her. Emma tries to sooth Regina by convincing her to interact with Henry even though Regina thinks that would be too painful.

The photo above follows Emma saving (thinks she’s saving) Regina from the chernabog. This is Regina looking at Emma. That look is smoldering.

Tension OUAT Season 4 Darkness on the Edge of Town
Smoldering

Regina and Emma spend much of Season 4 working as a team and gaining trust between them. A closeness between them is palpable most especially when Emma takes the darkness into herself to save Regina.

As with the other love stories, the proof of their power is in how much it hurts when something bad happens. Here in the midst of early Season 5, Regina struggles desperately to hold on to Emma and keep her from being lost to darkness in Camelot. In present day Storybrooke, we see a broken hearted Regina reverting to the epithet, “Miss Swan.” Emma reacts as if she has been slapped. Poor Regina has tears in her eyes over the loss of Emma. And so do we.

SwanQueen
SwanQueen

I am afraid you will have to turn to fan fiction for snuggles and kisses, but the fodder for such is liberally distributed over the Once landscape. I purposefully limited this discussion to what is in canon to illustrate what can happen when you put on the rose tinted glasses and change perspective just a little. I’ll leave you with this darling behind the scenes picture, though I am sorry to be unable to credit the photographer (selfie??).

Next to Snowing.

Back to Once in Love.

Before you go, you can check out my research project! I have conducted a study of OUAT viewer preferences and you can check on my progress here. Yay for science!

CaptainSwan

CaptainSwan

Dashing pirate with flashing eyes and waggling brows, how could he fail to charm? Charm he does. Hook, Killian Jones began his life as an honest man, a navy first mate to his brother. The sharp moral betrayal of his king and consequent loss of his brother left him bitter and rudderless. Thus he decided to make his own rules as a pirate and live life as he pleased. Even still, he had a code. Good form.

Emma, independent to a fault, had, at first, far more important things on her plate than to pay any mind to a pirate with a broom and plans to sweep her off her feet. She also had an ex whom she still loved, Henry’s father Neal (Baelfire), who took precedence in her heart. *Spoiler Alert!* I feared Once would take this classic set up for an irritating love triangle and just plunge right into this trite excuse for romantic tensions.

But Once didn’t do that. Instead, Once gave us one of the more tragic and painful character deaths I have seen on TV. The loss of Baelfire hurt keenly for everyone involved including the pirate who helped to raise him after Rumple abandoned him.

Emma’s reticence to risk her heart might be what makes this love story resonate. Sure, Hook goes through a marvelous heroic transformation at the hands of love, but Emma just doesn’t want to get hurt. Again. Lots and lots of people have been there and decided to take the pragmatic road away from perceived future heartache. Emma has had enough misery for a life time and does not want to sign up for more for another pretty face.

Emma needed a reason, a beautiful reason, to believe that real love could spring from this unlikely source. The picture above bears the file name “Your Ship for Me,” in my folder of screenshots for this reason. Hook proves to Emma in that moment that he does not consider her a conquest, an idle project, the next piece of tail. He loves her for real.

The rampant popularity of CaptainSwan stems, I believe, from Once’s dive into the source material of our real lives. Who hasn’t thought they might rather not be hurt or doubted whether a suitor might be only looking for a rather short term outcome? How many of us have pursued someone whom has given up on love?

I cannot think of a more unexpected way to retain tension between two people than what Once shocked us with in the recent episode Birth. I had thought testing this relationship with Emma becoming the Dark One was more than enough to hold our attention, but the wheels have just fallen off this ‘ship. Ingenious.

Next to SwanQueen.

Back to Once in Love.

Before you go, you can check out my research project! I have conducted a study of OUAT viewer preferences and you can check on my progress here. Yay for science!

Rumbelle

A good love story is like a piece of music that enraptures and entrances the mind and heart, gives wings and transports listeners and player alike to the fanciful location known as bliss. I have heard it said that reading a book is equivalent to spending hours at a time hallucinating vividly. A love story, well told, can give that same euphoria in the flavor of emotional hallucination.

Jane Espenson, who wrote Skin Deep, says in the commentary that the unlikely love stories are the most powerful. I know for me that is true and that Rumbelle sings in that special way. Of Once’s love stories, Rumbelle is my favorite and I freely disclose this bias.

Our interactions with love stories are personal, just as with music. The source material, Beauty and the Beast (yes the Disney version) is my favorite film in the Disney canon for many reasons which Once has captured brilliantly. Our hero is brainy and brave, an agent in her own life. Our beast is a tragic figure, someone downtrodden and alone whose mistakes haunt him. It is compassion and recognition of the unique and shiny personhoods within each other that draws these two into an inescapable understanding of the other. And then, to love.

This story sang to me as a child, but the key change brought on by adulthood and experience has made it no less sweet, just deeper and richer. Now I relate to the beast as well as Belle. I grew up the brainy (if not quite as lovely) nerd of Belle in the Disney film- loads of courage, head in my books and largely misunderstood by my peers. My story is not so uncommon, of course. With a few more years in the bank, I am also Mr. Gold with the limp of grievous injury who frequently feels beyond repair, true or not (emphasis on the not in his case and mine). It is the feelings we bring with us to a story that entrench us in its meaning more deeply and I’ve got my fair share of those.

The picture above is the kiss felt around the world. Jane Espenson says, again from the commentary, that “women across the world melted for this kiss.” Surely, though, it melted a few men too. This episode, thematically, Espenson goes on to say is about the fact that Rumple doesn’t feel worthy of love. I suspect this resonated so acutely because so many people in this day and age are lonely. The message is loud and clear: if this man, the Dark One, can love and be loved, so can I. And I am speaking collectively as well as personally. Robert Carlyle responds that he got “beautiful comments” from his Twitter followers about how this touched them, as it did me.

Sweetness alone, however, cannot sustain a story. In fact an antithetical moment in mid Season 4 is, for me, the most powerful moment in Once to date. *Spoiler Warning!* These two lost everything on a dark crappy night, cold and wet, out there at the town line. Unable to tolerate or ignore his terrible behavior another second longer, Belle banished her True Love forever. I am not sure I even noticed the remaining falling action of the episode through my tears the first time I saw Heroes and Villains. Nearly a year later we are still waiting to see if there is hope for Belle and Rumple.

What’s your moment?

Next to CaptainSwan.

Back to Once in Love.

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

Once in Love

Once in Love

And the best of these, is love. Whose kiss set off fireworks in your brain? For me the crowd went wild when Belle kissed Rumple in Skin Deep. I don’t mean to imply that I didn’t smile and that there were no fireworks for any one else, that would be at best disingenuous. But I suspect that for most fans, a favorite exists, the pair whose love touches us more strongly than the others.

Among human sympathies, love is a beautiful one. I for one happily admit I am a sucker for a love story and that many of my favorite stories are love stories. While not a universal motivator, love comes darn close. It interests the vast majority of us to at least some degree. Once has delightfully taken on the challenge of writing not one, but many love stories.

Writing a romance that endures in intensity and fascination over the long course of a television show is a huge challenge. They don’t call it the Moonlighting Curse for nothing. It might have something to do with the fact that in real life it would seem that the most successful of loves are outwardly boring. To further complicate a writer’s life, fans are now all wise to the will-they/won’t-they tension device. Telling a unique love story that we have never seen before raises the bar even further.

One of Once’s greatest challenges is also among its greatest strengths. Once has a HUGE cast of both regulars and supporting actors. This gives Once a rich and real feel often lost to more insular TV shows who seem to have a revolving door of guest stars. Shows with small casts and few recurring roles outside that core group can feel claustrophobic and frankly unrealistic because the characters have no friends, family or lives outside that tiny circle. These shows have no periphery.

Once has an ocean’s worth of peripheral characters who dart in and out to delight us.

But they also consume the all precious resource: time.

Few among main cast do not, currently, have a significant other. That means that to include all the regulars and their significant others eleven people need time to tell their stories. That is astounding. Ten of these are regular cast. In addition to this, Once has commonly added a villain or three and sometimes their significant others. This gets right down to it.

Whose stories get time and how? Is there time left for anything other than romance?

The result thus far has been a shifting focus from one pair to the next. This concept reminds me of a pearl necklace. Each pair has their own string of pearls with each pearl being a major event in the course of the relationship and the string between representing smaller moments like being seen together (or apart) in an episode that doesn’t focus on their particular arc.

And yes, there is time for plot aside from snuggles. This seems largely achieved by using the relationships to push the plot instead of, as many stories do, using romance as a distant B story. I particularly appreciate this because love is not the cute B story in real life, it is a big hairy focus and chiefly important among life events in our day to day existences. If we have it, it is like the inner hub of a wheel with our exterior life orbiting around it connected by the myriad of supportive spokes. If we don’t have it, we are looking for it. Love, of course, has many forms and I do not mean to imply that there are not those who lack a romantic partner who are not seeking one. But we all of us seek love and support from those around us. We humans are social creatures.

While it is my opinion that Once has been largely successful in love, not all of its pairs have, I believe, shared equally this success. I think they all bare a closer look.

*Please note, past this point, current knowledge of the show is assumed, be spoiled at your own risk.*

Before we depart on that adventure though, it bears mentioning that a vibrant fan cultures exists around the concept of “‘ships.” This is short for relationships and has a rich tradition with all kinds of charming customs along for the ride. I beg your patience while I define a few terms for the uninitiated.

Fan Fiction: stories written by fans about the characters in their favorite stories (source work), often but not exclusively TV, movies and books. The fans use the characters and/or settings already established to write their own work. This often takes the shape of what the fans wish they could see in canon (explicitly shown in the source work).

‘Ship names: when a new canon, or not canon, ‘ship appears in the collective consciousness of the fans it typically gets a name. Rumbelle, Caskett et cetera.

Slash: don’t run away, this article will remain G-rated. If the character names don’t form a pleasing mashup or another fitting epithet doesn’t emerge (e.g. OutlawQueen) fans simply use a slash ” / ” between character names to denote a pairing: Mulder/Scully. Slash used to be the descriptive tag denoting a homosexual relationship pairing, but it is no longer exclusively used this way.

Now that the fan community has had a bit of explication, let’s take a look at Once ‘shipping habits among fans. While the sample I am about to share with you really only captures fanfic authors, it does give us an idea about the passions running through the fandom.

Here are the data for stories on fanfiction.net written about their respective ‘ships. For your quick reference as of 19 November 2015 39k stories have been published on fanfiction.net about Once.

Relationship Number of Stories Specifying this Pairing
Rumbelle (Rumplestiltskin/Belle) 4.1k
CaptainSwan (Killian Jones “Hook”/Emma Swan) 8.1k
SwanQueen (Emma Swan/Regina Mills) 11.1k
Snowing (Snow White/Prince Charming) 1.7k
OutlawQueen (Robin Hood/Regina Mills) 2.3k

Some of you picked up right of the bat that the most commonly written about pairing does not exist in canon: SwanQueen. You would also be correct to note that I did not include every possible pairing and that a glaring omission might be SwanFire. I decided to restrict our study to current, living and most commonly known pairings for the sake of brevity and broad relevance.

Now, without further ado, let’s explore these ‘ships and their effectiveness/longevity in more detail. We’ll try on choose your own adventure style- why not choose them all? Since I have already made my bias known to you, I will begin with my favorite.

Rumbelle

CaptainSwan

SwanQueen

Snowing

OutlawQueen

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Fan-art in the making! I’m in the midst of a Once-themed Gratitude Project. Take a look at my progress!