Well, that hurts. That hurts so good. I got my heart strings yanked a bit this episode. This is one of those episodes I have been left thinking about at odd times over the course of my week. Stuff just keeps bubbling up, another sign of an impactful episode. If it keeps surfacing in my thoughts, it made an impression on me.
I think it is important to understand the melancholy left behind by a well told tale. These moments that hurt are the ones that stick with us because they can’t hurt so much if we don’t care. They are another form of payday which I think often goes unrecognized or misunderstood among fan communities. It does sound strange to talk about getting paid in sadness. But this is getting paid. We tell each other stories to help make sense of the world, to be entertained, to be comforted and yes so that we can feel something outsider our own existences. It does, admittedly, take a bit of fortitude to really enjoy the tears, but these tough feelings bind us closer to the characters. They plant the seeds for a stronger and more vibrant joy later, or if the tale is truly a tragedy, they get us to invest more deeply, more empathetically.
When something hurts, we reach for the closest person we can hug. Stories can help us hug each other in real life.
Performance of the week goes to: Lana Parrilla for the closing image to which I ascribe most of my current heartache. Runners up are Jared Gilmore and Elliot Knight, both for expressive performances. Tonight we got several excellent moments to choose from.
Rating: 7/10. This episode seems torn between a frustrating lack of momentum in the present and a satisfying forward leap in the past. I am feeling ambivalent on whether this worked or not. The lion’s share of the lost points are for a plot-hole to be discussed below. Most of the points earned in this episode are for the final scene, but with this close look at the episode, there is much to love throughout.
Here endeth the spoiler-free overview. Below there be dragons.
Scene 1: Your Treeness
The opening image of this episode sets the tone nicely for what’s to come: darkness and loss. Major props to Elliot Knight here for a compelling performance. Two unfamiliar characters in a scene together for the first time and I could feel the sadness and tension without much backstory to bolster the scene. There isn’t much dialogue in this scene but it communicates anyway. A solid opening image.
The use of the dreamcatcher to move us from past to, well other past, worked well as a device and told us a huge amount about Emma’s slide toward the darkness. She casts a glance up at the tree and we know that she is planning. And that she is slipping away from us.
Without our knowing, we have just scene the thrust of the episode.
Theory: the Dark One in this scene is the first Dark One. The one Merlin created to tether the darkness to a human soul. And, this Dark One is the woman Merlin loves.
Scene 2: Did you learn those big words at shepherd school?
The Charmings as Arthur’s puppets made for a great bit of fun. Notice that Emma says her reasons for getting Merlin out of the tree are to stop Arthur and free her parents. She says nothing here about surrendering the darkness to him.
Emma has begun her justifications and arrogance has taken root in her.
Scene 3: Over your dead body.
This scene is cute in lots of ways, but the whole, we need a morale booster seems a thin excuse to set up the rest of the episode.
I am starting to wonder about costuming color choices. We see Belle in green, primarily, in Camelot, and now we see her in green again. Also, Regina keeps appearing in red. Hmmm.
Scene 4: Trussed up Rumple
I do not think Rumple is nearly as pathetic as he appears in this scene. I think he is using Emma’s expectations of his cowardice to keep himself in one piece. Still the pragmatist. The bit about Emma saying she’s stronger than him is telling and plays into his hands as he uses the truth to get at her emotionally.
This bit of thematic exposition is nicely executed by Carlyle, as usual. We would do well to remember that even as Mr. Gold, Rumple without magic is a force to be reckoned with.
Costuming note: I’m not a fan of dragging capes, they are just not practical clothing and look kind of silly.
A garage full of dreamcatchers. Emma cries for an unknown reason over a particular dreamcatcher. This has never been a strategy I have enjoyed. Emma might be crying because she knows Rumple is right, or she might be crying over something that happened in Camelot that we don’t yet know about. We never get an answer and because there is no context here, it is hard for us to come along for the emotional ride with her even though Morrison’s performance is solid.
Emma needs to do something about those vines in her back yard… nasty business those.
Scene 5: I’m not doing a damn thing
We began seeing how the darkness, power, is twisting Emma in Scene 2 but here we see it just a little more clearly. She’s begun giving Regina orders. I appreciate this subtle shift in tone between the two friends. We have also begun seeing in small ways just how much Emma means to Regina.
Until this season, Emma has been the one pursuing friendship with Regina and Regina has been slowly warming up to the idea. Now we start seeing Regina clutch at Emma, afraid to lose her.
Don’t confuse these feelings of friendship for the non-canon SwanQueen. True friendship holds its own kind of love and that is what we see in canon. Regina doesn’t have many close friends she trusts and can talk to. In fact, she has Robin and Emma. End of line.
If we exclude Robin because he is her partner, that leaves a grand total of one friend. Looking at it this way, and seeing as Regina may not have had a true friend in a very long time, her pain in this episode comes neatly to the forefront.
Regina’s look at Emma upon the revelation that Emma doesn’t have to wave the dreamcatcher over anyone to capture a memory says it all. Regina is afraid. And Emma then talks about the virtues of her dark magic use. We can see how the tendrils have worked deep into her heart. She likes it.
Though it hasn’t reached her conscious mind yet, Regina likely knows Emma is lost already so she seizes hope in Emma’s words, wanting any chance to pull her friend back from the darkness. Regina retreats behind her own dark walls and uses that, ironically, to reach out to Emma again.
Let’s go get ourselves a tear.
Translation: you want to play with dark magic? Fine, I can too and then I can save you with it.
Scene 6: That sword isn’t that heavy…
I enjoyed Henry and Violet’s part of this scene much more than Sir Morgan’s rather trite not good enough for my daughter speech. Overall this scene seemed a little flat to me.
Scene 7: Won’t take no for an answer…
I’m not sold that a missing horse is a strong enough plot line for an episode to rest on… it seems more like an excuse than a plot.
Scene 8: Operation Cobra
This thematic material is enough to hang an episode on. They just needed a more sturdy post than a missing horse to explore this dynamic between Emma and Henry.
The look in Emma’s eyes here is one of hope. It gives us hope that she might still be in there, like Rumple survived being the Dark One.
Note: Morrison is making some different vocal choices with Dark One Emma than she did with Savior Emma. It will take some more listening to confirm this, but I suspect this is a Rumple, DO (Dark One) influence. I.E. Morrison has grabbed just a little bit of Carlyle’s accent for herself.
Note the second: we do not see Rumple, DO this entire episode.
Scene 9: My fate rests in a coward’s hands
Here’s the thing about Rumple. People keep telling him he’s a coward, but refusing to fight uselessly isn’t cowardice. Rumple has no reason to fight, no reason to do what Emma wants. Rumple isn’t like Charming who will get mad and beat on anyone who takes a swing at him. Rumple doesn’t solve his problems with force, he’s a behind the scenes, subtle kind of guy. He’s a schemer. None of that makes him a coward. He has always worked diligently with the tools he has at hand to get what he wants.
Being unwilling to beat on someone else with brute force has little to do with bravery and everything to do with pragmatism, as mentioned before. Rumple’s best weapon is is brain and he is using it on Merida as he always has on everyone else too. Brains before brawn does not equate to cowardice or an unwillingness to make an effort toward what a person wants.
Theory: I do believe that Rumple, at this point, feels he has lost everything and has nothing left to lose. He thinks Belle will never stay with him because of his past behavior (if she were less compassionate, that would be likely true) and his power is gone. His son is dead. What does Rumple have going for him? He’s got that pesky survival instinct, but we all know that that only extends so far. This scene made a part of me that wonder if Rumple doesn’t see relief in failing to pull Excalibur from the stone and becoming dust. Things are bleak for him and I wonder how much will to live he really has.
Scene 10: I’ve missed this
This little bonding scene between Emma and Henry is nicely done, especially with the Baelfire mention.
Scene 11: Advice to fit in
This little chunk of exposition just doesn’t quite sit well. Henry getting dating advice from his moms so that Regina can realize she’s got the goods seems flimsy. Or it might just be the bad answer Regina gives to Henry’s assertion that she has changed for the better. Maybe she could have said something like changing for the better is something everyone should work for, but trying to change to please someone else is not. She could have told him he has lots to offer without changing a hair. What Emma says about being exotic to someone in Camelot isn’t all that helpful either, when it comes to good dating advice. Being exotic isn’t a virtue or a trait, not a direction for positive growth.
Maybe I just expected better dating advice from Once than this. Time to consult the pirate? He offered.
Scene 12: I don’t understand how a mother could do something like that
Excerpting the rehash, I love this scene. These two friends place their trust in each other to solve a problem. This scene, given Season One, seems highly improbable. If we are looking for a proof of change scene, this definitely is one. Regina has come SO far to be willing to have such an unguarded moment with Emma, but really, for Emma.
In a way, this revisitation of the loss of Daniel, the loss of Regina’s first love, echoes the theme of this episode which is the loss of her first real friend, Emma. Anyone who has ever lost a friend, for whatever reason, can understand Regina’s motivation here. Freeing Merlin isn’t just a puzzle to solve, a quest to complete. A true friend occupies the same space as the self, becomes a piece of the self, just as the same is true for someone we love romantically. That’s what closeness with another person is. For Regina, losing Emma now would be losing a piece of herself.
But the real tragedy in this scene is that as the words come out of Emma’s mouth, “… how a mother could…” she is realizing what might be necessary and making plans to execute. It is in this scene that the darkness in Emma makes the connection we learn about later.
Scene 13: B n’ E
I appreciate the writers giving Belle this little moment to show us her smarts. And it’s casual smarts like these, not the long hard-thunk ones, that are more deep signs of intelligence. Maybe it is because the world needs more bookish, brainy lady heroes (yes I know there’s word for those, but it’s too druggy for me) that I feel so strongly about the writers doing Belle justice.
Scene 14: Carnival in a Can
I find this scene elegantly awkward. Jared Gilmore is in the running for performance of the night for his work here.
Cultural note: Henry sets the table wrong. From the Scottish-American perspective on table dressing, the fork is alone to the left of the plate with the knife and spoon on the right, spoon outside the knife. On purpose? Researched? Or does Jared just not know my set of cultural standards?
Finally! The pauses are a wonderful thing about this scene. This scene isn’t rushed. We rarely get to slow down in Once, but here, they took the time to let us experience this. I dearly wish we could spend more time in scenes like this one. There are so many emotional scenes that really deserve an extra minute or two.
As with last season’s Regina/Belle/heart-rip we are left, upon watching this again, curious how much of Violet is Emma or if Emma just gave Violet directions. It would be über creepy for Henry to be on this date with his mom. Ick!!!
Scene 15: How much of Merida? How much Emma?
Merida does her own little run of B n’ E’s and we get to see a little of how Skin Deep figured in the storybook, which I don’t think we’ve had the chance to see before. Gotta say, someone would notice Merida shooting out the lock on the pawn shop in broad daylight.
Scene 16: Peter-Peter
Apparently a partier. Cute and timely for Halloween, but I’m still not sold on the missing horse propping up this episode. I hope they do more with Peter-Peter than just this little moment. The nursery rhyme has potential.
Scene 17: Useful-ish
An ok little bit of exposition in the basement… But now we know something critical: Emma didn’t use THE CURSE to take away everyone’s memories. She might not have used THE CURSE at all, which would explain how she’s not missing the someone she loves the most.
I am more likely to forgive the repeat use of memory loss if they really did use a different mechanism and just chose to tell us about it later. That’s a little better.
Scene 18: Not an exact science
Wouldn’t magic be a little more precise than a dash of this, a dash of that? Especially this spell? Also, nobody’s tear is a milliliter or more in volume… (yes, science nerd… I know.)
More seriously though, much to love about this scene.
And… fizzle! I appreciate that they didn’t go for the simple fix to this problem. They could have. This little piece of devious story telling, what we don’t yet know when we get to this scene, is quite satisfying. What makes this episode is that Emma broke Henry’s heart. The degree of obfuscation and misdirection in this episode takes a good bit of doing to pull off. And to think up in the first place. Genuine surprises of this nature are hard to come by.
I really buy, even though I know the truth, Emma’s pain here. She feels genuine sadness for Henry’s heartbreak even though she orchestrated it, perhaps she even feels it more deeply because of the underlying guilt.
And there’s the selfish justification. “You can save me, kid.”
Emma might really think this is the end of her road as Dark One, but something went horribly wrong. I can’t wait to find out what.
I have to say, Emma’s transitional face when Arthur startles her works very well, it looks real. A good directional/production choice to keep that in. It could have been cut, it doesn’t give us plot or new emotion, but it feels real. That is a great reason to keep something. See comments about Henry’s date with Violet in Scene 14 for other great choices because they feel more real.
Regina: Go ahead. Make my day!
Oh, but she executes that with gusto. So what that she doesn’t say exactly that, that’s what she means. The reference came out loud and clear and I will never get enough of Regina menacing her foes. We so rarely in film get to see women with the power defending what’s theirs, acting aggressively or just plain in charge.
Regina-Clint: Make my day.
And she double fists her fireballs again. Though how she didn’t toast at least one knight I don’t know. She must not have been aiming to kill.
I love Morrison’s glee at using magic. It is so clear from this performance that Emma LIKES this power. It’s a hear-me-ROAR moment and even though Morrison can’t see any of what we do, it works harmoniously.
Doesn’t she remind you of Gandalf in those white robes???
I’ve waited my whole life for a female Gandalf.
And that, oh yeah! expression when she’s done. Totally smug.
Merlin. Is that love at first sight???? Are they both that star struck? Could Hook be in more trouble than we know? And a new ‘ship was born. There is sizzle in just that one look. Canon or not, fan fiction will be written about these two after that look!
Scene 19: Or 18b if you like.
Merlin takes Arthur down a peg. Now we know that Excalibur cannot hurt Merlin.
Scene 20: Carnival, as promised.
Well, exposition dressed up as a carnival. Here’s my real point of contention with this episode: what in the frilly heck is Belle doing sitting around shooting the breeze about Excalibur when she has the means to go find Rumple? It’s after dark, they discovered that he was no longer in Emma’s basement in the daylight. She’s doled out locator potions in the past, she probably knows how to make one and if she can’t make one herself, Regina sure as hell can. Belle has plenty of stuff that belongs to Rumple, so why hasn’t she gone to find him and dragged the cavalry along with her to do so?
I’m still waiting for my Rumbelle payday, which I didn’t get, again, and there is this rather gaping plot-hole to contend with.
Ok, so I anticipate the Rumbelle payday will be special indeed, as we have plenty of evidence in the past of the writers serving us a huge helping of emotional stew fresh brewed from these two characters. But my anticipation is growing toward impatience here. Probably because of this little problem. I’m a good camper and follow along with the writers as long as what they do make sense, but this… this is an issue.
Also, I am still suspicious as to whether Arthur and Guinevere have their memories.
Scene 21: Henry gets to ride!
I do love this different flavor of interaction between Henry and Sir Morgan.
A part of me wonders if Emma took their memories so she could fix the damage she caused to Henry’s heart with her little Violet heart-rip maneuver.
Scene 22: Where it hurts
As predicted, use Belle to turn Rumple into a hero.
Merida, presumably from her very brief reading of the storybook thinks she can use Belle against Rumple. But, mostly, Belle hasn’t cared too much about Rumple’s fears. She’s only cared when he’s hurt her or someone else because of them. And Rumple only ever felt shame about hurting her, everyone else be damned. What I am getting at is that Belle seeing Rumple’s “yellow belly” wouldn’t be news to Rumple.
Merida probably just doesn’t realize that. Rumple wants the teacup, we’ve seen him go to the mat for that before, but his cowardice, debatable as that is, isn’t a lever for Rumple.
Scene 23: Ouch
Scene 24: Sure.
Like it’s nothing.
I love Merlin’s line.
We were all expecting…
A fossil of an old guy with a long white beard and a pointy hat?
Here’s where we get further confirmation of my supposition about how the Dark One is corrupted: it is deep within, a subtle creep rather than a scruff of the neck dunking.
Scene 25: Miss Swan
My heart aches for Regina here. This feels like a last ditch plea for her friend to let herself be helped. Nothing you can’t come back from. Regina means it.
Emma keeps asking for trust. Surely she understands why they don’t. She never trusted Gold, why does she earnestly seem to think she can get others to trust her?
Regina is now giving Emma the line Belle gave Rumple. Telling, that. What I love about Parrilla’s performance here is how we can see just how much this hurts. While she is saying tough Regina things, she has tears in her eyes.
And Emma uses Rumple’s line: “Make it up to him.” So sad.
“It would have been fine if you could have helped yourself and stayed out of it.” Is she referring to Regina getting targeted by the darkness in the first place? Or something that happened in Camelot?
“Don’t Miss-Swan me.”
I love this callback to Season One. This scene on the porch is an echo, an inverted echo, of what happened so long ago. I think Regina finally reached Emma here, by slapping her with the Miss Swan comment. Emma is so swathed in darkness that Regina’s tears and anger couldn’t reach her, but when she threatens their friendship, Emma finally takes notice.
And the real zinger, “There is ALWAYS a choice, Emma.”
Then, I think Emma didn’t mean to reveal that she freed Merlin. I think the fact that she did is evidence of Regina getting through to her.
But the walls come right back up and Emma starts making demands, like she used to. Except that she’s the Dark One.
And Regina dumps her, with another line from Season One.
Goodbye, Miss Swan.
Oh that hurts. That hurts. Further callbacks to Season One, but this time Henry closes the curtains on Emma.
Nice closing image.
We have proof of real change.
Upon further reflection about this episode, I like it much better now than I did when I first saw it. Probably because it hurt so much. I stick to the 7/10 rating though for the few decidedly weak moments. Though I didn’t mention it above, I had a tough time with Rumple getting knocked about by Merida. Even with all the evil things that guy has done, I get upset whenever things go wrong for him and watching him getting beat up or tortured makes me angry. It might be that I have long felt about Rumple as we now do about Emma: worried for the person we know is in there somewhere.
Rumple’s descent into darkness last season was heartbreaking for me because it felt like I was losing the Rumple of Skin Deep, maybe forever, I thought. Now we are going through the same thing with Emma and my feelings toward Rumple seem the more justified.
I have high hopes for a Rumbelle payday for next episode.
Last thought, I heard someone exclaim, upon learning that I am a Once fan: “Oh! And it’s getting so good this year!!”
Yes. Yes it is.