Once is on fire! Anyone else notice how Once seems to be pulling out all the stops? This first half the season is SO different than the beginning of Season 4. There’s nowhere to hide; don’t close your eyes.
Performance of the night goes to Jennifer Morrison, hands down, no question, no runners up, it’s hers. You’ll see! I was sitting there with my mouth hanging open.
Overall Rating: 9/10 for small moments, no larger missing chunks here. Cohesive and solid, this episode moved forward like a freight train passing Amtrak. This episode took place mainly in the past and my previous feelings that little ever gets done in the past are evaporating. I haven’t forgiven another memory wipe yet, but I have to concede that this new flavor of flashbacks is effective, more so with each passing episode.
Here endeth the spoiler-free overview. Below there be dragons!
Scene 1: History Lesson
Opening Image- Emma’s house at night, probably not more than five minutes after Belle, Rumple and Merida departed.
I wasn’t expecting us to start in the present day given the ending of the last episode and I’m not even convinced we needed this scene at all. With The Broken Kingdom, Once proved to us that it can keep our attention in a flashback about characters we barely know from the opening image. So why ask Rumple, DO (Dark One) to gin up some expository narration? Carlyle is great at it, no question, but could we have better spent this time in another scene?
On the other hand, seeing Emma with both halves of Excalibur does bring us back to the tension of the last episode’s ending scene.
Scene 2: Where we could have started
This lens flare is beautiful! This could have been our opening image, but it isn’t dark. Probably why this is Scene 2.
They wouldn’t dare what Merlin??
I tried, several times, but I can’t understand what he said. Garbled dialogue is no good most of the time. At least here, his actual words aren’t too important- I hope!- because what is intelligible is that they were being pursued, but no longer.
I do love his unnamed companion’s graceless heap of a fall into the sand. Face first. Nice.
Sensitive topic ahead, I will try to be gentle with everyone! Mother always told me to never discuss in public three things: sex, religion and politics. Here’s two out of the three.
Christian iconography: the Holy Grail.
We knew getting into Arthurian legend that Christianity was a big part of it, but Once hasn’t delved too deeply into religion yet. They say gods, emphasis on plural, for expletive phrases and discussion and there have, to date, been no Storybrooke indications of the celebration of Christian holidays (or other religious holidays from other faiths unless you want to get into the history of Valentine’s Day). I am holding my breath here to see if they retain their fantasy screen of religious quasi neutrality.
The cup has a Celtic looking cross-like ornamentation on it, but it is so stylized that it might not be symbolic of Jesus’s cross.
Of note, I know that cursed Storybrooke had nuns and that Mary Margaret wore a crucifix for a time, but Christianity is part of our world just like cars and computers are so it could have been just the curse authenticity (no offense intended here).
In my personal opinion, the religious neutrality of Once is important to maintain because as it is now, it is inclusive of everyone. The Once universe isn’t the territory of any (modern? see later discussion) Earth religion so everyone can come to the party no matter where in the world they are or what they personally believe. If Once puts a religious flag in the ground, everyone not that religion has to grit their teeth and decide if they want to continue to watch of not for fear of offense.
Once fans are a diverse group, a quality definitely to be celebrated as this world badly needs space where everyone can put aside what separates us and smile together. All I have to do is look at the map of hits on this blog and, the record of what people are reading, to know that Once is touching the world! Check it out.
Please, Once writers, let Once remain a neutral space for everyone!
*Backing away, hands in the air.*
Interestingly, Merlin doesn’t think he is worth the notice of the gods. Then his buddy goes up in smoke. Ick!
Then he asks permission. Rather an abrupt change in attitudes toward the gods.
Granted, and he gives gratitude.
Theory: The question remains about the nature of the gods, or if indeed the Grail was even created by the gods, or maybe someone not that unlike Merlin who can install power into objects, see the future, and specify who can nab the prize.
This moment where Merlin realizes he has magic is a beautiful one.
Scene 3: Fuzzy on the details
Hook mouths off to a powerful sorcerer, again… How is he still living???
Good thing Merlin’s a patient guy.
Exposition: get me the sword and maybe I can free Emma.
Scene 4: Title Card Error per Horowitz on Twitter, should have been 500 years ago.
Then he says it, what we’ve all been thinking: not all wizards have long white beards.
A beautiful beginning for this love story.
Scene 5: Flame of Prometheus
Man-kind’s original fire. And now we know. Merlin leans toward the Greek Pantheon. Have a little read here. Neutrality through antiquity? It seems possible. I guess we’ll have to see.
Emma is the most powerful Dark One ever… no pressure.
Scene 6: Working My Way Back to You Babe
It is actually for this scene that this episode lost a point. This scene feels both rushed and superfluous at the same time. The only new material from this scene is Hook’s ring. To be honest, he doesn’t tell us enough about it emotionally or verbally to give it enough of a punch to carry the scene.
I was left with a “that’s nice, he gave her a trinket,” feeling, but no urgency here. Bummer.
Scene 7: He sounds awful.
I just love that Merlin stores the Grail with other stuff in a junk drawer… Nimue says it so well.
This scene between two characters we barely know has ten times the romance of the previous scene even though, or maybe because it is largely exposition. This is new ground for us and thus draws the story forward.
Then I worried I’d been wrong in my theory about the identity of the Dark One who trapped Merlin in a tree. Masked Creep isn’t Nimue.
Scene 8: Have fun storming the castle boys
A blue print for Camelot on a placemat from Granny’s diner. Another great giggle from a prop.
Thank you SO much Rebecca Mader. Her non-verbal expression carries this scene. Take away a tool, and creativity is born. Silence is golden and should be used more often in film.
The comedy of this scene continues keeps on rolling when perhaps the most dull person in the room, poor Charming (Josh Dallas executes his character’s lack of wit with mastery), mocks Zelena who is talking sense. As she tells us straight up.
I want my magic back.
Regina, you can’t seriously be considering that…
Scene 9: Worse than being in my cell
At least they are starting to acknowledge Mary Margaret’s capacity for being irritating. May as well use it to good effect, as done here.
I get that men think swords before ladies, but seriously? The first person into the tunnel should have been the wizard. Obviously. She can handle so much more mayhem than the three of you combined it’s not even funny!
Scene 10: Bad trip with magical acid
Ok, so Merlin’s workbench has a protection spell too? A friend of mine was highly critical of this scene for inconsistencies with how acid might actually behave. Also, they’ve only got just one ladle. Not the most efficient disbursal mechanism. This contributed as a little thing toward the loss of a point for this episode.
Scene 11: Confessing sins
The darkness is winning, but is there hope?
Scene 12: If I use magic to kill…
Here’s where my query about Emma’s first murder becomes important. I sensed that it was the act of murder that played a vital role in losing the battle against darkness and it seems I was right.
Scene 13: Don’t spill!
Waiting for the other shoe.
Scene 14: Are you in pain?
Not as much as you’re about to be in… Not too hard to trick Mary Margaret. Regina should have known better than to leave her alone with Zelena.
Scene 15: Oops.
Merlin makes a couple of serious mistakes here. He could have whisked Nimue away from Vortigen before anything bad happened. Was he in shock? He’s had enough time with magic to know that Vortigan poses no obstacle.
Theory: Second, why didn’t he just heal Nimue? Rumple always tell us that all magic comes with a price. Healing Robin started Emma’s slide toward the dark and not taking a price had rather dire consequences. Is this a reference to a rule they haven’t quite explained? That life and death magic is EXTREMELY costly for those with powers linked to the Grail?
Scene 17: The end of Prometheus’s theft
Notice that the Celtic ironwork has fallen away into ruin in the present. Nice parallel photography here creating a link to the past while exposing the differences between these scenes.
Theory: the origin of dark magic could be the vengeance Nimue intended when she drank from the Grail.
Oh that reveal!!
Effective even though we already suspect the truth. And what an amazing makeup job!
Now I see the green elements I had wondered about in Rumple’s makeup job. I had wondered if he appeared rather green because of the green room or if it was a makeup choice. Sometimes he appears grey or silver also, rather than gold. I had theorized that that this was a makeup choice to reflect the corruption of the curse. An aged and tarnished metal finish for an aged and tarnished character. But I still wonder how much of that is lighting and what he looks like in real life. Now we see elements of all three colors in Nimue. Has the nature of the curse mutated over time?
Scene 18: You could have made a pair of scissors.
Proof of murder theory. Murder is the catalyst for the corruption of magic.
This scene is terribly sad and beautifully played.
There are some metaphoric issues with this scene which I may choose to write about outside this review depending on how events unfold. The crux of them being the origin of the writer’s decision to have Nimue fall into darkness because of being unable to resist the temptation of power and vengeance. This could be an echo of the Lady of the Lake mythos or even Pandora. There could even be a third option, or all three, or none. This is a prime example of an analytical pitfall. If you look at something too closely, reality can start to distort, the big picture can get lost. Rather than post preliminary thoughts on this, I will consider it distortion for now and move on.
Scene 19: The power you have I don’t need.
Performance of the night goes to Jennifer Morrison. You can see in that moment, and you don’t need me to tell you which it is, a hasty camera adjustment of the close up to catch this moment of truth. The last time I saw something like this was in Battlestar Galactica regarding a certain model ship which it is fortunate they insured.
This scene so enthralled me that I found myself holding my breath. Intense! This scene goes directly to the leader board of the top ten best scenes in OUAT- I’ll be needing to make one of those when the show is over. I don’t yet know it’s exact ranking, but if a scene can leave me breathless after multiple views, it is something to write home about.
Scene 20: It’s all twisted up, but I felt it
A bit of falling action here, exposition which we really need after such an intense scene. A chance to catch our breaths.
I opted not to break this scene down into its sub-scenes because of its narrative cohesion. It’s a mini-montage-esque technique which gave this walk and talk the gentle movement it needed to reach beyond just straight exposition.
Scene 21: Artie’s manhood issues
Line of the night goes to Zelena: shorter sword than a man would like…
Half man with a half sword… LOL!!!!
And yes, Arthur also thinks David is a moron. MERLIN!
Scene 21b: Where’d he go?
It’s nice, even only for a moment to see what idle chit chat between powerful wizards would be if we only had the time to eavesdrop. What else would you chat about on the trail? Life isn’t all swords and sorcery after all.
Scene 21c: Coming when called
This is how convincing villains are made. Merlin makes a terrible mistake confiding in Arthur because Arthur’s delusions of grandeur corrupted him. Now we have and obsessed and insecure man grasping at power any way he can. Oops!
The maniacal gleam in Arthur’s eyes is magnificent. Merlin is now paying for his arrogance and righteousness again. He paid with Nimue and he’s paying now with Arthur. Merlin thinks he has much more control over the world than he actually does, and even he falls prey to what Rumple did with regards to seeing the future. He seems slightly better at it, but not much. He’s got a little more humility, but not enough. Power has gone to Merlin’s head too. Even if it hasn’t driven him to darkness, it has still blinded him.
Scene 22: Take the power
So now there is no Dark One dagger. No means to control Emma. Uh oh.
An episodes ago Merlin, via toad stool voicemail, told us that the only hope was Nimue. Hmm. Now we know Nimue is not only the original Dark One, but also in Emma’s head. I will be very interested to see now Nimue can help, if that’s even still true.
Intense much? I mean. Wow! So far this season I feel a bit like I’m strapped to a rocket and it’s getting uncomfortably warm underneath my backside. The pacing and sheer immediacy of this season are so far from the meandering during the Neverland arc of the stroll we took through Frozen territory last year. Once has us by our heartstrings and no mistake.