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.
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.
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??
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!