The Bear King: 5X09
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…
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?
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.
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?
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!