Swan Song: 5X11
Intense, exciting, heartbreaking, unexpected… a great list of adjectives which all describe Swan Song. You bet I cried, but I giggled and bounced in my chair too.
Performance of the night goes to: Robert Carlyle by a slender margin with Jennifer Morrison the obvious runner up. I debated about this a long time. Mr. Carlyle took home the goods for one expression: that of “not one more thing, I just can’t take one more thing.”
Rating: 7/10. While I loved this episode, there were some major flaws, some of which lead deep into the season and frankly into the show as a whole. See below the spoiler line.
Here endeth the spoiler-free overview, below their be dragons.
Scene 1: Storm Tossed
Opening Image: A ship, sails ragged, tossed by an alarming ocean.
Sounds about right for what’s to come.
So now we have met Hook’s father and had a glimpse into his childhood. At first glance, this is a charming father/son scene.
Problem though, if even a three masted ship could survive the storm shown in the opening image, a rowboat could not.
I am not sure how I feel about this repeated theme of parents abandoning their children in Once. Rumple’s father traded him for Neverland and nearly eternal youth. Hook’s father traded him for a row boat. Henry, of course, had neither parent for quite some time but under different circumstances. Both Snow White and Charming traded Emma for the hope of a broken curse in the distant future. Cora tossed out Zelena for a chance at power. Rumple let Baelfire be sucked away by a portal for power and Milah abandoned Baelfire for a pirate and adventure.
The results for these children vary greatly, but why is Once so stuck on this theme? Parenthood is critically important to how new people turn out when they become adults, sure. And being left behind is a common terror of children. The point has been well illustrated so far, the thematic material well served, so why go back to this well again?
Scene 2: The Rumplestiltskin we know and love.
I found this dialogue problematic. Hook didn’t take the dagger from Rumple. The Apprentice did. Then Emma did. Then Emma forced it on Hook. This is where Once runs into timeline trouble. If a fan is coming back after having missed an episode or two, or even just lost concentration at the wrong moment having seen all the episodes, this becomes literal, which it isn’t.
Hook actually means that he ended up with Rumple’s power, regardless of who possesses Excalibur or how he actually acquired it. He’s also be referring to having taken Rumple’s wife, all those years ago.
This scene is actually a bit of thematic exposition and foreshadowing thinly disguised as Hook taunting Rumple. This dialogue feels like as many call backs as possible shoved into too little space just for the purposes of setting up this episode. Most of it didn’t work as well as it could have.
And frankly, it remains to be seen whether Rumple loves his power more than his wife and dead son… I do doubt that that is true.
I absolutely love Rumple’s line though: Power is only as good as the one who wields it. Might be line of the night and that is quality foreshadowing. The rest is essentially a recapitulation and rather transparent at that. All of that said, I still enjoy watching Rumple and Hook go at it any chance I get. They are wonderful together and watching them posture is an exquisite pleasure.
Scene 3: Six, Dopey’s still a tree.
Walk and talk glue scene (a scene with no forward plot motion only providing some key information which holds the story together). I recognize expedience is necessary considering how much has to go into this episode to make it work, but this scene can be boiled down into not much: Emma’s gotta go stop Hook before everything goes to hell. (Forgive me!)
This scene works because the emotional stakes for Emma are so huge. Not the best glue scene we’ve seen this season, but functional.
Scene 4: Old habits die hard.
Zelena warms my heart. Ok, maybe the wrong turn of phrase there, but Rebecca Mader is delightfully unapologetic in her portrayal of Zelena’s delusions of righteousness.
This, could be considered a glue scene, but there is emotional forward momentum (rather than the rehash of the previous two scenes) and we get a little hint at what’s to come.
Also? Poor Regina!!! Robin comes out and says it, “You try and take my daughter from me!” Brrrrr. Left out in the cold again! Robin might not be as ready settle down with Regina as soon as many of us might like. Not from “us,” from “me.”
“What do you mean, we’ll be dead?”
I got awfully close to cheering for Zelena just now…
Scene 5: Behind you!
Teeny scene where the Charmings get gotten.
Scene 6: Dwarves in trouble.
Scene 7: Too late for that.
What did Nimue just do???
Check your wrists.
I could listen to Robert Carlyle all day. Even if he is describing Hell. This scene owes its intensity to him. While exposition, and a lot of it at that, we, like poor Henry, are quaking in our boots at Rumple’s fearsome description of the Underworld.
Giving a smidgen of the exposition to Henry was a great move for a couple of reasons, first, it breaks up what would otherwise be all but a monologue- not that Carlyle couldn’t execute that brilliantly- but scenes need motion and this provides it. Secondly, we get a tiny glimpse into Rumple’s grandfatherly pride in Henry. I think I can safely speak for everyone when I say that we would all like to see more of a relationship develop between Rumple and Henry, in whatever form it might take.
From a character standpoint, I appreciate that Rumple has found his internal strength again. We have spent quite a bit of time with him crying for one reason or another this season, which has been hard to watch. Not for any reason of Carlyle’s work, but because I find it painful to watch Rumple suffer in fear. Now we can see what Rumple can be when he realizes and embraces his inner resources. He’s scared here, but he’s not in a corner trembling as we’ve seen earlier. Rumple has remembered that power comes from the person, not the tool they wield. As he just told Hook.
Thanks Belle, for getting him to see that.
So, broken hearted and afraid, Rumple stands there and lectures them all on Hell. Then he goes to make his own preparations, bravely. How will this new (at long last understood) confidence effect him in future?
In spite of the fact that Rumple believes he’s going back to Hell, he chooses anger and determination instead of giving in to his fear. He provides leadership to a crowd of terrified heroes. Lovely evidence of heroic transformation.
Speaking of transformation, I love Rumple’s new coat with that leather collar. Nice touch, that reminder of his leather love from back in the Enchanted Forest.
Side note: the weather, you will notice, is perfectly hideous. Those were a couple of extremely wet and miserable November days here in the Pacific Northwest. That storm kept waking me up at night. Walking to work that morning was positively gross and I only had to be outside about forty minutes. They shot all night, I suspect. These folks work SO hard to bring us joy so for just a moment, I want to say that for all the critiquing I do, I am grateful for their hard work and I recognize their sacrifices. Working nights is bad, been there, done that. Working nights out in a storm like that one, oh ICK!
Scene 8: That’s a lot of Dark Ones!
“Marching through the mud, on a dark November night, our uniforms are soaked, our hair it looks a fright!” Ten points for anyone who can identify that reference.
Scene 9: Desperate appeal
Hook’s hip flask…
Robin, it turns out, was right. But Regina lies, she didn’t think she’d find him at the docks, she was skeptical of Robin’s suggestion a few scenes ago.
Hook rightly points out Regina’s sudden and personal form of address. “Bonnes mots” translates literally into “good words” in French. What I love most about this exchange is that Hook admits to wearing guyliner, which makes this a character choice and not just Once poking fun at its own makeup choices. Delightful!
Even better, Hook points out that even with all his evil plans, his past and future plans pale in comparison to Regina’s past deeds. Regina, remember, had no Dark Curse corrupting her. Just her mother… but that’s for another day.
Regina’s appeal works because of the rich history we know for both of these characters. Once has done such a marvelous job of giving us extensive back stories. I cannot think of another show in which we the audience know so much about the characters’ pasts. In this scene, Once reaps the benefits of all the time spent in the past because the audience can quickly grasp this shortcut/recapitulation about Regina’s issues and thus link into the next scene. This worked so much better than Scene 2 between Rumple and Hook, maybe because of the immediacy of the coming flashback.
Side note the second on the same subject: we can see how hard it is to keep the actors dry in this scene with how much the rain is blowing around. I’m not sure how Lana Parrilla is not shivering head to toe through the entire scene. I know of no colder conditions than blowing November rain… (ok, yes there are the poles, and other snowy places… but wet and cold are FAR more miserable than just cold and snowy.)
Scene 10: Shut Up. Get in the carriage.
Hook’s wine goblet… link to the present with the hip flask. Great!
I’ve got the mettle for it love. Nice line.
Teasing and flirting are always fun. They make this little glue scene work.
Scene 11: So I hear we’re giving up.
Dinner at Granny’s… who’s gonna cook that? Granny might have other things she’d like to be doing. Excuse the snark.
This tender scene between Regina and Emma is beautifully played by both Lana Parrilla and Jennifer Morrison. Especially Morrison. My one wish is that we could have gotten a reaction shot of Regina when Emma tells her she’s on a suicide mission.
I love seeing the dark pragmatist in Regina’s eyes as she recalls that getting rid of the darkness requires someone’s death. We can see how this is far from Regina’s first hard choice and we can watch her armor snap into place. Parrilla’s execution of this is brilliant.
Scene 12: I knew there was a hero in there.
Hearing crickets in the dead of winter is very weird. We should be hearing rain for this night. I don’t know why they chose crickets for Belle’s entrance.
In the running for performance of the night, Carlyle knocks it out of the park in this scene.
It’s the small things, the little choices he makes. Rumple is pacing in the back room of his shop and fiddling with the potion out of nerves. These human tells that often get left out of performances, or cut in production, humanize Rumple and draw us closer to him, draw us into the scene.
What gets me is how layered this performance is. Carlyle is playing two sets of emotions simultaneously.
One: what he wants to show to Belle. Rumple is letting her go (again) and giving her the life she has always wanted. Like when he sent her to town for some straw, he expects never to see her again. So he gives her the car and says goodbye.
Two: how he feels about his impending trip to the underworld. Rumple is sending Belle out of harm’s way. He doesn’t want her to know that he is about to die and he is saying goodbye to her forever. He is sparing her, at least for now, the stress and pain of his death.
This performance works so well because of our unique perspective as the audience. We get to watch both of these goodbyes at the same time giving this scene incredible depth.
Another excellent choice was not to cut the moments of Rumple’s continued pacing and sobs after Belle leaves. They could have cut right to the moment where he looks at the bug on his wrist, but instead we get to feel Rumple’s (and our) heartbreak while we listen to him cry. I say listen because this is shot (mostly) at the back of his head. Though that is a little odd, it works to show us the confined space of his shop.
Pauses like this, non-action purely emotive moments are so often cut. Especially in a packed episode like this one. Giving us the time to take a moment with Rumple allows us to sink into his heartbreak. Contrary to the style of many large budget actiony flicks, the audience benefits from these pauses enormously. When the pacing slows down, we get a chance to sit with our emotions and with the emotions of the characters. The alternative whisks us away from scene to scene and can feel a bit like being dragged by the hair through a story instead of experiencing it with the characters, as happened in this scene. These pauses grant us a deeper connection.
This scene has a rawness to it that would have been lost if it had been cut, rather than filmed more or less continuously from Rumple waiting for Belle to Regina and Emma leaving the shop. Because this is all one scene, we feel the emotional strain on Rumple because he only has that little tiny moment between Belle’s departure and the arrival of SwanQueen to himself. And that is no time at all to deal with a broken heart and looming death. It is also for this tiny moment that he earned his performance of the night.
I can only imagine where Carlyle is emotionally as this is being shot. From letting Belle go to having to put on a brave face in front of Regina and Swan is such a brief moment for transition. As anyone who has ever had to pull themselves together knows, this is tough if not impossible when faced with emotions like these. If I remember correctly, the back of the shop is a sound stage while the front is actually a shop in Steveston. If we assume that is true, the time gap between these two scenes is significant, but Carlyle still must make it appear that no time has elapsed at all. Perhaps that means he goes through the previous scene in his mind all over again before walking through the curtain to “greet” SwanQueen.
I don’t know what the method is for acting a scene like this, but at least a part of the actor experiences what is happening. I imagine that with this scene, like the scene a year ago (our time) at the town line, the actors in question call on their own experiences to inform their performance. For me at least, that would involve reliving something quite painful indeed.
That gets me back to the word raw. Carlyle doesn’t shy away from the pain of this scene in the least, which means we don’t either.
As for the characters themselves, the scene is just as dense.
Rumple wasn’t sure Belle would even come and meet him and given what she starts to say to him when she does, she thought about not coming at all. Belle’s suspicion (Am I going somewhere?) has to hurt, she doesn’t trust him not to try to forced her to go wherever. It is wonderful to watch Belle trying to figure out what he is up to after it’s clear he’s not going to try hauling her off. She knows he’s hurting and she suspects something is up.
The moment he hugs her is important. Belle didn’t want to hug him, note the stiff posture and how she hesitates before putting her arms around him. As is right, when, in the past Belle hasn’t wanted Rumple to touch her, he’s backed off. But now he doesn’t abide by that rule. His need to hold her is so great that he is willing to cross a line he never has before and touch her against her will for his own sake.
I find it difficult to judge Rumple for this breech of etiquette because of the circumstances which he, and we, are aware of and Belle is not. I think, in part, he uses the hug to hide the cracks in his facade from her. Yeah… consent for touch is SO important, but I still can’t find it in me to say Rumple is wrong here.
Belle doesn’t quite know what to make of Rumple’s odd behavior, but she does hug him back. We can see the moment she believes him, after he gives her the car. She feels respected, like she’s been given a chance to care for herself and she feels like he finally paid attention to her needs. She can’t help the smile.
When she looks back at him from the door, as if to say “Are you sure?”, she smiles at his nod. He’s finally cared for her needs before his own as he should have been doing all along. She is grateful, and she believes him.
Emotional bravery. That describes Rumple in this scene. This is, as far as he knows now, his last chance to love and care for his wife. And he does, magnificently. What a lovely parallel with Skin Deep. When Rumple leads with his heart, he gets it right. What’s more, is that we’ve seen this behavior from Rumple even while he was the Dark One. He’s given her more than one library.
And poor Rumple!!!
We get a nice SwanQueen moment here while Rumple is in the back getting Excalibur. Regina’s dread is palpable. Emma is just resigned.
Listen closely here: Excalibur was always destined for the hands of a true hero.
When we get to the end of the episode, think back on what Rumple says here.
On first pass, I felt Rumple’s comment about Emma’s bravery was itself an act of bravery. He’s never been so open about his feelings with either of them and we can see the surprise on Regina’s face.
I have to admit, I wonder why Rumple was honest a moment later. He says Emma’s plan might not work, that Excalibur chooses whom it finds worthy and it chooses its miracles. Perhaps a moment of self doubt? See the end of the episode.
And finally! Regina gets the invite to Granny’s she’s always wanted. This is lovely. Emma says she needs to be with her family and asks Regina along. SwanQueen!!
Scene 13: Pirates ain’t welcome here.
Princess Bride Reference: Dread Pirate Roberts… it seems we are at an impasse.
Thanks Regina for saving the day on that one!
Quite a nice little comic relief scene much needed after the previous with the tiny glue detail we needed to make the scene worthwhile: father!
Scene 14: Cheeky.
I love Zelena.
The withered knob of that sad old man….
Who else can’t believe they said that on Once??? LOL! In the running for line of the night.
Another runner up: somewhere over the rainbow!!!
Regina dispatches Zelena handily with a wee tornado. So perfect.
I hope we aren’t actually losing Zelena for too long though, she’s such a great foil for Regina.
Scene 15: Belle leaves town.
Rumple lurks, even with a pure heart, that guy lurks like a pro.
Scene 16: What would Emma have done if Regina had agreed to come with her to Granny’s?
Would she have left the note with Regina and trusted her to give it to everyone else later?
Scene 17: Speaking of lurking…
Hook is keeping tabs on Emma. Not sure on the necessity of this scene except perhaps to provide a more smooth transition to the following scene.
Scene 18: about more lurking.
It is nice to see that leather coat back, though I am not certain Colin O’Donoghue is happy to be wearing it, heavy as it is.
Also, timeline police needed. It is unclear now just how many centuries Hook and Rumple have been around. I have heard estimates that Rumple is at or near his third century, which wouldn’t work for Hook’s father’s claim to have left Hook as a child nearly a century ago.
Also, how do you fall in love with someone who is asleep?
Quick question: where is Killian’s brother Liam II now? Is he possibly in Storybrooke? A friend of Henry’s maybe?
Scene 19: Now you care what happens to me?
See, now Emma says, “The thing you spent centuries trying to destroy.”
Emma’s attempted murder of Hook here surprised me. I was not expecting that.
This bit with Hook using a glamor to become Henry lost one whole point for this episode. Not only is Emma much smarter than this, Emma acting like a victim is out of character for her. Emma is in charge and takes crap from no one. She would not have let Hook push her around.
Scene 20: Suicide note.
I’m sorry but I can’t let you all pay for my mistake. Deep down, you know I’m right. So please, promise me you’ll move on and find happiness and help Henry grow into the best man he can be. That’s enough for me. To die knowing the family I always wanted is safe. I love you all forever.
Gotta say, Henry, you left Neal right there next to the Dark One… Henry should have grabbed Neal and backed away. It looks like Jared Gilmore felt unsure about that, I wonder what was written.
Scene 21: Where are the dwarves??
So this is really it.
Yes, the SS Purgatory.
Nice line that.
Regina calls Hook on his crap, again. What kind of man do you want to be?
Scene 22: Braver than we think.
Did Liam II see Hook? Would he recognize him?
You’re just not worth it.
Poor Hook, he has even more in common with Rumple than we knew. They’ve both knifed their fathers to death. Only one of them was under a curse at the time… just saying.
Scene 23: Yes, I can.
You have to let me go.
What do I even say about this scene? Sad doesn’t cover it.
Morrison is in the running for performance of the night for this scene.
And I can say, that yes, I definitely cried here.
But I really don’t want to say too much more because this scene, at its core, is a simple one and speaks for itself.
Props to Gilmore for his reaction shots. He’s young, in reality, to experience something like that first hand. Yes, he knows it isn’t real and they all probably went for beer afterwards, except Gilmore doesn’t get any beer, but he did have to be there in the moment in his mind in order to perform in that scene. I think that might potentially be a lot for a young mind to handle.
Scene 24: After
If I was crying a scene ago, I was crying more when the put the sheet over Hook’s face.
I do wish there hadn’t been a scene break here though. It took me away from the moment and I would have benefited from the falling action as we did with Rumple after Belle left. If not for the scene break, this would have worked that way.
Scene 25: All night drinking.
The blowing leaves are a wonderful transition. And I love this pretty shot at dawn after a stormy night with the sky all rained out. I will say that dawn on that day didn’t look like that here, it rained all day too. Yes I realize that the entire episode wasn’t filmed on the same night, but I suspended my disbelief.
Rumple sounds a bit plastered when he yells, “Get out, we’re closed!”
I couldn’t believe my eyes. That Rumbelle kiss I’ve been waiting for? Oh yeah. I didn’t see that coming. I was certain that we wouldn’t see Belle again, maybe not for the rest of the season.
I was giggling for all I was worth. I felt that kiss to my toes!
Which means it was worth the wait.
Scene 26: Whispers
Emma didn’t sleep that night either. But now what?
At that moment I knew. I knew what the whispers meant. Excalibur wasn’t gone.
Then this cut.
Scene 27: At least somebody’s happy.
Thank you Once for being explicit (ish) about what happened between Belle and Rumple after that kiss. We don’t get a heck of a lot of spicy scenes in Once, unfortunately, but at least we know that they happen even if off camera.
Anyway, getting back to the point about the whispers. I said aloud at that scene cut, “Oh no!!”
Also, as if it wasn’t clear enough already, what kind of idiot isn’t still naked in bed with his wife while she sleeps???
And Rumple gets a text from Emma.
Scene 28: The Darkest One
NO!!! Rumple!!! Argh!!!
And look at that thing. Dang.
Oh, and I totally called it. He grabbed power when in dire straights.
Now that we’re over it a little, let’s set the record straight.
Rumple didn’t kill Hook. Rumple didn’t intend to kill Emma. Rumple wasn’t even certain his plan would work, per his comment about Excalibur choosing its miracles. Rumple planned on telling no one about his power, which means he had intended to continue being the good man Belle deserved.
Rumple’s intention was to take advantage of a situation not of his making to salvage what was left of his lot in life. He had lost Belle, she was gone. His heart was in tatters and he had lost his power. He was either going to die if Hook succeeded, or maybe, Excalibur willing, get his powers back. And then some.
Rumple also said that Excalibur belongs in the hands of a true hero, which at that moment he considered himself to be, and with good reason, slight of hand aside. Now he has (half of?) Excalibur for his tether. Could Rumple, now that he has been heroically transformed by his wife, be the hero Merlin was talking about, the one person who might be capable of using this power for good?
I suspect that that pure heart of his, tarnished surely by this deed but hey, and Belle will help him reign in the darkness. However, if the decision were left in my hands, I’d make him struggle with it.
About what Emma said regarding betraying everyone… I’d say the only person Rumple set out to betray was Emma herself because he did intend for her sacrifice to be for naught. Or rather for his gain. But Rumple had nothing to do with Hook’s sacrifice or Emma’s decision to run Hook through. Rumple didn’t kill Hook, Arthur did, back in Camelot.
Question: if the dagger is whispering, where is the other half of Excalibur?
Things are as they should be.
Rumple now has the combined power of every Dark One who ever lived.
I love listening to Carlyle narrate. This little montage gave us the falling action we needed after Emma ran Hook through. This pulls us back from our emotional flailing about and back into the narrative. I just love the satisfaction oozing out of Carlyle with this scene. Rumple has it all, his wife, his power-plus- and he gets to engage in a favorite past time: taunting.
Does Emma still hear the dagger because she was once infected with the darkness? Or do the effects of that infection still linger? It gives me a perhaps perverse sense of satisfaction to watch Emma lunge at Rumple in an attempt to kill him because that action says to me that while Emma may not be the Dark One anymore, we haven’t see the last of Dark Emma. Rumple couldn’t resist the temptation of the darkness while being the Dark One or after. I do not think Emma will just flip on a dime back to being the righteous Savior we knew. This is to the good, I think.
And Emma makes the same mistake Hook made, and she makes it again. She threatens Rumple’s marriage. That didn’t go well for Hook last season. And if Rumple needed any impetus to screw Emma over, the little incident with Merida trying to kill his wife would certainly give Rumple a reason for revenge.
Let’s keep in mind that Rumple was comatose for all of the happy little trip to Camelot. It’s tough to blame Rumple for Emma’s bad decisions made while she was the Dark One. He did not choose to give her the darkness. She took that herself, for a start. Though twisted and mutilated by dark influences, he tried to contain the damage the Dark One could cause by having Isaac write them all a little alterverse. It also bares keeping in mind that Isaac wrote that, not Rumple, for his own ends. He just did Rumple a favor by giving him a good life.
As many wrong decisions as Rumple has made, he did not remove the darkness from himself or set it free. He tried to contain it and spent the majority of his lifetime atoning for mistakes, though he has continued to make them. Rumple, realizing he could not even protect Belle as he wanted sent her away many times for love. He is not to blame for the consequences of Camelot. Not by any stretch. Unless becoming the Dark One to protect Baelfire from the war can be considered an act born of darkness. I thought not.
Scene 29: You’re going to Hell?
Wait a second… Gold didn’t trick Killian. Back the blame train up a parsec Miss Swan.
Rumple hoped to trick Emma. Hook, minus the Dark One, seemingly would have died from Excalibur’s scratch curtesy of Arthur.
Somebody was going to die, Hook just kinda did double duty and it was NOT Rumple’s fault.
Again, Rumple took advantage of a situation to save his own hide. He was not aiming for Hook and not even certain it would work.
Poor Emma, but… I’m doing this right?
Really? Hook should have died in Camelot, he asked her to let him go. She didn’t and screwed him over by making him the Dark One. What makes her think that cheating the Underworld out of its rightful denizen is right? She’s just scheming to assuage her own broken heart.
Now before anyone gets upset… I doubt I’d personally do any better on the decision making front at this point and I think going to the Underworld is a great writing decision. But I don’t think Emma deciding again to cheat death is a “right” as in moral decision.
Hook has made the decision to die twice. That is HIS right, Emma.
She’s not giving in to love, she’s giving in to selfishness.
No, before you ask, I don’t want Hook dead. I like him! And I like him and Emma together as a couple. But let’s call a spade a spade.
Scene 30: Do it.
This final scene left me with several questions.
First: why would either of Henry’s moms agree to taking him to the Underworld?
Second: why does Rumple use the dagger to provide a blood sample when any blade will do, and also, why cut the palm of a hand (then not just heal it by magic) when it makes much more sense to cut somewhere less mobile and easier to heal up?
Third: now everyone in Storybrooke knows Rumple’s the Dark One again making Emma’s threat to Belle rather an empty one.
Forth: why does Rumple go with them? He doesn’t have to. He could open the portal and he could have just sent them on their way with a blood sample. Even more than that, since Emma didn’t keep her end of the deal (by keeping Belle in the dark) Rumple doesn’t have to hold up his end either.
Lastly, “I will always find you,” belongs to the Charmings. Emma’s appropriation of it comes off cheesy to me.
Closing impressions: In spite of all my whinging toward the end, I did love this episode. Still, the 7/10 rating stands for the following problems:
There are a few mechanisms, when used in story telling, that bug me. Here is one of them. The reset button. I always hated sitcoms of the 1990s because nothing ever changed, ever evolved. It is also a problem with episodic dramas and procedurals of the same era. (I cannot comment on the modern versions much because I don’t watch sitcoms and avoid procedurals if I can find something better to watch.) I don’t like stories to be too chunkified. Pressing the reset button is a cop out of having to deal with real change and difficult character situations. Once has now done this twice in one episode. Emma is no longer the Dark One and Rumple has been restored as the singular dark badass we first met.
I say this, and yet this was my hoped for outcome even so. I had a hard time with Emma being infected with darkness and an even harder time seeing Rumple without his quiet, confident and competent power behind him. But life has consequences. There is no reset button. So this mechanism yanks me away from my ability to suspend my disbelief and perceive, at least while I am watching, that Once is real. Cardinal sin: do not yank me out of the daydream!!!
That said, I love that they didn’t shy away from killing Hook and lots went right this arc! But looking back at two major flaws that are rubbing me wrong are the memory wipe and this reset button business.
A third is a have my cake and eat it too dilemma. For a moment, Belle took strong independent steps toward living her own life, standing on her own two feet. But that only lasted about twenty minutes, screen time. As much as I whined in nearly all of these reviews about the lack of Rumbelle kisses, the need for Belle to truly become more than just Rumple’s Achilles heel won out in the end. They had an obvious opportunity here to let Belle’s story cross the midseason arc boundary and give her the chance to grow on her own. But they didn’t take it.
Now she’s just been screwed by Rumple, again. Literally and figuratively. Though I also cannot say that I wasn’t delighted by that scene. I have to wonder if these choices were motivated by factors external to the show, which they well could be. This would not be the first adaptation show writers have ever made for the same reason.
Looking back over these past eleven episodes I really have to say we have seen some delicious bits of writing, some splashes of genius and brilliant story telling. Compared with what else is available on television right now, Once is a rare opportunity for wonder and enjoyment. For me at least, most of the rest of what I have sampled is decidedly lackluster by comparison.
To give Season 5A an over all rating, I’d say 7.5/10. These missing points are for the issues mentioned above. I use Season 1 as my benchmark, what 10/10 looks like in the Once universe, because that was what drew me to this show with its imagination and heart.
What Once needs now, in my never-has-been-humble opinion is an over arching direction. Seasons One and Two had that: the promise of the premise. Fairytale characters in our world who don’t know who they are. Season 1, they figure it out. Season 2, they interact more with our world. But now? We have directionality only in half season chunks at a time without so much as a compass heading for the future. One of the reasons Battlestar Galactica 2003 worked so well was its ever present framework of finding Earth. With that basic and vague compass heading, the audience stayed tethered through a few rough side journeys and even some rather questionable love trapezoids, dare I say so. Once needs a compass heading, something for the fans to hold on to which makes it possible to ignore human mistakes in storytelling that happen in all shows because we can look over the horizon to the greater promise.
I can’t wait for more and I can’t leave off without saying that no matter how I critique this show and point out its flaws, I do love this show. Once has been a huge impetus for personal growth and exploration and I can’t remember the last time a TV show did that for me. Maybe Buffy the Vampire Slayer came close.
Come check out my Once projects:
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!