Because Real Life is what it is, I am abbreviating my reviews this season. I fell off the wagon last season entirely because I could not keep up with the standard I had set for myself. I am therefore adjusting my style to something hopefully a bit more manageable. I hope you still find this useful and entertaining.
Reviews will include a few of my favorite scenes with analysis of how they functioned and why they spoke to me as well as a scene or two that did not go so well, what did not work. I will look at film craft and scene structure as well as some plot points.
Without further ado- The Savior.
Because I like to end on a good note and because my least preferred scene was short, I will start there and keep my notes on it brief.
The Temple of Morpheus: Storybrooke in exchange for your wife
This is what I have termed in the past a glue scene, a snippet of exposition which allows entry into another scene. These are hard to get right to begin with, but this one had a really unfortunate flaw. Mr. Hyde’s narration was over the top performance-wise and distracting from what we really care about.
I know the idea was to cut to the chase and get into Belle’s dream already, but I think we would have been better served to see the conversation between Hyde and Rumple in which Rumple trades Storybrooke for Belle than to have to suffer that cheesy voiceover. We could have seen the conversation and then seen Rumple appear in the temple. Easy, no map plus forest plus funky narration.
And now onto the much more pleasant topic of the top two scenes of the night. My favorite scenes in order of appearance:
Mad House: Mommy’s got to go help barbecue a bad-guy
Our neat and tidy mayor just came home to boxes upon boxes of junk and a screaming baby. Thump. Crash. How will Regina cope with her new world order?
I love how clearly this scene illustrates the theme: Regina’s got some big time growth to do and it’s going to be painful. She has to change. And she has to cope with the chaos that is life. A little chaos is normal. Uh huh, this lady has always liked control. This’ll be a toughy for her.
Lana Parrilla. I can’t say enough good about this woman and I could watch her all day. Regina must visibly switch gears to avoid biting her sister in two on top of her Rumple problems- he gave away the town, after all. But only after she and the rest of the heroes left Belle and his baby to rot, but who’s counting? Blame Rumple anyway, why change now? (Oh, was that tangential? Not sorry.)
Back on track, Regina, clearly disrupted by the hot mess of her life- and now her sister’s life, puts forth a valiant effort at filiality.
Zelena, frankly, does a better job. Rebecca Mader is always such a delight on screen and we can see the effort Zelena is putting into really giving this sister thing a go. She is invested.
And then something goes wrong. Poor Zelena (did I really just say that?) made an understandable mistake. She lost something while moving. That could never happen to anyone.
It looked for a moment like Regina might warm up to this effort and then-
Well, I’m certain the feather is definitely someplace safe.
Of course she isn’t angry. Oh Regina! Parrilla’s expression here… in the running for performance of the night.
Let’s talk cinematography and film craft for a bit.
The main thrust of their conversation happens with them in two separate rooms. What a great choice! They stand at a threshold and make an attempt to be genial with one another. Great blocking decision. Make the theme statement with physicality.
In the beginning of the scene, Zelena crosses the threshold into Regina’s side of things, expecting to be an equal partner in saving the town, but Regina rebuffs her. Zelena then crosses back into her room, still trying to bridge the gap by finding the feather. For a second, Regina takes a little step toward Zelena, but that doesn’t last.
Regina flees the scene. While I realize this is stepping over the scene boundary, this moment of continuity is worth mentioning: we cut from Regina’s false cheer to the rage she really feels while she throws magic at her vault.
The motion of this scene is ping-ponged back and forth over the threshold between the entryway and the sitting room of Regina’s house. Regina feels like a stranger in her own life, can’t even recognize it for how far off the rails it appears to have gone, while Zelena is trying to carve out a space for herself in her sister’s life instead of constantly trying to spite her.
They both have space issues and using the border between two rooms to play this out worked brilliantly.
Help me practice: choices
I can’t help myself, I have a soft place in my heart for Rumbelle and I am a sucker for a love story. This scene is everything I’ve missed since Skin Deep way back in Season 1. There is tenderness here that wrapped me up in a warm blanket and dragged me wholesale into the scene.
Beauty and the Beast is my favorite Disney movie ever which made this scene all the more meaningful to me. I had felt quite shortchanged during Belle and Rumple’s honeymoon dance because they barely danced at all before cutting away to some gag with Charming which not only fell flat but robbed us of being able to really savor a sweet moment we had most definitely earned as an audience. Here, the writers paid that debt.
Who would have thought a two minute thirty second fast forward of a love story could work so well? How could that possibly be satisfying? And yet it was. This scene is so simple and yet amazingly complex as I am about to illustrate.
This scene could be summed up by saying: Rumple convinced Belle to dance in her dream world. But there is so much more to this scene. It is a feast in contextual richness.
Let’s follow Belle’s emotional arc through this scene first. One of the wonderful things about this scene is that the set itself is reflective of Belle’s feelings. Here again we are brilliantly treated to the physicality of the scene being used in service to the plot. That means that the set choices and Belle’s emotions happen together and can’t really be separated.
To begin, Belle enters the great hall with the tea, quickly, quietly. Her anxiety and stiffness are obvious. She is afraid.
The hall itself is dark with marble floors the color of dried blood. Rumple enters in shadow at the doorway and the light is only around Belle. He is clad in dark, somber colors.
All but quivering, Belle stumbles through apologies in terror of his displeasure. I am uncertain if the Rumple we see as she looks toward the opening door is our Rumple playing the part of what she expects to see or what she is projecting onto him in her dream. I want to guess that this is Belle’s projection based on the less than warm flourish of his hands, but that could also just be Rumple’s own nervousness at the situation.
Rumple appears before her, catching the cup. Belle has no idea what to make of Rumple’s suddenly considerate and flirtatious behavior. What game is he playing? Why did he catch the cup? She is shocked at this. And, why attempt to ease her fear?
But then his thumb is over her fingers and Belle starts sensing the emotion rolling off of Rumple. She knows something has changed in him and we can see the moment she sees it. Her anxiety is melting away.
The second Rumple is near Belle, he begins to shine in the light, her glow reflecting on him.
In the absence of mocking or cruelty, Belle’s courage mounts and she overtly questions him. She turns to face the music and I wonder in this moment if memory, though still below her consciousness, is beginning to stir at the familiar music.
While I am not usually one to tolerate let alone condone overt thematic statements in dialogue, this one really works. Belle wasn’t aware she had any choices as his servant. Rumple says, “You do.”
This whole business between Belle and Rumple is about choices, hers and his and how they fit together, or they don’t. In the real world, Belle has been backed into so many corners because of his choices that she feels like she has no space to choose for herself: he throws her out of his castle originally regardless of her feelings, he runs off to Neverland and does not let her come with him, he kills himself in front of her, he gives her a false dagger and trots off to commit murder et cetera in order to rid himself of the dagger, he creates a fake world without her consent to protect his heart, he traded their baby’s life for Baelfire’s, he made a string of decisions about their baby without her consent and acted even after she explicitly asked him to promise not to. That’s probably not even everything.
So when Belle, in her dream world, feels powerless and helpless with regards to him, having her say so in the context of a dance stands in for all that I just listed above. It’s a tiny phrase that says so much. Oh wow does it say so much.
And then Rumple, giving his own thematic material voice, gives her the choice. There have been many times when Rumple has desperately tried to give Belle choices: go to town and fetch straw- he does not expect her to come back but he gives her the choice, he tells her overtly he is still a monster just after the curse breaks and gives her the choice through his honesty to be with him or not, later he gives her the library in Storybrooke and the truth about why he was doing magic thereby again giving her the choice to accept him or not, Belle chooses to marry him and he does intend for her to have the real dagger even if he falls off the rails two seconds later, Rumple gives her back her heart and accepts her choice of Will, Rumple is honest about the impending death of his humanity and gives Belle the chance to get far away from him, he makes Belle’s choice clear to be with him or not after his duel with Hook and then, amazingly, gives her the choice to leave Storybrooke- and him- to go make her dreams a reality.
I’m certain that’s not an exhaustive list, but the point should be clear by now. Though Rumple has taken choices from Belle, he has not done so indiscriminately and he has tried to respect her within his own limitations (considerable as those are). Rumple doesn’t disregard Belle’s feelings because he wants to control or dominate her, he does so because he’s not very good at being a partner. The self-proclaimed monster. And now he’s trying to be a better man.
All that got communicated in two tiny sentences.
Morpheus accused Rumple of taking Belle’s choices away from her by using her state of unawareness to his advantage. Rumple was not deaf to this! He gives Belle this choice: consider him or not. And just before she wakes, he presents his case and then waits for her decision, much as he wishes it were different.
To sum up, a huge amount of thematic work done in an itty-bitty space.
Getting back to the lighting, when Belle and Rumple are touching, he enters a lit space, when they are apart, only she is lit. Watch what happens when she puts her hand in his, accepting the dance. Her light spreads to him.
Performance wise, that little movement, Emilie de Ravin placing her hand in Robert Carlyle’s, was so tangible, so warm, I could all but feel the radiance of that touch myself. I was that wrapped up in this scene.
I know this is a trick, Rumple knows this is a trick, but this is still a healing moment, if not for Belle overtly, for Rumple while he acts on his love for his wife to save her and his child. Even with Belle unaware of what is happening, Rumple is right, his love for them is true and we can all feel it.
And so can Belle. As her fear lifts away, the room changes from a torture room to what we remember complete with her own alterations: open curtains and light pouring in.
This moment, how can I even put this into words? As she dances, the changes in the room communicate that Belle goes from seeing the Beast to seeing the man behind the Beast. We got to physically watch Belle’s heart and mind change.
How often is this possible in film medium???
I’ll ask you again. How on earth can a visual medium achieve what the written word can and get inside a character’s head? This is why this scene is such a work of art. They just made the impossible possible. Without hearing a single thought, reading a single word, we know how Belle is feeling, unequivocally.
Using the Dark Castle to physically communicate what Belle is experiencing worked beyond my wildest expectations for a mere television show. This is so creative. Normally, all we get is what the actors can give us. This is no slight to actors, at all, but facial expressions and body language are never equivalent to thoughts and feelings. How can they be? But this? This is a whole new way to get into Belle’s inner landscape, to experience another person as we cannot in real life.
Oh, and I love the dust motes. They are hyper-present in this scene and a beautiful call back. “The place is looking dusty, Rumple. You should get a new girl.”
Bravo, Once, this is some very fine work.
I would not want to shortchange Rumple in this scene because the emotional work he does here is just as worthy of mention.
We’ll begin again with his entry into his great hall. After having reviewed this from Belle’s perspective I am more convinced that Rumple is playing to Belle’s memories and expectations of how he was back then. He puts on the Imp so as not to jar her too much.
For Rumple, this is a chance to go back and do what he wishes he had back then, to be the man he wants to be. The man who eases Belle’s fears, who comforts her, who respects her (see above). Rumple has an opportunity to show Belle what is in his heart, truly.
He may being wearing the Imp, but only because he is not immune to the effects of her dream. He would likely have taken a different tack if she had been aware.
Look at the light shining on his face when he catches the cup, prevents it from being damaged. Close to Belle as he is, he shines in her light. The dream, I theorize, is reacting to him too, because, after all, he is in it now. The ownership is still clearly hers, but he is dreaming too.
I can’t ignore the fact that Rumple introduces himself to Belle in this scene on his knees, looking up at her. Him entering at the doorway still seems to be her perspective to me, but his catching the cup? That’s all him. Rumple is trying to apologize and beg forgiveness.
And he is suiting words to actions, or rather feelings to actions. He changes what he can to make it better for her. Originally, he dismissed her feelings over the broken cup and enjoyed intimidating her. Now he will go out of his way for her comfort and care.
If the best apology is a change in behavior, Rumple is trying.
One more note about the cup: it has been symbolic for their relationship from the very start. Most recently, Rumple broke the cup to escape captivity and their relationship is currently in pretty bad shape. The cup is whole in this scene. Their relationship can only be whole as long as both of their hands are holding it together. Very nice symbolism.
That said, I am not certain if he intended to hold her hands here or not. His feelings are very much on the surface and he can only play along so far without them showing more than he intends. So it seems. He is making this up as he goes.
Rumple takes a chance in starting music Belle might recognize. We can see him check her reaction as she turns away to look at the gramophone. Though he does not want her to see it, obviously, he has a lot on the line and he does not want to blow this one chance he has to save his wife and child.
And just like he used to, he uses theatrics to mask his true feelings. And then Belle confronts him with the reality of her (dream/past) situation: she is his captive, she has no choices. That tiny and brief expression on Rumple’s face at her comment looks like guilt and pain to me but it takes him only a second to try again to be the man he wants to be, the one that takes her feelings into account.
And I thought the moment Belle accepts his request was tender from her perspective! Rumple watches her hand in his like he can’t believe it’s real, like he’s been drowning without her, like he just got everything he ever wanted. But. We can also feel his pain here, see his mouth drop open a little and his face falls a little as he looks up at her. Uncertainty? Fear?
And then Belle scrutinizes him, trying to figure him out, but willing to play along for the moment.
When he pulls her into his arms, that poor man looks like he could fall apart at any moment. He is daring to hope and still so terrified of failure. He can’t believe he’s about to be dancing with his wife again. We can all but hear him thinking, “This has to work or she is lost forever. I am lost forever.”
And he has missed her, missed this.
For a moment Rumple loses himself in dancing with his wife. Look at the intensity of that eye contact. I can’t even imagine being under that gaze. I wonder if he even noticed the change in the room at first.
He clearly notices eventually though as he backs away from Belle in order to give her the ballgown.
Then we get that signature Rumple giggle. I doubt Rumple (not Carlyle, Rumple) had to do much acting with that giggle because I think his time spent in Storybrooke has been more a suppression of that emotive part of him than the loss of it. The way he taps his hands together in glee? I think Rumple misses at least that part of the Imp’s freedom of expression.
And Rumple glows at Belle before he gives us the line of the night: Maybe I’m tired of being a Beast.
Here, in this dreamland, Rumple feels he can be safely honest with Belle. Rumple has been nothing if not goal oriented his entire life since he became the Dark One centuries ago. Rumple wants now what he wanted then, to have his family safe and with him. In this moment, Rumple wants to lay down the burden of the darkness and be with his wife. That’s the truth. Regardless of what Morpheus says later.
Rumple’s love for Belle and his child is no lie.
Belle warms up to him here, and her body language becomes expansive, like his as he twirls her and smiles. Rumple is as much remembering how he fell in love with her as he is falling in love all over again.
Full disclosure, I fell in love with their story all over again in this moment too.
Where do I even start on the performances in this scene? Carlyle and de Ravin seem to be effortless scene partners. Did this scene take them back in time as it did us, and Rumple and Belle? These two have been through so much together through their characters and passion still suffuses everything they do. If I don’t miss my guess, I think they both enjoyed this scene, perhaps as a welcome respite from the angst we’ve all been subject to for several seasons now.
Any excuse in the world to see Carlyle as the Imp/Dark One I will relish because he sells it beyond any measure. How can a character so far out of this world feel so real? So immediate? But Rumple does. It must be magic.
And what a happy choice of Emilie de Ravin to play opposite him. She keeps pace with him, balances his larger than life character, tempers the scene and keeps us grounded. She makes Rumple’s character accessible to us in a way we would not otherwise have.
I don’t pretend to be able to see into the minds of the actors, but it looks to me like there is a magnificent trust there which allows them both a safe space for performance. I am thinking of Rumple’s giggle and of Belle’s fluidity in their dance. Carlyle and de Ravin both brought their expertise to the scene and shared it with us.
Because both of the scenes on my favorites list were partnered scenes, I will award performance of the night to a pair. I’m quite certain you already know who blew me away.
Thank you Mr. Carlyle and Ms. de Ravin for this fantastic work.
I don’t think I succeeded in writing any less, or spending any less time on this review, which was the goal. But I have to say, writing it made me happy. I tell you it is amazing to take a deep dive into the art work and look, moment for moment and the emotion and film craft on display. It is easy to passively consume a TV show, and that’s what is expected. But the rewards for analysis? I hope I could communicate to you how I was feeling as I did it.
I don’t claim to be an authority when it comes to mind reading. Every emotion I describe seeing above is just that, an emotion I saw. If you saw something else, more power to you! Go write about it and tell me where so I can read it. For me, I just spent several hours with Belle and Rumple feeling what they felt in that scene and I assure you, it was time well spent. Time beautifully spent.
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!