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Once Upon A Time Wish-List: 5 Things I Crave

Because when has wishing for something ever gone wrong?

In all seriousness, I’ve watched five and a half seasons of Once Upon A Time now and like any fan who takes this stuff too seriously, I’ve got a wish-list.

  1. Explore/expand Rumple’s relationship with his grandson. Please! Let Rumple and Henry get to know each other. If I were Henry, I would be asking Grandpa Gold for stories about my dead father. How could these two being thrust together to solve a problem not be great drama?
  2. I want to see the promise of the premise: fairytale characters in our world. Evict the cast from Storybrooke! That, or do start driving tour buses up and down Main Street such that our rather magical characters have to confront that they now live in a world “without magic.”
  3. Start teaming up other non-obvious duos for shenanigans: Belle and David could have to solve something or Granny and Hook. Yes. That sounds like a riot, Granny and Hook save the day.
  4. More Archie! So many of, all of, our main cast really need some couch time to deal with their issues. And therapists are problem solvers, use Archie!
  5. A direction. I would like to see an overarching goal for the series, a grand arc. Give us a sense of where this has all been going so that when the series does end, because like all good things it will, we get the satisfaction of having arrived.

None of these things are related to my hopes for the currently active storylines, not because I don’t have such hopes, believe me I do, but rather I wanted to take a look at the bigger picture. These wishes are more for the distant future, wishes I think could bring Once viewers (me!) a lot of satisfaction.

Admittedly, I think the first one is a bit of a plot hole that needs filling. In a story so focused on family, it doesn’t make sense not to address a huge loss for two major characters. Both Henry and Rumple have unmet needs with regards to Baelfire’s death. These two characters need each other for support and there is no way Henry would not want to know everything about his father. Rumple is the only source of information about Baelfire’s childhood.

In addition, the fact that Rumple lost his son is what caused this entire story; it’s a little bit important. So it would likewise be important to show how Rumple is dealing with the death of that son. He would want to know his grandson and do everything he could to preserve that relationship. As it stands, he has a relationship with Henry in name only. The last time we saw a hint of this relationship was early in season four.

My second wish could be a way to raise the stakes and address the fundamentals of the show. The interaction between two worlds is a conflict so huge there are a million directions they could take this. Exploring this concept would be a perfect way to use the characters we have to full advantage. We, if it’s not to presumptuous to say so, are attached to the characters who have been in our lives for years and their stories are important to us. I do not feel the need to add more fairytales to the mix, but to explore how the players we have (and that’s a lot already!) would handle our world, the world outside the town line.

Of course, opening this door would allow us to exit the typical patterns of interactions we have come to expect between our characters. Who knows what Granny and Hook might get into when Granny expands her franchise to include catering river cruises on the Jolly Roger?

And oh dearie me do our poor characters all need therapy! Archie is the town secret-keeper and I can just see him feeling unable to stay uninvolved in a particular catastrophe because of what he knows, doctor-patient confidentiality or not. A rich vein for exploration largely untapped.

Lastly, the sense of direction. One of the greatest strengths of several stellar television shows in the recent past has been that they are a complete story. I’m talking about Breaking Bad and Battlestar Galactica, the 2003 reimagining. Both of these had an infinite array of possibilities which could take place between the beginning and the end. The writers could go after any theme they wanted as long as it served the spine of the story. Without spoiling either show, having an end point doesn’t have to mean a fixed number of seasons or episodes, it is only a direction that, when the writers are satisfied that they have explored the world they created, can be employed to satisfy the audience and tie everything together neatly.

A direction does not have to be the back of a cave with nothing beyond it, it can be more like a doorway at the end of the hall. It can even be an open door, but it is a marker and it let’s the audience know what to anticipate. In my opinion, anticipation and the guessing game the audience plays with fiction are a huge part of the fun. I have this inkling of where a story is headed, so I become an investigator picking up clues trying to figure out how to get there, wherever there is.

A directional hint also gives the audience confidence that the writers themselves are not lost even when the story meanders delightfully somewhere unexpected. I am certain there are disadvantages to having a known direction, but a direction can serve the story by revealing just enough of the spine to hold what would otherwise appear to be disparate pieces together. I believe that gentle boundaries help keep a story focused on what is important and help it keep moving toward its ultimate purpose. And stories do need a purpose!

Once may have hinted at a direction with Snow’s goal of getting back to normal and in how Emma and Aladdin both have expressed fatigue over the constant barrage of hardships suffered because they are saviors. I earnestly hope that Once does not conclude its run with everything being “normal” in Storybrooke because for me, there is no worse death for a story than to rip away what made it special in the first place.

That said, I would still find it quite satisfying to have our characters learn to live with and accept their extraordinary lives and be able to pursue more ordinary dreams. But don’t take away the magic; that would kill something beautiful and unique.

Some may be wondering why I’ve been talking about how to end a story with reference to Once. No, I don’t have any scoop or inside knowledge. I would not want any such thing anyway because I am vehemently anti-spoiler. But, because I am a writer, I know that the end of the story is the thing that keeps a story on track. I would be delighted to see Once successfully go on for several more years. I would not be delighted to see it wander fizzling in the dark for several more years. So it is with that in mind that I am thinking about its ultimate aim.

It needs to have one, even if it doesn’t tell us at all, my stated preferences aside.

I’m certain it is obvious to everyone that Once means a great deal to me. I have a wish-list not because I think Once is a lousy show, but because when I think about Once, my brain starts sparking off in a million different directions. I have so many ideas about what Once could do it isn’t even funny. If Mr. Kitsis and Mr. Horowitz are looking for another employee, consider this my audition piece. Yeah, I’d love to write for Once. That would make me extremely happy!

Do you have a million ideas about Once too?

What do you need from Once? What are you hoping for quite aside from the granular season level plot points? If Once were yours, what would you do with it?

I can’t wait to read your comments!

While you’re thinking about it, you can check out some of my projects! I have conducted a study of OUAT viewer preferences and you can check on my progress here. Yay for science!

You can also check out my fan-art! This pottery project is a thank-you to the creators of Once and a testimonial of what Once has become to its fans.

Magic Through Art: Once Upon A Time’s Fan-Art Community

I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite things about being a part of the fandom is the fan-art. Who knew that television watchers, that’s what we are after all, were such an amazingly talented group?

Well, it should have been obvious. Once is, in my not humble at all opinion, among the most inventive, imaginative, novel and fantastical television shows to hit the main stream since probably Buffy. Sure there are lots of great shows out there, but most fall into genre boxes that already exist. Then there’s Once, which upon its birth, defied the typical mold by eschewing the easy crowd pleasing genres. It’s not a procedural. It’s not a pure fantasy like Game of Thrones. It’s not a historical fiction. It’s not a crime driven drama. It’s not animated children’s (or adult’s) television. It’s not a space opera or other science fiction piece. Oh, and thank the gods it’s not a reality show. Even if I do have a soft place for cooking shows like MasterChef Junior. Once seems a bit out there on its own. For now (here’s hoping we can get more shows like Once in the future!).

It should have been obvious that Once fans are amazingly creative people because Once, being what it is, would clearly attract out of the box thinkers: those prone to flights of fancy, those whose inner worlds are populated by things on the edges of the bell curve. Yup, I’m a nerd. And I’m not alone!

All this creative energy is so wonderful because artists and writers and imagineers of all kinds come out of the woodwork to show us all they’re amazing stuff. Heck, Adam Horowitz hosts #FanArtFriday on Twitter (seems mostly when the show is running) just to show off how creative his fans are! The tide of positivity coming from the fandom’s artists lifts us all when we’re a part of these communities.

Feeling sad because something happened to your favorite character? Here, look at some art! Feeling excited because your favorite just had the best thing ever happen to them? Someone probably made art about that too. Not sure what you’re feeling and just want company? Visit the fandom and talk to an artist. They want to talk to you! At least I do.

What about the fan-artists themselves? What does the art do for them? Why are people rampantly making art about Once Upon A Time? Those are huge questions and there are undoubtedly a gazillion answers. While these artists are not officially affiliated with OUAT, they are a piece of how we experience Once. As a fan-artist myself, I feel like I’m part of something bigger than I am, like there’s just a little bit of Once’s magic in me. I hope Mr. Horowitz and Mr. Kitsis don’t mind.

Here’s a video about my fan-artist experience:

Read more about this project here.

Sharing something like this with a huge group such as a fandom helps me feel engaged as a fan. But, I’ll be honest, it’s also a little scary because those are some large emotions I just put on the screen for you. That’s probably just as true for any piece of fan-art you see. The artist is sharing their emotional world with you, even if not as explicitly as I just did.

As a potter, I spend a lot of time with other artists and one thing I know for certain about my compatriots: they love talking about art. Their art, other people’s art, your art. Oh, do we love to talk about art! Now maybe potters are just a chatty bunch, but I suspect the same is true for lots of other artists. I invite you to talk to the fan-artists you come across about their work! How’d they come up with the idea? How did they make whatever it is they made? How did their art make you feel?

See what I mean about what fan-art brings to our community? We all love to share it around and talk about that amazing drawing/painting/manipulation we saw. Heck, some corners of the fandom even have awards ceremonies which include art.

But. There is a little bit of fan history I should share that’s not so sunny, so I’ll keep it brief. The creators of books, television and movies weren’t always so supportive of fan work. The phenomenon of explicitly encouraging fan works is actually fairly recent. In the past, if you got caught making something of your own based off someone else’s intellectual property, copyright, you could be sued. For real and for serious, sued. The fanfiction world in particular was vulnerable to this and many older fics will prominently display a disclaimer making it clear that they are not making any money off the work and are not intending an infringement.

Nowadays “fair use” seems to be a bit more broadly protective of fan creativity. Many content originators now encourage fan activities because they actually increase fan engagement with the original work. It took them a while to see that, but it seems they have come around. Because of that, we have our wonderful and massive online communities which share our personal fan work with each other for everyone to enjoy. Yay for progress! (Disclaimer: this is not legal advice!)

So celebrate the fan-art! It’s marvelous to have access to thousands of artists we would never otherwise even hear about because you won’t find their work in galleries or museums. We all love to share fan-art around in our communities, that’s how we see it, but just make sure to keep the artists identifying info attached to the work so they get the credit when it goes viral. We may not be able to legally make money off of some of this work, but fan-artists can transform from amateurs into professionals because of recognition, so it’s super important to nurture that process.

That leads me to the part where I would like to repost all my favorite fan-art works, but I don’t have the permissions or the links I’d need to do this right. That could change if you, a fan-artist, want your work displayed here on this blog. We could definitely talk about that! I’d have to figure out how to make it work, but it shouldn’t be too terribly difficult.

So, with that happy thought, go forth and keep creating the fan-art which makes our fandoms amazing. And then go thank the content creators (actors, writers, crew, musicians etc.) for their hard work which makes all this possible.

Before you go, you can check out some of my projects! I have conducted a study of OUAT viewer preferences and you can check on my progress here. Yay for science!

Studying the Magic of Once Upon A Time

Update! 17 March 2017

While I work through the data, this page will be a bit of a rolling updates page rather than a cohesive article. When I’m done, I’ll post a fresh and beautiful research paper style article for your reading pleasure. But for now, I am attempting to be accountable as I intended. Here a little of the raw data, a few of the hypotheses and a couple of the limitations. The following is a draft and will be revised over time:

Total Responses: 1,200 (Wow, seriously, thank you!)

Total Respondents to complete the survey (answered every question): 1,036

Hypothesis 1: OUAT live ratings are significantly impacted by online viewership.

Hypothesis 2: OUAT’s audience is not primarily children.

Limitation 1: Survey conducted over the internet. This survey may or may not have reached general audience members outside internet based fandom groups. It cannot be assumed to describe general OUAT viewers as a population.

Limitation 2: Reach limited by attempts to avoid bias. Bias possibly introduced by participant sharing, uncontrolled by the researcher. Many online OUAT communities are segregated by relationship preference. Researcher did not publicize directly to these communities, but members of general communities did share the survey within their relationship specific groups.

Descriptive article about the survey:

This is a fun, but also serious, look at Once viewer preferences. I’ve asked a few typical researchy type questions up front so I can sort out the basics, but then there’re the tasty character/preference questions which I think will be at the heart of the matter. Because Once’s characters are its heart, right? I’m hoping to get to know a little bit more about how Once viewers think and feel about Once.

This survey has closed!

I’ve taken a look at the data and I’m super excited to start working with it! I am going to be able to discuss so much! FourEyes has some very promising statistical tools in addition to what I can do on my own. Can you believe I’m going to be able to comment on whether or not I found a correlation between those who watch Once with their cats and who their favorite characters are?

I did actually ask more serious questions for science, demographics and such, but I am most looking forward to seeing if there are any surprises in the data. I’ve been kicking around the fandom listening for a while now, so I have suspicions about certain trends, but what will the data show? Will they bare out my suppositions? Or do my hunches only reflect my personal biases and where I spend most of my fandom time? What about you? Once you’ve taken the survey, do you have any predictions? I’d love to see those in the comments!

I suppose I better write down my hypotheses before I run the data… like a good scientist and all.

I did my best to balance this survey and keep my own biases out of it as much as possible. I want this work will serve all Once viewers, and you never know, ABC might be interested in this data too. Could happen!

The good news is that since this has been open for over a year, I already have a healthy sample size so some of the trends seem robust already. That said, I didn’t do things like get an expert to determine the power needed for a study like this to be representative of the population of Once viewers, among many other limitations, but still, there is enough here to have some fun and maybe tell us something we didn’t know. Of course, more is always better and I’m hoping that re-publicizing this more than a year later will catch new fans that didn’t see it the first time. Could I double my sample size??? You can help me out with this by sharing it everywhere you talk about Once, online and off.

The final plan is to write a research journal-like paper on this so you can really see what I found and what I’ve been up to with this. My skills with statistics are limited, but we’ll see what help I can scare up in that department. I have nerdy math friends. I’m aiming for lots of pretty graphs, interesting associations and whatever other fascinating tidbits I can squeeze out of the data set. I can’t wait to see how this comes out!

Here’s the accountability monster for you: Barbara, we want to see some preliminary findings by 1 April 2017. That means at least the raw data, the hypotheses and the limitations.

Uh-oh, I guess I better stick to that!

See you folks in April, but in the mean time, check out this fan-art project that is finished! I worked very hard making this pretty for everyone. I hope you enjoy it. See? I really do finish my projects, even when they take more than a year to complete.

Here’s the link to the original article about this survey for posterity and completeness.

Update! As I was ruminating on this little project I thought for sake of clarity I should mention a couple important things. This survey has never seen a human subjects review. I cannot imagine this survey being anything other than a fun way to pass the time and to perhaps provide some interesting thoughts about Once. That means that when you participate, you consent for yourself to do this survey as is, so no promises, guarantees or anything else.

I also want to address a very important question I got yesterday about privacy. This survey keeps your data very private! I do not know who you are, all results are anonymous from me. I cannot, even if you commented to me on FaceBook, connect a response to a person.

What do I see? I get your answers to the demographic questions in the survey itself and I get some very basic nationality/hit data on my blog statistics. That means I get a big colorful map of the world, a list of countries and how many hits from each country. I also know what website referred a hit to this blog. But I DO NOT have identifying features like names, email addresses or anything else like that. So, I don’t know who you are and I can’t find you. If you come in from your own blog, I can find your blog though. Even so, I cannot connect your blog to your response. The survey answers are anonymous.

But what about this blog? If you leave a comment, I’ll get whatever email you use for that and the username you choose. But I still won’t be able to connect your comment to your survey response. I will not sell anybody’s anything. I’m not like that. So, now that we’ve been thorough about privacy disclosures (I hope), proceed and have a great time with this. I can’t wait to see what comes out of the data! And thank you very much for asking about this stuff. Very helpful for everyone.

A Fan-Art Thank You for Once Upon A Time

Gratitude Project Presentation: 5 February 2017

It’s hard to believe this has come so far! I am very, very pleased with the outcome and consider the Gratitude Project wildly successful. Please enjoy the video!

While I have no expectation that the bell recipients will ever land on this page, it could happen, so I will address them in the beginning of this article. For everyone, after that are my initial conclusions about this project and some of the nerdy details I just couldn’t stuff into a tiny video. Consider this some bonus material included for those interested. I hope you like it.

Bell Recipients!

If you are here because you were mentioned in the video and I have a bell for you, I am SO glad you’re here!!! Please use the below picture to tell me which bell you want! If you comment here on my blog, I will receive it. I might suggest that you tweet a brief video of yourself saying “I want my bell!” and its number to me (@ponamgaudium). It might be easiest to follow me on Twitter so that we can private message back and forth in order to get it to you. Video chat is also an option so we can both be confident of with whom we are making arrangements.

Please note that my travel abilities and resources are limited so I will want to make only one trip up to Vancouver to deliver these. You are of course always welcome in Seattle and I will happily meet with you if you are passing through. Again, thank you so much for what you’ve done for me. I really can’t say that enough.

Which one is your favorite?
Which one is your favorite?

The Drafts

An illustration of progress from right to left.
An illustration of progress from right to left.

Barbara, what are you going to do with the umpteen drafts sitting on your kitchen counter? Um. Well. I may choose to come to filming sometime this spring with a box of drafts in tow and offer then to whomever is working on set that day. I might do that. I make no promises about the drafts.

I hate that I had to choose who to dedicate the final versions to. It’s too bad these are so hard to make that I can’t make one for everyone who works on Once, but sadly, those are the facts. If you are cast, crew, writer, musician et cetera and you let me know you are interested in one of the drafts, that will increase the likelihood that I bring them to set. If I am unlikely to recognize you, you will need to provide evidence that you actually do work on Once because I am uninterested in wild goose chases or dishonest people who think they are entitled to someone else’s gift. Sorry to be that way, but needs must.

These are offered as is and none of the available drafts has a clapper installed. I have a few spare parts which will go to whomever speaks first, but I make no guarantees about these drafts. Please keep in mind that many of these are obviously broken and may have sharp edges. 

Outcome of the Gratitude Project

The journey through this project has been an amazing one for me. At the outset, I figured it’d take me a quarter to do and that would be that. Not so. I learned so much over the course of the year and suffice it to say, my pottery skills have improved. Emotionally, I find I had little idea what to expect. What I anticipated and what I got are quite distinct. A friend suggested I post a blooper reel to illustrate more fully just how difficult and frustrating this project was. But I got so much joy out of it too and that definitely overshadows the challenges. It’s hard to describe the elation of seeing that the finals had come out of the last firing intact and beautiful after all that work. So worth every moment of, let’s call it non-success. 

I got to spend a year thinking about all the ways Once has impacted my life and the final estimation is rather staggering. I could only mention so much in an itty-bitty video, but I spend a lot of time with the Once community online and have loved every second of my writing about Once and its characters. Though I know I am but a spectator, I feel like I’m a part of the magic.

I have to admit, I have had serious second thoughts about posting this project for all to see. If this is supposed to be about gratitude, why am I so nervous? Why am I afraid of sharing this? It should be alright, right? I sure hope so. This feels like sharing an intimate part of my mind with a whole lot of people and that’s a little daunting. But you’ll all be wonderful and supportive, I’m certain.

I will say that I am proud of how this turned out and proud of myself for seeing this through. If I thought I was grateful to Once before I started this project, I’m even more so now. Because of Once I just learned a tremendous amount, I made something I can be proud of and I stuck with a project start to finish no matter the obstacles. I would never have done any of this if not for being inspired by Once.

So? Did it work? Did I experience gratitude? I’d say so. I feel now that I knew relatively little about what gratitude is, how it functions, when I conceived of this project. I am still processing my newly expanded definition, matter of fact. For example, I didn’t know that gratitude and inspiration were so tightly linked for me. Now I do. I certainly did not anticipate that saying thank you for Once would feel so much like continuing to receive this incredible gift. Almost as if the effect of the gift has been magnified. Deciding to say thank you for Once has made Once even more a part of my life than it was before and has generated even more reasons for gratitude. Maybe it’s like a positive feedback loop, the more I notice my gratitude, the more the reasons for that gratitude become apparent.

I intend to do a more formal write up of my experience after it has percolated for a while.

New Skills!

In addition to the emotional journey, I have definitely grown as an artist and a potter. I experienced tenacity and determination I hadn’t planned on needing to see this through. In a way, I think this project changed my appreciation of Once as itself, a piece of art. I had thought of Once as art before I started this, but now that I have been to filming twice, made my own art project, filmed it and put that video together, I have, shall we say, a more nuanced perspective.

In case you were wondering, making film is hard freaking work. There were times I thought I might die of video editing having gotten bogged down in just trying to figure out what to say with all this emotion, all these stories, running pell-mell around my head. A year’s worth of pottery class videos is a lot to scrub, by the way. I couldn’t show the whole process as no way was I out to make an hour or two’s worth of explanatory film. Yikes! Maybe they call that a documentary if it’s done by someone who knows what they’re doing. Anyway, just trying to narrow the scope into something digestible was a challenge from the sheer amount of material I had to work with. Hopefully it is understandable and even enjoyable.

For the pottery nerds out there, here’re a few more details. When all was said and done, I ended up using Coleman’s cone 10 porcelain for my clay-body having rejected a cone 10 Laguna B-mix and a cone 6 Dove porcelain- the latter of which I hated. Hated! I wasted most of a quarter on that cone 6 debacle.

For the white bells I used a clear glaze which isn’t really clear; it ended up being a subtle, transparent, icy blue which I found lovely on that clay body. A happy surprise. The gold is a gold luster overglaze. Yes, it is actual gold in an organic solvent- toxic! Wear your PPE! The blue surface design is a simple underglaze, probably designed for low fire and cone 6 but still usable at high fire. It deepened beautifully from a royal blue to a lovely marbled navy. I’m very happy with that too. The blue bell, or the Dark Bell as it is in my mind, uses a cobalt-heavy glaze which I think is probably fairly common to most potters.

A word about the Dark Bell. I love that cobalt glaze and have used it on many of my pieces in the past. I can’t remember exactly how the idea came to me, but once I imagined an inverted color scheme for the bell, it stuck and I couldn’t not make one. As with the others, if I could have, I’d have made many more of the Dark version as well as the white bells, but I suppose there’s some kind of poetic rightness that among the finalists in the project, there is only one Dark Bell. It has a special place in my heart, maybe because I know what it’s like to be different and I think it’s wonderful. I wonder who might choose that bell.

When I conceived of this project one of the early challenges was that I did not want any raw clay showing. No rough edges, no unglazed surfaces apparent. That’s impossible, right? So I designed the bells to be fired on stilts such that the clappers would be glued in over the raw area, as you saw. I’m both pleased and lucky that the thin tops of the bells could support their weight during firing. It is evident when this was a near run thing. I also had problems with the delicate nature of the handles. They tended to warp and melt badly in the firing and even one of the finals is only just useable due to this issue. Lucky me!

The clapper is a wooden bead which reminded me of Rumple’s Dark One eyes suspended with an 18 karat gold wire. Before anyone freaks out, yes it’s gold, but it’s a tiny amount, same with the gold luster. Comparable to the cost of going out to lunch, say.

While we’re on the taboo subject of cost, someone probably won’t have noticed the disclaimer in the credits and is wanting to buy their very own. Folks have already asked me about this before I even finished the project. Thank you very much for the compliment, but under no circumstances will I sell one of the bells or any of the drafts. They are not for sale. No. You can’t put a price tag on gratitude. Please don’t ask me this.

Even if I hadn’t made these for a gratitude project, art that is this involved is pretty much unsellable anyway. Anyone who makes things by hand will tell you that handmade stuff is expensive because the artist wants to eat. The hourly rate for most artists is pretty abysmal or more people would have quit their day jobs already in favor of arting. Save us both the time and don’t ask me to sell you a bell.

Commissions

That said, I love making stuff and commissions are a possibility. I’m not yet set up to sell online, but if interest is sufficient, I could probably find my way to Etsy or elsewhere. Now, please, again, I will not make you a bell; these bells are only for Once and only to be given away. Sorry. I also will not make other fan-art to sell. I’m not looking for trouble.

I can make nice things, dishes and the like. Most of my work is utilitarian in nature, but I can figure out how to make all kinds of things. If you have something in mind that you think you might like, ask me. We might be able to work something out. My sculptural abilities are limited at this point, but you can always ask. Remember, I’m a student, I’ve been at this a while, but this is my hobby and in no way am I a professional potter. Please also keep in mind that a commission is like a deal with the Dark One, it is an agreement made between two people and magic always comes with a price. Expect to pay what’s fair. I’m nicer than the Dark One, but I still expect all deals to be honored.

I can’t believe this is actually finished!! I made it! I did it! Maybe it’s ok that self-satisfaction is part of gratitude. What do I know anyway? More than I did to start with that’s for sure, but I still feel like I have a lot more to learn about gratitude.

Thank you so much, Once, for this incredible gift you’ve given me. To quote Wicked, “I have been changed, for good.”

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!

6X01 The Savior- Scene Review

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.

First Scene

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:

Second Scene

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.

Third Scene

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.

Back to The Savior Episode Overview

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!

Once Season 6 Episode Reviews

As happens to the best of us, real life has limited the amount of time I can spend reviewing my favorite TV episodes, so this season I find myself needing to revise the format. Or at least try something new. The plan is write less overall in favor of what matters most as opposed to writing for each and every scene. I am quite sorry I could not review all of 5B. If I suddenly have a dearth of projects, I may go back and do an abbreviated run through for the remainder of season 5.

In theory, this new format will entail a plot overview in the first section and an in-depth review of select scenes in a subsequent section. Two articles for each episode. What could go wrong there?

We’ll give it a shot and try to hit just the highlights. The review will assume full knowledge of the episode in question and will include theories and analysis of plot, ongoing arcs, motivations, et-cetera. The scene review will take a close look at a few scenes which caught my attention either for being outstanding or because they – well, less so. This will include film craft notes like scene motion, blocking, cinematography, lighting, performances, in depth character arcing, et cetera.

Hang in there with me while I try this on for size. I may end up combining these two if it seems impractical or cumbersome.

6X01 The Savior- Plot Overview

6X01 The Savior- Scene Review

6X01 The Savior Overview

Note: this review assumes knowledge of Once Upon A Time through Season 6, episode one, The Savior. Trying a new review format for this season, please bear with me!

Once Upon A Time’s Season 5 finale racked up quite a bar tab in hot and cold running promises. The Savior began paying it off in earnest, almost like the writers were trying to avoid paying interest on a credit card bill. This is not a complaint.

A lot happened.

Really, a lot of plot got done in one tiny episode. This is such a departure from what we have become accustomed to. Usually, the premiere is more an extension of the finale which deepens whatever the writers set up previously. Not typically many answers to be had in a premiere.

But not so this time!

I have divided the plot review from the in depth film-craft review this season. For your convenience, there will be a link at the bottom to the scene review as well as one right here.

Opening Image:

The introduction flashback took us to meet Jafar and Aladdin as well as, it turns out, the Oracle. This opening action shot of a running horse is a bit reminiscent of the series opening image: Charming racing on horseback toward his True Love. Except our rider dies before the end of the scene. I’ll be interested to see how this plays in to the rest of what’s currently happening in Storybrooke.

A Storyline:

I, for one, expected Hyde to run amok for several episodes creating chaos before the heroes “solved” this issue and threw him in jail or killed him. Nope. Emma, tremor not withstanding, bagged him and tossed him in Belle’s ex-cell tout-suite. Speaking of Emma, nothing like a little vision of your own mortality to make you start telling lies to your sweetie and everyone else. Anyone think (hope) this Oracle might not be all she says she is?

Regina’s roommate situation lasts about two seconds. Friction between the sisters delighted me. I got this tingle of hope that the writers would do the hard thing and address the rape of Robin Hood when Regina said, “I blame you.”

But those hopes were quickly dashed. This is an ongoing critique: the R word needs paid. It’s right there on the tab in bold print and it’s not going away. Regina’s friendship with Snow White and that beautiful scene between them on the bench? Give me more of that. I have missed Snow White so much and I did not even know it because Mary Margaret clouded my memories of her. I cannot say I had too much love for Mary Margaret and I am glad to see courage from Snow White again. This is definitely a step in the write direction.

I loved the dirigible by the way! And Archie!!! Can we have more Archie??? Please?

Hyde’s comment about nothing being more dangerous than an untold story bodes well for forcing our friends to deal with uncomfortable situations for the rest of the season. And that’s where I want them, uncomfortable. Stories about kittens and flowers are nice, for about two seconds or less. Feed me angst or go home.

Speaking of angst, poor Emma is at it again, trying to deal with her problems alone. She really does need Archie.

But I hope she isn’t Archie’s only customer.

On to the B Story:

The last great pay off to discuss genuinely surprised me. They woke Belle in the premiere. How are we going to recognize this show as Once if Rumple and Belle are not separated or asleep? Ok, so Rumple did not follow Belle through the portal, he stood there like a lost puppy, but no force in the universe keeps Rumplestiltskin from his children forever, so I anticipate he will follow her with haste. And he can because he, last one to arrive at the portal jumping party, has the Apprentice’s wand. I mean wrinkled old knob. (I still haven’t gotten over that line.)

While we are on the subject of Rumbelle, did I hallucinate or was Once’s opening volley a Rumbelle story? We have not seen Rumbelle as the season focal story… ever? Love stories are almost always the B Story in fiction primarily because they need so much background to back them up and make them feel real. None of this is to say love stories are any less important than A Storylines, in fact sometimes they are the most important thing, but they are a serious amount of work to write and require careful scaffolding.

Could Rumbelle be our B Story for the season? Help me on this, they have typically had a couple of centric episodes a year. What about the other couples? Snowing had all of Season 1, more or less. Season 2 saw a smattering of everyone, which I liked. Season 3, likewise. Season 4 same-ish. Fair enough. For three seasons, we got focal episodes for our cannon pairings. Then Season 5 rolls around and it is very focused on CaptainSwan. Unless I have grossly misremembered, which is always possible. I won’t go count screen time to see exactly how everyone stacks up, minute for minute. Someone more obsessed than me can do that and I’ll go read their article. Of note, the other major cannon pairings are half-dead: SwanFire and OutlawQueen, so that leaves us with our three major cannon pairings: Snowing, Rumbelle and CaptainSwan. And of them Rumbelle is the only one yet to have been B Story for a season.

Yes, there have been other consequential pairings (and as many as the fans can imagine which  is WONDERFUL), but they are beyond the scope of this article. SwanQueen is one fanon example- which I truly enjoy. There are many great things to say about all of Once’s love stories, but this one little review article is about The Savior and won’t delve into them.

Getting back to the point, could we be seeing the birth of a Rumbelle-centric season???

The indications are very strong so far. When we are talking about paying off storyline debts, the Rumbelle tab is a long one. The writers just made a serious inroad into having Rumbelle deal with their issues out loud and in public, meaning in front of us fans. In addition to this, Beauty and the Beast is HUGE right now, with the new live action film coming up and new teasers emerging frequently. It would be very smart to capitalize on this opportunity.

Beauty and the Beast has been in the hearts and minds of the public for a very long time. We have not forgotten about it and it sings to us. There is SO much potential ahead for the Rumbelle story I can’t hardly sit still.

There are a few plot specific details of this episode I do want to bring up.

At first, when we met Morpheus in Belle’s dream I frowned a little thinking that they had used the “guide” device as a literary short cut to do some exposition about Belle’s dream world. I thought Morpheus to be rather inconsequential at this moment in the story, not that I didn’t expect to see him again, but I did not see his true purpose coming. And they did use Morpheus as an expository tool, but then… Then I got over my distaste for this shortcut because what they did I felt was excellent.

With Rumple unable to wake Belle with True Love’s Kiss, just kissing her again in the veil of a dream where she is unaware would be a cop out. And, as Morpheus pointed out, a pretty awful deceit-after a fashion, but we’ll come back to that. With all the candidates for waking Belle out of the equation and Belle not being consciously aware enough to make her own choice in the dream, options for actually waking her this episode seemed very slim indeed.

Using Rumbelle’s unborn child to do the deed, I think, was brilliant. I am not sure I buy how a fetus is conscious and aware in the dream world with an adult set of faculties and seemingly future, or at least present, knowledge of how things sit between Rumple and Belle, but that there was another source of True Love available, I do like. Very much.

The writers will have to pay off that strange adult version of Belle’s child somehow, but for now I will suspend my disbelief on account of cleverness. And I theorize that Morpheus might have had something to do with facilitating interaction between Rumbelle and their still tiny ball of unaware cells. Makes me think we could still be in for some surprises about Rumbelle’s baby.

Back to deception. Rumple was right about one thing, he truly loves Belle and asleep or not, her feelings are real and present. But Morpheus was most assuredly correct to say that taking advantage of her lack of awareness is a deceit. It would have taken away Belle’s choice.

Speaking of true feelings, it appeared to me that when Belle kissed Rumple, he was allowing his curse to break, right then and there. This may not be the case though, because what we saw might just have been how Belle became aware in the dream even if she did not kiss him long enough to wake herself up entirely. But it does prove something very important to the audience: Rumbelle remain True Love.

That leads me to what I think I love most about this episode. If this were a fairytale, Belle would have become aware, listened to what Rumple said about their marriage and their child, and then  kissed him again to break both of their curses. But Once is not a fairytale. That’s the whole point of this show. Once uses fairytales as a substrate for story telling, but brings them into our real world.

Think about that for a moment: what happened between Belle and Rumple after their kiss is the entire premise of the show. The promise of the premise fulfilled. What would happen if the fairytale collided with the real world? In real life, love is not always all it takes to make a relationship viable. In the real world, broken trust can be difficult if not impossible to mend. Smart girls like Belle don’t put up with their partner’s lies and deceits, not to mention casual murders. They leave. Even if they do truly love them.

Belle has a huge responsibility growing inside. Rumple has proven to her over and over again that he will do what he thinks is expedient regardless of her wishes. She knows, believes, he loves her, that is not the question. His darkness is. Does she think he is a fit parent? I would not parent with Rumple, or someone like him, and I ADORE is character. Does Belle know that Rumple will do anything to protect his children? Yes, she knows that, but that is not enough.

The problem is the example he sets and the lengths he is willing to go to without being mediated by, or even bothering with consultation of, her values and morality. Rumple has his own code, but it does not match Belle’s and he does not always seem to put much stock in her views. No one would feel an equal partner in a situation like that. I am not saying that Rumple is purposefully discarding her point of view as a way to control or hurt her, he’s not, but his choices reflect his lack of compromises in this area.

To be clear, I am not judging Rumple as a bad person or an unfit father. I think that this baby has the potential to help Rumple reevaluate his choices from a brand new perspective. I have tremendous amounts of hope for Rumple because he just put his money where his mouth was. Literally. Would he have allowed his curse to break right then and there before Belle pulled away from him? I am uncertain. But he began changing as Belle became aware and when she pulled away, his imp form snapped back into place. To me this implies that he meant what he said about being the best man he could be for her. He demonstrated change. (I am so proud of him!)

But what I think doesn’t matter. Belle just told him she doesn’t consider him fit. That’s her choice.

Remember what Rumple said to her in response to her thinking she did not have choices there, with him in the Dark Castle? He said, “You do.”

And he let her kiss him rather than pushing her. No, he did not recognize her non-cognizance as a major flaw in his plan, because as he said, his feelings are true, but he did not go about it intending to abrogate her free will. Belle puts a premium on honesty, she needs to be able to rely on him, to trust him at his word. Rumple sees this in a more fluid light. See above about values conflict.

And this is why I am a Once fan, in spite of whatever missteps have happened and I’m certain will continue to happen as the show progresses. This scene demonstrated the rational, real life choice that many would make faced with this situation: the fairytale in the broth of real life.

Belle and Rumple have True Love, but that is not all it takes.

But.

I hope for Rumbelle, vigorously. As I mentioned, having a Rumbelle-centric season opener bodes well for our getting to spend some time with them, as does the current Beauty and the Beast craze. There is a lot of work to be done between them and choosing to put that in the season opener demonstrates some level of commitment toward that end. I don’t need Rumbelle’s story to be smooth and sweet, but I do need it to be told. I need to see this struggle, to see if Rumple can change enough to earn Belle’s trust again AND to see if Belle can/wants to accept Rumple for the man he is.

Aside from my earlier complaint about not addressing the R word, my only other real gripe, and it’s a small one is pacing. I always seem to want more time with each scene. Yes I just got through praising how much got done in one episode, but there’s a cost to that and that’s feeling rushed. I could have happily spent an entire episode in Belle’s dream world and an entire episode in Storybrooke with our other heroes. At least.

All in all, I felt this episode was solid: 8/10 for the two reasons mentioned above.

I have high hopes for this season because right off the bat, the writers have given us something different from what they have in the past. And they have made us a lot of promises. Regina wants a new story. Emma is going to die. Rumple does not want to be a beast anymore. And we know the land of untold stories is going to wreak havoc. I can’t wait.

Post Script: If you have noticed my passion and enthusiasm over Rumbelle, how it tends to make me write a lot and go on at length, I hope I am bringing my joy into your life. I am very aware of fandom dynamics and I want this to be understood: I love Once Upon A Time. It means a hell of a lot to me. Rumbelle is very special for some very specific reasons which I will eventually share here in future articles. But loving one pairing does not exclude me from enjoying the others. I don’t like to think of myself as “anti” any character or any “ship” as they are called. If you continue to read on this blog, you will read my candid opinions about all kinds of things. I am not here to yuck on anyone else’s yum, even if it looks like I hold opinions contrary to yours. My opinions are just that, my opinions. I invite and encourage you to comment and tell me when you disagree with me. By all means, go write your own articles and tell me about them so I can go and read them. I believe in being respectful and will do my best to that end, always.

Up Next: In depth scene review for The Savior

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!

Her Handsome Hero 5X17

Her Handsome Hero: 5X17

Finally! I was grinning in horror the entire episode. That laundry that’s been festering in a corner for literally seasons? Someone’s decided to take it out and beat it in the broad light of day. How wonderful!

Speaking of wonderful, seeing characters we haven’t seen in several seasons continues to be a highlight of 5B. There are many, many dangling threads just waiting to be woven back through the tapestry of Once and it is nice to see these opportunities visited.

Performance of the night? Emilie de Ravin for showing us quite a range over the course of the episode, but mostly for the power of her gaze which is rather arresting. It’s all in the eyes.

Rating: 8 or maybe even 9 out of ten. We’ll see after the breakdown.

Here endeth the spoiler-free overview. Below there be dragons!

Scene 1: Especially not that cretin

Opening Image: Belle’s castle and that lovely Rumbelle theme we have all missed so much!

One walk couldn’t hurt anyone.

Maurice has arranged to set up his daughter in exchange for soldiers because they’ve got ogre troubles.

I have missed Sassy!Belle. Cretin indeed.

I have also missed Maurice. I am so glad they managed to get Eric Keenleyside back for the job because he has always been a delight. Belle’s relationship with her father has long needed fleshing out and seeing Maurice weigh the worries of his people with his love for his daughter humanizes him. In Skin Deep, Belle was treated much like property. Here we see a father who listens to his daughter and deeply values her.

Also, Lord Legume??? They named Gaston’s father Lord Vegetable. Gaston Vegetable. Pffft!

To de Ravin’s credit, she plays younger Belle with panache. Belle now has much harder edges and is weighed down by the grief and sorrow of a tough life. This Belle glares daggers at her father like a teenager, but softens when she sees her fathers fears. De Ravin’s eyes make this scene, so expressive! Is it any wonder she and Robert Carlyle are such magnificent scene partners?

This opening scene is one of innocence and a light carried by de Ravin’s ebullient Belle.

On a side note: I want Belle’s coat. I realize that it is designed to hide certain undeniable and frankly obvious facts of life, but that color and the embroidery… I am not a particularly vain woman myself, but I have an eye for things beautiful, and that coat is.

Scene 2: Whatever it takes

And now the contrast with the present. Outside the Pawn Shop, Belle hesitates.

Inside, Rumple is holding Pan’s flute. Is he thinking about fatherhood? I wouldn’t believe he’s considering his father’s deal.

He is always glad to see her, but is still uncertain after how they left things. And Belle has made a decision. She needs him, but she wants it her way. Rumple rather pointedly, and doubtfully, tells Belle again she needs to accept him as he is.

This nakedly honest conversation is so charged, so fraught. Rumple insists that Belle can’t have been in such denial when she married him, or does he suspect that she knew when she kissed him and they conceived that baby? Belle can’t give up on fighting for what she believes in though: that Rumple can do better than darkness.

It’s in this argument that Rumple gives us the theme of the episode: in the heat of the moment, you do whatever it takes. Darkness and light are a matter of perspective.

Ever the pragmatist.

Belle doesn’t have time for that though, she wants him in her life and she wants his help and she knows he wants the same. So she gives him an ultimatum.

I am not a fan of ultimatums. Here Belle manipulates and controls Rumple as surely as if she held the dagger in her hand. Belle doesn’t see it here, but this is a flavor of the desperation Rumple just spoke of. In the heat of the moment, you do whatever it takes.

For Belle, this is whatever it takes. Belle whom, a scene ago, took her father’s words to heart about judging people, is, in the here and now, judging her husband. How far she has come and where will she be at the end of this episode? Will she grow toward pragmatism a bit?

PS: I wouldn’t enjoy being on the receiving end of de Ravin’s stare.

Scene 3: Brewing storm

Emma tries to burn the names off of their shiny new graves, but Snow gets killed by the something out there.

Scene 4: Maybes and Hopefullys

Not really, Emma was dreaming.

Exposition for our B story/main season thread. The Charmings, their pirate mascot and Regina hatch a plot to go after Hades more directly. Emma decides to act on her dream.

Regina saves us from mush with a well timed snark. Oh Regina, I appreciate you!

Any chance for Regina and Emma to work together is a bright spot in an episode.

Continuity hiccup: it was dark when Hook and Emma joined Regina for the big finish of that spell. When they fail and then finish their Plan B chat, it’s daylight streaming through the doorway of the library. Plus, Regina has decided to go gab with Zelena, who wouldn’t be all that keen on spilling her heart out to her sister if woken up in the middle of the night. Oops. Note: Emma still doesn’t take her craft seriously and leaves the bookish stuff to Regina.

Scene 5: Hades lurking

This is a lovely bit of shown thematic material. We already know nothing grows in the underworld, and yet here’s this flower and Hades looks apoplectic. There is such a stark contrast between the writing of this episode and the writing of The Brothers Jones which leaves naked thematic material waving from the clothes lines in a stiff breeze like we wouldn’t recognize it any other way. And here, we recognize it clearly with no trouble and NO dialogue. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: NEVER make thematic material explicit/obvious in the dialogue. Characters can say what needs to be said, but it needs to be found out later that that’s what happened.

Rumple’s heat of the argument line about the heat of the moment (sorry… couldn’t help that one) felt like him making excuses to his pissed off wife, not the theme of the episode, at the time. That line only becomes glaringly obvious upon subsequent viewing.

Hades never says a word in this glue scene (short scene in which not much happens other than a vital piece of information to move the story forward) but it has motion, tension and, through objects and Hades’ simmering rage, we know instantly what is going on.

Scene 6: The Perfect Job

Gaston, it seems, now has to care for beasts, since he was such a schmuck to them when alive. How perfect. Hades arrives to offer Gaston the chance of a life- er, death-time.

Hades didn’t show up to discuss “girl trouble.”

Artful exposition here. I think the setting makes this scene. Gaston working at the pound is quite brilliant. This adds depth and just a little satisfaction to the outcome of Disney’s Beauty and the  Beast as well as here, in Once. Shooting Gaston in the place of his greatest misery is quite simply perfect when offering him a way out. Get Rumple.

Hades confirms in this scene what we figured out from the previous one symbolically.

Also, Gaston leaves the toilet seat up, of course he does, the uncouth brat.

Scene 7: Does that line work…

Gaston lays it on thick and Belle isn’t buying… until he starts talking about a woman of substance. She remains suspicious. Gaston hears something large and runs off to go kill it. Belle isn’t wild about this either. Turns out it’s a wee ogre.

De Ravin really sparkles when there is mischief and snark to be had. I just love her in this scene.

Sure, blame it on Le Fou…

Here again we get well placed thematic material. Belle believes in compassion and understanding above all else, quite admirable. She thinks things can be figured out. A common trait among smart people. Gaston thinks with his bow.

This dialogue plays through the entire episode and interestingly, the complaint Belle has with Gaston is the same one she has with Rumple: resorting to violence and darkness isn’t the way. Except… Pragmatism and optimism go head to head throughout this episode and it is elegantly illustrated.

Also, Gaston had thought he was the one doing the charming on their little walk, but he finds himself charmed by Belle, just like Rumple does, and she knows she’s got him. Just as she knows she’s got Rumple.

Scene 8: My optimism clouding my judgment

Belle and Rumple find the light magic recipe for tea, squawk at one another, Belle throws a in the towel and finally storms out. Gaston greets them by trying to put an arrow through Rumple and Rumple whisks his wife away so they can discuss this new threat.

How can I be so delighted by these two going head to head? See above about grinning in horror.

Here we begin to delve a little deeper into the nature of magic, dark versus light. Rumple thinks Merlin’s a moron -could be when put next to Rumple- but he still, as he did when he took the curse of the Dark One originally, thinks he could put dark magic to use for light.

I think Belle is beyond hearing though because she “won’t allow it.” She is going to figure out that blackmail is in fact an obstruction of Rumple’s free will as surely as if she’d used the dagger. Right now though she’s caught in the throws of doing what she must in the heat of the moment, struggling in the way she thinks will work best to save those she loves.

Perhaps with a cooler head she could have just heard that Rumple agreed to her terms, to use his power for good and try to go in the direction Merlin suggested. He loves her that much.

I love how Rumple calls after her. Such a simple, one word line which conveys so much. He’s frustrated, exasperated, desperate… OMG, you’re-driving-me-nuts-I-love-you-so-much! Oh Mr. Carlyle, how do you do it? Their relationship never felt so real to me as it does with just this one word.

Speaking of performances, these two bring this scene to life like a fireworks display. This argument is believably written, both stay true to their perspectives and they blaze away at each other like a pair of magnesium flares. Get your PPE or you will be blinded! While I imagine this scene was emotionally taxing for both de Ravin and Carlyle, I bet it was at least a little bit satisfying to let what’s been simmering for seasons boil over.

From my perspective, this scene oozes authenticity from both the writing and performance ends of the stick. Who hasn’t unintentionally eavesdropped on such a discussion which has bubbled up out of the private realm and into public? Or been a participant? Very well played all around.

It sounds like Belle was about to tell Rumple she’d had quite enough of his justifications for his bad behavior when Gaston intervened via pointy stick.

Belle, naturally, tries diplomacy first. Now let’s be quite clear, this is a good choice, the right choice, but not ultimately an effective one in this case. Rumple postures and sneers at the pipsqueak until said pipsqueak gives him an up close and personal look at the pointy stick.

I have to wonder how Belle feels about Rumple using dark magic to whisk them out of harms way. Or to help him catch a speeding arrow?

“It was an arranged marriage. I was doing you a favor!!” Hilarious. Line of the night?

An incredulous Belle strikes back.

That line, “Once again I have let my optimism cloud my judgment,” really hurts Rumple. He does want her to feel he’s worthy of her. He remembers when she saw the best in him and now she tells him, again, that she’s seen through his crap and found him wanting. Oh ouch.

I love how he all but rolls his eyes at her when she suggests helping Gaston. He closes them and averts his gaze, perhaps still not wanting to be any more offensive/blatantly dismissive to her, but clearly frustrated with her lack of pragmatism. He does however, appear to hear her out.

Scene 9: In my dreams

Next time, Emma, argue with your mother.

Emma takes Hook and Snow to use her magic eraser on their graves. Here there be monsters.

While I appreciate Emma’s abundance of caution here, this is her mom after all, I rather miss the more brash and brave Emma we knew from a few seasons back who would have gone after the beast herself, or found a way to neutralize it on the spot. It seems to me that since Emma became the Dark One she’s been oddly helpless. Not the usual effect of acquiring power.

Scene 10: Smooth Regina….

Zelena’s moping in Granny’s Down Under when Regina finds her and rather obviously pumps her for information under the very thin guise of sisterly concern.

Rebecca Mader does a nice job with this scene. We rarely get to see Zelena without the bluster, in fact aside from anger, this is a uncommon opportunity to see genuine emotion from Zelena. I am so glad this scene gives Mader the chance to show off what she’s got.

I am torn between wanting to see a sisterly bond form between Regina and Zelena and my need for Zelena to remain unapologetically who she is. I don’t think I could bare it if Zelena lost her zeal.

Scene 11: Regina’s vault, but less… homey.

Emma, Hook and Snow decide to cool it in the crypt while Emma comes clean about the nature of her dream.

This scene feels a bit unnecessary to me, and stretched out. This conversation could have been tacked on in about three sentences or less while hiding behind the tomb stone. There’s something I didn’t tell you- dramatic pause which isn’t dramatic because the audience already knows- you died in my dream. Um. No… this time could have been better spent elsewhere.

Failed glue scene because the audience already knew the reveal.

Scene 12: I can get through to him

Belle rifles Gaston’s personal effects.

I enjoy Rumple’s snide comments here. Letting us see him cut by Belle’s judgment lends authenticity to the argument and the character. They could have written Rumple being quite patient with Belle’s innocence as he has been in the past about other things, frequently coddling her to the point of deception and worse. But Belle has hit him where it hurts and his lashing out at her feels incredibly real. Hurt people aren’t totally calm, rational and kind, and Rumple, though he hasn’t reached the point of storming off, isn’t really on the rails any more than Belle is.

Rumple wants to throw Belle’s judgments back in her face and he does so.

Of course Belle isn’t wrong, “This isn’t murder, we’re opening a locker!”

There just must have been a little bit of fun here, sneering at one another indignantly. And Rumple takes just a little bit of pleasure at getting to put his chalk mark on the wall.

I was just thinking that I am getting a perverse sort of pleasure from their pain, but I realized that this is just catharsis that has been stored up for years.

Rumple doesn’t buy that Belle is Gaston’s unfinished business and he doesn’t want to leave her there alone, but still he wants to help her even when he isn’t sure she won’t be hurt in the process.

Scene 13: Sounds a bit dense

Belle figures out how to determine the ogre’s intentions and Gaston tries his luck.

In Belle’s library we have the foundation of her being: compassion and forgiveness, the things that truly make a hero. Belle’s value system is all around her.

Her Handsome Hero is such a great title for this episode and I just love that it appears at first glance, to me and to Gaston, as a cheap romance book… but to Belle, it is so much more. Colette raised a daughter with specific values and many of them come from the books surrounding Belle right now. This is Belle’s fictional world, the world as she believes it can be, rather than as it is. Her optimism and innocence.

And, like her personhood, it’s beautiful.

But the world isn’t like her favorite book. Beasts can be heroes and handsome isn’t Gaston (not a commentary on Wes Brown).

If anyone demonstrates compassion for Belle, it’s Rumple who patiently, and in spite of virulent disagreement with her, tries to nurture and protect her because he values her world view even without sharing it. Her hope is something he doesn’t want to squash because he’s clinging to it for his own salvation even as he sees it for the fantasy it is. He wants her to broaden her perspective to include reality while not giving up hope that it can be better and working toward that end. There is no need for Belle to stop being hopeful and optimistic, only to see the nuances present everywhere.

I don’t see Rumple as patronizing or pejorative toward Belle, but more parental in this case. He’s lived a very long time and has a vast world view to share. He holds no disdain for her youth.

And our contrast with Rumple’s patience is Gaston’s amused scorn at Belle’s silly little book.

Scene 14: Getting Colder

Love makes you do crazy things…

Belle and Hades have a little heart to heart in the pound.

Notice the dirty fishbowl on the desk? All kinds of good details here. Set design must be a blast.

Interesting that Belle suggested to Rumple that they help Gaston instead of disposing of him and now she swore she would help him? When did she make that promise? Or was that little distortion just for Hades benefit?

I love that Belle holds it together in spite of fear. She and that baby are alone with Hades but Belle keeps her cool and listens to what Hades has to say.

Hades offers Belle a deal which she rejects: let the two gentlemen duke it out until one throws the other in the river and she keeps her kid.

Misdirect alert!

Scene 15: I don’t have any issues…

This is a terrible plan!!

Regina just so happens to wander by her vault and Hook nearly cuts her a second smile. Ya-yas are aired out and Snow White talks sense, for once.

Yes, Emma, what were you and Regina thinking bring Henry down here??? BAD PLAN is right. Not saying coming alone is a better one, but your best judgments have not had the most sparkling track record recently, your Saviorness.

Sure, everyone wanted to come, but I really wish Snow would confront Emma and Regina about how ridiculous it was to bring Henry along. She didn’t bring Neal. Duh.

This isn’t a writing criticism! I LOVE that Emma and Regina showed some really poor judgment. If they were perfect, they’d ring false.

I do need Emma to start facing her fear again though. It’s almost like she’s been traumatized to sniveling since becoming the Dark One. I just don’t buy that. The Emma I remember is tougher than that. Sure she should struggle with what happened, but cowardliness just doesn’t fit. This is a writing criticism.

While we’re on the subject… Deeply thinking about other people’s writing is a worthy activity. Nothing I write here is meant to be nasty or hurtful to writers, cast or crew, it is done to seek a deeper understanding of the craft. And of course for joy and the chance to snark.

Scene 16: Can’t sneak in a belled door

Belle tests Gaston’s intentions and discovers his true nature.

The bit with the mannequin was nice. I believed for less than a heartbeat, sure it was a trick because Rumple can’t end up in the River of Souls. Of course, Once only got me that long because they’ve come out of nowhere with all kinds of stuff before.

I sure seem to be looking at sets today because my eyes were drawn to the silver vase full of roses which appears to be the same one from the Dark Castle foyer. How many foes has Rumple turned into flowers? It is a creative disposal method.

Belle’s innocence takes a hit in this scene. She wanted to believe the best of Gaston, but the guy really doesn’t share her values. And he blames her for his demise. So after a fashion, Belle was right, she is Gaston’s unfinished business?

He’s my husband.

Now we see the proof of what we suspected was Gaston’s mocking from a few scenes ago: you always did have a soft spot for a monster.

Belle hasn’t been too sure how she feels about that whole husband thing for the better part of a season and a half, it is nice to see her confront it out loud. To embrace it as reality. She’s beginning to grapple more effectively with it as she faces what Gaston is made of.

Scene 17: The eyes don’t lie

And Maurice doesn’t have evil in his soul. (Great costume! Again!)

Belle returns to the Ogre Pit to find Gaston in a heap. She STILL wants to sort out the truth about its intentions regardless of the evidence. Gaston asks to lead the hunt and Maurice sends Belle packing.

This is the first evidence of the infantilizing behavior we have seen from Maurice previously when he discounts Belle’s idealism by apologizing for it. Really obnoxious, that. Very disrespectful to both his wife and daughter.

Scene 18: Just, not today.

Belle tells Rumple about the deal Hades offered her. She makes Rumple promise not to hurt Gaston and he… doesn’t promise squat as usual. Belle falls for it, again. You’d think she’d have learned to be more careful with words by now.

I’m torn between loving that we come into this scene in the middle of a conversation and being upset because I didn’t get to hear everything. I definitely love how intimate this scene feels because of that ragged edge and the camera placement behind a bunch of stuff. It’s like eavesdropping.

You can trust me. Oh Rumple. Buddy, I know you are probably thinking that Belle can trust you to be exactly as you always have been: Rumple. And you didn’t promise her jack. Your wife objects to being deceived and tricked, this is reasonable.

But, Rumple has his baby to protect and an easy mark of his own. For him, this is an expedient way out of a bad situation. Again he weighs the pros and cons and disappointing Belle is the lesser of evils here. Is it the right thing to do? Murder isn’t right, but neither is handing over his baby to Hades. And Gaston is such a goober.

Since Rumple trades on the concept of flexible morality, i.e. murder isn’t always wrong, he is willing to judge Gaston, find him wanting and decide that while murder isn’t a great option, it’s the best option available. He doesn’t value Gaston at all.

Belle, of course, finds the prospect of murder far more foul (believes murder is always wrong) and remains willing to find another way around the Hades problem. Optimism/not so flexible morality. More on morality later.

Scene 19: I hope for all our sake[s], it was the right one.

The hunt proceeds, but Belle follows. She confronts Gaston and sees the truth in his eyes.

We never saw the ogre’s eyes in the mirror so we really don’t know that they both didn’t have evil in their souls… but the likelihood is that Gaston did as Belle accused. It bowed to Belle on its way out. Ogres, who knew, are creatures of understanding. Hmm.

The torture and hunting of one of our young would indeed be provocation for war.

Continuity problem: ogres are blind. Remember they hunt by sound? Emma fires a gun in Season 2 and brings the ogres down on them. Oops… this ogre looks back and forth between Belle and the rest of the party before going on its way.

Scene 20: You’re making a big mistake

Rumple taunts Gaston for good measure out on the docks, but just as he’s about to take out the trash, Belle intervenes.

Two can play that game. Rumple manipulates Belle, but now Belle’s willing to manipulate Rumple, or control him, to get what she wants.

I’ve always known who you really are and that’s why I love you. But I also know who I really am…

That kiss, oh wow. Rumple has given the symbolic literal form. He’s holding on to magic and Belle at the same time. Very nicely written.

And Gaston, for all that his air has nearly been choked out of him, appears to try to gag at this kiss. Chuckle.

Here’s where we get down to business. Belle will do whatever she has to in the heat of the moment. For now, that means controlling Rumple and picking his pocket. A few seconds from now, she kills Gaston.

After several times through, I really think Belle meant to bump Gaston’s elbow as opposed to body check him into the drink. The results are the same and intentions don’t matter. Gaston’s in dire straights for eternity and Belle has to live with the fact that she committed him to those waters.

This is that moment of experiential learning for Belle that will hurt probably for a lifetime. And more, if I understand how this world works now.

I hope Once doesn’t come up with a way to fish folks out of the River of Souls because that would mean diminish the long term psychological consequences.

Interestingly enough, Rumple looks horrified at what just happened. I was right, he does value her hopeful outlook and her innocence. He never wanted this for her, no matter how instructive the lesson on his point of view.

Scene 21: I will.

Belle tends a horse before her father brings her the news: their army is no match for the now attacking ogres, but Gaston still wants her hand. Oh ick.

Maurice isn’t totally wrong to call Belle foolish and petulant. Would it have been right to dispose of the ogre-ling? No, but it might have prevented a war. Maurice, as a leader of many, must take a look at the broader morality. One life or thousands? He couldn’t make that decision lightly, but it is the coldly logical one, repugnant or not. Morality really isn’t cut and dry. Thus, Belle’s actions, by her own words even, were selfish. She didn’t want to live with blood on her hands. Well, now there’s more blood.

Her act of mercy probably did get that war started, but possibly not for the reason Maurice thinks. That ogres parents probably only heard the part of the story where their kid got beat up by a nasty human and barely escaped with his life. The part where Belle was the reason for that escape probably didn’t matter to the pissed off parent ogres. So yeah, Gaston caused the war by beating on a defenseless creature because he’s a buffoon, but the ogres got the tale because of Belle.

Belle is right, letting that ogre go was the right thing to do as was trying to determine its intentions. But the world of consequences is bigger than one moral action. If events had played out according to Belle’s script, the war might have been prevented. But sometimes all the choices are bad. What then? Even the wise cannot see all ends. See this article about two competing forms of morality which interestingly deals with likability among people.

We can lay the entire mess at Gaston’s feet.

And now she’s engaged to him. Poor Belle! At least we know he ends up as a rose, or rather a lost soul. Seems he was lost before he met the water though.

You’d be our hero.

Whatever it takes in the heat of the moment. Including marrying Mr. Demonic Fire Eyes.

Scene 22: I didn’t order anything

Zelena received a favor from Hades. And she likes it.

Scene 23: A print in the woods

The monster from the storm turns out to be none other than Red in wolf form.

Fin.

Rating 9.5 out of 10 with the missing half point being for the unnecessary glue scene. I don’t really care that much about small continuity issues, tell me a good story and I’ll overlook quite a bit via suspension of disbelief.

This episode is not about how Belle’s ideals are wrong, but it is about how Belle’s ideals are not one hundred percent right either. It’s about flexibility and the painful folly of black and white thinking.

The concept of willingness is a tough one. Considering, deeply considering, that what we hold most dear, what we cling to tightly, might not be the only perspective, might not be the rock of surety we thought it was, is painful. Willingness is the first step toward embracing an existential crisis, which takes a whole ton of courage. And mental flexibility is harder still when stress is involved.

Belle has a veritable bedrock of certainty about what is good, what is light and what isn’t. Being willing to consider that Rumple might not be wrong, someone to be guided into the light, takes aim at who Belle feels she is as a person: the compassionate, nurturing, helping hand for those whom she perceives as wayward.

Black and white thinking is extremely difficult to overcome and only, in my experience, shatters through experiential learning. Talk just won’t do it.

Can Belle get to a place where she takes each of Rumple’s actions on its own merits, applies the situation and then begins to see magic, light or dark, as just a tool? Pragmatism is tough for black and white thinkers because pragmatism, by definition is the grey scale in between which does not exist to those with a dichotomous world view.

None of this is said to justify any of Rumple’s more reprehensible acts or to say that he isn’t influenced, heavily, by the curse of the Dark One. He definitely is. But Rumple is quite a self-reflective being and while he frequently makes wrong choices, he is not a black and white thinker.

For his part, Rumple gives up on people too easily, discarding them as not worth it, but he is capable of caring deeply. I think Rumple’s rather jaded and cynical view of the worth/worthiness of others comes from a very long life of being spat upon rather than being solely a product of the curse. So yes, Rumple makes terrible choices, with regularity, but Rumple is as much a product of his life experiences as Belle is of hers regardless of the curse.

This is the nature of the gulf of understanding between them: black and white thinking skewed heavily toward optimism versus pragmatic thinking skewed heavily toward pessimism. The balance is obviously somewhere in the middle and that is why together they make a hell of a team.

Oh how long have I waited to see Belle and Rumple really go for it? To not step back from the differences between them? Rumple is who he is, but Belle is who she is too.

Belle, angry as she is, refuses to give up on Rumple who refuses to give up on Belle. I loved hearing Rumple, tenderly an episode ago, tell Belle that this is who he is. That he loves her and he loves the power.

Belle continues this episode to stand her ground, to deliver ultimatums. We can feel her desperation and how tightly she is clinging to who she is. I’m not a fan of ultimatums nor of Belle trying to manipulate Rumple into becoming what she wants using the baby as both a stick and a carrot. But I love that she does it because it feels so real and it gets Belle away from being too perfect. Belle is quite idealistic, permeated by her hope that the world will bend itself around her light, but she cannot be without fault or the character would lose all relatability, all authenticity. While Belle is strong, smart and hopeful, she is also petulant and her black and white worldview is both a strength and a weakness.  She will do whatever it takes, whether she sees it or not, to bring Rumple around to being the man she needs.

Perhaps best of all, Rumple has stopped apologizing for who he is. He’s the Dark One and that’s what he wants. He, as he says, feels that darkness is a matter of perspective. I really do think he does want to be the man Belle deserves, but Belle may have to come around to a slightly more pragmatic way of thinking. If she can do that, and if Rumple will start engaging his heart where others (aside from Belle) are concerned, then there really is hope for these two.

I’ve been waiting for this since Belle threw Rumple over the town line.

I’m thrilled by them fighting, saying honest things to each other, struggling together even with the gulf of understanding between them. This feels so real, so broadly applicable to life.

They love each other. Rumple will do whatever he must to protect what he loves. He has been waiting for Belle to learn that lesson, unfortunately for her, the hard way. Speaking of showing and telling…

We’ve had a few episode earn poor marks for overtly stating the thematic material. This, my friends, is how it’s done. Belle pitches Gaston into the river and Rumple never says, why yes Belle, I told you so, you do what ever it takes for those you love. He just holds her and comforts her.

Even better than that, he loves her for her idealism and hates it when her core beliefs are shaken. He wishes the world for her and never wants her to lose her hope, not her hope that there is a way aside from darkness and not her hope that he can be a better man.

We begin to see where Belle’s ideals, and yes, some of her naïveté, come from. I have been waiting and waiting for Belle to get some time out in the fresh air. Belle has so much promise as a character, but ensembles, especially large ensembles, have to share screen time. Belle hasn’t been a priority much lately, much to my chagrin.

And to see Maurice! He’s always been wonderful and tonight was no exception. I am glad that they didn’t only show Maurice as the caring and indulgent father from the beginning of the episode because that would have been inconsistent with his rather substantial flaws in that regard. Kidnapping his daughter to wipe her memory, for example. We get to see the weight of his kingdom on his shoulders and how that affects him as a parent.

Overall, this may be the strongest episode of this half-season and possibly the strongest episode of the entire season. We have long needed this honesty between Belle and Rumple and we have waited so (im)patiently for it. Using the Belle/Rumple relationship as a tableau for some of Once’s broadest thematic arcs works really well, in my view.

While I still feel that Once needs a very long-term direction, at least we got long term character goals for both Belle and Rumple. Belle needs to accept Rumple for who he is, not who she hopes he can be and Rumple needs figure out what he wants, Belle and family or his cynicism/darkness and go that direction. He hints that he wants to be the man Belle desires, but they both need to grow toward the other.

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!

Fan-art in the making! I’m in the midst of a Once-themed Gratitude Project. Take a look at my progress!

The Fictional Window

A review of The Cutting Room by Louise Welsh; narrated by Robert Carlyle.

Read Time: approx 4-7 min

Sometimes, in the recommendation of another, is unexpected beauty.

Because of Once Upon A Time, I have been slowly investigating Robert Carlyle’s other work, taking my time. While bingeing has its value, so does anticipation. Galloping through a dessert is a poor choice, of course. At least a year ago I discovered that he had recorded an audio book but I couldn’t find it where I usually buy audiobooks so I left it unresearched. Until now.

The Cutting Room bubbled up through a fan community I was perusing and I decided it was time. So I tried again to go buy it. Failure. With a reasonable amount of effort, even searching a British site, I could not find a place to buy the audiobook. So, with a grimace of distaste, I used a fan-created audio collection to stream it and began to listen.

A cautious stranger recently recommended this book to me. Upon learning of my interest in Mr. Carlyle’s work, she looked at me sideways, uncertain: just so you know, it’s homoerotic. I raised my eyebrows in surprise and smiled at her. I responded: great!

Behind my cultured and accepting (I hope) smile I was thinking: I guess I’ll find out if I like that kind of thing; I haven’t really tried reading much of that. With the attitude of trying something new I felt uncertain about, I invited Mr. Carlyle to read to me for an evening. That evening stretched into three and the book kept me up later than I had planned more than once. As expected, Mr. Carlyle’s performance is riveting, smooth and adds further depth to the work I would never have been able to imagine for myself. His background lends authenticity and hearing his singing voice is an unexpected treat.

The Cutting Room was not what I was expecting based on the qualification I received with the recommendation. Though I spent the first half the book wondering what drew Mr. Carlyle to the work, I spent the second half thinking that this fell directly in his wheelhouse. From the recommender’s dubious smile, I expected it to be simply, or even mostly smut. It wasn’t. Sure, there are some delightfully adult scenes, but this is substantive.

The book itself has a sort of lusciously elegant texture to the prose but without over-complication. At its core, it is a mystery sans the tired who-dun-it trope. Refreshing. This is an inviting perspective on personal investigation which I find compelling and very real. Our protagonist, Rilke, finds himself in a shady conundrum between his curiosity, his morality, the law and self-preservation.

The Cutting Room has a sort of timeless quality. At first listen, the time period remained vague and I wondered if this story took place pre or post internet; a sharp demarcation due to the sudden and extensive permeation of instantly available knowledge. Only later did it become apparent that this story takes place in the age of cell phones. The reason for my confusion, I think, resides with the descriptive choices. Ms. Welsh describes a world through the lens of antiquity, both Glasgow itself and Rilke’s line of work. The narrative reflection of Rilke’s worldview impresses me. I have never read any other work by Ms. Welsh, but if she actively chose her descriptive style to match her character’s chronological orientation to the world around him, I am in awe.

As I mentioned, I am a Once fan, and as such, spend most of my literary time in the urban fantasy section because I love it’s creativity and myriad possibilities. I find Urban Fantasy to be the perfect happy medium between the blunt quality of much real world fiction (which can drive the escapist reader away) and the losses which can occur during the world-building of an entirely fantastical landscape. Thematically, Urban Fantasy provides a platform for an oblique look at something unfaceable head-on while giving the reader just enough of the familiar to be a comfort and a steady scaffold for exploration. But I am not confined to what I consider the brightest flowers in the garden. Sometimes, it is the scent that matters or the uniqueness of the bloom. Which brings us to recommendation.

I would never have picked this up off the shelf without the connection to Mr. Carlyle. I do not know Mr. Carlyle and likely I will never so much as pass him on the street but what I do know of the man is that he and I share certain tastes in fiction. If he liked it, I probably will too, though he seems to have a tougher stomach lining that I do about certain things. Mr. Carlyle has invited me to explore and I have, for a while now, leaned on a trust that if he has spent his time on something, there is a reason which will interest and often educate me. It seems that some people pick a corner of the sky and decide to hold it up. They bend their talents and energies toward moving humanity forward as they are able and interested. While trying not to be too presumptuous about someone I have never met, Mr. Carlyle strikes me as such a person.

As I said, this would not have crossed my desk without a recommendation. While it lacks the extra cushion Urban Fantasy can sometimes provide, Welsh eases us slowly toward the thematic material so that by the time it is apparent, we’re invested and interested. Difficult subject matters such as this need a little care and Welsh gave us that. While in the back of my mind, I am aware of certain revolting proclivities, I have chosen to look away and focus on what I can do for the world with my skill set and interests. The value in this work is in the hand-holding we get as we walk into the dark. The reader gets to hold Rilke’s hand and draw comfort from his morality while we consider what we may have turned away from, ignored or even been unaware of. Perhaps even, a reader with particular interests may reexamine the moral consequences of such interests. And The Cutting Room accomplishes all of this, amazingly, without being overtly judgmental. The Cutting Room is an invitation to explore, to ponder and to reflect. We can look at the world from the safety of our fictional windows.

In the end, I bought the book from Amazon, so I was able to pay Ms. Welsh, but how will I pay Mr. Carlyle for his work? Being indebted to the Dark One seems a lousy proposition.

What do you think Rilke did with the books?

Are you already a Once Upon A Time Fan? 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!

Fan-art in the making! I’m in the midst of a Once-themed Gratitude Project. Take a look at my progress!